In The Paradox of Liberation, the political theorist Michael Walzer examines how secular movements for national liberation from colonial rule, after achieving success, have been challenged by movements for return to religious tradition. He focuses on three examples: Algeria, India, and Israel. In his review, Yehudah Mirsky argues that the paradox is even more profound than Walzer acknowledges:
The paradox of liberation is not just that the old ways are cherished by the people whom the liberators seek to set free; it goes deeper than that. Secularism, certainly secular revolution, is not a transparent visage of the plain sense of things. It is a chapter in the history of the pursuit of ultimacy that we in the modern world call religion. The revolution in fact must rely on the very cultural sources it seeks to overcome.
[Thus] secular Zionism was of course a revolution against the path that Jewish history had taken in millennia of exile, but it was acutely dialectical. It was no simple casting-off; rather it was a recasting, a reworking of the tradition—a reinterpretation whose shape and form came out of deep currents and recesses in the tradition itself. . . .
Zionists sought to create a new Judaism on the embers of the old. By draining the traditional religious terms of their transcendent reference, they were able to harness the rhetorical and spiritual power of religious language to their enterprise, and in so doing to argue—often persuasively—that while they were breaking with rabbinic Judaism, they were reconnecting to its original pre-exilic form in which people, faith, and land were unified. That gave them the superior claim to be Judaism’s rightful heirs. . . .
And so, [in the 1970s], . . . new generations of Religious Zionists decided to lay hold of the Zionist movement as a whole, and took the religious language that Labor Zionism had made into a functional tool for a political program and re-infused it with its classical religious meaning. . . . Not only were Religious Zionists re-enchanting the national enterprise but—precisely because of the phase of disenchantment that had gone before—the re-enchantment now had special power.
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