In The Beginning of Politics, Moshe Halbertal and Stephen Holmes seek to identify the political lessons of the biblical book of Samuel. David Wolpe argues that this approach, although it yields some worthy insights, is inherently flawed:
Some of [the authors’] observations are deep and resonant. But throughout they struggle with the slippery reality that a great story resists reduction of this sort. Classic narratives defeat analysis by those who view such stories through too narrow a lens. Fairy tales have morals; more complex stories must embrace human contradiction.
As we would expect with two such able observers . . . there are many penetrating observations here about dynasties, their dangers, and the rippling effects of attaining and losing power. . . . But at too many other moments Halbertal and Holmes descend into the pedestrian. They do not have much that is original to say on their subject. They observe that “when it helps consolidate rather than undermine the ruler’s hold on power, justice is much more likely to be done.” Well, yes. Or this: “Where the choice comes down to killing or being killed, the very distinction between the moral and the instrumental, so important to those of us uninvolved in power politics, may effectively disappear.” I would hazard a guess that when it comes to killing or being killed, the distinction between the moral and the instrumental disappears for those not involved in power politics [as well].