What does the modern conservative need to learn from Judaism? Over at the Wall Street Journal, Ruth Wisse has written an eloquent article (her articles usually are) on the relevance of Passover to the conservatism that America needs today.
Freedom, says Wisse, is not about merely escaping the responsibilities of servitude. Freedom, rather, is about resisting “the temptations of slavery,” the security of dependency and a lack of responsibility. The Passover Seder ritual, she writes, teaches us the value of humility, and of the importance of determined resistance of evil.
The Festival of Freedom also serves to remind us of an important truth: freedom, as a matter of fact, is inseparable from redemption. Freedom in the Passover narrative, as Wisse points out, is not about escaping of hedonism. A slave is only a true slave if he allows himself to become subjugated, as human dignity can only be surrendered by the person himself. As Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in Obergefell v. Hodges (much to the chagrin of the selectively tolerant left), American tradition understands human dignity to be God-given and innate:
Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.
The Seder is, by its nature, conservative: in the Jewish tradition, the Seder is meant to be a forum in which the parents transmit and convey their religious tradition and values to their children. The Seder serves as a reminder of the respect we need for the wisdom of tradition. Amidst promises of a “political revolution” and the disastrous narcissism and immaturity bred by the self-esteem-at-any-and-all-costs movement, it is refreshing to take a step back and reflect on the possibility that maybe, just maybe, history does have something to teach us.
Maybe, instead of looking for a political revolution, we should follow the example of the Seder. Let’s look back at our history, and consider how best to preserve our culture of freedom and liberty.