By George Shulman
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But if they thereby rupture a consensus, do they answer the question of authority in ways that enable politics? If authority is the capacity of an institution, idea, or person to elicit our assent, as John Schaar argues, the image of announcing messengers suggests despotic authority: As an absolute authority entitled to unalloyed obedience, God’s law of laws or word is a command to obey. Politics seems at once framed and radically displaced by divinely centered notions of law or truth: Prophets question what we assent (or give authority) to, but they close down the space of contest if they invoke extrapolitical authority dictating our fate or announcing one right way against a plurality of alternatives.
18 Their splitting of biblical prophecy, and their engagement with redemption, is paralleled by more recent secularizers. To speak too simply again, Norman O. Brown uses Baruch Spinoza to depict a historical sequence in which prophetic revelation is announced as law, internalized by later prophets as conscience, translated by Jesus into love, and cast by philosophers as the natural light of reason in each and all. By interpreting universal community as “love’s body,” Brown rejects Strauss’s reduction of prophecy to law and rejects Voegelin’s split of spirit and word from ﬂesh and history, to fashion a “Dionysian Christianity” that secularizes redemption.
To whom is justice due? Like him, too, they answer by exemplary action, not doctrine. But their mode of speech is not by the better argument but by the testimony and narrative of one who bears witness. Reﬂection is framed not by seeking to deﬁne “justice” as such but by asking, Are you upholding your covenant (with your God and each other) to live in a certain way? Prophets make no “moral” claim to a rule or law for all people at all times but instead tell a story of inﬁdelity to a founding covenant that once redeemed this people from Egypt.
American Prophecy: Race and Redemption in American Political Culture by George Shulman