Maimonides’ Statement on Political Science

"Maimonides' Statement on Political Science," Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, Vol. 22 (1953).  Reprinted in What Is Political Philosophy?


Whereas the nomos entails a religion that is in the service of government, the divinely revealed law which is a subject of the same branch of political philosophy as the nomos puts government in the service of religion, of the true religion, of the truth. The divinely revealed law is therefore necessarily free from the relativity of the nomos, i. e., it is universal as regards place and perpetual as regards time. It is then a much loftier social order than the nomos. Hence it is exposed to dangers which did not threaten the pagan nomoi. For instance, the public discussion of “the account of creation,” i. e., of physics, did not harm the pagans in the way in which it might harm the adherents of revealed laws. The divinely revealed laws also create dangers which did not exist among the Greeks: they open up a new source of disagreement among men.

To summarize, Maimonides directs our attention first to the differences between political societies in regard to size. He then directs our attention to their differences in regard to religion. He finally directs our attention to their differences in regard to the presence or absence of laws. He thus forces us to consider the effects produced upon the character of laws by the change from paganism to revealed religion.