Posts Tagged ‘conservatism’

Today, I would like to return to Larry F. Sternberg’s wonderful book Why Jews Should NOT Be Liberals (2001, rev. 2006). In fact, perhaps I should have made this the first post re the book, since it is where Sternberg lays out a framework of sorts for the rest of the book. I’ll let him explain:

If one were to list the principle reasons for this liberal political attitude of American Jews, it might include the following (I am indebted to Nathaniel Wyl’s The Jew in American Politics for several of these points).

1. Jews in America, having attained a superior financial status on the average, feel some guilt for their prosperous state. To assuage that guilty feeling, it becomes natural for them to support any policy that “helps the poor and less fortunate.”

2. Jews in America are still fearful of latent anti-Semitism, as represented in their minds by the Religious Right. Since this group appears to be predominantly conservative politically, they must be opposed.

3. Jews in America, becoming more secular and distant from their Orthodox origins, have substituted government assistance for their Jewish charitable institutions.

4. Jews in America desire to be thought of as not that different from their Christian fellow Americans, and thus are easy prey for all of those “feel good” programs which promise to solve the nation’s problems.

5. Jews in America are concerned that if they express too independent a thought, such as school choice or welfare elimination, they will be categorized with those who are “hard hearted,” a category Jews abhor.

Milton Friedman in contemplative pose

Milton Friedman, the great (Jewish, conservative) economist

6. Jews in America, in spite of their extensive scholarship and academic achievements, still do not really understand the workings of the free market or the miraculous results this free market has accomplished in the country.

7. Jews in America still believe that government contains certain miraculous powers, which if used correctly can bring about the nirvana right here at home. As Rabbi Daniel Lapin wrote recently in his book, America’s Real War, there is something within the Jewish make-up that demands action to bring about desired results. Since the liberals believe that only by using the force of government can these results be swiftly achieved, Jews flock to this philosophy, while ignoring the results that invariably are the opposite of those that were intended.

8. Jews in America, although somewhat of an elite group, are still fearful of standing out too much from the crowd. Thus they ignore their Jewish belief of individual freedom, and what their thousands of years of struggle has been about. This was not always the case. Prior to the FDR regime, American Jews were fairly evenly divided between the Republican and Democratic parties. It has only been since FDR that Jews have gravitated en masse to the Democratic Party.

9. Jews in America have continued to select leaders of the major Jewish organizations who are confirmed liberals. These leaders present this liberal image to the country at large as the natural Jewish position with the corresponding following by the rank and file, with no real Jewish opposition other than a few Jewish public figures. The fact that today’s liberals resemble the socialists of past days somehow escapes their thinking. Unfortunately the majority of the rabbis, Reform and Conservative, tend to support those leaders. Only the Orthodox rabbis, a much smaller number, hold out for traditional Jewish values.

10. Jews in America simply don’t recognize who their true friends are, continue to be emotional about their politics to the detriment of not using their intellectual analysis, and thus remain political sheep to their liberal sheepdogs.

Jewish family (c. WWII)

Jewish family (ca. WWII)

11. Finally, Jews in America conveniently ignore the history of their people, which has been an everlasting search and struggle for individual freedom. Throughout their history, Jews have sought only to be left alone to live their lives as they chose and to worship as they believed. For thousands of years, they were denied this freedom, wandering from land to land until by the grace of God they landed in this free land of America. Jews must always guard this freedom from the oppression of government with all the strength they possess. As secular liberalism, with its corresponding growth of government, has attained more power in America, for no other reason Jews should reject today’s liberal philosophy and gravitate to the conservative or libertarian principles.

This last point, perhaps more important than any other, is the one that appears to be most overlooked…. Only in America, for over three hundred years, have Jews been accepted as full citizens with all the rights and freedoms as possessed by other citizens. Only in America have Jews been able to make their way without any government sponsored controls or discrimination. Therefore, Jews must be almost paranoid in their opposition to any meaningful increase in government powers. It has been largely the Democratic Party that has expanded the powers of the federal government, beginning mainly with the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933.

…The point is seldom if ever made by our Jewish leaders that every new law passed with its accompanying bureaucratic regulations, results in a diminution of our individual freedom to act as we choose. The taxes we pay, the multitude of rules and regulations that govern our everyday lives, all of this impinges upon our freedom to act, and this freedom is perhaps the most precious value that we must preserve for ourselves and our future generations.”

Well said, Mr. Sternberg.

If you’ve read the earlier posts (here, here, here, here), you probably recognize at least a couple of the above themes. My goal isn’t necessarily to hit every one, but I do have a few more I hope to touch upon briefly this month (e.g., socialism vs. capitalism, fear of standing out, anti-Semitism, etc.) In the end, I hope you are intrigued enough to pick up the book for yourself, regardless of your religious or political leanings.

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My next couple posts continue a theme begun in my earlier posts regarding Larry F. Sternberg’s book Why Jews Should NOT Be Liberals (2001, rev. 2006). If you haven’t read them, please do; then come right back here.

Liberals love to quote statistics that demonstrate great differences in income between classes in the U.S. The fact that statistics actually show increasing improvements — e.g., almost one-third of poor families in 1975 had moved to the top brackets by 1991 (Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas report) — doesn’t stop them from complaining that the system only works for a lucky (or corrupt) few.

Thomas Sowell in his office

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell in The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy
points out another argument used by liberals to emphasize class differences. There is a class of people, the “benighted,” that require the superior wisdom of the “anointed” to carry on with their lives. Whatever their problems may be — poverty, irresponsible sex, crime, inability to rise above their inborn status — are all caused by society and therefore must be remedied by society, and not through individual efforts. There is increasing recognition among thinking and perceptive black Americans, such as Sowell, that one of the results of all of the myriad of welfare programs has been to create a “dependent class” that is easy prey for those politicians regarded as the benevolent grantors of government’s largess.

Judge Robert Bork writes that modern liberals think in terms of groups, not individuals. A free society such as America will always produce disparities in success and achievement, but liberals appeal more to class envy, rather than truly encouraging individual effort….

In making their case, liberals, either purposely or not, attempt with some success to pit class against class in this country. By grouping people into classes, such as black, Hispanic, gay, poor, or females, liberals seek to create an antagonism for one group against all others who seem to be doing better than they are. Bork writes that envy shapes our political culture, and the thrust of the liberals is to bring down the more fortunate instead of encouraging those below to rise to higher levels.

Liberals, who on the one hand are great defenders of individual liberty when it comes to satisfying any personal desires, seem to forget that we as individuals are members of a group only by someone’s definition. There are good and bad within any group. One of the big mistakes in trying to solve problems through government action is that people are not treated as individuals, but rather, are included as members of a group whether they like it or not. The result is that because there are such great differences between people, one cannot apply the same remedy to all and expect successful outcomes.”

I wish Sternberg had given a nicely illustrative case in point here. Oh, well…

Judaism recognizes that there are differences in people, in their status in life and their incomes, but stresses that they all must be treated with equal justice. “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment; thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor favour the person of the mighty; but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor.” (Leviticus 19:15) The notes to Soncino Pentateuch make the point that [neither the poor nor the rich shall be given special favors when he is in the wrong]….

Certainly the implication of this is that each case must be considered on its own merits, each person as an individual, regardless of his status in life. Justice requires no less than this. No mention is made of classifying people in groups, other than to describe them in general, but there is to be no special treatment for them because of their being so described. The notion that members of one class owe something to those of another class is so contrary to Judaism that it is amazing that the idea has not been more strongly challenged by our Jewish leaders.”

Note the middle of that last paragraph. Sternberg indicates that it isn’t the classifying of people in groups for descriptive purposes, per se, that is objectionable. No harm in that, really, as long as they are fair groupings and non-pejorative descriptions. The problem is when people are given “special treatment” — and in a one-size-fits-all manner, even when inappropriate — because of the group they have been assigned to. In the next post, Sternberg (and we) will look at why this should be particularly alarming for Jews.

I was reading the other day in Dinesh D’Souza’s book What’s So Great about America?. There is a chapter in which D’Souza discusses how the West became the dominant civilization in the modern era owing to its “invention” of science, democracy, & capitalism. A concept central to the flourishing of these enterprises is “the idea of development itself — the idea of progress.” The notion is understood in everything from the exasperated “How can you still believe that? Join the 21st century, already!” to the general expectation that, despite current downturns & problems, our economy and knowledge will continue to grow and our children will live in a better (safer? more affluent?) world.

Here is what D’Souza has to say about this very interesting and important notion:

The idea of progress, like the idea of reason, is a doctrine that cannot be proved but must be taken on faith. The Greeks didn’t have this faith: they believed that history moves in cycles. One may say that the Greeks believed in change, but not in progress. To the degree that the Greeks found a pattern in this change, it was largely one of degeneration. For many Greek thinkers, the golden age was in the past and things had been going steadily downhill since then. Of course the Greeks admitted that things could get better, but they believed that they could just as easily get worse. What governed human destiny was chance or fate. These notions of cyclical change and degeneration and fate were not unique to the Greeks. They were shared by the Hindus, the Muslims, the Buddhists, the Confucian Chinese, and by virtually everyone else in the world.

Painting of Plato

Painting of Plato

The modern West is the only civilization to entertain the idea that there is a meaningful pattern in history, that this pattern is onward and upward, that knowledge is cumulative and that its applications to human betterment are continuous and never-ending, that the future is certain to be better than the past. “Utopia” is in this sense a Western concept, because it locates perfection in the future. For most people in the world these notions — that history is somehow encoded with meaning, that we know in advance that things will improve instead of degenerate — are even today considered nothing short of ridiculous. In the West, too, the idea of progress continues to be debated. For instance, there is ongoing argument about whether progress is comprehensive, i.e., whether progress involves only material gains or also moral gains. But in some form the faith in progress is very widespread in the West, and the belief in it holds because it is supported by the contemporary experience of the people of the West.

Where, then, did the Western belief in progress come from? From Christianity. It is Christianity that introduced the idea of a divine plan for man and the world. In this view, history was not one meaningless event after another: it represented the fulfillment of a story line — a story line that began with the Fall but would end in triumph with the Second Coming of Christ. The Christian narrative is one of Creation, [Fall, ]Incarnation, and Last Judgment. As J.B. Bury points out in The Idea of Progress, the Christian doctrine by itself does not generate the notion of progress; for this to happen it must be secularized. This is done by keeping the concept of development but introducing man as its author and instrument. Human beings, building upon the discoveries of the past and of each other, will assure the continual advance of knowledge and its application to the betterment of the human condition. This is the idea that we recognize as ‘progress.’ The idea of progress is a secular expression of the idea of providence.”

Now, that in itself is interesting. But, then I got to thinking about how a certain contingent within American politics — not just the politicians, mind you, but like-minded individuals in academia, media, etc. — likes to describe themselves as “progressive”. “Progress” by what means? Towards what?

Since the “progressive” label is predominantly associated with the political Left, it is often used interchangeably with “liberal” or “Democrat”. (I know I’m guilty of this.) But, of course, these words are distinctively different. For awhile there, this group was content to call themselves “liberal”. But, recently, the “progressive” label has come back in vogue, particularly as a means of distinguishing social liberals from those of a more “classic liberal” bent (i.e., natural rights, civil liberties, free markets, limited government). Indeed, within today’s Democratic Party, the more conservative liberals (e.g., “Blue Dogs”) are often at odds with the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) over “social issues” and the proper reach of government. The CPC includes people like Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Maxine Waters (D-CA), Barney Frank (D-MA), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Charlie Rangel (D-NY), John Conyers (D-MI), and Henry Waxman (D-CA). Former members include Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sec. of Labor Hilda Solis (D-CA). Not surprisingly, the CPC’s far-Left agenda enjoys the support of the ACLU, The Nation magazine, La Raza, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, MoveOn.org, NAACP, etc.

So, what exactly is the “progressive” agenda? Modern progressivism in general holds to a broad, “non-ideological” ideology of reform. Its supposed freedom from ideological ties makes it more flexible & pragmatic than the usual political ideology, they say. This from Wikipedia:

According to John Halpin, senior advisor on the staff of the Center for American Progress, ‘Progressivism is an orientation towards politics. It’s not a long-standing ideology like liberalism, but an historically-grounded concept… that accepts the world as dynamic.’ Progressives see progressivism as an attitude towards the world of politics that is broader than conservatism vs. liberalism, and as an attempt to break free from what they consider to be a false and divisive dichotomy.”

Um, yeah, okay. But, what do they want? What are they trying to do? How about…

The CPC’s founding statement of purpose states that it was ‘organized around the principles of social and economic justice, a non-discriminatory society, and national priorities which represent the interests of all people, not just the wealthy and powerful’.”

Now we’re getting somewhere. It’s value-driven, with an emphasis on justice & equality. Sounds good, but…. Here are just a few ways in which this modern “progressive” idea plays out in the real world:

  • progressive taxation (i.e., the more you earn, the larger percentage the government takes); this means tax cuts for the poor and tax increases for the “wealthy” and businesses
  • wealth redistribution (i.e., taxing the rich & corporations to substantially increase federal funding for welfare and other “social programs”)
  • recklessly racking up humongous debts with deficit spending, bailouts, and creation of more government bureaucracies and huge entitlement programs
  • unflagging support for organized labor and trade unions, no matter how unneeded they may be, how unfair or financially draining their pensions & other special contracts are, or how much bullying & corruption they are guilty of
  • general distrust of corporations, banks, and anyone that makes a profit (i.e., they don’t like capitalism)
  • promotion of Affirmative Action and other legislation in the name of “equality of opportunity” for minorities and ending racism, when they are no longer needed and/or actually do a disservice to the ones they are supposed to help, not to mention resulting in reverse-discrimination of qualified non-minorities; also, accusing anyone who disagrees with them on this of being racist
  • a universal health care system that would ultimately increase costs (and tax burden), decrease quality of care (w/ longer waits and govt-rationing), dis-incentivise people from getting into or staying in medicine (especially general practice) because of lower pay, relinquish more control over personal decisions to the government, etc.
  • often extremist views on environmentalism (i.e., more so than mainstream liberals), resulting in legislation that prevents access to accessible energy and increases taxes and costs of energy usage; often gives preference to plants & animals over humans
  • government regulation of increasingly more areas of our personal lives and businesses (e.g., “Cap-n-Trade”, “Fairness Doctrine”, and “hate crimes” legislation)
  • advocacy of “gay rights” agenda and legalization of same-sex marriage
  • championing of even the most barbaric “abortion rights” (e.g., partial-birth abortion)
  • cutting of military spending, turning our backs on international allies, and trying to “make nice” with dictators & terrorists (who laugh at our weak threats and calls for sanctions)
  • paying mere lip-service, if that, to the problems of illegal immigration, while promoting amnesty
  • doing whatever they can get away with to deny the religious heritage of our nation and the Judeo-Christian principles upon which it was built, using an inaccurate concept of “separation of church and state” as a legal contrivance, and to undermine age-old, traditional values & moral standards
Obaman on phone with Netanyahu

The Progressive-in-Chief

It is this interpretation of “progressivism” that drives the radical Left, who are most actively moving our government and our nation away from the founding principles of our Constitution and towards being a largely secular, socialist state. That’s a system that erodes people’s freedoms, replaces traditional values & moral standards with “tolerance” and relativism, encourages dependency on the state, compromises national safety & security, and eventually leads to national bankruptcy. How exactly does this lead to the betterment of mankind? How is this “progress”?

What about those who don’t hold to the progressivist agenda? Can they be progressive? Of course. In fact, for several decades the largest conservative party in Canada was the Progressive Conservative Party. There are groups in Europe that use the term “progressive” and run from centrist (or “classic liberal”) to quite diverse in membership. And, as a political conservative myself, I can say without hesitation that I and my fellow-conservatives are fully in favor of true progress in many areas of life — from advances in science & technology to improving international relations to increasing people’s standard of living across the board. In some cases, we may even share some basic goals with “progressives” — e.g., eliminating war, poverty, disease, racism; better stewardship of the planet; recognition of human rights for all. The main differences are how we view & approach the issues. For example, who or what is responsible and to what degree? What and how much can or should be done, and by whom? What should be our priorities? How we answer these questions is based not only on facts — else, we would all agree — but on our understanding of the world and the values and principles directing us. It comes down to one’s worldview.

The first group to be identified with a term or idea in the minds of their countrymen usually gets to reap the benefits. It’s as true in politics as it is in advertising. “Progressive” is one of those words that sounds superior and can be used in an exclusivist way: “We’re progressive, so we are the ones pushing for progress and the betterment of mankind. The other guys, therefore,… aren’t.” In fact, in this case, the “other guys” (usually conservatives) are sometimes called “regressive”, as if they are advocating things that would cause civilization to move backwards. This is ridiculous. But, that’s OK. I don’t really think the American “progressives” are convincing anyone but themselves (and their European counterparts) of their own superiority or that they are the only ones working to improve our world.

What do you think?

Cat in the Hat

Dr. Seuss's Cat in the Hat

But would you, could you, like them with a tax?

Would you, could you, with Goldman Sachs?

Would you like it with Al Gore?

Or with Pelosi? (She’s such a bore!)

Or would you, could you, in a mob?

Since most people have no job.

Oh that’s right, the money’s tight.

So to the press and print some more!

Then just wait to see what’s next in store!

While you wait and look for hope,

And while you say “nope, nope, nope”,

I’ll take your money and spend, spend, spend.

I’ll give it to you in the end!

I’ll take your home, then your bank;

I’ll take your cars (you’ll have me to thank).

I’ll take over your health care and make you pay.

I do not care what you say.

‘Cuz in the end, I am the Boss,

And my dumb win is your dumb loss.

– Ron Sorensen (Thanks, Ron!)

P.S.  For more Dr. Seuss humor, go here.

I do not like it Uncle Sam,

I do not like it Sam I Am.

I do not like these dirty crooks,

Neither how they cook the books.

I do not like when Congress steals,

I do not like their secret deals.

I do not like the speaker Nan,

I do not like this ‘YES WE CAN’.

I do not like this kind of hope,

I do not like it, nope, nope, nope!

— Nanci Lovelace

(with thanks to Hal Stempert for passing it on)

P.S.  For more Dr. Seuss humor, go here.