Posts Tagged ‘democracy in America’

Over the past several weeks, I have intermittently been posting and commenting on excerpts from a book I happened upon at the library — Why Jews Should NOT Be Liberals (2001, rev. 2006) by Larry F. Sternberg. Sternberg examines the “doctrines”, programs, & policies of modern liberalism (in American politics) and compares them with the teachings & traditions of Torah-based, orthodox Judaism. As you may have guessed from the book’s title, the author finds the two mostly incompatible. He attempts to explain why today’s Jews predominantly vote for liberal candidates/legislation and why they need to rethink their reasoning and shift more to the political Right.

If you haven’t checked them out already, my previous posts in this series can be found at:

Liberals, Government Programs, and Unintended Consequences (Part 1 of 2)
Liberals, Government Programs, and Unintended Consequences (Part 2 of 2)
Liberals, Jews, and Class Warfare (Part 1 of 2)
Liberals, Jews, and Class Warfare (Part 2 of 2)
Why Are American Jews Liberal?
Socialism, Liberalism, and American Jews
Jews and the Problem with Always Backing the Majority
Jewish Freedom and the Free Market

In this final installment, Sternberg revisits a few of the topics mentioned in earlier posts and warns of the danger of creeping socialism and the associated loss of freedoms.

The fear of anti-Semitism and its alleged connection to the political right is what keeps many Jews in the liberal camp. They continue to overlook the fact that real anti-Semitism can take root only when the powers of government are concentrated in the hands of the few. He who ignores history remains ignorant. Today’s liberal doctrine seeks to add more and more powers to government. No matter what the problem is, real or concocted, liberals want to solve it by granting some new or expanded power to government. Are oil prices too high? Do drugs cost too much? Are the schools not teaching their students to read and write? The answer per the liberals is to take some type of government action as the cure. To turn for answers to the marketplace, or to the privatization of previously controlled activities, or in some cases to merely let nature take its course, simply escapes the liberal mind. Government, with all of its “wise men,” has to be the answer. This approach again is completely contrary to Jewish law and tradition.

painting of Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville

It is the coercive force of governments of all shapes and varieties that has driven the Jewish people to wander the globe in search of freedom. Finally, they found that freedom here in the United States of America, and Jews should make as their first priority the preservation of that individual freedom. Remember the old story of how to boil a frog. You don’t throw it into boiling water, because the frog would immediately jump out. Instead, you put it in tepid water, and gradually turn up the heat until the frog is unaware that it is now a boiled frog. The story is the same regarding the loss of our individual freedom here. It is not lost all at once, but slowly, given the liberal programs to expand the powers of government, we may one day wake up and find out that we have become completely dependent for our daily existence on the good graces of government and the “benevolent” people running it.

The words of Alexis de Tocqueville from his writing Democracy in America are to the point.

‘The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrranize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.’

This was written in the 1840s, and one can almost sense De Tocqueville looking down on us today and saying, ‘See, I told you so.'”

Wise words of caution from De Tocqueville — and Larry Sternberg. I hope you’ve enjoyed and/or learned, even been challenged, by this series of posts excerpting Sternberg’s book. Please let me know what you thought of the series.

I considered holding off posting this until September 11th but decided that it was equally apropos for July 4th. It may be a bit idealistic, but I hope you will find it as affirming and inspiring as I do.

If the immediate horror of 9/11 has dissipated, the attack nevertheless served as a profound reminder that buildings, however symbolic they might be, are nothing more than concrete and steel. The precious human lives they contained testified, by their loss, that what remains are ideas. Intending to shatter the ‘materialism’ of the United States, Osama bin Laden’s terrorists merely reminded the world of the supremacy of the intangible over the physical, of the spiritual over the temporal. Focusing Americans’ thoughts once again on freedom — and its enemies — terrorists united a nation seriously divided by an election and elevated a president under fire to a position of historical greatness.

Scene from Sept. 11, 2001

Scene from Sept. 11, 2001

The fatal flaw of bin Laden — like Hitler, Stalin, and even the nearsighted Spaniards of five hundred years ago — was that they fixed their gaze on the physical manifestations of the wealth of the West, failing to understand that wealth is a mere by-product of other, more important qualities: initiative, inventiveness, hope, optimism, and above all, faith. The people who had set foot in Virginia and Massachusetts almost three centuries ago often arrived poor, usually alone, and certainly without lofty titles or royal honors. After they plowed the fields and founded their enterprises, it was not the farms alone that made Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia flourish, nor trade alone that breathed life into the Boston of John Adams. Mere plantations did not produce George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, nor did a legal system spawn Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln. American determination and drive, vision and commitment came not from acquisition of material things — though the freedom to acquire things was a prerequisite. Rather, greatness came from an all-consuming sense that this was, after all, the ‘city on a hill,’ the ‘last, best hope for mankind.’ The United States was, and is, a fountain of hope, and a beacon of liberty.

American democracy flowed from the pursuit of opportunity, governed by respect for the law. American industry burst forth from the brains of Carnegie and Weyerhaeuser, Vanderbilt and Gates, most often coming from those owning the least in material goods. And American strength came from the self-assurance — lacking in every other nation in the world by the twenty-first century (or what Bush called liberty’s century) — that this nation uniquely had a charge to keep, a standard to uphold, and a mission to fulfill. In the end, the rest of the world will probably both grimly acknowledge and grudgingly admit that, to paraphrase the song, God has ‘shed His grace on thee.’ Knowing perfection is unattainable, Americans have not ceased in its pursuit. Realizing that war is unavoidable, Americans have never relented in their quest for peace and justice. But understanding that faith was indispensable, Americans have, more than any other place on earth, placed it at the center of the Republic. The American character, and the American dream, could never be disentangled, and ultimately the latter would go only as far as the former would take it.

—  Conclusion to A Patriot’s History of the United States (2004), by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen

Statue of Liberty with fireworks

Statue of Liberty with fireworks

To my fellow Americans, Have a Safe and Blessed Independence Day Weekend!!