Posts Tagged ‘Jewish tradition’

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.

In today’s excerpt from Why Jews Should NOT Be Liberals (2001, rev. 2006), Larry Sternberg returns to the issue of free market capitalism, its benefits, and what part a good Jew should play in the system….

Most observers of American politics would agree that between the two competing political doctrines of liberalism and conservatism, when it comes to promoting, encouraging, stimulating, praising, expanding, and identifying themselves with the free market, capitalistic system, it is conservatism that captures the prize. Of course, liberals welcome the fruits and benefits of the free market, but it is mostly to their liking because it creates sufficient wealth for their redistribution schemes and not because it is the most natural and productive system yet devised by man. Still liberals continue to want to tinker with it, to control it, and when necessary, to intervene with their own pet programs and ideas….

Green Bay Tea Party with signs

Green Bay Tea Party practicing free speech and the right to peaceably assemble in protest

Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to be generally more in favor of permitting people to spend their money as the individual sees fit. They are content to permit the free market to do its wondrous work, and with the “invisible hand” doing its thing, they sit back and enjoy the fruits of their endeavors….”

Yeah, I’d say that about sums it up. No profound insights, but a pretty fair assessment, I think.

So, what does this have to do with American Jews being liberal? If we agree that it is the conservatives who do the best job of growing the free market; and if we agree that the free market is the best system yet devised by man to spread the wealth created among all the participants; and if one of the cherished goals of Judaism is to help solve the problem of poverty, then doesn’t it follow that American Jews should be the foremost champions of growing the free market, and to do this they should be conservatives?

[…] The link between Judaism and capitalism is well described by Ellis Rivkin in his book, The Shaping of Jewish History. Rivkin wrote that it was the onset of capitalism beginning in the late seventeenth century that began to bring freedom to European Jews…. Where Jews participated in the creation of a capitalistic society as in America, they enjoyed a high degree of equality from the outset. Where capitalism failed to gain a secure foothold,… Jews were either expelled or persecuted….

The history of Jews in the modern world makes explicit the connection between individual freedom and developing capitalism. And yet, there seems to persist the notion that somehow capitalism breeds too much greed and selfishness, and we Jews must be the guardians against such evil spirits. It is okay for us Jews to become wealthy and to accrue power and influence through the workings of our marvelous free market, but we’ve got to protect society and the poor and the children from the evil inclinations that must reside in those “other rich and powerful” folk. Apparently, only wealthy Jews (and liberal Democrats) possess that kindness of spirit that entitles them to possess the wealth they accumulate. So we Jews must continue to support the liberal cause because that is the only doctrine that seems to be consistent with our Jewish calling of Tsedekah, and which can control the evil impulses of those other rich guys….

lots of large denomination bills

A Whole Lotta Gelt! Moolah!

Where Jews should be making their contribution to our market economy is by exhibiting the highest morality in their dealings with others in the business world. Our capitalistic system depends on honesty, integrity, and the carrying out of one’s promises. It is when fraud and deceit enter the picture that the worst excesses occur, and when people begin to doubt the value of our system. If Jews who are already so prominent in the business world would stress the positive aspects of the free market and set great examples of honesty in their business dealings, they could do more to help the economy grow and provide jobs than any government program existing. In the process, they would also demonstrate some of the basic morality of our Jewish religion.”

We have seen several examples of “fraud and deceit” in our capitalist society over the past several years — e.g., the Enron debacle, WorldCom, Bernie Madoff, recent scandals involving banks & securities firms, etc. They are actually quite few, when you think of how many businesses, business executives, and big-time investors there are out there. But, they are an embarrassment of sorts and serve as poster-children for corporate greed & corruption, which the socialists and free market skeptics point to as justification for their suspicions & accusations. Let’s not forget, though, that greed and corruption are rampant in socialist/communist nations, too. They just don’t have as much money to steal.

I think it behooves all free-marketers to accept Sternberg’s exhortation, though, especially those of us with a religious worldview that encourages moral, ethical behavior in all aspects of our lives. We must do our level best to act honorably and with moral integrity in all business dealings.

Continuing our (intermittent) series of posts discussing Larry Sternberg’s insightful book (Why Jews Should NOT Be Liberals (2001, rev. 2006)), consider the danger of supporting the actions/programs espoused by the current majority, without (or despite?) considering whether they actually make sense or if similar programs have a history of success. It’s something worth considering, no matter who we are.

Do I, as a registered Republican, support every program put forth by Republican leaders, especially when they are “in power”? I don’t think so, but I admit to being less critical or suspicious of a program if it is sponsored by big players on the political Right. In recent years, though, I’ve tried to pay more attention, be better informed, consider the consistency with conservative principles, etc., so I don’t fall for the bad ideas from either side.

Here is Sternberg’s take on why many of his fellow Jews (i.e., the liberals/progressives) have fallen for this — namely, a reluctance to stand out from the crowd….

The notion that we Jews will somehow curry favor from a country’s majority by blindly backing programs momentarily favored by that majority conflicts with our tradition of independent thought. When the evidence is clear that these programs do more harm than good, why can we not use our own common sense and change our thinking. It is a fact that we gain the respect and admiration of others, mostly by standing up for our true principles no matter how unpopular they may be at the moment.

The problem here is that, too often, we do not recognize what our true Jewish principles are, and our Jewish leaders are not very good in explaining them. So it is left to our religious leaders to show us the way, but alas, it appears there are few of them who seem to see the light. But we Jews have survived through the centuries by never losing our optimism that better days are ahead. We must continue to hope that Jews in America will soon see what their best interests are and vote accordingly.

Jewish children (ca. WWII)

Jewish children (ca. WWII)

The terrible calamities that have fallen upon the Jewish people in our own “enlightened” 20th century did not come about because Jews stood out from the crowd by backing unpopular programs or issues. It would not have made any difference to a Hitler or a Stalin whether or not Jews favored or opposed a higher minimum wage, or granted monopoly powers to a union, or were for or against abortion. No, we were singled out only because we were Jews, and we were considered to be a threat to those dictators, largely because of our tradition for independent thinking. If we are to prevent any repeats of this type of persecution, then we must be ever on the alert to resist any government from obtaining excessive power and control over the individual, no matter how attractive those programs of the moment may appear to be.

Today’s liberal philosophy, when stripped of all its camouflage, is one that grants greater and greater powers to a central government. Many of the current liberal programs are ostensibly designed to correct some evil or solve some pressing social problem. From the “war on tobacco” to the “war on guns” to the coming “war on fat in our diet” [Note: Sternberg called that one, eh?!] to whatever the facile minds of the liberals can conjure, all of these schemes result in limitations on the freedom of the individual to live his or her own life. This has never been in the interests of Jews throughout their history and it is time that American Jews recognized that truism. If for no other reason than enlightened self-interest, American Jews should reject today’s liberal doctrine.”

Indeed. Jew or Gentile, religious or non-religious, we must always be wary of “cure-all” programs that may sound good and beneficial on the surface (e.g., universal health plans, gun control, cap-n-trade) but, upon further examination, prove to be a means of government control and, ergo, restriction of individual (and corporate) freedoms. (And they’re usually REALLY expensive, too!)

It is somewhat ironic that liberals are now very concerned about the possible loss of individual freedoms under the Patriot Act enacted after 9/11/01. [Remember, Sternberg wrote this in 2004/5, when it was a hot(ter) topic.] It is true that this act gives government new powers to intrude into the lives of our citizens, along with the ability of our intelligence agencies to share information. There was a general consensus that intelligence failures may have contributed to our inability to prevent the attack, and this is why the Patriot Act came into being. To date, there have been few, if any, instances of abuse of these powers. American Jews should be ever watchful for such abuses. Liberals, however, always seem to be able to choose which freedoms they support, so long as their own oxen are not being gored.”

In his book Why Jews Should NOT Be Liberals (2001, rev. 2006), Larry F. Sternberg gives a bit of history, explaining how Jews in the late-18th & early-19th centuries came to think so highly of “socialism”. Unfortunately, they did not understand the true, basic tenets of the system, and it cost them and their descendants greatly.

Russia's Czar Alexander III

Russia's Czar Alexander III, who began the pogroms against the Jews after inheriting the throne in 1881

The link between Jews and socialism in modern times can be traced to the mass exodus that took place from Eastern Europe to the United States, beginning in 1881. Jews fleeing the tyranny of the czar followed the liberal cause, which was to liberate them from the ghettos. Liberal was a heroic term in Europe, and to break the czar’s rule, socialism was the doctrine most often preached as the way to a better life. Probably most Jews accepting socialism really were not aware of the dictionary definition: “Control by the state of all means of production and economic activity.” They knew only that anything was better than living under the czar, and socialism, with its veneer of brotherhood and charity and sharing, was appealing….

Socialism seemed to progress by pretending to be a liberal, revolutionary movement, freeing up the lives of its supporters, when in reality its basic doctrine is more state control over peoples’ lives. The Nazi Party was known as the National Socialist Party. Communism in Russia was identified as the International Socialist Movement. It was no coincidence that the word “socialist” appears prominently in both of these totalitarian regimes, which together practically decimated European Jewry. Still, there is little doubt that socialism continues to cast its enticing spell over many of our intellectuals today, some of whom have influential teaching positions in our leading universities.

The irony of it all is as [Elie] Koudurie writes [in his book The Jewish World], American Jews have long believed anti-Semitism was encouraged by the political right in America, with the right’s alleged ignoring of the social problems of poverty, prejudice, and its alleged practice of discrimination against Jews in business. Only recently are American Jews discovering that many of our problems emanate from the left with its affluence, permissiveness, wishful thinking, and its substitute of secular liberalism for their own Jewish religion.

What American Jews must always remember is that totalitarian regimes come to power by promising everything to everybody, and then remain in power through force and intimidation. And when things eventually go bad for them, there is always the need for a scapegoat, and who else fits that role but the Jew. Sidney Hook, a liberal for much of his life, is quoted as saying,

‘I was guilty of judging capitalism by its operations and socialism by its hopes and aspirations; capitalism by its works and socialism by its literature.’

Winston Churchill wrote,

‘The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings. The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.’

…I tend to believe that the socialist theory of life is not making that much headway among the baby boomers in America. Certainly, if one leans toward Judaism in practically any way, and if one does any studying of the history of socialism and its links to present day liberalism, one would have to reject following socialism in any of its forms.

Beyond all of this, there must be the realization that socialism, and its twin liberalism, by granting more and more power to the state, by looking to the state to solve all of our social, economic, and even personal problems, in effect makes the state the “God” whom all should worship. By elevating the state to this supreme position, socialism or liberalism by definition does thereby demote the eternal and One God to an inferior position. In so doing, these philosophies defy the Second Commandment, when God thundered to Moses and the Israelites on Mt. Sinai,

‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me.'”

So, it seems that the first point here is the danger in latching onto a particular movement without fully understanding the doctrines/ideology behind it. The Jews have certainly paid the price, as they may again, but the lesson serves for all of us who value our freedom. I think the American “Progressives” and their agenda — particularly the secularist flavor — serve as the current example to beware of.

[On a lighter note, I keep thinking of the immortal words of Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, who said to his companion, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”]

The second point is a warning against the subtle replacement of God with the State in people’s minds. Not that it is worshiped in quite the same way, of course. But, not all idolatry is directed at a divine being or a statue or icon of one.

<em><a href=”;tag=sirrahc-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=1589803833″>Why Jews Should NOT Be Liberals</a></em><img style=”border: none!important; margin: 0!important;” src=”;l=as2&amp;o=1&amp;a=1589803833&#8243; border=”0″ alt=”” width=”1″ height=”1″ /> (2001, rev. 2006)

Here is another excerpt from the terrific book Why Jews Should NOT Be Liberals (2001, rev. 2006) by Larry F. Sternberg. Specifically, we continue from the last post, in which Sternberg (with insights from Thomas Sowell and Judge Robert Bork) looked at the tendency of liberals to not only group people into classes but to set those classes in opposition against one another. Here, he/we examine this more particularly from the standpoint of Jewish tradition & values.

 The Ten Commandments on rounded stone tabletsAlthough Judaism is described frequently as a “community” religion — that is, we are each of us responsible for our brother — there exists a plethora of laws that command treatment be administered to Jews as individuals. “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin.” (Deuteronomy 24:16) The Ten Commandments are directed to us as individuals, not as classes or groups. Class envy can grow into coveting your neighbor’s possessions, which is expressly forbidden by the Tenth Commandment. We are to adhere to these Commandments on our own, regardless of what others may do.”

I had never connected the commandment against coveting with class envy/warfare, somehow, but it makes perfect sense.

To pit one class or group against another is contrary to Jewish law and should be strongly condemned by our Jewish leaders. When Hitler selected Jews as the supreme evil that must be destroyed, he did not evaluate each Jew as an individual, but instead, he took anyone who had the least amount of Jewish blood to be his victim. Jews as a group had to be extinguished. He succeeded with terminating the lives of two-thirds of European Jews, and if he had won the war, would probably have reached his goal. Of all people, Jews should reject any hint of judging individuals according to their class, whether it is economic, racial, religious, color, or any other type of grouping. At the same time, trying to pit one class against another is to violate the concept of loving one’s neighbor as thyself that is stressed throughout Judaism.”

The “Great Commandment” in Judaism is most clearly stated as “…you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18 (NASB)). Jesus referenced it in the New Testament, but He usually put it second in importance after loving God with all one’s being (e.g., Mark 12:28-34 and Luke 10:25-28). The Apostle Paul also referred to this principle in Romans 13:9 and Galatians 5:14.

The complaint by the liberals that the “rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer” should be answered by Jews, not with a nodding head, but with some affirmative statements. We should be replying that to solve this problem, if indeed it is a problem, we need to improve our educational system by giving parents choice of schools; expand our system of trade schools; improve our family structure; improve the ease of starting a business of your own; and remove those governmental restrictions that inhibit the formation and expansion of new businesses. These are the types of positive changes that are needed to solve the income disparity issues. In the end, each of us must fight his own battles. It would be hoped that those who are burdened from birth with handicaps would receive help from charitable institutions and from individuals, with very limited support from governmental agencies. Such help must always be granted on an individual basis and not by any group or class status.

The very call to action by class, as used by liberals, should be an affront to Jews. As a group that has been so abused throughout history because we were classified as members of an undesirable group, our hair should stand on end and our skin should tingle when such actions are advocated. Judaism preaches unity, brotherhood of all men, and waits for the day when all peoples will accept and worship the one God…. To divide people on the basis of their individual differences for political gain to achieve political power is simply not in keeping with our Jewish traditions and should be soundly rejected by American Jews.”

Sternberg proceeds to give the “latest” (as of 2000) example of using class warfare for attempted political gain. Namely, presidential candidate Al Gore “openly appealed to the voters’ class envy instincts by proclaiming himself as the champion of ‘working families’ against the ‘powerful.'” The latter were, of course, Big Oil, Big Drug Companies, Wall Street, etc. Sound familiar? It’s a recurring theme in national elections, as exemplified more recently by the Obama campaign and the ongoing rhetoric of the Obama administration and its comrades in Congress. I think it’s safe to say that Class Warfare has become a cornerstone of modern liberal/progressive political philosophy.

Yes, I used the word “comrades” precisely because of its association with communism and because the whole Class Envy tactic and the use of Class Warfare as a socio-political strategy so closely mirrors the Marxist/Leninist teachings that lead to authoritarian, communist states in Russia, China, and elsewhere. This is what America has historically fought AGAINST, because it is antithetical to what America stands for and what the majority of the people believe in. As Sternberg has pointed out, it is contrary to the Judeo-Christian values & principles that the United States was founded upon. And it sickens & angers me to see powerbrokers, legislators, activist judges, and our President take away our freedoms and independence, as they push us evermore Leftward.

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.