Posts Tagged ‘Larry Sternberg’

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.

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.

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.