Posts Tagged ‘liberalism’

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.”

Advertisements

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=”http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1589803833?ie=UTF8&amp;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=”http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=sirrahc-20&amp;l=as2&amp;o=1&amp;a=1589803833&#8243; border=”0″ alt=”” width=”1″ height=”1″ /> (2001, rev. 2006)

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.

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.