Professor Paul Eidelberg
July 25, 2009
My first trip to Israel was in June 1973. I was visiting a friend, a philosopher, to whom I had sent the first draft of my book A Discourse on Statesmanship. Both of us were dismayed by Israel’s institutional and ideological flaws. We decided to establish an Institute for Statesmanship and Torah Philosophy.
I was then finishing A Discourse on Statesmanship, the first philosophical analysis of The Federalist Papers, the greatest work on statesmanship since Aristotle’s Politics. Meanwhile, my friend was learning with the Rabbi Dr. Chaim Zimmerman, a world renowned Talmudist and Torah philosopher, who I visited weekly after making aliya in 1976, and whose teachings enabled me to interface political science and Torah.
To appreciate the statesmanship of the Founding Fathers, my Discourse contrasted the very different statesmanship of Woodrow Wilson, an accomplished political scientist. In Wilson’s writings I discovered a political science that rejected the immutable truths or Natural Rights doctrine of the Declaration of Independence as well as the Constitutional system of checks and balances. Influenced by historical relativism as well as by Darwinism, Wilson propagated today’s doctrine of an evolutionary Constitution, where the President would personify the will and changing wants of the people. Wilson’s politics united Progressivism and Statism.
Whereas The Federalist embodied a “Politics of Magnanimity,” which transcends class, Wilson initiated a “Politics of Compassion” which fosters resentment of the poor against the rich. Hence Wilson may be deemed the most subversive president in American history—until the ascendancy of Barack Obama, a disciple of anti-American malcontents animated by Marxist socialism and Statism.
Socialism-cum-Statism, with the veneer of secular Zionism, was the ideology of Israel’s founding fathers. This ersatz ideology was as foreign to a commonwealth based on Torah Judaism as it would be to an American commonwealth based on the American Declaration of Independence—a document rooted in Jewish ideas.
Unlike America, however, Israel lacked a constitution. Israel’s immigrant population had little understanding of constitutional democracy. They believed that periodic, multi-party elections are sufficient to make Israel a democracy. They did not know that a few simple electoral rules can yield democratic Statism. Rule One: avoid constituency elections by making the entire country a single electoral district. Rule Two: require parties to wins Knesset seats on the basis of Proportional Representation. Rule Three: require citizens to vote for fixed party slates, rather than for individual candidates (who would be personally accountable to the voters). Rule Four: allow parties to use a staged method of electing a party’s Central Committee. Bolsheviks called this “democratic centralism.” Lo and behold, David Ben-Gurion was a self-professed Bolshevik, hence a Statist.
In Israel, Statism is obscured by Proportional Representation with a low electoral threshold, which spawns a profusion of parties. This necessitates multiparty cabinet government, but few discern that this yields prime ministerial government—Statism in disguise.
Proportional Representation fosters party men, not statesmen. And since the founders were practical atheists, they lacked the statesmanship required to unite immigrants from 100 different countries and endow them with Jewish vision.
In contrast, America’s Founding Fathers consisted of desists and theists learned in classical and modern political philosophy. Madison and Hamilton knew how to design political institutions. This can’t be said Israel’s founders. The average duration of an Israeli government is less than two years. The consequences are painfully obvious.
This may explain why, in 1975, when I first met Israel’s former Chief of General Staff Chaim Laskov in Los Angeles, he had a copy of my Discourse on Statesmanship. Israel lacked two of the basic ingredients of sound government: (1) a set of immutable ethical principles, and (2) a framework of institutions that facilitates rational implementation these principles under changing circumstances.
The Torah reveals these basic ingredients at a supernal level: first, the Ten Commandments, second, a body of laws and institutions to elaborate and safeguard those Commandments and adjudicate violations thereof.
Israel’s ruling elites do not take the Torah seriously, and of those that do, few try to derive from the Torah principles of government that can render Israel’s political institutions more Jewish as well as more efficient. Hence, I undertook the task of showing how Israel can be made more Jewish by means of democratic principles as well as more democratic by means of Jewish principles. This is the purpose of my book Jewish Statesmanship.
Consider the American Declaration of Independence. We see in the Preamble a statement about the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” from which we derive our unalienable rights to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. These rights are immutable; they transcend history; they are higher than the laws of the State. We also see in the Declaration violations of those rights by the British government.
To secure man’s God-given rights and prevent their violation by the power of the State, the Founding Fathers established a Federal system government with limited powers and institutional checks and balances. Those elected to make the laws of the country would be accountable not to party machines, but to the voters in constituency elections. The Founders had studied the greatest political philosophers. They designed a government that made the United States the most powerful yet most benevolent nation on earth. University presidents in the eighteenth century regarded the American Constitution as based on the Ten Commandments. Notwithstanding separation of religion and state, the Constitution was the manifestation of a monotheistic culture rooted in the Bible of Israel.
Now, by interfacing the Torah and America’s basic principles of government, one can elevate those principles and adapt them to Israel. Accordingly, in Jewish Statesmanship, I drafted a Constitution for Israel based on Jewish and democratic principles. The Constitution derives the two basic principles of democracy, freedom and equality, from the Torah’s conception of man’s creation in the image of God. This provides these principles with ethical constraints and yields what I call “Normative Democracy.” The Constitution also makes legislators individually accountable to the voters. The laws will then be more Jewish because a substantial majority of Israel’s Jewish population identifies with the Jewish heritage. But now a warning about a malignant form of democracy.
A basic purpose of the Torah is to eliminate idolatry. The idolatry of our time is “Normless Democracy,” where freedom means living as you like, and where equality leads to moral equivalence.
Moral equivalence underlies the willingness of Israeli politicians to negotiate with Arab despots—with evil men committed to Israel’s annihilation. By failing to act as a Normative Democracy, Israel’s government induces the Normless Democracies of the world to expect Israel to make territorial concessions to her anti-democratic enemies.
That Israel’s ruling elites have succumbed to moral equivalence by negotiating with genocidal despots suggests they suffer from a mental disorder. I discuss this disorder in my book Demophrenia: Israel and the Malaise of Democracy. Thus, whereas Jewish Statesmanship provides a constructive critique of Israel’s flawed institutions, Demophrenia offers a constructive critique of Israel’s flawed mentality.
Also necessary is restoration of Jewish national pride. Hence I wrote Jerusalem versus Athens, Judaic Man, and A Jewish Philosophy of History. More learned men should have written such books, as I proposed to others in 1980; however, when no response was forthcoming, I was urged to undertake the task by Rav Chaim Zimmerman of blessed memory. Rav Chaim deplored the low level of Israeli politics and discerned the end of Zionism. What is to take the place of Zionism is a challenge to which I am not equal but which I could not ignore.
I have often said that friendly critics of Israeli government focus too much on policy flaws rather than on regime flaws. Generally speaking, policy flaws spring from regime flaws. Thus we see that regardless of which party heads the government, it pursues the same failed policy of “territory for peace.”
Israel’s best political analysts rarely say anything about Israel’s inherently flawed system of government. None call for “regime change.” This requires, among other things, constitutional reforms that shift power from parties to the people and that transforms Israel into a Normative Jewish Democracy.
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Of course, regime change does not come easy. Hence I am reminded of the Alter of Kelm, who said: “Ask not if a thing is possible; ask only if it is necessary.” And John Stuart Mill who said: “A people may be unprepared for good institutions, but to kindle a desire for them is a necessary part of the preparation.” This has guided my work in Israel.
© 2009 Paul Eidelberg - All Rights Reserved
Internationally known political scientist, author and lecturer, Eidelberg is the founder and president of The Foundation for Constitutional Democracy with offices in Jerusalem.
Prof. Eidelberg served in the United States Air Force where he held the rank of first lieutenant. He received his doctoral degree at the University of Chicago. He designed the electronic equipment for the first brain scanner at the Argonne Cancer Research Hospital.
Before immigrating to Israel in 1976, Prof. Eidelberg wrote a trilogy on America’s founding fathers: The Philosophy of the American Constitution, On the Silence of the Declaration of Independence, and a Discourse on Statesmanship.
In 1976 he joined the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Israel. He has written several books on the Arab-Israel conflict and on Judaism. Demophrenia: Israel and the Malaise of Democracy analyses the mentality of Israel’s ruling elites. Jewish Statesmanship: Lest Israel Fall, which has been translated into Hebrew and Russian, reveals the flaws inherent in Israel’s system of governance and how they may be remedied. A Jewish Philosophy of History investigates the world-historical events leading to the rebirth of Israel in 1948.
His latest publication, The Myth of Israeli Democracy, provides an abbreviated version of a Constitution which shows how to make Israel a genuine democracy based on a Jewish conception of freedom and equality.
is on the Advisory Council of the Ariel Center for Policy Research,
which has published many of his policy papers. In addition to writing
more than 1,000 articles for newspapers and scholarly journals in the
U.S. and Israel, he has a weekly program on Israel
Prof. Eidelberg has been lecturing throughout Israel and the United States. He conducts seminars on constitutions, diverse parliamentary electoral systems, Jewish law, and related topics at the Jerusalem center of the Foundation for Constitutional Democracy.
Web site: Foundation for Constitutional Democracy