Israel's important role in keeping liberal democratic values alive

Israel is likely to maintain democratic values and practices over the long haul.  Longstanding biblical ethics still affect political behavior via an emphasis on self-restraint as a moral mandate, something that is necessary for democratic societies.  (This essay speaks of small "d" democratic societies, as opposed to anything involving the Democrat party.)

One key principle of Jewish life over the millennia has been that each Jew must remember they he was a slave in Egypt.  This principle means that Jews must not oppress the (non-Jewish) stranger living among them.  This is big.  In other ostensibly democratic states, minorities commonly have been poorly treated simply because they were not of the majority.  In Israel, there is always that principled biblical floor, derived from the Jews' past status as slaves, that cannot be breached when dealing with those who are not members of the tribe.

And while we are at it, let's mention the obvious, which is that the leftists who want everyone to be treated equally actually limit "equality" to those who agree with them.  This intolerant attitude has its source in the early communist practices of Lenin and Stalin, both of whom believed that minority cultures needed to be subsumed by the Revolution.  History repeats itself today in the form of multiple leftist acts of repression because that is the easiest path to follow for under-witted ideologues.

Another ancient, un-cancelable Jewish value is not to favor either the rich or poor in legal judgments.  This principle expects fairness in the courts.  When it is not forthcoming, its absence spoils all pretense to a democratic system.  The logic of this principle makes perfect sense to everyone yet decays to dust under the influences of money and politics.  Unfortunately, a corollary to the effects of money on justice is that in America, government becomes a major source of non-democratic legal judgments because it is our government that produces and distributes money at will.

Image: The Torah.  Pxfuel license.

The Bible states that "you should not place a stumbling block in front of a blind man" (Leviticus 19:14).  Of course, only a crude and total cynic would suggest that the Bible wanted this principle applied only to blind men and large rocks.  This is a wondrously broad behavioral definition that encompasses all deceptive practices.

When this biblical injunction sits in the background, a true democratic society has a different flavor from when it does not.  Indeed, without self-imposed limitations on deception, how we define "democratic" itself becomes an exercise in manipulation.  Manipulation negates freedom and implies that ends justify means.  Deception is expected in war, but not when the goal for society is a peaceful existence.

Those are just three biblical principles among many, all of which find their expression in the daily life of Israeli law and custom.  When principles that contain elements of self-restraint are seen as anachronistic, simplistic, stupid, naïve, ineffective, or inefficient, it follows inexorably that the culture must then be propped up by repression, an expensive and debilitating practice for both the individual and society.

Indeed, there is something even worse than repression that flows from ignoring these values.  When a society and its members fail to support self-limitation as a principle, they invariably come to misunderstand how the world works.  Reality is so complex that people must continually admit to infinite ignorance, no matter how much they think they know.

The purpose of applying self-restraint is to fill the gaping holes in human knowledge and understanding.  Until artificial intelligence at the level of quantum computers can parse all variables affecting all possible outcomes to a problem, strong humanist "principles" must suffice in bringing about solutions that may be imperfect but are still good enough to maintain our existence.  If we modestly accept our mental limitations in understanding how events unfold, our dependence upon principles of self-restraint will help us adapt to the immutable Mick Jagger rule: "You can't always get what you want."

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