The Foundation for Constitutional Democracy

05-Jul-1999

10 Short Position Papers - IX

Filed under: Party Structures Papers — admin @ 1:50 pm

IX - Importing Political Wisdom From America to Israel
Professor Paul Eidelberg

One cannot possibly appreciate the political wisdom of America’s founding fathers without assiduous study of James Madison’s notes on the debates of the Constitutional Convention together with their elucidation in The Federalist Papers, which he co-authored primarily with Alexander Hamilton.

One of the principles of statesmanship manifested at the Constitutional Convention and virtually forgotten in our own time is this: how to get men to agree to a common course of action for different reasons. Superficial commentators find the answer in the notion of “compromise”; indeed, they describe the American Constitution as a “bundle of compromises.” This partial truth obscures the nature of philosophic statesmanship. Here I shall present an example of this statesmanship most relevant to Israel.

The delegates at the Convention (which met in Philadelphia in May 1787) represented thirteen sovereign states under the weak system of government prescribed in the Articles of Confederation. It was no easy task to draft a Constitution that would significantly diminish the power of these states.

Hamilton, representing New York, was an aristocrat. James Wilson, representing Pennsylvania, was a democrat. Wilson advocated popular election of the House of Representatives as a matter of principle. Hamilton supported popular election of the House as a matter of expedience. He knew that only popular election of the lower branch of the legislature could break the power of the states and make possible the establishment of a Federal Union, one whose government could make its citizens proud of being American (rather than “Pennsylvanians” or “New Yorkers”). He envisioned a government that could imbue citizens with a strong sense of national unity by means of coherent and comprehensive policies of noble and enduring significance.

Lacking under the Articles of Confederation was a unitary and independent executive—a presidency—invested with broad powers. Enter James Madison. Madison saw that to secure the president’s political independence and integrity, his nomination and election (as well as re-election) had to be independent of any standing institution or fixed body of men. This was the most complex problem that confronted the members of the Constitutional Convention.

True to his democratic convictions, James Wilson favored popular election of the President. But how would the people nominate presidential candidates in a vast country like the United States under 18th-century means of communication? The only convenient way—and one that would garner state support for the Constitution—was by electoral colleges meeting in the several states whose electors would be chosen in a manner determined by the state legislatures.

I have here simplified almost four months of deliberations on this issue, for the delegates considered many other methods of choosing a president, including nomination and election by the state governors. But what has all this to do with Israel?

Substitute Israel’s political parties for the sovereign states under the Articles of Confederation and we have a compelling analogy with Israel’s most basic political problem. Just as it was absolutely necessary to diminish the power of the states to form a strong Federal Union in America, so it is absolutely necessary to diminish the power of Israel’s political parties to obtain strong a National Union in Israel, and this can only be done by presidential government on the one hand, and popular election of the Knesset in multi-district elections on the other!

Until this is accomplished, Israel will limp from crisis to crisis until it disintegrates.