The Foundation for Constitutional Democracy


To Set the Record Straight

Filed under: Democratic MethodsDomestic PolicyElectorate/Demographics — eidelberg @ 7:14 am

The present writer is often accused of proposing institutional reform as a panacea. Never mind my books Demophrenia, Beyond the Secular Mind, and Judaic Man, which transcend institutions by discussing the unJewish mentality of Israel intellectual and political elites. To set the record straight, here is an article of mine published on June 6, 1990 under the title “In the Name of Democracy.”

President [Chaim] Herzog, like many others, calls for fundamental reform of Israel’s political institutions. But hardly anyone calls for fundamental reform of men’s character, that is, the character of those elected to public office. The reason is fairly obvious: It’s easier to change institutions than to change men. But anyone who believes that Israel’s present plight will be overcome by electoral reform is suffering from either mental fatigue or fatuity.

Institutions ultimately depend on the moral and intellectual qualities of those who run them. To be sure, well-designed institutions can sometimes compensate for defects in the character of men. This is why Israel’s present system of coalition cabinet government needs to be drastically remodeled, for it actually magnifies men’s defects by fostering personal and partisan interests as opposed to the national interest. But while the system should be reformed, let us not be deceived by those who call for reform in the name of democracy.

No form of representative government is more democratic than one based on proportional representation. The trouble is that proportional representation tends to intensify the diversity of men’s opinions, as well as accentuate their and narrow and immediate interests, at the expense of their commonly shared beliefs and long-range interests. This can be salutary rather than pernicious if the following imperatives are satisfied:

● First, the divergent opinions and interests must be more or less confined to the representative assembly.

● Second, the shared beliefs and long-range interests must be clearly articulated and consistently enforced by the executive and judicial institutions of government. Israel has no such executive, and it can hardly be said to have such a judiciary.

● Third, and as a precondition of the second, a large majority of the citizens composing the society must not only share the beliefs and long-range goals in question, but they must be willing to subordinate their differences to the common good. This requires extended elaboration.

The common good is multifaceted. There is the ordinary common good, consisting in the many things required for a nation’s material well-being. Obviously, the citizens of Israel want security and prosperity. But it is equally obvious that they are very much divided on how to achieve even these goals. Reform of Israel’s political institutions could bring such goals nearer, provided the reforms are guided by far-sighted wisdom and virtue. The trouble is that wisdom and virtue are precisely what Israel lacks in its political—and not only political—leaders. Lacking, therefore, is adequate understanding of, and devotion to, the common good par excellence.

And no wonder. The common good par excellence consists in nothing else but the cultivation of wisdom and virtue. These goals, however, are not the goals of any secular democratic state. Let us be candid about this matter.

The secular democratic state is primarily dedicated to commodious living or comfortable self-preservation. Its worship of freedom has been divorced from virtue. Not the common good so much as the private good is what animates most citizens in a democracy. And of course equality or egalitarianism has not brought wisdom to the forefront of democratic politics.

All this and more applies to the modern State of Israel. For it cannot be said that a large majority of Israel’s citizens are united by the same beliefs, or are devoted to the same long-range goals or interests. Arabs number approximately 20 percent of the population. As for the Jews, they are divided not only between the “religious” and the “secular,” but both of these unfortunate labels cover a multitude of different beliefs and interests.

To make matters worse, Israel’s political and intellectual elites are forever burning incense to pluralism—this, in the name of democracy. They completely ignore the excessive heterogeneity that is destroying America.

Meanwhile, adding to the cacophony, countless rabbis are also genuflecting to the idol of democracy. To my knowledge, not a single rabbinical leader has shown how Judaism transcends not only democracy and theocracy, but also the pernicious dichotomy of religion and secularism.

How the “ignorant armies clash by night”! Whereas religious mystics call for Moshiach Now, secular mystics call for Peace Now. All of which recalls Isaiah: “I shall give children to be their rulers, and babes shall rule over them.”

Clearly democracy, at least in Israel, has become a noisy infantocracy. We are offered “quick-fix” solutions to Israel’s profound moral and intellectual problems—problems which are of civilizational scope and complexity. Which means we are offered institutional substitutes for wisdom and virtue.

No one in public life calls for a national goal. A national goal is that which energizes and gives definition to a people. Peace is not a goal but a prayer. Israel can have only one goal: the goal of a Jewish commonwealth.

Until that goal is defined and pursued, the government of Israel will stagger from crisis to crisis. It will be preoccupied with the Arab question, with hasbara and U.S.-Israeli relations. And the leaders of this government will justify their self-aggrandizement in the name of democracy while citizens will call for political reform in the name of democracy—when all the time it is exactly this democratic mentality that is preventing Israel from rising out of its present muck and mire.