The Foundation for Constitutional Democracy

17-Jul-2008

Toward Respectable Political Parties

Filed under: Constitution & RightsDemocratic MethodsParty Structures — eidelberg @ 9:41 pm

Edted transcript of the Eidelberg Report, Israel National Radio, July 14, 2008.

The classic definition of party was set forth by that great 18th century philosopher-statesman Edmund Burke: “Party is a body of men united, for promoting by their joint endeavours, the national interest, upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed.”

By definition, a party represents only a part of the whole. While its members present their party principle as conducive to the national interest or the common good, they inevitably criticize the principles of other parties as not conducive to the common good, but they don’t necessarily impugn the integrity of their adversaries. For Burke, respectable parties must consist of “honest men of principle.”

Parties exist because men have different interests and conflicting opinions concerning such ends of government as justice and security, liberty and equality, prosperity and public morality. And of course such differences thrive in democracies.

Democracy, however, stands on the principle of “one adult, one vote.” One adult, one vote is virtually equivalent to “one opinion, one vote,” which suggests that democracy conduces to moral relativism. This is what decent people in democracies have yet to see: that democracy, as understand in this era of secularism, provides no objective justification for decency! Enough to mention the pornography and perversions now legalized in virtually all democratic countries.

No doubt, Burke, an English conservative, would abhor this decay, but his definition of party as “a body of men united, for promoting … the national interest” can apply to any body of men and regardless of what they deem the “national interest.” The national interest may be noble or paltry, or so you may say if you are guided by the ethical standards of classical political science.

But contemporary political science says that the idea of the “national interest” or the “common good” is a fiction. Countless college students are taught that politicians use such platitudes as a facade for advancing their own self-interest. Hence, egoism, the regnant philosophy of this era, has rendered Burke’s definition of party obsolete. Today, party is a group of individuals seeking to gain control of the offices of government in order to promote their own personal interests.

This is pretty much the opinion of most people, certainly in Israel, where dozens of parties compete in Knesset elections. No professional knowledge is required of those who form parties in Israel: any group of ignoramuses will do. Of course, you may find some candidates in this or that party with a university education. The trouble is that education, especially in the social sciences, is permeated by moral relativism, which is hardly conducive to statesmanship. Witness two Israeli political scientists, MK Yossi Beilin, an architect of the Oslo Agreement, and former MK Naomi Chazan who, to this day, genuflect to Oslo’s horrific blunder. And such educated but foolish people will also be found in the humanities.

Learned idiots aside, it would be naïve to think that most members of the Knesset are “honest men of principle.” The ultra-religious Shas party betrayed its voters when they joined the ultra-secular Labor-Meretz government in July 1992. Moreover, 29 MKs from a variety of parties hopped over to rival parties to obtain safe seats in the 1999 elections. Furthermore, 23 Likud MKs betrayed their voters in 2004 when they supported Labor’s policy of “unilateral disengagement” from Gaza, which they had campaigned against in the 2003 election.

Finally, when Ariel Sharon formed the Kadima Party, Knesset members and cabinet ministers from a variety of parties immediately joined Kadima in a shameless display of political treachery and self-aggrandizement.

These are the kinds of people who draft the laws and policies of the so-called Jewish state! No wonder international surveys indicate that Israel competes with Italy for first prize in official corruption among developed nations. No wonder the public is sick of political parties.

Can parties be made a bit more clean and a bit more professional? Have you thought about this? As an old classical political scientist, I have come to what may seem like a strange conclusion. The only way to get out of the cesspool of democracy is to think in terms of aristocracy. So I suggest that no party be licensed to compete in an election unless its list of candidates includes persons with an education that shuns moral relativism and equips them to supervise the various ministries of government.

This prompted me to examine the Christian-influenced constitution of the Republic of Ireland. This constitution, which is more consistent with Jewish principles than the Jewish state of Israel, prescribes a bicameral parliament whose 60-member upper house, the Senate, respects professional knowledge. Aside from 11 Senators chosen by the prime minister, 6 are elected by two Irish universities, and 43 are elected from five vocational panels consisting of the names of persons having knowledge and practical experience of the following interests and services.

First and foremost, national Language and Culture, Literature, Art, and Education;

Second, Agriculture and allied interests, and Fisheries;

Third, organized and unorganized Labor;

Fourth, Industry and Commerce, including banking, finance, engineering and architecture;

Fifth, public Administration and social services.

Cynicism aside, I would like to see this professionalism incorporated in the constitutions of political parties, that is, in the manner in which they form their lists of candidates. I have especially in mind the religious parties, even though I have been most critical of these parties.

I am well aware that the religious parties have not raised the level of politics in Israel. Like their secular counterparts, they lack grandeur of vision; they more or less ignorant of statecraft; and they can be bought. This is why hundreds of thousands of religious and traditional citizens vote for secular parties. The religious parties are a disgrace because they fall so far short of the higher standards we expect of those ostensibly representing the ethics of Judaism and its respect for learning and knowledge which have made Jews the teachers of mankind.

Nevertheless, despite their present shortcomings, the religious parties are potentially the best qualified to inspire secular youth who, today, are alienated from Judaism and steeped in hedonism.

Although the Yamin Israel Party which I head has an executive committee consisting of professionals, we are not in the Knesset. So we need a religious party in the Knesset to initiate party reform. For this purpose the National Religious Party—Mafdal—serve as the initiator. Mafdal is a Zionist party in disarray and in dire need of spiritual renewal. Moreover, compared to the other religious parties, it is more disposed to attracting candidates with professional degrees and experience.

I therefore urge Mafdal to draw up a new party constitution. The constitution should stipulate that its list of candidates will include persons who are not only learned in Torah and Jewish law, but who also have professional knowledge or experience in such fields as education, foreign affairs, defense, science and technology, economics, health, public administration, social services, agriculture, commerce and industry, and secular law.

The qualifications of the Sanhedrin should be Mafdal’s model. In addition to being of spotless character and expert in Jewish law, members of the Sanhedrin were versed in such branches of knowledge as astronomy, mathematics, logic, anatomy, and medicine. They also possessed knowledge of Gentile systems of law and of non-Torah doctrines, which suggests they were multi-lingual.

If Mafdal fields a party list with such professional knowledge, it will attract countless voters—religious and non-religious—who would otherwise vote Likud or some mediocre or pseudo nationalist party.

Ensconced in the Knesset, Mafdal could then initiate a law project requiring all parties to include in their party lists people qualified to draft the laws of the Jewish commonwealth.

Not that I expect any party to cheer this proposal. But we need to convey to the people of Israel that so long as we maintain the deplorable character of existing parties, we should expect ineptitude and corruption of such magnitude as to endanger Israel’s survival.

Epilog

What prevents parties in Israel’s so-called nationalist camp from uniting to form an inspiring Jewish government is more than the personal ambitions or egotism of this or that party leader. Israel’s system of multiparty cabinet government multiplies this egotism. Most, if not all, politicians lust for a seat in the Knesset because they hope to obtain thereby a cabinet post, the road to power and political longevity. The flawed character of human beings thus combines with the flawed character of institution to produce a malignant government—one that can commit the unspeakable crime of expelling 8,000 Jews from their homes in Gush Katif. And there is no remedy in sight thanks to Israel’s decrepit system of governance.

But what is even more blameworthy is Israel subversive system of higher education. Instead of promoting love of Judaism and reverence for the Jewish heritage, our secular universities foster moral relativism, which can only arouse and intensify egoism. Yes, Israel excels in high-tech, to which extend it is a blessing to mankind. But what mankind needs more than high-tech is moral inspiration, and in this respect, the secular State of Israel, with all its paltry parties, is an abysmal failure.