The Foundation for Constitutional Democracy

19-Oct-2008

Professionalism

Filed under: Democratic MethodsCabinet/Executive — eidelberg @ 5:16 am

Israel desperately needs professionalism. Needed is a presidential system that relegates to the dust heap the system of multiparty cabinet government that enabled the Kadima-led coalition to achieve power and degrade as well as endanger this country.

One thing lacking in Israeli government is professionalism. What is a profession? What makes medicine, physics, mathematics, political science, architecture, astronomy, law, “professions”? They are also called “disciplines” because they require sustained and systematic learning. Professions, however, involve the transmission, from generation to generation, of organized knowledge and methods of inquiry that enable us to comprehend and perhaps control various domains of reality. Such knowledge is not necessarily progressive. Alfred North Whitehead, a philosopher-mathematician and historian of science, notes that “In the year 1500 Europe knew less than Archimedes who died in the year 212 BC.”

One finds in all professions outstanding minds. The history of philosophy, Whitehead remarked, is little more than a series of footnotes to Plato. Plato’s greatest student was Aristotle, the founder of political science who wrote treatises on 150 different regimes, in addition to original works on ethics, rhetoric, logic, poetics, physics, metaphysics, etc. The unequaled vastness of Aristotle’s knowledge dominated the curriculum of Western universities for two thousand years, and much of his knowledge is still relevant, especially Books III to VIII of his Politics. Indeed, what Machiavelli, the father of modern political science, knows compared to Aristotle can be put on a postage stamp!

Nevertheless, one cannot appreciate the breadth and profundity of Aristotle without understanding modern political science. Just as a professional physicist will have studied the history of science, including Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Rutherford, Planck, Bohr, Schrodinger, Heisenberg, Dirac, and Einstein, so a thoroughly professional political scientist will have studied, in addition to Aristotle and Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Leo Strauss, to name the most outstanding.

In every profession there are the “few” and the “many.” Unfortunately, the mediocrity of the “many” in any profession may cast a shadow not only on the few, but on the profession as a whole. Witness the disparagement of the legal profession. The case is somewhat different with political science, if only because almost every Tom, Dick, and Harry counts himself qualified to expatiate on politics even if he has never studied the masters of political science. The reason is this. Politics involves the controversial: “Who should rule?” “What kind political institutions are most conducive to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?” “What should be the government’s priorities in domestic affairs?” “Should its foreign policy be hawkish or dovish?”

In democratic politics, one person’s opinion is as good as another’s. Besides, politics (like any social science) lacks the certitude of mathematical physics. It deals with contingent phenomena, with events subject to the free and fallible will of men. Nevertheless, political science is a profession, a systematic body of knowledge; and while we may show a decent respect for the opinions of Tom, Dick, and Harry, we ought not confuse their opinions—which may be correct—with systematic knowledge.

To be sure, and as Nietzsche once remarked, “Great learning and great stupidity go well together under the same hat.” Nothing is more dangerous, however, than a little learning, especially that of half-educated political scientists. For example, after four years of litigation—four years!—Israel’s Supreme Court upheld an order of the military authorities to destroy the house of a terrorist in Ramallah. While soldiers were executing the order, former Meretz Knesset Member Naomi Chazan, a political scientist, led a delegation of protesters who denounced the soldiers as “Nazis.” Of course, it could be said that. Chazan was behaving not as a political scientist but as a party propagandist.

A better example: Back in the 1990s, political scientist Yossi Beilin, then a Labor Party MK, supported the law for popular election of the prime minister. Like others, he believed the new law would diminish the power of the small parties, especially the religious. The new law had exactly the opposite effect. It should have been obvious that the new law would enable the voters to “split their tickets” (as is often done in the United States) and vote for the prime minister of their choice and for the Knesset party of their choice, which they could not do before.

If Beilin typifies the “many” that populate the profession of political science, blame this on the decline of education on the one hand, and our increasing distance from the aristocratic-religious tradition on the other. We live in an age of triumphant mediocrity and secularism.

In the current, decadent stage of democracy, it is all too easy for incompetents to foist themselves on the public. This is especially true in Israel, whose system of multiparty cabinet government is an open door to incompetents. Witness Israel’s bungling leadership during the Second Lebanon War: a degenerate* for a prime minister (Kadima), and an ignoramus for a defense minister (Labor).

Yes, Israel is in desperate need of professionalism. Of course, higher standards of education are necessary, but this is a long-term matter. Needed and doable here and now is a unitary executive or presidential system to replace the inept and corruption-laden system of multiparty cabinet government—a system that has enabled fools and scoundrels to achieve power and degrade as well as endanger this country.

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* What word better describes a man who publicly declares, “We’re tired of being courageous”?