Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Universality of Podhoretz’s Question: Why Are Jews Liberal?

Last week the Wall Street Journal featured a short essay by Norman Podhoretz titled “Why Are Jews Liberal,” (link) which presumably touches on key points from his new book (link) of the same name. He makes the observation that although most liberal Jews seem to assert that their liberalism stems directly from the teachings and cultural values of Judaism:

The upshot is that in virtually every instance of a clash between Jewish law and contemporary liberalism, it is the liberal creed that prevails for most American Jews. Which is to say that for them, liberalism has become more than a political outlook. It has for all practical purposes superseded Judaism and become a religion in its own right. And to the dogmas and commandments of this religion they give the kind of steadfast devotion their forefathers gave to the religion of the Hebrew Bible.

His is an analysis that applies just as well to Christians who believe that their religion dictates the tenets of modern liberalism (a big government social welfare state primarily concerned with monitoring and enforcing equality) rather than those of modern conservatism (the importance of individual liberty, personal responsibility, and self-reliance enabled and protected by a divided, limited government based on the impartial rule of law).Podhoretz distills the issue thusly:

The great issue between the two political communities is how they feel about the nature of American society. With all exceptions duly noted, I think it fair to say that what liberals mainly see when they look at this country is injustice and oppression of every kind—economic, social and political. By sharp contrast, conservatives see a nation shaped by a complex of traditions, principles and institutions that has afforded more freedom and, even factoring in periodic economic downturns, more prosperity to more of its citizens than in any society in human history. It follows that what liberals believe needs to be changed or discarded—and apologized for to other nations—is precisely what conservatives are dedicated to preserving, reinvigorating and proudly defending against attack.
A few days later the WSJ published some letters to the editor (link) that disagreed with Podhoretz’s view. Then, the WSJ published letters (link) that disagreed with the disagreers. Abraham Irwin, of Passaic, N.J., wrote:
All of the letters [disagreeing with Podhoretz] essentially state that Jews are liberal because the religion teaches concern for the poor and disadvantaged. I agree but strongly contend that the policies suggested and currently being enacted by the government will in the long run do just the opposite. Over the past 150 years classical liberalism and free-market capitalism revolutionized economies and did more to improve the conditions of the poor than any other competing system.

John M Greco