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Liberalism and Jews

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    Posted: 23 Sep 2011 at 20:27
This is my first post on WorldHistoria, so excuse me jumping in here without any prior warning.

Can anyone suggest a satisfactory explanation for the tendency of many Jewish intellectuals to drift towards the left or 'red' wavelength of the political spectrum? Karl Marx seems an obvious prototype, but he didn't exactly 'drift' to the extreme left. (And in any case, he repudiated his Jewishness.) 

Many Jews with socialist or liberal inclinations could be identified in European and American political history - e.g. Trotsky, Marcuse, Harold Laski, Chomsky, Harold Pinter, etc. I can't think of any Jewish political philosophers or literary figures with a 'conservative' predisposition in the restricted sense that they would tend to oppose egalitarianism on principle.

I believe Judaism - especially the ethos of the Torah - is connected to this leftward/liberal inclination, though most 'radical' Jews have a secular worldview. Maybe there are complicated and speculative answers to my question in an analysis of Jewish culture and history of the diaspora.  
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Sep 2011 at 21:41
Hmm, I suspect the Baron de Rothschild would hardly be pleased in being called a "red"!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 Sep 2011 at 00:00
Depends on what you mean by 'red' I guess. However the Baron during most of my lifetime was the third baron, Victor. http://www.nytimes.com/1990/03/22/obituaries/lord-rothschild-79-a-scientist-and-member-of-banking-family.html
Being a friend of Phlby and Burgess and co at Cambridge and a longtime member of the Labour party wod be enough to label him 'red' n many people's eyes, especially American ones, even though he denied ever having been an actual Soviet agent when he was investigated over his relationships.
 
@Alex.A
 
I agree with your perception, though offhand I cannot come up with a reason. I'd make a point though of the fact that in British politics historically it has been the Liberal position that has benefitted from Jewish support, not the Labour party, the Liberal position being frequently to the left of the Labour one.
 
Certainly in the dark days of the party's near eclipse in the '50s and '60s, in some constituencies it only survived thanks to Jewish financial support.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 Sep 2011 at 01:19
Essentially, Graham, I view this supposition as simplistic given that in the 19th century it would be natural for "Jewish" individuals to support any movement that sought to alter the status quo since change meant more personal security via a vis the Social Order. Further, I suspect the use of the term "liberal" here is being employed in the American sense and not in the traditional British sense with all of its policy undertones with respect to mercantile and commercial activity.
 
[As an aside when I employed the titulary "baron" I was not referencing Disraeli's contemporary but instead the continentals, to whom the word "socialist" was anathema.]
 
However, what about accepting what certain segments of contemporary Judaism "think" about the topic?
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Al Jassas Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 Sep 2011 at 03:04
Well first we must establish that "liberal" is not "socialist" or "communist". At least in the 19th and early 20ths centuries. The current mix is a result of American politics.
 
Jews were considered 2nd class citizens (if they actually had that honour in some countries) by conservatives so they naturally drifted towards liberals who were primarily anti-clerical (the primary anti-jewish force back then) rather than "leftist". French liberals were hardly any better towards Algerians than conservatives.
 
Plus lets not forget that poverty among jews was much higher than in the general public due to ghettoisation. Only jews who got out of the ghetto and mixed with the rest of the population did achieve a relatively higher standard of living than europeans. Communism and socialism with their egalitarian principles stole the jews from the liberals by the time ghettoes were disbanded and by the 20th century, we can see two major political currents sharing the majority of jews. Working class jews adopted socialism while middle/upper class jews adopted liberalism.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Parnell Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 Sep 2011 at 06:29
In a 19th century context, what else was there for a Jew to be? Its like asking why you didn't see too many African American intellectuals vigorously defending Jim Crow and the prevailing order during the 50s and 60s. Liberalism,* particularly in its golden age of intellectual flourishing, was the defining attribute of righteousness. Why would a Jew be a conservative in a society that fundamentally despised and persecuted him?


*As Al Jassas points out, liberalism and socialism/communism are radically different beasts. We're all liberals now by 19th century standards, at least in the social sphere. (With the exception of the hard Republican right in the US which wants a theocratic State and which scares the bejesus out of most sane people).
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Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it. ~George Bernard Shaw
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 Sep 2011 at 09:11
There occur to me to be a number of reasons why.

Conservatism may often be reinforced by being part of the establishment. Jews, despite gaining wealth, were rarely part of the establishment and still remained vulnerable.

Liberalism was most commonly found where one was interested in contemporary ideas and intellectual discourse. The Jews often valued education very highly because, traditionally being barred from many other professions, education was more vital to them earning a gainful living than most.

Liberalism and secularism were often presented as two compatible and progressive ideas. For a people who had often been persecuted due to social policies that were anything but secular, it made sense to go along with liberal ideas because secularism was usually a component of those.

I would love to hear your ideas on how the Torah influenced Jewish attitudes towards liberalism Smile
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 Sep 2011 at 01:02
Victor (1910-1990) was hardly a contemporary of Disraeli (1804-1881).
 
Incidentally it's interesting everyone, including drgonzaga's link, seems to be ignoring Disraeli and oher sephardim like the Montefioris and there role, and concentrating on the later ashkenazi immingrants. How many western (or indeed any) countries had a Jewish head of government earlier than Britain (genuine queston, I'd like to know if there were any)?
 
Disraeli, while the century's most famous British conservative, was nevertheless a promoter of social change, with almost as much if not more than Gladstone.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 Sep 2011 at 02:23
Jewish intellectuals often tend to be social critics who are subversive of hierarchies and political authority - most probably for the reasons given in Constantine's post. Through centuries of experience as 'sojourners'' in many different communities, Jews have learned that even if they assimilate to a dominant culture their apparent progress can be quickly arrested by arbitrary force. If they don't assimilate, then persecution isn't concealed by an illusion of progress.  

There is disposition to approve of collectivism - as an ideal form of society - which was evident in early Jewish history and survives in the institution of the kibbutz. Movement through liberalism to the left of the political spectrum is another way of describing this collectivist impulse. It's a logical deduction for a Jewish thinker. 

Though Israel has been a kingdom, the theory of a divine right of earthly kings is anathema to Jewish thought. David and his successors (in Israel and Judah) were a relatively short term experiment in monarchy. That move didn't work out. And neither, in the long term, would any other political expedient, because it's believed that only God is the lawful ruler of the Jewish people - i.e. within the terms of the covenant. 


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 Sep 2011 at 02:35
Victor? Who the heck was talking about him!Confused When I metioned the continental titulary was one thing but when I specifically reference a contemporary of Disraeli (and with a London connection), the individual is Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879)...Victor? That Cambridge cad and pansy loving effete play-acting Marxist and Labourite riff raff...harrumph!Wink
 
Now as for your question over a "head of government" would not the qualifier "practicing" disqualify Disraeli? Albeit there is a handy alternative: Sir Julius Vogel of New Zealand who was its "premier" from 1873-1875 and briefly in 1876. The Kiwis have always rushed into the novel...and aptly with Vogel who, like Disraeli, fancied himself an author.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 Sep 2011 at 07:52
Originally posted by drgonzaga drgonzaga wrote:

Victor? Who the heck was talking about him!Confused When I metioned the continental titulary was one thing but when I specifically reference a contemporary of Disraeli (and with a London connection), the individual is Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879)...Victor? That Cambridge cad and pansy loving effete play-acting Marxist and Labourite riff raff...harrumph!Wink
You forgot first-class cricketer for Cambridge and Northamptonshire, though admittedly only with 282 runs in 19 innings.
Quote  
Now as for your question over a "head of government" would not the qualifier "practicing" disqualify Disraeli? Albeit there is a handy alternative: Sir Julius Vogel of New Zealand who was its "premier" from 1873-1875 and briefly in 1876. The Kiwis have always rushed into the novel...and aptly with Vogel who, like Disraeli, fancied himself an author.
Thanks for the information. The Kiwis are also the only Test cricket country to have ever picked a player called Cleverley (no relation Cry)
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Woofer Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Sep 2013 at 18:29
Jews in the United Kingdom tend to the right but then the UK doesn't really have a proper conservative right. The Conservative party are a mixture of Conservative Liberals ( the Minority)  and Liberal Conservatives (the majority) with a few right -populists.

The Liberal Democrats are a mixture of social liberals and social democrats, Labour is a mixture of Social democracy, Christian democracy (which in the UK is Blairism) with a smaller number of socialists.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 May 2015 at 16:02
Anyone interested in Judaism and the far left might read David Horowitz's "The Religious Roots of Radicalism" in _The Politics of Bad Faith_.

Horowitz was a card carrying second generation communist who had a realization of how horrid the far left has been in the 20th century, and was converted into a conservative.  [Actually, his conversion is on a much more personal basis and is a fascinating personal story.]  He knows the far left 'intimately,' and so cannot be detached about it.  I believe that he is an observant Jew.

Judaism is waiting for the messiah, I seem to remember that there is a particular heresy in Judaism, of people instead of waiting for the messiah, trying to implement the perfect state, so that the messiah will come.  
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