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Liberalism and American Jews

July 27, 2016 | By: Irving Kristol

In this 1988 article, Irving Kristol explores historical and theological reasons for Jewish attachment to the politics of the Left: the history of their emancipation, the emphasis of the “prophetic” elements of the Jewish tradition, and their identification with the downtrodden. But, though understandable, Kristol wonders if Jewish attachment to leftist politics is sustainable over time.

Social and social-democratic movements are all inspired, officially or unofficially, by one version or another of secular humanism. Similarly, non-Orthodox Judaism today is, in varying degrees, inspired by, or infused by, the teaching of the Prophets rather than of the rabbis. In the case of Reform Judaism, such an inspiration was and remains its original raison d’etre. In the case of Conservative Judaism, the prophetic teachings are allowed to dominate its secular involvements, even where there is substantial attachment to the law. And in the case of secular Jews, prophetic Judaism merges into secular humanism to create what can fairly be described as a peculiarly intense, Jewish, secular humanism. . . .

This situation cannot endure for much longer. After two centuries, the socialist idea, in whatever version, is becoming more and more meaningless, more and more incomprehensible even to its advocates. In practically all countries with self-styled socialist regimes, the movement is away from socialism, in any traditional sense of the term. . . .

This leaves American Jews in a condition of what social psychologists call “cognitive dissonance.” Their political loyalties become more desperate in proclamation, more unbelievable in fact. This is especially the case as the so-called Third World, where socialism is still a much-respected and often official doctrine, evolves toward socioeconomic-political systems that fall outside of any Western category and have in common mainly a hostility to Western liberal civilization, Western religious humanism, and Western secular humanism. It is this hostility that shapes the attitudes of those countries toward Israel, perceived (correctly) as an outpost of Western civilization. More and more, a socialist, quasi-socialist, or Left-liberal political outlook sympathetic to social democracy is becoming inconsistent with a concern, which American Jews overwhelmingly feel, for the survival of the state and nation of Israel.

Read the whole essay in Commentary.


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