Thursday, March 31, 2011

More on the antiquity of Judaism

I love my Jewish readers. When I post something about Jews and Judaism, I always get ten times the response to what I get on any other topic -- and all well-reasoned responses too, unlike the tantrums from Leftists.

I posted a couple of days ago a provocative article that did something very naughty. I questioned the continuity between the Judaism of Old Testament times and the Jews of today. It is a tribute to Jewish good manners that my post was greeted with some politeness, albeit with great disagreement.

And, of course, it is all a matter of degree. It is probably safe to say that all religions change all the time. Nonetheless I think there is a step-change after the destruction of Herod's temple. For instance, Jews no longer put homosexuals to death (as the Torah requires) and no longer burn animals on an altar in the belief that so doing will ingratiate themselves with their god.

How often Jews did those things is beside the point. The point is that their religion required those things, whereas now it does not.

It is true that the diaspora started long before the Roman onslaught and that Jews outside Israel had already abandoned the two practices I mentioned. But the temple was still there and its centrality to Jewish practice and belief cannot be doubted by any reader of the Hebrew scriptures. Jews abroad were still in a position to feel that all the requirements of their religion were being met where that mattered: In Israel.

So it is still my conclusion that post-temple Judaism and Christianity are two different and contemporaneous adaptations of the original Hebrew belief system. And we call Christianity a different religion, so why not present-day Judaism?

A point that may have slid past some of my Jewish readers is that Jesus did a very good job of rooting his teachings in the Torah. He quoted it repeatedly and insisted that he did not question it. He was a good Israelite of his times and his adaptation of the traditional teachings provided a good foundation for what later became known as Christianity to be likewise rooted. Which is why the Hebrew scriptures are an important part of Christianity to this day.

Update: In case it is not already clear, I should perhaps note that I am speaking of Jewish RELIGION. There is also of course a substantial claim that modern Jews are RACIALLY related to the ancient Hebrews.


Mike Church: The Most Radical Man on the Radio

I think this guy has something. I wouldn't go as far as he does but I think every Federal department that has an overlapping function with a State Dept. should be abolished. Who needs Federal Depts. of Health, Education etc. when States also have such Depts? Out with OSHA, DEA, EPA etc. too. Eliminating the duplications would not only save the taxpayer a bundle but would remove a lead weight of bureaucracy off everybody -- JR

The King Dude is shuffling papers, clearing his throat. The revolution he leads will not be televised, but it will be patched in by satellite during the morning drive. The King Dude is bouncing in his seat, his feet dangling about a foot above the floor. His voice is beamed into space from Sirius XM’s studio in Washington, D.C., then back to earth and through your dashboard where it explodes, pops, and fizzes in your skull like a fireworks show dangerously out of control. In approximately the next 45 seconds he will reference “The Matrix,” The Lord of the Rings, the “Virginia Debate on Ratification of the Constitution,” and “Idiocracy” before concluding that the Union should be busted up and the federal government drowned in the Potomac.

When Sirius took off, Church had the first talk show on it. He pioneered a motor-mouth style, dubbed political opponents “citizens of Libtardia,” and filled the air with political song parodies performed by actual musicians rather than hack producers with a karaoke track. The King Dude was cruising until 2007, when he had on author Kevin Gutzman to discuss The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution. “He was saying things I never heard before,” says Church. “You get a lot of books when you do talk radio. I never read them. I read that one.”

Shortly after this Church watched Ron Paul stand up to Rudolph Giuliani in a presidential debate, where Paul put 9/11 in the context of blowback. “I started thinking about what I had learned from Gutzman, and it started to make sense,” Church says, “and that’s the hardest conversion. That’s the one that the Hannitys, Becks, Limbaughs, and Levins will never come to. Either for financial reasons or for pride reasons, they will never come to that view of the minimalist foreign policy.”

Suddenly the show and the man had a new sense of purpose. Church began reading the debates and letters of the Founding Fathers, even memorizing large excerpts. He developed solidly Anti-Federalist leanings. “Patrick Henry and his guys were right, it all came to pass. Madison and his guys were wrong, none of that came to pass. There is only one intellectually honest way you can approach it.” And if Church couldn’t find guidance for some issue in the Founding Fathers, he looked to a succeeding generation.

Between comments on Lady Gaga or Donald Trump, Church will sprinkle excerpts from floor speeches by George Frisbie Hoar, a Massachusetts senator who opposed U.S. imperialism in the Philippines. “Frisbie Hoar was saying then the same things Ron Paul is saying today,” Church avers.

Church has become what he calls a “paleoconservative,” believing in liberty underpinned by an enduring moral order. While he still teases liberals, he just as often tells his listeners to live virtuously if they want to live as free men and women. “I’m no longer in the business of demonizing people who disagree with me,” he said as an aside on a recent broadcast. “People are socialized or educated into their views,” he explained later, so he has opened up a side business as an educator, producing two animated films about the Founding Fathers, “The Road to Independence” and “The Spirit of 1776.”

His listeners have been catching on. “The most rewarding thing is when someone calls you and repeats it back to you,” he says, “Someone who says ‘Mason says, such and such.’ They embrace it and internalize it themselves.” Almost imperceptibly, Church is conducting a seminar on the Founders tucked within a laugh-out-loud conservative talk show. And it is a close fidelity to the Founders and their thought that leads him to his radical conclusions.

He finished a recent segment with a flourish: “Is there any doubt in your mind that if we reanimated the Founding Fathers and they came here today they would look at what we’re doing and say, ‘When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to DISSOLVE the political bonds which have connected them with one another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature’s God entitle them.’

“We had 213 really good years,” he concludes, “can’t we just settle this amicably? You get the kids, I’ll get a couple of the cars. This is sanity. That doesn’t mean Kentucky is not going to make partnerships with Tennessee, Oklahoma. … That means that this particular political experiment is over. It is a failure. The Constitution is dead; bury the goddamn thing and get over it.”



The Koch Brothers and the power of ideas

Institution-building is important for libertarians too

Of the brothers, Charles is the ideas man, and his idea has always been to build a set of complementary institutions [e.g. the Cato Institute] which, once mature, can thrive without his (or his brother's) financial help. That said, I have no doubt that these institutions either would not have existed, or would have existed in a very different form, were it not for the Kochs' institution-building philanthropy. Having committed about a decade of my life to a few of these institutions, I'd like to think that those labouring within them have had some affect on American culture and politics—have had some small success in increasing awareness of and strengthening the public case for the value of individual rights, free markets, limited government, and peace. I don't think there's been a huge effect, but surely there's been an effect...

In this sense, the left is smart to target the Kochs. They have been absolutely essential in the libertarian project to create a set of institutions that together constitute a mild countervailing force against both progressive and conservative statism in America's economy of political influence. However, progressives seem to me to neglect this channel of influence compared to much less important ones, such as campaign spending, rendering their favoured account of the effects of money on democratic politics badly incomplete.

The progressive master narrative is that inequalities of income and wealth are easily translated into inequalities of political power, and that the rich as a class exploit this unequal power to shape the basic structure of our public institutions to their permanent advantage, in effect disenfranchising the less-wealthy and leaving their rights and interests without the protection of authentically democratic institutions. I think the channel through which the Kochs have most influenced American politics illustrates several problems with this narrative.

First, money is not all that easily translated into effective political influence. Most rich people just thoughtlessly fling cash at causes and candidates they happen to like to little real effect. Indeed, a good deal of political spending is part of moneyed status-signaling games; whether the money makes a difference to anything but the donor's reputation is beside the point. In any case, much effort is devoted simply to neutralising the spending of opposed ideological teams, and the whole racket largely amounts to redistribution from the rich to somewhat less rich political consultants and nonprofit managers.

The most interesting thing about the Kochs is not that they have spent so much of their fortunes on politics, because they haven't. What's interesting is that they seem to have spent their money so much more efficiently and effectively than most rich people interested in politics manage to do. And I suspect this is not unrelated to the farseeing strategic intelligence that has made Koch Industries America's largest privately-held corporation. This suggests, among other things, that some rich people are better than others at converting money into influence, and that inequalities in wealth and inequalities in influence sometimes have a common cause.

Of the money the Kochs have spent on politics, broadly construed, the portion directed to campaigns really is negligible. Most of their money and attention has gone to ideological institution-building, and this form of spending has not been a traditional target of progressive regulatory zeal. Progressives often argue that restrictions on campaign spending are justified by the need to sustain the relative equality of "voice" or influence required for a fair and legitimate democratic process.

However, few progressives have pursued the idea that limits must be placed on the amount wealthy individuals are allowed to spend building and supporting civil-society institutions meant to shape public opinion and politics over time. But why not? It is through this channel, not through lobbying or campaign spending, that the Kochs have most affected American politics. (I've asked a similar question in the past about the left's wariness of limiting private media ownership, which, like institution-building, has hugely more to do with inequality of voice than does under-regulated campaign finance.)

Other than the proposal to end the tax-deductibility of certain classes of charitable gifts, progressives have shied away from proposing regulations on this kind of spending in the economy of influence. The reason this is so, I think, is that any move in this direction logically tends toward clearly unconstitutional, ideologically-loaded limits on speech.

Suppose I want to spend $250m to start a conservative Christian college. Or suppose I want to donate $10m to my alma mater to fund an endowed chair in sociology for study of the causes of American inequality. If you ask me, both of these count as political spending, in the broad sense. Suppose I want to spend millions on institutions that will aid the poor in my hometown. Will this not affect voter demand for overlapping taxpayer-funded public programmes? Is there any way of neutrally regulating large philanthropic gifts? I don't think so. Even a total ban is not really neutral; it simply redistributes power to those with the greatest influence over government spending, and I highly doubt this ends up redounding to the benefit of the lower and middle classes.

In the absence of any remotely intelligible or feasible proposal to limit the unequal ability of wealthy people such as the Koch Brothers or Peter Lewis or George Soros to affect opinion through ideological institution-building, progressive commentators at ideologically progressive institutions are left mainly with the opinion-shaping tools wealthy progressive patrons have put at their disposal. That's why, I think, we see very little principled criticism of ideological institution-building in general, but many breathless attempts to characterise Koch-style free-market, limited-government libertarianism as ideological cover for plutocracy or oligarchy or whatever. This stuff is about as serious as the idea that Barack Obama is some sort of crypto-Marxist, radical Kenyan anti-colonial egalitarian, but it serves its low purpose.

Although the premise that the wealthy conspire to promote their class interests is part of the progressive master narrative, many progressives—especially those in the can for the Democratic Party—don't act like they believe it. They act as if there are good, progressive rich folks and bad, anti-progressive rich folks. In most tellings of the master narrative, progressive commentators opportunistically use class-interest rhetoric to discredit the small minority of wealthy people who build and support institutions ideologically opposed to the causes favoured by the wealthy people who build and support progressive institutions. Those wealthy people and their expensive repudiation of class interest are honoured by going unmentioned.

A truly coherent telling of the progressive master narrative would reveal how the apparently hot antagonism between, say, the American Progress Action Fund and Americans for Prosperity conceals a deeper, perhaps-unwitting symbiosis by which the Koch brothers and John Podesta's mysterious billionaire paymasters in the Democracy Alliance combine to secure their advantages and thereby the demise of true democracy. I would be pretty excited to hear about that.




New EEOC rules: We’re all “disabled”: "New regulations from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offer fresh guidelines on the issue of how to define 'disability' under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Millions of Americans may be disabled and not even know it, according to some legal experts. That's because sweeping new regulations from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offer new guidelines on the issue of how to define 'disability' under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA, originally passed in 1990 and updated by Congress in 2008, originally defined disability as 'a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.'"

SCOTUS revisits campaign finance: "The Supreme Court returned to the controversial issue of campaign finance today, hearing a constitutional challenge to Arizona's public financing system for political campaigns. Several of the conservative justices on the bench seemed skeptical of the constitutionality of the Arizona Citizen's Clean Elections Act."

Trump a birth skeptic: "He off-handedly questioned President Obama's birthplace last week -- a comment that drew strong rebukes from some quarters -- but now business mogul Donald Trump says he's more concerned than ever that the president was, in fact, not born in the United States."

Obama and the ghost of ’68: "Liberal doves are feeling a deep sense of betrayal after watching their champion of peace drop bombs on an Arab country. If the war drags on inconclusively, or if Obama feels compelled to expand our involvement, their discontent will grow. Then what? Then he could face what Lyndon Johnson faced in 1968: a Democratic primary challenger appealing to those tired of war and mistrustful of their president."


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


1 comment:

Montreal Canadian said...

(1) The Torah can be practice in any place and time. Because of the exile, a number of commandments cannot be fulfilled (except through study and prayer), but they were never abrogated. In any case, observant Jews pray three times a day for the restoration of the Temple service, and re-institution of Torah based justice.

(2) It's Christian propaganda that Jesus rooted his teachings in the Torah; nothing can be further than the truth. Christianity is not a continuation of Judaism, but a break-away and rejection of the Torah. It owes more to Hellenistic pagan ideas than to Jewish ones.