Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Daniel Elazar Papers Index

Jewish Political Thought

The Conditions for Developing a
Political Philosophy for Israel

Daniel J. Elazar

Emil Fackenheim:

It is a striking phenomenon that while we have had a state now for forty years, we do not have a political philosophy. A disciplined political philosophy does not seem to exist.

Of course many people think of ideology as the same as philosophy. But ideology is a partisan commitment; philosophy is an attempt to try to transcend partisan commitments and, in the case of a state, to grasp some of what the essence of a state is. For example, the notion of the social contract strikes me as a very profound one and if people talked in terms of a social contract instead of fighting with each other, they could perhaps reach a common core within their disagreements and obligations toward each other. This is just an example.

Now I myself think there is a very good reason why there is no political philosophy. I am sufficiently Hegelian to think that a philosophy can arise only when the storm and stress of genesis is over, which of course it is not. It is not the case and this is why right now we are fighting each other when we should be facing a common enemy, at least that is my opinion. Of course many people think that is already ideology, that there is no common enemy. So this is the kind of difficulty we run into. Still I think, if may use Hegel's metaphor, to some extent, perhaps the owl of Minerva may arise even though we are still in the full warfare of daylight and the serene evening has not yet arrived.

This was our purpose and therefore we hoped that people would get together who have very different political views, perhaps even antagonistic views, and yet could find a common core. After all there is a common core of a Jewish state, at least one hopes so, unless our enemies succeed in getting us to tear each other apart. So this is the general idea and everyone here is a philosopher in the sense of having some philosophical discipline. So perhaps we can begin to bring it to bear on some of the crucial issues that concern our state.

So, Daniel Elazar is today's speaker. Last time I spoke about the social contracts and I am not sure how far we got into the discussion, but even if we failed, it showed that the conflicts we still have are still very raw and that an attempt at philosophizing is to be made even when it is very difficult.

Daniel J. Elazar:

Last time, at the very end of our discussion, Eliezer Schweid posed a question, namely how does a democracy resolve its contradictions, and asked me to address it on the assumption, which I share, that without contfronting that question we cannot proceed any further with this endeavor.

Democratic Consent and its Contradictions

Let me start by stipulating two points. One, that a modern democratic polity rests on the consent of its citizens and must, if it is to be a democratic polity. Indeed, any kind of modern polity has to have a sufficient consent of its citizens to survive.

Second, let me also stipulate that there are inevitably contradictions, that there are problems in governing any polity, no matter how democratic, that are problems for a democratic theory. Without considering the special situation of Israel, we have at least three "normal" contradictions. First, we have issues of human nature, namely that there is some need for the possibility of coercion to keep civil society in order. Second, we have issues of security which at some point necessitate restrictions on the freedom of individuals. This is a problem that market economists face as well. However efficient the market, not everybody perceives their self-interest rightly, nor is everybody willing to abide by the rules. The same thing is true in democratic states. However far one might get with voluntary cooperation on the part of 90 percent or more of the population, there will be some who will not play by the rules and whom the 90 percent must be able to coerce, in the hope that the threat of coercion will keep them in line even without its use, certainly not a new problem in political philosophy.

The third normal contradiction is not so much a contradiction as the fact that democracy has two dimensions. Democracy is self-government and democracy, certainly modern democracy emphasizes the protection of individual rights. As I say, this is not necessarily a contradiction but there certainly are two faces of democracy that have to be considered. To think of democracy only as the latter, as has frequently become the case with contemporary democratic theorists is, it seems to me, problematic.

In addition, we have the special contradictions which Israeli democracy faces. One is the contradictions that arise from this being a state of Jews that seeks in some way to be a Jewish state and must confront Judaism. A second is the fact that this is a state that has to confront a situation of two peoples claiming the same land, each of whose claims are fundamentally exclusive, even if one people, and now maybe both have reached a position where most of them recognize their inability to carry out that fundamentally exclusivist claim in practice. I would like to discuss both these sets of contradictions and then talk about ways in which we might start an exploration as to how to build a political philosophy to deal with them.

With regard to the normal contradictions, I think the twentieth century has learned a lesson that the nineteenth century taught us, that every society is ultimately a civil society. The nineteenth century view that society was the comprehensive category, somehow embracing government but able to exist apart from it or beyond its scope, has turned out to be incorrect. Today, we are more prepared to go back to pre-nineteenth century theories of one kind or another -- that society is inevitably a polity or a civil society. Here I make a distinction because in polities, in the original sense of the term, there was no distinction between the governmental and the social, that a polity was a seamless web, at least not in classic Greek thought. (Whether that was the case in practice in certain Greek cities is a different question.) If we take the seventeenth and eighteenth century view, society is civil society, namely every society is established through one or more political compacts which provide for a governmental dimension, but also guarantee space for individuals to be free of government, for a private dimension within the framework of civil society, which it seems to me is one of the major revolutions of of modern political thought.

In the nineteenth century the stylish ideologies took matters a step further away from the polity. Every major ideology of the nineteenth century not only rejected the notion that society had to be a polity but also that it even had to be civil society. Marxism saw government -- the state -- as something that would wither away once the revolution of the proletariat was accomplished. Anarchism saw the state as immediately bad, as inevitably bad, because it interfered with the true goodness of human nature and prevented that true goodness from coming out. Laissez-faire saw in the work of the market, a replacement for government. Every single ideology of significance in the nineteenth century can be said to have looked to the automatic society, to a society that would function without coercive institutions of government. All of those ideologies have failed as satisfactory vehicles for establishing political order and safety, security and rights, so that we have to agree on the need for government.

There is a special problem here with regard to dealing with the normal contradictions and that is, what understanding of democracy do we use? I would suggest that there are basically three understandings of democracy that are prevalent in the contemporary world. One is collectivist democracy. Lately, since in the 1960s it has been called participatory democracy. Everybody sits around and collectively reaches some kind of a consensus in decision-making. In Eretz Israel it was certainly a very prominent aspect of the original kvutzot and kibbutzim.

The second, I would suggest, is Jacobin democracy which is essentially an application of Rousseauian concepts of the general will with the added dimension that if the general will is not to be determined by 50 percent plus one vote -- and the reason it cannot be is that a state cannot rely upon popular majorities to be right -- then the state needs a guiding elite that will define the general will, which is the position the original Jacobins took during the French revolution. As Talmon and others have appropriately and effectively argued, this view is the basis for at least the structures of totalitarian states.

The third is what I would call federal democracy, using federal not only in its eighteenth century sense but in its seventeenth century sense of covenant, let us say, a democracy which is established by covenant or compact that expresses itself through the diffusion of power, through an understanding that there is no general will or permanent majority in civil society but, rather, that all members of the body politic have interests and concerns which converge and diverge at different times under different conditions, so that, in any polity, everybody is part of many minorities for some purposes and majorities for others. The latter are essentially coalitions of minorities that change from time to time, fairly frequently on some issues, and so, therefore, any efforts to make decisions on a collectivist basis or through a guiding elite are bound to injure the democratic rights of some significant segment of the population. I do not think that we articulate these different understandings of democracy sufficiently in our discussions of democracy; we usually leave these as unstated premises which is why we generally talk past each other on these matters.

The Special Contradictions of Israel

Turning now to the special contradictions of Israel, let me start with the problems of state, democracy, Jews and Judaism. It seems to me that the most concrete and pressing questions confronting us are: What should be the status quo or should there be a status quo? What is the relationship between individual liberty and the desire to maintain a Jewish content in the public space of the state? What about the Law of Return as a barrier to being a fully democratic state?

The real problem with these problems is not the fact of a Jewish state but the lack of consensus within the Jewish state as to what it should be. Were this a state in which there were a substantial consensus about what constitutes Judaism, I do not think we would have problems of Judaism and democracy. Indeed, I think that we would not have any insurmountable problems in reconciling the governance of the state and halakhah. There are people of impeccable halakhic credentials -- for example Rabbi Chaim Hirschenson, who, on paper, did a fine job of reconciling a modern state with a fully, one might even say ultra-Orthodox (at least for his time) understanding of halakhah over 60 years ago.

The problem is that there is no agreement on the need to do so or the desirability of doing so. Even the Law of Return, as I suggested last time, is not a problem, per se. Every state has certain privileged people, born outside of its boundaries, who are entitled to automatic citizenship. For example, the children of two American citizens born outside of the United States are entitled to American passports and can go to the United States freely while their peers, who were born in the same place at the same time but do not have that fortunate or unfortunate advantage, cannot do so. France holds to the principle that one can never cease to be a French citizen or a national. Frenchmen born outside of France even elect two Senators to the French national legislature. Other states take the same position. So this problem, in essence, is the lack of consensus with regard to the need or the desirability of such an arrangement for Jews as Jews.

Much the same thing is true with regard to the question of democracy and the two peoples in the land. Here I think the lack of consensus is based upon a failure of will in two groups. Let me make it clear; I do not refer to the lack of consensus between Jews and Arabs -- the consensus between Jews and Arabs has not even begun to form -- but to the lack of consensus within Israel with regard to what position we should take vis-a-vis the Arabs, the Palestinians, the other people in the land. This lack of consensus is a relatively new thing. I think that there was a far greater consensus with regard to what to do with the Arab inhabitants of the land before 1967 than subsequently. The consensus underwent several changes over the years but the fact that those who were outside the consensus, such as Brit Shalom and, at certain times, Hashomer Hatzair, were so clearly so, was a sign that the consensus was very broad indeed. This consensus was shattered after the 1967 war, certainly since 1973. In my opinion, this is because of a failure of will in two groups. I use the phrase "failure of will" deliberately; even though it is a very problematic term.

I think that there is a failure of will on the part of what we generally think of as a segment of the generation of 1948 who, compared to where their fathers and mothers stood on these issues, see in the protracted conflict something that is to be very much feared for a whole host of reasons. My concern here is not whether they are right or wrong, but the fact of the matter is that their parents' generation was prepared to enter into an intense and protracted conflict to achieve their Zionist vision while they are not.

I think the other group is a segment of the post-1967 generation which had great expectations in the aftermath of the 1967 war, hopes that were disappointed by a reality which we helped forge. They are disappointed in that reality and are undergoing the same kind of failure of will.

On the other hand there may be a lack of adaptation on the part of those who may have the will or believe they have the will to continue the conflict but who have not adapted to the changed situations that have occurred. Again, whatever is correct, and I do not know that we know which is correct, this leads to a breakdown in the consensus within the Jewish population of Israel with regard to how to proceed.

Once, at a conference with Palestinians, I watched a group of that part of the generation of '48 which has taken the lead in the peace movement, reject a Sephardi who was clearly of their political orientation on that issue. They literally would not talk with him. They would huddle by themselves and talk about this and that and the other thing, but they were more prepared to talk with the Ashkenazic woman from Gush Emunim than they were to talk with him, even though he was absolutely within their ranks. I mentioned this to her at a certain point and she said, "Yes, don't you understand? Why do they want what they want with regard to peace? They are dreaming of what they remember of Israel in their childhood and youth and they figure first we will settle with the Arabs by giving back the territories through partition so we will get rid of them. We will only have the ones in the Galil. We cannot help that, but they are a small minority. Then they can get rid of the Orthodox because that is Gush Emunim -- after all, all Orthodox have to be Gush Emunims. They can get rid of them if they cut them off. And then they can get rid of the Sephardim. Then the country will be really nice, right? Only the nice people will be there."

Now she was Gush Emunim, I am not Gush Emunim and I do not share her views about Gush Emunim, but I happen to think in this case she was right about these particular people. Why? Because I saw their behavior in which it was not an ideological category at all, which was perfectly reasonable. Of course, we may find similar phenomena on the other side, although I do not have any good examples of it.

It is unquestionably harder to reconcile the two peoples, but I do not think that it is impossible if there were a sufficient will to do so on both sides. Basically, I do not think that Israelis, whatever side of the peace question they are on, really want to be reconciled with Arabs. I think they want peace with them based upon separation in one way or another. There are those who want to achieve separation by returning to the pre-1967 borders or something like that, and those who want separation by hoping somehow for emigration of the Arabs, or transfer. The fight is over that issue, but the desire for separation I think is as strong in both quarters. By the way, I think the desire on the part of the Arabs for the removal of the Jews is, if anything, even stronger. So that, again, it is not the impossibility of doing so from some objective point of view, it is the lack of a will to do so.

The Partial Breakdown of the Present Social Contract

This now brings me back to the question of internal Israeli society again -- to the present social contract and why it seems to be breaking down -- perhaps not entirely, but at least partially. What did the original social contract of 1948 include of particular relevance to us here? I think we can talk about five elements that are particularly relevant:

  1. The status quo in sharing public space -- that is to say, the status quo agreement that was established really had to do with sharing public space between Orthodox and non-Orthodox.

  2. Part of the social contract was not insisting upon a religious or halakhic definition of who is a Jew, but developing a quasi-secular one that is built upon certain initial premises associated with the religious understanding.

  3. The agreement that, with the exception of certain yeshiva students, no matter how one views the other issues in society, one carries out one's security obligations. One serves in the military; one participates in the defense of the country.

  4. The agreement that, even where different visions are involved, there should be a consociational sharing in institutions. The Zionist idea itself increasingly became the faith of the fathers but remained a faith. This essentially meant that the system of proportionality would be maintained. Each different movement with its ideology and constituencies would fight in the accepted, agreed-upon political arenas, would win whatever percentage of public support it could in those arenas, would enter into coalitions or not accordingly, and would, in return, get some equivalent share of the common enterprise. That is the basis of consociational sharing.

  5. There was a general agreement that we would recall the Second Commonwealth and its failures and that we would not repeat the same mistakes. Ben-Gurion and Begin both drew out special lessons from that experience. Ben-Gurion emphasized the lesson that Israel could not afford to get into conflict with the major power in whose sphere of influence it was, the way ancient Judea came into conflict with Rome. Begin emphasized a different lesson, namely that Jews could not allow themselves to fall into civil war. Both these lessons, I think, were accepted by all parties, as witnessed by the decision on the part of the Israeli parties then of the left to ally Israel with the United States, not entirely a voluntary decision but still there were choices made, and Begin's decision first not to fire back during the Altelena affair and then to allow the Etzel to be disbanded and to join in the normal political processes, even though for him, at any rate, and his colleagues there was great provocation and he was under some pressure not to do so.

Now what has happened with this original social contract of 1948. With regard to the status quo and sharing public space, I think there has been increasing rejection in two directions. One is the rejection by the ultra-Orthodox. They now want what I would suggest is not so much the sharing of public space as a new status quo based upon what our colleague, Mordechai Rotenberg, and others, have described, drawing from a traditional idea, as the Issachar-Zebulon transfer. In other words they see themselves as the guardians of Torah which keeps Israel alive and they think that the rest of the state should simply support them, their institutions, and their people. On that basis, I believe they are prepared (except for the most extremist among them) to maintain civil peace provided there is unrestricted support of their institutions. Otherwise sharing public space involves too many compromises and they are no longer prepared to accept that. I will come back to why that makes a difference now when it did not make a difference in 1948, since they probably did not see matters much differently 40 years ago.

On the other side is the rejection of the old status quo by a new generation of hedonistic individualists. Characteristic of the original generation of 1948 that accepted the status quo in this area was that they were more militantly secular than most of the people who oppose it today. I am not talking about the few active secularists; I mean the general population. They were more militantly secular but they also had two things. They had a deeper understanding of what the sharing of public space was about because they knew what being Jewish was about even if they had rejected the religious dimension of Judaism, and second, they had an appreciation for the some of the ancillary values, not the religious values, but the ancillary values of a yom menucha (day of rest) and of hagim (the cycle of Jewish holidays) that reflected the tradition. They were, indeed, in many cases interested in maintaining both by pouring new wine into old bottles.

The present generation is probably much less secularist. If you polled them, most of them would probably even own up to a belief in God. But they want their conveniences like most everybody else in the Western world these days. And if they want to have their conveniences on Shabbatot and hagim and so forth, they do not want to be restricted because of some status quo that requires them to share public space in a way that those conveniences are somehow limited or made unattainable. This is a more serious assult on the status quo, one which, in my opinion, almost inevitably disrupts the previous arrangements. The only comparison I can think of, but I am sure there are others, is what happened in those Western societies at the end of the nineteenth century where Protestantism had a very strong hold and required closing down commercial and recreational activities for the Lord's Day -- "blue laws," as they were called in the United States. When there was no longer a consensus around those laws -- and most of the time they were not even enacted into law until there was no longer a consensus to sustain them on a voluntary basis -- then the Protestant fundamentalists managed to secure such legislation in a period of transition. It never worked, because unless there is a consensus, one cannot successfully impose such things by law in a free society.

The second element in the breakdown is the ultra-Orthodox attack in the who is a Jew issue. In fact this was an attack that in its serious form was generated from outside the state. Those inside the state who originally generated this attack, in my opinion, did it as a smokescreen to get more money in the Issachar-Zebulon transfer. But when the Lubavitcher Rebbe started, he had a different agenda in mind. What is important about this, again, is not the issue itself but the shifting balance of energy in the Jewish people which, it seems to me, is a very serious issue; that with the demise of energetic Zionism, ideological energy has been shifted to fundamentalist Orthodoxy as ideological energy in much of the world has flowed to fundamentalist religion in general in the last decade or so. This is not necessarily an inevitable or enduring phenomenon, but for the moment almost the only people who have ideological energy in Jewish life today are the fundamentalists.

Second, there is demographic energy. This is even more apparent in Jewish life than the ideological question. The only people who are reproducing themselves today in substantial numbers are the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox. In the diaspora there is less than zero population growth and while in non-Orthodox Israel there still is some population growth, it does not compare. This kind of energy also effects the tide of events. As we know, most human events are not shaped by vast majorities that are relatively inert, but by energetic minorities. And this is a very energetic minority and it is energetic on two of the most crucial fronts of Jewish life at any time, namely the ideological and the demographic. So it means something when the assault on the status quo comes from that quarter.

Third, there is a growing refusal of a still fringe but perhaps a portentious fringe group to carry out their security obligations because of their opposition to certain government policies as in the case of Yesh Gvul. This has not gone nearly as far as have the actions of the ultra-Orthodox in breaking down the status quo. I think that there is still a very strong consensus with regard to carrying out security obligations, but there is no question that it is not the essentially universal consensus that we had come to know.

Fourth, there is a great decline in the consociational bridge that provided a linkage between the contentious groups that comprised the Zionist movement and later the State of Israel. This has led to an intensification of the confrontation in the realm of ideas. The consociational bridge could maintain itself as long as most people in the country fit into one or another of the camps and parties that comprised the consociational system. Today almost the only people who find themselves at ease in this kind of framework are the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox, the religious camp in its broadest sense, and perhaps some elements of the far left and far right and I am not even sure about them. For most Israelis today, however they vote, Labor or Likud, they do not identify themselves heart and soul with some camp. They are not tied into the institutions of that camp except in a residual way. They do not live their lives within the framework of that camp as had been the case up until the mid to late 1960s. And therefore the consociational bridge is no longer available, while at the same time the willingness to share, to communicate in the realm of ideas, remains strong.

Finally, the collective recollection of the failures of the Second Commonwealth is still holding. To me it is extremely significant with regard to the social contract that holds Israel together that at those moments when violent confrontation has crossed certain red lines, it has immediately ceased and pulled back. After the murder of Emil Grunsweig, the demonstrations stopped almost immediately on both sides. When the burning of bus stops led to violence against synagogues and yeshivot, again there was a full stop. Everybody stopped, even the people we would think of as being outside the consensus, their leaders stopped them. These to me are signs of this collective memory, so to speak, and it is still holding.

Now this means that there are still some elements of the status quo, of the original social contract, that are holding, but there are so many that are not that the others are likely to erode if there is not a restoration or a renegotiation of the social contract.

Toward a Covenant of Civil Peace

Let me say a final word about dealing with the contradictions. Again, let me reiterate that every proper democratic state rests upon the consent of its citizens, not as an armistice between enemies but as an agreement among partners in a common project. If it is really an armistice between enemies, then it may suffice to keep a certain modicum of civil peace but it certainly cannot function as a civil society. A social contract in this sense is a minimum. Appropriately a society would be based on a mutual covenant which is much more than a social contract.

A contract is properly understood as an agreement entered into by two or more parties primarily for the individual benefit of each and only secondarily for their mutual benefit. That is the difference between a compact and a covenant. A social contract is something that is useful because there is an individual benefit in maintaining sufficient civil peace to protect at the very least one's life and maybe beyond that one's liberty, one's property, one's pursuit of happiness, the phrases that we are used to in describing such matters. But it is a minimalist requirement, designed primarily for individual benefit and only secondarily for mutual benefit.

Contracts are written the way they are, crossing every "t" and dotting every "i," because it is legitimate for each side to try to interpret the contract to get the maximum for himself and to give the minimum to the other side. It may not be the best, most self-interested policy, but it certainly is possible, and because it is possible, that is why contracts are written that way as distinct from covenants or compacts in which there is a dimension of hesed, of mutual obligation and responsiveness that goes beyond the letter of the past. In any covenant, it is expected that the partners have a goal of mutual benefit that is at least as high if not a higher priority than that of individual benefit, and which requires everybody to act with a certain openness and forthcomingness in such matters. Every civil society that is based upon a compact or a covenant, as distinct from a contract, has some term, frequently a legal principle -- comity, for example, in the Anglo-Saxon world -- that embodies this requirement that people behave in such a way. Otherwise the compact or the covenant cannot hold.

In this connection, I think that there is an advantage in turning to perhaps the most hard-headed, hard-nosed philosopher of them all, Thomas Hobbes, as a starting point. In the Israeli situation, Hobbes has the virtue of starting from an utterly secular, a radically secular beginning, though he ends up acknowledging if not requiring a religious understanding of what he proposes as well. Sharting from that utterly secular grounding, he makes a powerful arguement for a certain kind of political covenant which is designed to protect life and to make civil society possible. Without accepting his institutional solution as to how this covenant should be implemented, it is useful to take another look at the fifteen natural laws or fundamental covenants that from his covenant of civil peace offers a starting point for serious discussion in any civil society of how to create the kind of compact or covenant necessary to make it work. They are as follows:

Hobbes' list of covenants:

  1. To seek peace, and follow it.
  2. By all means we can, to defend ourselves.
  3. That every man strive to accommodate himself to the rest.
  4. That upon caution of the future time, a man ought to pardon the offences past of them that repenting, desire it.
  5. That in revenges, men look not at the greatness of the evil past, but the greatness of the good to follow.
  6. That no man by deed, work, countenance, or gesture, declare hatred or contempt of another.
  7. That every man acknowledge another for his equal by nature.
  8. That at the entrances into conditions of peace, no man require to reserve to himself any right which he is not content should be reserved to every one of the rest.
  9. If a man be trusted to judge between man and man, that he deal equally between them.
  10. That such things as cannot be divided, be enjoyed in common, if it can be; and if the quality of the thing permit, without stint; otherwise proportionably to the number of them that have right.
  11. That the entire right; or else, making the use alternate, the first possession be determined by lot.
  12. That all men that mediate peace, be allowed safe conduct.
  13. That they that are at controversy, submit their right to the judgement of an arbitrator.

These are all basic laws for civil peace. In my opinion it would advance our discussion a great deal if we were to take these and focus on them as the basis for thinking in more practical or more immediate philosophic terms about our practical and immediate situation.

What Can Philosophy Contribute?

EF: You have given a gripping account of Israel's social contract and a rather depressing view that it is breaking down. Here we are philosophers. Is there anything we can do about it? I think this is a terrible century for philosophers because ideologies, including those of the coarsest kind, are thrown around all about the place and assume philsophy. You have here a very hard-headed account of the fact that society involves power and there is just and unjust power. For instance, you could get all sorts of people saying you cannot make that distinction, you cannot make any distinctions but ideological onees. You can burn university buildings of the establishment if you had a good ideology behind it and you can do anything you like. You can certainly seek peace. You can shoot people at random, provided ideologically you are supported. You find people celebrating terrorists of all varieties. You find people saying "one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist" and vice versa. There is a universal relativism on the part of the nice people, namely the liberals, that is opening the door for terrorists and the PLO. You, yourself, mentioned the new fundamentalists. There are fundamentalists not only on the right, but also fundamentalists of the left. We live in a terrible century and I would think that philosophy can make some distinctions and bring back to respectibility certain things which in more decent times were taken for granted, such as the example I have given. Is this possible? This is a general question; it is also a particular question.

DJE: I think it is something that must be tried. In a sense, that is what we have tried to do here. I am not sure we will be able to give the judgement as to whether it is possible or not. This is a terrible century. At the same time, it certainly is not the only terrible century in history. It also happens to be the only century we who are sitting here have. Since I believe that historical centuries end something like ten to fifteen years into the chronological century, I think we have another 20-25 years of this century, for better or for worse. Some of us will still be actively contributing even after that, but for the moment, at any rate, it is the only century we have.

One of the things that attracted me to Hobbes years ago, and brought me back to him in this case, was that Hobbes was confronted by a society torn by civil war. He was writing specifically for an England torn by civil war and ideological civil war as distinct from earlier civil wars in English history which were contests between different contenders for the throne or maybe between Normans and Saxons, or similar parties. Fortunately, we have not quite sunk to the level of civil war. Still, this was an ideological civil war in which precisely the kind of breakdowns that we have been talking about, that I tried to lay out briefly this afternoon, had gone beyond even the minimum maintenance of the armistice and had led to a shooting, fighting war between Puritans and Royalists.

That may suggest something about the possibility of philosophy, Emil, it may be the worst answer to your question that I can possibly give, that the impossibility of philosophy to do something about such things is the reality. But maybe subsequent generations can learn from philosophy and maybe we can learn from philosophy. After all we have not, thank God, nor do I see an imminent danger of going into the kind of civil war that was true of seventeenth century. Civil War or a War Between Two Peoples?

Q: I would not define that as a civil war. It was still between two separate peoples.

DJE: The English saw themselves as one people. The Puritans did not fight to separate from England. They fought to gain control of the government of their own land, as did the Royalists; that is a civil war.

I think that is one of the major special contradictions that we have to deal with, that we are two peoples in one land, but the war between us is not a civil war. The war between us is a war between two peoples. One of the worst problems that we could confront, and we are moving toward it, is a situation that is defined as "them or us" and "them or us" is not a civil war.

Q: You said that the great majority, perhaps everybody, seeks separation. That may be true from the point of view of the 99 percent of the people who look for separation, but there is one percent who are not interested in separation.

DJE: They may look for accommodation, but I doubt whether they are looking for accommodation in a way that would create one people out of the two. No doubt there are some people who seek amalgamation, but I think there are very few on either side who look for the convergence of one people through Jewish-Arab amalgamation.

Q: But you do consider the Arabs citizens of the State of Israel?

DJE: Yes, of course, in the case of those Arabs who are, not the Arabs who are not. I consider them citizens of the State of Israel, but I consider citizenship in the State of Israel to be strictly a matter of citizenship -- that is to say, political, civic, and social entitlement -- rather than a definition of nationality. I think that we still go by the Middle Eastern definition of nationality that has been traditional in this region until now. It may be that in the future that nationality will be defined by territory, but now it is defined by what people one belongs to. And that territorial boundaries change all the time. I looked into the question of boundaries and I could not find any time in the history of this region when the boundaries of political units in it survived for more than a hundred years without changes. Even on those rare occasions when the imperial limits did not change, the boundaries within them did. Even if there was an empire that could impose order for the length of time that the Ottoman Empire did, it changed the boundaries of provinces and not just for administrative purposes. It changed boundaries all the time, and most of the time there were far more drastic changes than that.

Nobody in his right mind living in this region over the last three or four thousand years of recorded history would try to define identity on the basis of territorial units. Everybody would be absolutely schizophrenic all the time, which is why this is a region of peoples in which several peoples, sometimes as equals but more often than not with dominant and subordinant relationships, lived within the same territory, usually in highly integrated proximity. That is why partition has never been a really good solution to conflicts in the Middle East unless it is introduced on the basis of huge transfers of population -- as in Cyprus in 1974 when the Turkish army invaded and seized its northern 40 percent, expelled all the Greek Cypriots, and moved in all the Turkish Cypriots.

Is There a Serious Threat to Civil Peace Among Jews?

Q: Hobbes begins with "to seek peace and follow it." That follows only after there is a consciousness of the inevitability of war, the primary fact of war. Now we do not have that among Jews today. That kind of a consciousness does not exist among Jews. It is beginning to exist in the past few months between Jews and Arabs, but I do not think that we have a fear of having a war with the ultra-Orthodox or with the hedonistic secularists.

DJE: First of all, Hobbes' call for civil peace is not only to prevent war in the formal sense but to prevent anarchy or the law of the jungle. With regard to seeking peace and following it, I agree with you that it assumes the threat of war in the Hobbesian sense, let us not say the inevitability, but the threat of war. I would say, I think there is that consciousness. That is why I emphasized the business of recalling what brought down the Second Commonwealth because I think the fear of civil war among Jews, in the Hobbesian sense, is an omnipresent element in the modern Zionist enterprise. That is to say, not that it is going to break out tomorrow, not that we are all sitting here in armed camps, but that if we do not watch ourselves, we can easily degenerate into a situation in which we have sinat hinam (senseless hatred) and the kinds of conflicts that occurred between Zealots and others in the Great Revolt and between Hasmonean kings and Pharisees even earlier, and all that kind of thing. That is a very powerful element, not all that often articulated but very much there, in shaping behavior in the modern State of Israel. That is one of the reasons why, when I looked around at Israel's reality, I came to Hobbes.

Even the Ultra-Orthodox Are Within the Consensus

My second point is that, in crucial ways, the ultra-Orthodox, with the possible exception of the most extreme, have accepted the social contract to a substantial extent in the other areas as well. With regard to the quasi-secular definition of who is a Jew, yes, I think that, within very broad limits, they have looked upon all of the secular Jews who come here, as long as they do not overtly violate what they have defined as basic halakhic precepts, they have accepted them as Jews and not simply on the basis of yisrael ata yisrael hu. They certainly could have further broadened their definition, but they have tacitly accepted their Jewishness. For 30 some years in the state this problem did not bother them and even now it only bothers them with regard to recognition of non-Orthodox movements, which is a political struggle of a different sort. They have been prepared to live with the reality of secular Jews as long as they do not have to recognize secular Judaism. You cannot ask them to sign on it, but they are prepared to live with it.

With regard to security needs, theirs is a mixed response. They have claimed the right to exempt yeshiva students from military ervice since the founding of the state, but at that time the issue involved some 400. Only in the last few years has the notion of actually trying to make sure that the vast majority of their men go to yeshivot, been the case. This has created a new situation that was not true during most of the years of the state. They also did not have the expectations that the thing to do was to spend x numbers of years in a kollel. Even now, most of them accept as part of the compromise that they go nominally and briefly into the army after that point. They do not deny this. Nor do they say that the others should not.

Q: Do the haredim share in the consociational institutions and the consensus you have outlined?

DJE: As far as sharing the consociational institutions, yes indeed. After all, Agudat Israel signed the Declaration of Independence, a declaration of independence that from a religious point of view has all sorts of problems. Paul Eidelberg, who has a very, shall we say, uncompromising view of such matters, wrote an article in Judaism recently in which he makes a powerful arguement for a fundamentalist position, why Israel's Declaration of Independence is really traife from a fundamentalist viewpoint that holds that the Jewish people was formed by God at Sinai. But they signed it, they participated in the elections of the Yishuv even earlier. They draw themselves some lines, but basically they participate in the institutions. And I certainly think they share the collective memory which is why, after all, they stopped, even the ultra-ultras stopped or were brought by their peers to stop when their violence against property began to lead to potential violence against lives. I certainly do not want to apologize for or justify them but on these things they have stayed within the consensus, even though, as I said, on the first things it has been breaking down.

Contract or Covenant?

Q: Are you suggesting that a social contract is sufficient? What about the Hobbesian emphasis on covenant? Should we not strive for something more than a social contract? What about the Arabs?

DJE: I could not agree with you more; I meant the Hobbesian natural laws with regard to both. The reason that I focused on the first is precisely because we have not really considered more than a social contract and I am not sure to what extent we can until there is sufficient consensus among the Jews. It need not be complete consensus, but a sufficient consensus. Nor do I believe that we must do the one while entirely ignoring the other, only that the Hobbesian principles I presented are the first basis, not necessarily the final one for dealing with the contraditions that we confront. Regarding the Arabs, at this stage of the history of this region, we have two separate covenants, as it were. If we could achieve a social contract between the two peoples, that would be a great achievement, even if the two separate covenants remained. I would be content if we got out of this century with that.

Jewish Fears and the Siege Mentality

Q: I am interested in the Second Commonwealth analogy. What about the Massada myth?

DJE: The importance of the Massada myth in Israeli life is a big fiction developed by foreign journalists who were looking for an explanation as to why suddenly Israelis were behaving the way they were in the 1970s and 1980s. Charles Leibman and Eliezer Don-Yehiya have studied the Massada myth and they have studied it quite well. There was a period in the late 1920s and in the 1930s where there was an effort on the part of a certain segment (or maybe two segments) of the Zionist movement to build a new vision of Jewish military heroism around it. That, of course, does not comment at all on the problem that I raised regarding the Second Commonwealth. I mean, the Massada myth is not a problem of civil war, it is a problem of fighting to the end and then dying with your weapons in your hands. It is vital to recall that It was not a positive myth, it was a negative myth. It was used as an example of how we are not going to repeat that tragedy. Even at that, I do not believe that it had the power that was later attributed to it as the "Massada complex" invented by foreign journalists.

I must admit that I had not thought in terms of the importance of avoiding the strife of the Second Commonwealth as a significant factor here until it was called to my attention on a number of occasions by a number of Israelis representing very different political points of view and that is what triggered me to begin to think about it. All I can say is that, short of far more serious research than anybody has done on this, it remains on the level of an hypothesis and no more, but it seems to me to hold water.

I think the whole matter has to do with a general fear that Jews have that basically we are not good at politics, that we are always so contentious that we do not know how to govern ourselves. This appears to be a continuing doubt that gnaws at Jews and I think it is really related to that, because the worst manifestation of not being able to govern yourself is to do stupid things when it comes to political decision-making and the worst of the worst is when those stupid things lead to civil war.

EF: People whom we think of as potential friends are saying that all these extreme right-wingers are the only obstacle to peace, that they are leading Israel to self-destruction, I read this in the newspapers. You have to take into consideration the fact of the siege, even if in the present war we are not shooting at each other. Our enemies know that if we get a vast anti-Israeli propaganda in the few countries that are still halfway friendly to us, that is part of the war. I heard the view expressed that if Abba Eban goes to America and expresses a different point of view, he is acting as a traitor. And Abba Eban is hardly shooting at anybody. One could also hear the opposite view expressed that the head of the present government, in alienating our best friends, is leading this country to self-destruction. Now since the world is listening to what we are doing and since presumably perhaps in the future what support we get from the United States depends to a large extent on what public opinion there, I think we can abstract from that. So I think the question of the fear as to whether we are able to govern ourselves is a very real one. Things really seem to be breaking up.

If I can add a point to this. I often like to steal the thunder of extreme leftists. I think we should do that whenever we can. Franz Fanon was an extreme leftist who wrote a book called The Wretched of the Earth in which he made a point that he got indirectly from Hegel, "so long as the colonized have no power, they fight not against the colonizers but against each other." I apply this to the besieged, which is us. So long as we cannot break the siege, we fight each other -- of course to the great relish of those who besiege us. So I think one could say that right now we really have a tremendous challenge to prove that we can govern ourselves and at least not engage in a civil war when we are besieged from the outside.

Of course even while I am saying that, I know there are some people who say "there is no siege from the outside, what are you talking about?" I have heard that view expressed. Now we are talking politics and we are talking political philosophy, and to me it is hair-raising. Professor Edward Alexander, a man who is called an extreme right-winger, told me that in America right now in a case where someone dared to quote the PLO national covenant in criticizing the PLO, he was called a Fascist and a Nazi and so on. "How dare you quote that covenant when everybody knows the PLO does not mean it." Now things have reached a pretty pass when these things are happening out there. I think even a verbal confrontation by ourselves could be construed as already part of a civil war under these circumstances. And I fully agree that this civil war is something that must not be allowed to happen.

DJE: You may be right, if we are under siege in that sense. I guess one of the things that disturbs me a little bit about the permises of your analysis is that I happend to think that to a great extent we have broken the siege. Maybe this is the political scientist in me, rather than as a political philosopher, because my assumption is not that the Arabs have decided to love Israel's presence here anymore but that the Arab states are really prepared for the indefinite future to accept it. That is the difference between the present and the recent past. We are in a war with the Palestinians but that is different from being besieged by the entire Arab world. While the war is not over, I think that we have broken that siege. In a sense it is almost part of Israel's expression of the Jewish neurosis, in the way that many diaspora Jews see anti-Semites under the bed. Every time anything happens they expect a wave of anti-Semitism. Ours may be to exaggerate the degree to which we continue to be besieged. Not that we were not for a long time; we were. I really do not think we are in a siege like that any more. In some respects, that is why what the Palestinians are doing has a certain quality of desperation about it. It may work, but it has a certain quality of desperation about it precisely because they have been deserted by those who were conducting the siege and who made the siege possible. If we do stay with the view that we are totally besieged, then what you say follows. I guess I am prepared to risk that my analysis is correct, partly to prevent our being torn apart and partly because it is the only way we are going to have a chance to make peace.

Now again, maybe part of the Jewish political culture is to see things very much in extremes. I do not want to get into that question but there are reasons to believe that Jews tend to believe that either we are besieged or we are fully at peace -- peace in the full sense of shalom, real peace. I do not believe the matter is so simple, that life is either a question of siege or of full peace. I think we can be in a position where we have to keep our powder dry, yet not be at a point where hostilities are about to break out because it is in nobody's interest for hostilities to break out. In my opinion, to be at this point is already breaking the siege. In my opinion, would be more effective in thinking about how to come to grips with the war that we do have, which is with the Palestinians, if we understand that it is not necessarily part of the larger siege at this point. It could become again. It could easily lead to the resumption of the siege because the Arab states could also be faced with certain inevitabilities of not being able to act differently than to go into a siege. But right now I think that they are looking for a way not to fall back into that situation. That is why the Palestinians are desperate. So I myself would like to be able to approach the larger, the philosophic, question from a somewhat different assessment of the reality than you present.

Aviezer Kautsky: I also disagree with Professor Fackenheim from another point of view. In my personal opinion, the level of loyalty and commitment of 98 percent of Israeli society to one another is really unbelievable. Let us take two extreme examples. For instance during the evacuation of Yamit there were many people, including many soldiers, who completely opposed and rejected the withdrawal, yet they obeyed the decision of the legal government of Israel and they evacuated many families by force against their convictions and will. At the other extreme, perhaps 45 percent or even 51 percent of the people objected to the Lebanese War, yet only 147 behaved as many Americans during Vietnam, and refused to serve. We must remember that the population is divided almost equally and each bloc is almost sure that the policies of the other are going to destroy us, yet despite this fact Israel's democratic procedures are working well. There has been no political murder, if I ignore the murder of Emil Grunsweig which was committed by some poor, unbalanced person, not by a political party, so I believe that the behavior of the Israeli population is positive in an unexpected way.

Comment: Prof. Fackenheim introduced the term "siege," because it is the use of the siege mentality that has to a large extent cemented the nation. I happen to agree with what Professor Elazar just said. Indeed, it is the growing perception that we are no longer under siege to the extent that we were that accounts for the fact that there are 147 people who did not go to war in Lebanon. In other words, it is precisely the diminution of the feeling of being besieged that contributes to the breakdown that we are talking about. Many social critics in Israel say that the external threat has been manipulated by several Israeli leaders in order to create cohesiveness within Israeli society. I do not know to what extent this is empirically true, but it is a valid opinion which is very often heard.

Comment: Among the items that we have agreed to remember as part of the social contract, like the Second Temple mistakes, I would suggest that perhaps the Holocaust is part of the consciousness of Israelis, that when you talk about siege mentality, it begins to take on a dimension that otherwise it would not have. When a Jew with a consciousness of the Holocaust thinks that he is besieged, it means something quite different than when the word that appears in another context.

Pinchas Peli: A siege can also be put by the world media. It does not have to be by soldiers along the border. Anyone who goes outside of Israel now will see that there is a concentrated attack on Israel, not on certain actions of certain people. So the siege is still there.

EF: I do not want to confuse siege with siege mentality. I have often been told that I have a Holocaust complex and I tell people "you have a non-Holocaust complex." So when I see the recent report about the Syrian rearmament, it is absolutely frightening. When you bear in mind that Syria is economically broke, that means there must be support with Saudi Arabian money for what they are doing. Then there is Russia behind it. I do not trust Gorbachev's smile. Then I think the worst of all -- what is going to happen when Iran is going to win the war against Iraq which seems almost inevitable. That explosive fanaticism with "a lust for Jerusalem," that is how he called it, I do not think the siege is over. After all that, and Pinchas rightly points out, the determined attempt to alienate our one and only remaining friend, namely the United States, that goes on every day in the media, is a horrifying war and the attack is on Israel. Now almost anything goes. You brought the Holocaust in. There is a certain restraint because of the Holocaust. That restraint is now gone. We are the new Nazis and we are oppressing the Palestinians. I just came back from Germany for a celebration, forty years of the State of Israel, a hope fulfilled. They hardly dared to put out the posters.

DJE: This is not a very good time for public demonstrations of sentiment for Israel. On the other hand I think what has been pretty clear around the world is that the governments are not very hostile. Governments have a union like everybody else and the governments' union does not like civil uprisings from anybody, even if they are justified in their eyes for other reasons. And the fact is that the leaders of the world discreetly have supported Israel in subtle ways except when they have to make public votes in the European Parliament or go on television and the like, but in every other respect they have been very moderate in deed -- because the governments' union does not like to see things like the intifada, regardless of the reasons. I think we have to develop a perspective on these things. It is our natural tendency to see ourselves as besieged because after all it is not exactly a misperception to think that we have been besieged very severely in the past, but I do not think we are going to be able to make progress in the future unless we are able to distinguish when the siege has been broken, not forever maybe, but breaking a siege offers some opportunities and the opportunities should be taken and tested.

Comment: In terms of the siege, I think the perception is the thing, that is really the key. When the social contract was formed there was certainly an overwhelming perception, more than a perception, a reality, that the siege was the number one priority. So people will more likely subjugate their individual aims when they have an outside threat that has to be addressed first. I think in order to go on, what we have to come up with is a replacement for that one thing that was the binder for all the different factions in the country then. There never has been a shared vision between all these factions. When we talk about the Zionist dream, there are so many different ideals of what that Zionist dream is and what it should be. We have to focus on what can be our goal, what can be the focus of the cohesion so that we can build a contract to achieve it.

DJE: At one time we obviously did have the shared goal of coming back to Eretz Israel. That goal has only been partially fulfilled. That this is so is an unbelievably great historic failure of the Jewish people for which we will pay for centuries. There has not been such a failure since the days of Ezra and Nehemiah when the Jewish people last had such an opportunity.

It reminds me of the story of the very pious man who drowned in a flood. He went up to heaven and angrily confronted God, saying, "all my life I was pious and when it came to the flood you did not save my life!" And God said, "Wait, stop, go back and think, tell me what happened there." He said, "well, first the National Guard came and said 'get out of here, there is going to be a flood,' and I said 'I do not have to go, God will protect me.' So I waited and the water came and covered the first floor. I went up to the second floor and I was confident in You. And a boat came along with some police in it and they said 'get in the boat and we will take you away and we will save you.' And I said, 'I do not have to. God will save me.' So the boat went off and the water rose higher and I finally climbed up to the roof. I got to the roof and I am sitting on the roof and a helicopter came and the guys in the helicopter said to me, 'climb up the ladder, get into the helicopter, you are going to be drowned.' I said to them, 'No, God will save me' and here You failed me." And God replied, "what are you, stupid? First I sent the police to get you out, then I sent the boat, then I sent the helicopter. That was enough."

It is the same thing with the Jewish people. Three times we had an opportunity, after the Balfour Declaration in 1917, when the state was established in 1948, and again after 1967, and three times we did not come and we are going to pay for that. We are paying for it right now quite heavily. Even though the return to Zion was only partial, it ended as the possibility of a unifying force for those who did come and especially for their children because those of us who are here take it for granted. We cannot keep working on the steam of returning to the homeland. We have got to do something with it now that we are here.

Comment: If you are talking about a social contract, you do not need a unifying force. All you need are people who want to live here. I think the whole charm of a social contract is to eliminate the discussion of a common vision. Forget about a state that has a vision. We do not have a vision. We are a state that should serve its citizens with the basic minimums and I think if you talk along those lines you stand a better chance of developing a social contract.

DJE: That is why social contracts are inadequate. There are some peoples, maybe the French (and even some of the French will dispute this), certainly if you are Italian, it is sufficient to be born Italian -- to have a social contract regarding whatever services you get from the state which may not be all that much, plus whatever you get from your surrounding environment, from your family, from your social structure, and that is enough. But there are some peoples in this world, of whom the first and the foremost are the Jews, for whom social contracts are not sufficient. Without a vision, we Jews have never been satisfied and I cannot think that after all these years we are going to change our character. Therefore for us ultimately a social contract can only achieve the Hobbesian principles of civil peace but it cannot solve the larger problems that we face, but small things first.

Comment: But you contradict yourself because you look for a social contract between people with different visions so you do not give up the Zionist vision or your own type of the Zionist vision. The social contract does not mean that you accept the lowest common denominator; you have no vision anymore.

Comment: Visions are just not the business of the state. People should have their own private visions. I think this is the way we can get all the different elements together -- once Israelis understand that the state is not in the business of fulfilling their personal visions of what Jews ought to be or what a Jewish state ought to be.

Comment: That may be the subject of the next discussion. How do you get a state out of this kind of business. We should start with religion and separation of religion and state.

DJE: I do not believe that to be either possible or desirable for Israel or for any community of Jews. Jews cannot live without a collective division. They would just disappear. If one chooses full assimilaton as one's goal for the Jews, that will do it -- we can see how it works for individual Jews who do not have any Jewish vision. Israel cannot survive either since Jews as individuals tend to be energetic opportunity-seekers and, for most, the best opportunities will be found elsewhere. Moreover, why should young Jews interrupt their lives for so much military service when they can find what they want as individuals elsewhere without the danger and the difficulty. Without a shared vision and a national consensus, I give Israel no more than a generation.

Here we return to the advantage of the Hobbesian approach. Hobbes' covenants of peace are fully secular, but as in the case of Hobbes himself, they lead to something beyond the merely secular. Just as Leviathan is divided into parts, the first entirely secular, one might say excruciatingly so, the second points to a vision beyond that radical secularism.

Can we find Israeli analogs to Hobbes' covenants of peace? Of course we can because they are universal. A mere reading of them suggests how the various individuals and groups in Israeli society must seek peace and follow it, even as by all means we can defend ourselves.

A political philosophy requires theories of moral obligation, justice, political association, and authority. In this respect, Hobbes' covenants of peace are a necessary but hardly sufficient beginning, the consensual bedrock for political association, but they do not address the problems of moral obligation, justice, and authority. Those need to be addressed from our own sources -- the classic Jewish texts beginning with the Bible -- as well as through the works of political philosophy. Our own sources, embodied in the Jewish political tradition, have a great deal to say about all four of these dimensions of political life. In our discussions here we are beginning to draw closer to that exploration.

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