Culture

Debating America's Ideological Origins: Part III in Lumish Vs Swindle

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See the previous installments in this ongoing discussion about American values, Left vs. Right, Biblical morality, and New Media activism:

Part 1, by Michael Lumish on October 13: Politics Vs Theology: Beginning A Debate With David Swindle.Why we should not frame political issues as a matter of Good versus Evil.

Part 2, by David Swindle on October 20: Secular Political Ideology Vs. Biblical Moral Values: Continuing a Debate with Michael Lumish. “Why I don’t care much about Left vs. Right anymore. And four more points of disagreement.”

David,

I want to thank you for this exceedingly thoughtful response to my initial inquiry.  You have gone into significant detail in the laying out of your argument and, yet, I know that we are only just beginning to scratch the surface. You have broken your argument down into five parts:

1. Whom should pro-Israel and counter-Jihad activists try to reach?

Our disagreement: I believe it’s important to try and reach all human beings across the planet.

2. Objective Values vs Subjective Values

Our disagreement: I believe in objective moral values, you, as a progressive, still choose to live according to subjective values.

3. What is the difference between values and theology? And how are these applied toward shaping a political worldview?

Our disagreement: We define “theology” differently. I do not view politics through the lens of theology. I      view it through the lens of Good Vs. Evil.

4. Can facts and arguments persuade progressives to join the pro-Israel and Counter-Jihad causes?

Our disagreement: I do not believe the facts of radical Islam’s barbarism and Israel’s moral high ground can persuade anyone committed to their progressive/leftist/Democrat identity.

5. Can the Left and Right be reformed?

Our disagreement: I do not believe either the political Left or Right can be “reformed.”

Prior to your discussion on each of these points, however, you frame your overall position as follows:

My position: with Judeo-Christian values as one’s base then all of the world’s religions become de-fanged and their practices and ideas of potential value can be utilized in conjunction with traditional Jewish and Christian religious practices. For those of a more secular lifestyle, the founders’ philosophy of classical liberalism that forms the foundation of our government is just the political expression of Biblical values.

I would like to begin the discussion at the beginning and since you have given us your baseline, perhaps we can start with that. I must disagree that the founders’ philosophy of classical liberalism derives just from the Bible. The foremost American scholar on the ideologies behind the American Revolution and the Constitution of the United States is venerable historian Bernard Bailyn, of Harvard University, who wrote The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution.

What Bailyn argues is that the ideology behind the Revolution, and behind the Constitution, derives from four sources, only one of which is Judeo-Christian.

There is the Greco-Roman heritage of classical antiquity as understood from the writings of people such as Plutarch, Livy, Tacitus, Cicero, and Homer.  These writers generally hated and feared the trends in their own times and longed for a return to a better past, a Golden Age wherein people were filled with virtue, simplicity, patriotism, integrity, love of justice and liberty.  They also believed that their current time was best characterized by cynicism, oppression, the threat of tyranny and the corruption of power.  In this way, the sensibilities of the founders were infused with a deep appreciation for classical writings and the politics of Franklin and Adams and Jefferson and Hamilton and reflected those writings.

There is also, of course, the juridical tradition of English Common Law as a repository of principles of justice, equity, and human rights.  As I am sure that you are well aware, English Common Law, grounded in Magna Carta, represented a font for the ideals expressed in the Constitution.  In fact, the separation of powers between the three branches of government, and the creation of an elective national assembly, representing the will of the people, trace roots to English Common Law.  It was out of the ongoing tension between the English monarchy and parliament that habeas corpus sprang.

There is also the tradition of Enlightenment Rationalism. We have Voltaire and Rousseau and John Locke. We have the notion of the Social Contract, which stresses that the purpose of government is to promote the common good. We have the recognition that power must be limited and that governments require systems of checks and balances.  We have the understanding that governmental authorities owe their right to govern not from God, but from the people.

And, finally, there is the tradition of New England Puritanism that represented the immediate historical, philosophical, and theological backdrop out of which many of the most significant founders were operating.  Thus, there is no question that the philosophy of classical liberalism owes something to the Bible and to the Judeo-Christian theological tradition.  Western notions of justice ultimately go back to, if not Hammurabi’s Code, then certainly the Ten Commandments.  However, what we have in the west, as I think that we can both agree, is an under-appreciation of the role of the Judeo-Christian tradition within the history of American politics and culture.

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Even Obama is regarded as a Jewish puppet leading the Great Satan.

Among my many criticisms of the political movement that I come out of — which is the western progressive-left — one of the most significant is the hostility with which so many contemporary “liberals” regard American Christianity, particularly the reviled Evangelicals. I find this revulsion toward devout Christians to be nothing less than rank bigotry. I think that it is a disgrace.  It represents a betrayal of the very ideals of multiculturalism and acceptance that progressives claim to champion.  Progressives will argue that conservative Christian men seek to own women’s bodies and that the Evangelical movement is filled with racism and homophobia. They will tell me that the only reason that so many American Christians appreciate Israel is out of some hostile eschatological Apocalyptic Doomsday Scenario in which, after Armageddon, Jesus will return to earth in order to show Hitler and the Catholic Church just how the Jews should be dealt with.

Progressives, of course, have no standing to make such claims so long as they remain either enamored of, or indifferent to, the rise of political Islam. While they will excoriate Christians in the most abominable terms for opposing abortion, they nonetheless support an American president that supported the rise of political Islam throughout the Middle East.  I do not need to tell you, or your readership, that political Islam, and organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood, stone women to death for adultery and imprison them for the crime of getting raped.  In Iran they hang gay people from cranes.  Throughout Egypt and Syria they are burning down churches and chasing Christians from the region entirely.  And the Jews?  Fuggetaboutit.  Imams and ayatollahs, and various Muslim religious figures throughout the region, scream from the hillsides that the Jews are the Devil and need to be attacked wherever we are found and that the Jewish State of Israel is an abomination before the Lord that must be destroyed.

I recognize, David, that I have not even begun to address your five central points of apparent disagreement.  I will certainly do so as we continue forward in this conversation.  One of those points is that my focus tends to be too narrow and, thus, limits a broader appeal. So long as I write about the Long Arab War Against the Jews of the Middle East, I honestly do not know what to do about that.

I could write about the culinary world, because I am a graduate of the Culinary Institue of America and did, in fact, cook for a living for a number of years.  Or I could write about my love of baseball and the New York Yankees of my childhood which included figures like Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, and Thurman Munson.

But, I don’t.

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I write about the Arab-Israel conflict because I worry about the well-being of my fellow Jews in the Middle East.  The reason that I do so is because I see an enormous amount of genocidal hatred leveled at those people by the much larger Arab-Muslim majority in the region.  I also see many political elements in the west justifying that hatred and supporting it and that, my friend, scares the holy crap out of me.

Before I close this out, I want to thank you for giving us an overview of your political evolution.  I have to say, your journey seems to encompass more roads than my own.  You say that within a rather brief period of time you evolved from a leftist/progressive to something between a progressive “liberal” and a centrist “liberal”  to a naive No Labels centrist to a Libertarian-conservative Tea Partier and finally to an across the board Reaganite conservative with a Judeo-Christian Hermetic twist.

I have to say, that is quite an ideological journey. I mean that in all sincerity and, as someone who knows a thing or two about the Hermetic tradition, I look forward to your explorations.  This is because I respect people who think and are, thus, willing to evolve in their thinking, even if it leads them into controversial realms — or perhaps because it leads them into controversial realms.  One cannot stand up for Israel without being controversial. It’s the nature of the game.

In any case, my road was pretty straight-forward. I was raised by liberal Jewish parents in New York and Connecticut.  My father fought in World War II and probably never met an adult who had not voted for Franklin Roosevelt in his life until he went into the army.  My folks had me rather late in life and I grew into political consciousness in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.  For a long time I was basically non-political and leaned toward the counterculture.  I read Ginsberg, Kerouac, Crowley, Watts, Suzuki, Roszak, Eliade, Jung, not to mention, Leary, and a certain Mr. William James.

Reagan was in office, but I was looking back toward the 1960s.

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Kos

I only really got political with the Bush II administration. I was part of the Daily Kos crowd throughout much of that period, as I was writing my dissertation on the meaning of the Human Potential Movement and the counterculture to twentieth-century American cultural and intellectual history. It was only after I engaged in the political blogs that I saw so much hatred coming directly at me, my family, and my friends in Israel and decided to fight back. At first I did not quite know what to make of this progressive-left aggression against the Jewish people and the Jewish State and therefore sought to engage it and consider it in a manner as fair as I could. After awhile, though, it became quite clear that the progressive-left, and the grassroots/netroots of the Democratic Party, had betrayed its Jewish constituency through accepting anti-Semitic anti-Zionists as part of its larger coalition.

And that is when I turned.

And this is how I eventually ended up at your door-step at FrontPage Magazine’s NewsReal Blog.

In any case, I do thank you, David, for giving me the opportunity to discuss things with your readership and the readership of PJ Media.

I very much look forward to your response and will approach your five central issues in the coming weeks, as we go forward with the conversation,

Michael Lumish