The greatest work on the design of political institutions – one that transcends Aristotle’s discussion of that topic in The Politics – is The Federalist Papers, almost all of which were written by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. Every voter in Israel should read, and be urged by his university mentors to read, the Hebrew translation of that indispensable classic.
What the Federalist Papers could do for Israel
These 85 newspaper articles (!), unequaled by any Ph.D. from Harvard or Yale since they were written, provide the profoundest and most authoritative exposition of the American Constitution. Serious and sustained study of these Papers would elevate the intellectual quality of Israeli politicians and therefore raise the quality of Israel’s policy makers and decision makers. Indeed, the knowledge of these political essays would raise the level not only of public debate in Israel, but also the effectiveness of Israeli officials who deal with Americans as well as with Muslims.
No less than William Gladstone, one of England’s greatest Prime Ministers later referred to the American Constitutional Convention of 1787 as the greatest assembly of statesmen in history.
Comparisons are bound to be invidious, but Israelis need to face the fact that notwithstanding the virtues of the founders of their State, who deserve both praise and gratitude, their statesmanship, perhaps handicapped by the urgency of saving displaced Jews from the ravages of war torn Europe, contains basic flaws which have yet to be remedied in Israel despite the passage of more than six decades and the resulting entrenchment of narrow and vested interests.
Bearing in mind that Moses himself was advised by Yitro on how to represent the tribes of Israel in the nation’s government, and about the qualities required of representatives, surely it is no disrespect to urge Israeli politicians to learn from wiser men.
Maimonides, Israel’s greatest philosopher, encapsulates the rational and scientific attitude of the Jews in his Mishneh Torah. He there refers to the Laws of the Sanctification of the New Moon and the astronomical calculations on which they are based:
The rationales for these calculations … and how all these concepts are known, and the proofs for each of these principles, are [the subject] of the works of astronomy and geometry, concerning which the Greeks wrote many books. The texts are presently in the hands of the Sages of Israel. The texts written by the Sages of Israel in the age of the prophets from the tribe of Issachar have not been transmitted to us. Nevertheless, since these concepts can be proven in an unshakable manner … the identity of the author, be he a prophet or a gentile, is of no concern…. We do not rely on [the personal authority of] the individual who made these statements or taught these concepts, but on the proofs he presented and the reasons he made known.
Hence I urge Israeli politicians and their university mentors to study the wisdom of America’s Founding Fathers. The wisdom of these learned statesmen is not obsolete. They heeded the words of Samuel Langdon, president of Harvard University, a solid Hebraist who declared, in his election sermon of 1775, that “the [ancient] Jewish government … if considered merely in a civil view [i.e. shorn of religious law], was a perfect republic.” That republic remains an excellent model of government for the present state of Israel. It provides, inter-alia, a system of institutional checks and balances sadly lacking in Israel today, but which could be obtained by careful, incremental reform of her Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches of government.
The achievement of such reform is far less difficult than the achievement of peace, for which Israeli politicians have struggled in vain, and partly because they are driving in what may be called a political Model-T Ford.☼
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