Democracy, Elections, Brexit on the 4thof July- A Perspective from 90 Years Ago
|My father's Doctorate on the Collapse of Parliamentary Democracy, signed by the future Cardinal of Vienna, Innitzer.|
Based on the passage in my book, Courage of the Spirit. Available at Amazon
This Shabbat, in our Torah reading, we have an uprising against the leadership of Moses and Aaron by the CIA. Yes, the old version. Moses sends twelve spies to scout the land of Israel and he gets the " Majority Report"- A land that devours its inhabitants, a land of giants that make us look like grasshoppers!
Next week, we have an uprising from within the ruling party- within the Levites- the Korach faction, allied with the Reuben party.
The first uprising is met with a change of fate—the people are doomed by the report itself to wander for 40 years, until they have developed the guts to take on the giants, who seemed to have vanished.
The second uprising is put down by earthshaking force-an earthquake followed by divine fire. Moses himself does not put down the rebellion—God does it. Many years later, the Bolsheviks would perfect the massive suppression of any questions of leadership by terrorism. I will talk later about my father, but just mention that he asked one of his friends, Mannes Sperber, an active young leader of the communists in Austria, how he could justify the purges under Lenin and Stalin. His friend answered matter of factly, “Look at what Moses did to Korach."
Here we are, just before the 4th of July, and we have the threats of a loss of faith in leadership.
Anyone who watches the developments in the UK, with the Brexit vote, this last week, must surely be concerned, for of all the Europeans, the British are the closest in mentality to the Americans. It is for a great number of historical reasons, beginning with some loyal subjects of the Crown who thought the king, of German heritage, did not understand his own people. There is something of a shared concern here, as we have gone through a contentious primary campaign of both parties. We all know that as soon as the vote was announced, the stock market fell and the sky fell as well; fortunately, some voices were heard, such as Kissinger, telling us it won’t be so bad. Bad- but not so bad!
The Brexiters, the Trumpkins, the Sanderistas, for all that the issues are different, are the same in one thing. Pundits would like us to believe it is only "country-bumpkins,” “racists”, “people looking for a free hand out” who voted as they did. That is a dangerous misreading.
These divergent people all share one thing in common. They don't trust the leadership.That is the key factor.
The spies as well Korach and his fellow travelers created a situation of distrust in the leadership of Moses. Moses was lucky—God was on his side and that was the end of the uprising. Neither we nor the Brits have that guarantee.We don't expect a plague to strike down the rebels nor the earth to open up.
I bring this up because our civilization, Western, democratic, rests upon trust. There has to be trust of each other as citizens and trust in the representatives who have to manage our communal lives on our behalf.
I mentioned my father and his communist friend. We forget that in those days, 80 and 90 years ago, to be hip, to be with it, you were in one of two extremes—communist or fascist. Much of the trends of those days repeat themselves in later generations. For example, I thought being a hippy was new. No—it was just a copy of the German youth cult of his day. I thought that Herman Hesse was the hot book. No—it was the book that inspired the German youth in his day. And so forth.
The terrorism we saw in Florida and in Ankara? If we look back at history, we know these are nothing new. These were tools started in the French Revolution, endorsed by Marx, and perfected by Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin. It is not the fall back of some primitive know-nothings, but the tools of the vanguard of history. Media savvy? Social networking? Hitler was a master of staged spectacles and had the best film-maker of his day to create a masterpiece documentary.
Back to my father, the future rabbi Dr. Wihelm( William )Weinberg. He was a young, fresh doctoral candidate at the University of Vienna, just 90 years ago, 1926, when he wrote his dissertation. It is so appropriate for us on July 4th, 2016.
Keep in mind that when he first typed his thesis, Hitler had just recently come out of prison and had not had one decent electoral victory. It was the Goldene Zwanziger- Golden Twenties- for the Weimar Republic. The Roaring Twenties for the US, and the world economy was solid. For the most part, Woodrow Wilson had succeeded in his goal: “The world must be made safe for democracy.”
The only exceptions at the time were Fascist Italy under Mussolini and the Communist Soviet Union under Lenin. Elsewhere, democracy was safe—or so it seemed to everyone-- but not to the young student of political science, William Weinberg. He was just 25 when he typed his thesis, Parliamentarism: System and Crisis.
He introduced his paper with the pronouncement of how deeply rooted the parliamentary democratic system is imbedded in Europe.
“Parliamentary Idea”, that the people of a nation choose, and, wherever direct rule is not possible, then at the minimum, the people have a marked influence on the manner and the norms by which it will be ruled; it is carried out in the leadership of the State through the representatives. It is a very ancient concept. Ancient representative councils were described in antiquity not only in Greece, but in Rome and Germany as well.
He continues in his thesis to describe the history of the Parliamentary system in medieval England, France, and other European states, down to the forms it took in the 19th and early 20th century.
Now, the thesis comes to its crux- if parliamentary democracy is the chosen form of government, what has happened to it?
In the past 200 years, the Parliamentary system has become the standard form of political life in the civilized world. All the great political struggles of modern times have as their goals the shaping of Parliament. The Parliamentary system attacked and broke monarchy; it is identical with the victory of Democracy—Freedom, the rule of the people in all lands.
We are so proud of the result of the creation of our modern culture and we have become accustomed to see in the parliamentary system the last word in political culture, so that we have hardly recognized that it has begun to degenerate, that it is losing its original purpose. We have come to this time, when the parliamentary system has become the topic of debate, in which its flaws are widely known, and the whole world is speaking of a crisis of the parliamentary system.
The signs of this crisis can be found in all European states, not only Italy and Russia, …. We have in mind those countries with strong parliamentary constitutions—France, England, Germany, and the smaller states. Overall we find an inability of the parliamentary system to guarantee a proper and stable leadership and create a good and lasting government and provide a beneficial and orderly administration.
. . . there has been an all around failure of belief in the system. … they have become disillusioned and mistrusting and seek other forms of political leadership. The idea of a dictator is today popular in many European states. Parliamentary rule is evermore unpopular; its existence is in danger. Many political thinkers, historians, and philosophers of history see its imminent demise. “
What are the causes of the crisis? It goes back to the two core principals which inevitably conflict:
“The parliamentary system has two key foundations. The first foundation is the principal of democracy: the people alone determine their own fate. The second foundation is the principal of representation. Since it is impossible for each citizen to directly and constantly involved with all political questions, he chooses a representative who makes decisions on his behalf.
Parliamentarism is therefore a representative democracy yet it is this very principal of representation that bears danger form its beginning.
These prophecies by the theoreticians of modern democracy have correctly predicted: the more that the parliamentary system has developed, and the greater the State has become, so richer and complicated has become the political life, so that more and more, the Parliament becomes independent, absolute, and unaccountable to the people, a world to itself.
Politics has become a science with its unique discipline, methods and secrets. Today, it is so complicated and twisted, that the common man, with average reasoning ability, cannot find his way in it.
The politician becomes a new creation. He is no longer the representative of his thousands of fellow citizens, no longer the fighter and the spokesperson for the others.
He is rather a man for whom politics is his profession, who has become an expert in the wisdom and secrets of the hidden science of politics.
It must also be added that the legal framework today is no longer managed by the parliament; instead it has become completely a matter of the state bureaucracy. This happens because of the degree of knowledge and expertise that is necessary to shape a law today.
Increasingly, the politician loses the common interest of his constituents; less and less does politics arise from the realistic needs and wants of the people.
The parliament has ceased to be a suitable apparatus for dealing with the public good, resting on the broadest foundation; it stands upon artful electioneering mathematics. These delegates no longer represent the people against the State authority and its bureaucracy and no longer adopt policies necessary for civil life; they fail to act as a vent for individual initiative and freedom of the soul. The delegates legislative effectiveness is identified with the will of the state and its political activity and his attachment is to the party organization.
It is no wonder that the people are disappointed and indifferent to parliament, to the parliamentary politics, which then loses their loyalty.
Therefore, in different countries people are looking for a new political form to inherit the role of the parliamentary system. In Europe, there are now two such systems: Fascism in Italy and Sovietism in Russia.”
He finished up his dissertation with some ideas for improving the European systems to better reflect the voice of the people. As I said, he started it in 1926, 90 years ago. In 1928 he received his doctorate, and the signature on the diploma is of the Rector of the University, Theodore Innitzer. Exactly ten years later, as Cardinal Innitzer, he welcomed Hitler into Vienna because, as he saw it, government had collapsed.
It would be facile to equate what we have today with what was happening in the 1920’s and 30’s. Nevertheless, we need to recognize that our system of government is very delicate. I must admit that I find trends on the far left and in the academic left that remind me of tactics of a century ago; it is more worrisome because it is supported by tuition from wealthy parents paying $50,000 a year. It is may be just as dangerous as the tactics of the far right, or more so.
Our key concern still must be representatives who listen, and who are open, transparent, so that we can regain faith in our system. We need representatives who can reach across their lines of supporters and talk to the needs of the people who vote against them. We can’t have our leaders putting spins on things, so that failed policies are paraded as successes, or that one position is put forward to the public, while actual policies create the opposite results.
On this 4th of July, we pray that we can continue this nation on its path, believing whole-heartedly that:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed