I'm returning to blogging, but in a different style. I'm intending to start a long series (twenty? thirty? fifty?) of (weekly?) posts taking a long view of religious –political issues. The end point of it all will be very concrete proposals about the interaction of religion and state in Israel (some of which will be obvious to the point of banality and others of which will be novel to the point of eccentricity).
These proposals are, however, just a device to help me to organize my thoughts. I hope to cover a fair amount of theory on the way there. Before we ask if and how a Jewish state is good for the Jews, we need to figure out what it means for anything to be good for the Jews. For this we need to deal with very fundamental questions concerning Judaism, specifically with regard to halacha, belief, morality and nationhood. We'll also need to deal with basic economic and political questions concerning the proper role of the state in organizing human affairs. (Foreshadowing: I hate the way I used the word "proper" in the previous sentence. When we get there, I'll be very clear about what I actually mean.)
My neighbor will remind me that oceans of ink and rainforests of paper have been spent (wasted?) on such grandiose topics and I'm probably biting off orders of magnitude more than I can chew. I concede his point. But I'm up for a good fight. What's the worst that can happen?
In order to prevent this discussion from degenerating into platitudinous claims about what is or isn't ethical or moral grandstanding or partisan political posturing, I'm committing myself to some ground rules in advance.
First, I will avoid naked normative claims. Rather than saying that X is right or wrong, I'll say that X will lead to some consequence that I'll stipulate is desirable or undesirable. (I understand that this just shifts the stipulation down one step, but it has the merit of preventing is-ought confusion. I won't be sneaking moral claims past you without sending up a flare.)
Second, despite the fact that I'll be discussing political philosophy and religion, I won't use any of the standard labels, like 'religious', 'secular', 'left', 'right', 'liberal', 'conservative', etc. Like most labels, these are often useful shorthands for referring to groups of people who share a variety of views regarding public affairs. Unfortunately, however, they straitjacket discussions by bundling views across issues that are not inherently determinative of one another. When we contrast liberals with conservatives, for example, we bundle views on security and welfare that are indeed empirically correlated, but we pay a price: we become blind to the possibility of decoupling these issues. In short, such labels invite stereotypical thinking; I want to pop open these packages and consider new ways of bundling their contents that might better capture our situation. In fact, while I'm avoiding labels, I'll try to avoid fancy jargon as well. (Yes, one person's fancy jargon is another person's indispensable every-day term; I'll try to be reasonable.) I have a special allergy to Frenchie jargon (which has nothing to do with using French terms but rather with the propensity to make absurdly general and vague claims about capitalized big stuff like Art and Science).
Third, I'll avoid appeals to authority. If I'm talking about the limits of state power, for example, it would be dumb not to refer to, say, Mill or to Rawls, who are identified with views that are central to pretty much all contemporary discussion of the topic. But, to the extent that I refer to their views, I'll take them out of the package and be clear about exactly which specific views I mean and I won't make any presumptions about their correctness. And if I cite somebody as a tanna demesaya, it isn't for the purpose of adding weight to my side of the scale, but rather to give credit to someone who stated my own view better than I can.
Finally, I won't preach to the choir. My intention is not to let off steam, but rather to persuade people who don't already share my views.
I hope you'll hold me to these commitments. I'm certainly going to take liberties with them, even as I uphold their necessity. (One of the views I'll defend is the importance of hypocrisy.) More generally, I hope you'll comment about anything I say that you think needs correction, amplification or deletion. I intend to respond to your comments (unless your name is Anonymous).