zaterdag 2 januari 2010


It is rather noteworthy that many traditional, religion-related objections to Jews show a similarity to objections that, from several corners, are brought up against the democratic system of government as most Western countries know it today.

Traditional anti-Jewish objections for instance come from Christianity. In Christian circles, with reference to the vehemence with which Jews could carry on against one another, the phrase was coined: ‘It looks like a Jews-church here’ to indicate that somewhere there was much uproar. And besides Christians know the phrase ‘two Jews, three opinions’, a statement indeed that is not contradicted by Jews. On the contrary, all the major Jewish debates and disagreements have been extensively documented and preserved in the Talmud. With as much focus on the winning as on the losing parties.

Where the Qur'an comments negatively on Jews, according to the American Islamic scholar Frank Peters this is largely due to the Jewish culture of debate. Because of that, Judaism acquired the negative image of a religion that succumbed to schisms and sectarianism.

These objections against internal wrangling resemble the revulsion that one regularly can hear being voiced against democracy: that it is cumbersome and slow, that it encourages manipulation and squabbling and that it does not generate the unity needed to face the future. This kind of criticism on democracy comes from all sides. From less educated citizens up to well to do reactionary circles, attached to law and order.

To some extent I can understand that. If you're attached to a certain order - and I myself definitely am - then a lot of the political fuss indeed soon feels as disruptive. It often does not look very edifying. Just take the horse trading that apparently is needed to get Obama's health insurance system adopted by the U.S. Congress, and probably even in heavily battered form.

The endless game of give and take of democratic politics easily creates the image of being filthy and vulgar. It certainly is not something everybody likes to participate in. It is more suitable for the Churchill type of politician ( "Democracy is a bad system but it's the best we've got") than for the Van Agt type, a Dutch Prime Minister who after the formation of his third cabinet preferred to leave the scene to others.

But the point is: is there an alternative to democracy? And what should that alternative look like?

If inertia, squabbling and being unsufficiently prepared for the future mark democracy and make it rather worthless, then the answer must be sought in centralized administration that can proceed energetically through tight, swift decision-making. That is, in dictatorship.

But – no matter how great my desire for order – I do not believe in it. Not in the field of religion, because a strict hierarchy and thinking-discipline would have the upperhand. And to see how that turns out, it is sufficient to refer to the Roman Catholic church where silence had to be kept about the abuse of children by Irish priests. And apparently Rome could enforce that silence. That seems not good to me.

Nor do I believe in dictatorship in the field of politics. Indeed, as for the future, it is not entirely accidental that in dictatorially led countries the environment until recently was no issue. That we manage now to talk about it at all, we owe to the democracies. Even though, on the other hand, precisely because of democracy and the fear for their voters, politicians dare not go far enough.

Squabbling is all in the game, I just say to myself.