By Prof. Paul Eidelberg
Judaism teaches that a fundamental purpose of creation is to manifest the plenitude of God’s goodness to mankind. From this goodness is derived the purpose of the American Declaration of Independence, which teaches that all men have a God-given right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
Secular historians mute the fact that most often cited in America’s Founding Era was not the political philosopher Charles Montesquieu (with 8.3 percent of the quotes), nor the legal scholar William Blackstone (with 7.9 percent), and emphatically not the darling of liberal commentators John Locke (with only 2.9 percent). Happily, contrary to the Straussian preoccupation with le sage Locke, the single most-cited work was the Bible, with 34 percent of the quotes coming from the Scriptures.
No wonder: the Puritans founded Harvard University; Calvinists founded Yale; Presbyterians founded Princeton; Anglicans founded Columbia University. Indeed, the law codes of colonial America read as if taken from Leviticus. Rhetoric aside, America’s Founding Fathers were not mired in modernity. Thanks to the influence of Hebraist scholars such as the English polymath John Selden, the Founders used Talmudic ideas to render the socio-economic affairs of American life more rational and more prosperous.
This Hebraic influence on colonial America had the salutary effect of enhancing self-government and individual freedom on the one hand, while limiting the scope of government on the other. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that colonial American law-makers were “Torah-oriented Christians.”
Contrast the political and economic life of the Old World. Europe was a battlefield of rival monarchies, where Christian ideals and practice were brutally discordant. Wherever state religions prevailed, Christianity was used to serve the interests of the ruling class. Hypocrisy and corruption were commonplace. This contemptible state of affairs was minimized in America thanks to the separation of religion and state. Decoupling institutionalized religion from government facilitated the unsurpassed economic development of America.
A most significant analysis of this economic development will be found in the monumental work of Werner Sombart, The Jews and Modern Capitalism (1911). Sombart, a Gentile sociologist and economist, was learned in the Talmud. He discerned the influence of Talmud ideas in America’s social and economic behavior, especially in the practices of America’s banking and stock-exchange institutions. These Hebraic ideas were probably known to America’s first Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, a Columbia University graduate who, by the way, attended a Jewish school in Nevis, an island in the Antilles archipelago. No one has had greater influence on America’s economic system. It was this system that made America the land of opportunity to which countless Europeans immigrated.
Of course, there were other and no less serious motives. Europeans were sick of aristocracies and monarchies that were nothing but glorified thugs in finery who lived off the labor others. The immigrants that flocked to America were fed up not only with religious oppression, but also with Christianity’s sanctimonious contempt for wealth or money-making. Men and families had to work for a living without much prospect of achieving economic independence. Sickness, poverty, and drudgery were the norm. No wonder the Declaration extols Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
The people who flocked to America—including millions of Jews—were tired of groveling to their masters. With courage and determination, with talent and religious faith, they crossed the Atlantic as if they were crossing the Red Sea to the Promised Land. Here there were no kings and nobles before whom they had to bow. Indeed, Americans bowed to no one.
Sombart studied the travels and adventures of Jews and Jewish families in America from coast to coast. He learned that Jews had obtained supplies and financial support for the founding and sustenance of American colonies. Wealthy Jews like Chaim Solomon helped finance the American Revolution. Wherever Jewish families and entrepreneurs settled—North, East, South, and West—cities prospered.
Their learning and business savvy, their sobriety and skills, enriched one city after another. Their family shops and chain stores, their charities and homes for the sick and the aged, their adventurousness and their persistence despite failures, solidified the moral and economic fabric of America. Not a little of this was facilitated by Talmudic monetary principles and Jewish ethics, on the one hand, and unhindered by government bureaucracy on the other. Sombart saw in America a Jewish country!
Of course, he saw this in 1911, the year before the ideological grandfather of Barack Obama was elected president of the United States.
If only because he harbors no great love for America—his mentor hated this country—Obama is abysmally ignorant of the virtues of self-government and entrepreneurship that made America the wealthiest and most beneficent nation on earth. Thanks very much to its foundational documents, America cultivated outstanding self-made men and women.
Conversely, and like too many Americans including college graduates, Obama is oblivious of how America’s foundational documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, have made America an exceptional nation. Those two documents have fostered spiritedness, self-government, respect for the rights of others, indeed, a politics of magnanimity. It was this politics that elevated America above class conflict. How dreadful that Obama deems both documents obsolete. He thereby stamps himself not one as a statist, but as a man without a country.
We need to teach youth that while the Declaration affirms the inviolable rights of the individual, which logically entails the idea of limited government, the Constitution prescribes for that very purpose institutional checks and balances. Adorning both is the Primacy of Reason and the Rule of Law. The ultimate source of these ideas is the Book of Genesis and the Hebraic Republic of antiquity. This was understood by eighteenth-century Hebraists such as Harvard president Samuel Langdon and Yale president Ezra Styles.
Alas, all this is irrelevant to our post-American president, and would be scorned by the Godless liberals who dominate academia and who, for more than 100 years, have obscured the Biblical roots of American Exceptionalism.
Paul Eidelbreg is a retired professor of political science and author of An American Political Scientist in Israel and The Beginning and End of American Exceptionalism: A Theo-Political Analysis.