Liberalism and the Jews: Historical Affinities, Contemporary Necessities

Michael Walzer

in Studies in Contemporary Jewry: XI: Values, Interests, and Identity

Published in print May 1996 | ISBN: 9780195103311
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199854585 | DOI:

Series: Studies in Contemporary Jewry

Liberalism and the Jews: Historical Affinities, Contemporary Necessities

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This chapter offers a brief account of the forms of liberalism that have historically been most attractive to the Jews. Liberal politics is characterized by two sets of commitments: first, to individual freedom, civil liberty, religious toleration, and a pluralist society; second, to social justice, the welfare state, and the idea of mutuality or solidarity that, however attenuated in the modern world, underlies welfarist commitments. The relevant liberalism is that of the New Deal and the Great Society. In theoretical terms, it is the liberalism of John Stuart Mill and John Dewey. It is strongly individualist but not libertarian. Most Jews have supported commitments to both liberty and justice for a long time. Historically, the religious culture of the Jews is no more a liberal culture than is that of Catholics, say, or Muslims. However, liberalism as one knows it today is among the Jews, a product of emancipation—or, more precisely, of emancipation in exile.

Keywords: liberalism; Jews; politics; John Stuart Mill; John Dewey; religious culture; emancipation; liberty; justice

Chapter.  4541 words. 

Subjects: History of Religion

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