"Honor"

Meta politics
Professor Paul Eidelberg
The Jewish Press Friday, August 30,1996

Various readers wonder why I often mention the theme of honor, especially in connection with the government of Israel and Yassir Arafat. Let me explain.

Israel is reputed to be a democracy. Democracy, today, is a mixed blessing, for its two cardinal principles, freedom and equality, provide no norms for human conduct. Both freedom and equality have become indiscriminate. While freedom has been reduced to "living as you like," equality now requires the removal of all distinctions among men. If nothing is shameful, nothing is honorable.

The only way to avoid the moral chaos prevalent in Contemporary democracy is to derive freedom and equality from the Biblical conception of man's creation in the image of G-d. By so doing, these two basic principles of democracy will be graced by rational and ethical constraints, such as those of the Ten Commandments.

This was the case of Classical democracy, which flourished in 18th century America. The colleges and universitites of that time were founded by ministers quite learned in Hebraic civilization.

They saw in the basic institutions of the Torah a model for a Constitutional Democracy, which limits the powers of government on the one hand, while providing a theological foundation for the rights of the individual on the other. That foundation - again, man's creation in the image of G-d is the only sound source of human dignity, hence of honor.

Consider how honor was defined in the 18th century lexicon:

"Honor (is) distinct from mere probity, and ... supposes in a gentleman a stronger abhorrence of perfidy, falsehood, or cowardice, and a more elevated sense of virtue, than are usually found in (ordinary decent men)."
I have emphasized the word "gentleman" because government by gentlemen" was the ideal of Jeffersonian democracy.

Jefferson conceived of democracy as a government ruled by what he termed a "natural aristoi" consisting of men of "virtue and talent." Such men, he believed, would be recognized and elected to public office by an educated citizenry. The perennial problem of reconciling wisdom and consent would thus be achieved.

Needless to say, Contemporary democracy is very far from the Jeffersonian ideal. Something must be wrong with the education of its citizens. They seldom elect to public office men of virtue and talent. In fact, they despise most politicians, without realizing that their contempt is a reflection on themselves and on contemporary education.

Education in Contemporary democracy is morally neutral. It generates the charming idea that all values, all life-styles, are equal. Just as the 18th century principle of political freedom has metamorphosed into personal freedom, so the 18th century principle of political equality has metamorphosed into personal equality, and there it has become total or totalitarian. If all life-styles are equal, then nothing is shameful. And lo and behold, shamelessness is no longer shameful; indeed, it has been legalized by the moral neutrality evident in decisions of the American Supreme Court, now slavishly imitated by the Supreme Court of Israel.

Who is to say what is "art" and what is "pornography?" Who is to say what is "decent" or "indecent," "good" or "bad," "noble" or base?" This relativism, propagated by "higher" education, more or less infects every branch of democratic government.

And so, the first casuality of democracy is Honour. In an age devoid of honour, a murderous villain like Yasir Arafat can win a Noble Peace Prize.

That monstrous travesty, however, was made possible by two Jews, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. The stain on Israel as well as the cost in human life is immeasurable. This is why I write often on the theme of honor and caution the present Government of Israel not to collaborate with Arafat, whose hands are stained with Jewish blood.

Let me remind members of that government of an event that took place in 1929. In that year the Arabs, with British connivance, indulged in an orgy of rape and murder that destroyed the ancient community in Hebron. The British mandatory government invited prominent Jews to Government House, presumably to express condolences for the pogrom which included the most savage mutilation of men, women and children. When the British Secretary of the Mandatory Government extended his hand to greet Chief Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook, the religious leader of the Yishuv, that great Rabbi refused the handshake saying it was a hand "besmirched with Jewish blood."

Israel's present Prime Minister, who proudly declared he is a Jew first and an Israeli second, would do well to ponder and imitate the exemplary conduct of Rabbi Kook. Rabbi Kook was, in all respects, a Jew first. Hence he was a man of Honour, a man who abhorred perfidy, falsehood and cowardice.

And what about New York Mayor Rudolf Giuliani? Not a Jew, but an honorable person, does he embrace Arafat, one so tainted with the deaths of innocent men women and children? For Natanyahu to shake the hand of Arafat is to give honor and credibilty to a murderer which can only encourage other Arab murderers. One cannot, should not, try to make a statesman out of a muderer. Arafat's lot has been cast. In this world, Arafat can never be made a man of peace.

Kevin Abrams

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