Historically, American Jews are overwhelmingly liberal and vote for Democratic Party candidates.1 The estimated percentage of Jews identifying as Democrats ranges, but the estimates are roughly 65% or higher.2
With the American Jewish orientation aligning with America’s preeminent liberal political party, American Jewish values are unsurprisingly congruent with liberal values. What drives this behavior? In his article, “Why Jewish Americans vote Democratic” (2013), Harry Enten noted that:
“The reason American Jews are liberal is because they tend to sympathize with the less fortunate and with minorities. . . . The roots of these liberal values probably lie in Jews’ own understanding of what they went through in their history, with 73% of Jews holding the belief that remembering the Holocaust is an essential part of being Jewish.”3
This is a viable explanation. Jews have a well-known history of persecution and the popular narrative is that the Democrats are the party that expresses concern for oppressed peoples.
Another possibility for this persuasion can be tied to the origins of liberal ideology and the contemporary iterations of liberal ideology established by those foundational premises. Liberalism’s ideological origins emanate from Jean Rousseau. Rousseau is the godfather and patron-saint of liberalism; almost all the canons of liberalism originated from his work and thought.
Rousseau’s principal contribution to liberalism was the natural goodness of Man, corrupted by society. Rousseau maintained that human beings are born benevolent, and the world’s problems are introduced to us by society.4
Judith Shklar, a scholar of Rousseau, understood Rousseau’s philosophical belief in the natural goodness of Man, corrupted by society, to mean that our portions in life are dictated to us by society. We have no real control of our fate, as it is dictated to us by those occupying societal positions of power. According to Shklar, this, “confirmed his deepest anxieties and his sense of victimhood. As the creature of sensations, as the product of the environment, man is a passive being, the plaything of external circumstances, weak, defenseless, helpless and dependent.”5
We are merely the products of society, and society dictates our portions. Some of us are dealt a winning hand, and others are not. As the majority of us are not rich and powerful, the majority of our portions dictated by society are unfavorable. This means that most of us are victims of an unjust society. Victimhood is the status of the overwhelming majority of people in the world.6
Rousseau believed the only genuine source of bonding between humans is that of victimhood, pity, and suffering.7 We do not bond with our neighbors because of community, kinship, altruism, or even love, but rather because of the mutual suffering of the many at the expense of the few. Whether it is the poor at the hands of the rich, or the oppressed at the hands of the oppressors, pity is the one emotion that binds us.8
Rousseau understood pity as one of the fundamental premises of human existence. Human beings have a, “a natural repugnance at seeing any other sensible being, and particularly any of our own species, suffer pain or death.”9 Rousseau reiterated this point later in his work entitled, The reveries of the solitary walker, as he had, “a natural repugnance to see any sensitive being perish or suffer, principally those like ourselves.”10 Shklar explained the role of pity and victimhood in Rousseau and his liberal disciples:
“Pity, as one of the driving forces of the human condition, binds us to our neighbors: For suffering is the great equalizer. All men feel it and in much the same way. To illuminate it is to recognize the most common of human experiences and the most biding. That is why pity can hold us together, while every skill tends to separate us from each other.”
Rousseau’s theory and philosophy set the foundation for the contemporary iterations of liberalism, including an ideological discipline ubiquitous on our college campuses known as, “intersectionality.” Intersectionality is predicated on fixing societal inequities. Intersectionality postulates that society is an arbitrary social construct that is inequitably structured to favor White, male, able-bodied, cisgendered, heterosexuals. The more of these demographic characteristics a person possesses, the greater the unearned entitlements, unearned power, and unearned privileges a person has unjustly acquired.11 These unearned entitlements must be taken from those with privileges in order to balance the world and restore our natural equity that was corrupted by society.12 Note the diagram below for a visual explanation of the intersectionalist ideology:
By fixing these societal inequalities, the liberal social justice advocate will restore the natural equity of the world.
Liberal Jews see themselves positioned on the bottom half of the diagram. They relate to pity, suffering, and victimhood, all pillars of liberal ideology.14
In essence, many liberal Jews may in fact relate to liberalism and the values of the Democratic party with greater affinity than religious Jewish values. A recent and widely circulated survey by the American Jewish Committee (AJC)15 asked the following question: “Do you consider being Jewish mostly a matter of religion, or more a matter of ethnicity and culture?” The respondents answered with 24% believing it is “mostly a matter of religion” and 59% believing it is “mostly a matter of ethnicity or culture.”16
Clearly, most of the Jews surveyed believe that Judaism is not about religious adherence to a strict legislative code, but more about a subjective interpretation of Jewish culture. This cultural affiliation includes the aforementioned persecution and victimhood, as well as other cultural touchstones like community, observance of holidays, and perhaps even social elements such as food, movies, comedy, and popular culture. To liberal Jews, religious values of Judaism are less a tenet of Judaism, and religious practice is of diminished importance.
When a traditional religion loses its’ place in the lives of Man, something else will fill the void it left behind. This is something Edmund Burke, a man known as the first conservative, once astutely observed: “We know, and it is our pride to know, that man is by his constitution a religious animal; that atheism is against, not only our reason, but our instincts; and that it cannot prevail long.”17 Burke’s astute comment is akin to something sociologist Emile Durkheim understood of Man’s nature as well. Durkheim knew Man is fundamentally a religious being, and that if we do not have a traditional religion, we will supplant our lives with ersatz religious dogma. Durkheim knew of “society’s ability to make itself a god or to create gods.”18 T.S. Eliot repeatedly pontificated that when people no longer worship the traditional faiths of the world like Christianity, Judaism, or Buddhism, they will find a lesser entity to worship. This includes money, other human beings, or various golden-calves.19
This supplanting occurs because human beings are hard-wired to be religious creatures. This notion has been corroborated by contemporary scholars of human evolution.20 Typically, evolution and religion are juxtaposed as diametric opposites and mutually exclusive. If you believed in one, you did not believe in the other. Contemporary scholars of evolution are now viewing religion and evolution as one in the same, not as competing or conflicting ideologies. John Haidt, author of, The righteous mind: why good people are divided by politics and religion (2012), divulged the complementary nature of the two beliefs:
Gods and religions, in sum, are group-level adaptations for producing cohesiveness and trust. . . . Ten thousand years is plenty of time for gene-culture coevolution, including some genetic changes, to have occurred. And 50,000 years is more than plenty of time for genes, brains, and groups, and religions to have coevolved into a very tight embrace. . . . human minds and human religions have been coevolving . . . for tens or hundreds of thousands of years.21
He concluded with a pithy application to the human condition: “And if this is true, then we cannot expect people to abandon religion so easily.”22 If human minds evolved to be religious creatures, this explains Burke, Durkheim, and Eliot’s sentiments perfectly. The human mind is configured for religion.
Durkheim defined a religion as, “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden—beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.”23 That unified system of beliefs and practices, for liberal Jews, is the liberal progressivism of the Democratic Party.
The values of traditional religious Judaism have been replaced with the values of liberalism, and liberalism’s issues du jour. The values of liberalism and Judaism are at odds with one another and are incongruent. The most salient issue in the discussion of liberalism vs. Judaism springs from the origin of liberal ideology. To understand this ideological origin, we must return to Rousseau’s natural goodness of Man. Rousseau once supposed that:
The fundamental principle of all morality, upon which I have reasoned in all my writings and which I developed with all the clarity of which I am capable is that man is a being who is naturally good, loving justice and order; that there is no original perversity in the human heart, and the first movements of nature are always good.24
The most important line of this quotation is, “that there is no original perversity in the human heart.” The “original perversity” is a reference to the doctrine of Original-Sin. Original-Sin is the Christian interpretation of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden. God instructed Adam and Eve not to eat from either the Tree of Knowledge or the Tree of Life. They ate from the Tree of Knowledge, sinning; God punished them and all of Mankind for their original sin.
While Jews don’t believe in Original-Sin from a semantic perspective, they certainly believe in the original creation story from the book of Genesis. Rousseau invalidated this concept and made-up his own creation myth, a creation story he chronicled in great detail in The discourse on the origins of inequality (1753). This invalidation is the fundamental premise of liberalism. It should appear axiomatic that if the fundamental premise of liberalism is the invalidation of the Bible, then liberalism and traditional biblical adherence and practice are incongruent. This substantiates the sentiment that liberalism is at odds with Judaism, and that those aligning with liberal values will identify less strongly with traditional Jewish values.
This incongruence, combined with the previous issues of victimhood and intersectionality, should aptly explain the position many liberal Jewish Democrats have when it comes to issues relating to Israel and the perpetual conflict in the middle-east. The Arab-Muslims appear as perpetual victims of the big-bad-Israelis. They are characterized as non-White “people of color” compared to the narrative of White Israelis. The Arabs fall below the line on the diagram of privilege and oppression, while the Israelis appear above the line.25 Ideologically, the Arab cause aligns with the liberal Democratic Party’s values, while conversely, Israel’s does not.
This alignment should also help explain why so many American Jews answered some of the AJC’s survey questions in the manner they did. Two questions from the AJC survey dealt with the area known as, “the West Bank.” The first question asked, “In the current situation, do you favor or oppose a two-state solution through the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state on the West Bank?” Sixty-four percent either favored it strongly or favored it somewhat, while only 26% opposed it strongly or opposed it somewhat. The second question asked, “As part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians, should Israel be willing to dismantle all, some, or none of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank?” Sixty-six percent believed Israel should be willing to dismantle either all or some of the settlements, while only 28% believed they should not be willing to dismantle any of the settlements.
When dovetailing these two questions and their responses with liberalism and American Jews, these opinions should now appear more coherent and come as no surprise. A position opposing Israel is now a tenet of liberal progressive policies. What makes these AJC survey opinions appear so starkly are the two questions which preceded them: “Have you ever visited Israel?” A whopping 75% have either never visited or only visited once, with 59% having never visited at all. The next question asked, “Do you have family in Israel to whom you feel close?” Only 28% answered yes, while 72% responded no.
The data revealed that the majority of American Jews have never been to Israel, nor do they have family members residing there with whom they have a close relationship. Despite this, American Jews strongly believe in either completely or partially leaving the West Bank. Despite never having lived in, nor experienced Israeli life, the American Jews surveyed answered the question of whether it is, “appropriate for American Jews to attempt to influence Israeli policy on such issues as national security and peace negotiations with the Palestinians?” in the affirmative. Over half at 57% find it appropriate and only 40% do not.
By believing that it is appropriate for American Jews to influence Israeli policy, American Jews are pushing American values on Israel. They likely think that their American liberal values are transferable and applicable to a foreign country.
This mentality is essentially what a political philosophy known as, “neoconservatism” is. Irving Kristol is credited as the father of the neoconservative movement. Kristol articulated that, “In foreign policy neoconservatism believes that American democracy is not likely to survive for long in a world that is overwhelmingly hostile to American values.”26 This belief necessitates a foreign interventionist policy, either via polite persuasion, or military force.27 Neoconservatives believe that American values such as democracy and equality are superior values and should be exported to parts of the world that lack them like the Arab-Muslim world of the middle east.
The neoconservatives also subscribe to the belief that, “individual liberty is a moral absolute and that a system of governance that enshrines individual liberty is morally and practically superior to all others.”28 The neoconservatives see these values as, “universal . . . absolutes.”29 They believe in, “democracy as the universally best form of government,”30 and they are, “committing themselves to spreading democracy across the globe.”31
Unfortunately, there is a fatal-flaw with neoconservatism. Edmund Burke recognized this problem generations ago. Much of Edmund Burke’s work concerned Great Britain, and how they govern and absorb foreign entities in the British empire32. Burke explained that:
“Because a nation is not an idea only of local extent, and individual momentary aggregation, but it is an idea of continuity, which extends in time as well as in numbers, and in space. And this is a choice not of one day, or one set of people, not a tumultuary and giddy choice; it is a deliberate election of ages and of generations; it is a Constitution made by what is ten thousand times better than choice, it is made by the peculiar circumstances, occasions, tempers, dispositions, and moral, civil, and social habitudes of the people, which disclose themselves only in a long space of time. It is a vestment, which accommodates itself to the body.”33
A nation is born out of the peculiar circumstances of its’ history. Work, culture, religion, climate, geography, who your neighbors are, and the temperament of a people are the true determinants of what makes a nation.
The neoconservatives inappropriately attempted to shoehorn democracy in regions like the middle-east where the people had no history or culture of democracy. The transcription below is the dialogue from the Netflix movie, War Machine (2017), which satirized the elections in a newly liberated Afghanistan:
Ray Canucci: We’re gonna have another election. We can’t ignore these fraud allegations. They’re coming in from every corner of the country and everything points to a ridiculous Karzai victory. I mean, the whole thing just smells stupid.
General McMahon: Sure. Sure, there’s gonna be irregularity now and again. But surely a result is the best possible outcome. Yeah?
Ray Canucci: The polling station, the one right there over where you are… 367 registered voters, 1,200 votes counted. It’s a joke. We’re going to a runoff election.
General McMahon: Tell them what you told me! . . . About the whole concept of elections in this country.
Badi Basi: Well, I was just observing, sir, that, um, people don’t quite understand elections. They see that the president is alive, everything is okay. So what’s the big problem? Why are we having an election?. . . . And then you have an election anyway, and people vote for whoever the local leaders tell them to vote for. . . . Because they don’t want to have their heads chopped off.
General McMahon: See what I mean?34
While the foregoing can be casually dismissed as the dialogue from a movie, the fact of the matter is that the Afghani people had no history or culture of democratic elections, and when democracy was forced on them, it did not function as the neoconservatives assumed it would.
This political strategy is the opposite of what Orestes Brownson felt good government necessitates. In, The American republic (1865), Brownson outlined his position on the subject:
“Fit your shoes to your feet. The law of governmental constitutions is in that of the nation. The constitution of the government must grow out of the constitution of the state, and accord with genius, the character, the habits, the customs, and wants of the people, or it will not work well.”35
We tried cramming the Afghani feet into American democratic shoes, and their feet simply did not fit. After nineteen years, the social experiment to democratize a nation failed miserably.
An important subtlety and nuance of this concept comes from Joseph de Maistre’s, Essays on the generative principles of constitutions and other human institutions (1809). De Maistre noted that”
“No constitution arises from deliberation. The rights of the people are never written except as simple restatements of previous, unwritten rights. . . . The rights of the people, properly so called, proceeded almost always from the concessions of sovereignty and thus may be definitely fixed in history.”36
For de Maistre, and those who adhere to his beliefs, like Burke and Brownson, the real constitution of a people is not written, and perhaps never can be. It is rooted not just in ideas and beliefs, but in history.
For Israelis, the unwritten aspects of their constitution are rooted in wars, history, and geography. Every Israeli, male or female, serves in the military or enlists in national service. Every Israeli knows someone who has been killed, wounded, or suffered combat related trauma.
This is particularly true for the younger age-cohort of Israelis. These battle scars have made the younger generation of Israelis more conservative than their American counterparts.37 Adkins and Sales wrote that:
“The trend might have to do with the events that shaped their formative years. An 18-year-old Israeli wasn’t alive during the heyday of the peace process in the 1990s, nor when the Israeli left last won an election, in 1999. . . . Young Israelis grew up during the second intifada, which saw hundreds of Israelis killed in suicide bombings. The aftermath of the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, which occurred when this group was between 4 to 20 years old, has led many young Jewish Israelis to resent any leader who is willing to cede any more land currently under Israeli control. Since some of this group has served in the army, successive wars in Gaza have only hardened that perception.”38
Adkins and Sales continued, informing those unaware of the unwritten Israeli cultural experience:
For younger religious Zionist voters in particular, the disengagement, which displaced some 8,000 Jewish settlers, “was considered an absolutely devastating moment that they’ve vowed never to return to,” Dahlia Scheindlin, an Israeli political analyst and a public opinion expert, told JTA. . . . “The general narrative is, we gave up this land, they sent rockets in return,” Scheindlin said. “The national religious have considered it a national trauma ever since then.”39
These are experiences American Jews simply do not have; they do not, nor cannot relate to the Israeli reality of the constancy of war. America has no mandatory military conscription, and only a fraction of Americans serve in the military. Only about 3% of all Americans are veterans.40
One particularly telling line from the quotation above is, “we gave up this land, they sent rockets in return.” Conceding land in the hope it will quell aggression is a political strategy known as appeasement. Essentially, appeasement is predicated on the liberal belief in the natural goodness of Man. The political actors who attempt to appease their political opponents believe that human beings are fundamentally benevolent, at their very core. They believe that no one wants a war, so their side attempts to appeal to their opponents’ natural goodness. The opposition will recognize this and engage in a reciprocal act of de-escalation. Conversely, if one side shows aggression, the other side will escalate in a reciprocal fashion, resulting in an arms race.
The diametric opposition of appeasement is deterrence. This is the strategy the United States employed with the Soviet Union after WWII. As President Kennedy asserted, “We dare not tempt them with weakness.”41 The U.S. wanted to let the Soviets know that they meant business.
The reason the U.S. adopted this policy was the failure of the appeasement strategy famously- or more appropriately, infamously- used by Neville Chamberlain with Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Chamberlain spoke of peace, consistently met Hitler on his terms, and showed what he thought was kindness.42 The result? Hitler interpreted Chamberlain’s kindness as a sign of weakness. Hitler mobilized his Nazi soldiers and waged war on Europe and the western world. We all know the rest of the story.
Chamberlain’s appeasement answers the question of how Hitler was able to take much of Europe, but it fails to answer the question of why? Why did Hitler do the unconscionable things he did? How could anyone perform such unspeakable atrocities and feel justified in his actions?
The answer is simple: because Adolf Hitler was an evil man. Hitler was the very embodiment of evil. Evil exists in this world, and Hitler is its poster-child, as with other 20th century villains like Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. We understood this after WWII, which produced between 50-80 million deaths. The wounds of a violent and bloody conflict were still open and undergoing the long and painful healing process. President Kennedy knew that evil existed, and he refused to take the chance and bet on the benevolence of the Soviets.
The Israelis currently find themselves in a similar position. They appeased their Arab neighbors by vacating territory, and for their acts of kindness, they received rocket attacks and a bloody intifada. American Jews have never experienced anything like this. Had these wounds been fresh in the minds of American Jews, they would likely feel very different about evacuating the West Bank.
This is Israeli history. This is not a part of U.S. history, nor will it be studied by the average American student. It will be written as Israeli history, but it will not have to be for Israelis. Violent conflict with Arabs is just part and parcel of the unwritten tacit cultural experience of Israelis.
Another salient issue relating to the unwritten constitution of the Israelis that the Americans do not experience relates to geography. According to Sir Halford Mackinder’s theory, “the geographical pivot of history” theory, “geography remained the fundamental constituent of world order, just as it had been during the Peloponnesian War, in which sea power Athens faced off against Greece’s greatest land army Sparta.”43 This theory posits that geography is the great determinant of politics.
The West Bank is high-ground. While in Israel, a simple glance eastward would easily illuminate the strategic advantage of the disputed territory; it would be obvious to any rational observers as to why disengaging from the territory would be suicidal for the Israelis. Further compounding the problem is that rocket fire could not only reach Tel Aviv from that vantage point, but that Tel Aviv is contiguous with the Mediterranean Sea. The Israelis have nowhere safe to find shelter.
As Thomas Sowell explained in, A conflict of visions: ideological origins of political struggles (1987), in the real world, there are no solutions; there are only options with trade-offs.44 When it comes to the West Bank, there are no solutions. There only options with trade-offs, and when those trade-offs include seceding the strategic high-ground which will result in the likely deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, if not millions of people, that option’s trade-offs are too costly and foolhardy as well.
These are all issues that Israelis tacitly understand. Those having never been to Israel would not likely grasp this issue so tangibly. This is the unwritten Zionist constitution that is generated over the peculiar circumstances of Israel’s history. This is what Americans cannot read, nor cannot understand.
American Jews must resist the neoconservative urge to inappropriately apply American ideals, values, and viewpoints to a foreign country. Yes, American Jews are Jewish, and Israel is the Jewish nation; yes, America is a democratic country, and so is Israel; yes, American Jews are largely Caucasian, and Israeli Jews are largely Caucasian, too. But the similarities end there. America is not Israel, and more importantly, Israel is not America.
Israel was born out of its’ peculiar circumstances. Edmund Burke spoke of the British Empire’s best course of action with the American colonies (1775), understanding fully that the new colonies across the Atlantic Ocean had developed under their own unique circumstances which were generated over the course of its’ own unique history:
I think it may be necessary to consider distinctly the true nature and the peculiar circumstances of the object which we have before us; because after all our struggle, whether we will or not, we must govern America according to that nature and to those circumstances, and not according to our own imaginations, nor according to abstract ideas of right—by no means according to mere general theories of government, the resort to which appears to me, in our present situation, no better than arrant trifling. I shall therefore endeavor, with your leave, to lay before you some of the most material of these circumstances in as full and as clear a manner as I am able to state them.45
A nation is born of circumstances, circumstances peculiar to it alone. Unfortunately, people too often ignore these circumstances. Burke forewarned that, “Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour and discriminating effect.”46
When human beings attempt to apply abstract theories of government divorced from circumstances, these metaphysical abstractions can become the very ills they seek to cure. Heed Burke’s insight: “The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind.”47
What Burke forewarned to British Parliament regarding the American Colonies, American Jews must likewise understand about Israel. The peculiar circumstances of the Zionist constitution are generated from its’ history, topography, and neighbors. American Jews cannot attempt to influence Israeli politics, specifically in the West Bank, based on American ideals and values. This is the error of neoconservatism, an error American Jews are unwittingly attempting to replicate in Israel.
This error is based on abstractions and what Burke would refer to as metaphysical theories of government. Burke’s assessment for British policy in America is identical to what American Jews must do with Israel and the West Bank:
I do not enter into these metaphysical distinctions; I hate the very sound of them. Leave the Americans as they antiently stood, and these distinctions, born of our unhappy contest, will die along with it. They, and we, and their and our ancestors, have been happy under that system. Let the memory of all actions, in contradiction to that good old mode, on both sides, be extinguished for ever.48
Let Israel exist as it does, as it has been, and as it will continue to. Applying American ideals without circumstances will not only end in failure, but will erase the history of struggle and extinguish the memory of those who died in this conflict.
The generative principles of a Zionist constitution are not written, nor can they be. They are only truly understood if they are lived. They will forever elude the grasp of the American Jew, so long as they never live in Israel, or even visit. To make these assumptions and draw conclusions without the full benefit of the living experience is both disingenuous and intellectually dishonest. The American Jewish population can and should do better in its analysis of this complex issue. It has the moral imperative to do so.
Adkins, L. & Sales, B. (2019, April 11). The kids are all right-wing: why Israel’s younger voters are more conservative. The Times of Israel. Retrieved from: https://www.timesofisrael.com/the-kids-are-all-right-wing-why-israels-younger-voters-are-more-conservative/
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1. Newport, 2019.
3. Enten, 2013, paras.6-8.
4. Rousseau, 1755.
5. Shklar, 1969.
6. Kessler, 2019.
7. Rousseau, 1755.
10. Rousseau, 1782.
11. McIntosh, 1989.
12. McIntosh, 1989; Rousseau, 1755.
13. Haidt & Lukianoff, 2018.
14. Kessler, 2019.
15. AJC, 2019.
17. Burke, 1790, para. 152.
18. Durkheim, 1912, p. 215.
19. Eliot, 1933; Eliot, 1939; Eliot, 1948.
20. Wilson, 2002; Haidt, 2013.
21. Haidt, 2012, p. 264.
23. Durkheim, 1912, p.44.
24. Rousseau, 1762.
25. Haidt & Lukianoff, 2018.
26. Kristol, 2011, p. 150.
27. Selden, 2004.
30. Schmidt & Williams, 2008.
32. Hampsher-Monk, 1987.
33. Burke, 1782.
34. Springfield 1, 2017.
35. Brownson, 1865, pp. 120-21.
36. De Maistre, 1809, p. 2.
37. Adkins & Sales, 2019.
38. Ibid, paras. 14-15.
39. Ibid, paras. 18-19.
40. Hopkins, Herman, Wilson, Allen, & Malley, 2010.
41. Kennedy, as quoted by Sowell, 1990, p. 117.
42. Sowell, 1990.
43. Clover, 2017.
44. Sowell, 1987.
45. Burke, 1775, p. 228.
46. Burke, 1790, para. 12.
47. Ibid, para. 12.
48. Burke, 1774, p. 215.