The Quandaries of Liberal Democracy

By   ·  Monday, February 27, 2023

People Like Us

Israeli public intellectual Paul Gross was clearly right when he wrote in Fathom, last November, that the latest electoral defeat for the center-left in Israel “feels different” to the losers. It feels that way, as well, to many of his sympathizers in the United States, self-described “American liberals and liberal Zionists,” for whom this crisis is “a crisis for us, too, and for people like us.” People like them view what’s happening here now, in the Jewish state, as in their own words, “by definition a threat to stability.”

And why is that? Because, understandably, the liberals feel their monopoly on power, exercised through the deep state—or Israeli “deep shtetl”—slipping from their grasp, after decades of Ashkenormative rule by judicial fiat. As John Goodman sang in David Byrne’s 1996 film True Stories, “We don’t want freedom, we don’t want justice, we just want someone to love.” And that someone is themselves—in their ideal, Platonic form as moderate mangers with correct opinions about everything.

Hooked on a Feeling

I will not go into every detail of the much-bruited proposed changes to how Israel’s heavy-handed Supreme Court has operated until now—wielding authority far in excess of any similar body in any comparable country in the developed world. Instead, I want to focus on that very sentiment itself, which is abroad in the Land these days—or what historian Raymond Williams termed the “structure of feeling” that Tel Aviv’s culture of ongoing, ritualized protest signifies, embodying as it does so much subjectively intense, objectively half-hearted self-referential virtue signaling.

Let it suffice, therefore, to begin simply by noting that everyone knows change is necessary—there’s general consensus about this from left to right. The real disagreement is over what kind of change, how, when, by whom. My own view is that it should be now, by the government we just elected at the polls, according to the proposal currently on the table. Why? Because that’s what elections are for; elections have consequences; and “if not now, when,” to coin a phrase.


Leave a Reply