The Economic Dimensions of Democratic Politics

In an op-ed last week, The New York Times editor, David Leonhardt, advised voting for a Democratic Party candidate for president based on the enthusiasm he or she excites in you, but also on how well the candidate’s program appeals to economic populism.  “A substantial majority of Americans favor a populist agenda — higher taxes on the rich, better federal health insurance, more government action to create good-paying jobs and so on. The Democrats did so well in the midterms partly because of the populist campaign many of them ran…I think their best chance of winning in 2020 involves a campaign centered on fighting for working families.”

Over the next few blogs and reviews of several recent books on contemporary economics, I want to put forth an argument that, whatever the value of the first criterion for casting a vote to select a Democratic Party candidate, I suggest that, while fighting for working families is certainly legitimate, and both sides make a claim to do so, that should not be done on the back of populist economics. For what you sow, so shall you reap.

Republicans say their program of reduced taxes not only helps the rich but benefits the working individual by creating more jobs, creating a need for workers and a need to compete for workers which in turn will lead to higher wages for them. Democrats who follow Leonhardt’s lead think in terms of minimum wages, rules to strengthen collective bargaining, taxation policy that redistributes wealth rather than offering incentives for accumulating it and sometimes protectionism. Republicans supposedly support a balanced budget and then run up deficits their Democratic opponents are afraid of lest they be accused of ruining the economy. Republicans, therefore, set aside PAYGO, the congressional rule that increases in spending be matched by cuts elsewhere, when it suits them. The G.O.P. 2017 budget did precisely this.

Projecting an image of a Democratic Party in fear of budget deficits places restrictions on righting the wrongs of the past through increased benefits and laws to redistribute income. This was the position of Nancy Pelosi’s critics when she ran to be speaker of the House of Representatives. Pelosi, however, resisted their criticism and resolved to abide by PAYGO. However, economists like Paul Krugman argue that austerity and budget restrictions impede economic growth and lead to economic stagnation by ignoring or setting back the need to invest in infrastructure and in human resource development for example. I want to question whether either approach is better or worse, or even whether a choice has to be made in the face of the globalizing technological economic forces driving modern economies.

This Central debate within America has to be set within what is taking place on the global level. Richard Haas, and many others, look upon what is happening with an apocalyptic lens. The liberal world order, which began in the seventeenth century and was greatly expanded and refined after WWII with a set of institutions, is at the beginning stages of disintegration. That order was based on an idea of promoting the economic well-being of everyone on this planet by constructing an international system based on the rule of law and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each country within a world order.

One factor that has contributed to the disintegration has been the very instruments seen to be the culmination of integrating the whole planet, namely the internet and, more specifically, social media. For what set out to enhance worldwide communications has created a crisis for open societies and the freedom of the mind that was the pillar of the liberal world order. George Soros as Cassandra has written that, “The current moment in world history is a painful one. Open societies are in crisis, and various forms of dictatorships and mafia states, exemplified by Vladimir Putin’s Russia, are on the rise. In the United States, President Donald Trump would like to establish his own mafia-style state but cannot, because the Constitution, other institutions, and a vibrant civil society won’t allow it. Not only is the survival of open society in question; the survival of our entire civilization is at stake. The rise of leaders such as Kim Jong-un in North Korea and Trump in the US have much to do with this. Both seem willing to risk a nuclear war in order to keep themselves in power. But the root cause goes even deeper. Mankind’s ability to harness the forces of nature, both for constructive and destructive purposes, continues to grow, while our ability to govern ourselves properly fluctuates, and is now at a low ebb.”

Soros is far from alone. Who would know better than John MacWilliams, who heads the Department of Energy where the internet was invented? He insisted that whenever we interact on a telecommunications device, someone not invited is listening. In fact, many are listening. Michael Lewis in The Fifth Risk, which I will review, dubs this the first risk. When married to the fifth risk, the failure to manage this (and other risks) by denigrating management in favour of ideology, by denigrating knowledge in favour of ignorance, offers the anti-intellectual tools to destroy the modern liberal order.

Why the increase in quasi-fascist and fascist states? Because the policeman (America) of the world has given way and surrendered the responsibility of regulation. Democratic values were viewed initially as being protected by military interventions and crusades. That resulted in a propensity to concentrate power in hegemonic states, unfortunately.  International institutions were created to foster a world of interdependence that could counteract that propensity. The result, as Joseph Nye and others argue, was an unprecedented level “of prosperity and the longest period in modern history without war between major powers. USsis leadership helped to create this system, and US leadership has long been critical for its success.”

However, in our digital age, giant, mostly American, platform companies have turned the greatest political power ever seen on this earth into an impotent giant as companies, that initially played an enormous role in innovation and liberalization, have fallen into the hands of interests which are primarily transactional, focused on promoting consumption rather than liberty in what Yanis Varoufakis dubs “the relentless commodification of privacy.” That, they argue, has made privacy and individual autonomy no longer possible. Innovators, like Mark Zuckerberg, have lost control of the Frankenstein they created.

Pseudo-knowledge – actual false claims – become the headlines people absorb and think of as knowledge. The weighing and evaluating of conclusions are set aside in favour of mass appeal. Sound bites are the clowns of this pseudo-cognitive world, sweeping minds and feelings into mass hysteria. Stop the merry-go-round. I want to, I need to, get off.

However, when it comes to the real world, our material world, our world as understood through economic science, the conclusion that the world is going to hell in a handbasket is offset by the cheery remarks of a leader that the country has the lowest unemployment levels and extraordinary rates of growth of that economy, blissfully ignoring the forces building up. Many if not most analysts see a collapse on the horizon. The volatile Wall Street stock market is just the foreplay for a 2020 depression that will make 2008 look like a blip on a screen and even the mode of management in 1929 seem like a cakewalk.

The fiscal policies of the U.S. are viewed as unsustainable. The period of sustained and synchronized growth has lost steam and is nearing a collapse, Unlike 2008 and 1939, governments no longer have the tools to reverse course according to Nouriel Roubini and Brunello Rosa.

2019 is supposed to be the tipping point with the U.S. running up unprecedented deficits, China has responded to the American-initiated trade war with even looser fiscal and credit policies as Europe limps badly as it still tries to recover from the centrifugal fragmenting forces threatening to throw a united but fragile unity into dozens of pieces. The protective devices of banking unification are proceeding too slowly and are too weak. Fiscal policy coordination is inadequate as political rifts and schisms grow exponentially. Political uncertainty across Europe, especially in the mainstays, France and Germany, grows as the domestic drivers of economic growth weaken and exports suffer because of the American-led trade war with China on a macro scale and the cancellation of the American decision to lift sanctions on Iran decrease trade on a more modest level.

Why? For many, the new communications system and the digital age are not the primary villains. Neoliberal ideology and “public choice” theory emphasizing the reversal of the regulations introduced following the 2008 crisis, are. The dominant economic model is becoming totally incongruent with the actual historical patterns on the ground which demand and need much greater intervention and management of the economy rather than greater anarchy. In spite of many efforts in place, the policy direction is working in reverse even though, in Europe, there is at least a plan in place to counter these trends and to maximize economy strengths in ingenuity and high-end manufacturing.

We have a communications crisis. We have a fiscal crisis. We have a governance crisis. In a globalized economic world with a pressing need for global management of a natural climate crisis of unprecedented proportions coming at us, we need more integration, not less, more governance not less, more regulation not less. But the signs of an emerging system of global governance are all pointing in the wrong direction. The tide of increased global trade that has contributed so much to rising worldwide prosperity is in retreat as the global trade game has shifted from free trade to increasing reliance on mercantilism, that is, regulation and intervention precisely in a way it is not only not needed, but is destructive to the international order. And central banks can no longer cope with the variety and size of the challenges that states face.

The startling part of it all is that we are just on the edge of vast improvements in productivity resulting from the digital age as machines not only replace the need for our muscle. Artificial intelligence is on the brink of displacing many levels of decision-making that can be better managed by electronic rather than by human intelligence. Look at how out of synch economic policies are. Tax policies in the U.S. and elsewhere increase inflation and impede investment just when more intelligent management of the economy is needed, not less. Most of all, there is public discord that grows as economic inequality grows and as the graduates of even our universities no longer see a route to owning their own homes unassisted by inherited family wealth.

In other words, the problem is not just economic disruption, but an earthquake taking place in our institutions of governance both domestically and internationally. On the macro scale, even as Democrats re-energize themselves in America, the institutions of liberalism and democracy appear to have weakened so much that salvation appears almost impossible. On the micro level, our youth face a housing crisis and young families face an eviction crisis as they face mortgage renewals at rising rates that they cannot support. At the same time, all my moves, all my plans – for travel, for work, for leisure – to eat, sleep and be merry – are being tracked as advertisers both monitor and target our desires. The surreptitious mapping of our habits and desires work to erode autonomy and individuality. Freedom then becomes reinvented as celebrity. Glitz and glamour displace gravitas and critical reflection. And opinion displaces fact as a foundation for decisions.

On a more mundane, but the most painful level, debt is punted down the line to future generations. Further, the problem is not only the exploding federal debt, but, as Carmen Reinhart has written, the high issuance of corporate collateralized loan obligations (CLOs), the new temptress on the financial runway that has pushed corporate bonds aside. High-yield corporate debt instruments are the emerging market within the U.S. economy, but the rapid rise is even greater in Europe where yields are even higher. Of course, these are of very different order of magnitude than in 2008, but they hit the productivity rather than consumer side of the market. Thus, these could be the equivalents of the high-interest poorly secured bundling of mortgage obligations in the first decade of this century that led to the 2008 financial crisis as the money is borrowed by weaker corporations and with more questionable valuation of the collaterals. And the debt is arranged through third tier lightly regulated banks. Do all capital surges end badly?

Unprecedented unemployment levels, owing almost entirely to the rapid increase in the service sector, in the atomized environment of outsourcing, does not produce increased income resulting from increased competition for workers. Expected increases in income have not been forthcoming. Thus the rise of Trump in America, of the Brexit fiasco in Britain, of Macron as a fleeting shooting star, not to count the quasi-dictatorships in Russia, China, Poland, Hungary, Turkey, the Philippines and Brazil, to list some of the major ones which still exclude totalitarian oppressive regimes such as North Korea or Myanmar, and imploding governments such as that of Venezuela, are all part of this trajectory towards disaster.

The rise of populist political parties and leaders with increasing influence almost everywhere threatens economies that depend on facts, on analysis, on knowledge-based decisions instead of whims and ignorance. Trump and other leaders on the right avoid comprehensive and coherent policy platforms for they are impossible to come by in an era dominated by ignorance and impulse, lies and braggadocio. Agility declines. Rigidity sets in.

Other Cassandras, such as George Brown, appear as optimists, for they still believe that steps can be taken to save the world from the collapse of a liberal globalization and a planet destroyed by climate change. How appealing then are the corrective measures promoted by The New York Times editor, David Leonhardt? There are two: based on enthusiasm in a candidate for public office who excites you; and choosing on the basis of how well thought out a program the candidate offers that simply appeals to economic populism. I will argue that they feed the beast rather than stopping it in its tracks.

Reviews of economic books follow.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

The Competition for Recognition Part V The Moral Compass: Division on the Political Right

Is Donald Trump a by-product of the failure of liberalism which sold out to identity politics and the politics of resentment in accordance with the views of Jordan Peterson? Is Donald Trump, as Dummitt declares, the most triumphant exponent of “Be true to oneself” and representative of those who feel unrecognized and who are willing to defy social convention from the right? Dummitt declared that the moral compass in the modern world on the left as well as on the right, was rooted in the authentic self – “to thine own self be true” – rather than, say, custom or religious edicts. Is this accurate?

Whether or not the above is true, will the winner in this competition be the side which invokes the morally superior identity? If conservatives favour market and individual freedoms versus excessive bureaucracy and taxes, while the left liberals attack social and religious conventions that impose restrictions on sexuality, gender and race, is the present polarization simply a fundamentalist evangelical conflict between two definitions of moral purity and the claim that each is the real outsider, the real excluded, while each should provide the moral compass for the modern world?

If this depiction of the core of current polarization is accurate, can that polarization be overcome by avoiding the dichotomy of left and right and giving priority to traditional liberal and/or conservative references, say citizenship or to an overarching social order, that is, making a strong shared identity more basic than the identity quests that divide us? Such a solution would once again prioritize our customs and shared values that emphasize the rule of law, free speech, the right of self-expression and public civility. Or do we have to reach back further in our history, into the biblical narrative, a narrative of constant tension between ethical imperatives and historical propensities?

As I see the American political battleground, a four-way fight is underway. On the right, for now, the populists have won. On the left, the Left Liberals remain in charge, but the democratic socialists are in the process of mounting stronger and stronger challenges.

The overall battle can be represented by the following chart:

 

  Democratic socialist Left Liberal Conservative Populist
Substance Benefits Protections Markets Identity Wars
  Group rights Civil rights Human rights Foetal rights
Process Challenge incumbents Defend Incumbents Surrender

Incumbency

Challenge incumbents
  Voter registration Voter registration Voter Suppression Voter Suppression
Overview Class war Common membership Common membership Cultural War
  Resentment – Identity Politics Appreciation Appreciation Resentment – Identity Politics

Tomorrow, I will focus on the battle on the left. Today, attention is focused on the victory of right-wing populism over traditional conservatism in the internecine war on the right.

I begin with modernity and the moral purity of the economic right as best expressed by Friedrich A. Hayek. (See Individualism and Economic Order.) One type of individualism [economic] leads to freedom and spontaneous order. The other type of individualism [cultural] leads to a controlled economy and imposed order rooted in collectivism according to Hayek. For many, this implies that the only collectivist challenge comes from the left. However, there is a collectivist, a nationalist, challenge that comes from the right.

The Trump presidency is a case of deliberate inauthenticity, a case of wearing the mantle of market freedom, but organizing a takeover by collectivists who are nationalists, that is, by a group identified by their common loyalties. Order is imposed by a singular leader claimed to embody the nationalist spirit even if the actual spirit consists of lies, degradation of customs, racism, degenerate language and de facto narcissism. The playbook and the philosophy of fascism has not fundamentally changed since Giovanni Gentile, the Italian philosopher, set down the tenets of fascism in the book, The Doctrine of Fascism that he ghostwrote for Benito Mussolini.

Gentile misinterpreted Hegel and put forth what he called a neo-Hegelian view that extolled collectivism and denigrated individualism. There was no objective reality or reference points external to the self. Hence, this variation of the proposition, “To thine own self be true.” The true subject was not an abstract “I,” an individual postulated as an abstraction in an ideal world where that “I” enjoyed a full panoply of protections. The true subject was embodied, was an actual individual, a concrete rather than abstract individual. There was no true manifold objective world and no true abstract individuality. Truth was to be located in the subject, the heroic subject that asserted agency on behalf and in the name of the national collectivity. The objective world was only a projection of that individuality. Experience is only a product of what is projected; objectivity does not provide boundaries for this narcissism in the name of the collective.

There are no lies since the only truth that exists is that projected by the mind of the “wise” leader as the divine is conceived of as immanent in such projections. The leader is the “truest” believer in himself. The objective world must conform to this form of subjective Being.

Let me make these abstractions concrete. Ryan Costello lost his seat (the 6th Congressional District in Pennsylvania) in the House of Representatives in the midterm elections (see The New Yorker, 12 November 2018). He is an example of a traditional or moderate Republican, a conservative centrist. He was willing, even eager, to have government catch up with technical advances in renewable energy. He was willing to work with the Democratic opposition across the aisle to improve health-care delivery and introduce reasonable immigration controls.

“And then Trump gets elected. And the norms of politics all just blow up and you’re trying to figure out how to orient yourself when the rules don’t apply anymore, and you’re allowed to say and do things which used to be disqualifying.” Trump lied. Repeatedly! Often! Daily! Without due process, Trump banned entry to persons from seven Muslim countries. Without due process, Trump took away the White House press pass of CNN’s Jim Acosta. Costello wanted the Mueller investigation into election collusion with the Russians to go forward without any political interference. But the leader of his party, the president, denounced the FBI as corrupt, denounced the press for spreading fake news, insulted black female reporters while insisting on decorum at White House press briefings.

Costello faced a choice. Complicity with Trump or disloyalty to the Republican Party that had been taken over by Trump and his followers. He chose to walk a tightrope, generally ignoring the depths of degradation of his party’s leader, occasionally publishing on Facebook his own dissent towards Trump’s latest malfeasance when it became too extreme, but expressing no interest in condemning or censoring the president in the House. He chose not to accompany Jeff Flake of Arizona into the political wilderness. He allowed fear to determine his choices.

However, he faced chaos from the left as well as the right and barely escaped being shot by a Bernie Sanders supporter who critically wounded the Majority Whip, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, at a Republican charity baseball game. However, the bulk of artillery aimed his way came from the right even as he tried to sidestep Trump’s racism and Trump’s ignoring and ignorance of the Constitution and the rule of law. Costello faced either the ire of the voters in Pennsylvania or the ire of the President who would back an alternative Republican candidate in the primaries in Pennsylvania’s sixth district. He avoided the latter only to see his political career destroyed (at least for now) by the former. His principles of balanced budgets, free trade, upholding the Constitution, the rule of law and the separation of powers had all crashed and burned much earlier as prudential silence morphed into the “habitual muteness of the acquiescent.”

The politics of total war against party dissidents and politicians with backbone and character meant that reasonable compromise was no longer the language of politics. Extremism, zealotry and populism were. Conspiracy theories were floated in the air like hundreds of sky lanterns, even though everyone knew they were fire hazards. Republicans moved from being the upholders of institutions and their values to participating in the destruction of norms and institutions and engaging in voter suppression and gerrymandering. Shock value and publicity seekers usurped the role of thoughtful and reflective independent minded politicians.

But the roots lay in those same institutions. For the core issue of getting a foothold on the race to power depended most on the commitment of a core group of party members in a district and/or actually recruiting those members for the nomination. In a far less democratic Canada, constituency nominations depended, in most suburban ridings, on getting one ethnic group, or an alliance of two ethnic groups, who could deliver the signatures to party membership and their votes on nomination day. 1-2% of eligible voters could choose the candidate for their party, and, depending on the national race, could coast to victory.

In the USA, the nomination depended less on getting the support of a core of party members in a constituency party meeting (as in Canada) than on winning a popularity contest in a political primary, that is, in electioneering that never stopped and depended on the energizer batteries of politics – money and human time. The kind of publicity adopted depended on the intellectual, policy and publicity silos of your side. Decency, rationality, objectivity and a primary concern with truth had largely been shovelled into the ashbin of history, though to different degrees and with respect to different key issues. Core support came from two sometimes overlapping sources: evangelical Christians who had already subscribed to surrendering the individual self to a higher “divine” self, who appeared immanently in history; and resentful white Americans who felt they had lost their place in history.

Totally contrary to Christopher Dummitt, the core reference point has been neither authenticity nor moral purity, but expediency, opportunism and ambition. People’s rule had replaced party rule and the people were no longer an aggregate of individual voters, but an ideological tribe in which the members demonstrating the greatest zealotry won over the mob. Rallies, not debates, became the central focus of an election campaign by both the socialist left and the populist right.

However, on the right the collectivists, the nationalists, emerged victorious. Each day that passed witnessed the defeat of another compromiser, of another compromise, of another part of objective reality. Climate change impelled by human activity, according to Trump, was not a major contributing cause to the tremendously destructive fires that so recently laid waste to enormous tracts of land and even a whole city in California. The fact that these were not forest fires but largely shrub lands, the fact that, in any case, forests were not managed primarily by the State of California but by the federal government that owned the majority of forest tracts, the fact that “sweeping forests” was not an idea passed on by the Finnish Prime Minister as a forest management tool or that it was even a useful one, did not matter. Trump, as usual, mouthed off in ignorance and pronounced that there would be no more such fires. More than that, he pronounced his own personal view of nature as simply an extension of his own wishes rather than an independent reality.

“I have a strong opinion. I want great climate, and we’re going to have a forest that is very safe.”

 

 

 

 

Descent into Hell: Parshat VaYeitzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3)

The problem with old age is that we spend far too much time seeing doctors and trying to keep an old and decrepit chassis working. Ignoring times spent in labs for various blood and urine tests, for x-rays and Dopplers, echograms and neurological tests, this week alone I saw my general practitioner, my heart doctor and my sleep doctor. And today I head to the Toronto Western Hospital to have my eye measured to prepare for surgery and the removal of cataracts.

Not only do these visits take time, but when I meet old friends, we spend too much time reciting and comparing our ills. But it is not only with friends. Yesterday, I was on the phone talking with my youngest son for about two hours – he lives in Vancouver – and he was upset that I had not kept him up to date on my health and my treatments. And then there are the visits – to friends who have really serious health issues. I miss them. I want to see them. I want them to keep going even as I tire of the effort to keep going myself. Illness consumes time.

Why then bore you with such issues? Because I could use some help. I visited my sleep doctor yesterday – or perhaps it was the day before. I, to my surprise, had not seen her for quite awhile. I went to check whether my CPAP breathing mechanism that I use at night was set at the correct pressure. I made the appointment before I found out that taking a diuretic pill once a day got rid of the excess water in my legs and lungs that evidently accounted for why I had been feeling so tired. Hence, the breathlessness I had been experiencing. Perhaps that is why I was even more cheerful when seeing her than I perhaps usually am.

She told me that she likes to see me and missed me. How often does a doctor tell you that? Patients with sleeping problems are normally grumpy and melancholic. They feel sleep deprived and wish they could sleep more. In contrast, she said, I seem to be the rare – very rare evidently – a patient who comes to see her who is upbeat, tries to tell funny stories and cheers her up. I do not complain about lack of sleep for the fact that I need much less sleep pleases me enormously as it allows me normally to get my blog written before breakfast.

However, this time I had a real problem. I had a horrible nightmare early in the week. I had watched the news and the frightening fires in California where flames skipped over three football fields in minutes. I watched on television as families in cars escaped through walls of flames when they could barely make out whether they were fleeing the fire or getting into it. The children in the car were panicky as a father tried to reassure them that they should calm down. They would escape, he insisted. They evidently did so; that is why we could watch their car video that they had made.  Unfortunately, perhaps 200-300 did not escape.

I had gone to sleep about 10:30 p.m. and instead of waking up around 3:30 a.m., I woke at 11:45 p.m. I woke shaking. I could not get back to sleep. I also could not write. This is very unusual for me when I can be sitting at my desk writing within 60 seconds of waking up. I also do not usually remember my dreams. My sleep rhythm is unusual since I enter a deep sleep almost as soon as I put my head on my pillow – perhaps it can take as much as 30 seconds. And when I wake up, I am not drowsy but fully awake. But this past week, I could not write for two mornings in the aftermath of that nightmare. I missed writing two blogs.

However, this dream – or, rather, nightmare – was vivid in my memory. I was shaking when I awoke. In that dream, I had been in Africa working when I received a phone call that there was an enormous fire in the region where we lived back home – and home seemed to be California rather than Toronto. The caller told me that they had not been able to locate my wife and my two youngest children. In the dream, they were 6 and 9 years old at the time – so the dream was set almost 25 years ago.

I immediately flew home and began looking for them. The dream consisted almost entirely of that search – a futile search for I never found them. I passed houses with flames 30-40’ in the air. I passed cars engulfed in flames and tried to peer into them to see if my missing wife and two youngest children were in those cars. The dream went on and on, searching and searching but finding nothing. But the most peculiar part of the dream is that when I walked endlessly among these flames, I was freezing cold. I felt like an iceberg – assuming an iceberg can feel. I was frozen and never warmed up.

I told my sleep doctor that the dream had stayed with me all week, not only because it had been so horrific and because it had shaken me up so much, but because I could not figure out what it might mean. I usually find I can find an interpretation that seems to make sense. However, in this dream, the only thing that seems to have been clear was that the videos of the flames and the children in the escaping cars had probably set off the dream. Nothing else.

Of course, my sleep doctor was not a dream doctor. Her expertise was in the mechanics of sleep and not its imaginary content. I did not expect her to help me interpret the dream. I merely wanted to explain my physical tiredness succeeded by relief via a diuretic and then my mental tiredness brought on by a dream. I welcome any efforts at interpretation. In this there remains hope. For my readership offers me the opportunity and the audience to try to understand that dream.

But it is not my dream that I want to write about, but Jacob’s.

 

10 And Jacob left Beer sheba, and he went to Haran.   י

וַיֵּצֵ֥א יַֽעֲקֹ֖ב מִבְּאֵ֣ר שָׁ֑בַע וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ חָרָֽנָה:

11 And he arrived at the place and lodged there because the sun had set, and he took some of the stones of the place and placed [them] at his head, and he lay down in that place.   יא

וַיִּפְגַּ֨ע בַּמָּק֜וֹם וַיָּ֤לֶן שָׁם֙ כִּי־בָ֣א הַשֶּׁ֔מֶשׁ וַיִּקַּח֙ מֵֽאַבְנֵ֣י הַמָּק֔וֹם וַיָּ֖שֶׂם מְרַֽאֲשֹׁתָ֑יו וַיִּשְׁכַּ֖ב בַּמָּק֥וֹם הַהֽוּא:

12 And he dreamed, and behold! a ladder set up on the ground and its top reached to heaven; and behold, angels of God were ascending and descending upon it.   יב

וַיַּֽחֲלֹ֗ם וְהִנֵּ֤ה סֻלָּם֙ מֻצָּ֣ב אַ֔רְצָה וְרֹאשׁ֖וֹ מַגִּ֣יעַ הַשָּׁמָ֑יְמָה וְהִנֵּה֙ מַלְאֲכֵ֣י אֱלֹהִ֔ים עֹלִ֥ים וְיֹֽרְדִ֖ים בּֽוֹ:

13 And behold, the Lord was standing over him, and He said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac; the land upon which you are lying to you I will give it and to your seed.   יג

וְהִנֵּ֨ה יְהֹוָ֜ה נִצָּ֣ב עָלָיו֘ וַיֹּאמַר֒ אֲנִ֣י יְהֹוָ֗ה אֱלֹהֵי֙ אַבְרָהָ֣ם אָבִ֔יךָ וֵֽאלֹהֵ֖י יִצְחָ֑ק הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֤ר אַתָּה֙ שֹׁכֵ֣ב עָלֶ֔יהָ לְךָ֥ אֶתְּנֶ֖נָּה וּלְזַרְעֶֽךָ:

14 And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall gain strength westward and eastward and northward and southward; and through you shall be blessed all the families of the earth and through your seed.   יד

וְהָיָ֤ה זַרְעֲךָ֙ כַּֽעֲפַ֣ר הָאָ֔רֶץ וּפָֽרַצְתָּ֛ יָ֥מָּה וָקֵ֖דְמָה וְצָפֹ֣נָה וָנֶ֑גְבָּה וְנִבְרְכ֥וּ בְךָ֛ כָּל־מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת הָֽאֲדָמָ֖ה וּבְזַרְעֶֽךָ:

15 And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you.”   טו

וְהִנֵּ֨ה אָֽנֹכִ֜י עִמָּ֗ךְ וּשְׁמַרְתִּ֨יךָ֙ בְּכֹ֣ל אֲשֶׁר־תֵּלֵ֔ךְ וַֽהֲשִׁ֣בֹתִ֔יךָ אֶל־הָֽאֲדָמָ֖ה הַזֹּ֑את כִּ֚י לֹ֣א אֶֽעֱזָבְךָ֔ עַ֚ד אֲשֶׁ֣ר אִם־עָשִׂ֔יתִי אֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־דִּבַּ֖רְתִּי לָֽךְ:

16 And Jacob awakened from his sleep, and he said, “Indeed, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know [it].”   טז

וַיִּיקַ֣ץ יַֽעֲקֹב֘ מִשְּׁנָתוֹ֒ וַיֹּ֗אמֶר אָכֵן֙ יֵ֣שׁ יְהֹוָ֔ה בַּמָּק֖וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וְאָֽנֹכִ֖י לֹ֥א יָדָֽעְתִּי:

17 And he was frightened, and he said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”   יז

וַיִּירָא֙ וַיֹּאמַ֔ר מַה־נּוֹרָ֖א הַמָּק֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה אֵ֣ין זֶ֗ה כִּ֚י אִם־בֵּ֣ית אֱלֹהִ֔ים וְזֶ֖ה שַׁ֥עַר הַשָּׁמָֽיִם:

18 And Jacob arose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had placed at his head, and he set it up as a monument, and he poured oil on top of it.   יח

וַיַּשְׁכֵּ֨ם יַֽעֲקֹ֜ב בַּבֹּ֗קֶר וַיִּקַּ֤ח אֶת־הָאֶ֨בֶן֙ אֲשֶׁר־שָׂ֣ם מְרַֽאֲשֹׁתָ֔יו וַיָּ֥שֶׂם אֹתָ֖הּ מַצֵּבָ֑ה וַיִּצֹ֥ק שֶׁ֖מֶן עַל־רֹאשָֽׁהּ:

19 And he named the place Beth El, but Luz was originally the name of the city.   יט

וַיִּקְרָ֛א אֶת־שֵֽׁם־הַמָּק֥וֹם הַה֖וּא בֵּֽית־אֵ֑ל וְאוּלָ֛ם ל֥וּז שֵֽׁם־הָעִ֖יר לָרִֽאשֹׁנָֽה:

20 And Jacob uttered a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and He will guard me on this way, upon which I am going, and He will give me bread to eat and a garment to wear;   כ

וַיִּדַּ֥ר יַֽעֲקֹ֖ב נֶ֣דֶר לֵאמֹ֑ר אִם־יִֽהְיֶ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֜ים עִמָּדִ֗י וּשְׁמָרַ֨נִי֙ בַּדֶּ֤רֶךְ הַזֶּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אָֽנֹכִ֣י הוֹלֵ֔ךְ וְנָֽתַן־לִ֥י לֶ֛חֶם לֶֽאֱכֹ֖ל וּבֶ֥גֶד לִלְבֹּֽשׁ:

21 And if I return in peace to my father’s house, and the Lord will be my God;   כא

וְשַׁבְתִּ֥י בְשָׁל֖וֹם אֶל־בֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑י וְהָיָ֧ה יְהֹוָ֛ה לִ֖י לֵֽאלֹהִֽים:

22 Then this stone, which I have placed as a monument, shall be a house of God, and everything that You give me, I will surely tithe to You.   כב

וְהָאֶ֣בֶן הַזֹּ֗את אֲשֶׁר־שַׂ֨מְתִּי֙ מַצֵּבָ֔ה יִֽהְיֶ֖ה בֵּ֣ית אֱלֹהִ֑ים וְכֹל֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר תִּתֶּן־לִ֔י עַשֵּׂ֖ר אֲעַשְּׂרֶ֥נּוּ לָֽךְ:

Jacob had his dream while lying on the ground with his head on a rock. I was in bed with my head on a pillow. In Jacob’s dream, there is a ladder connecting heaven and earth. In my dream, earth has become a fiery hell. In Jacob’s dream, angels skip up and down the ladder; it is a sulam with the same numerical value as Sinai that adumbrates Moses’ encounter with God at Sinai. Jacob wakes from his dream in amazement. I woke from mine in anguish, despondent, dejected and wretched.

In my dream, I plod along horizontally. There is no skipping, just despair. If God stood over Jacob in his dream revealing himself to Jacob and promising that the land on which he rested his head will be given to him and his progeny, there was no God in my dream. No angels and not even Satan. I was alone in my dream, very much alone. And I walked in a landscape that no one would want to inherit.

Jacob flees his life of cheating his brother and wrestling away Esau’s birthright and blessing. Finally, between his home and that of his uncle, he is able to lie down and have a dream. But in my dream, I can only wander endlessly and aimlessly. I cannot even look forward to wrestling with God at the ford of the Jabbok River.

When Jacob awoke from his dream, he entered into a covenant with God, namely that, as long as God was with him and protected him and guided him, as long as he gave Jacob food to eat and a garment to wear, Jacob would remain His loyal servant. There was no one in my dream protecting my wife and children. There was no one guiding me as I trudged along amongst the flames and through the smoke without direction. And I felt only cold. Where Jacob had seen the house of God and the gate of heaven, I wandered the streets of hell.

The next morning after the dream, I went to synagogue and recited the kaddish. It was my mother’s Yahrzeit, the anniversary of her death eighteen years ago. It was morning and I recited the Shaharit prayer, the morning prayer that Abraham had supposedly established. Though I went through the motions and had amiable conversations with my friends, my heart was not in it. And it was a prayer for my mother. I felt more like Isaac, but in a paved over field with burning houses and cars on all sides. But in my dream, there was neither any prayer that poured out of me, nor conversation either. I saw no one. I asked no one. I searched, but the streets were deserted. It was certainly not Jacob’s evening prayer for there were no encounters at all.

In fact, the smoke was so thick, I could not tell whether it was morning, noon or night. It was true hell for the different times of the day had been obliterated. And I did not ask God to take me out of the darkness of that day into the light. Was this a world that God would inhabit, for it was truly a scorched earth unsuited to bring forth food, for sustaining animals and allowing beautiful yellow and purple flowers to grow. It was a world of gray on gray except for the brilliant red of the flames. It was a world that no one owned and no one would even want to own. The world was indeed illuminated, but not by the sun’s light, not by God’s light, but by the darkness and the flames that make up hell.

The celestial spheres, the sun and the moon, were blocked out by billowing black and grey smoke. And there was no one in charge of a world headed towards hell. God had abdicated. God had also fled the flames and abandoned His responsibilities. And I could not find my wife or my youngest children. Instead of the darkness providing an ambience for intimacy, there was nothing. There was nothingness. There was no God to embrace me in my fear, in my terror. There was no God with whom I could even make a deal, draw up a covenant, one in which we could exchange mutual promises and obligations. I did not feel, as I usually felt, when I awake in the very early hours of the morning and would write until I saw the light of day beginning to form outside of my picture windows in my study. I was not merely insecure, tired and wary as Isaac always seemed to be. I was petrified and identified with Jacob who loved bright colours and innocent jokes to cover up his profound terror. Deep down, he felt hopeless and was in despair, for a night of intimacy with his God had been lost. It was a night in which, except for the flames, all cows were both black and dead.

There was no progress in that dream, from hope to worry and trepidation. Instead of God turning on the lights, the flames were subsiding and left only burned out collapsed homes and frames of vehicles in a bleak landscape. Would the lights come on again? Would I see my wife and two youngest children again? I was so obsessed that I could not even thank an unknown God that my older children were safe and living elsewhere.

I pray every day that God renews His creation if there is a God and if God is still working at His job. I pray that each day will be a brand new day, a day full of creativity, a day of renewal when the world is always experienced anew. But the world had died. It had been torched.

I have never been concerned with whether God existed or not. The issue was never for me whether I believed or did not believe God existed. The issue had always been whether I believed that if God existed, that I was worthy of His faith in me. But in that bleak landscape, I feared that I had lost the faith in myself, the real faith that sustained me, that the world was and would be born anew every morning with a different pattern even though the elements were identical, that at night the angels ascended and descended the ladder in continuous motion, like elves, to renew the world for another day even though fascists and Nazis driven by the politics of resentment were in pursuit.

Will my family, will all families, be so blessed as I have been blessed? Will they even have a ladder to climb?

From Is to Ought

Ben Rhodes The World As It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House, New York: Random House, 2018.

In the Prologue of Ben Rhodes memoir, he describes how, in his last meeting with any head of state, Barack Obama passed the torch onto Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada. “You’re going to have to speak out when values are threatened.” Trudeau promised that he would “with a smile on my face. That is the only way to win.” Obama was an American, a liberal American, who believed that morality framed coercion and military might. “American leadership depended on our military, but was rooted not just in our strength but also in our goodness.” (25) And that goodness was built into institutions and laws but backed up, if need be, by force. (48)

A smile would not do the job. Yet Obama, flummoxed in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump and emergence of autocrats around the world, conscious that his best ally, Angela Merkel, had been severely wounded, could only reach out to a Canadian leader who led with a smile and not even a soft voice. Further, and more importantly, Canada did not carry a big stick.

The real mantle of leadership had been stolen by Donald Trump, a would-be autocrat. He was willing to meet with other autocrats around the world – without any preconditions – North Korean, Russian, Turkish, even Iranian. Trump was blasted in the liberal press for doing so. Yet, when Ben Rhodes joined the Obama presidential campaign, his Democratic contender also had promised to meet US adversaries without conditions. As Rhodes wrote, “[T]he reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is somehow punishment to them, which has been a guiding diplomatic principle of this [the Bush] administration, is ridiculous.” (12) Hillary Clinton, Obama’s opponent for the Democratic nomination, disagreed. She called Barack Obama naïve. Republicans, the same ones who as sycophants and toadies, defended Donald Trump when he did it, called Obama much worse.

Diplomacy without preconditions was not the only tactic Trump stole from Obama. “Turn defense into offense.” (18) “Restore America’s standing around the world.” (22) When Trump ran on a version of the latter, Obama made fun of the slogan, “Make America great again.” “America had always been great,” insisted Obama.

There is, of course, a difference between Obama and Trump. For the latter, such diplomatic meetings are simply transactional and the Donald believed that he was and is master of the deal. Obama believed, and his legacy – the Iran nuclear deal, the opening to Cuba, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Paris climate agreement for which leadership had been passed to China and Xi Jinping, the negotiations with the military junta in Myanmar – proved it, that diplomacy rather than inter-personal deals work. But a diplomacy capable of setting aside mindblinding and politically binding assumptions. In every single case, Donald Trump in his first two years in office proved that he was the master of and replacing professional diplomacy with personal transactional gestures.

The destruction of many of Obama’s overseas achievements had as much to do with personal animosity as Trump’s propensity for demolition, and both certainly more than the absence of any substance in his foreign policy. Donald Trump had been a leader in the blatantly racist “birther” movement, the false claim that Barack Obama had not been born in the US. Obama had folded before the media onslaught and finally acceded to releasing his longform birth certificate. That quieted but did not close down the flow of fake news. More importantly, a few days later after the birth certificate release, Barack Obama had his revenge at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner. In a series of spot-on jokes, he humiliated Donald Trump in the media and before the American public. “No one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald. And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter – like, did we fake the moon landing.” (132-133) Trump’s unwinding of Obama’s many successes was Trump’s revenge.

The Obama administration did have its own share of failures – dealing with Russia over Georgia (inherited from Bush), Crimea, the Ukraine and Syria, as well as Syria itself and, of course, the disastrous Libyan initiative, the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, the incoherence of the US policy towards Egypt, and the fiasco of Afghanistan that I wrote about in the Farrow book review. What is worse, Obama and Rhodes knew that, “the Taliban could not be defeated so long as it had political support in Afghanistan and a safe haven in Pakistan.” (73)

Obama had kept Robert M. Gates on as Secretary of Defence and initially backed the failed strategy of counter-insurgency in an arena in which it could not and did not work. Vice-President Joe Biden was the only individual in the administration who consistently and persistently opposed a troop surge and argued that the US military was jamming Obama. (65-6) So what was Obama’s rationale if America was not going to defeat the Taliban? “We need to knock them back to give us space to go after al Qaeda.” (75) The troop surge was approved.

But perhaps Egypt was even more telling than Afghanistan. Obama and Rhodes knew that in a repressive society like Egypt’s, a democratic election would probably lead to the victory of an Islamist Party, the Muslim Brotherhood. (54) Yet the Obama administration backed the removal of Mubarak and fell back on the position that America would “judge any political movement by whether they choose to act and govern in a way that is consistent with democratic principles.” (55) But what if that political movement, though noisy in its demonstrations, was marginal in its political depth and the real choice was between two other movements – one rooted in the military and the other in the religious establishment? How should America act when faced with a Hobson’s choice when, in the end, military coercion was the real and only power? That same effort to achieve a balance between two incompatible political perspectives would prove to be the root of the Obama administration’s enormous but fruitless efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

It would also be at the root of Rhodes’s failure to comprehend the limitations of the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Rhodes expends few words on the doctrine and I cannot elaborate n it here, but it is clear that he aligned with Samantha Power (82) and, to some extent, Susan Rice, who believed that the R2P had to be a bedrock of American foreign policy – that is, liberal state had the right to intervene with force when a state persecuted its own citizens or could not protect them from other s bent on destruction. Obama never bought into it. Rhodes in his book never explains why except to suggest that Obama was more a realist than the small idealist cohort he had working for and with him.

However, R2P was fundamentally flawed. This doctrine had originated as a Canadian initiative. It advocated the right of any foreign power to intervene when the government of a state targeted its own people. Within a very short time after its formulation, it was adopted by a unanimous vote of the United Nations. Except the vote was only unanimous because the heart of the doctrine had been cut out. Humanitarian intervention would only be permitted with the approval of the state being targeted. Once again, sovereignty trumped moral principles.

Further, it could and never would be applied in the Chinese mistreatment of the Uyguars or even the military junta mistreatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar. Sanctions certainly. But not coercive intervention. In the easiest situation possible, with a UN peacekeeping force on location and the government perpetrators on the ropes in its fight with a Tutsi-led military force, the world had failed to intercede and stop the genocide in Rwanda. Diplomatic exhortation and lofty principles were no substitute for action on the ground.

Perhaps Obama’s greatest success in the domestic arena – not the Affordable Care Act, but the salvaging of the world economy – was also his greatest failure and paved the way for the rise of Trump. This was in the domestic arena and not foreign affairs to which Ben Rhodes had dedicated his talents. The 2008 economic crash was a direct product of President Bush and, to some degree, his predecessors. Obama inherited an economic mess.

Ben Rhodes wrote the following words for Barack Obama. “Jobs have disappeared, and people’s life savings have been put at risk. Millions of families face foreclosure, and millions more have seen their home values plummet…So let’s be clear: What we’ve seen the last few days is nothing less than the final verdict on an economic philosophy that has completely failed.” (33) Ben made Obama sound like a Marxist. Talk about hyperbole! The 2008 economic crash, the greatest since the depression, was the final epitaph for capitalism, not just for a failure in banking regulation. Capitalism had completely failed. This is how the statement sounded.

However, the philosophy referred to was not capitalism but one version of it – trickle-down economics and deregulation. Further, even on that there was no final verdict. In fact, Barack Obama in part made possible the restoration of that capitalistic ideology to pre-eminence after two years of his presidency and totally cleared the road from any blockage to it by contributing to the election of Donald Trump. How? Precisely by overstating the failure and understating the consequences of the 2008 economic crash. Not just jobs, but hundreds of thoUSnds of them were wiped out. Millions of families not only faced foreclosure but were, in fact foreclosed upon when Obama bailed out the banks without helping those who bought homes that were now financially under water.

Ben Rhodes was a foreign policy speechwriter and adviser and was not up on domestic policy let alone economic policy. There is an enormous problem with trickle-down economics, but that was NOT the issue in the 2008 economic crash. Rhodes not only failed to hit the target, but grossly understated the effects on the average American just as he overstated the implications of the crash for capitalism. In his memoir, he never seemed to notice this oversight.

Unfortunately, the same disposition applied to foreign policy. When North Korea tested a ballistic missile in the very beginning of Obama’s presidency when he was in The Czech Republic, Ben Rhodes added a few sentences to Obama’s address to the Czech people. “I sat at my computer inserting a strongly worded warning to the North Koreans about the isolation they’d face for continued nuclear and missile tests.” (42)

When Trump was in the same position, he threatened fire and brimstone and then met with Kim and called him a wonderful guy who likes me. Greater isolation! North Korea had survived for years, though barely, against the greatest international deep freeze applied to any foreign state in the post-WWII period. And the country still persisted in its nuclear and missile development program. Rhodes’s and Obama’s threat rang totally hollow at the time. More significantly, eight years later, Ben Rhodes failed to notice let alone be self-critical of such a shortcoming. And this in spite of the deep faith of liberals, like Barack Obama, who held a progressive view of American history and “the capacity for self-correction” (43) to which Obama (and Rhodes) attributed America’s purported exceptionalism. But what if this purported exceptionalism rested as much on the failure of America to be deeply self-critical and to truly engage in self-correction at a fundamental level?

Louis Menard wrote a review of Rhodes’s book and claimed it traced the evolution of a political junky from an idealist to a realist. Unlike Farrow’s book, Rhode’s memoir is indeed a book in which observation and self-reflection are woven together by a fine writing style, but one which only records faces and clothes and settings when they are directly pertinent to the narrative. But Menard is wrong. The shock is that Rhodes never became disillusioned about his ideals. Tired, certainly. Sometimes depressed. At other times simply resigned. But he is indefatigable in holding onto his ideals. That is perhaps why Obama loved him. That is certainly why Rhodes worshipped Barack Obama.

As with his previous co-authored book with a former congressman, Lee Hamilton, (Without Precedent: Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission), Rhodes’s book is a very inside story, but of the day-to-day crises and pro-active stances of the Obama regime from the campaign through eight years in the White House. During that time, Ben Rhodes began working as a speechwriter and foreign policy advisor for Obama in his campaign for the Democratic nomination for President and ended up serving for eight years as deputy national security advisor with oversight over speechwriting, public communications and relations as well as undertaking specific diplomatic missions himself.

During that time, according to Rhodes’s reflections on his service and the Obama administration, the arc of history did not move from idealism to realism but, rather, a realization that “the world (w)as (and is) a place that could – in some incremental way – change.” (421) As he ends his memoir, at “I was a man, no longer young, who – in the zigzag of history – still believed the end of his service to Obama, to the American nation and to his own ideals, in the truth within the stories of people around the world, a truth that compels me to see the world as it is, and to believe in the world as it ought to be.” The book is not about the decline of his ideals, but increasingly focuses on the actual challenges to those ideals and the efforts made to overcome those challenges.

Holbrooke, with his idiosyncratic personal characteristics for a diplomat and his pursuit of realism in the conduct of foreign relations, was Farrow’s flawed hero. Barack Obama is Rhodes’s idol, an idol he did not worship from afar, nor even merely up close to reveal the crevices that began to appear on Obama’s boyish good looks, but one whose mind and heart and guts Rhodes entered into wholly and without reservation, even in the odd moments when he disagreed with his leadership on a particular issue.  Rhodes learned to focus on a small portion of the grains of sand on the earth than on the even greater number of stars in the sky.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Parashat VaYeishev – On the Telling of Dreams Genesis 37:1 – 40:23

The story begins when we are reminded that Jacob and his family are not living in the Promised Land but in Canaan. The story of how they get “home,” how they will be forged onto a common nation, will be a long and convoluted one. But this is where it actually begins. This is the real chapter one of the birth of a nation. Everything thus far had been a foreword in this long book of generational continuity and development.

Why did Joseph tell his family about his dream? Remember, he was already on slippery grounds with his brothers. He was seventeen years old, but he served part time as a handmaid to all his father’s wives, not even just his mother. He was a tattle-tale. He may even have elaborated on what he told his father telling bad stories about what his brothers did. After all, he only brought back “malicious” reports, never flattering ones. He may even have been a purveyor of fake news. Yet, he was his father’s favourite, a father with his own long record of dissembling. Look what happened when Isaac favoured Esau. How could Jacob, suffering from a different type of blindness, possibly found a nation when Joseph’s other brothers are excluded from his lineage?

Why does the opening of the story begin, not when Joseph has come out of the closet as a gay man, but after that, when he comes out of the closet to announce not only his ambitions, but that they will be prophetic? What is the dream that he tells them (37:5-9)? When piling up wheat, Joseph’s wheat pile was in the centre while those of his brothers circled around and bowed down to the central pile which remained erect. A prescient dream that at some time in the future, his whole family will bow down before him, that they will be subservient to him. The meaning of the dream is transparent. His brothers, who already did not trust him, resented his position as his father’s favourite. There does not seem to be any possibility of unity among the twelve brothers.

Then, of all things, Joseph tells them a second dream (37:10) that doubles down and reinforces the meaning of the first in case they missed the point. The sun and the moon (father and mother) and 11 stars (his brothers) bow down before him. This time, his father rebuked him for portraying his parents as subservient to him. But Joseph is condescending. He obviously had no diplomatic skills or any sense of discretion at that period in his life. Nor, at the same time, any apparent concern for his own well-being. He is both insensitive to others’ feelings and even his own risk. When he rises to the top in Egypt, he will have learned his lesson.

His father, Jacob, who was renamed Israel, was even more incautious. He had made and presented Joseph with a multi-coloured, heavily embroidered coat or ornamental tunic. Given the costs of dies at the time, this was a very expensive gift for a homebody who was still not doing his share of protecting the flocks even though he was already 17 years old. What does Joseph do then? When sent on another tattle-tale mission by his paranoid father, he wears such an expensive gift to the fields where the sheep are grazing. He struts and he flaunts his expensive coat just when he has been sent on another spying mission by his father upon his brothers.

One is left with a definitive impression that Joseph may be gay, and a self-centred and narcissistic youth as well. There is every reason given for his brothers to collectively turn on him. He tells tales out of turn. He is a dreamer and not a worker. He is not just handsome, but beautiful. He uses his dreams to make grandiose claims. He struts and flaunts himself and, in one rabbinic midrash, he is portrayed as pencilling his eyes, curling his hair and walking as if wearing high heels.

He heads for Shechem in search of his brothers, but is redirected north to Dothan, just 10 km. south of Jenin. Dothan דֹתָן means a decree or a well. It is where sacred commands are issued. This is where the sons of Reuben join Korah in the rebellion against Moses and Aaron (Numbers 16:1). Now, it is where Joseph’s brothers plot to kill him. If they succeed, goodbye to the idea of a united nation, e pluribus unum. However, given what preceded Joseph’s trip, it is no surprise at all that his brothers turn on Joseph and plot his death.

How do they describe him? They mock him as the master of dreams. Instead of killing him and then burying him, they throw him into a pit purportedly to be eaten by wild beasts or to die of thirst. Reuben plotted against his own brothers to save him, first by urging that they not kill or even harm him themselves and then by plotting to return, rescue him and return him to his father. But Reuben is too late. Joseph has already been sold into slavery for twenty pieces of silver by his brothers, led by Judah, to a passing caravan of Ishmaelites on route to Egypt. Or, contradicting that tale, he is rescued by Midianites and they sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for 20 pieces of silver. But then the text says that the Midianites were the ones that sold Joseph to Potiphar. In any case, it is of no consequence who actually made the sale. The seam of union has now been completely torn when the brothers sold Joseph into slavery.

Then the cover up when Reuben returns and finds his brother gone. Reuben tears Joseph’s very valuable coat that has conveniently been left behind. Weird! Further, he dips the coat in the blood of a goat (a goat will reappear in the story of Tamar) to make it appear that Joseph was attacked by wild beasts and eaten. He sacrifices the expensive coat which all the brothers detested to make their tale plausible. When that torn and bloodied coat is returned to their father as evidence of Joseph’s demise, a second coat is torn, that of Jacob mourning his apparently lost son. Jacob refuses any consolation. He will weep for his lost son until he dies. Joseph has already won an enormous psychological victory over his brothers.

Is it a surprise that after Joseph is sold into slavery, he ends up running Potiphar’s household as a slave? Potiphar is the Pharaoh’s chief steward. Is it a surprise that Potiphar’s wife will repeatedly try to seduce such an attractive man, the last time when the servants are all out of the house, but also that he will spurn her? He runs off, but leaves his coat behind. Once again, a coat is used as evidence, this time, not of his death, but of his flight, presumably to escape a guilty deed, a purported assault on Potiphar’s wife. Why does everyone seem so obtuse? Why is Joseph so blind to the risks to himself and to his effects on others?  Surely, he had to know that the house was free of servants and that he was being invited to meet with her for a purpose given her past behaviour.

However, before this part of the tale is told of the attempted and failed seduction in Egypt, we are told another tale of seduction. Judah, the leader of the cabal to sell Joseph, goes off to another land, marries a shicksa (a Canaanite) and fathers three children. His oldest son, Er (watcher), marries, Tamar. But before she even becomes pregnant, Er, evidently an evil man, commits suicide. Judah’s second son, Onan (אוֹנָן), also does the same thing, presumably at the behest of God as well. God evidently punished him for, in spite of being a strong and virile man – his name meant strength – he practiced coitus interruptus with Tamar (“spilled his seed”), presumably because he did not want Tamar to have a male heir who could inherit all the wealth of Judah as the oldest son of the first born.

Judah promises to marry Tamar, now a widow, to his third son, Shelah (pause or interlude), when he grows up. Tamar is sent back to live with her parents in the interval. But Judah, perhaps fearing that Tamar is jinxed and that Shelah would die in the same way as his other two sons, does not follow through on his promise. (Later, Jacob’s fear of losing his youngest son, Benjamin, would echo the same fear.)

Tamar, with no heirs, engages in the most outrageous ruse in the whole of the Tanah when Judah has become a widower. She veils herself, dresses as a prostitute, hides her real self, in contrast to Joseph who flaunted himself, and presents herself as a prostitute at Enaim (a crossroads, literally, a place where eyes are opened). She successfully seduces her father-in-law. He evidently does not have the money at the time to pay her and she will not take a goat from his flock as payment. She surreptitiously gets evidence from him of this event, a pledge – his seal, cord, and the staff he carried.  

Judah tried to pay and redeem his pledge, but could not find her. No one even knew of any prostitute in that place. Judah decides to forget about the incident. However, three months later, Judah discovers that Tamar is pregnant. But before he can accost her as a harlot, she privately, as distinct from ostentatiously, sends him his pledge with a note, “Who do these belong to? They are those of the father of the child that I carry.” The items of the pledge become the instruments for God to fulfill His pledge to Jacob as Judah is asked to recognize these identifiers. What a contrast with the earlier occasion when Jacob is asked to recognize the torn and bloodied tunic of his favourite son!

Judah, in contrast to the way he ran away to Canaan after the ostensible death of his brother, owns up to his wrong, both his false accusation and his refusal to arrange for her to be married to Shelah. He takes responsibility and redeems himself. We now have the emergence of ethical responsibility. Tamar is the vehicle by which the tragic trajectory is reversed and Jacob’s role as the progenitor of nation is made possible. Tamar has twins. This time, the order of birth is switched. The first who appears out of her womb is not born first. The hand of the second twin reached out and displaced his twin. Contrast this with the birth of Jacob touching the heel of Esau. The story adumbrates the tale of Judah holding up his hand in Egypt and offering himself as a guarantor for his youngest brother’s safety. “Of my hand, you shall require him.”

What role does this side story have in enlightening us about the meaning of the unsuccessful seduction of Joseph by Potiphar’s wife? In the next section, Joseph becomes an interpreter of the dreams of others. He is the candlestick maker to the butler and the baker who share his place in prison. One receives glorious news of rewards to come; the other receives a death sentence. But the one restored to his position, the butler, forgets about him for some time.

Enough puzzles for one day. To unravel the mysteries and get to the meaning, note the following:

  1. The giving of gifts – Jacob giving the coat to Joseph, Judah giving the gift of his identity to Tamar, Tamar in return giving the greatest gift of all to Judah by enabling him to confront his sin and recognize his guilt, and Joseph giving his interpretive dream skills to two fellow prisoners.
  2. The ruses – the major one covering up the disappearance of Joseph and the seemingly minor one of Tamar seducing her father-in-law.
  3. Dreams piled on top of dreams – Joseph’s two dreams of the sheaves of wheat and of the heavenly bodies, the dreams of the baker and the butler, all four falling against the backdrop of Jacob’s two dreams concerning the process of divine revelation.
  4. Two torn coats – Joseph’s and Jacob’s.

How are the giving of gifts, the two very different ruses, the four different dreams and the two torn coats connected? It’s an Agatha Christie mystery. Let’s start with the giving of gifts. Go back to Abraham. He refuses the gift of a grave for his wife and instead insists on a clear purchase and sale agreement. In contrast, Jacob on his return from his uncle Laban, had sent gifts to Esau to assuage his brother’s twenty-year-old anger. Further, there are God’s gifts – physical beauty, a wily narcissistic personality that far outshines his father’s, Joseph’s interpretive dream skills and his prophetic insight.

What becomes evident is the insight into the giver rather than the significance of the gift. As Rabbi Sachs has written, God, the greatest gift giver of all time, does not live in the gifts – the Temple – that the Israelites gift him, but in the builders. He gives the gift or Torah itself so that we Jews will live in it. As Sachs wrote, God “lives not in structures of stone but in the human heart.”

The gifts tell us what is in Joseph’s heart (fear, hope, generosity and favour). The gift tells us what is in Judah’s heart – a sense of loss of identity and a willingness to give it away easily as his grandfather had show Esau was willing to do. A gift tells you about the giver, not the receiver nor the content of the gift. Do not give so you shall receive, but give so that you will reveal who you are. Giving is an unveiling.

We give gifts to God to communicate who we are and what we are willing to sacrifice. Cain and Abel give the best of what they can do in the physical world – the best animal and the best agricultural product. Which way of life will God favour – animal husbandry or farming the earth? God, as usual, chooses the one that will be the way of life that fades into history as the other, farming, becomes the wave of the future. Jacob chooses to pass his blessings as a material gift to his one son, Joseph. When the latter appears to have died, Jacob believes that his whole heritage has died with him and his mourning has no limit. He is circuitously saved by Tamar who, through her risk and ruse, will restore Jacob to his role ass the progenitor of a nation.

When Joseph is falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife of sexual assault, he is in a prison. He is in a dungeon. He is back in the pit where his brothers threw him. But he now gives his gift of dream interpretation to others, to the butler and to the baker, both in the same dungeon for offending their royal master, the Pharaoh. It is an unwelcome gift for the baker who learns that he will be executed in three days while, for the butler, the gift is a welcome one, for he will be restored to his lofty and influential position. That is the gift that gives forward for it will be the butler who eventually, several years later, tells the Pharaoh of Joseph’s gift of dream interpretation that leads to his rescue from prison and eventually becoming the chief vizier of the whole of Egypt.  

What about the ruses that echo the tricks of Joseph’s forefathers, foremost among them all, the way Jacob cheated Esau out of his blessing? Begin with the female ruse, the ruse of Tamar tricking her father-in-law. As my daughter, Rachel Adelman, describes the female ruse, it is the working of a divine end through a female body. The female trickster violates a social norm for a positive outcome. In contrast, Potiphar’s wife has no ability to be a trickster for truth, but in resentment and another cover-up, lies.

In chapter 3 of my daughter’s book, The Female Ruse: Women’s Deception and Divine Sanction in the Hebrew Bible, entitled, “Of Veils, Goats, and Sealing Rings, of Guarantors and Kings: The Story of Judah and Tamar,” this is a story of political power that alludes to Lewis Carrol’s tale of “The Walrus and the Carpenter in Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. (See also my daughter’s essays such as: “Ethical Epiphany in the Story of Judah and Tamar,” in Recognition and Modes of Knowledge: Anagnorisis from Antiquity to Contemporary Theory, ed. Teresa Russo, and “Seduction and Recognition in the Story of Judah and Tamar in the Book of Ruth,” in Nashim 23:87-109, 2012.)

As Tamar looks through the looking glass, she recognizes and reveals who Judah, the forefather of the Jews, is.  Both Judah and Joseph will become the progenitors of kings. Judah owns up to his errors and comes to recognize himself. He will be the forefather of the Davidic line, but only as a product of a form of incest in which he has sex with his own daughter-in-law to give birth to twins, but twins who will have a very different relationship and a very different history that that of Jacob and Esau. Redemption comes through strange routes, in Joseph’s case, through a failed seduction, in Judah’s case, through a successful one. Clever ruses lead to truth revealed, offences uncovered and responsibility assumed.

But the core of the story are the dreams. Jacob had two key dreams, the one of the ladder from earth to heaven and angels climbing up and down, and the dream where he wrestles with ish, a man, an angel or his alter ego. He prevails, but is left wounded in the hip and has a permanent limp. Jacob’s dreams are certainly prophetic, but they also leave him handicapped until he in turn is redeemed by his son Joseph, but in a radically different way than his own favouritism that could never have done the job of creating a united nation from twelve tribes.

How do these themes link up? This is the story of the founding of a nation. A nation requires coherence. Favouritism, distrust and disreputable behaviour will not unite the brothers who will be the fathers of the twelve tribes. Coats and cover-ups have to be torn off and discarded in favour of honesty towards one another and for accountability. Gifts will pay forward if they are true gifts; false ones only create troubles.

Further, our destiny is told through our dreams, not our reasoning. But we often have to be tricked into recognizing their meaning. In the end, after a few more ruses, the unity of the brothers will be restored under the leadership of Joseph and without requiring the favour of the father. And behind it all, behind the restoration of Judah, not Joseph, to being with his brothers, can be found the trickery of Tamar, the passive beauty of grace and favour (hen and hesed), the mother of double naming and very different twins, and the role of seduction and resistance to another dressed in royal robes.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Part IV: John Locke, Jews and the Transactional State

John Locke (1632-1704) did not simply use Jewish texts for his own purposes and create a theory of the state that allowed both Jews and gentiles to search for security. He came to the defence of Jews. His advocacy of tolerance towards dissenters among Christians extended to Jews. At the same time, though not a Hebraist like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke claimed that, “The Bible is one of the greatest blessings bestowed by God on the children of men. It has God for its Author, salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture for its matter.” With statements such as these, how can I claim that Locke created his foundation for the state on a secular foundation without regard to any divine source? The answer in a word; salvation is made into a private transactional exchange.

We know that Locke was familiar with the writings of Menaseh ben Israel and may even have been in correspondence with him given Locke’s reference to ben Manasseh in a letter to Nicolas Toinard. We know that the 414 Jews in England in 1680 more than doubled in size by 1700. We know that Sir Solomon de Medina had financed the military campaigns of military general and diplomat John Churchill later named by King William, the 1st Duke of Marlborough; Medina paid £32,000 in taxes in 1677 on his earnings.

Marlborough was able to play both sides of the fence, leading the charge against the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685 to secure the throne for James I, and then participating in the military conspiracy that led to the overthrow of James when William of Orange invaded England in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Jews, though relatively few in number, were now very active participants in English civil society and its internal violent conflicts. The issue was no longer the exclusion of Jews from England, but how they were to be treated as subjects of the King, citizens of the state and members of society.   

We know that Thomas Jefferson quoted John Locke’s argument that “neither Pagan nor Mahamedan nor Jew ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the Commonwealth because of his religion.” Further, in the colonies, specifically in Surinam, in 1665 a law had been passed that Jews be treated as if they were “as English born.” They were to be allowed to build and run their own schools and places of worship. This went far beyond the first half of the seventeenth century when Jews were still fighting for the right to live in England.

Following the victory of William of Orange from Holland in 1688, and Locke’s return from there where he had been in exile from 1683-1688, England passed the Toleration Act of 1689, the same year that John Locke became well known for his volume, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. That Act granted freedom of worship not only to nonconformist Baptists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists, but to Jews as well, but not to either atheists, unitarians (penalties against the latter were removed in 1813) or Roman Catholics, the common adversary of all Protestants. (Though the latter were no longer hunted down and killed, they were still not allowed the right to assemble and pray in their own houses of worship.) The members of the nonconformist faiths and Jews merely needed to swear an oath of allegiance, but, given the provisions of the Test Act, were not allowed to sit in Parliament.

Lest one think this was a universal breakthrough, at that very same time in North America, President Trump, in his off-the-wall letter to Nancy Pelosi concerning his impeachment, reminded us of the 1692 Salem witch trials. There, without the rule of law, marginal and older women were crushed and murdered because of a fearful fantasy, a conspiracy theory. Of course, Trump, in his ignorance and nittiness, got everything upside down and inside out. For his prospective trial is being carried out strictly in accordance with the rule of law. The Salem witch trials were not. His prospective trial is about men in power. The Salem witch trials were about powerless men. Finally, Trump’s own fearful fantasies about conspiracy theories in the deep state and in the Ukraine led to the immanence of his on trial, whereas the conspiracy theories of 1692 led to the persecution and murder of marginal women in 1692.

John Locke is often touted as the direct source for The Toleration Act, but his A Letter Concerning Toleration was only published in 1689. Rather than originating or even initiating a voice for tolerance, John Locke, heavily influenced by the Dutch, merely articulated and gave voice to what was becoming a widespread outlook. Tolerance as a theme could be traced back to the earlier Puritans and Oliver Cromwell. In The Two Charters Granted by King Charles IId to the Proprietors of Carolina with the First and Last Fundamental Constitutions of that Colony (1669), Francis Bacon was the founder of the Carolina colonies, Locke was neither the authorial source of The Toleration Act nor even the source of its ideas, though he gave clearest expression to those ideas in his A Letter Concerning Toleration in 1689.  

That letter was even then condemned as a “senseless and insipid Project of Imagination” that no religious group in power would accept. In the 1693 work, A Full Enquiry into the Power of Faith, the Nature of Prophecy, the Translation of Enoch and Elias and the Resurrection of Christ, the critic charged double loyalty and insisted that neither the Jew nor the Presbyterian would accept Locke’s plea for naturalization. But they did. In overwhelming numbers as they bought into the idea of separation of church and state. Politics had gone far beyond tolerating the Jews residing in England to including them as equal members of the polity. (Cf. Thomas Barlow (1692) The Case of the Jews.)

Thomas Hobbes in separating the Behemoth of civil society from The Leviathan of the state made room for Jews in the former, but not in the latter. However, once an unconditional right to property was granted, once England had gone through a series of civil wars that finally replaced the medieval constitution with one favourable to the market place and the new economic players, political equality followed.

In the first half of the seventeenth century, the argument was advanced that was similar to the one that Christians ought to support Israel because the re-establishment of Israel was the precondition for the conversion of Jews to Christ. John Lightfoot (1602-1675), the best Hebrew scholar in England for his time who had never met a Jew, had argued, “I see not how we can look upon the conversion of the Jews, under a lower notion than the conversion of a brood of antichrist…Jerusalem should [not] be built again, when the fulness of the Gentiles is come in, which the Jews conceit: nor that then the Jews should be unblindfolded, and become a gospel–church, as the Gentiles had been.” Jews had to be accepted if they were to be reborn as Christians, a precondition of the second coming. Lightfoot read the commentaries of the rabbis and claimed that the rabbis had recognized Jesus as the messiah. He helped co-author the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647).

The latter work provided the ground on which John Locke built. However, he argued that, although the light of nature, the works of creation and of providence, all manifest the goodness, power and wisdom of God, they were all insufficient. To understand fully the will of God, scientific and, therefore, secular knowledge was required.  Such a claim was truly revolutionary.

Thus, John Locke could be both a believing Christian (cf. his A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of St. Paul to the Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, Ephesians) who helped articulate the idea of the restoration of the Jews first in English Protestant thought and then in gentile society and politics. John Locke articulated those beliefs and was critical of the necessity of calling Jews to the Christian faith as a precondition of their participation in the polity even when this was a far lesser offence than forcing their conversion.

If Hobbes had made room for the Jews by helping undermine the paternalistic model of society and freeing the economy from its embrace, John Locke went further to remove the fetters of intolerance by making, not just the reform of the state subservient to the reform of civil society, but founding the state itself on a social contract among men and not between man and God. Like Hobbes, the key motivation was to make peace and avoid war.

In Locke’s First Treatise on Government, he concurred with Sir Robert Filmer, a defender of the divine right of kings, citing the case of Abraham and Judah, to argue that, “The power of making laws of life and death is indeed the mark of sovereignty.” Whenever there is a demand to sacrifice a life, there you will find the exercise of sovereignty. Laws determining war or peace are the essence of a sovereign authority. But it is natural law, not divine dictate, the light of nature and of reason, that give it force.

As Locke argues, in the great variety of its iterations, a god is cited to justify the use of violence, but the ground of duty cannot be derived from such an authority, but only for that authority as it expresses itself in natural law. As to the gods themselves, there are far too many variations. A core natural law is that the law of nature dictates that every man should keep his own property and no one take another’s. But this is precisely what the Israelites did when they stole Egyptian property and fled Egypt. The explanation: they had not yet learned the universal applicability of natural law. Their eyes were not yet opened. That does not mean that natural law was inapplicable.

This is similar to the case where the Israelites have such a harsh approach to idolatry but where they were unable to read the minds and intentions of the worshippers. Mindblindness is the illness. The death penalty for idolatry runs contrary to the Ten Commandments. Over the ages, civilization progressed by a closer understanding of the laws of nature. A more exact understanding provided better guidance with a closer understanding of the laws of nature and their applications. The interim, supposed authoritative dictates were used but that had to be discarded with the revelation of a greater exactitude with respect to the law of nature.

Further, according to Locke, though the ancient Israelites delivered death to idolaters, they never forced them to convert. Strangers embraced the religion of the Hebrews willingly and of their own accord. Conversion was solicited as a privilege rather than an act of compliance under the threat of death. Not once in the Tanach, Locke declared, can you find even one person forced into the Jewish religion. The bottom line: “articles of faith as which are required only to be believed, cannot be imposed on any church by the law of the land.” They certainly cannot be imposed on Jews.

Tolerance is based on the principle that we not forbid anyone to think and write what they will (though there may be laws preventing what is written or said from being entered into the public realm). Censorship and the force of law are only used when an action endangers the security of others, not when it assaults another’s sensibilities or beliefs. For when we cross that barrier and restrict the behaviour of an Other, we read into their minds a malicious intent.

But does not Locke write that, “A good life, in which consists not the least part of religion and true piety, concerns also the civil government; and in it lies the safety both of men’s souls and of the commonwealth”? In other words, tolerance must go beyond what is written above. It must embrace civility. It must embrace the inner as well as the outer court. It must embrace conscience as well as a court of law. Further, since the observance of our highest obligations demands that we be true to the will of God as well as to our true selves, how do we adjudicate when the behaviour of one assaults the sensibilities of another, but there is no breach of the law?

John Locke proposes the following guide. Does the behaviour violate the right of an Other? The issue is not whether he is wrong. The issue is not whether he embraces erroneous opinions. The issue is not whether he has bad manners – of worship or anything else. The issue is whether he deprives another of his (or her) ability to act in a way true to himself. “The care of each man’s salvation belongs only to himself.” It is only in accordance with that rule that we can have civil peace and avoid the turbulence and destructiveness of religious conflicts.

Diversity of opinions cannot be avoided. But tolerance of the opinions of others is a prerequisite. To most moderns, this may read as case closed. This does not mean that the sacrifice of children may not be forbidden by law. Or polygamous marriages. Or genital mutilation of women in the name of religion. But what about male circumcision if it can be shown that the action causes pain to the infant? The guide is whether such action harms the larger realm. If it is relatively inconsequential, if the practice is not imposed, then there is no reason for the magistrate to intervene.

But what about when the words and actions of one are seen as hurting and even threatening another? The understanding of law as operable only when it does not abridge the right of an individual to worship and follow his religion in his own way is not sufficient to deal with such cases, cases that we now term “incorrect behaviour.” What must be remembered, according to Locke, is that when a magistrate is given the power of suppression in one case, may be used when the other controls the reins of the commonwealth. The powers in command should not do what they would not want others to do when they are in command. All ought to act to uphold the universal civic religion.

But some argue that the protection of the civic religion demands banning the display of religious symbols when performing public duties. Further, the behaviour of reactions to words and deeds that make one “feel” insecure, feel threatened, belong to another realm. The latter is much more difficult to adjudicate. That may be the case, but is not the criterion itself one imposed by a male dominated regime that prioritizes external behaviour, external motions of bodies in Hobbes’s language, rather than a consideration of sensibilities which are central to being female?

Asking such questions makes it clear that John Locke’s strictures on tolerance to prevent wars of religion and to allow humans to live side-by-side in religious accord, leaves many unanswered questions. That may be the case, but it was a strong indicator that society had come a very long way from the strictures applicable at the beginning of the seventeenth century and certainly those in force at the beginning of the sixteenth century. At the same time as these revolutionary norms freed humans to practice their own religion while being loyal members of the state, they not only did not deal with other contentious spheres, but also gave the state the power to demand the sacrifice of one’s life, and much more seriously, the sacrifice of one’s children’s lives.

That was the trade. That was the quid pro quo.

Part III: Thomas Hobbes and John Locke

In the natural law theory of St. Thomas Aquinas derived from Aristotle that dominated the scholasticism of the medieval period, humans were no longer required by God to live in accordance with the judicial precepts of the Torah. (Summa Theologiae, I-II, 104.3) Christianity could thrive in a monarchy, a democracy, a dictatorship, but perhaps not in a totalitarian state that forbade humans from rendering to God what is God’s. The Kingdom of Jesus was not essentially of this world; the secular was subsumed under the sacred.

I have discussed natural law, for example, in Hugo Grotius. In Aristotle and Aquinas, natural law dictates that humans have different essences that determine their different characters. But their most universal essence is appetite or desire. Satan induces Eve and Adam to bite the apple, to satisfy their sexual desires. They are thrust out of the Garden of Eden by God as a result.

What we are driven to do by nature and what natural law dictates are two very different things. Natural law is the governance of the entire universe by “Divine Reason,” by that which is eternal rather than temporal. However, human material existence, human appetites and human desire disrupt the natural order of reason. That is because humans have free choice. In the animal world, natural law is the law of appetite. However, in the human world, humans may choose to be driven by their appetites or to be governed by a higher eternal law of reason. Their failure to make the correct choice gets them expelled from the Garden of Eden.

In my writings, I have presented a very different version of the Garden of Eden story. In my understanding of the Torah, man is characterized by two propensities. According to one, he is made in God’s image and creates the world through the use of the word. He names things. He is, therefore, an expression of rationality, or, as I often refer to him in a colloquial sense, he is a nerd. But he is an embodied nerd. But one who thinks he is God and immaterial, does not have a body and is not driven by appetite. Adam disowns any responsibility for his own body. He does not recognize his own self as embodied but conceives of Eve as the extension of his own body. She is embodiment par excellence. She may be equal to man in reality, both created out of the dust of the earth, but in experience she is othered and portrayed as embodiment while he preserves for himself mindfulness.

Thus, the erect serpent, Adam’s embodied self, driven by appetites, uses words to seduce Eve and convince her that it is all right to follow her appetites. Eve does. Both eat the apple of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, that is, have sex and thereby come to recognize they are embodied. That means that they no longer by definition live in the fantasy land of the Garden of Eden where man is under the erroneous belief that he is disembodied. In the Christian Thomistic version, man falls when he eats the fruit of the garden. In my inverted version, man is thrust from the fantasy of his divided self of an immaterial mind and a body driven by desire where the two never meet, into reality.

The moral dilemma takes place because man does not take responsibility for what takes place. It is Satan that did it. It is the erect serpent that did it. It is my hard-on that seduced Eve. The moral failure was not accepting responsibility for who we are and what we do. The course of civilization is a record of learning to accept that responsibility and constructing a political order in which humans will be held accountable for their actions. The rule of law is the order that is created to overcome the schizophrenia of man.

Both Hobbes and Locke replace the Garden of Eden with the state of nature.  Both Hobbes and Locke want to free the tale of a State of Nature from any sacred force whatsoever, even one where the sacred force of reason, acting in indifference to the material and embodied world, is the source of “fault.” In Hobbes’s state of nature, man is driven, not between desire and appetite as the source of error, not by reason detached from the material world, but by two competing and totally material passions, fear and hope. The terrible part of the state of nature is the “continual fear and danger of violent death.” We do not want to die. We do not want to be killed.

Positively, we pursue self-preservation. We pursue life. The pursuit of self-preservation is a right. We also pursue hope. How? By acquiring power over oneself but mostly over the other who is a constant threat. Man not only has self-directed rights but other, externally directed right vis-à-vis other men. That is the good they pursue. On the one hand, no natural law exists to prevent humans from killing another to secure their own person and property. The state of nature turns into a war of all against all, a state of perpetual conflict. We do not begin with a conflict internal to our make-up as humans, a war of reason versus embodiment, whether, in one case (Thomism), embodiment and appetite are viewed as the source of the problem, or, as in the other case, where the megalomania of reason in imitation of the divine is seen as the source of the problem.

The problem need not be defined in relationship to the divine at all. The problem is external, the fear we have of one another. However, in the fundamental law of nature, individuals are in search of peace with another obtained only by coming together to forge a social contract, whereby men consent to being ruled in a commonwealth governed by one supreme authority. Fear performs a dual function, driving us away from one another and driving us towards one another to create a civil commonwealth. Forged by fear, enforced by fear, but driven by hope for a peaceful order, the social contract becomes the foundation for the civilized order for it challenges and punishes anyone who threatens that order. Fear of that punishment induces good behaviour.  The good is what we desire and evil is what we wish to avoid. Law and society are created by a ruling sovereign to manage this dialectic tension, hence the need initially for an autocratic and absolutist form of government, one, however, in which the goal will be to create a governed realm ruled by hope rather than fear, one in which rights will be respected rather than stomped upon.

In the state of nature, there are no obligations. There is no accountability. “Every man by nature hath right to all things, that is to say, to do whatsoever he listeth to whom he listeth, to possess, use, and enjoy all things he will and can.” How does this external right vis-a-vis others get transformed into a right held by all in which each respects the other and the vision of hope and peace replace this perpetual war? Through order and good government initially put in place by an autocrat, but one with his eye on that ultimate good. However, the right that exists in the state of nature is one without responsibilities, without obligations to another and without accountability. This is the rule of law imposed by the autocrat that he must create. In contrast, in the state of nature, the only standard to judge the right or wrong of an action is whether it contributes to self-preservation. There is no respect for the rights of others.

John Locke, like Thomas Hobbes, proposed a state of nature also freed entirely from any reference to the sacred, from any reference to the divine. What drives humans in the state of nature, however, is not insecurity and fear of another and desire for power over that other. For there is enough and sufficient for all. There is more than enough food ready for the taking. Men know this. There is no need for competition or fear of the other. There is no reason for insecurity. Seizing the food of another would risk retaliatory action and thus be both unnecessary and dangerous, risky to the task of self-preservation.

This is true in both Hobbes and Locke. However, in Hobbes, the development of this consciousness of enlightened self-interest must await the creation of the state. In the state of nature, men err. They get into conflicts. They have no overall picture of abundance. In Locke, they have no reason to err because there is a recognition that there is enough and sufficient for all. They recognize that natural law.

However, for Locke, humans have an innate desire to accumulate goods ad infinitum, to extend their material existence in the world through possessions. They are inherently possessive individualists. But they have no means of achieving those innate desires. For there is no method of accumulation. Collecting grapes beyond what you need to eat is a waste of time. In a pure state of nature, sufficiency suffices. That is, until the innate propensity to acquire material goods has a breakthrough. Money is created, that is, an abstract representation of goods that does not deteriorate. Money, not sex, becomes the source of evil.

When money is created, a war of all against all ensues. It is not the natural pure state, but the state of nature only after money is invented that results in war and insecurity. That is when we need a social contract. That is when we need a compact to determine peace and create a state to ensure that peace. But it will be a different state than the one with the all-powerful leader that Hobbes proposed. For its function will be different. It has not been created primarily to control and defend against enemies – unless they are enemies that threaten your property or your ability and right to accumulate property. Wars will be primarily over property, over money and not security.

Further, a very different state is needed, one that will guarantee the right of each and everyone to seek to acquire wealth. The vast majority do not exercise that right since the vast majority willingly sell their labour for a living wage in the quest for security. That is incidental for Locke. At centre stage is the responsibility of the state to protect accumulators of capital – so long as those accumulators do not threaten the rights of others to do the same.

Hence a state and a set of laws and rules are needed to sufficiently regulate the acquisitive game within a fair playing field, but without intervening to damage the game itself or inhibit people from playing. Protecting wage labour seems remote from this task except and only except if the threat to wage-labour affects the ability to have a game at all or others to be able to participate. Since seeking to acquire goods at infinitum requires the right to speak, the right to publish, the right to listen and hear, civil liberties become an adjunct to the right of capital accumulation.  

Let me make the difference between Hobbes and Locke clearer by an illustration taken from an article in The New Yorker (16 December 2019) by Joshua Yaffa entitled, “Channelling Putin: The TV producer behind Russia’s new era of propaganda.” The TV producer in question is the brilliant Konstantin Ernst, now head of Russia’s Channel One, who managed the invention of Putin as a public figure and his rise from an obscure official to a seemingly perpetual all-powerful presidency. From the very first, Putin based his claim for leadership on power. “I assure you that there will be no vacuum of power, not for a minute.” Putin’s foremost goal was preventing the disintegration of the country. According to Ernst, Putin was the messiah who had arrived just in time to hold the state together when the Chechnyan rebellion threatened its integrity.

The world at the beginning was Trump’s world; something was true because the media said it was true even though everyone could recognize the claims were lies. But in a time of great cynicism rather than belief, no representation of the world could be verified as valid. Ernst got his start by undermining the crudity of the lies and the corruption those lies supported. He went on to produce nostalgic documentaries that pointed to an underlying unity and towards hope. When the TV station exposed the incompetence of the Russian government in its handling of the Kursk submarine disaster in which 118 sailors died, Putin cried “Fake news!” and expropriated the assets of Boris Berezovsky, the owner of Channel One, drove him into exile and purported “suicide.” Ernst chose to remain as chief and shifted his loyalty to Putin and chose power with ultimate subservience to the state, to the Leviathan.

Ernst followed in the footsteps of Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s director of extravaganzas in which he was featured. As Ernst explained, “The Russian mentality stipulates that the leader of the country, no matter what this person is called – President or tsar, Prime Minister or General Secretary of the Communist Party – is seen to answer for everything, that there is one person who symbolizes the entire state.” This is the essence of the Hobbesian doctrine of the state and the sovereign. Ernst has the added advantage in that he is not a producer of Fox News or NTV in Russia, for what he produces has both taste and restraint and does not traffic in outright lies or conspiracy theories.

Ernst understands that news is ephemeral as a branch of entertainment whereas truly imaginary creations have a much deeper appeal. When the Ukraine blew up in Russia’s face, and Russia invaded and annexed the Crimea and started a civil war in the Donbass region of Ukraine to prevent Ukraine from moving into the Western sphere of influence, the media increasingly became a vehicle for fake news, not through a direct lie, but by flooding the airwaves with a variety of theories so that the message delivered is that any claim was suspect.

As Ernst said, it is simply a matter of opinion. “You believe the Dutch report (on the Malaysian air disaster) is true, and I believe the Dutch report is unprofessional.” As the Republicans argue, it is the process stupid as they ignore the substance. Facts are reduced to matters of faith. For Ernst, “justice, democracy, the complete truth – they don’t exist anywhere in the world.” In other words, since we do not have perpetual peace and the rule of the good, we accept the rule of power and the rule of the false. When the author of the article appeared on Russian TV, the format “made issues of fact seem muddy and unknowable, proving that everything is a question of perspective and allegiance.”  

Russia fosters the myth that America is run by “the deep state” that undermines Trump’s ability to fulfill his promise to play toesies with the Russians. They are perplexed by the claim that it is wrong to get a foreign power to undermine the credibility of a domestic rival. Fortunately, Trump reigns in a Lockean transactional rather than a power state. Further, Trump himself is a transactional persona so that when it comes to issues concerning power, he is a total klutz. The United States is currently at war with its propensities to be a Hobbesian state that sees the world solely through a power lens versus a Lockean transactional state that sees itself as engaged in manufacturing and trade. The latter, whatever its faults, requires a respect for both facts and rights.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Part II: Thomas Hobbes and Jews

Why did Hobbes call his most famous book The Leviathan? If he was going to name his work after a monstrous imagined biblical creature, why not Behemoth after the monstrous creature of the wilderness on land rather than Leviathan, a primeval smelly beast of the water who breathes fire and makes the water boil? Both are unconquerable by man. In the apocryphal literature, in the Book of Enoch, Leviathan is female and Behemoth is male. (Some interpreters argue that the Behemoth was civil society while Leviathan was the metaphor for the sovereign state.) God purportedly separated them to ensure they would not reproduce and devour humans. Further, according to Job (xli. 18), his (the Leviathan’s) eyes are like the eyelids of the morning below which a light shines.

8 By his neesings a light doth shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning. 19 Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out. 20 Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron. 21 His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth. 

The following explanations are offered with respect to Leviathan:

  • The Leviathan is implacable, hard-hearted, and almost all-powerful;
  • The Leviathan runs the roost through terror;
  • The sovereign is an all-powerful ruler whose word is law;
  • The sovereign is unique and singular;
  • Nevertheless, God has ultimate dominion over both creatures, so they live or die according to the will of God.

If the last point is valid, how does my claim stand that Hobbes tries to create a foundation for the polis that is independent of the sacred? My answer is that the Leviathan is an imagined creature, rather than a product of either reason or sensibility. It is because the Leviathan is imaginary that we can understand that the belief in an all-powerful ruler is a myth created so humans will believe and live in terror of the ruler (read the Job reference), otherwise they would not submit themselves before the ruler. However, such a ruler conforms to Hobbes’s fundamental principle that, “the original and summ of Knowledge stands thus: there is nothing that truly exists in the world but single and individuall Bodyes producing single and individuall acts or effects.” Action is “a strictly causal process leading from sense-perception to the setting in motion of the body’s ‘animal spirits’.”

Further, Leviathan is a creature of the water and water is a symbol of shape shifting. The Leviathan has quite a variety of presentations. Further, the Leviathan is a bodily projection ruled by its desires that are constantly in motion. At the same time, because the monster lives in the deep, she rules by reputation rather than observed behaviour. The real danger of such a polis is the ability to reproduce itself rather than be subject to the social contract.

Further, it brings to our attention that Thomas Hobbes’s account of the biblical story is a political one. That narrative, though, is not about the making of the nation. Rather it is about Moses manipulating his own people to make God their sovereign. Like Francis Bacon, Hobbes began with the modern premise that religion was instrumental. However, Bacon had used religion to present a new vision of the Jew, Joabin, as the epitome of modernity. But Hobbes focused on the story itself and even cited Spinoza as his inspiration. The whole issue was a power grab. The Levite priests were enabled to retain their power which eventually led to the Jewish civil war.

Spinoza had a slightly different take on the same tale, but with a similar conclusion. Though more wary of maligning priestly authority than Hobbes, for Spinoza the decline of the first Hebrew commonwealth was signaled rather than caused by the ascendency of the priestly order. Under Moses, civil law and religious law “were one and the same thing.” (TTP 17, 213) Then Jews lived in peace. However, when the Levites were given the exclusive right to interpret divine law, “each of them began seeking glory for his own name in religion and everything else…As a result religion degenerated into fatal superstition” (TTP 18, 231).

How different than Bacon’s view where a revised secular version of the sacred, and, more particularly, of Christianity, was used to usher Jews into the modern world as assimilated individuals. Franz Rosenzweig (The Star of Redemption), a leading Jewish theologian of the last century, transmogrified Christianity into a religion for the modern using art and music, using churches as theatres and performance venues while denying that any performance, or anything for that matter, could redeem man before God. Instead, religion was about public celebrations, about American Thanksgiving. If anything served a redemptive purpose, national celebrations did. Thanksgiving pointed to a future of hope, and, in the end, peace among the nations. This was the melody pioneered by Hobbes.

Hobbes’s world was one of fear and hope. We live in a state of perpetual reflection, anticipation and fear. We have to be on the defensive. We have to survive. That is our basic obligation. Some survivors of the Holocaust echo this sentiment in taking survival as the major theme of history rather than redemption under divine auspices. To survive, it is necessary to contract military leadership irrevocably out to a strong leader, either by means of a social contract or an even more powerful covenant or constitution. This is how some Americans interpret their constitution today. They have submitted themselves to a –

covenant of every man with every man, in such manner as if every man should say to every man: I authorise and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition; that thou give up, thy right to him, and authorise all his actions in like manner. This done, the multitude so united in one person is called a COMMONWEALTH; in Latin, CIVITAS. This is the generation of that great LEVIATHAN, or rather, to speak more reverently, of that mortal god to which we owe, under the immortal God, our peace and defence. … one person, of whose acts a great multitude, by mutual covenants one with another, have made themselves every one the author, to the end he may use the strength and means of them all as he shall think expedient for their peace and common defence. (Leviathan, ch. XVII)

That is the cause and the final end for which a commonwealth is formed. Men who love both liberty and power over another can only have both by giving themselves boundaries, giving themselves restraints. Why? In order for them to be collectively preserved. In order for them to have a more contented life. In order for them to avoid the greatest scourge of all, civil war. They need a Power to keep them in awe given the natural passions of men. That is the only way they can be forced to follow the laws of nature – the laws that demand justice and equality, modesty and compassion.

How else but through such a social contract or covenant can we get a world without destructive violence? Our natural passions are pride and revenge. The golden rule is an ideal that will remain stillborn until men agree to have as their all-powerful ruler, an enlightened ruler who can overcome the tensions between self-interest and an ideal which takes the other into account. For only then can a utopian ideal, an ideal rooted in natural law, overcome our insecurities. It has to be done by sufficient numbers to dissuade enemies. That is the determination of the size of a nation. – not a sense of community, not a limited territorial range, not even a common shared language. Just a common fear.

The surrender of authority must be wholehearted. If an individual insists on qualifying that authority in terms of his appetites or time, the system will not work. For men are competitive. Some have much better rhetorical skills than others. They use reason to see fault in the other. They forget that there is a joy in community superior to their personal joy. Most importantly, men have a propensity to let their defences down for the pleasures of the moment. As a result, the only solution is to confer all their power and strength upon one man, to submit their will to his will, to relegate their judgement to his judgement. That is how a commonwealth is created. That is how the Israelites created their commonwealth by surrendering their wills to Moses under the illusion that he acted on God’s authority. That is how sovereign power resided in a single man.

If Grotius took the creation of the Israelite nation as the model for the creation of the nation state, Hobbes was more concerned with how the commonwealth was created rather than why via a nationalist disposition. The “how” he saw was the surrender of individual power to Moses and his cluster of Levite priests. What is required is assigning power to a mortal god. This was the covenant God made with Abraham, God made with Isaac and God made with Jacob, a covenant to ensure the security and growth in power of a sovereign state, an earthly kingdom of God.

From above came grace, a very immanent rather than transcendent grace. From below came works, sacrifice and dedication. And for all around came the commitment of the multitude. This was explicitly the secularization of the Puritan world view. If the Christian covenant was identical to the Jewish one, then the Kingdom of Christ had to be a worldly kingdom on the model of Hobbes’s interpretation of the Israelites.

As in Bacon, there was no place in this modern world for the Jew with other communal attachments. Jews were to be treated equally and welcomed to assimilate as long as they served a secular commonwealth of all its citizens. Given this message and the divisive politics of Israel today, it should be no surprise that the first complete translation of the Leviathan into Hebrew in 2009 quickly became one of the top selling books. Up until then, Israelis had read a Hobbes divorced from their own story. It also helped that Anatol Rapoport, the inventor of game theory, was Jewish, as is the case with many practitioners today. For Hobbes, the Leviathan was “fear of power invisible, feigned by the mind, or imagined from tales publicly allowed.” Religion, at least his view of it, was the foundation of the modern state.

Hobbes divorced the state from divine sanction by making divine sanction the property of we the people. The covenant is between and among the citizens who form a state and are admitted to membership in a state. Spinoza and Hobbes held key principles in common when dealing with religion:

  • Civil order requires boundaries around ecclesiastical power
  • Religious leaders are dangerous when they put themselves forward as even governing matters that are beyond reason
  • The secular sovereign must be the sole legislator unencumbered by religious intervention.

However, like Bacon and Spinoza, religion when used instrumentally can perform a positive role in ensuring cohesion, using ceremonial law and practices to foster not only that end, but, for Hobbes, obedience and compliance with the law as well. The sacred literature promoted the golden rule as a balance to men’s pursuit of self-interest and power. Further, religion could appeal to the masses in a way that deductive (or inductive) reason could not. In all covenants, there is always a free rider problem wherein, since enough people are sacrificing for the commonweal, one personally does not have to do so. Religion serves a role of limiting defections from compliance. For religion demands sacrifice from everyone.

Civil war is always the fear – Sadducees against Pharisees, monarchists against republicans, religious non-conformists against the religious establishment. When one group disparages the other, when tribalism reigns and different groups live in alternative silos, there is an absolute need for a universal civil religion to bolster civic solidarity.

But what happens when the enemy is not the other, either from without or from within, but when the enemy is us? What happens when those threatened are the future generation and not the main contending parties? Those future generations are not part of the social contract but will be the main victims of its failures. Yet they have no real say to ensure action overcomes complacency in an effective way. For the fear is asymmetrical – those with the least fear and the most power are willing to sacrifice the least   and those with the least power and the greatest fear are willing to sacrifice the most, but will themselves be the sacrifice because they lack the power to have society change course over the issue of climate change? How then can a civic religion foster solidarity so that passions and fears can be channeled into social benefits?

With the help of Alex Zisman

Part I: Introduction to Thomas Hobbes

I have been asked to provide reading materials on the authors about whom I am writing. I have not done so in the past for the following reasons:

  • Given the limited number of words I have and the extent of my coverage, I did not want to distract from the main line of the narrative;
  • My blogs are not scholarly accounts requiring citations to support assertions and particular interpretations rather than others;
  • Though the range has been broad in the coverage, the focus has been narrow, namely the attitude towards and the influence of Jews;
  • I did not want to intimidate anyone.

Nevertheless, since I was asked, I am attaching a list of references on Thomas Hobbes, most drawn from my own personal library, to illustrate why I have been reluctant to provide a bibliography. I will continue to avoid quotations for the most part, and certainly citations. In the list attached, I have included only books directly on Hobbes and have excluded scholarly essays and the many references and discussions of Hobbes in scholars discussing issues rather than Hobbes directly.

At the same time as I have been dealing with singular voices, first from the sixteenth century and then from the seventeenth century, to explicate how these thinkers thought of Jews, I have been running a thesis to indicate that a main trajectory of these authors and innovators was to provide a foundation for modernity. For most of them, the aim was to free the modern world from the medieval world dominated by the sacred and Aristotelian scholasticism. The attitude towards Jews played a major role in that transition. In this tale of the separation of the secular from the sacred, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke play a singularly important role in freeing up modern political theory from any reliance on the authority of the sacred text altogether – the Old Testament and, in Judaism, the Tanach.

At the same time, tropes and themes from that ancient text have been drawn upon and reinvented for use in providing a new ground for epistemology, metaphysics and that which has been my major focus, political theory and ethics. In doing so, I have been sketching a thesis about the development of sovereignty, nationalism and republicanism for the modern nation state that is the basic political unit of the modern world. At the same time, ethical and political principles like liberty, responsibility and accountability have been touched upon. Further, as I have moved further and further towards the present, I have suggested that, in separating the secular from the sacred as the mark of modernity, something was lost along the way, and if not lost, preserved in a very weakened form – namely the phenomenon of a willing sacrifice.

In the seventeenth century, I will continue to use Baruch Spinoza as my foil as I explicate the role of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke in providing foundations for modernity. Both authors cut the final umbilical cord to the sacred. There are many more other scholars, whom I have ignored or merely mentioned as an aside – such as three Frenchmen, René Descartes, Marin Mersenne and Pierre Gassendi. In England, Hobbes was close friends with John Milton, William Harvey (of the circulation theory of the heart and blood vessels) and John Selden, an Erastian who held that the state was superior to the church, not just in secular matters, but in ecclesiastical matters as well.

I begin with Thomas Hobbes as the most conspicuous thinker linking Francis Bacon and John Locke. He is the only one of my authors to have written an autobiography – at the age of 84. (He lived to the age of 91, though in 1647 he almost died from a disease he contracted.) His father was a gregarious and beloved vicar who could read the Christian prayers and the homilies, but could neither interpret nor comment upon them, and, more importantly, would certainly have been unable to provide any defence of them for the brilliant critical thinking of his son, Thomas Jr. Why he deserted his wife and three children when they were very young is left unexplained, but one suggestion was that, as a parson, he was discovered to be a fraud.  

Thomas, supported by his uncle, entered Magdalen College at Oxford at the age of fifteen in 1603 when the university had almost reached the bottom of its decrepitude, obscurantism and irrelevance towards which it had been drifting for the previous two centuries. Then, it was dominated by Puritans. (In that same century, Oxford began the long road to recovery with the introduction of professorships in geometry and astronomy in 1619.) Hobbes made a practice of skipping classes. Fortunately, one of the richest men in England, Sir William Cavendish, became his patron. Cavendish became the first Earl of Devonshire in 1618 by buying the title from James I at the enormous sum then of £10,000. (Perhaps you have seen the 2008 film The Duchess about Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806), who married the 5th Duke of Devonshire, a truly awful and ignorant man, five generations later; the movie provides a glimpse into the wealth of the Cavendish family.)

Like Francis Bacon, Hobbes was very much involved in the politics of the day and again, like Bacon, an enemy of the retarded scholasticism of the time. Unlike Bacon, he disdained the inductive method in favour of a deductive approach. He shared friendly hours with Francis Bacon in disputation and dialogue until his friend died in 1626. He traveled extensively in Europe. On his third tour with his pupil in tow, he visited Galileo in Italy in 1636, then under house arrest by the Inquisition. He had visited Venice, the government of which impressed him greatly. He had also immersed himself in the writings of Machiavelli. He visited Spinoza in Holland as well as Descartes, who had fled to Holland as a refugee from France. He visited Marin Mersenne in his monastic cell in Place Royale. Though the most personable, kind, witty and affable man of letters in all of Europe, who developed long and deep friendships in the process of his travels, he also became convinced that he was capable of founding a completely new system of thought from his own unaided genius.

Like Spinoza, he became convinced that there was one reality, but for Hobbes it was motion and not a leftover from scholasticism, substance. The basic view was that change was primary. Politically, though he is often represented as the father of modern authoritarianism, he had also become a Whig constitutionalist opposed to both absolute monarchy and what he regarded as radical parliamentarian views of democracy. Whigs, though wary of his powerful Leviathan, appreciated his anti-clericalism and opposition to religious persecution. They cited Hobbes to support their views on liberty, tolerance and reason,

It was a period of political turmoil in England when Charles was forced to recall parliament in April 1640 after an eleven year hiatus in order to raise the money to fight a new Scottish army. Given Hobbes’s intellectual background and the political challenges of the day, he built upon his earlier writings on the nature of humans and the world, a series of political tracts beginning with, Elements of Law, Natural and Politic (1640) and De Cive (1642), the same year in which The Third Earl of Cavendish was impeached and fled to Paris as a refugee.

In 1651, Hobbes published his masterpiece, The Leviathan. As tutor to the Prince of Wales, was it an apology for the monarchy? Or was it a rationale for the Puritan autocrat, Oliver Cromwell, who had Charles I beheaded on 30 January 1649? Was this volume Hobbes’ re-entry ticket from Paris back to London? But Cromwell did not become Protector until 1653. Like Machiavelli and his many successors, survival and submission to the dominant political faction was the order of the day “when the means of his life are within the guards and garrisons of the enemy.” Other than motive, there was a second problem – his deductive methodology. It only came to the fore in the De Corpore (1655) when he claimed a definitive geometric proof that had solved a problem that had baffled predecessors.

However John Wallis, the first professor of geometry at Oxford, and the one who, after Newton and Leibniz, contributed most to the advancement of differential calculus, demolished Hobbes’s claims, not only poking holes in his proof, but also upbraiding him for his incompetence, incapacity and ignorance in not only geometry and logic, but in his claimed expertise in Greek. Hobbes’s only retort (he was already in his seventies), Wallis was either a traitor or treacherous for he had boasted of deciphering the king’s dispatches. Just where the university was beginning to reform itself, Hobbes attacked it as if it was still under the absolute control of the clergy. Even a brilliant mind can grow into a fool, especially when intellectual audacity carried him over an intellectual cliff.

Thomas Hobbes, this agreeable and venerable intellect, was now exposed as a charlatan, a fool and a failure. Even when his old pupil, now the king with the Restoration, invited him back to court, he was teased by the king’s courtiers as a “bear ready to be baited.” Hobbes was saved from his ignominy by being adopted as a court intellectual by Louis XIV when he was the Sun King of Europe and before he made his fatal mistake of withdrawing his forces from a siege of English troops in 1688. Thus is the fate of brilliant minds determined in good part by the whims of political fortune. And external calamities seemed to precede and anticipate his decline – the plagues of 1665 and 1666, the fire of London allegedly started by Papists. Hobbes in 1668, his eightieth year, was forbidden to publish Behemoth: the history of the causes of the civil wars in England. This history of the Long Parliament was only published posthumously in 1681.  

Hobbes, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, wrote a book on law – he had never been a lawyer – to refute Francis Bacon’s Elements of the Common Law. His not quite finished Dialogue between a Philosopher and a Student of the Common Laws of England was perhaps his most consequential book, opening the gateway to significant legal reform. Except he ended by publishing at the age of 86 an inconsequential and marred translation of both the Iliad and the Odyssey (he had begun his career by translating Thucydides) because, as he wrote, he had nothing better to do. It seems that proud scholars are reluctant to go quietly into the night even as they put off the end with exercise, singing to himself and practicing his old instrument, the bass viol. Squeezed between Francis Bacon and John Locke, Hobbes would only be restored fully to the intellectual firmament in the twentieth century.

For Hobbes was an analyst of power. And the last two hundred years have been obsessed by power, how to harness, control and direct it. Hobbes tried to marry that understanding of power to a theory of natural rights, and rights have been the countervailing obsession of the last two centuries. The resurrection began after the American Civil War because Hobbes was an acute analyst of such wars and, further, offered a supposed scientific approach to the subject, an approach loved by the political science alcoholics of the post WWII period. Further, it was an age of “advertisements for myself,” and Hobbes demonstrated audacity in the public realm of trading intellectual shafts of thunder and lightning. Mainly, he focused on what was conceived to be the heart of the matter in politics – the reconciliation of might is right with illuminating light of rights.

We have lived in an era of endless war, but one that has repeatedly promised peace. Going back to basics might help, should help. Hobbes wrote in anticipation of a bourgeois market economy. How else can we explain the abject rejection of critical thought by the Republican legislators who have rallied behind their ruler? For Hobbes had preached obedience, obedience to whatever the power was at the time and provided the rationale for such obedience at the same time as he removed the final girders propping up the doctrine of the divine right of kings reinforced by cross beams of rights established by custom and common law. At the same time, he skewered the democratic appeal of a whole set of other rights established by custom and common law and the premise of a democracy built on the foundation of a social contract. While addressing the key questions of our modern age, he undermined the props that held it up. At the time, his works were used to justify the position of Charles I, then Parliament and the Protector and then the Restoration of Charles II.

What counted for his success? He had applied the scientific method of deduction borrowed from geometry to the messy and unscientific world of the jostling and thrust of power and politics. And he took from physics the notion of motion, that everything in nature is caused by motion that explained not only nature but man and society. What kind of government was required to maintain and maximize motion in men by understanding the laws governing that motion? That motion could be manipulated for the benefit of mankind. He had evolved from a classical humanist to a philosopher of human mechanics to explain and manage conflict.

Part III: Francis Bacon, Baruch Spinoza and Sacrifice

Spinoza was a critic of empiricism for it cannot establish the principle of proportion and leaves the products of observation uncertain and indefinite. All we can discover through such a method is accidental properties rather than necessary ones. Bacon was a critic of abstract rationalism insisting that reason was utilitarian rather than an end in itself and that any product of reason had to be tested in the empirical world. Yet they both agreed on the importance of the imagination in feeding desires and raising appetites to the status of love and commitment. Affective responses are never without cognitive content. But science must be the means of determining that content, for Spinoza derived by deduction, for Bacon derived by induction. 

Both Spinoza and Bacon were founders of the Enlightenment. Other than science and the use of reason or accurate observation, other ways at arriving at valid truths – tradition, myth, divine revelation – were invalid. However, reason, either deductive or inductive, could not capture men’s hearts. Then conflicts – which are not rooted in reason or accurate observation but in conflicting beliefs – are the result. The ultimate decision in the end required violence, in reality political terror. The basic fault of the Enlightenment is that it is unable to deal with political terror. It cannot demand sacrifice. Reason and careful observation do not need sacrifice.

Bacon called for a system of using imagination to produce outward conformity, to sell a vision of human aspiration, but in the process seeded disenchantment. The emotional power of science, whatever the appropriate methodology, was weak to non-existent. It fed the creation of the organizational man and the administered life. As we shall see, John Locke would introduce risk as the replacement for sacrifice. Hobbes would offer submission to an authoritarian figure. We will see if those answers worked. Spinoza had nothing in his quiver of arrows to perform this role. Bacon offered a fable. However, a utopian product of the imagination could not and did not serve that task.

Instead of the Enlightenment completing the task of the Reformation, it perhaps destroyed faith altogether, in good part because it did not demand sacrifice and commitment. For light was no longer linked to heaven and service to an other worldly presence. For the eyes of the spirit in Bacon were focused on things of this world.

Bacon did not realize that attention to the here and now would create confusion and, even worse, dullness. One gets experience but no way to measure the value of that experience. Experience then becomes an end in itself and the populace moves from one fad to another that grabs its attention. Spirit becomes impoverished. We all become roots out of dry ground dying for a drink, a sip of water and not even a glass from the divine, because there was no longer support for the presence of the divine.

Bacon and Spinoza offered no set of beliefs that could replace the convictions of religion and, thereby, both a source for both social stability and instability. For Bacon, religion had become utilitarian. For Spinoza, it was deconstructed and needed to be reconstructed through the efforts of reason.  The result – a solipsistic world in which there is a great attraction to egotistical narcissists. How then to complete the task of the Enlightenment? Human autonomy and self-sufficiency dependent on a system of reason did not seem to do the job.

I am a senior fellow at Massey College where Nathalie Des Rosiers is the new principal. She is superb. She is a model of promoting melioration. She remains a spokesperson for fairness, for justice, for rights and for education to prepare students by providing them with networks that allow them to develop their minds. But what about their hearts? What about their guts?  

Medieval Europe offered a community of Christian or Jewish believers where, in the Christian community, every Christian was indoctrinated with the idea that their mission, their sacred duty, was to uphold and defend the community. Jews were taught that just being and remaining a Jew was a sacrifice, though for most there was no other choice. For Christians, it was their route to redemption and salvation.

What about prosperity? What about autonomy? What about freedom? What about justice? What about peace, order and good government? Loyalty to the Christian Commonwealth was the answer requiring fealty. First the Reformation and then the rise of the nation state shattered the unity of the Christian Commonwealth.  

We have had only false gods and inadequate ones to replace the medieval sense of the divine. The main one, taken from Grotius and modeled on ancient Israel, has been the nation state. But what has happened to that nation state? Supposedly, it requires absolute control over who is admitted into membership, a demarcated territory, a common language, a sense of self-determination and autonomy and control over its own destiny. But what states have these traits?

In a world with over sixty million refugees and many more would-be immigrants trying to escape war, personal insecurity and economic deprivation, the numbers knocking on the gates of the “successful” states are overwhelming and the numbers breaking through the gates of neighboring states have usually cracked those gates. Further, the premise was a world of nation states, but the reality is a world of multinational states. In addition, boundaries remain disputed in many places – Ukraine takes up a lot of print in the media precisely for this reason  – and there are states in everything but name, such as Taiwan, and many nations of significant size without a state of their own – Uyghurs and Tibetans in China, Kurds and Palestinians in the Middle East.

And how many states enjoy any measure of full autonomy? Even America, the most powerful state in the world, suffers not only from a second-rate power intervening in its 2016 election to favour one candidate, but has just surrendered its exclusive control over trade and commerce to a renewed and rewritten continent-wide trade agreement. Most significantly, reason has led leaders to promote supra-national bodies on the political and economic levels. But those new entities do not invite a passionate attachment and a willingness to sacrifice. Instead, when it comes to the crunch, the integrity of states is compromised as they join supra-national bodies governing trade and international relations.

But who offers their lives, more importantly, their children’s lives, in service to these various supra-national bodies? Instead, the reactions against them invite movements of secession – Brexit and even secession from the secessionists – Scotland from the UK. Instead of the dream of world order, we face a nightmare of world disorder. It does not help that in the past soldiers were duped and taxpayers misled about the just cause of a war – whether Vietnam in the sixties or Afghanistan in the twenty-first century.

The reality is that we are really impoverished when it comes to supra-national authority structures. When faced with the greatest crisis in the history of humanity, climate change, when we are preparing a world in which our children and grandchildren will be sacrificed, rather than voluntarily accept sacrifice for themselves, we reveal ourselves to be almost bankrupt as we stutter and drift towards the apocalypse. The nation-state has revealed itself to be ridden with the cancer of organized hypocrisy; populist feeling expresses itself in revolt.

Instead of the promise of ever-increasing prosperity, the rich grow richer at a rate 7 times their original assets while the upper middle class doubles its property, the lower middle class with a struggle stays level and the income and assets of the lower class decline. Reason and knowledge were supposed to serve everyone under a principle of fairness and possibly even a promise of greater equality. They have failed in that task, though they have made enormous breakthroughs in knowledge and communications.

Let me quote from John Gantz’s review of The Irishman, which I myself wrote about:

The Baby Boomer generation, fairly or not, stands accused of growing up in a prosperous country and then throwing away everything that allowed for that prosperity in a fit of selfishness, either out of unwillingness to just pay their damn taxes or lack of interest in anything except their own hippie-dippie projects of self-realization. While denigrating the narcissism, self-indulgence, and unearned sanctimony of the Boomers, young people are also now looking back to older ideologies and institutions: the labor movement, socialism, the New Deal, and the anti-fascist crusade of WWII.

There is a revived nostalgia for my generation since currently security and prosperity are so much more difficult to achieve. In many ways, the world built by our grandparents looks very attractive now that material prosperity and a meaningful life are harder and harder to obtain. But what was that world – lost souls, opportunists, men obsessed with wealth and power – that grew into corruption at the centre of the modern networked empire. Managerial or patriarchal capitalism, whether in the freewheeling West or the government-managed East, gets its direction from a union of entrepreneurs, bureaucrats and technocrats. None of these attract affection. And the politicians above them attract suspicion.

And deservedly so. But who, in the most powerful country in the world and a leading democracy, do they elect? A person who not only golfs most weekends, but even owns a string of golf courses. And he criticized his predecessor for golfing too much. They elect a man who perpetually lies all of the time and cheats even when playing golf by himself. He buys a golf course, creates a tournament, is the only golfer in that tournament and then boasts of the 18 tournaments he has won without disclosing that he was the only player in those tournaments. He then gives himself the title of first club champion. He kicks the ball so often that caddies have nicknamed him Pelé. (See Rick Reilly Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump.)

Americans have elected a very sick megalomaniacal narcissist as their democratically elected king. Why and how could they have done such a thing? I believe it is because they have elected what they feel they are themselves and unconsciously hate – hollow men, and men mostly elected him. They know that the promise of the modern world has turned out to be a fraud. They know that the Enlightenment resulted in an elite largely indifferent or, at best, impotent to do anything about their well-being.

Golf is the one sport where a person is accountable to himself. There are no referees, though there can be peer pressure. But Donald Trump sets up a game to ensure peer pressure is absent. For he believes he is the divine, one beyond accountability to anyone. As Reilly wrote, “I liked him (Donald Trump) as a writer because he’s a crazy fabulist who tells lies so big they can float in the Macy’s parade.” When the two played together, Trump would introduce Reilly, not as a well-known sportswriter, but as president of Sports Illustrated. Companions had to be elevated to the level of seraphim who surround his throne. And his throne had to be ethereal, even as it was adorned by the most glitter and gold.

What a paradox – creating an Enlightenment world where truth, where validation is king, whatever the disputes over the various routes to achieve that ideal, and in the most powerful and one of the oldest democracies, they elect a king who has no use for either truth or authentic validation. And this depiction goes well beyond the United States. Rick Noack in The Washington Post, commenting on the very recent British election, wrote, “Dishonesty and dirty tactics define Britain’s election.” This is the land of Francis Bacon. This is the land that has worshipped empirical truth for centuries. And it too has disintegrated into the epitome of unfairness.

The misleading is deliberate, not accidental. When knowledge is reduced to a utilitarian function, what happens when dishonesty proves to be more useful in obtaining success than honesty? Information integrity has not even received a proper formal burial. The media is used to garner an emotional rather than a cognitive reaction. And it works. It works because a much more powerful affective allegiance supporting truth no longer exists. The Enlightenment has left the field wide open for fraud. Is it any surprise that yesterday I could count 13 robo calls all intended to deceive me and relieve me of my private information and my money?

The elites either looked down with disdain at the masses and offered them emotional pap and a false promise of success and fairness if only they worked hard. They did. They ended up totally disenchanted. So why not elect an obvious fraudster, an open fabulist and liar rather than others claiming to tell the truth, when the very truth and promise of the Enlightenment proved itself to be a lie? Was it not the case that these very same elites that created the best tool ever, the modern electronic media, for disseminating knowledge, have created the best tool for the dissemination of disinformation, for spreading lies faster and more frequently than ever seemed possible at an earlier date? Social media have become disinformation networks. The lies come at us like a barrage. The speed at which virulent disinformation is spread is truly lightning fast and validation offers the most feeble tools in trying to keep up.

And who are the most frequent targets even as we remain largely immune and even largely unaware of the growth and extent of the assault? The Jews. For Grotius, the Jewish model of the nation state was the political premise for building the modern world. Should they not be justly blamed for the inability of the world to collectively get together to effectively counter the approaching apocalypse?

And look at the modern version of that ancient model – Israel. It not only has displaced the Palestinian population and in its own self-defence countered their self-inflicted erroneous efforts to create their own nation state, but Israelis have come to a state where the very blood of a democracy circulates, general elections. The result – stalemates and no government. Three elections within one year. The accumulated plaque is chocking the clogged coronary arteries of the Israeli democratic system. The Prime Minster is an accused felon. Israelis cannot even cobble together a coalition.

In The Hague a winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace, Aung San Suu Kyi defends the government of Myanmar against charges that its military took part in ethnic cleansing and even genocide of the Rohingya Muslim minority. In India, the legislature under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership introduces and passes legislation on a first vote that openly discriminates against Muslims from becoming members of the polity. These Hindu nationalists despise the secular state put in place by Gandhi and Nehru.

Is there anywhere where we can look for a foundation for greater hope?

With the help of Alex Zisman

Parashat VaYishlah – When Brothers Meet Again

In 27 March 2019, my younger brother, Stan, passed away. Just over twenty years ago, on 11 May 1999, my older brother, Al, died after a traumatic illness, a blastoma that riddled his brain and soon enough his mind; he died a horrific dragged out death. We were one year apart in age and spent high school together in the same grade, though only sporadically in the same form room. We walked to school together. We walked home together. We played basketball together. We sold ribbons at football games together at Varsity Stadium. We scalped tickets together at Maple Leaf Gardens hockey nights in Canada. And I delivered the papers on his paper route so he could be a star on our football team. And we played hooky together – hooky, not hockey. I never did learn to skate properly. When I was sixteen and he was seventeen, we had saved enough money to buy my mother, a single mom, a house on Ranee Avenue in Toronto. We did all this and more together.

But I got into trouble all on my own. And so did he. Al’s blastoma was probably the result of radiation leaking from the machine which he used for performing angiograms. A doctor from Western Hospital and a nurse working in the same lab also died, both of a blastoma, a very virulent and incurable form of brain cancer. He was a highly regarded cardiologist who had introduced angiograms and angioplasties into Canada. The procedure has saved many lives. Twice at least I watched him do the procedure. He was so fast that I was sure that he would kill the patient. He never did.  

My illness is the result of my own neglect and my own mistreatment of my body. I cannot blame it on a machine. I do not exercise. I do not even walk vigorously around the block. I do walk up and down the stairs in our home. I do walk back and forth to either the bus stop, two blocks to the west, or the subway stop, two blocks to the north. I was and remain the bookman. Al was always the sportsman.

This morning, I am going in to have my own angiogram, and an angioplasty if necessary. For those unfamiliar with the procedure, an angiogram is a diagnostic X-ray and is the gold standard for evaluating blockages in the arterial system serving the heart, providing that organ with the oxygen and the nutrients to keep that pump working every second and every minute and every day, month after month and year after year. Earlier in this week, I had a nuclear procedure to try to detect a blockage. The results were inconclusive.

An angiogram detects blockages using X-rays taken during the injection of a contrast agent (iodine dye). If a blockage is found, then an angioplasty can be used as part of the same procedure to clear the blockage and restore blood flow through the coronary arteries. In both procedures carried out in a hospital, the doctor threads a thin tube through a blood vessel, usually an artery in the arm and/or a vein in the groin, up and through the targeted artery or vein. Tens of thousands of lives in Canada have been saved by these two procedures which together are both diagnostic and therapeutic.

A doctor whom Al had trained and who gave Al’s eulogy at his funeral will be doing the job. The procedure will take place at the Western Hospital rather than the General where Al used the facilities for his practice. I would not care for the latter – too much memory. My procedure will take an estimated 35-40 minutes, the norm for both an angiogram and an angioplasty. (Al used to do the two procedures in 15 minutes. It was unbelievable watching him – the grace, the speed.)

I had the strong premonition that I will be meeting Esau – I mean Al – at the end of yesterday. Then, I woke at 2:00 a.m. with that conviction. I went back to bed at 4:00 a.m. I woke again at 5:00 a.m. A vivid, so vivid, dream woke me up. At one point in the dream, I was masturbating on the floor of the living room and looked up to see the room full of relatives and friends, some of whom I had not seen for decades. Exhausted, I went upstairs to bed and lay down. I woke because someone was lying next to me and kissing me. It was not my wife, Nancy. She was on the other side of this figure. Suddenly, I recognized the voice of my fourth child. And on the other side of my wife, there was another person in the bed. It was my fifth child, Daniel. Were my other children in the same bed?

I woke up to shake away the dream. My god, I hate dreaming. There was no one in bed but my wife. It was 5:00 a.m., too early to go to the hospital. I fell asleep at my desk writing this. It is now 7:05 a.m. and I am due at the hospital at 8:00 a.m. I quickly got dressed in a track suit to make the change into a hospital gown more convenient.  I am leaving now for my meeting with Esau. I have the strongest premonition that I am going to meet Al.

The Next Morning

It is 3:23 a.m. When I got home from the hospital in the late afternoon yesterday, I ate – I was famished – and I went to bed at 6:25 p.m. I was totally exhausted. Now I am sitting at my desk again, only this time with my right arm in sling. I was told not to use a computer as my right hand could not be bent at the wrist for 24 hours. I try very awkwardly to write this with one finger on my left hand. I am a righty and normally type pretty quickly with two fingers. In this one paragraph, I have already made a plethora of mechanical mistakes which I have had to correct. I will get faster and better with practice.

What happened yesterday? Before I tell you, let me go back about 4 decades ago. The first angioplasty had been performed successfully in San Francisco in 1977. Catheters have been used for five millennia to open pipes in the body, beginning with the Egyptians. About two-and-a-half millennia ago, the procedure was used by the Egyptians on the heart – then on cadavers to establish how the blood circulation system worked in general, and, more particularly, how the heart and its valves operated as a pump.

Under the sway of the dogmatic scholastics in thrall to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, established medicine claimed that the blood in the body operated on an ebb and flow system, contrary to the empirical conclusions of the Egyptians. Up until the Enlightenment, only four centuries ago, Europeans, including Jews and Christians, continued to practice medicine under the totally misleading intellectual frame of a balance of “humours” (black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm) and an ebb and flow blood system.

Galen (Aelius Galenus), a Greek physician and philosopher of the second century B.C., dominated Western medicine for short of two millennia. He at least tried to practice empirical medicine, but he was never permitted to dissect the human body. His treatise was called, The Best Physician is Always a Philosopher. In spite of Galen’s enormously useful work, particularly in taxonomy, I have argued that philosophy can be very detrimental to medical practice, but that philosophers have much to learn from empirical medicine. My own creative work on the logic of discovery depended on work I did using my brother’s research on cardiomyopathy.

Thank God for William Harvey at the beginning of the Enlightenment in the seventeenth century. He was inspired by Middle Eastern medical practitioners in the thirteenth century (such as Ibn Al-Nafis) and other Europeans who came after. Though not the discoverer of the circulatory system, he was the first to correctly describe the circulation of blood in the body showing that arteries and veins provided a complete circuit with the heart and its contractions at the centre serving as a pump.

But it took until ninety years ago for a German physician, Werner Forssmann, who became a Nazi in WWII, to eventually and deservedly win a Nobel Prize for his innovative work in performing an arterial catheterization. This took place only after being branded as crazy. He was initially fired and driven out of cardiology by the mindblindness of the German medical establishment.

Two years after the Nobel Prize, in 1958, when I and Al were beginning our second year of medical training and I was living in Mount Sinai Hospital, Dr. Mason Sones, an American army vet, introduced diagnostic recovery angiograms. He, along with Drs. Dotter and Judkins, all pioneers in the field, died tragically in 1985. That same year, perhaps the most important innovator of them all, Andreas Grűntzig, died in a plane crash as he travelled incessantly to spread the word and the skills of this marvellous new technique that he had developed in Zurich. By then, Al had established his lab at Toronto General Hospital. As a cardiologist, he had flown to California to master the new, improved revolutionary procedure of angiograms and angioplasty and then returned to Canada to introduce the procedure here.

I am just boasting about my knowledge of the history of medicine. More significantly, I am stalling. Let me return to yesterday.

What a different experience than when I watched Al perform the procedure in the eighties. Then, there were only four people in the room – Al, a radiologist, a nurse, a technician and myself. I watched what was going on but tried to stay out of the way. Everything from beginning to the end was over in a half hour. In contrast, I went into a pre-op room with perhaps thirty beds or more. There were countless nurses. I counted at least nine who had seen me over the course of the day.  Four had asked my name and birthday to confirm that they were dealing with the right patient. They asked if I had traveled in the last two weeks. Had I had a fever? Sniffles? Food that morning? And on and on.

One time, bored, I offered my brother’s name. This threw the nurse off course. My wife intervened and said that they had no time for my nonsense and feeble attempt at humour. They had other patients to take care of. I let them weigh me, take my height, review my medications and prepare me for surgery. In my left arm, one nurse came by and put in an intravenous supply. Another nurse came by and shaved my groin. Another nurse inserted a needle and a tube in my groin to have access to my veins. A different nurse also applied a local anaesthetic to my right wrist and seemed to insert an even larger needle and tube there. It may not have been larger, but it grew in size as I felt some pain and even more discomfort from the process. They did other things I believe, but bored with assembly line nursing, I went to sleep.  

Just before the doctor came in, I had woken up. He greeted my wife – “Long time since I have seen you.” He then turned to me and asked how I was. He then asked some of the questions the nurses had asked. When had I eaten last. When had I last taken a blood thinner pill? When had I last had a diuretic? He then outlined the procedure. I would get a mild sedative, much more for discomfort for it was highly unlikely that I would feel pain. But I would not be put to sleep.  

He described how and where the catheter would be inserted and to what parts of the heart it would visit. If an angioplasty was indicated, he would perform that as part of the procedure. He then warned me ominously that there was only a one in one thousand chance that I would come out of this medical intervention worse than I went in. He did not specify how much worse. He then asked me to read and sign the consent and release form. I signed it without bothering to read it just as I had with the two forms the nurses had given me earlier.

After five more minutes, I was then wheeled on my bed into the operating room and asked to slide over onto the operating table. They gave me a needle and began to hook me up. I promptly fell asleep.

The doctor had just finished when I woke up. He would come and talk with me after awhile in the recovery room – the same place where I had the pre-op preparation. I slid over onto my bed and the nurses wheeled me back into my alcove. I promptly went to sleep. When I awoke, they were once again taking my blood pressure, my temperature and other vital signs. Nothing untoward.

My wife returned. She arranged for some food, an egg sandwich on brown bread and a choice of orange or apple juice. I asked for both. My wife fed me and let me drink the juices through a straw. I was not permitted to move at all, but they did raise the bed so that, although I was still lying flat, I was propped up. Finally, after another brief sleep and a wait for over an hour, a nurse came in to get additional results – my blood pressure, my temperature, etc. I asked her to read me my complete chart and eventually get me a copy. She obliged.

Evidently, it is highly unusual to get your coronary arteriographic report. Mine showed that a 78 vein and a 59 sized arterial catheter had been used. The contrast had been 75. My heart valve reading seemed normal 120/80/95, no surprise since I do not have stenosis or regurgitation and no heart murmur. This had already been established by my echocardiogram. I have had no indication that rheumatoid arthritis had affected my heart and the chart confirmed that.  

The pulmonary artery pressure results were 42/20/29, a little towards the upper end I thought, but was not sure. I believed that it was not alarming. In any case, as I told the nurses many times when they repeatedly questioned me, I am not diabetic. I will have to check these results with my doctor next when I see him, but I did not remember to query him in the short period of time that he had for me after the operation. My pulmonary capillary wedge pressure (PCWP) gave a figure of 17 and I thought that less than 20 was a warning, but I really do not know and will have to ask. As well, I had a CO of 7.8 and a CL of 3.4.

The most interesting part was the picture of the heart itself. I showed irregular dominance in the upper right quadrant (the left side in a heart diagram) but no stenosis in the arteries or stent, other than the collapsed arteries in the bottom of the heart were the muscle is inoperative from a very old heart attack that I never knew I had. There was also lyreplasia in the frontal coronary artery where the stent had been put in; at least it was not hyperplasia.

The doctor summed it all up when he came in. He did not have to do an angioplasty because everything was clear. I was good to go. I would have to ask him my detailed questions another time. After about three hours in recovery, the nurses got me ready to leave. That was when problems emerged.

They warned me that for a week, I was to:

  • walk slowly
  • take it very easy going up stairs
  • not lift anything over 10 pounds
  • not do any exercise (wonderful advice for a guy like me)
  • have no hot baths.

I could drive a car after a day, but that was irrelevant since I don’t drive.  My doctor said I could fly in a week, welcome news since that is when we are flying to Vancouver Island to see our youngest two sons. Today – later – I can take the bandages off my groin and wrist, though I might have a lump on my wrist that would disappear by the end of two weeks at the latest.

Then there were all the warnings about what could go wrong. They were dire. However, nothing was said about what happened when they stood me up. I was woozy. I saw double. I could not walk around the room as requested. I do not even think that I took a full step. They quickly put me back to bed and said I had better rest for another hour. I promptly went to sleep.

When I woke up I was determined to get out of the hospital. I was still seeing double but only if both eyes were opened. If I kept my left eye closed, I was fine. I wasn’t sure whether I was or was not lying; I told the nurses that the double vision had happened before because the left eye had been blind for about 40 years. The nurses had started going home at the end of their day. I was getting desperate. I was a little wobbly walking, but got all the way around the room without help. We got a wheel chair and my wife went to get the car and then helped me get in. I walked very slowly into the house and even more slowly up the stairs. I had some soup and went to bed.

No dreams. I had seen the hands of my brother when I had my angiogram in the operating room. My older brother was so delighted to see me. He embraced me. He cried. And I lied. I said we would get together again. Soon. But I went home to another place. I knew that I would never see my brother again.

With the help of Alex Zisman