The Politics of Resentment Part I: The Frame Parashat Bo – Exodus 10:1−13:16

When the Eternal One said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh. For I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his courtiers, in order that I may display these My signs among them.”  (10:1) As I have written previously, we are reading a tale of a battle of Titans, a war between YHWH and the Egyptian sub-gods, and especially Ra, represented by the Pharaoh, himself conceived as a god. In Hebrew, the word רָעָה raʿa means “evil”. Moses, the representative of YHWH, by contrast, is human-all-too-human, rash, an inadequate speaker who stutters, one who fears leadership rather that seeks it, a murderer even if motivated by justice, but also a fugitive from justice. Yet he will emerge as the voice of good in the battle against the sun-god, Ra, the battle against evil, and the battle against Pharaoh.

The usual question is why God took ten plagues to finish the job. Why not do it in one sweeping action? The usual answer is that the plagues were primarily a teaching tool to demonstrate that: a) YHWH was the greatest power in the world and to have everyone accept that proposition; b) the Israelites should restore their belief in God, but not just in a God of power, but a God for all time who would reveal Himself more fully as history unfolds. Hence, the importance of the tenth plague, as we shall see.

However, in this blog explicating the divine purpose of the plagues is not my goal. Rather, I want to zero in on why Pharaoh resisted for so long and resisted in the way that he did. God may say that he dragged out the whole process instead of just wiping the Egyptians from the face of the earth to show His power for the whole world and for all time. God may take credit for hardening Pharaoh’s heart. But if God was now YHWH, the God that will reveal Himself over the course of history, how can God claim omniscience, claim that He knew in advance how Pharaoh would respond and was responsible for that response? The problem is not only omniscience but human freedom. In any case, those are not my questions. My question is why did Pharaoh “cooperate” even if God deliberately dragged out the fight?

One answer, using biblical critical theory, is to argue that the passages extolling God’s total control as well as God’s omniscience come from the priestly material while the non-priestly material tells a different story. (See, for example, Dr. Rabbi David Frankel’s commentary on this issue.) Though this argument seems very plausible, it is not mine. For it is what is in Pharaoh’s head and heart that interests me. And that is best understood, not by a simplistic answer that God hardened his heart, but by examining the precise process of that hardening, ignoring who was ultimately responsible, examining the stages Pharaoh went through and why and how he went through them to explain the process.

To answer the question, I will pay attention to the type of plague, its possible divine targets, the shifting techniques used, the shifting purposes and, most of all, the shifting responses.

Let’s return to the beginning of the clash of civilizations. The odds are ALL against Moses. He personally lacks any warrior skills, has no earthly power. So how does he come to defeat Pharaoh? By using an old judo trick and letting Pharaoh pull the pillars supporting his kingdom down on his own head. Pharaoh defeated himself as much as he was defeated by God.

Why does a pseudo-Sampson pull the house of cards down upon himself and his people to destroy everything he has achieved as well as that of his own civilization? That is the question. That is my question. It does not matter whether the event ever occurred in history to an Egyptian monarch who had enslaved the Jews. Jews tell this story of the first step in the path which their ancestors took to move from slavery to freedom. But the other side of the mirror, the black side, is at least as interesting – why an authoritarian ruler bet his whole regime to perpetuate his rule based on the economics of slavery. He was told that this self-destruction would be the outcome of the battle. In that sense, he had to know that the house that Jack built could come tumbling down around him even if he was in denial and constantly insisted that this could not happen.

What matters in the end is whether the story is true in another sense, that, as a tale, it is a recurring phenomenon in the history of humanity. Why does someone who has gained the pinnacle of power keep shooting himself in the foot so that the whole political order collapses? It is a horror to watch. The death and destruction that result are enormous.

It does not matter whether the ruler who acquired the throne in a coup draws a red line in the sand and insists that he will not let an enslaved people go or whether he is an elected monarch of the same disposition who believes he knows everything better than anyone else and is willing to hold his own people hostage in a classic titanic struggle of the gods to prove that he himself is a god when he really is the most flawed of human beings and he knows, perhaps only deep in his heart, that he is a fraud, that he lacks even the most minimal requirements of political leadership.

Again, it is not as if Pharaoh has not been forewarned. The story makes clear that Pharaoh is well aware of what is possibly forthcoming – worse and worse and from all directions. He knows it. His courtiers know it. They have all been forewarned and concrete unmistakeable messages have been sent. Yet Pharaoh persists in his mad quest to prove that what he says will be, that he too is a god who can translate his words into reality, that if he said that the people cannot move and be free, they will be unable to do so. For a wall is built, not only to keep ostensible dangers out and only ostensibly to protect loved ones within, he claims, but to keep one’s own people in thrall to a slave mentality even though the cost may be, will be, their own civilization.

The courtiers, the attendants, the flatterers, the liegemen, the pursuivants, the sycophants who have sold their souls to the devil, will not be able to desert the usurper of power because they had finally and ultimately cast their lot with this pseudo-strongman’s fate. They knew he was deeply flawed. They knew he lacked any of the qualities of a god. And gradually, slowly, in steps, they desert him to let him fall on his own pétard, an IED (improvised explosive device) of his own making.

In volume 21 of the Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, the record of the transactions of the Quatuor of the Freemasons (1908; 2013) describing their efforts in alchemy to change stone into gold, a process believed to be “natural,” the promise is that a high wall of concrete reinforced by steel rods will be emblazoned with a gold sign of triumph, of the deliverer who promised that he could convert concrete into gold and bring about everlasting security. That is why Pharaohs built pyramids – to ensure their security forever.

But there has never been such a wall that can succeed in that task – whether built of stone, of concrete or of steel slats. There never will be one. Those who attempt to build one do so by transforming portrait of the blighted and suffering masses into ravaging hordes. Security walls may be temporarily very helpful. However, in the end, a security wall is needed only to prevent downtrodden people from gasping for a slight breath of freedom.

The Past Assistant Pursuivant, James Pelham (Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, p. 172), an officer of the Masonic Lodge, prophesied at the beginning of the twentieth century that a modern house of cards, conceived of as built of concrete (and later reinforced by steel), was about to collapse. A modern Sampson tied to the pillars upholding modernity would bring the whole edifice crumbling down around him. The end of the world as they knew it was nigh. That was true at the ostensible period of the Israelite-Egyptian conflict. It was true at the end of the nineteenth century and the very beginning of the twentieth. It is true of the first one-fifth of the twenty-first century.

What is the process that Pharaoh goes through as he is beset by each plague in turn? If we are looking at the plagues from the point of view of the deliverer, then it might be appropriate to show them in three waves or cycles, with a separate conclusion or finale. The first wave, plagues 1-3 for example, may be intended to prove that God exists, that He is the Lord. The second wave (plagues 4-6) may seek to show God’s involvement in the affairs of humans. The third cycle (plagues 7-9) may be intended to prove God’s omnipotence with a finale (10) to cap it all off. There are other variations on the three cycles.

However, looking at the process from the perspective of Pharaoh rather than any divine intent or claim, I suggest a different division of the plagues into duos, the first eight divided into four pairs representing the ancient division of the world into four basic elements, and the final pair representing the downfall of the Egyptian divine rule over that material world, as follows:

  1. Blood 7:14-24                                       }  Water 
  2. Frogs 7:25-8:15                                    }
  3. Lice 8:16-19                                          }   Earth
  4. Swarms of flies or scarabs 8:20-32  }
  5. Death of cattle & livestock 9:1-7       }   Fire
  6. Boils & sores 9:8-12                             }
  7. Hail and thunder 9:13-35                   }   Air
  8. Locusts 10:1-20                                     }

Finale: Destruction of one Divine Control over the Material World

  1. Darkness 10:21-29
  2. Death of the firstborn 11:1-12:36

There is another approach to grouping which clusters the ten, again into trios in accordance with whether there was or was not a warning first delivered to Pharaoh. In every third one, it is claimed, there was no warning. The last plague offers the ultimate truth. My explication of the list, with its focus on Pharaoh’s response, will take into consideration whether or not he was warned, but the focus will be on the symbolism of each plague and the pair of gods challenged by each plague in turn. Many scholars have questioned the alignment of each plague with one god, let alone two as I will do, since the gods varied in locale, the time of year in which their power was acknowledged, and their attributes, not to mention the enormously long list of gods from which to choose. In my analysis, the literal name of the plague as well as its symbolism will be used to select the gods. This, in turn, will be used to elucidate how Pharaoh responded to each plague.

With this frame, the analysis of the stages of Pharaoh’s self destruction will be analyzed in the next blog.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

The Economic Crisis – Ignorance, Incompetence and Idiocy The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis: Part I of a Review

Two recent headlines:

  1. Trump threatens year-long shutdown for his wall as GOP support begins to fracture;
  2. Millions face delayed tax refunds, cuts to food stamps as White House scrambles to deal with shutdown’s consequences.

This past Friday, President Trump warned that the partial government shutdown could go on for months or even years. Further, Trump insisted that he had the power to declare a national emergency to build the wall without Congress under the National Emergency Act of 1976 since, as one authority opined, “it puts no limits on a president’s ability to declare an emergency.” Alternatively, Trump could act under the prerogative of the president, an interpretation which insists that whatever a president does, because he does it, is legal – a move you would understand if you saw the movie Vice and John Yoo offering that legal opinion to Dick Cheney in the Bush Jr. administration.

Trump’s threat is particularly dangerous because, even for Republican leaders, he has proven to be a totally unreliable negotiating partner, reneging on deals he just made 24 hours earlier. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, has stayed out of the fray and the efforts to declare a truce via a short-term funding bill since Trump reversed himself last month on precisely this, though last evening he accused Sen. Chuck Schumer of reversing his support for a physical barrier – no longer a wall. Schumer had supported fencing and continues to do so. He did not reverse himself.

As usual, in the course of such bluster, Trump lied yet again: previous presidents told him that they wished they had built a wall themselves. Not one did. He lied again in his address to the nation yesterday evening.

  • Our southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs including meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl…The border wall would very quickly pay for itself, the cost of illegal drugs exceeds $500 billion a year.” The stream totaled $193 billion according to the 2015 surgeon general’s report. That pipeline runs largely through legal crossing points; a wall would not close it. Further, fentanyl and opioids largely come from China via the postal service.
  • “The wall will also be paid for indirectly by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico.” !?!?!?
  • “In the last two years, ICE officers made 266,000 arrests of aliens with criminal records, including those charged or convicted of 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes and 4,000 violent killings.” The charges of 55,233 of the 266,000 were pending and not convictions. The vast majority were for nonviolent offences, such as illegal entry and mainly traffic violations. Data tracks the number of charges, not the number of persons charged. In the state with the strongest legal enforcements, Texas, charges against illegals ran to almost 900 convictions (not convicted persons) per 100,000 illegals. Assuming 12 million illegals in the U.S., most of whom are overstayers, the estimated number of illegal convictions would be 108,000.
  • “Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country and thousands more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now.” The conviction and arrest rates for illegal immigrants, which included the charges of illegal entry not applicable to native born Americans, were lower than those for native born Americans. The libertarian Cato Institute suggests 50% less.
  • “Last month, 20,000 migrant children were illegally brought into the United States, a dramatic increase.” In 2014, 68,541 arrived; in 2016, 59,692 arrived.
  • “These children [presumably all 20,000] are used as human pawns by vicious coyotes and ruthless gangs.” Overwhelmingly, the children come with their families.
  • “The federal government remains shut down for one reason and one reason only: because Democrats will not fund border security.” DT said he would take full ownership of the shutdown; the Democrats offered $1.3 billion to fund border security, not DT’s wall.
  • “A young police officer in California was savagely murdered in cold blood by an illegal alien that just came across the border.” The Newman police officer killed in an encounter with a suspected drunk driver at 1:00 a.m. was Cpl. Romi Singh. Yesterday, the Republican National Committee featured the 26 December killing of Singh in a 90 second video. Paulo Virgen Mendoza, 32, was charged. He had a record of previous convictions. On this charge, he is innocent until proven guilty. No evidence was offered that he “just came across the border.”
  • “In California, an Air Force veteran was raped and murdered and beaten to death with a hammer by an illegal alien with a long criminal history.” The problem was more one of the failure of removal rather than illegal entry. For this brutal assault against 64-year-old Marilyn Pharis, Vîctor Martînez, an illegal alien previously convicted of sexual assault, was convicted. The offence took place in 2015.
  • “In Georgia, an illegal alien was recently charged with murder for killing and beheading and dismembering his neighbor.” The reference was to the murder in November of Robert Page, 76, in Clayton County. Christian Ponce Martînez was charged with the murder. Page’s wife, Lulu, was upset that Trump used the case of her husband’s murder to advance the argument for his wall and said that, although she favours protecting U.S. citizens against dangerous illegal or legal migrants, she did not know what could be done to stop the actions of a single individual.
  • “In Maryland, the MS-13 gang members who arrived in the United States as unaccompanied minors were arrested and charged last year after viciously stabbing and beating a 16-year-old girl.” I am not sure which case DT was citing. There have been many murders and disappearances in the U.S. in which member of MS-13 gangs have been involved. A 15-year-old boy, Javier Castillo, was murdered on Long Island. MS-13 gang members threaten law and order. Most victims have been other unaccompanied minors whom the gang tries to recruit. These unaccompanied minors mostly arrived from Central America between 2011 and 2014, with a peak of 137,000 in 2014. Since, on humanitarian grounds, they cannot be returned to the Central American countries from which they fled, they remain in the U.S. They are asylum claimants, not illegals. The problems result from failures to process and adjudicate claims in a timely manner, failures in integration, failures in law enforcement. The result, unaccompanied minors are doubly victimized. Both the murderers and the murdered are unaccompanied minors.

The illustrations are grisly. They are included to instill fear not to enhance our understanding let alone arrive at rational policies to deal with the causes. The lies tumbled out of the president’s mouth, one after the other. Then he shifted to misleading assertions about his immigration proposal addressing many other issues – better equipment, improved technology, more agents and judges, better medical support and humanitarian assistance personnel – with which no one in Congress disagrees. The issue is the wall, the $5.7 billion wall and not repairs, improvements and some extensions of existing walls.

At the same time, DT expressed no empathy for the 800,000 unpaid federal employees. He expressed no understanding of the effects of the shutdown on cafeteria service and maintenance workers and on small contractors but also on even larger obligations, such as preparing for the 2020 census, tax refunds and food stamp programs under the Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Assistance Food Program. All have very negative effects on the economy, not only on those who directly depend on the funds, but on the retailers where those funds are spent.

Why the wall? It is a matter of national security we are told. Nonsense. Federal employees are responsible for minimizing risks for the following, all examples of national security:

  • Inspecting nuclear plants
  • Tracking nuclear material world wide
  • Ensuring through the use of food stamps that American children do not go hungry
  • Hundreds of Transportation Safety Administration workers at major airports nationwide are off the job because they can’t afford to get to work since salaries are not being paid in their category
  • Three deaths thus far in unsupervised national parks.

The primary issue in the end is neither the wall nor Trump’s partial shutdown of the government. These are but symptoms of an underlying disease. The issue is that Donald Trump does not believe in governance at all and operates to undermine and disrupt it. Shutting down part of the government is just an instance of a long-term pattern in place even before Donald Trump was inaugurated as evidenced in the material Michael Lewis has put forth in his book, The Fifth Risk.

The five top risks are:

  • Managing nuclear materials worldwide
  • North Korea
  • Iran
  • The electrical grid
  • A failure in governance.

And the last embraces and underpins them all.

In the prologue, Lewis documents in detail how Donald Trump failed to prepare for governing the United States,  not only when he was running to be the Republican nominee, when a candidate should start preparing to run the government, not only when he was running to be president when a candidate should put plans in place to run the government, but in the crucial time period between his election and taking office when the president-elect should prepare to implement those plans and adopt them to the way government actually works. Trump ignored and shut down all three stages of preparing to assume office.

Former Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, largely viewed now as a humiliated messenger boy for Donald Trump, did notice the lack of preparation very soon after Trump was nominated, did offer his services voluntarily to head a transition team to prepare to take the reins of government if elected, and did prepare a large volume to guide the administration when it actually won the election. “He (Christie) went to see Trump about it. Trump said he didn’t want a presidential transition team. Why did anyone need to plan anything before he actually became president? It’s legally required, said Christie.” (18)

Fuck the law. I don’t give a fuck about the law. I want my fucking money.” (21) Trump did not want to pay the costs of the people needed to undertake the planning taken from his campaign funds. The government provided the space and paid for the operating costs. When Christie agreed to find the funds outside of the president’s fund to finance the preparations, Trump allowed the preparations to go forward under the guidance of a small six-person transition team that included three of his children. Christie prepared lists of people who could be candidates to fill the top 500 positions that Trump would have to name. (The total was over 1200.) Then, The Donald tossed the plan into the wastebasket when he received it.

Donald Trump never wanted a transition team or a plan in the first place. Any serious concern with a plan produced was out of the question. For if you want to destroy government, operating by the seat of your pants rather than planning is the way to proceed.

The book provides illustration after illustration of Trump’s disregard for the necessities of government. These are juxtaposed with short stories about the brave and articulate people who contribute to good governance from outside and within the administration. The first is the story of Max Stier. He had created “Partnership for Public Service.” According to Max, “The basic role of Government is to keep us safe,” (25) This is Stier’s baseline rather than headline principle. The advantage of turning a baseline and all that precedes it into a Trump headline is that substance is totally disregarded.

A short list of substantive actors in government to enhance the security of American citizens include:

  • Frazer Lockhart – organized the first successful nuclear factory cleanup
  • Eileen Harrington – developed the Do Not Call Registry
  • Steven Rosenberg – pioneered immunotherapy for incurable cancers.

The personnel throughout the civil service are many and the risks are myriad:

  • Wars
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Hurricanes
  • Financial crises
  • The Opioid crisis that kills more Americans each year than died in the peak year of the Vietnam War
  • The fear of a massive cyber-attack.

Max Stier insisted that a bungled transition becomes a bungled presidency. I would contend that a bungler as president leads to a bungled transition and a super-bungled presidency. Trump not only threw the transition report in the wastebasket, but fired Christie and his whole team. As Stephen Bannon himself commented, “Holy fuck, this guy [Trump] doesn’t know anything. And he doesn’t give a shit.” (12)

Instead, Trump formed a “Landing Team” led by an energy lobbyist, Thomas Pyle, for the Department of Energy, a part of government that spends thirty-billion dollars a year and employs 100,000 employees. His job? Get rid of the climate change people. Pyle did meet with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Deputy Secretary Sherwood-Randall and Knobloch Moniz, a famous nuclear physicist. Pyle had no interest in what they had to say. And they had no interest in providing him with the list he wanted. They were not going to be strong armed by a new form of McCarthyism.

Lewis goes on to show that in department after department which had prepared briefing books and orientation briefings, there were always repeated no shows and, if someone finally appeared, the interaction was perfunctory and short. If people did turn up, they were confused and disoriented. They were not only know-nothings, but considered that everything that government did was stupid, carried out by even more stupid people.

The Landing Team did manage to obtain the list of the 20 brightest and highest paid research scientists in the labs overseen by the Department of Energy (DOE), only to use that list to delete their email addresses so they could not easily communicate with one another. “About half of the DOE’s annual $30 billion budget is spent on maintaining and guarding our nuclear arsenal,” (43) The department monitors nuclear power plants around the world to ensure they are not producing weapons-grade material and tracks the transfer of nuclear materials.

Six months after his inauguration, only Rick Perry had been confirmed and in position. When he was a candidate to be the Republican nominee, he wanted to eliminate the DOE, but, of course, he had no idea what it did. But he did manage to destroy many excellent programs in the DOE. The DOE “provides low-interest loans to encourage risky innovation in alternative energy and energy efficiency…There are now thirty-five viable utility-scale, privately funded solar companies – up from zero a decade ago.” (5) The techniques of fracking, that led the U.S. to once again become self-sufficient in fossil fuels, were developed in the DOE over twenty years. Pyle focused his destructive efforts on intelligence, research and energy innovation. He could have done much worse. Fortunately, since taking up his position, “his role has been ceremonial and bizarre.” (48)

The real damage, however, is the intelligence cleansing of the DOE, in fact, in all of the agencies of governance. People capable of making decisions are driven out and young people who combine creativity, brains and initiative are not attracted to join the civil service. In Canada, we witnessed the destructive effects of that process under the Stephen Harper administration. That is the biggest security risk of all. In military terms, it means replacing soldiers with zombies, retiring officers and inhibiting any potential leaders from joining, while, at the same time, gutting the research funds for developing new weapons. The reality: “Government has always played a major role in innovation.” (64) The real issue: government is not taking enough risk nor managing the risks we face nearly well enough – the dangers to the electrical grid for example.

In Hanford county in the State of Washington where Trump won by 25 points, “a massive underground glacier of radioactive sludge is moving slowly but relentlessly toward the Columbia River.” (71) As John MacWilliams noted, the fifth risk is “the risk the society runs when it falls into the habit of responding to long-term risks with short-term solutions.” (75)

Why do Trump’s policies do so? Here are three reasons:

  1. Ignorance
  2. Incompetence
  3. Idiocy

And the worst of these is idiocy, actions that are not just notably stupid, but are absurd, asinine, fatuous and imbecile. Lewis ends Part I with the following:

“Trump’s first budget eliminated the ARPA-E altogether. [the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy that funded the annual innovation summit that brought together experts in technology to facilitate synergy and new developments] It also eliminated the spectacularly successful $70 billion loan program. It cut funding to the national labs in a way that implies laying off six thousand of their people. It eliminated all research on climate change. It halved the funding for work to secure the electric grid from attack or natural disaster.” (80)

Shutting down the government is not just a bargaining chip. It sums up Donald Trump’s approach to governance. Trump ended his address last evening with the biggest lie of all. “When I took the oath of office, I swore to protect our country. And that is what I will always do, so help me god.”

 

To be continued.

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

Disobedience: A Movie Review

We saw the film Saturday evening. I wrote this review Sunday. I am only sending it out this morning because I had to finish off the latter half of my Friday Torah commentary that was too long. By sheer chance, there is a tenuous link between the film and the commentary. Normally I write reviews because I love a film or because, contrary to popular critical opinion, I dislike it. That means that the vast majority of films I watch are not reviewed by me. This movie review falls in neither of my major two categories.

Disobedience is a 2018 film starring Rachel Weisz (Ronit Krushka), Rachel McAdams (Esti) and Alessandro Nivola (Dovid) directed by Sebastiăn Lelio, the Chilean director of the Academy Award-winning Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, A Fantastic Woman. On “Rotten Tomatoes,” the film received a tomatometer median rating of 84% indicating the percentage of positive professional critic reviews, with an average of 72%, indicating that critics who did not like the movie really disliked it. The audience score was 77% with a much closer average rating. Supposedly not a great movie but an OK one.

The film is based on Naomi Alderman’s 2006 novel of the same name that won the Orange Prize for Fiction when it was published. It was adapted for the screen by the director and Rebecca Lenkiewicz, the playwright and author of Her Naked Skin (2008), a play about two rebellious suffragettes in pre-WWI Britain. Given these elements, one would expect the film to be at least decent and watchable, especially since Alderman came from the ultra-orthodox Jewish community of Hendon in the northwest suburb of London.

Unfortunately, though watchable, ponderously so, the movie was not decent, not in the sense that it was about non-conformity to propriety and respectability. Nor because a lesbian scene took place in exquisite detail. The indecency arises because the film is neither kind nor informed by a generous spirit to enable one to get inside either the community itself or the members who either stayed or chose to leave. The film is not decent since it is not adequate or appropriate in advancing our understanding.

Though not an offensive portrayal at all of a very restrictive life style, part of the reason the film falls so short is its insensitivity. And that insensitivity seems to be a product of ignorance. At one point in the film, there is resistance to Ronit attending the hesped, a Jewish equivalent to a eulogy, honoring her father. It can be a separate event, but there is no explanation either of its nature or why this celebration of the Rav, normally held prior to burial, occurs much later, except for the convenience of the director since Ronit returned from New York too late to attend the funeral. And the director wants to juxtapose this free spirit without a wig who smokes and wears short leather skirts with the wigs and long skirts of the women of the community.

Though the ordinary life of the homes, the local shops and the school are portrayed reasonably honestly, unlike the novel, Judaism is not. The film offers a tension between rebellion versus religion when the religion is intimately about resistance to obedience to God’s will while, at the same time, trying to conform to it.  Rebellion is internal to the religion, not an external force.

Like A Fantastic Woman about illicit love involving a transgendered woman who cannot assume her justified place upon the death of her partner, this movie concentrates on a sympathetic view of the relationship between Ronit and Esti. That community is portrayed as intolerant, repressive and narrow-minded. Ronit, the only child of the Rav, the spiritual leader of the community, returns upon learning of the death of her father. She had left the community many years earlier to become a photographer of note in New York and to live a radically different lifestyle of cigarettes, casual sex, and a quirky aesthetic focus. One surprise of the film is the absolute mundane quality of the use of the camera and the choice of what to film, especially given the aesthetic choice Ronit made.

The problem is nuance. The problem is subtlety. The problem is simplification to the edge of boredom. There is virtually no challenge for Rachel Weisz to inspire her to perform at the top of her game. In My Cousin Rachel, Rachel Weisz played a woman who was enigmatic. Was she beautiful and innocent and decent or was she sly and conniving in the cleverest ways? There is no such suspense in Disobedience.  Even though Ronit is supposedly devastated on hearing of the death of her father, even though the traditions she inherited were written into her DNA so that she tears her clothes upon hearing of the death of her father, the rest of the movie brackets the depth of her conditioning to simply present her as a free spirited rebel, one who happens to still love her father even though he disowned her. We never learn why she loved her father so deeply. We never feel a tension between an identification with the community in which she was raised and the freedom from restrictions she currently enjoys in living away from that community.

In watching the film, you may ask whether Esti will leave her husband and her community and return to New York with Ronit, but it will be a perfunctory ask, for Esti lacks the psychological complexity to be torn by such a choice. Is she too burdened by convention? But Esti initiated the renewal of the affair; Esti is presented as having the more unbridled passion. Yet the option as presented is as simple and unreal as one between passion presented as animal instinct and submission to the restrictive rules of an insular community. Instead of ambiguity, the viewer is offered polarity in the guise of simplicity.

Further, the film is full of loose ends that seem to have nothing to do with deliberate direction and plotting. Why is Esti’s pregnancy mentioned but her previous inability to conceive ignored? What is the role of Ronit’s family’s candlesticks? I could not figure it out. And what about communication? Esti teaches Othello to her students, a tale about passion and betrayal, but the link is superficial and arbitrary rather than substantive. Yet communication, or its absence, seem central to the film since Esti cannot talk about her attraction to women to her husband, Dovid. Further, the problem between Ronit and her father was that they lost a common language as Ronit slipped into the role of capturing the moment, capturing a time rather than working to preserve moments of revelation for all eternity.

Sometimes incidents work in reverse. Tattooing on flesh in the opening of the film may be of voyeuristic interest to Ronit as an art photographer, but this is inverted when the imprint of tradition on her seems (most of the time) to have even less depth than the dyes inserted by a tattoo artist’s pen. The film may take place in dank and dreary London, but the interior of the synagogue is not the carved out innards of two semi-detached homes, but rather the classic beauty of a highly restored Orthodox synagogue.

It should be no surprise that each and everyone of the incidents pushing the plot forward are always coincidences. So are many of the background effects – the song “You Make Me Feel like a Natural Woman” playing as the deep attraction of Esti and Ronit comes to a climax, or Ronit turning on the radio in her visit to her old home with Esti and “Love Song” plays over the radio.

Serendipity is certainly possible, but then why not introduce the issue of chance and risk into the ethical dilemmas of choice that could provide some depth to this two-dimensional presentation. The members of the community whisper and glance sideways with critical stares. The conversations are awkward, made more awkward when Ronit challenges conventions. But some of those challenges are simply stupid. If she was raised in a ultra-orthodox community, why would she reach out to hug Dovid when she first sees him? It would have been bred into her DNA that this form of touching between a married man and a single woman was absolutely verboten and that her free spirit would have no thrust to cross such a barrier.

However, the film is not about aesthetics, but ethics. And very simplistic ethics at that. It opens with a scene on the bema of the gorgeous London synagogue where the Rav is giving a sermon which distinguishes between the angels, who have no choice but to follow God’s will, beasts who have no choice but to follow their instincts, and humans who have the freedom of choice, presumably whether to be beasts who follow their instincts or angels who follow the will of Hashem. Where does the choice Moses had to make fit into this simplistic schema? As the Rav’s sermon rises to a crescendo in articulating the fatal choice humans have, serendipitously he collapses and dies. But he is reborn in the sermon offered by the film in favour of freedom of expression without considering its own problematic status.

The parashat of this past week was about God introducing Himself to Moses and, in effect, seducing Moses into becoming the leader of the Israelites in the pursuit of their freedom. The story is full of ironies for the new name of God is identified as having a Midianite source. The sense of the rule of law and its delegation to judges rather than political leaders, so integral to Judaism, comes from the Midian priest, Jethro. The influence from the outside challenges the people and inspires them. Outside influences are not always or even mostly an external threat. A movie that fails to recognize this tension between the external and the internal, one even written into the DNA of God who finally exposes himself as an inner spirit as well as a powerful protective one via an outsider, is blind and does not even have the insight of a photograph. Missing this internal tension, especially within ultra-orthodoxy, was a lost opportunity and voyeurism’s gain.

This type of coincidental conjunction repeats itself throughout the film to the point of exasperation. After we are one-quarter into the film, we learn that Ronit, Esti and Dovid were best friends as teenagers. The film plays with the audience. Ronit is surprised that Dovid and Esti married. If one is on a conventional track, one presumes that this may be because Dovid and Ronit were once involved in a relationship and Esti was Ronit’s best friend. But the movie turns convention upside down and it is Esti and Ronit who were involved. Esti’s father, the Rav, had discovered them in bed together, precipitating Ronit’s flight from the insular ultra-orthodox community.

This plot inversion also occurs with respect to the camera eye. On the one hand, Ronit loses her detachment as a photographer as Dovid is cast in that role of a bystander looking on, but without the aesthetic distance to take in the picture in front of him. Dovid had previously been adopted as the Rav’s prize pupil, protégé and ostensible successor at the age of 13. On the verge of taking the place of the Rav, he comes to a climactic scene when he abandons that role and confesses that he does not have sufficient understanding. Did that mean that he could not boil the issue down to the simplifications of Rav at the beginning of the film where the incredulity of the film began?

The actors are wonderful even if their parts as written are not. Virtually everything else is wrong with the film. The houses in which the Jews live are neat, ordinary and monotonous and the angles and choices of vision in the synagogues and the homes are suitably, at least to the dominant theme, claustrophobic, but where was the visual inventiveness of A Fantastic Woman, an important signature of the director? The women wear wigs. And the focus is on eating and praying, and, in this film, on sex. For once the passions between Ronit and Esti are slowly reignited, visual and perpetual adolescent passion takes over. The Rav appears to have been correct. Instinct is powerful and unremitting, so the choice between surrendering to instinct and following God’s will becomes stark and tortuous. This is a cliché.

When we produced Israel Today, we broadcast a film made in the ultra-orthodox film school in Jerusalem, Ma’aleh, about a woman with children who lives in that community, but slowly begins to discover she is gay. In another film, the title of which I recall, A Little Bit Different, Chava, who called off her engagement a year before, is once again being introduced to a man to marry, but in this one, the tension between prejudice and openness is reversed. It is the one who is more free spirited who is revealed to be the one who is more prejudiced. That movie is more in the vein of Jane Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice.

These films, without any of the production values of Disobedience or its lofty level of acting, however, were much more authentic and far less contrived both in the presentation and the theme. The plots were also about tradition versus freedom of choice, but the ethical frame was not caricatured. In the first, the plot was about how the husband, following such a strict regimen, in spite of the dominant mores and the excruciating pain he felt as he gradually learned of his wife’s infidelity, learned to accept and adjust to her persona. In the second film, it is the woman who carries the prejudices, but they are ordinary ones rather than community or anti-community attitudes. In both cases, these were tales of tolerance within a very hermetic and narrow community.

These were amateur student films, but the passion was felt and not just presented before the camera like the weirdness of a tattoo. In Disobedience in the scene when lust and love between Ronit and Esti finally burst open in the inner sanctum of a hotel room to which they escape, the passion simply is not there even if all the varied lesbian moves are present in exquisite detail. The choreography may be exemplary, but the scene just does not make it. Further, and much more fundamentally, the moral choice is simplistic to the point of caricature of the ultra-orthodox Jewish community. In the ultra-orthodox amateur film there had been nuance and sensitivity instead of simplicity and raw passion presented as a detailed but unfeeling performance.

The story of a sensitive and loving man facing a crisis in his marriage and exhibiting that love in the form of empathy and understanding was so much more powerful than a tale of the tension between one woman who had freed herself from the restrictions of her home community and another repressed by the community. We never learn or acquire any understanding of why Ronit went one way and Esti stayed.

The ethical dilemma as presented is simplistic to the extreme. Films made by ultra-orthodox female students in an ultra-orthodox film school can put forth the position that there is no prohibition in Torah against a love affair between two women – and the relationship between Naomi and Ruth almost comes across as such a love affair. The Jewish prohibition is against adultery even though in practice ultra-orthodox communities reject lesbian relationships as a matter of practice. But they, as any community, can struggle with the issue. In contrast, this is never understood by the director. Reductionist ethics is both a bore and an insult to the community represented.

With the help of Alex Zisman

God Introduces Himself to Moses – Part II

Christian theologians insist that God is immanent as well as transcendent, always available, always accessible to even the most innocent among us. One does not have to be a scholar or a theologian to address God. Many Jewish theologians argue that God is only immanent, that is, insofar as what counts in God, insofar as He can be known. God can only be found in the mundane, in the material world, in the conflicts of daily life, in movies and in poems that try to find spirituality within the material world. If, and that is a very big if, if God is transcendent, He can only be approached as an immanent experience. There is no transcendent Being, at the very least, one that can be known, that is other than immanent or in which the immanent is subsumed as simply one characteristic of the divine.

The great Jewish Kabbalist, Rabbi Elijah Benamozegh (Israel and Humanity, 1865: 1995), insisted that Hebraism was the common proto-religion of all of humanity. Judaism is its guardian and witness and, as such, has a duty to provide a light onto the world. God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. And God said that it was good. That ray of light did not and could not have revealed divine law as something immutable, rational and universal. The law the Israelites offered to the world was not such a transcendent law. (See Christine Hayes, What’s Divine About Divine Law: Early Perspectives, 2015) It was entirely particularistic and revealed its application to all humanity over time. The application was universal, not the character. And so it is with God Himself.

There is a problem, however, even with an immanent God. If God is always present, always accessible, why did God forget His people? Why did they have to suffer so much and shry so loudly? And if God were so open, so accessible, why was Moses’ first reaction on hearing the introduction fear? Why did Moses hide his face? Why did he not want God to see him?  (3:6)

There does not seem to be any suggestion at this point that Moses is open to God’s embrace. In fact, Moses is wary. Moses might be in awe of God’s power, of El Shaddai, but Moses would have to look into himself to discover YHWH. God’s voice might come from the burning bush, but Moses had to learn to listen to YHWH whose voice came from his own soul.

God answers simply. He explains His own mission and why He was there – to rescue the Israelites from their oppression and to take them to Canaan. Moses will be the rescuer. For the cry of the Israelites had finally reached Him and He personally witnessed Egyptian oppression. Then God told Moses that He needed him, that God needed Moses. Moses had to go, see Pharaoh and ask, “Let my people go.” And when Pharaoh refuses, God implies, then it shall be your mission to free the people.

Moses protests. Why me? God answers, “Not you alone. I will be with you.” And when you succeed, you and the Israelites will resume your worship of Me. Moses queries, “But how will the Israelites know that I have the backing of God, of their God? Tell me your name.” God responds. In Exodus 3:14, God’s answer in Hebrew is, “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh.” This has been commonly rendered, certainly in the King James translation, as I am that I am. Robert Alter in his translation records the phrase simply as I am, I am. Gunther Plaut in the body of the text skirts the issue and simply transliterates the Hebrew. “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh.” Orally, Ehyeh certainly resonates with the sound of YHWH. It was among the Midianites that Moses experienced YHWH.

Jacob was renamed Israel. But his twin, Esau, became the father of the Edomites who went to live among the Midianites, the descendants of Abraham and his wife, Keturah, and the tribes that developed into the Midianite league of nations. Recall that Joseph was saved by being sold to the Midianites and they, in turn, sold him to the Ishmaelites who took him to Egypt and re-sold him once again. The Midianites haunt the Torah as does the ineffable, YHWH. Moses had to go and live among the Midianites to discover YHWH.

YHWH historically comes from the hills of Edom and the Midianite area to the south in the Arabian Peninsula.

Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 33:2) יְ-הוָה מִסִּינַי בָּא וְזָרַח מִשֵּׂעִיר לָמוֹ הוֹפִיעַ מֵהַר פָּארָן וְאָתָה מֵרִבְבֹת קֹדֶשׁ… YHWH came from Sinai; He shone upon them from Seir; He appeared from Mount Paran, and approached from Ribeboth-kodesh…
Song of Deborah (Judges 5:4) יְ-הוָה בְּצֵאתְךָ מִשֵּׂעִיר בְּצַעְדְּךָ מִשְּׂדֵה אֱדוֹם אֶרֶץ רָעָשָׁה… YHWH, when You came forth from Seir, advanced from the country of Edom, the earth trembled…
Song of Habakkuk (Habakkuk 3:3) אֱלוֹהַ מִתֵּימָן יָבוֹא וְקָדוֹשׁ מֵהַר פָּארָן סֶלָה… God is coming from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah….

YHWH originates from Seir adjacent to the nomad land of Yehwa, yhw(w) () which was within the Midianite league. (See Andrew LeMaire, The Birth of Monotheism: The Rise and Disappearance of Yahwism) A historical grammatical answer concerning God’s self-revelation is also necessary to reinforce the archeological and historical evidence. According to the scholar, Professor Israel Knohl, “Proto-Arabic does not have the root ה.ו.י for the word ’to be’.” However, historical archeology and grammatical analysis are insufficient. One has to empathetically re-enact Moses’ encounter with God. What is stated is not simply a phrase, but a record of an experience. The translation must reflect that experience. And the experience is clearly NOT an answer one would normally offer a philosopher or a theologian. It is a, it is the, spiritual experience par excellence. God is a living personal presence.

Let’s step back a pace before we try metaphorically to stand on the same holy ground as Moses. Why does Moses ask God to tell him his name? For after he expressed doubts about his own unsuitability for the mission, Moses says, “When I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (3:13)

On one level, this a perfectly natural question. If you are acting as an intermediary and carrying a message to a party, surely they will ask who sent you? Not, in this case, who wants to know, but with whose authority are you here to make such a demand that we take a stand before Pharaoh? Why would the answer not suffice that the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of your forefathers sent me? Because the Hebrews were slaves, mentally as well as physically, spiritually as well as sociologically. Because their God had forgotten them. Because their God not only had not fulfilled the covenant with his people, but even seemed to have forgotten that He ever made a covenant. Their distress had made them not just sceptics but cynics.

What is surprising is that Moses did not share in the same cynicism. He was not even sceptical that God was talking to him, only sceptical about his suitability for accepting the assignment. Perhaps it was because he was not raised as a slave. In any case, when God explained first that He was the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob who addressed him, Moses hid his face. Presumably he did not duck. He held his palm over his eyes as is still done by parishioners who recite the Shema. Shema Yisrael, YHVH Eloheinu, YHVH Echad.  Muslims hold both hands before their face when they pray. Why cover your eyes when insisting that God is one? It is because it is not a time to look outward. There we might see the power of God. But only looking inward will we discover God as YHWH

Why? Was Moses afraid to look at God? (3:6) But how could he look at God if God was not visible? The point of hiding his face behind his hand or hands was not because he did not want to see God. Nor was it simply to focus on looking inward. It was because Moses did not want to be seen by God, seen to be staring and trying to see God. Moses was not in awe of God. He was not afraid of God. He was afraid that he would be so curious about God that he would try to see Him physically. It was an act of self-protection. At the same time, it was another indicator of why Moses thought he personally was unsuitable. He too feared that he wanted to see God in order to have proof when the only real challenge was to listen and to feel God within himself.

But if Moses could not see God, if he knew his fellow Israelites would want to see God if he was to be believed, the least he needed was God’s name. And God as simply the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob would not be sufficient. For that God had forgotten the Israelites, had forgotten His covenant with them and seemed blind to their suffering. God had to be more. What more was He?

One can explain the introduction of the new name through source criticism, that the new name comes from a different literary source. Robert Alter in his The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary does illustrate that this whole section is a combination of Elohist and Yahwist sources. But, as Alter knows, that answer simply begs the question, for the answer can only be left there if one presumes that the redactor was offering a scissors and paste mishmash with no effort to put forth a coherent narrative. If the latter was the case, the question remains. Why the new name at this point in the text?

The name YHWH is used in Genesis 4:26 when Seth, the third brother of Cain and Abel, began to invoke the Lord by name. But this is different in Exodus. This is the first instance of God’s self-revelation. Tell them that this message is from Professor Howard Adelman is very different than saying the message is from Howard. The former uses status to back up one’s authority. In the second, God stands naked as a source. He is a personage in his own right without the need for attributes or a positioning in the hierarchy of authority.

Who is the God that sent me? Moses answers with an enigma. This is a God who is both far more powerful and also far more personal. But most of all, it is a God which cannot be circumscribed by attributes, for God is a God of action. God will be what He does and will not be defined as if He were something that simply is. “I shall be whom I shall be.”  Or, “I will be Who I will be,” Or, “I shall be shall be.” I am a promise, not a fixed point let alone the record of My past deeds. I am a God who reveals Himself over time and through history.

“I am” offers a fixed identity, a set of essences for philosophers and theologians. “In God we trust,” means that you trust the future, that you trust that the future belongs to God and that God will reveal himself in that future. I, God, offer you a name that does not define me. And if you believe that the record of my deeds will tell you who I am, think again. I shall be whom I shall be. I will always remain the One who reveals himself in actions. Through deeds. In the future. Only when I finish will you understand my intent, as someone who shall be he who shall be, that is always a coming, a becoming and not a being. This is not simply an evasive answer but a profound one. For based on any record of the past, why would anyone trust God?

God is past. God is presence. God is promise. God is past because he is missing in action. He has disappeared. He has forgotten us. He has not broken any covenant, just misplaced it. God is presence. If you listen, you can hear. But most of all, as the text offers in the Hebrew imperfect of the grammar, the reference is always to the future.

Read the story of the past. Study it. That story is not simply a record of who I was and what I did. It is a story of My presence, the presentation of Myself to the future. And since I forget My promises, if you trust, then you will trust that I will remember and you will trust that you will learn who I am over time. You will trust in revelation. You will not look primarily outward but into your own soul.

God Introduces Himself to Moses – Part I Va-eira: Exodus 6:2 – 9:35

Evidently, in the Torah there are at least seventy names or depictions of God – Avinu Malkenu, Our Father our King; Eloheinu, Our God; Melech Haolam, Ruler of the universe; Oseh Shalom, Creator of peace. These are just a few examples. God is a shape-shifter, but without a shape. In this week’s Reform commentary by Rabbi Reuven Greenvald, he cites the contemporary Israeli poet, Rivka Miriam. “Responding to the opening of our parashah, Rivka Miriam describes her own evolving relationship with God through each twist and turn of her life—from being born to growing up, from marriage to divorce, from feeling supported to feeling abandoned—calling God by a different name each time—names so personal she doesn’t share them:

I spread out God’s names in front of me
on the floor of my chilly room.
The name by which I called him when his spirit
breathed in me.
And the name by which I called him when
I was a young girl …
The name by which I called him so that he
would remember me. And the name so
that he would refrain from remembering.
In the heat of the day I will prostrate myself
on the floor of my chilly room.”

However, two names are central. As Rabbi Larry Englander has pointed out, they are part of a mezuzah, El Shaddai on the outside and then the hidden inner God, YHWH, on the inside. As Rabbi Reuven Greenvald also points out citing midrash, there are “two components in shedaisheh  and dai, together meaning ‘it’s enough’—the Patriarchs got just enough of God that they needed.” The Israelites might be His people who are especially protected, a people whom God had forgotten but has now remembered as well as his promise to them, a people with whom He has a special covenant, but God is also the one God, the God for everyone and to everyone.

When Moses tries to introduce God’s new name to the Israelites, they do not listen to him. All Moses’ original fears that no one would believe him come flooding back. And his excuse for not relaying the message is repeated – “I am a stutterer.” “I am impeded of speech.” Why would Pharaoh listen to him when he uncontrollably repeats himself? Only when repetition is seen as having a high value rather than being a disability.

The reason for sending the plagues will not be just to harden Pharaoh’s heart, but to demonstrate God’s power over all, more specifically over the most powerful god then known, the sun god of Egypt.  More importantly is the way this is done – by showing Pharaoh that this enslaved people is equal to Pharaoh. Pharaoh is NOT a god and not simply less powerful than the God of the Israelites. Moses is placed in the role of God to Pharaoh (7:1) by repeating everything that God tells him and by having Aaron pass the message on to Pharaoh. The point of the plagues will be to prove that YHWH is the Lord by delivering the Israelites from their servitude. And when Aaron cast down his rod, it became a serpent just as in the case of the Egyptian magicians, but with one difference. Aaron’s serpent ate the serpents of the Egyptian sorcerers.

If we are to understand the true drama of this occasion, we have to go back to the earlier text when God first introduced Himself to Moses, no longer as God Almighty, but as YHWH, as the inner God. As Professor Israel Knohl at Hebrew University wrote following the lead of the scholar Shelomo Dov Goitein, the name YHWH “originates in Midian, and derives from the Arabic term for ‘love, desire, or passion’” from the Arabic root h.w.y (هوى), and the word hawaya (هوايا). It is about inner feelings not the externality of existence, nor the security fears and concerns of a particular tribe. And since He is the singular God, He demands exclusive love. Monolatry (the exclusive worship of one god) is the precursor to divine monogamy. And divine monogamy is a precondition for a universal monotheism.

Goitein “connected this suggestion with the passage in Exodus 34, in a set of laws known by scholars as the Ritual Decalogue. One of the laws, which forbids Israel to worship other gods, reads:

שמות לד:יד כִּי לֹא תִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה לְאֵל אַחֵר כִּי יְ-הוָה קַנָּא שְׁמוֹ אֵל קַנָּא הוּא. Exod 34:14 For you must not worship any other god, because YHWH, whose name is Impassioned, is an impassioned God.”

In Exodus, it is Moses who brings our attention to the suffering of the Israelites when, in a passionate rage and incensed at the injustice, he beats and kills a sadistic overseer in a vigilante action. God had clearly forgotten the Jewish people as they sweated and laboured under the ruthless whippings of their overlords. As I wrote in my last blog, when two other Israelites indicated that they had witnessed the murder and could, presumably, inform the authorities about the deed, Moses fled Egypt for the land of the Midianites, married the daughter of the priest Jethro, and had a son Gershon with his wife, Zipporah. It is in the territory of the Midianites that Moses is introduced to God as not just the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God as a security shield, but the God of passion demanding exclusive love.

God finally heard the cries of the Israelites. “Benei Yisrael sighed from the labour, and they cried out, and their supplication on account of the labour rose up to God. God heard their wailing, and He remembered His covenant with Avraham, with Yitzhak, and with Ya’akov.” (Exodus 2:23-24) God finally heard the cries of the people whom He had forgotten when He had a heart and His heart was broken.

How did they cry out? They begged God to save them. They prayed. The verb used is וַיִּצְעַק. They did not just entreat (להעתיר) God. They cried out like the frogs would cry out. They were croaking. They were choking under the burden of long hours of heavy labour laying bricks layer upon layer. Pharaoh, like Emmanuel Macron with respect to French workers, considered the Israelites lazy. So did all Egyptians. These former shepherds, whom a former Pharaoh had given status, were not built like farmers who toiled on the land. They were used to just standing around and walking from place to place. The Egyptians, as they had when Joseph first came to Israel, loathed and despised the people of Israel. A shepherd had a very lowly status. Now they were governed by a Pharaoh who shared the same distaste as the people.

Moses, when he allowed his wrath to overtake his prudence, fled at the possibility his act of murder could be reported. He became a fugitive from legal justice and from the cries of his people. He returned to the traditional profession of his people, being a shepherd, but among the Midianites. Did this rash act wake the Israelites from their long slumber, from their acceptance of the status quo? Is that why God finally heard their cries when they themselves recognized how downtrodden they were and pleaded for help? I think not, because it was many years later before God assigned Moses his mission.

The Israelites were crying out for relief, not yet victory over the Egyptians, not yet for freedom from their yoke. They just did not want to be worked so hard. Turning the Israelites into a people with a determination to occupy their own land and become self-governing required much more than relief, even much more than the destruction of the might of the Egyptians. The Israelites had to learn that their God was the God of all there is, that their God was the only God. The whole of Exodus will be needed to teach that lesson.

God hears the cries of the Israelites, but it is an angel who first appears to Moses “in a blazing fire out of a bush.” Why an angel? Why not God himself? Why a burning bush when the bush itself does not burn? Moses himself asks that question (3:5), not just I or the myriad of other commentators throughout the ages. Moses said, “I must turn aside to look at the marvelous sight; why doesn’t the bush burn up.” (3:3) That’s what grabs him. Not the sight of an angel. It is as if he only saw the wonder of a bush on fire without the wood itself burning. He saw the reflection of passion and rage that empowers rather than consumes the body. Did he not see the angel? Or was this the angel he did see?

I have a friend in Torah study who is unusual. He is totally uninterested in source criticism or in rooting the tales in the beliefs of the time, in historicism, or in linguistic historical research and archeology. He is only mildly interested in traditional grammatical analysis. He also has little interest in theology and understanding the conception of God, for example, God defined as the “one” by Plotinus, or as the ground of Being, as perfection, as omnipotent, as omniscient, or, for St. Thomas, an Aristotelian, as an actus purus and ipsum esse subsistens. All of that is peripheral. It is the experience of God that really counts. He is certainly uninterested in any psychological or sociological let alone political analysis of Moses – or God for that matter.

“My God!” he exclaims. “Can you imagine what it means to be in the presence of an angel and then hear the voice of God?” Like the Christian commentator, Gregory of Nyssa, in his De vita Moysis, Life of Moses, what counts is the record of the human-God encounter, and this time without the intervention of a dream or a created vision. “Just imagine what it must have been like.”

“When the Lord saw that he [Moses] had turned aside to look, God called to him out of the bush.” (3:4) The fact that an angel appeared in the burning bush seemed to be irrelevant. Or perhaps the burning bush without the wood being consumed was the angelic expression, was simply the visible manifestation of God. That was all Moses saw and it was enough to get Moses’ attention. God says, “Moses! Moses! Can you imagine God calling out to you by your name?” my friend asks. “It’s unbelievable.”

What is unbelievable is that Moses is unsurprised. He is not overwhelmed at the mystery of it all. He might have been startled at a bush burning without the wood being consumed, but a voice calling from amidst the burning bush seemed unremarkable. Moses just answers, “Hinaini. I am here.” Or “Here I am” or even “Here am I.” Which is it? Rabbi Plaut takes it to be the first. The stress is on presence. Moses’ name was called and he put his hand up. The stress is not on the “I”.

Your sandals are dirty. Take them off when you enter My presence. But do not come closer. You are already on holy ground. Moses is in Midianite territory and this is holy ground. Then God introduces Himself. After all, He could be any magical being. God says, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” (3:6) I am the God of your ancestors. Christians tend to interpret this answer as God already insisting that He is the universal God. But not yet.

For Christians, as well as very many Jewish commentators, God is both transcendent and immanent. God is totally other without any material existence, without passions and of infinite power and goodness. But any ordinary reading of the Exodus story tells a tale of a God set out to prove, not that He is all powerful, but that He is more powerful than all the rival gods. And more. That He is the only God. And God is filled with passion – with anger and rage, with jealousy and remorse. Further, He is anything but the epitome of goodness. He endorses theft. He is guilty of infanticide. He organizes ethnic cleansing and commits genocide. My rabbi may ask, “why is it written on the Supreme Court in Washington, “In God We Trust?” I answer, “Only if we distrust first.” Only if we ask questions. Moses did not connect to God by a leap of faith but through the path of doubt, almost all focussed on himself. But also on God.

Was Moses brazen in questioning God, even if it was simply because of being chosen to carry out God’s mission? “If you are so great, why did you choose me for this mission when I stutter, when I lack the respect of my fellow Israelites, when Pharaoh has no reason to listen to me let alone enter into a diplomatic discourse to free the Israelites?”

In the current film, Vice, George Bush Jr. needs someone with gravitas, with heft and experience in Washington and in foreign affairs. He asks Dick Cheney to be his vice-president when running for office. Cheney declines. He does not say, “Why me?” The message is the opposite. The position of a president-in-waiting without power is not for me. Cheney goes further. He offers to be a one-person search committee for a vice-president. But Bush wants him. And Cheney accepts, but only on condition that virtually all of the crucial powers of the presidency are his responsibility. According to the film, Bush Jr. is simply Cheney’s mouthpiece. In the Torah, however, Moses is truly God’s mouthpiece.

Moses makes no deal equivalent to Cheney’s. He questions, but he is not really brazen. The issue turns out to be not whether Moses is or is not worthy of the mission assigned, but whether God will be with him, will be within him, for only then can Moses speak in the name of God. Even then, just for raising that question, Moses is rebuked by God. Moses will simply be the one through whom God speaks to the Israelites, speaks to Pharaoh, speaks to the world. Who is this God for whom Moses will speak?

To be continued.

 

On the Competition for Recognition Part XB Political Dissension in France

In the previous blog I opined that political divisions in France took place between the liberals in the centre and the left on one side and the right on the other. I also presented evidence that using the category of Muslim to define a voting group was misleading even as I documented the extent of Islamicist violence in France. Islamicist antisemitism was more extensive. Despite its pervasiveness, there were only a few instances in which Jews were specifically targeted by terrorists. I now want to put this within a larger frame.

My thesis is simple but far from original. With the exception of his vision for dealing with radical Islamicists that is so misplaced, Emmanuel Macron’s economic and social vision has been spot on. But definitely not his method for getting there. Betting on vision meant treating Macron as an emanation of the Second Coming so that he was crowned the successor to Donald Trump as leader of the free world. That was appropriate since both had been political outsiders who gambled and threw a seven with their dice on the first attempt. Macron had the advantage, though. He was not a grifter. He was also a highly experienced technocrat who had served as an unelected Minister of Finance in the Hollande Socialist government.

The evidence of Macron’s fall from grace does not simply come from the weekly rallies of the Gilets Jaunes, the Yellow Vest Movement, rallies that became violent when they were used by lawless, anarchic youth (casseurs) and Black Bloc militants to smash store windows, set fires and hurl cobblestones and Molotov cocktails at police. Macron’s fall came because he felt so weak that he had to renounce some of his core policies, but with virtually no gain for the concessions. Those concessions only made him look weaker than he already was.

What united the protesters was their hatred of aloof elites; Macron was their embodiment. Even if the casseurs and Black Bloc militants had not joined, the magnitude of the protests shocked the establishment in Paris. Why were these French men and women from the countryside so deeply hostile? And they were so without any central organization, association with any political party, left or right, and de facto leaderless.

To get the Champs Élysées open again, Macron:

  • Repealed the environmental gasoline tax that fueled the protests;
  • Rescinded a tax that aroused the ire of pensioners;
  • Increased the minimum wage in contrast to his opening salvo of his rule, loosening the labour code;
  • Once on his knees, Macron cut taxes for workers and offered additional benefits for low-income employees.

He said he had learned his lesson. He said he had learned. But he did not reinstate the wealth tax.

These moves would have been great if introduced at the beginning of the Macron presidency. These moves were not simply a matter of too little too late, but too little too soon. For if he failed to introduce those reforms before the tax cuts for the rich, when he should have, introducing them in the face of populist people’s marches in the streets simply undercut the whole principle of liberal government, of responsibility assigned to lawmakers who remain accountable to the people at election time. The concessions were a direct surrender to populist politics over responsible democratic government. It should be no surprise that the Yellow Vests demand more and more as they watch the aloof leader of liberalism stumble back on his haunches, barely keeping himself on his feet.

What a trial for liberalism. But it is endemic to globalism and its liberal elite – simply made worse by French elitism. For what was lacking was the ability to read the pulse of the people. And surrendering to that impulse is not leading. It is not enough to believe in a more equitable distribution of the wealth of a country when there is no actual empathy for the plight of workers and the unemployed in society. That is the problem with operating from an intellectual framework that provides an understanding of the world. That approach becomes much worse with a deductivist Cartesian spirit often immune to facts on the ground that could falsify that theory, as exemplified in the French approach to Muslims in general and the hijab controversies more particularly.

Donald Trump may be an ignorant fool, a braggart and a liar, but he does know how to talk to the man, and some women, in the street. There is no sophistication. He would not only bore but turn off those who love language, who love articulation of ideas in well chosen words and metaphors. With Trump, there is no high style. Only glitz and glamour. While Macron dreamed of literary glory as a child, Trump only dreamt of money – money, money, money, for money makes the world go ‘round. The need, that desire for money, is recognized by every individual striving to get and keep out of the lower class and achieve a more secure branch on the economic ladder.

Thus, although Trump has even less empathy, real emotional empathy, for the working poor than Macron, workers can identify with his material striving, with his neediness. Macron was a research assistant for the French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur, a hermeneutical phenomenologist who viewed experience as something to be interpreted rather than lived and who viewed the world of letters and thought as something also to be interpreted to see if it reflected the interpretations from experience. To say that this was not a preoccupation of the ordinary working stiff is an understatement. For workers, this was all bafflegab, bafflegab that their taxes supported and bafflegab that provided a common language for the elite from which they were excluded. Further, real life was not found in novels and poetry, in essays and ideas, but in the back-and-forth material and verbal exchanges as life is lived in the banlieues of Paris.

Nor did Macron ever have to learn the art almost all politicians acquire of glad-handing and of deal-making. Instead, he reigned through the power of self-confidence. Macron floated into the presidency from on high, without a parachute or a back-up plan, into the upper reaches of the Élysée Palace like Mary Poppins, but without the umbrella. Macron believed he was a patrician, but when it was discovered that he neither had the ear nor could even listen to the people, instead of being true to his own ideals as a patrician, he displayed that he was not really to the manor born. He did not want to and was unwilling to say, “Let them eat cake,” though when they objected to the tax on diesel fuel on which they relied as a necessity, he suggested that they buy electric cars. To be part of a governing elite is one thing. To show disdain for the public is another. To combine both with concessions to a popular uprising undermined any popular respect for him. As Cole Stranger ended his article on Macron in The Nation, if in 2016 “Trump saw his election as a sort of giant episode of reality TV, Macron treated his own more as the ultimate competitive French entrance exam.”

He had scored big. A++. Macron ran on a platform of neoliberal reforms to free the system from the barnacles and weights of unnecessary regulation that limited flexibility and adaptability, all laudable and easily achieved objectives. However, workers were penalized by the reforms to the labour code. And when he reformed the tax structure, though he redistributed the burden of taxes from the middle class to the rich, he also abolished the wealth tax. Were rentiers deserving but workers were not? He lowered the speed limit on roads and class sizes in universities. He closed rural schools because their enrollments were too small, but also courts, clinics and hospitals on the argument that they were underused and on the basis of the principle of equality, He cut both a wide and a deep swath. And he promised retraining opportunities for workers.

Though he delivered on the initial items on his platforms, the last was left for the future when it was the workers who needed to be attended to first who would be hurt by changes in production, increased taxes on gasoline and less beneficent rules for labour. But when he was not on guard, he let slip his disdain for French workers whom he considered lazy and spoiled. Further, he left reform of the EU, to which he was fiercely loyal, also to the future when it was widely distrusted in the provinces. And he did nothing to invest in the decaying suburbs and the inadequate transport system in the banlieues, the Parisian suburbs, at the same time as he cut underused rail services in the provinces. He could not have alienated a wider swath of the French populace even if he had intended. Yet he was taken aback by the protests, their persistence and their power.

In his book Revolution, Macron had declared that, for France to succeed, “the solution is in ourselves. It does not depend on a list of propositions that will not be acted upon. It depends on just one thing: our unity, our courage, our common determination.” This was neither a formula for a political maven nor for a technocrat, but appeared to be the guiding principle of a follower of Jean-Jacques Rousseau appealing to the primacy of the “general will.” Macron was an anti-populist who believed that the goal, not just the instrument of politics, was to express, not reflect, the will of the people. In the Discours sur l’économie politique, Rousseau had used the phrase “general will” and in Lettres écrites de la montagne, Rousseau defined law as “a public and solemn declaration of the general will on an object of common interest.”  But a social safety net is important to members of the working and middle classes. It is not a common interest which requires that everyone be treated equally before the law, the core meaning of a general will.

The general will is not a doctrine of populism, but a guideline and boundary to determine the frame in which a legislator must work. And Macron failed to understand that and instead first focused on correcting the economic environment to make it more competitive, an action clearly neither of interest nor benefit to working people. Macron wanted an economy that would save the earth, again a laudable goal, but not one in the immediate interest of the working class if the costs for saving the planet were to come out of a worker’s pocket.

America is a democratic monarchy. I live in a parliamentary democracy where a representative of the monarch is only a figurehead, an important figurehead, but a figurehead intended to represent and touch the hearts of all the people. Macron wished that France had become a democratic monarchy. Though he did not want to be a sun god, he openly expressed a desire to be the largest planet in the political solar system. He wanted to rule as Jupiter. “Democracy does not suffice for its own needs. In the democratic process, and in its functioning, there is an absence. In French politics, this absence is the figure of the King, whose death, I believe fundamentally, the French people did not desire. The Terror left an emotional, psychic, collective vacuum: The King is gone!”

However, all its efforts to create the semblance of one from Napoleon and Charles de Gaulle forward were failures. Because, by definition, an elected politician cannot a monarch be. An elected monarch does not have inherited authority. Therefore, all attempts to create an elected monarchical system end in failure to a significant degree and to the extent parliamentary norms are subverted.

America tries to make this so when it views the president as a creation and exemplar of the constitution that provides the source of hereditary authority. In France – and in Israel – this is accomplished to a degree by electing a Prime Minister from a heroic military background. However, Israel is a parliamentary democracy in which the people always dreamed of having a king rather than judges ruling them. That system also fails when the supposed elected monarch is more interested in being an autocrat than an expression of the general will. The general will is reduced to the detritus of a rubbish heap of populism.

As Macron faces both the populism of the left led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the populism of the right led by Marie Le Pen, he faces the possibility of their unification, most likely on the right, as they demand a constitutional cap on the taxes of workers at 25%, as they demand a massive increase in social spending on infrastructure. The liberal global economy has made the rich richer, the poor poorer and those in the middle far less secure, has strengthened large population centres while draining the small towns of their youth and leaving behind dysfunctional remnants of what had been the essence of the true France as urban areas become the concentration points for technology.

Instead of covering the rest of Europe, I will next turn to an economic analysis to complement my excursus into identity politics.

With the help of Alex Zisman