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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With the help of Alex Zisman


Part IV: John Locke, Jews and the Transactional State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part III: Thomas Hobbes and John Locke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With the help of Alex Zisman

Part II: Thomas Hobbes and Jews

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

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

The following explanations are offered with respect to Leviathan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With the help of Alex Zisman

Part I: Introduction to Thomas Hobbes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part III: Francis Bacon, Baruch Spinoza and Sacrifice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With the help of Alex Zisman

Parashat VaYishlah – When Brothers Meet Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Next Morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With the help of Alex Zisman

Francis Bacon – Part II: The Secular as Sacred

If Spinoza used reason to unpack the misconceptions and misinterpretations about and allegedly found in sacred texts, Bacon made it his life’s work to set the mind on the path of discovery, first by dethroning the very idea that all knowledge had already been discovered and merely needed to be handed down by tradition and scholarship. Though approaching a problem from opposite angles, both thinkers were committed to freeing up the mind and thereby the life of humans. For Bacon, this entailed both deconstruction – the exposure to the light of day the idols of the past that have been embedded in our minds – and construction, the establishment of truth based on observation, induction, experiment and falsification.

This applied to the “Jewish problem.” In his work, The New Atlantis (1626), his model civilization is called Bensalem; religious tolerance is its defining characteristic. Though Jews had been banned from England in the thirteenth century, Jews had been allowed informally to set up some businesses in London. Bacon describes his encounter with one such Jew in Bensalem. Given its description, particularly the latter half, it is highly unlikely that it really happened. The whole story, after all, is a fable. He wrote:

By that time six or seven days were spent, I was fallen into straight acquaintance with a merchant of that city, whose name was Joabin. He was a Jew and circumcised; for they have some few stirps of Jews yet remaining among them, whom they leave to their own religion. Which they may the better do, because they are of a far differing disposition from the Jews in other parts. For whereas they hate the name of Christ, and have a secret inbred rancor against the people amongst whom they live; these, contrariwise, give unto our Saviour many high attributes, and love the nation of Bensalem extremely. Surely this man of whom I speak would ever acknowledge that Christ was born of a Virgin and that He was more than a man; and he would tell how God made Him ruler of the seraphim, which guard His throne; and they call Him also the Milken Way, and the Elijah of the Messiah, and many other high names, which they though they be inferior to His divine majesty, yet they are far from the language of other Jews.

Does this suggest that Francis Bacon was an anti-Semite? Perhaps in part, an advocate of anti-Judaism in its traditional form, but not antisemite. A deconstruction of the text in a Baconian mode indicates why.

There is an actual place called Bensalem in Pennsylvania, but the name is taken from Bacon rather than being the origin of the place Bacon describes. Similarly, though there is a place called Salem on the coast of Massachusetts where the notorious witch trials of the seventeenth century took place, Bacon could not have been referring to that Salem since the town was established the same year that the New Atlantis was published. Since Oregon was established well after the seventeenth century, its capital, Salem, had to be derivative as does the name of towns in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and South Dakota. Only Salem in Virginia and Bensalem in New Jersey might qualify.

I could have driven to Salem, Virginia, a town of 25,000, in five hours from Chattanooga by driving north-east, but it would have been of no help in understanding Bacon since the town was established 45 years after the New Atlantis was published. This is also true of the currently shrinking city of Bensalem in New Jersey of about 5,000 which I could have driven to in about a half an hour when I visited my eldest son about a month ago in Princeton. But it too was established at the same time as Salem, Virginia.

The reality is that the name has its root in the Torah, specifically Genesis XIV:18. 

יח  וּמַלְכִּי-צֶדֶק מֶלֶךְ שָׁלֵם, הוֹצִיא לֶחֶם וָיָיִן; וְהוּא כֹהֵן, לְאֵל עֶלְיוֹן.18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine; and he was priest of God the Most High.

The chapter begins with a description of a war around the Dead Sea between one alliance of four kings (Alliance 4) and another of five kings (Alliance 5). The second alliance (Alliance 5) included the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah. The war had already witnessed the defeat and slaughter of the Rephaim, the Zuzim, the Emin, the Horites, the Amalekites and the Amorites. Then the alliance of the five kings, that included Sodom and Gomorrah, took their stand against the marauding alliance of the four kings and were routed. Sodom and Gomorrah were both ravaged and looted. The kings of both Sodom and Gomorrah in flight threw themselves into bitumen pits. Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who lived in Sodom, was taken captive.

Abram was told of this. He then had 318 men under arms and, with his allies, went to free his brother and his brother’s son, which he did. He also recovered not only their property, but looted the property of the four kings and chased the losers towards Damascus. Following the battle that completely shifted the war effort, Abram was welcomed back as a conquering hero. “And Melchizedek king of Salem (my italics) brought forth bread and wine; and he was priest of God the Most High.” In other words, Abram was a war hero who totally reversed the fortunes of a number of rulers and was given a ticker tape parade in Salem.

Bensalem is the son of Salem taken from the Hebrew, shalom (שלם) meaning peace or to make whole or to complete, and ben meaning son. It is considered another name for Jerusalem, in fact, the original site of what would become Jerusalem. For Puritans, and their Baptist and Methodist successors, the name Bensalem was used to refer to a chapel belonging to a non-conformist church. According to Psalm 76:2, God’s tabernacle is in Salem. Yet it is also the location of the King of Sodom of infamous fame.

There is another personal name rather than place name in the story – the name of the Jew Bacon encounters, Joabin, also spelled Jobin. The suggestion is that it is a reference to Job, but the meaning of “in” as a suffix is not clear. It may mean a lesser Job as when we use sifron to mean a booklet compared to a sefer.  Who is this little Job?

If we look at the Book of Job, Chapters 1 & 2 provide a prologue, namely a wager between Satan and God in which Satan bets God that a pious man will abandon his faith in God if his life becomes a misery. Job loses his wealth, his family and his well-being but refuses to speak against God. However, his tone changes in Chapter 3 when he begins to curse his life. “You must have done something wrong to deserve this,” say his friends. “I’m innocent,” Job insists. Job turns to God and asks, “Why?” “Why this self-evident injustice?” And whatever the interpretation of God’s two answers, it is clear that suffering is NOT caused by sin. Job in the end remains faithful to God, both when God had been good to him and even when he was wronged.

This is not the time or place to go into the various theological debates that have arisen over the Book of Job, but the lesser Job in Bacon’s New Atlantis, in Bensalem, now overwhelmingly populated by Christians, is a Jew for Jesus, but of a very different kind than the one currently connoted by the phrase. This new Jew, Joabin, attributes to the Christian saviour lofty traits and even may acknowledge that Jesus was born of a virgin Mary. That is, Jesus is an archetype, a fictional model and not a flesh and blood being. For Joabin, Jesus was “more than a man” and assigned by God to be ruler of the seraphim. This new ideal offers a glimpse into a new source of light. In contrast, there are the “other” Jews who hate Jesus and carry a deep animosity to Christians. Why would Joabin as a lesser Job suffer for his beliefs?

There are a number of possible answers:

  1. He was disowned by the other branch of the Jewish people who despised Jesus;
  2. He identified with the suffering Jesus.
  3. He went from being a happy and prosperous citizen of Bensalem to someone, who, like Job, lost his family, his wealth and his good health.

The problem is that the fable says nothing of the kind re the third proposition. Further, with respect to the first, Joabin seems indifferent to the other branch of the Jewish family who hate Jesus and resent the Christians who have inherited Bensalem. What seems to be the case for Bacon is that Jews who accept Jesus, at least, as we shall see, this Enlightenment view of Jesus, are happy and contented and no longer even have to go through a suffering phase like Job while Jews who despise Jesus are malcontents, bitter and resentful. It is not Jews qua Jews who should be banished from England, but only Jews who reject Jesus as their saviour, that is, the new Enlightenment Jesus, as well as the traditional Jesus who, after all, can now be understood as a mythical figure given how he is characterized.

This is a midrash, a product of the imagination rather than a scientific conclusion drawn from observation and experimentation. But why would Bacon, this beacon of light for the Enlightenment dedicated to science as the means for improving the human condition fall back on a stereotype, on what he himself had labeled an Idol of the Market, a prejudicial notion unsupported by evidence and rooted deeply in a fixed perception of the other? Further, why would a man committed to science as the means for human betterment fall back on a religious trope that suggests that faith as a Christian is what delivers the goods?

As we read on in The New Atlantis, Bacon substitutes science for God as the means of satisfying and guaranteeing human welfare.  Bacon is not a believer in knowledge for its own sake. He is a proto-utilitarian. What function then does a belief in Jesus serve? Is the Christian church suddenly a supporter of science? Well, a certain kind of Christianity is, a religion which accepts reason as the light, and Jesus is that light, and education rather than surrender to the will of God is the means of salvation. A Christianity which gives a community coherence to support the utility of science is the kind of religion Bacon extolls.

So why divide Jews in to the good kind who accept Jesus as the ruler of the seraphim versus those who despise Jesus? Look at the difference between traditional Christianity’s view of Jesus as the supreme light versus reason as the supreme light. The former light is divine; the latter light is earthly. In The New Atlantis, the Governor of Bensalem tells the tale of the founding of Bensalem by Salomon (Solomon???) who creates the College of Six Days’ Works, “Salomon’s House,” dedicated to spreading “God’s first creature… light” throughout the world via the scientific prowess of Bensalem. Bensalem is the start-up metropolis inhabited by the “Merchants of Light” and “Lamps” which make empirical knowledge possible. And knowledge is power.

But the city is still an adaptation of Augustine’s City of God. Except it works through research that unveils secrets and provides material benefits – health, wealth and well-being, the very benefits God restores to Job when the latter remains faithful.

Just as God worked for six days to create the world, the College of Six Days’ Works uses reason, science and education to enable progress to usher in a new Zion in which Christianity provides the social cohesion which reason cannot provide. Christianity is instrumental in tricking people into accepting the scientific revolution and the quest for a new scientific paradise, one in which we now live. What about our original question – why offer a stereotype of the bad Jew and a utopian view of the good Jew?

Note that the religious priest of Bensalem wears clothing with both Christian and Jewish elements as well as Muslim ones. He is ecumenical. This is not a tale in which the birth of Jesus changes the course of history. Rather progress in history – and there is progress – depends on science, something which only the intellectual elites understand while the masses are carried forward by the use of traditional costuming.

Note that the Tanach appears in the sea for the sailors who seem to be substitutes for the sailors on the ship which threw Jonah overboard; it is equivalent to a hologram, an image created for effect but without any substance. The god of The New Atlantis is reason and science and he is a humanist. Insofar as Jews worship this rewritten version of God, insofar as they join the Enlightenment and, like traditional Christians, leave behind their Idols of the Market, they can join in the new religion of reason, science and the Enlightenment.

Joabin, and the Jews like him, are honest and tolerant and full of brotherly love for non-Jews. All humans belong to the same human family. Jesus, at least this re-interpreted Jesus, is a spokesperson for that view.  Therefore, Jews who no longer reject this Jesus, who accept the new sense of community, Jews who accept assimilation in the religion of reason and progress, Jews who no longer betray a dual loyalty, will not suffer as Job suffered at the hands of God.

If you recall Shakespeare’s portrait of Shylock and Marlowe’s portrait of Jews, whatever objections one might have to Bacon’s doctrine, this is a very different world than one which sanctioned the exclusion of Jews.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Francis Bacon – An Introduction

Spinoza wrote that what he meant by God was “the fixed and unchangeable order of nature or the chain of natural events.” God was a unity. Nature was a unity. Francis Bacon (1561-1626), the so-called father of empiricism and of precise observation of nature, in contrast with Spinoza’s emphasis on abstract critical reasoning and Nature with a capital “N,” divided knowledge into three realms associated with three different faculties:

Philosophy   reason

Poetry          imagination

History        memory.

For Spinoza, there was only one route to knowledge – reason – and only one body of knowledge – Nature or God. However, nature created men of different kinds. But these differences were external and not substantive, a product of varied circumstances versus constant laws. Bacon argued that different fields of study required different methods and different disciplinary practices. For Spinoza, one could only get to fixed laws through the use of reason.

However, Spinoza wrote that the mind is a complex of mental (both cognitive and affective) states. The essence of the bodily aspect of Nature is appetite. Will applies to reason alone. Appetite applies to both mind and body. One consequence: we do not desire the good but dub the good what we desire, a principle almost identical to one Bacon put forth. Whatever we desire we brand good. But Bacon offered different grounds for this principle.

His originality is his defence of the classification rather than the classification itself. Classification allows organization and hence accessibility and, thereby the democratic spread of knowledge. Bacon becomes a contemporary precisely because of his concern, not with the purpose of knowledge, its end, not the why of knowing, but the how. Information, for Bacon, is processed through three routes, reason, the imagination and though narrative or historically. Spinoza also depicted the imagination, but not as a vehicle to knowledge, but a passive response to pleasure and/or pain as part of the common order of nature. Love is pleasure resulting from an external cause. Hate is its parallel – pain resulting from an external cause. Therefore, love can be a product of either fleeting or long-term gratification. Imagination encompasses the wide range of passive responses to these affects.

Whatever their philosophical differences, both were prodigies. Like most of the other precocious personalities discussed thus far from the sixteenth and the seventeenth century, Bacon was a brilliant student. Even taking into consideration the much younger age when young men attended college, Bacon went up to Cambridge when he was only 12 years old. Though he made his intellectual name as a philosopher of science in his volume Novum Organum, he made his public name earlier as a diplomat and was a student of law, statecraft and languages. Thomas Jefferson regarded Bacon as one of his heroes alongside John Locke and Isaac Newton, with Bacon having the added advantage of founding colonies in Virginia and the Carolinas, as well as Newfoundland.

Bacon was very ambitious, determined to both uncover the truth while serving his country, all along remaining faithful to the church. Unlike Spinoza, Bacon was no iconoclast. He became a politician sympathetic to Puritanism and a promoter of the union of England and Scotland. He supported the execution of Mary Queen of Scots. It was he who explicitly identified England with Athens and Spain with authoritarian and militaristic Sparta. On the other hand, he actually opposed Queen Elizabeth I for being so punitive towards Catholics, but nevertheless was named by the Queen to be her legal counsel. He tempered the hard-nosed proponents of Realpolitik with compassion, but nevertheless became an ardent supporter of King James I. Some would call him an opportunist, others a proto-pragmatist.

When the House of Commons was at odds with James I over his extravagant lifestyle, Bacon tried to mediate between the King and the Commons. One could argue that he had become an apologist. But much worse. When he was named Attorney General in 1613, he used torture to help convict Edmund Peacham of treason and get him hung. Three years later, in 1616, he initiated the impeachment of Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset. He became Regent for a short period and them Lord Chancellor at the age of 45 when he married Alice Barnham, a 14-year-old daughter of an ambitious alderman. She later went on to have an affair with Sir John Underhill, possibly because Bacon was gay and preferred a Welsh servant. Bacon disowned her.

His worst period came in 1621 when he was charged with corruption – he had accepted legal fees while holding high office. He made a plea bargain. His fine and confinement to the Tower of London were both pardoned by the king, but he never could hold a political office again, a great benefit to the future because he then devoted himself to study and writing.

Our interest, however, is on the interaction of his religious beliefs with his political and scientific ones. He was an Anglican with a sympathy for Puritanism, but never a dogmatist in religious terms. In Fama Fraternitatis he wrote, “after a time there will now be a general reformation, both of divine and humane things, according to our desire, and the expectation of others: for it’s fitting, that before the rising of the Sun, there should appear and break forth Aurora, or some clearness, or divine light in the sky.” “According to our desire and the expectation of others.” We act, not for a divine end, but to satisfy desires and others’ expectations.

Let me offer a contemporary application of the guiding principle of historical knowledge that the politics of the present, the divisiveness of politics in America, is affected by competing accounts of the past. The Confederate flag that Governor Nikki Haley took down from the South Carolina State House following the murder of nine parishioners at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston is a case in point. Her action was invaluable. However, her rationale was dead wrong. The flag was not hijacked by white supremacists; it has always been the symbol of white supremacism both for the secessionists in the nineteenth century and for the Dixiecrats in the forties and fifties of the twentieth century. To read the flag simply as a symbol of sacrifice is to hide its heritage in deep racism and to cover up that for which there had been so much sacrifice, so much Jim Crow, so much murder and mayhem, so much abuse of the rights of others. Under the Confederate flag, Nathan Bedford Forrest’s troops killed unarmed black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow, Tennessee.

For Spinoza, competing accounts of the past were just different efforts to create an imaginative world, a construct as it were, that reinforced one’s desires and appetites. Thus, there was no truth value in such imaginative efforts, just personal satisfaction. The only hidden meanings worth unpacking were those in Nature uncovered by reason. Bacon, however, found hidden meanings in myths and fables as well as historical narratives. All hidden meanings in whatever realm are regarded by establishments as not only hidden but forbidden knowledge.

Both Spinoza and Bacon opposed the realm of superstition and promoted its replacement by what could be called substition, that is unpacking the hidden truth beneath the surface. However, religious belief for both were matters of faith, not knowledge. It was a realm in which to escape and provide relief from the pains of this world and find pleasure in another. That perhaps explains why Bacon is probably most famous for his depictions of the idols of the mind.

There are four such idols:

                                        Idols of the Theatre


Idols of the Cave          ————!————         Idols of the Market


                                        Idols of the Tribe

An idol is an image fixed by the imagination in the mind which is venerated but has no substance. That is, it lacks any truth value. An idol is an idée fixe that cannot be dislodged by counterfactual evidence. We begin at the base – Idols of the Tribe inherent in all humans. They are human propensities to distort, exaggerate and inflate and disregard what is directly apparent to one’s senses. At one extreme, the idols create utopian fantasies which gain dignity over time, especially when constructed of an admixture of facts. At the other extreme, they are pure fabrications used to denounce and destroy others and advance one’s own interests and appetites.

If Idols of the Tribe belong to the public realm, Idols of the Cave are inner creations of the imagination roaming about in the cavern of one’s mind. Given our education and preoccupations, these idols are used to interpret and distort what appears to our senses as these are filtered through forms and categories to which we have given a preferential status. A military historian will give a preference for viewing the past through military categories while an economic historian gives preference to economic matters and a physiologist may give a strong preference to explaining phenomena in terms of the functioning of the body. Truth entails dislodging these Idols of the Tribe and Idols of the Cave from their fixidity. These fixations are often viewed by Bacon as feminine qualities. In Bacon’s New Atlantis (1626), in a frontispiece, a winged figure, Father Time, retrieves a female figure from the dark cave of the mind and brings her into the light.

Idols of the Market are not what one may assume in today’s consumer culture as those bitten by an advertising bug so that one becomes intent on purchasing something which may, in the end, be of little use. Rather, Idols are of the Mind and not the material realm, and an Idol of the Market is more akin to what George Orwell tried to expose in his dystopian novel, 1984.  If we use words to give them a false significance, even an inverted significance, we engage in Idols of the Marketplace such as when we call the vicious autocrat, Stalin, Uncle Joe, or call the rulers in a dictatorship, Big Brother, or another person whom you are trained that you cannot trust, comrade. When words become substitutes for thinking, in fact, often prevent thinking, when words are used to overwhelm the other with the Big Lie, with repeated claims that are unsupported by any evidence – such as the Ukraine rather than Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 American election, then you are dancing with an Idol of the Marketplace.

Idols of the Theatre occupy the top tier because these are idols that frame our thoughts rather than simply being fake news. The view that the sun revolves around the earth and that the earth is the centre of the cosmos is an Idol of the Theatre, in this case, the drama of the cosmos. Similarly, the Aristotelian emphasis on final causes, on telos, is an Idol of the Theatre because it is a mental worldview presented to the masses not to enable them to think but so they will not think. Here we enter the arena in which philosophy or theology has become a servant to power and the establishment. When we have erected a false mental superstructure in the mind that cannot itself be subjected to analysis and criticism, then we have enslaved our faculties to the Idols of the Theatre.

The antidote to these idols – pay attention in detail to causes in nature, not, like Spinoza, to nature on a grand scale, but to nature in all its varied details. And keep in mind utility. Knowledge is important for the use that we can make of it. Bacon was a proto-pragmatist. The value of certain spheres of knowledge depended on their degree of contribution to the well-being of humanity. Further, that knowledge had to be subject to tests of falsification. This was the essence of the scientific method.  Knowledge may be inherited but its truth value can only be assessed through observation and established by experimentation and testing.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Spinoza Addendum

I have been asked by several readers to expand more fully on Spinoza’s biblical criticism in his Theological-Political Treatise of 1670. I have already written on the connection of theology and political theory in general in both Grotius and Spinoza. This blog offers specific illustrations and answers some questions directed at me. Nothing I write is earth shattering or original.

Clearly, the basic premise was that the Bible should be examined and analyzed by rational methods. This was the forerunner of what became known as “higher criticism.” Further, I believe Spinoza was the first to argue that the Torah was a product of different authors and, following the rabbinic commentator, Abraham Ibn Ezra (12th century), expanded on the latter’s thesis that Moses could not have been the author. In addition, Spinoza claimed that reason was sufficient to find basic ethical principles. The Torah was primarily a pedagogical tool. Perhaps, even more importantly, as I have put forth, the Torah was for Jews the constitution of the Jewish people.  For an extended analysis, readers may want to consult Jonathan Israel (2001) Radical Enlightenment.

Readers of my blog were interested in examples in which Spinoza found the Torah to be “faulty, mutilated, tampered with, and inconsistent,” a synthetic product of different versions, some lost forever. His views were also shared by some Calvinists, like Isaac La Peyrère, namely that the flood did not cover the whole earth or that Adam was the first man. In doing so, Spinoza did not disparage the Torah. He upheld it as a crucial text to teach ordinary people through telling tales that offered norms by which to live. But Spinoza was also an intellectual snob. It is because the ordinary guy was incapable of higher reason that the teaching had to be written as stories to be read to and by the ordinary guy.

What he most disparaged were miracles – of which the text is full. He did not need to prove that any one one of them was false for, from the proposition that natural laws are manifestations of God and miracles are breaches of natural laws, and that it was irrational for God to express his nature in natural laws at the same time as He provided for breaking those laws, it was a contradiction and irrational. Therefore, not only were there no miracles, but there could be no miracles. Claims for miracles were only products of the imagination, tall tales without any truth value.

More radically, Spinoza disparaged the idea of God as judge. God manifested Himself in nature and nature was the expression of God. God is an immanent presence and not transcendent. Further, even the application of a concept like free will is misleading. For if God manifests Himself in nature according to laws, and that is called God’s freedom, then “free will” is a superfluous expression. There is no personal God. God does not feel, get angry or mete out justice. God does not expect nor does He experience disappointment. God does not even make choices. So why worship or pray to Him?

Spinoza’s most profound critique targeting the Aristotelians was his attack on final causes, the notion that to each thing there is an essential end and that through the purpose of anything, its telos, we can unravel the nature of the world. Spinoza disparaged the view that the world has a purpose especially made for our benefit; such a perspective was as fallacious as the doctrine that the sun revolves around the earth. His critique claimed that there was an inherent contradiction. If God is perfect, then there is nothing yet to be unfolded. More importantly, it suggests that there is something that God does not have but which God wants, pointing to an insufficiency in God.

Further, if nature as an expression of God is perfect, why are there faults and failings in the system, such as in the way the heart functions for some. If the heart was designed by God, then God could not be perfect for He makes imperfect pumps. Since there are imperfections in the particulars, it is only in the overall composite of natural laws that you can come closer to perfection – but still very far away. An inability to understand variations in a system is but a reflection of our limited minds rather than saying anything about nature, let alone God.

The problem most believers have with Spinoza is not so much that nature is a manifestation of God, of the divine spirit, but that one cannot extrapolate, not only a purpose, but even a preestablished order. In a modern idiom, Spinoza would insist that, “it is what it is.” Standards of beauty, of good and evil, are constructs of humans and do not inhere in nature.

Why then was Spinoza excommunicated? Who would disagree with his views of imperfection, his critique of teleology and his contempt for miracles? First off, excommunication was no great thing in a Jewish congregation. It meant that you lost your membership. When we think of excommunication, we think of the Inquisition, we think of Galileo. And even in that case, as I tried to show, the action was far more permeated with politics at the time than just a conflict over religious doctrine. Nor was Galileo’s house arrest anything close to being burned at the stake.

Further, Spinoza was just being kicked out of membership in his synagogue. He was free to join another Jewish community in Hamburg or Leiden or Vilna. The language may have been drawn from Inquisitional documents – such as clauses about no contact or discourse with the man – but Spinoza continued to have contacts with Jews even as he expanded his correspondence and contacts with gentiles.

I was asked what were the particulars of Spinoza’s herem? Asa Kasher and Shlomo Biderman in their essay, “Why Was Baruch de Spinoza Excommunicated” in D. Katz et. al. 1990 edited collection, Sceptics, Millenarians and Jews or Steven Nadler’s 2013 essay, “Why was Spinoza Excommunicated,” (Humanities 34:5) offer detailed accounts. The condemnation reads as follows:

The Senhores of the ma’amad [the congregation’s lay governing board] having long known of the evil opinions and acts of Baruch de Spinoza, have endeavored by various means and promises to turn him from his evil ways. However, having failed to make him mend his wicked ways, and, on the contrary, daily receiving more and more serious information about the abominable heresies which he practiced and taught and about his monstrous deeds, and having for this numerous trustworthy witnesses who have deposed and borne witness to this effect in the presence of the said Espinoza, they became convinced of the truth of this matter. After all of this has been investigated in the presence of the honorable hakhamim [“wise men,” or rabbis], they have decided, with the


consent, that the said Espinoza should be excommunicated and expelled from the people of Israel. By decree of the angels and by the command of the holy men, we excommunicate, expel, curse and damn Baruch de Espinoza, with the consent of God, Blessed be He, and with the consent of the entire holy congregation, and in front of these holy scrolls with the 613 precepts which are written therein; cursing him with the excommunication with which Joshua banned Jericho and with the curse which Elisha cursed the boys and with all the castigations which are written in the Book of the Law. Cursed be he by day and cursed be he by night; cursed be he when he lies down and cursed be he when he rises up. Cursed be he when he goes out and cursed be he when he comes in. The Lord will not spare him, but the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven. And the Lord shall separate him unto evil out of all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant that are written in this book of the law. But you that cleave unto the Lord your God are alive every one of you this day.

The reasons sound horrific and the extent seems global. The “crime” certainly seemed very serious and, for the Jewish community, the punishment was very severe.  Though the offence could have been for a cause as mundane as not paying dues, the instigation in Spinoza’s case was far more serious. Although the Board of Directors of his synagogue had responsibilities equivalent to the United States Senate, Spinoza was not an officer of the synagogue nor was he excommunicated for high crimes and misdemeanours. In fact, he was not even the worst villain. Daniel Ribero and, especially, Juan (Daniel) de Prado, whose memberships were also up for review at the same time, were worse. There was no equivalent to Galileo’s trial. There was not even a trial.

Reread the document above. Neither it nor any other document has been found which tells us what the “monstrous deeds” and “abominable heresies” were. Dr. Prado, charged at the same time, recanted. The charges were dropped until Prado repeated the offence a year later and was then excommunicated. Spinoza would not recant on the first round and even rejected the offer to be relocated in another Jewish community alongside all the Jewish refugees who had fled Brazil. There are some suggestions that Spinoza felt that the four Sephardic congregations in Amsterdam had all been “infected” with the Christian conviction as a dogma that the soul was immortal, since all four rabbis espoused such a belief and critics argued that this was a result of their immersion in Christian beliefs before they converted back to Judaism.

Yet this young man, only 23 at the time, from a well-respected Portuguese Marrano family, with no published works, is branded with such a severe edict. My hypothesis is it was the same charge leveled against Socrates for which that ancient Greek philosopher was forced to take hemlock – the corruption of youth by questioning the Bible’s historical accuracy. Spinoza was brilliant. They did not want him to influence their children and his peers lest his “abominable heresies” become even more “monstrous deeds.” When he did publish, he proved that the Directors of the synagogue were correct. Spinoza ended up “corrupting” the whole religious world.

What about Spinoza’s reference to the particularism of Judaism and the universality of Christianity? First, that distinction should be suspect from the get go. After all, Christianity really anthropomorphized God; Judaism only did so with characterization – how God felt, how He thought, how He decided, how He had regrets. That meant a constraint on human freedom and reinforcement of institutionalized authority. The establishment had a way of keeping the masses in line. The consequences of disobedience were enormous, much more for a Christian than for a Jew. Nadler speculated it was worse for Jews because God then could not have “chosen” the Jews.

But even Spinoza’s God could have done so, not by giving Jews a special status, but by assigning them by nature to a specific function or set of functions. A role, not a reward, was defined. But once the world became or aspired to become a commonwealth of nations, “there is nothing whatsoever that the Jews can arrogate to themselves above other nations.” They no longer need to define themselves as more different than other nations. Further, the history of Jews has proven than the laws Jews adopted were historically rooted. The laws of Temple sacrifice were no longer relevant and had been abandoned. So would be the end of other irrelevant Jewish laws.

Except for one law that was universal. Love thy neighbour. Love your fellow human beings. Act towards others with justice and charity. The Lutheran doctrine that one could only grasp the truth of scripture by “opening oneself first to grace and surrendering oneself to the service of and trust in Jesus” was even more irrelevant than the accretions of Jewish law. Institutions, the Christian churches much more than the Jewish establishment, perverted the universality of the message of both Jesus and of the prophets, including Moses.  Even though the prophets directed their message to the Jewish people, one should attend to the universality in the message. When Paul taught that Jesus died on the cross to free men, it was not to free them from the rule of law, but from the bondage imposed by irrelevant legal commands. That is the correct way to read the Gospels. Jesus “purified” the universalist message within Judaism. The institutions built over his dead body resurrected authority structures to undermine the message.

It should be no surprise why liberal Calvinists respected Spinoza so much while conservative Calvinists, who clung much more to the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, were even more negative that Spinoza’s own congregation. Did this make his synagogue more sensitive to the dangers of Spinoza’s beliefs?

With the help of Alex Zisman