Liberal Democracy

“The form of politics closest in spirit to Judaism at this time is liberal democracy. Liberal democracy is not Athenian democracy. In ancient Greece, the people existed to serve the state. In Judaism, and liberal democracy, the state exists to serve the people. Liberal democracy respects one of Judaism’s most fundamental values: the priority of the personal over the political. It is limited government, of a kind Judaism favours. The liberal democratic state does not aspire to be a vehicle of redemption; it is there to keep the peace, establish the rule of law, and ensure non-violent transitions of power. Although Judaism does not recognise the concept of separation of church and state (neither, for that matter, does England, a liberal democracy with an established church), it recognises a no less fundamental idea, namely the separation of powers between king, priest and prophet, the ‘three crowns’ spoken of by the sages. The Hasmonean kings were criticised by the sages because they combined kingship and priesthood: in effect, they breached the separation between political and religious leadership. Any attempt to see the state as the highest value is, as the late Yeshayahu Leibowitz never tired of saying, a form of idolatry. Judaism exists to etch social relationships with the charisma of grace. That is not the task of politics.”

Future Tense, p. 179