An Idea Betrayed by Juliana Geran Pilon

An Idea Betrayed by Juliana Geran Pilon

Jews, Liberalism, and the American Left

In calling America “the almost chosen nation,” Abraham Lincoln invoked at once the Old Testament and the Founders’ belief in the two covenantal communities’ common ideal: equal liberty. The Declaration of Independence proclaimed that ideal. Our Constitution instituted it. Although it took the Civil War to abolish the original sin of slavery, equal freedom defined the nation’s philosophical foundation. Beginning late in the nineteenth century, however, that vision of liberty under constitutionally limited government mutated into progressivism. An aggressive mix of collectivism and scientism, fueled by Marxism and other toxic European ideologies, its early expression was eugenics, its later ambitious central planning. Meanwhile, an influx of immigrants during times of economic displacement would kindle widespread xenophobia, while populist distrust of financial profit, often associated with Jews, would stoke anti-Semitism. Over time, equal freedom fell into disrepute. Among the idea-elites, “right-wing” and “conservative” became pejoratives. But the rise of the Soviet Union and the aftermath of World War II proved a watershed for Americans, especially for American Jews, for those developments placed the liberal idea in a clarifying geopolitical context. Today, with equality and equity often used synonymously, a conflation of anti-capitalism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Zionism has gained prominence while Islamists make common cause with the enemies of freedom from within. Given the stakes, Jews must reassert the basic principles of their ancient tradition, which are also America’s.

Year first published: 2023

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