20 nov. 2013

Workshop in the Covenant idea and the Jewish Political Tradition

Author: Daniel J. Elazar
Title: The Almost-Covenanted Polity
Working Paper, 17 (January 1982 = Shevat 5742)
Bar-Ilan University
Dept. of Political Studies

America and the Federalist Revolution

The 1776, the United States began the process that twelve years later was to culminate in the invention of modern federalism. Today, 200 years later, federalism is a world revolutionary movement, no less so because it is the hidden revolution of our times than if it were advancing to ideological trumpets. [...]
With the establishment of the American federal union, federalism emerged as a viable option in the development of modern nation-states. [...]

The Four Roots of American Federalism

As the form of the American polity, federalism has its roots not only in the political dimension of American society but in the economic, social and religious dimensions as well. This is the point that is often overlooked and has been especially neglected in our own time.

Political roots

[...] Those roots go back at least to the Mayflower Compact, a federal document in the original meaning of the term, that is to say, a covenant among parties seeking to unite for common purposes while preserving their respective integrities. [...] Between the Mayflower Compact and the Constitution of 1787 were uncounted compacts, convenants and constitutions creating churches and towns and colonies, and at least one inter-colonial confederation as well.

Economic roots

The economic roots of American federalism can be traced back to the early trading companies that sponsored British and Dutch settlement of North America and to the system of governance encountered by the settlers on the voyage over. [...] The pattern of shareholding led to a corporate structure that was at least quasi-federal in character.

Religious roots

The religious expression of federalism was brought to the United States through the federal theology of the Puritans which viewed the world as organized through the covenants which God had made with mankind, binding God and man into a lasting union and partnership to work for the redemption of the world, but in such a way that both sides were free as partners must be to preserve their respective integrities. This daring notion lies at the bases of all later perceptions of human freedom since only free men can enter into covenants. Thus, implicit in the Puritan view is the understanding that God relinquished some of his own omnipotence to enable men to be free to compact with Him.
According to the federal theology, all social and political relationships are derived from that original covenant. Thus, communities of citizens were requiered to organize themselves by covenant into towns. The entire structure of religious and political organization in New England was a reflection of this application of a theological principle to social and political life and its echoes can be found in the economic life of the New England colonies as well.

Social roots

It should not be surprising that the social dimension of federalism became so pronounced given the convergence of these political, economic and religious factors. Americans early became socialized into a kind of federalistic individualism, that is to say, not the anarchic individualism of Latin countries, but an individualism that recognized the subtle bonds of partnership linking individuals even as they preserve their individual integrities. [...]
At its best, American society becomes a web of individual and communal partnerships in which PEOPLE LINK WITH ONE ANOTHER TO ACCOMPLISH COMMON PURPOSES OR TO CREATE A COMMON ENVIRONMENT WITHOUT FALLING INTO COLLECTIVISM OR ALLOWING INDIVIDUALISM TO DEGENERATE INTO ANARCHY.

The Covenant Idea and the Federal Principle

The creation of the American federal system was, at one and the same time, a new political invention and a reasonable extension of an old political principle; a considerable change in the American status quo and a step fully consonant with the particular political genius of the American people. Partly because of their experiences with the model before them and partly becasue of the theoretical principles they had derived from the philosophic traditions surronding them, the American people rejected the notions of the general will and the organic state common among their European contemporaries. Instead, they built their constitutions and institutions on the covenant principle, a very different conception of the political order and the one most conducive to the theory and practice of federalism.
This notion of covenant, of a lasting yet limited agreement between free men or between free families of men, entered into freely by the parties concerned to achieve common ends or to protect common rights, has its roots in the Hebrew Bible. There the covenant principle stands at the very center of the relationships between man and God and also forms the basis for the establishment of the holy commonwealth. The covenant idea passed into early Christianity only after losing its political implications. Its political sense WAS RESTORED DURING THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION, PARTICULARLY BY THE PROTESTANT GROUPS INFLUENCED BY CALVIN AND THE HEBREW BIBLE, the same groups that dominated the political revolutionary movements in Britain and America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Much of the American reliance upon the covenant principle stems from the attempts of religiously-inspired settlers on these shores to reproduce that kind of covenant in the New World and to build their commonwealths upon it. The Yankees of New England, the Scotch-Irish of the mountains and piedmont from Pennsylvania to Georgia, the Dutch of New York, the Presbyterians, and to a lesser extent, the Quakers and German Sectarians of Pennsylvania and the Middle States were all nurtured in churches constructed on the covenant principle and subscribing to the federal theology as the means for properly delineating the relationship between man and God (and, by extension, between man and man) as revealed by the Bible itself.
By the middle of the eighteenth century, however, the covenant idea had been plucked from its religious roots and secularized by men like Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. They transformed it into the concept of the SOCIAL COMPACT, the freely-assumed bond between man and man that lifted men out of an unbearable state of nature and into civilization. In the Lockean view widely admired by Americans, it was this social compact that made popular government possible.



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