Bryan Caplan  

"Why Are Jews Liberals?" Symposium

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The highlight of this symposium on Norman Podhoretz's Why Are Jews Liberals? comes from Michael Medved.  It's almost Hansonian in its crude reductionism, and fits the facts better than the other stories:

For most American Jews, the core of their Jewish identity isn't solidarity with Israel; it's rejection of Christianity... Jewish voters don't embrace candidates based on their support for the state of Israel as much as they passionately oppose candidates based on their identification with Christianity--especially the fervent evangelicalism of the dreaded "Christian Right."

...In an era of budget plane flights and elegantly organized tours, more than 75 percent of American Jews have never bothered to visit Israel. The majority give nothing to Israel-related charities and shun synagogue or temple membership. The contrasting components of the American Jewish population connect only through a point of common denial, not through any acts of affirmation.

Imagine a dialogue between Woody Allen and a youthful, idealistic emissary of the Hasidic Chabad movement--who might well be the proud father of nine religiously devout children. Both the movie director and the Lubavitcher may be publicly identified as Jews, but they share nothing in terms of religious belief, political outlook, family values, or, for that matter, taste in movies. The one area where they find common ground--and differ (together) from the majority of their fellow citizens--is their dismissal of New Testament theology, with its messianic claims for Jesus.

Personally, though, I'd rather talk about why the most influential libertarians of the 20th century were disproportionately Jewish.  By my count, it's five out of six: out of Mises, Hayek, Rand, Friedman, Rothbard, and Nozick, Hayek's the only gentile.


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COMMENTS (21 to date)
Ashton writes:

Well, I know if you are talking about Ayn Rand, she assuredly wouldn't want to be called a "libertarian." Also, though she was Jewish by birth and family tradition, didn't she become adamantly atheist sometime early on in her life?

chipotle writes:

Podhoretz is wrong. His data-free theorizing is okay as far as it goes but it goes too far. First I'm almost certain that the mythical Chabadnik with nine kids is more likely to be Republican. Second, I'll bet that the likelihood of voting Republican rises monotonically for every child after the third one. Third, I'd bet that the more you earn, the more likely you are to vote Republican.

Professor Caplan, if you're interested in this, you could probably run some GSS data through simple regressions. Just to prove my intuition is correct.

This is not to say that ideology doesn't matter. Given their income levels, you'd expect Jews to be a Republican, not Democrat, constituency.

This is where Podhoretz has his kernel of truth. Jews do have a culture that:

  1. distrusts majorities (we're never in the majority, except in modern Israel and pockets of New York)

  2. prizes academic accomplishment and thus has academic values which are good for learning but also carry the sociological fact of engraining PC

  3. remembers real repression. Much like wages, the legacy of real racism--being excluded from colleges and country clubs all the way up to pogroms and the Holocaust--is "sticky." It takes generations for people to replace inherited values with ones that fit better with current circumstances.

  4. Since voting is expressive and not instrumental, voting patterns are not especially linked with interests.

Podhoretz's "Jews hate Christians" story is too simple and, frankly, unflattering. One part of the Jewish education is teaching Jewish kids to try to resist the temptations of majority Christian culture, such as Christmas celebrations and Sabbath-free Saturdays.

matt writes:

I have to agree with Medved. But I'd go farther, all the multi-cultural inclusiveness talk of the left, makes me think pogroms won't happen in this country. Republicans who believe non-Christians go to hell are only one step away from sending us there themselves. Successful minorities are always blamed when things go wrong, the more this country aligns along religious lines the more conspicuous Jews, and atheist ones like me become.

Remember it wasn't that long ago we had organized violence against blacks in this country. You think we couldn't have organized violence against non-Christians, gays, don't fool yourself, spend a few hours listening to conservative talk radio.

FYI I am a liberterian, I never vote republican nationally, but I did vote republican locally when living in the north east.

As to your question of why so many great liberterian thinkers are Jewish, there is a really obvious answer. But as a Jews we are not supposed to mention it, and if anyone else mentions it we are supposed to deny it can possibly be true. I learned this at hebrew school.

Bob Layson writes:

Perhaps because they wanted success to be rewarded and not pedigree. More likely, they concluded that a libertarian order would allow for greater peace and prosperity than the suggested alternatives. People could flourish without being a part of some consciously identified and disciplined People.

William Barghest writes:

Are jews simply both more diverse and more successful in their intellectual interests than the gentiles, resulting in a disproportional number of jews at the top of any weird intellectual field?

Sean A writes:

Of those Libertarians, how many even remotely followed Judaism?

wd40 writes:

Weren't the most influential Communists, starting with Marx, also Jewish or of Jewish heritage?

scott clark writes:

I'm with wd40, I think you'll find a lot of ethic Jews were also architects of state power as well. Just off the top of my head I can think of Bernard Baruch and Henry Morgenthau. So I think this is a case of some Jews being disproporationatly able to rise to the top of their chosen profession, whether its building up the state, or trying to scale it back.

chipotle writes:

Can we quit with this non-sense about Marx? His father converted to Christianity before Karl was born and he was baptized as a Lutheran at the ripe old age of 6. His essay "On the Jewish Question" is, besides being incredibly antisemitic, actually an attack on capitalism.

Jews have an intellectual tradition and thus produce disproportionate numbers of intellectuals. They also have strong, structural reason to distrust powerful majorities. [See my post above.]

Paul writes:

Ayn Rand wasn't a jew.

tal writes:

Ayn Rand was extremely Jewish. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

mulp writes:

Jews were the intellectual backbone of the revolution that brought Stalin to power. Zionism was classically socialists/communist. The Zionist settlement movement recognized that control of the land required quasi-state control to prevent individual self interest leading to land acquired by a Jew being sold to a non-Jew. Israel took control of the land acquired by the Zionist state and of the land expropriated from those who fled the violence or who lack a clear title record to the land their family owned through the Ottoman era. Stalin was quick to recognize Israel believing it would be a friendly communist beachhead in the region.

Israel has been a stronghold of unions, of socialized medicine, of state control of economic development, of a strong central government which enlists all Jewish members of society as agents of the state.

Of course, everyone knows that the true Jewish homeland is North America; the overwhelming majority are citizens of the US and Canada plus significant communities in other parts of the Americas.

Ed Hanson writes:

As always, some of the greatest thinkers are the exception to rule. Along those lines, I would point out great thinkers along the libertarian lines, also exception to voting patterns, are Williams and Sowell.

Mike writes:

Hayek wasn't Jewish, but the bulk of his friends in Vienna were!

kevin writes:

The obvious answer (alluded to but unstated above) is higher mean scores for Ashkenazi intelligence. This is why you'll see more Jews near the top of many intellectual fields than other groups (including other Jewish groups).

Another interesting question is why so many great composers seem to be from Germany and Austria.

tal writes:

Ayn Rand wasn't jewish. I was wrong (I looked it up).

Pavel writes:

chipotle, your Third point is not quite correct. I remember seeing statistics that while top 10% income wise vote mostly republican, the top 1% votes democrat. My theory is that while money=consumption for moderately rich, money=power for very rich and it's quite unproblematic to exchange money-power for state-power.

Regarding discussion about who is and isn't a Jew, I believe that we first need to agree on whether Jew is a religion or a nationality.

For the past few decades, polls have indicated that young Jews are more politically conservative than old or middle-aged Jews. My guess is that the Jews who voted Republican at 20 are voting Likud at 40.

This might also explain why Israeli politics is no longer unanimously socialist.

David S. writes:

Actually, I disbelieve Podhoretz's thesis because I believe that he's using the wrong null hypothesis. The overwhelming majority of Jews in the United States live in large urban centers, such as New York (which alone holds about 1/3 of the American Jewish population). Therefore, the correct comparison would be to compare the political beliefs and voting habits of Jews to those of economically similar inhabitants of those cities. Since the members of that demographic (regardless of ethnic/religious background) are strongly liberal and Democratic, it seems quite unlikely to me that there would be much of a difference between Jewish and non-Jewish political beliefs once you control for geography.

This reduces the entire thesis to the much less interesting question of why Jews seem to prefer to live in big cities.

Ariel writes:

Correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't Mises, Rand, Friedman, Rothbard, and Nozick atheists? Culturally Jewish sure, but they were non-believers I think.

John Fast writes:

I don't particularly like Medved's explanation, and I strongly prefer Milton Friedman's explanation. I believe it was published in one of the two essays in From Galbraith to Economic Freedom.

The quick-and-dirty version is that, in European politics, the parties of the Right were generally affiliated with the established Church, and with anti-semitism, while the parties of the Left were in favor of religious tolerance.

Personally, though, I'd rather talk about why the most influential libertarians of the 20th century were disproportionately Jewish. By my count, it's five out of six: out of Mises, Hayek, Rand, Friedman, Rothbard, and Nozick, Hayek's the only gentile.
Is libertarianism part of the International Jewish Conspiracy? Cool, count me in! And we can make Hayek an "honorary Jew" as well.

Matt, I think that a lot of the left in this country -- perhaps a majority of it -- is just as intolerant as the stereotypical right-wing bigot. Look at how much anti-semitism there is at "anti-Zionist" rallies, and how vicious it is. I agree with Dan Simmons, and also with Joel Rosenberg.

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