Judaism and Social Action II

This is an email response to a friend of mine:


We both agree then:  The Government is US, and there are appropriate and inappropriate uses of government (federal, state, county, city).  And you’re right that the GI bill and the federal interstate highway system are projects WE commisioned government to implement.  That’s exactly my point:  “They” is “us.”

But here’s where we disagree.  The very projects that changed our lives are “improvement” projects.  They are a form of “social action.”  The GI Bill allowed a whole generation of people to move into the middle class.  The interstate highway program (even though it began as a defense project) made it possible to truck goods quickly and efficiently all across the country and helped to unify this county by making it accessible to a much larger percentage of the population.  Social Security and Medicare helped to transform the economic and social status of our elderly population.  Affirmative Action (flawed as it is) made it possible for large numbers of women and minoirites to enter into careers and companies from which they would otherwise have been excluded.  Etc.  This all involves improvement.   If you call that “socialism,” then I guess we’re stuck.  I call it intelligent public policy.  And nothing is value-free.

Further, “improvement” is related to “stability.”  Look at Cincinnati and what happens when a city fails to deal with deeply rooted policies of racial prejudice.  City government in Boston did something different.  When confronted with the same problems, the mayor and council adopted a plan that changed the ethnic and racial makeup of its police force.  Guess what?  The problems diminished, and Boston (once synonymous with racial tension) has developed a reputation for decent community policing and relative ethnic harmony.  In other words, if you want stability, you also need “improvement.”  I don’t see how you do this without government (WE), though private corporations and non-profit groups are equally important.  Cliched as it is, “private-public partnerships” is an excellent and apt phrase.  By its very definition, government is involved in forms of social action.  Otherwise, I guess we’re back to the state of nature.

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DR. LAURENCE H. KANT (LARRY KANT), MYSTIC SCHOLAR: Engaged Mysticism and Scholarship in the Pursuit of Wisdom; Discovering meaning in every issue and facet of life; Integrating scholarship, spirituality, mysticism, poetry, community, economics, and politics seamlessly. Historian of Religion: Ph.D., Yale University, 1993 (Department of Religious Studies); Exchange Scholar, Harvard University, Rabbinics, 1983-84; M.A., 1982, Yale, 1982 (Department of Religious Studies); M.T.S., Harvard Divinity School, 1981; B.A., Classics (Greek and Latin), Tufts University, 1978; Wayland High School (Wayland, MA), 1974. Served on the faculty of Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), York University (Toronto), and Lexington Theological Seminary (Lexington, KY). Works in many languages: Ancient Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, English, French, Italian, German, Modern Greek (some Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish). Holder of numerous honors and awards, including The Rome Prize in Classics (Prix de Rome) and Fellow of the American Academy of Rome.

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