Rav Soloveitchik and Social Issues: Theology, Britexit and Korach

Politically correct liberalism is an imbalanced spiritual diet .

Dr. Chaim Charles Cohen

Judaism הכניסו ספר תורה
הכניסו ספר תורה

Britain’s vote to leave the European Union has given a bloody nose to the social philosophy of politically correct (pc) liberalism. The social philosophy of the EU is the ultimate embodiment of pc liberalism, a social philosophy based on individual rights, universal egalitarianism (such as open, non-ethnic based immigration), and rational, utilitarian social planning. The silent majority of England loudly shouted in their vote that ‘man cannot spiritually survive on a sole diet of pc liberalism’.

A political diet of undiluted pc liberalism leaves man spiritually hungry, thirsty and unsatisfied.

Traditional liberalism better recognizes man’s spiritual needs. Traditional liberalism understands that man has a dual nature; man is both body and soul, both passion and mind, and an individual and a social joiner. Man was created with an inner drive to find transcendent, existential life- meaning beyond his puny, frail everyday mundane existence. Thus traditional liberalism understands that individualism must be balanced with joining multi generational families and communities, that universalism must be balanced with ethnicity and nationalism, and rationalism must be balanced with a belief in the meta-physical. Man is a being that cannot exist solely as a self defining, self creating individual. In order to grant meaning to his transient existence he must transcend his solitary, everyday existence, and become a part of a multi-generational family community, an ethnic nation and address a metaphysical realm. Otherwise the human soul will wither on the vine, or descend into existential bewilderment.

Today’s pc liberalism denies these transcendent needs of man’s soul. Over the last ten years almost all references by pc liberals to the transcendent have been negative: tradition is considered primitive and oppressive, nationalism borders on fascism, the traditional two parent family is chauvinistic and oppressive, and fundamental religion is homophobic

The silent majority of the West is beginning to shout No. The silent majority of the West is beginning to say “We are spiritually suffocating.. Yes, we need (a transcendent) traditional nationalism and religion in order to spiritually survive and give meaning to our lives.”  PC liberalism, not recognizing the spiritual needs of the ordinary man, will most likely go the way of the pristine, ideological socialistic kibbutz; ie. a beautiful ideal, one that possess much inner rational logic, but self destroys on the shoals of human reality.

The radical, egalitarian, atheistic communal life of the kibbutz lasted a generation and a half, and then collapsed, because it did not recognize the reality of man’s being. Man cannot survive on a diet of only egalitarian, rational, universal ideals. Man’s soul also craves to add more family oriented, metaphysical meaning to his everyday existence. This is the ideological meaning of Britain’s exit vote. We will now find a similar in our reading of parashat Korach, and in Rav Soloveitchik’s teachings.

Torah: Korach and politically correct liberalism

A legitimate reading of Korach may show that the sin of Korach’s rebellion contained elements similar to those of pc liberalism. (Don’t laugh. This is not Purim Torah. The nature of man’s soul spans time, and is eternal. The needs and passion of Korach’s soul are no different than the needs and passions of modern man. And just as Korach mistakenly understood and managed these needs and passions, so does pc liberalism.)

What was Korach’s sin? What was Korach’s problem solving   solution? Korach was jealous and envious of the transcendent, separate spiritual and social status granted by G-d to the family of Moses, Aaron and his sons. He saw the status of the priests as a form of outright, socially unjust, oppressive nepotism. More succinctly, Korach sinned because he refused to manage his feelings of envy, and desire for power and status by submitting them to the more transcendent, spiritual authority of Moses and divine guidance. He sought individual self fulfillment by organizing a public rebellion against the established, spiritual leadership.

The arguments, according to the Midrash,  that Korach used are strikingly similar to those of pc liberalism. (Human nature does not change over 3000 years).

1)  Korach, like pc liberalism, employed the arguments of rational utilitarianism against the seemingly a-rational, arbitrary authority of the Torah’s commandments. For example, he argued with scorn, why does a room of holy books also need a mezuzah? Why does a garment of divine blue color –techelit- also need the single thread of the techelet in  its tzizit?

2) Korach, like pc liberalism, used the arguments of universal egalitarianism against the seemingly oppressive, social hierarchy of priests, Levites, and Israelites. For example, he argued, “For the entire assembly –all of us- is holy; and Ha Shem is among us; why then do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of Ha Shem?”

3) Korach, like pc liberalism, sought to liberate the socially oppressed in the name of their material self interest. For example, he argued how a poor widow was left penniless and helpless after giving 24 divinely commanded gifts to the priests.

In summary, Korach, for reasons of self fulfillment, argued that the heart of social morality was a more democratic, rational, utilitarian distribution of social property, power and status-regardless of traditional, spiritual authority-just like pc liberalism. The Torah answers that an egalitarian distribution of social property and power is a justifiable part (more a means than an end), but not the whole, of man’s redemption (self fulfillment). Man can redeem himself only by establishing relations of social justice and mutuality in the context of building self sacrificing (transcendent) relationships with ones extended family, immediate community, nation and G-d.

Torah-Rav Soloveitchik and politically correct liberalism

The above social analysis of Korach’s rebellion is based on the social philosophy of Rav Soloveitchik Unlike many other Orthodox theologians, the Rav emphasizes that man is commanded (as pc liberalism advocates)  to employ the rational, the utilitarian , the technological, the scientific, and the social ethical in order to improve man’s everyday welfare-ie. to be a full partner in G-d’s  ongoing creation of His world. However, this is only half of man’s story. Man must engage in bettering his everyday material welfare by also engaging in self sacrificing activities within social relationships that transcend his everyday, self focused individualism. If we exist only in terms of our self focused individualism, we can never truly answer our soul’s burning existential questions concerning our lives’ purpose and meaning; we cannot truly overcome the transientness, tragedy and often absurdity of our daily existence. Man cannot save himself only by staring into himself, and worrying about his immediate needs and passions. His soul desperately needs to also build mutually balanced, self sacrificing relationships with extended family, nation and G-d, relationships that transcend our current time, place and individualism.

Conclusion-Why am I so angry at politically correct liberalism?

Why am I so angry at pc liberalism? This is because pc liberalism has built up painful barriers between myself and my (secular,liberal) brothers and college friends. Pc liberalism no longer, in its political discourse, distinguishes between healthy nationalism and dangerous nationalism, between healthy, fundamentalistic, orthodox religion and non-healthy, fundamentalistic religion.

My brothers and friends are rapidly losing their ability to empathize (I do not expect agreement) with the Jewish nationalism that brought me to raise a family in Judea and Samaria. The issues of gender and sexual identity equality have lessened their respect for Orthodox Judaism. And I, in return, am sick and tired of being, a priori, suspected of being a fascist because of my Zionistic, Jewish nationalism. And I, in return, am sick and tired of being, a priori, suspected of being a male chauvinist and homophobe because I am a fundamentalistic, orthodox Jew.

I believe that these very personal, family feelings also reflect certain of the feelings of the silent majority of many people in Western countries. They, like I, respect the need for civil rights, freedom of individual self expression, and a more socially just distribution of social goods. However, many also feel that nationalism and traditional religion should be trusted and respected as a necessary, healthy part of society’s well being.

At this point in time, pc liberalism does not convey, in their political discourse, a healthy respect for traditional nationalism and religion. The West’s silent majority is beginning to revolt against such an elitist, dogmatic, orthodox politically correct liberalism. This is the theological meaning of Britain’s vote to leave the orthodox, pc liberalism of the European Union.