Communal Democracy and Liberal Democracy in the Jewish Political Tradition


Publication Date: January 1993

Publisher: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

Author(s): Daniel J. Elazar

Research Area: Politics

Keywords: Government; Policy; Political Behavior; Communal Organization

Type: Report

Coverage: United States


This article describes the emergence of liberal democracy, then compares and contrasts liberal democracy with communal democracy, showing the latter to be a prior form of democratic self-government. It then discusses the two in the perspective of self-government and rights, the two dimensions of democracy.

Having given the United States as the best example of liberal democracy and Switzerland as the best modern example of communal democracy, it then goes on to explore the Jewish political tradition and how it is also an example of communal democracy. The article then turns to the crisis of modernity and the Jewish polity and how the modern commitment to liberal democracy won over a majority of Jews even as it posed problems for the Jewish polity, examining classical Judaism and pluralism, looking for accommodations between the two in the contemporary Jewish polity. It suggests a series of accommodations that have been developed, especially for less traditionally observant Jews, and examines their implications for the Jewish political tradition.

In conclusion the article suggests that a bridging between modern conceptions of liberal democracy and premodern conceptions of communal democracy has begun and that one way to help that bridging would be for Jews to turn to the concept of federal liberty as it was developed by the English Puritans and their heirs out of the biblical tradition, at the beginning of the modern epoch, as a source of ideas and directions to pursue.