A few months ago, I had a talk with an American libertarian about the nascent Israeli Liberty Movement. He eventually asked me why Israelis are so enamored of state power.
I often wonder about this myself. Political scientist Ira Sharkansky has called the Israeli State a cumbersome giant, one which regulates and intervenes regularly in almost all aspects of daily life. Yet for all Israelis’ moaning and groaning about the inefficiency of this or that bureaucracy, most Israelis seem comfortable wit the idea of State intervention in daily life beyond its minimal obligations to protect life and property of its citizens.
You can see this in Hebrew editorials of every stripe. Whenever there’s a problem, whether education, snow or economic, the question is almost always “What should the State do about it” or “Who (in the State) is at fault”? This idea is so deeply embedded that many writers confuse the State with society at large.
Nor is this a right-left issue. There is not one major political party in the Knesset which supports real separation of Church and State – not even Meretz. All parties support conscription regardless of its efficacy to the army in the name of State-enforced social solidarity. This is to say nothing of support for state control of education and regulation of the economy.
So what gives?
In my opinion, the widespread support for state involvement can be traced to a number of causes, some ideological and some more prosaic.
The first is the (continental) European origin of Zionist leaders and movements. Almost without exception, said leaders and movements grew in intellectual atmospheres which supported state intervention of different shapes and sizes; the American and British classical liberal tradition played little part in their ideological maturation. The result was that a good Zionist was almost invariably a good statist.
The second is peculiarly Jewish. Jews have been denied political sovereignty and political power for almost 2,000 years. It is inevitable that even the most calculating realist would place high hopes on the new possibilities provided by this new and powerful mechanism to shape society. There were a few who supported a minarchist vision of the State of Israel, including gadfly Yeshayahu Leibowitz. However, most probably thought it inconceivable that such a trememndous achievement be restricted to “only” protecting life and property.
Then there are the prosaic facts of life. Many people are so used to state intervention that they can’t conceive of things being otherwise. Others are addicted to the seen benefits of state involvement such as welfare and are not willing to risk them for the uncertain if greater benefits from stopping those programs.
So how does one wean Israelis from their statist addiction?
I’m still trying to figure that one out.