Liberalism and conservatism through the eyes of the Torah

The paper “Liberalism, Conservatism, and the Jews” asks the very important question related to Jewish identification:

How does Judaism relate to liberalism, with its promise of individual rights, economic equality, and a society of fairness guaranteed by an empowered welfare state; and how does Judaism relate to conservatism, with its promise of individual opportunity, economic freedom, and a society governed by traditional morality and the virtue-forming institutions that sustain it?

The answers to those questions will be presented at a seminar of The Tikvah Advanced Institutes. Without knowing TAI answers, in this post I am going to provide my own answers which are based on the lessons of my own life – in the former Soviet Union and in the USA. The answers are my own – not given to me by my rabbi or by any school of thoughts.

The Jews are people of the Torah. The Torah says we the humans have been created in the image and likeness of God the Creator. Therefore we are here on this earth to be creative, to create for the sake of building a better world for everybody.

The Torah didn’t specify in definite terms a precise configuration of “a better world”. Therefore we have to look for a precise configuration among many configurations already suggested or may be suggested in the future. Among the already suggested are two fundamental concepts: liberalism and conservatisms. Although the Torah doesn’t judge directly those two concepts, it contains a powerful tool to make an indirect judgment.

This tool is the Torah’s guidance on the slavery.

The Jewish nation had been started with the Exodus from Egypt – from slavery to freedom. And in all our history we have been struggling to preserve our freedom – in the 6st BCE Babylon, in the 3rd BCE Greece, in the 2nd CE Rome, in the 15th CE Spain, etc.

The definition of slavery is clear – depriving an individual of his/her individual choices. Here is one of the Oxford-dictionary definitions of a slave: a person who is excessively dependent upon or controlled by something. Today’s slave-owner is a government which is enslaving the individuals by enormous laws and regulations.

I learnt from my father not to smoke and it was my choice to smoke or not to smoke – these days the government is eliminating this freedom by regulations.

I liked how my mother cooked a meal for me – now the government is telling me I should trust its food regulations, not my mother.

I learnt by my own mistakes how to maintain my home, how to drive everything, how to educate my children – these days I have to follow government regulations.

In the past I was able to manage my business alone – now I have to have “my lawyer” since the government regulations makes it almost impossible for an ordinary individual to comprehend the law.


The government has left me with only one option – be a government slave or go to jail. And that is what the Torah is telling me should not happen. The very reason why we escaped the biblical Egypt’s slavery is to be free people.

Of course, everybody is telling me the government is trying to make my life better and more secure through all those enormous laws and regulations. But I continue mistrusting the government, knowing that

  • For the majority of contemporary lawmakers an elected job is the way to much better income – probably two times better, as compared to an ordinary-citizen income, even without counting the great lobbing benefits
  • The majority of lawmakers know to be reelected and preserve their benefits they have to have money which are coming from the lobbyists, and they have to have votes, which are collected by promising to make more laws and regulations
  • The result of ever increasing laws and regulations are an incapacitated citizenry and a financial state of near bankruptcy
  • An everlasting increase in government power through enormous laws and regulations reduces my individual freedom and put me on a road to (intellectual) slavery.

Now we can get back to the liberalism vs. conservatism comparison.

The traits of liberalism are individual rights, economic equality, and social fairness guaranteed by an empowered welfare state.

Liberalism is trying to build a better world based on expanding the individual rights, economic equality, and fairness guaranteed by an empowered welfare state. I have no problem with individual rights if they are consistent with the Torah guidance. However, many of the individual rights are man-made aimed at enlarging somebody’s voting bloc. I have a problem with economic equality since the economic equality eliminates the wealthy people; however, the Torah respects wealthy people who are helping the poor. And I despise an empowered welfare state since it deprives me from God-given individual freedoms and puts me on the road to a contemporary slavery.

Conservatism is trying to build a better world based on individual opportunity, economic freedom, and a society governed by traditional morality and the virtue-forming institutions that sustain it. All those traits of conservatism don’t empower government and therefore preserve my individual freedoms. I don’t know how successful may be conservatism, but I know with conservatism I am not going back to a slavery in its contemporary form.

About the Author
Vladimir Minkov graduated from the Naval Engineering Academy in the former Soviet Union, served in the Soviet Navy and there received his Ph.D. At the end of 1970s he immigrated to America where democracy and the Judeo-Christian spirituality of this country made it possible for him to actively defend both his scientific and spiritual ideas. In the USA he has found the place for his scientific public work in the spiritual realm of One God and Torah.
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