Steven Horowitz
Steven Horowitz

The Unity of Nature, Nations, and Economics

The fundamental essence of Judaism is unity. Unlike the predominant Christian and Western philosophical tradition of dualism, the Hebrew Bible rejects separate spheres of the material and the spiritual. Hebrew ethics is also free of a rewarded afterlife. Biblical Judaism has its roots in the here and now, and is specifically grounded on the land within a rural environment. This ethic is profoundly egalitarian and believes essentially in an agrarian stewardship which is diametrically opposed to the concept of unlimited economic expansion. This is fundamentally due to the Divine injunction against debt usury and the all-important positive Divine command for Jubilee.

Judaism is both ecological and non-capitalist, naturally and simultaneously. In the same way, Judaism does not separate history from nature, or nature from economy. All these categories are unified within the Hebrew Bible as one profound whole. The redemption of human history is to be a Divine-human partnership within a specific structural unity involving a peaceful world organized in opposition to geopolitical, economic and ecological conflict. In such a context, Divine Creation is not to be subsumed by a dominant human intervention defined by unlimited debt, greed, natural destruction and war. However, because of the continued nature of this human intervention, now the redemption of history has become a necessity. That is, a necessity rooted historically within essential material phenomena and participated through a natural environment of human of non-coercion.

Judaism is an attempt at the unity of nations within a context of local autonomy through universal ethical application. It is not about world government, it is about world understanding. Judaism foresees a righteous future for humanity striving for greater and greater degrees of harmony. But harmony is not to be confined solely to the relationships between human beings. Judaism believes that harmony must involve all of G-d’s Divine creation. In Judaism, the earth belongs to the Divine. Humanity’s role is to find its proper place in order to preserve creation.

If now is not the age of redemption, than Judaism makes little sense. For human development has now obliterated all lines of limitation. The Divine creation as a place of potential harmony has been vastly eclipsed by human abstractions operating without ethical bounds. The essential duality of Christianity has been rejected for a purely material universe devoid of the spiritual and the absolute truths of Divine moral prescription. This had always been the danger within the mind-body dualism of Christianity. Individual redemption, solely on an after-life spiritual plane, was eventually rejected for individual wealth, and the well-being of the powerful as a replacement for the Christian heaven. The very structure of society has now been torn asunder through the unlimited expansion of human greed, the weaponry of mass extinction, and the complete disregard of nature as Divine creation.

Science without ethics has become the new ruler of the world. The modernist project of the West has slipped into a profound agnostic absolutism, as war and capital have proceeded to enslave the globe within its crisis-ridden dystopian logic. We humans — Jews and Gentiles alike — live in a world absent an understanding of G-d and the potential harmonious unity of Biblical Judaism. The moral relativism of all twentieth century political projects failed to limit either global ecological degradation or vast human cruelty. This new age of disbelief has also wrought a deep economic inequality. Now it is quite possible that, within a century, human civilization — along with many of G-d’s earthly creatures — could fail.

We live in an unparalleled age of global crisis. This age demands the material necessity of an historic human redemption. However on the ecological dimension, our hubris and scientific bent still maintain that (somehow) we can conquer nature through technological fixes. This is done in order to continue our pursuit of infinite economic growth. But our ecological problem is not about atmospheric-carbon accumulation alone. It is much deeper and goes to the very boundaries of all of nature’s cycles. Urban man has become blinded by the foolishness of his own power. Nature can never be conquered.

Just this week, in a memorandum to the world’s political leaders, over fifteen hundred ecologically-orientated scientists warned that if humanity continued apace with our present economic course, environmental disaster could surely come from any one of a myriad of man-made natural causes. The scientists warned that the continued expansion of material production will not alleviate our global ecological problems. This our great dilemma; for everyone to live a capitalist lifestyle similar to Europe and the US, it would require the resources of three planet earths. This is the fantasy of global capital– an ever-expanding market without material limitation.

But humanity does not live on three earths. And the pursuit of an ever-expanding economy has led us into a global ecological crisis. But capital is a mere abstraction, and capitalism cannot be sustained without continued expansion. Capital — as a mathematical abstraction — always leads to greater and greater debt as the engine of growth. But unlike natural resources, capital needs only zeros to expand. But at some point even debts have their own systemic limits. The prospect of debt repayment enters a cycle of extreme doubt. This usually leads to an economic crash. Now (in our global age — globalization} the accumulation of debt is so huge that even the slightest of doubts could lead to a depression of catastrophic proportions.

Capital has now become — through its inherent contradiction of ever-expanding fictitious banking logic (debt as asset, asset as debt) — a potential human catastrophe poised on a precipice of a world subsumed by debt. This situation is profoundly anti-Jewish because it leads directly to grave human inequalities. For the vast majority of the world’s people, a lifetime of poverty and debt peonage is the result. Also such a world can only lead to perpetual conflict (also profoundly anti-Jewish). Hence we are living in an age where nations require greater and greater wealth in order to secure the necessary weaponry in order to protect themselves from prospective enemies of all kinds. The proliferation of all types of weapons of mass destruction has now become near ubiquitous.

Humanity is at an historical crossroads of nature, nations, and economics. Peace has become a global necessity in order that we can proceed to balance nature with economics. Scientific-technological fixes cannot save us from the myriad sins of a usury-based global capitalism that is devouring G-d’s precious creation. Humans are unique in that we have free will. However in Judaism, there is no coercion. Achieving the global unity of ethical purpose leading to harmony among classes, nations and nature will require both peaceful dialogue and logical persuasion. In such a redemption of humanity, decades and/or centuries will be required. Judaism will play a prominent and necessary religious role throughout. Let us all begin to do this vital work in partnership with G-d. We have little time to waste.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).