The 17th-Century Statesman and Philosopher Who Found in the Talmud the Key to England’s Political Future

A jurist, scholar, political thinker, and member of parliament, John Selden (1584-1654) played an important role in Britain’s political and religious development during one of its most tumultuous periods. His erudition extended not only to Latin and Greek but also to Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic, and his systematic study of the Talmud and other rabbinic works informed much of his political thought. Reviewing Ofir Haivry’s recent John Selden and the Western Political Tradition, Noel Malcolm writes:

As Haivry shows, Selden’s political career, with its apparent shift from radical oppositionist to conservative critic of parliamentary innovations, followed a consistent set of principles. Selden was one of the leading English thinkers who developed a fully constitutional theory of the exercise of political power: [to him,] apparently exceptional areas of decision-making, such as the royal prerogative, or emergency powers justified by “reason of state,” had to be enclosed within a legal framework, and the final guarantor of that framework was . . . parliament itself. Yet the constitution was what it was, with the king’s distinct authority interlocking with parliamentary power; for parliamentarians to appropriate royal rights was just as bad as the king imposing taxes without their consent.

The principle that, legally and politically, we must accept that things are what they are—and not what our a-priori theorizing would prefer them to be—marks Selden down as a conservative; for Haivry, indeed, he is the unacknowledged founder of an English conservative tradition, as important as Burke but writing more than a century earlier. . . .

An important focus [in the book] is on Selden’s engagement with Jewish legal traditions. . . . On the face of it, the connection is problematic, as the Jewish nation had a very different history and culture from the English one. We could expect Selden to have become—as he did—an expert on Anglo-Saxon law in order to understand long-term English developments; but why the laws of the Talmud?

Part of Haivry’s answer is that to Selden, the Jewish tradition offered an exceptional case-study in how a complex legal system can be maintained, changing and developing incrementally all the while, over a huge length of time. In this sense it was just an exemplary model for English Common Law, rather than an influence. But, more importantly, Selden also believed that talmudic writers had preserved a fundamental set of natural laws, known as the “Precepts of the Sons of Noah,” which—Noah being the ancestor of the entire human race after the Flood—formed the basis of all legal and political systems.

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More about: Christian Hebraists, England, History & Ideas, Philosophy, Political philosophy, Talmud

To Israel’s Leading Strategist, Strength, Not Concessions, Has Brought a Measure of Calm

Aug. 14 2018

Following a long and distinguished career in the IDF, Yaakov Amidror served as Israel’s national-security adviser from 2011 to 2013. He speaks with Armin Rosen about the threats from Gaza, Hizballah, and Iran:

For Israel’s entire existence, would-be peacemakers have argued that the key to regional harmony is the reduction of the Jewish state’s hard power through territorial withdrawals and/or the legitimization of the country’s non-state enemies. In Amidror’s view, reality has thoroughly debunked this line of reasoning.

Amidror believes peace—or calm, at least—came as a result of Israeli muscle. Israel proved to its former enemies in the Sunni Arab world that it’s powerful enough to fill the vacuum left by America’s exit from the region and to stand up to Iran on the rest of the Middle East’s behalf. “The stronger Israel is, the more the ability of Arab countries to cooperate [with it] grows,” Amidror explained. On the whole, Amidror said he’s “very optimistic. I remember the threat that we faced when we were young. We fought the Six-Day War and I remember the Yom Kippur War, and I see what we are facing today. We have only one-and-a-half problems. One problem is Iran, and the half-problem is Hizballah.” . . .

In all likelihood the next Israeli-Iranian confrontation will be a clash with Amidror’s half-threat: the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hizballah, Iran’s most effective proxy in the Middle East and perhaps the best armed non-state military force on earth. . . . “We should neutralize the military capability of Hizballah,” [in the event of war], he said. “We should not destroy the organization as a political tool. If the Shiites want these people to represent them, it’s their problem.” . . .

“It will be a very nasty war,” Amidror said. “A very, very nasty war.” Hizballah will fire “thousands and thousands” of long-range missiles of improved precision, speed, and range at Israeli population centers, a bombardment larger than Israel’s various layers of missile defense will be able to neutralize in full. . . . This will, [however], be a blow Israel can withstand. “Israelis will be killed, no question,” Amidror said. “But it’s not going to be catastrophic.”

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Lebanon