The Politics of Envy: a Jewish View


Link to video of the protest

Yesterday I unwittingly became entangled in a political demonstration. No worries, I am safe and sound. It wasn’t Fascist Nazis or Fascist anti-Nazis. It was run-of-the-mill leftist protesters holding signs, and even waving the American flag. Would they accost me if they knew I was to the right of Genghis Kahn? I don’t think so, but I didn’t test it.

As can be seen in the video that I took, the crowd is protesting Trump’s proposed tax cuts. They were claiming that it hurt the poor and helped the rich.

Interestingly, no poor were in attendance. I closely observed the crowd. They were all middle or upper-class folk, Vietnam-era hippies mingling with modern day leftist geeks and artists.  There were actual homeless people a dozen meters away—men whose genuine poverty can scarcely be doubted—that were ignored. There were no inner-city kids who haven’t eaten a meal since the last government provided school lunch. The solitary black guy there dressed better than any of the washed-out octogenarians chanting like they were still stoned from the 60’s and was one of the event organizers. We shook hands, and he introduced himself. He apologized that he didn’t have a business card to give me. He seemed affable enough. I am thus undecided if he would be the type to guillotine priests in the French Revolution. 

The protesters were not poor. What then were they protesting? Some of the signs were explicit. They were outraged that the government planned on seizing less of the rich’s money than it does at present.

One of the bibles of the left is Capital in the Twenty-First Century by French economist Thomas Piketty. The book focuses on inequality, which is one of the buzzwords of the left. Piketty proposes massive taxes on the rich. So far nothing new. But he adds that, ultimately, his envisioned tax hikes (thefts) will do little to help the poor. But it will succeed in bringing down the rich a peg or two. That’s what important.

Think of the whole notion of inequality, one of the of the Left’s shibboleths. It a non-issue framed as the most important of issues. But I cannot improve on the late great Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher. Margaret Thatcher was famously asked in parliament about the inequality gap between rich and poor. She said, “All levels of income are better off… What the honorable member is saying that he rather the poor were poorer provided that the rich were less rich.” It is true now as it was then.

I believe it is, in large part, envy.

How does Judaism view this unbridled envy?

Here are some hints to point us in the right direction. God tells in the ten commandments: “You shall not covet your friend’s house; you shall not covet your friend’s wife, or his field, servant, ox, donkey, or anything that belongs to your friend.” Everyone knows (or should know) Avos 4:21: “Jealousy, desire and honor remove a person from the world”. Don’t forget this verse in Proverbs (14:30), “Jealousy in the heart makes the bones rot.”

Maimonides, in Mishneh Torah Laws of Kings 12:5, speaks of the Messiah saying, “In that era, there will be neither famine or war, envy or competition for good will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust.” In the Guide to the Perplexed ( part 3 chapter XXXIII), he writes, “For by following entirely the guidance of lust, in the manner of fools, man loses his intellectual energy, injures his body, and perishes before his natural time; sighs and cares multiply; there is an increase of envy, hatred, and warfare for the purpose of taking what another possesses. The cause of all this is the circumstance that the ignorant considers physical enjoyment as an object to be sought for its own sake.” In the Guide part 2 chapter LIV he writes, “Whenever such evils are caused by us to any person, they originate in great anger, violent jealousy, or a desire for revenge.”

No doubt, this applies to one’s personal life as well as general politics. Don’t personally covet your neighbor’s possessions. In addition, don’t promote (or even, excuse) any elements in society who glorify the coveting of the all the wealthy’s possessions. It is loathsome, and it destroys all that it touches. 

Author: 004

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