5. On the Nature of Power
The historian Sol Roth took a more benevolent view of Judaism’s relationship to power and his argument can be paraphrased as follows:
- Since human purposes generally require power for their attainment, power cannot be intrinsically evil.
- Power acquires its moral character (good or evil) from the purpose it serves.
- Thus, power is suspect only when used for an immoral purpose; when concentrated in the hands of a single individual; or when it becomes a purpose in itself.
It is said that knowledge is power, and knowledge that constitutes power - when used in violation of a moral precept - is evil. Thousands of years ago Jeremiah had already cautioned:
Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom…
Moreover, commented Roth, power is deceptive. Men and nations are often deluded by it into believing that they have the capacity to resolve all human problems, and that they can control people’s destinies.
Yet power is not always destructive: there are forms of power that are beneficial and necessary: it can also be used to communicate and persuade in such a way that individuals respond of their own free will.
Echoing Martin Buber, Roth speaks of a 'Cultural Power' that belongs to a people whose culture gives it the capacity to achieve social aims, even in the face of adversity. The Jewish People serve as a good example. They could not have had less political strength than the reality of the past two thousand years - yet they had the cultural power to preserve their way of life and exert influence on others.
Such power, according to Roth, is derived from the inherent vitality of the culture in question and the sense of commitment among those who identified with it. Thus, to the extent that the leaders of the culture identify, typify and represent that culture, its future be assured in the face of all external odds.
The epic of Mattathias’ resistance against the mighty Hellenistic machine is but one of several classic examples in our tortuous and extended history.
- Suggest some other historical and contemporary examples of cultural power.
- Can this cultural power exist in a situation of political power?
- Do modern Jewish and Israeli culture have that inherent vitality?
- Do their leaders represent it sufficiently to ensure its survival in adversity?
Steve Israel, Struggle & Defense – An Introduction [Part I].