Isonomia, Manual Labor and the Biblical Contribution
to Democratic Culture in the Modern World
Historians and Political scientists traditionally trace the roots of democracy to ancient Greece, more specifically 7-4th century Athens. Since this constitutes the earliest and most brilliant case of democratic institutions (voting for limited-term public office; constitutional rule of the law) and values (individualism, right to privacy, free speech, pluralism and tolerance), the matter seems almost beyond dispute. Occasionally some scholars will mention the role of Judeo-Christian values, but the strong association in the modern mind between democracy and secularism has tended to limit our expectations of any positive religious influence. Indeed, "theocracy" is synonymous in modern political parlance with tyranny, repression, hierarchical authoritarianism.
But then how do we explain the transmission of Greek democratic ideas to modern European movements. There exists, after all, a gap of over 2 millennia in which we find little in the way of democracy, and less in the way of admiration for Greek democracy among European thinkers. Rather, the most admired Greek texts seem to come from the authoritarian side of that heritage: Plato and the aristocratic elements in Aristotle. Well into the early modern period, European thinkers showed much greater admiration for Sparta than Athens. Since a large portion of the population must have reached a certain level of political maturity in order for a stable democracy to emerge, it seems rather tenuous to invoke a minor aspect of the cultures most elite intellectual tradition as the main source of such a movement.
The Proto-democratic tryptich:
Let us approach the problem from a different point of view, by shifting the focus from the actual institutions of democracy (modern democracies never adopted the Greek ones anyway), to some of the principles that underlay and prepared the way for democracys appearance in Greece, and again in modern times. Here there seems to be a constellation of three elements that seem closely related to democratic developments: 1) isonomia, or the principle of equality before the law, 2) widespread alphabetic literacy, and 3) the positive valuation of manual labor. These are key preconditions to democratic forms of government, preparing the terrain, as it were, making the seeds of democratic institutions more likely to take root and flourish. Focussing on them offers a solution to two significant historical issues in the emergence of European democracies: first the significance of Jewish and Christian scriptures; second, the means whereby "democratic" values survived Antiquity and spread to the lower classes in more modern times.
1) Isonomia: Herodotus has a Persian spokesman for democracy declaim: Contrast this [the tyrannical excesses of monarchy] with the rule of the people [democratia]: first it has the finest of all names to describe it -- equality under law [isonomia]; and secondly, the people in power do none of the things that monarchs do. Under a government of the people a magistrate is appointed by lot and is held responsible for his conduct in office, and all questions are put up for open debate..."
This glowing tribute from a contemporary has encouraged some historians to view equality before the law, with its implicit recognition of freedom of speech, rights of individuals, and impartial law courts, as a notion whose "boldness and rarity cannot be overstressed." Others, perhaps prisoner of the still more radical perspective of modern democracies, may take the basic elements of judicial isonomia for granted, but to aristocrats (i.e. the vast majority of former and present-day rulers), equality before the law strikes at the heart of their privilege. And one need only look at the resistance of the fifth century BCE Roman patriciate to the prospect of "permanent laws, permanently exhibited where all can see them," even though the laws privileged them, to realize how threatening artistocratic groups find such measures. The anger and resistance this loss of arbitrary power provokes in the ruling classes must not be underestimated. To the "noble one" the idea of equality before the law constitutes what Nietzsche called "slave morality," which, upon infecting the strong with "bad conscience," sickens them, and, so the argument in defense of their privilege goes, all society become ill.
2) Literacy: Isonomia involves literacy:as the activities of Solon (6th c.BCE) and Kleisthenes (5th) indicate, reforms that institute isonomia publish written laws as part of their program. Publishing the law was important in any constitutional reform in the ancient world, but especially so in cases based on equality before the law, since only an informed citizenry, aware of the law, could hope to protect its legal rights against the constant encroachments of those in power. The fate of the laws in Orwells parable Animal Farm illustrates the relationship between isonomic laws and egalitarian community on the one hand, and the incapacity of authoritarian elites to tolerate such limiting public law-codes on the other. Recent work has emphasized the importance of texts in shaping new, voluntary associations, "textual communities" formed around an often very brief text whose moral and spiritual demands constitute "our law and discipline" as one group of peasants arrested for possible "heresy" but it to the examining bishop.
These voluntary societies, "laboratories of social organization," underline the fact that strict literacy (i.e. people who can read) is perhaps less vital than access to texts. Many of the members of the early eleventh century textual communities Stock highlights could not read. But their access to the text through their fellows nevertheless transformed their lives; and, , this text was "our law and discipline" which applied equally to all members. On a larger scale, when joined to the "rule of the law," widespread access to the text of the law, means widespread awareness of rights and protection.
3) Manual Labor: The last element of the protodemocratic tryptich I want to discuss concerns attitudes towards manual labor. Aristocratic societies typically view this kind of work as degrading, as a kind of brutalizing and mind-numbing activity fit only for slaves, and others incapable of real thoughts and feelings. In fact, manual labor often serves in these cultures as a kind of mark of disgrace that excludes the laborer from participating in political and cultural life. Sparta illustrates precisely this kind of aristocratic contempt for the manual laborer and his way of life, both in their attitudes and in their laws. The basically aristocratic penchant of Greek culture in this sense comes across in a wide range of derogatory comments about commerce, "illiberal" and banausic occupations. Here even Aristotle clearly parts paths with any more radical democratic notions of considering the opinions of manual laborers of any value in public life.
And just as alphabetic literacy has some clear relationships to isonomia, so does valuing manual labor. Since (before industrialization) all but a privileged few engaged in it, contempt for manual labor meant both disdain for the vast majority of the population and their exclusion from most political activity. To esteem this activity of the majority as a crucial contribution to society that all should engage in, is to apply the same kind of principles to questions of economics and status, that isonomia applies to the law. It is in fact possible that all peasant cultures view manual labor as a, if not the source of human dignity, but rarely will the ruling elite admit such ideas. Significantly, at least some leading Athenians did precisely this, condemning idleness and insisting that citizens must work for a living, and teach their sons a profession.
These three elements -- isonomia, literacy, manual labor --show up often in those places where democracy reappears in European history: the communes of eleventh century Europe, the peasant rebellions of the late Middle Ages (e.g. England, 1381) and Early Modern Period (e.g. Germany, 1525), the Puritan Revolution of the seventeenth, the American and French of the eighteenth, and the Socialist and Zionist Movements of modern times -- all made appeals to the notions of equality before the law, all spoke of manual labor as a unique source of dignity, all leaned heavily for their support on the existence of a class of commoners who could read or cared about the contents of texts. In fact, the rise to prominence of these three factors in any given culture seems a much better indicator of future democratic developments than the frequency with which intellectuals quote Kleisthenes and Pericles.
Hebrew Culture and The Protodemocratic Tryptich
Once we shift our attention from institutions and political thought to the social and cultural values outlined above, Athens finds a serious "democratic" rival in the ancient world -- the Ancient Hebrews. In fact, Hebrew culture emphasized isonomia, mass education, and manual labor with greater consistency and depth than Greek, or even Athenian society. And perhaps because of this consistency -- there were few significant voices of dissent on these matters -- the culture and its traditions survived in an unbroken chain from the ancient world to the present. Moreover, since the principal (but not sole) source of these values, the Hebrew Bible, became the foundation of the dominant religion of European society, these attitudes found much more accessible expression through religious than through classical studies. Let us briefly examine the Biblical attitude towards the issues at hand.
Isonomia: Despite a lack of democratic institutions, no polity in the ancient
world so systematically pursued the principles of judicial isonomia as ancient
Hebrew society. Whether one takes the Decalogue as the founding document
of the late second millennium BCE Hebrew religious community, or a later
(post-exilic) reformulation of a founding event (in which case it would
be roughly contemporary to Kleisthenes and Solon), these commandments published
on stone tablets, and applicable to all the members of the (textual) community
regardless of status or wealth.
The Bible (TaNaCH) is the eventual product of this isonomic community,
and the later books bear every mark of adhering to these principles regardless
of the form of government practiced in Israel. The admonitions to judges
insist on impartial justice regardless of the status of the defendants:
one should favor neither the rich (and take bribes) nor the poor (out of
pity). The privilege of Sabbath rest applies to all, including non-Jews,
servants, slaves, even animals. The principle of equal treatment on these
matters of social privilege (as opposed to ritual obligation) is explicitly
enunciated at a number of points, in particular with reference to the poor,
the defenseless, "the stranger in your midst:" "You shall
have one ordinance, both for the stranger, and for him that was born in
The rabbinical tradition elaborated on all of the passages in question,
and insisted that the pursuit of justice "without respect of person"
[i.e. status] constituted a central task of the "Chosen People."
"To every judge who judges truly...the Scripture reckons it as if he
had been a partner with God in the work of creation." Moreover, clearly
any decision Jewish judges handed down applied to themselves as well as
to others, Gentiles as well as poor Jews. Josephus considered "one
law for all" as the highest achievement of civilization, and attributed
its first and best articulation to Moses. In fact Josephus coined the term
"theocracy" to refer to that law code in which all were equal
Although not elaborated into an explicit doctrine, certain political implications of this notion of justice are clear from the biblical texts. For example, rulers had no right to dispossess or confiscate property from individuals: both Moses and Samuel, when faced with objections to their rule invoke as their primary defense the claim never to have taken anothers ox or a donkey; and conversely the image of the unjust the king is one who takes from his subjects without their consent. These actions would scarcely be viewed by most rulers of the day as transgressions; and still fewer of their subjects would criticize them for it. As one commentator has pointed out, amidst all the voices of the ancient world, the Prophets stand as one of the few who denounced the "idolatry of power" with such fervor and impartial consistency.
Literacy and Education: Although actual literacy did not reach high proportions in Israelite society until relatively late, access to the text of the law, and encouragement of public knowledge of the law constitutes one of the highest priorities of the community. By the time of the return from the first Exile, public readings of the Torah (i.e. the Law) took place not only on the Sabbath, but also on the two main market days, Monday and Thursday, accompanied by translations into the vernacular of the day (targumim). Such customs attest to the communitys commitment to carry out the isonomic commitment of the texts which they thus further shaped and transmitted. Long before "literacy rates" had reached the unwonted proportions of a majority of men, oral transmission of the law and its commentary had involved the whole of Jewish society. The "people of the Book" thus constitute the largest enduring isonomic "textual community" in recorded history.
Manual Labor: The value to labor as mans destiny appears throughout the bible: indeed Gods first actions are deemed labor, from which he rests, and establishes thereby a model of how society should work in this regard. Of all the versions of that universal myth of a past Golden Age, Judaisms alone includes work; similarly the future age of perfection envisages a world where justice means each man enjoys the fruits of the labor of his own hands. All the great leaders of the people worked: Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Isaiah, Elijah, etc.; and the ordinances established by Moses clearly place the tiller of the soil at the center of the new society. The first two kings went from the stable to the throne. The Wisdom literature repeatedly contrasts the well-being of the worker who eats from the labor of his own hands, and the rich man who lives off the labor of others.
The commandment of the sabbath embodies the combination of manual labor
Six days shall you labor and do all your work; but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall not do any work, you, your son, your daughter, your manservant, your maid servant, your cattle, nor the stranger within your gates...
First it commands work (presumably a reminder necessary for the rich and
powerful, and in distinct contrast to the behavior of the ruling class in
Egyptian society); second it explicitly commands rest to all including servants,
Gentiles, even animals. The variants between the first and second statement
of this commandment underline this inverse symmetry: Exodus gives as the
reason for the sabbath (the only commandment explicitly explained), the
remembrance of Creation, thereby underlining the parallel between man and
Gods work. Deuteronomy invokes the Exodus from slavery and the memory
of what life was like as a stranger/slave, underlining the importance of
rest not only for oneself but for all over whom one has power.
The contrast between this attitude and those found commonly in Greece and
Rome, where foreign and slave labor provided the occasion to avoid manual
labor, deserves attention beyond the obvious difference in the respect paid
to commoners so strongly attested to in the Hebraic tradition. For Aristotle
(who must be deemed a moderate in the Greek political tradition), manual
labor dulled a mans mind and made him incapable of true (philosophic)
thought. The liberal was a man "freed" to think and discuss "the
beautiful and the good" by his slaves; and only such men deserved the
rank and rights of a citizen. For Hebrews and their later descendents the
Jews, whose emphasis lay not on logic and philosophy but on morality and
ethics, manual labor not only did not exclude one from participating in
the intellectual life of the culture, it was necessary. Hence, alone of
cultures of the ancient Mediterranean, Hebrew society considered manual
labor appropriate for all its members, including the intellectual class:
even rabbi was not a legitimate profession, but these learned men must also
have a trade in which they worked with their hands.
The perceived value of manual labor provides a key to a larger attitude
in the biblical and rabbinical texts: the importance of commoner. Whether
protecting the rights of the powerless, providing a safety net for the poor,
enjoining compassion and charity towards the disadvantaged, forbidding the
exploitation of hired hands, or providing a periodic enfranchisement and
a roughly egalitarian redistribution of property and status through the
Sabbatical and Jubilee years, the social world envisaged by the Biblical
text is one in which the central figures are the simple, honest, working
individual. Of all the legal and religious texts from Antiquity, none gives
so much information about working the land, trade and crafts than the Bible
and the Talmud.
But biblical and Jewish tradition go beyond merely articulating these values;
it also undergirds them with moral and ritual injunctions. For example,
as Rabbi Akiva said standing on one leg, "Do not do unto others as
you would not have them do unto you." This rather trite "golden
rule", echoed in so many other ethical systems (e.g. the Stoics), in
fact has enormous political implications when applied systematically to
law: protection of the weak: widows, orphans, poor, strangers, etc. It is
as hard for a society to live as it is simple to express. And in that sense
the rituals, liturgies and regulations of Halacha, primarily inculcated
through the family, may be seen as a form of discipline, of moral muscle-building
that permits one to say no to oneself in those moments when convenience
and profit dictate otherwise. It is a classic aristocratic argument that
commoners are incapable of disciplining themselves and that, hence, democracy
means anarchy. Only a self-regulating people can hope to create an enduring
Similarly one might consider the ban on idols in a similar light. As the story of the Golden Calf illustrates, idols fill a void in leadership, they answer an anxiety that comes upon people when the are "free from" in Erich Fromms famous phrase, but not yet "free to." They are a form of spiritual slavery in which concrete and visual symbols grant license and blot out the heard, the interpersonal dialogue that demands maturity and self-restraint. Praying to a God one cannot visually conceive is a form of intellectual discipline that emphasizes the complexity of moral thought and social organization. Politically the implications are decisive: iconic monotheism is imperialist -- One God, One emperor, image of God on earth; aniconic is isonomic -- No King but God, for no man can be the image of an unimaginable God.
Biblical Isonomia and Radical Interpretations of the Bible in European
Having established the importance of the proto-democratic tryptich in Hebrew, Jewish, and therefore, Biblical culture, let me conclude with some remarks on its long term effects. Obviously the adoption of the Hebrew Bible by Christianity -- a religion which at least at its origin, and in many of its subsequent reforming movements, developed still more radical notions of egalitarianism -- guaranteed a wide dissemination of these traditions. The mere availability of the text, however, did not guarantee an isonomic reading (witness the difference between Christianity East and West, between Catholicism and Calvinism), raising the question why various cultures (and groups within cultures) "read" the biblical text differently. For the moment, I can only assert that in the West, the more radical interpretations of both New Testament and Hebrew Bible maintain a strong and continuous tradition over two millennia.
If I empahsize the politically radical elements in the biblical texts it
in no way suggests that there are not other, more conservative and hierarchical
elements in both Hebrew scriptures and Judaism. And Christianity in its
dominant form (imperial or papal) looked especially to those hierarchical
elements in the Old Testament to buttress a far more stratified and authoritarian
political structure. As a result, this aspect of Jewish thought is best
known to modern readers; ironically we associate "theocracy" with
a priestly hierarchy, aristocratic rule, inquisitorial persecution of deviance
when Josephus first coined the term to mean the exact opposite. Significantly
there were Christians in every generation who also understood it in the
Some of the elements in this tradition are:
1) Classlessness. The cry of the 1381 Peasant Rebellion in England, "When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman" expresses a characteristic reading of this passage by the Christian lower classes, and probably dates back several centuries at least. It incarnates the combination of isonomia (no gentlemen, i.e., no group with a privileged status) and manual labor (Adam and Eve laboring). It is linked to the uniquely biblical notion of a monotheistic Creator making a generic diad of man/woman, progenitors of all mankind, rather than genesis myths in which the mixing of Gods and men produce demi-gods who found racially distinct ruling dynasties.
2) Liberation from tyrannical oppression. The Exodus, as both Michael Walzer and Adam Wildavsky have recently shown, contain fundamental teachings on how to pass from oppressive hierachies to autonomous self-regulating societies. The revolutionary potential of the Exodus tale has inspired generations of political activists, and continues to do so today. Most particularly the elements of collective liberation, the passage from a slave class with a slave mentality to a free people capable of the rewards and responsibilities of freedom, the notion of a "covenant" uniting the entire people has made this text politically dangerous over time.
3) Anti-monarchism. Samuels reaction when the children of Israel demanded a king (I Sam 8:7-8) reveals a basic stance of Hebraic political thought: monarchies and courts are breeding grounds for the abuse of power characteristic of the other nations; Gods chosen should be capable of regulating their own communities without the need for centralized institutions of rule. The failure, therefore, of the charismatic system of circuit judges represented a moral failure on the part of the Children of Israel and a rejection of God as King. "No king but God" expresses most accurately the Hebrew political interpretation of monotheism; and monarchy, even when accepted, at no point envisages a king above the law (Deut 17:16-20). These principles stood at variance with other, more pro-monarchical passages in the Hebrew Bible, from which the pro-monarchical ideologies in the Middle Ages drew their imagery. From the twelfth century if not earlier, Christian exegetes looked to the Bible for passages bridling royal power, a process that culuminated in the frankly anti-monarchical reading by the Calvinists in the 16th century which so contributed to the development of constitutional theory in the early modern period.
4) Social Justice. The call to care for the poor, the helpless, the stranger in your midst, which forms one of the main themes of the social legislation in the Mosaic code, reaches a climax of emotional and rhetorical insistence in the prophets. Their denunciations of both political and economic forms of oppression provide the most potent texts for the rejection of inequities in society. Amidst all the voices of the ancient world, the Prophets stand as one of the few who denounced the "idolatry of power" with such fervor and impartial consistency.
5) Revolutionary Upheaval. All of these radical tendencies in Hebraic moral thought contrasting Gods will for a just society with the abuses of those in power culminate during the period of domination by external empires (Babylonian, Greek and Roman) with the emergence of millenarian expectations of a violent, total upheaval that will produce a reversal in the nature of power: the meek and oppressed enjoy peace and prosperity while the oppressors burn in Hell. The millenarian "reign of the saints" which this apocalyptic tradition invoked highlighted classic revolutionary themes of liberty, equality and fraternity, thereby guaranteeing popularity for those who articulated them. Its blanket condemnation of imperial authority made Jewish millenarianism particularly dangerous to the ruling authorities; and from as early as the Maccabees, such beliefs repeatedly fostered nationalist guerilla uprisings against imperial rule.
This revolutionary tradition reached a fever pitch in Palestine around the turn of the Common Era. The cry of the Zealots (c.3 -70 CE) so often crucified by Rome for these guerilla tactics, was the anti-monarchical "No king but God." This slogan encapsulates the political implications of the Bible as some Jews read it: the hostility to foreign domination to be sure, but even to native authoritarian rulers. It may be taken as the motto of egalitarian monotheism: Gods rule over all men, precludes the rule of man over man. Such a view underlies the reading of classlessness at the time of Adam and Eve.
The Role of the Bible in the Development of Democracy in the West and the Origins of European Anti-semitism
In conclusion, let me summarize the main argument, and suggest some of its implications both for the study of history and of current events. The three phenomena under study -- dignity of manual labor, judicial isonomia, and open access to texts -- played an important role in the emergence of the two most socially egalitarian societies in the ancient world -- Athens and Israel. These same factors continue to play a role in the rise of democratic institutions in medieval and modern societies. Indeed, they probably explain the origins and predict the longevity of modern democracies better than citing intellectual traditions and textual models of democratic societies in the ancient world. For the real question is not where the ideas come from, but how do people react to them. One can point to the appearance of the term isonomia in English in the seventeenth century as isonomy to claim that "Cleisthenes had an almost direct influence on the moulding of political ideas in modern libertarian England." And seen from our present, where we study our Athenian roots in Grade school, such a remark seems self evident. But the receptive audience reading that seventeenth century writers reintroduction of Cleisthenes idea, was the product of over two centuries of post-Gutenburg literacy, translations of the Bible into the vernacular, and experiments with apostolic and hebraic community organization.
This point highlights the historical questions that such an approach permits us to answer. How, and in what circumstances, do "democratic" ideas manage to take root in various socio-economic groups such that viable alternatives to "aristocratic empires" emerge in community and state organization? And under what conditions do such alternatives endure as they grow and develop over time. The example of communist revolutions turning totalitarian within decades if not years of victory, underlines how fragile egalitarian rhetoric proves in the face of challenges to survival; and the contrast with four decades of beleaguered but democratic Zionism makes an eloquent case for the present argument.
The significance then is not in the mere articulation of these values, but how far they have penetrated both into the upper echelons of society (where access to isonomic texts is high and receptivity low) and into the lower ones (where receptivity is high, but access limited and limitable). On this basis, Hebrew society was much more profoundly committed than Greek: if on the ruins of democratic Athens, arose imperial Hellenism, out of the ruins of the Second Temple, Israel produced the autonomous, consensual communities of rabbinic Judaism. Indeed Greeces short-lived democratic experiment may have been premature precisely for lack of this cultural base. And if one might argue that Rome (and other "complex societies") fell because too vast a chasm opened up between ruling elites and subject populations, then the strength and continuity of Judaism may owe much to the solidarity of its communities throughout the ages, itself grounded in a commitment to isonomia, biblical learning and manual labor for all.
This raises a further point: if the presence of isonomic values and texts are only significant when they disseminate throughout a society, then to what degree did the example of Jewish community structure play in communicating the more egalitarian aspects of the Bible? In the early eleventh century, at a time of considerable social and religious turmoil, Frankish bishops expounded an idea with a long future in medieval political thought, a stratification of society into three orders -- the prayers, the fighters and the workers. The first assured salvation, the second, defense, the third, food. It provided a neat and enduring justification for a hierarchical system that profoundly favored the aristocracy. It was challenged by two different groups: openly by "heretical" peasants who believed that their salvation was assured by belonging to a pacifist apostolic community where everyone earned their food by the sweat of their brow; implicitly by Jewish communities which were built around the notion that everyone should study and pray, everyone should work, and where prestige went to scholars rather than warriors.
A number of medieval scholars have suggested Jewish influence on such egalitarian movements as communes and apostolic "heresies". The disparity between an Christian aristocratic society structured by war and the exercise of power, and a Jewish communitarian one based on learning and the law did not escape the attention of less martially inclined Christians. As one historian has conjectured:
...future burghers, in the very throes of political transformation, must have discussed with members of the [Jewish] communities, often and at length, the latters form of inner organization...[and] this constant presence of a highly successful self-governing group in [their] midst...must have affected them quite significantly..."
We have no transcriptions or explicit references to such conversations since no such texts survive from those eleventh and twelfth century urban Christians about whom Agus speaks. On the other hand, where we do have documentation, it indicates (indirectly) that Christians and Jews of the eleventh and twelfth century had lively exchanges over biblical interpretation.
Such a conjecture further implies that one cause of Anti-semitism arises from an aristocratic reaction to the "democratic" influence of Jews on Christian populations. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion incarnates the aristocrats ressentiment, in the face of isonomia. Here, the natural rulers of mankind -- the Gentile Aristocracy -- have been secretly robbed of their rightful place by capitalists and constitutional democrats who are the unwitting dupes of a Jewish conspiracy to enslave the world. As a result, the true order of society -- an authoritarian hierarchy where Christian noblemen dominate a peasant majority -- has been subverted, and only the destruction of the Jews and their anti-aristocratic agents will permit a return to health. For people who find the Protocols a "true" warning, isonomia is a kind of cancer cell, and the Jews (through their control of the press, public opinion, the market, and parliamentary bodies -- i.e. all forums where the aristocracy has lost control), are the chemical agents that permit it to metastasize throughout the body-social.
It is no accident, therefore, that authoritarians ever since have found the Protocols an irresistable text to use in rallying those people threatened by modernity -- Nazis, Communists, Arab Nationalists. Indeed the spectacle of a United Nations where a majority of dictatorships ostracize Israel recapitulates on a global scale the anti-semitic policies of medieval church and state. Just as the strong and free Jewish communities of central Middle Ages (900-1200) had a subversive affect on Christian commoners from the perspective of the dominant elite, so a modern Israel at peace and unslandered would offer too threatening an influence on the "Fourth World," that is those groups (lower classes, ethnic and cultural minorities) whose rights and autonomy are denied by an imperialist "Third World."
This apparent tangent on the anti-democratic origins of Anti-semitism brings me to my primary conclusion. The real agents in the "creation" of democracy, a task which some think we have yet to achieve even in the West much less around the globe, are not texts expressing "democratic" values, whose meaning and impact are strongly influenced by a cultures interpreters, nor blueprints for democratic institutions. On the contrary, the necessary groundwork for such achievements lies in the commitment of a society to equality before the law and all the cultural values that implies. Perhaps it is here that, at the dawn of the third millennium of the common era, we need to focus our attention: not on spreading democracy to countries and cultures that are profoundly unprepared, but laying the groundwork for a just society whatever its formal political structure. And to that end, much in the way of cultural values that make such a system viable can be found in the Hebrew Bible. The rest is commentary, go and study.