Lincoln in Jerusalem?

Haim Watzman

Israel-Palestine polemicists have much to learn from Sean Wilentz’s thoughtful essay Who Lincoln Was in the current issue of The New Republic. Wilentz argues that politics is not an obstacle to the achievement of ideological goals, but rather a necessary and valuable means of achieving them. Lincoln ultimately succeeded in freeing the slaves, Wilentz argues, not because he put principle above politics, but because he was a genius at using politics to pursue principles.

Furthermore, he maintains, Lincoln understood that the preservation of the Constitution and the rule of law was essential if he was to achieve real and sustainable change. This necessarily meant accepting a Constitution that permitted slavery. Lincoln thought slavery was an unmitigated evil. But he understood that to end it he had to create a coalition of disparate groups that had been convinced that the end of slavery was in their own interest. Preaching principle would not do the job.

Quoting James Oakes, author of The Radical and the Republican, a study of Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass, Wilentz writes:

Read more

Knowledge and the Public Good–Some Suggested Reading

Haim Watzman

The dissemination of knowledge-high-quality knowledge-is essential to a democratic society. So I’d like to point out an interesting juxtaposition of articles from my Shabbat reading that, taken together, have something important to say about the importance of getting good knowledge to the public.

Danielle Allen’s review of Josiah Ober’s book Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens in The New Republic concludes:

Josiah Ober shows us that Athens knew what the Athenians knew, because the city as a whole had devised institutions that made sure the useful knowledge of the widest possible range of individuals flowed to where it was needed. Have we fully tapped into the resources of participatory democracy to supplement our own representative structures with a citizenry within which all the sluices of knowledge are open and have been set a-flowing? Does America know what Americans know?

In the March 5 issue of Nature, Harry Collins, a social scientist who studies science, concludes an essay entitled “We Cannot Live By Skepticism Alone” with these words:

Science, then, can provide us with a set of values-not findings-for how to run our lives, and that includes our social and political lives. But it can do this only if we accept that assessing scientific findings is a far more difficult task than was once believed, and that those findings do not lead straight to political conclusions. Scientists can guide us only by admitting their weaknesses, and, concomitantly, when we outsiders judge scientists, we must do it not to the standard of truth, but to the much softer standard of expertise.

Read more