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Introductions to Conservative Thought

On the Program

Exodus Program on Foundations of Conservative Thought

The Exodus Program allows excelling BA students to form a deep acquaintance with the foundations of conservative and classical liberal thought, pillars of western thought and culture.
The program provides students with a deep foundation of ideas unique to the Israeli academic landscape, which can bring about great change in the Israeli intellectual and political spheres Israel.

Study Topics

Political Thought, Zionism, Economics, Law, and Strategy

The program includes the study of five central fields of knowledge: political thought, Zionism, economics, law, and strategy. To prepare for each class, participants will read from the best works on these subjects, discussing the texts as a group and with professional guidance, with the aim of deepening, establishing, and sharpening the ideological foundations contained therein. Some of the classes will be given by guest lecturers, experts and senior people in their fields, from Israel and abroad, and from the worlds of academia, economics, and thought.

Contents

The Exodus program offers the excelling student a deep dive into five central pillars – political thought, Zionism, law, economics, and strategy – and will touch on the central issues comprising each one of these subjects and a deep reading and discussion of formative texts.

As part of the program, participants will receive books and rich readers, coming to class after reading the relevant materials. Participants will be required to intensively read and seriously discuss the masterpieces being studied.

01

Political Thought

Classes in this unit will get students acquainted with the foundations of conservative political thought, contrasting it with opposing political outlooks. After providing the needed background on modern political philosophy, classes will focus on the thought of three central thinkers – Edmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Friederich Hayek – while intensively reading and discussing the masterworks of these thinkers.

In Reflections on the Revolution in France, we will learn of the reasons Burke opposed the 1789 Revolution, read about his debate with Thomas Paine, an enthusiastic supporter of the revolution, and discuss the central themes of the book.

On the question “How to preserve liberty in a democracy” we will try and answer via de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, along with a range of fundamental issues in democratic thought: the relationship between freedom and equality, the place of religion, dangers of the democratic regime, and more.

Finally, we will get acquainted with the more liberal exponent of conservative thought – Friederich Hayek – by reading his Constitution of Liberty. We’ll learn the central concepts of the book – knowledge and tradition – and see how Hayek integrates them in his intellectual project, drafting the optimal outline for a proper balance between law and freedom: How can we reduce coercion in society to the minimum possible, ensuring the maximum freedom of the citizenry?

In preparation for each class, we will read parts of these conservative masterworks and discuss them.

02

Zionism

This unit will focus on a thorough inquiry of the Zionist movement’s attitude to long-standing Jewish tradition. Contrary to the conventional view of Zionism as a sui generis movement detached from the Jewish past, this unit will present a more complex approach, taking note of both the conservative and revolutionary elements within the Zionist movement.

Discussion will start with the Biblical revolution and its political and historic consequences, following in the footsteps of scholar Yehezkel Kaufman. Then we will take note of the different political forms which Judaism took throughout history, in different times and places.

The identity crises of Jews in the modern period will serve as a background for establishing and understanding the response offered by the Zionist movement, through which we will examine its contribution and meaning for modern Jewish existence. The unit will end with a reading of the great literature of the “revival generation” of Zionism, asking the question: Was the renewed Hebrew literature a continuation of Jewish tradition or a “revolution” against it?

03

Law

The Law lesson unit is meant to delve deeply into the philosophical foundations of law. Many common concepts such as justice, morality, rule of law, separation of powers, binding precedent, and more have deep theoretical roots, embedded in various philosophical schools and theories regarding the essence of law itself.

Here we will discuss theories of natural law, legal positivism, and the historical legal doctrines, and learn about thinkers like Aristotle, Fortescue, Selden, Kook, Kelsen, Austin, Hart, and Dworkin. We will then present the connection between the particularist character of a society and its tradition and the formation of its legal system, and discuss the different legal approaches: inquisitorial, German-French continental, as opposed to the Anglo-American, adversarial, and common law system – all as a basis for understanding the Israeli legal system and comparing it to various legal systems around the world.

Based on an acquaintance with the philosophy of law and the different legal systems around the world, we will then focus on the Israeli legal system: we’ll learn about its court structure (local, peace, district, Supreme, High Court of Justice), and present its unique character as a legal system formed in a relatively short time and in a patchwork manner, thus combining elements and traits from a number of systems and countries around the world.

Finally, we will seek to deepen and sharpen the conservative approach to law, which discerns a dialectic between law, society, and national and civic heritage. Per this approach, changes in society – expressed in law – express a natural and healthy development, so long as it is done in a measured and considerate manner connected to traditions, past experience, and the possibility of correcting mistakes.

04

Economics

Classes in this unit will get students acquainted with the economic form of analysis, allowing them to apply it to a range of problems. The students will thus acquire new insights about human action and its consequences in the world.
Classes will begin with a look into the deeper meaning of prices in a market economy: What do they represent and what is their importance for a free, flourishing society?
Then, we will deal with the economic question: Why did humanity spend most of its existence in dire poverty, while many now enjoy unprecedented wealth? This question will be examined from both the economic-institutional angle and from the moral and sociological angles.
In addition, we will use the tools acquired to examine the role of the political system through economic eyes, trying to understand why a democratic regime may sometimes adopt policies most of its citizens are uninterested in. This question will be examined from the perspective of the voting citizen, elected representatives, and government bureaucrats.
These insights will then serve us when coming to examine the challenges of government intervention in the economy. Finally, we will devote detailed attention to the Israeli case, surveying the economic, historic, and present condition of the State of Israel and analyzing its future challenges in light of all this.

05

Strategy

The final unit will expose students to an incomparably important field of knowledge, rarely seriously dealt with in Israeli society. In this unit, we will thoroughly study the different meta approaches to strategic policy – realist-conservative and progressive-utopian – and discuss the different worldview underlying both.

Then we will discuss the concept of war via the thought of Carl von Clausewitz, and wonder about the utopian interwar vision of abolishing war, a vision proudly espoused by powerful movements and political institutions. We will also learn about the relationship between culture and strategy, and the question of how different cultural conventions and ethoses influence the decision making of organizations and states, and which “universal” principles are always in play – if at all.

Finally, we will apply the principles learned in the unit in relation to the Israeli reality we know: getting to know the long-term strategic challenges faced by the State of Israel, examining developments regarding various security threats over the years and how to respond to them, and providing tools for a critical examination of contemporary strategic decisions. Thus, the distinctions and concepts learned during the unit will take form and enrich the students’ ability to analyze and discuss Israeli strategy: past, present, and future.

Program Directors

Dr. Sagi Barmak

Director, Exodus Tel Aviv

Dr. Gideon Chazan

Director, Exodus Jerusalem

Guest Lecturers

Dr. Ronen Shovals

Director of the Argaman Institute and Dean of the Tikvah Fund.

Dr. Rafael Ben Levy

Doctor of International Relations. His research focuses on the interface between worldviews and strategic-security thinking. Major (res.) in IDF Intelligence.

Dr. Shaul Sharf

Lecturer on Law at the Peres Academic Center in Rehovot and a senior fellow at the Begin Institute for Law and Zionist. A regular columnist, he is deputy editor of “The Court” Magazine.

Requirements

A BA student in his final year studying social sciences, humanities, or law.

Grade average of 85.

Appropriate candidates will be invited to interviews.

Scholarship

Students who successfully compete the program will receive a scholarship of 3,000 NIS.
*Registration for the program involves a commitment payment of 400 NIS, to be returned to students who successfully complete the program and meet its requirements.

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