Jewish Voters and the “Politics of Compassion”

"Jewish Voters and the 'Politics of Compassion'," (A reply to letters), Commentary, October 1984.


Now, compassion is indeed a virtue, much prized in the Jewish tradition. But it is worth recalling, as the etymology of the word itself indicates, that compassion is—a passion. It is one among several of our passions that can lead us to a virtuous life, the passion for justice being another. And all of these virtues are capable of being perverted when they are blind to the realities among which they operate. This is especially the case when these virtues are detached from the individual, to whom they properly belong, and are collectivized and politicized. We then have the “politics of compassion,” which can be something very different from what “compassion” means in the Bible or the prayerbook. Just as a blind passion for justice, when politicized, can lead to an unjust political order, so can blind compassion, when translated into public policy, lead to equally disagreeable, unanticipated consequences.

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