06 November 2011

Enfranchisement and empowerment

It might be that historically one of the main reasons for the weakness of the shemitta laws was because the leaders of those ancient societies instinctively felt how it weakened their own prerogatives in the public sphere, and so they were disinclined to engineer the necessary institutions to make shemitta work. 
The leaders of ancient societies were disinclined to think through the demands of a proper implementation of the shemitta institution – be they political leaders, economic leaders or spiritual leaders – because the entire shemitta project threatened their own purchases on power in society. 
If that be so, if shemitta were a threat to the regular, institutional leadership of society, then shemitta should be understood as a deeply radical social institution. What that means is that shemitta is quintessentially a grass roots institution designed for the lower classes, and shemitta needs a vigorous grass roots to keep it fresh and wholesome. 
Shemitta and yovel are the grass roots hiatuses during which time the ordinary citizen, the am haaretz, the lower class person, has as much say in the conduct of civic society as does the leadership. It therefore falls to the grass roots to recognize in shemitta the potential for this enfranchisement and empowerment, and to work throughout the six ordinary intervening years to foster a vigorous experience of shemitta and of yovel
Shemitta needs to be administered from the ground up. 

1 comment:

  1. That is precisely the point, shemittah (and Yovel) undermines the basic structure of the social aggregation, whereby the small coordinating class aggregates the mass population for the purposes of coordinated labor. This coordinated and aggregated labor is the fundamental production means of both Agricultural societies and Industrial societies. As such, all power and control is held by those who control and coordinate the aggregation. The Torah's primary model of this form of organization is represented by Egypt and it's Pharaoh. Pharaoh owned all the land of Egypt and the shemittah and yovel seem to me to be direct critiques and alternatives to the Pharaonic model of power distribution. The problem is, that because mass agriculture (and industry for that matter) requires the mass aggregation, and hence the mass disenfranchisement of the population, the prerogatives of civilization itself are what work against and nullify the shemittah. Even the Rabbis themselves had to invent loopholes to ensure that the Shemmitot and Yovelim could never be properly and genuinely implemented. Shemittah and yovel arfe not simply nice ideas, but they implicitly require a reordering of the social structure - a controlled revolution if you will - which has never ever ever ever been in the interest of those controlling the current distribution of power. The Yovel is the "real" revolution that mankind has been waiting for, conceived thousands of years ago but as yet, not implemented....