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Touro Law Review

Abstract

Liberal political theory has long relied on a metaphor of contract: autonomous adults coming together to agree, by unanimous consent, on the basic structure of a just society. But contract is a strange metaphor with which to explain society. Contract law is based on a morality of strangers acting at arms-length. In contrast, decent societies and the governments they set for themselves must be based on a commitment of mutual responsibility. What makes us fellow citizens—fellows of any variety—is accepting that we are all in this together. Jewish legal and midrashic traditions can be a useful corrective to the atomistic metaphors underlying most liberal political theory. The Jewish tradition has never had the luxury of imagining self-sufficiency, that government itself is the primary source of unjust power, or that individuals could be free in a state of nature. We too can no longer ignore that a solitary human being is a dead human being, that we need government to make spaces in which we can be free from want, resist oppression by non-governmental power, reverse the destruction of the natural commons on which we depend, and engage in the communal activities that make life meaningful. The partnership metaphor, I argue, can make visible the mutual concern and collective effort that must characterize decent and just governments in an age of economic challenges and ecological crises. The goal of liberalism should not be individual self-determination but the freedom to live together in peace, prosperity and justice.

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