Kaplan and Democracy

It is often observed that for Mordecai Kaplan (and others) democracy was the religion of America. 
The Kaplan Center appreciates our grant from the Jewish Partnership for Democracy: A More Perfect Union. This grant allows us to embark on a “religious” journey from this February through next October. Each month we will select and distribute to our friends and partners a passage from Mordecai Kaplan or one of his students and collaborators.

February 2024

This month features Rabbi Manny Goldsmith, zichrono l’veracha.

For Kaplan, the idea underlying democracy is that the interests uniting human beings, if they become truly aware of those interests, are strong enough to ward off the divisive influence of people’s differences. The crucial problem of freedom is how to guard our individuality and the capacity to think for ourselves and yet cooperate with those whose backgrounds, upbringings and outlooks are different from our own. This is an art, said Kaplan, that human beings are slow to learn. Democracy should be conceived as a process of social experimentation by which people are seeking to learn that art and to apply, step by step, the wisdom acquired as a result of such experimentation. That is why the art of free, voluntary cooperation, the ultimate objective of democracy, must constantly be cultivated.

-Rabbi Manny Goldsmith, Reconstructionism Today, Spring 2003


  • In your own life, how do you balance authenticity and devotion to your beliefs and deeply understand the belief systems of those different than yourself?
  • How do your communities engage in the ongoing “experimentation” of creating balance between these two forces?
  •  Why indeed are we so slow to practice “the art of democracy?  
  • In your own life, when do you practice this “art of democracy” most naturally and fully?