The Democracy Project

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.


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?

MARCH 2024

This month features Kaplan’s diary entry from Thursday, Dec 24, 1942

The contribution which Judaism has made and should continue to make to democracy and the American way of life is best summarized in the motto enunciated by the prophet Zachariah. [ 4:6 ] “Not by might nor by power but by my Spirit saith the Lord of Hosts,” and to add the supplement of Hillel’s famous summary of Judaism, “the rest is commentary, go and learn.”

The importance of Zachariah’s motto is that it furnishes the key to that inner freedom without which democracy is merely a hollow form.  “Not by might nor by power but by my spirit” sets forth the mental attitude which is a prerequisite to the building of a world on the foundations of peace.  Before we can have democracy in action, we must will it…


  • When do you experience democracy in a “hollow form” in our political life?  What accounts for its hollowness?
  • When is democracy “thick and textured” as opposed to hollow?
  •  In 2024, is democracy more “hollow” or more “thick and textured”?  
  • What role does media play in “thickening’ and “hollowing “ our experience of democracy?

APRIL 2024

This month features Kaplan’s diary entry from August 10, 1939 on Facism, Mobocracy, and Democracy

After mentioning the two factors which have contributed to the rise of mobocracy, viz: a) the stupendous machinery of communication which unites millions into a seething sea of human emotion, and b) the failure of democracy to make good its promise of bringing special privilege under control.

 The rulers in a mobocracy know that they can gain control of the masses by instilling in them hate and fears of some common enemy who has to be augmented to gigantic proportions if he is comparatively insignificant and harmless, and who has to be invented if he is non-existent. For their purposes, mankind must be treated as broken up into classes or nations or tribes that are engaged in a mutual life and death struggle. The purpose of propaganda is to fan the flames of hate.


  • How do media and “mobocracy” work together to make the challenge even more severe in 2024?
  • What is the difference between acculturation and propaganda?
  • What are the most potent forces in today’s American democracy that can provide unity rather than fragmentation? 
  • DeTocqueville spoke of the “tyrrany of the majority”.  How does this play into our contemporary challenge to democracy?