"Es muss noch etwas mehr geben als – Mich und Dich". Franz Rosenzweig and the Problem of Political Theology in Jewish Dialogical Philosophy

Drs. Dennis Baert

Promotor: Prof. dr. Vivian Liska, Co-promotor: Prof. dr. Arthur Cools

Fortune has often been called a fickle lady and this certainly is the case as concerns any philosopher’s fortunes with posterity. The enthusiastic embrace of one’s thought in one generation often constitutes the strangulation of the same philosopher’s intellectual relevance in the next.

Such has been the fate of Jewish dialogical thought. In the first three to four decades of the post-war period the three great men of Jewish dialogical philosophy (hereafter JDP) – Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig and Emmanuel Levinas – were at their receptional zenith, with philosophers and theologians seeking to construct a new idea of religion in the wake of the civilizational collapse of the West and Christendom in the first half of the century. They were enthusiastic about JDP, as it seemed to offer an idea of religion that understands the divine-human relation primarily through the human face-to-face encounter in which the other human being is not objectified. This vision was widely assumed to imply that this thought had a distinctly anti-political slant, rejecting the relevance of (or even condemning) “third-person” political institutions in favour of direct human interaction. It was this image of Jewish political thought that was imprinted on the mind of many a young intellectual. This view, however, meant that once this thought of “moving beyond politics” came to be seen as sentimentalist or practically impotent, the star of the Jewish dialogical thinkers as contributors to political thought quickly fell.

In recent years there has been a countermovement of sorts, which seeks to point out how political issues were present in the thought of the Jewish dialogical philosophers. However, it fails to decisively break with the clichés about the anti-political nature of JDP and to provide a consistent political reading of it. Generally, it only considers the political aspects of the work of individual thinkers and neglects to ask fundamental questions about the nature of the relationship between JDP and political theory.

It is the purpose of my research to move beyond this impasse and fundamentally challenge the idea that Jewish dialogical philosophy is anti-political, instead creating a new paradigm concerning the relationship between JDP and the political. It is my aim to show not only that thinkers like Buber, Rosenzweig and Levinas engaged with the political, but that the very core of their dialogical philosophy can only be understood as arising from the problems of political theory and practice in the European-Jewish world of the late 19th and 20th centuries.

More precisely, I wish to explore how at the center of JDP stands the concept of political theology and how this interpenetration of political theory and theology was the driving force behind it.

My research tries to achieve this by focusing on the thought of Franz Rosenzweig in a systematic, comparative and critical manner. The dialogical thought of Rosenzweig is systematically reread as arising from the attempt both to simultaneously fundamentally rethink Judaism out of the political reality in which he found himself and at the same time to understand this political reality out of Judaic sources. This rereading is done against the background of the two other most prominent Jewish dialogical philosophers – Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas – thereby subverting some of the most prominent clichés still dominating the reception of Rosenzweig as a political thinker.

This project is divided into three parts, each applying this general method to a specific aspect of Rosenzweig’s political thought. In the first part Rosenzweig’s attitude toward the state in The Star of Redemption is considered. More specifically, I try to show that this attitude is a fundamentally misunderstood one: a misunderstanding that has to be remedied through a thorough rethinking of Rosenzweig’s intellectual relationship to Hegel and the insight that Rosenzweig comes to embrace Hegel’s conception of the State more intensely as he matures intellectually. I also explore how this attitude contrasts with the anti-statist anarchism of Buber; likewise, I examine the deep philosophical roots of this disagreement and how Rosenzweig’s surprising embrace of the state has unexpected legacy in the thought of Levinas. In the second part I look at how Rosenzweig interprets the Jewish-Christian divide as a political divide and transforms crucial parts of Christian dogmatics into tools of political analysis. This Rosenzweigian approach is, on one hand, contrasted with Buber’s deceptive embrace of Christianity and his political revolutionary rejection of dogmatics and, on the other hand, read as a precursor to Levinas’s use of Christian theological language as an instrument for fundamental metaphysics with political significance. In the third and final part I look at Rosenzweig’s oftmisunderstood attitude toward Jewish law, drawing out the political consequences of his attitude whilst contrasting it to Bubers’s far more straightforward attitude and showing how it can provide a way out of certain impasses in Levinas’s thought.