I will be presenting the paper below at the second Anarchist Studies Network conference, Making Connections, held at Loughborough University September 3-5. I’ll be participating in a session called ‘No Master But God?’ Exploring the Compatibility of Anarchism and Religion.
I’m making the abstract of the paper available now and I plan to post the full paper after the conference. Feedback, suggestions, and criticism (even in this early stage) are welcome, especially if anyone has strong opinions on Martin Buber or Walter Benjamin.
Jewish Mysticism and Anarchism, a Question of Compatibility
This paper examines the compatibility of Jewish mysticism and anarchism, with a critical but overall favorable view. Jewish mysticism, or Kabbalah, is itself an anarchistic counterpart to mainstream Judaism as it is not a recognized denomination and has no official internal hierarchy. By examining the work of two radical thinkers invested in the Jewish mystical tradition, this paper aims to survey topics relevant to a determination of the relationship between anarchism and Kabbalah.
Walter Benjamin, a German Marxist, developed a philosophy of history in opposition to the linear teleological philosophy of history propounded by Hegel and adopted by Marx. In Benjamin, the coming of the Messiah is an implicit corollary to the socialist revolution. Unlike Marx, who in The Communist Manifesto wrote that the path to communism is “inexorable”, Benjamin opposed any notion of historical inevitability or linear causality because such a view of history by definition discounts the experience of the victims – in Hegel’s terms: the negated. Benjamin’s philosophy of history echoes notions of rupture and contingency that have become crucial to contemporary anarchist thought, with important distinctions.
Martin Buber, an Austrian anarchist, drawing on a different tradition of Kabbalah, through the lens of Hasidism, believed that it is possible in the present world to live “in” Utopia as opposed to working “toward” Utopia, a concept that resonates with prefigurative politics and dual power in anarchist political theory. Furthermore, Buber’s position on the “encounter” in his conception of the I-Thou relationship provides philosophical grounding for anarchist ideas of mutual aid and self-determination.
In the Theologico-Political Fragment, Benjamin contradicts Buber’s position on Utopia, objecting to the attempt to build “the order of the profane” on the “idea of the Divine Kingdom.” In this way Benjamin rebukes theocracy while also criticizing the temporal power of the nation-state, which in Judaism properly belongs to the Divine. Thus, while the positions of Benjamin and Buber are mutually exclusive, they are independently compatible with anarchist politics.