From Hermann Cohen to Hannah Arendt

Paul Klee, Sailing Boats, 1927


Commentary on Miguel Vatter's book

This book discusses Jewish political theology developed by German philosophers in the 20th century. Miguel Vatter's radical interpretation is that the messianic idea of ​​the kingdom of God is contrary to state sovereignty. And so there is an anarchic political vision of radical non-domination. This messianic democratic vision combines with the ideal of cosmopolitan constitutionalism based on the identity of divine law and natural law.

How better to begin a radical hermeneutics of the political theology of twentieth-century Judaism than with first-century Philo the Jew and his explosive combination of Pythagorean Platonism and Judaism. Philo modeled the Jewish conception of divine sovereignty on the Platonic-Pythagorean conception of philosophical monarchy and nomos phuseos, law of nature.

With this, two fundamental errors regarding political theology are undone: the first, by Erik Peterson, in which political theology only exists within the scope of Judaism and it is reactionary, as Philo established the correspondence between the divine monarchy and the earthly monarchy ; and the second fundamental error, in Carl Schmitt, in which political theology only exists within the scope of Christianity and it is in favor of political authoritarianism.

In fact, what allows for a libertarian political theology is this combination between Bible revolutionary and philosophical paganism. Precisely Carl Schmitt is incapable of reading the Bible in the subversive sense.

Hermann Cohen, the mentor of Hans Kelsen, articulates the messianism of this world, based on Maimonides, and not the world to come, as eternal life is in this world. His Kantianism favors democratic socialism, eliminates the idea of ​​sovereignty and preserves the cosmopolitanism of human rights.

Gershom Scholem's hermeneutics is revealed in its radical essence, a doctrine of Torah, antinomic and against state sovereignty. A Torah, which can only be revealed by the letter Aleph, only that which was heard, is not a written law, but a contestable oral law, which can be permanently interrupted by a non-sovereign messianism. The Kabbalistic notion of law written as the letter Aleph, which means nothing, is the basis of religious anarchism. There was never a written Torah in the sense of a divine revelation. Divine immediate revelation is wisdom, the second sefirah, and is not identified with positive law. This means that written law is already oral law.

Thus, from Philo to Hermann Cohen and Gershom Scholem, this philosophical interpretation of Torah It is a laboratory of a radical socialist democracy, not based on state sovereignty, but on the supremacy of international law based on human rights, which recognizes plurality and the right to self-determination of all nationalities.

The chapter on political theology by Franz Rosenzweig also opens up an alternative to the idea of ​​the people and their territory. A cosmopolitan empire becomes possible, which is not territorially delimited, and access to sovereignty that is not pre-determined ethno-culturally.

Gershom Scholem articulates the idea of ​​divine nothingness, it is a political theology of the Law after the death of God.

Chapter V is dedicated to Leo Strauss, who called himself an atheist, but presents a Jewish theology of the prophet as the political founder of the perfect legal order. Carl Schmitt's political theology is tyrannical, Leo Strauss's, based on the Arab culture of the golden age, is supported by Plato's political philosophy.

Hannah Arendt said that Jefferson and Napoleon could not be understood without Moses and David. She reconstructs the tradition of republicanism as a fusion between Greco-Roman direct democracy and the federalist character of Brit, of the Jewish covenant.

The conclusion discusses the symbol of the empty throne, which is the perfect image between theocracy and anarchy. There is nothing better than reinserting Simone Weil, this great Jewish saint of the 20th century, and the beginning of anarchy.

Something that made me happy, because I wrote about the concept of just war in Old testment, is the explanation of fondant war, from the republican connotation of the Jewish just war. Precisely to oppose the sovereign, or monarchical, prerogative of waging war with other nations, and denying the biblical foundation of genocide, demonstrating that the destruction of the Canaanite peoples is nothing more than a literary, and never historical, recreation of the ideologues of the Babylonian exile deuteronomist.

In short, the Aristotelian-Philonian ideas of living law are the foundation of Law, and not of the State. Corroborating what Eric Jacobson said: that the religious meaning of theocracy corresponds to the anarchist kingdom of God, opposed to the monarchical understanding of the messianic kingdom, where the messiah is a human king of the Davidic lineage. Theocracy does not depend on state sovereignty, it is a political way of life.

This Jewish political theology is anti-positivist, freedom of interpretation guarantees the continued existence of the people throughout history.

Nothing better than reading Bickerson about the Maccabean revolt. The idea is that divine providence, divine grace, operates against the Law. I only regret that in a book that extols the crucial role of Pythagoreanism in Philo, and the revival of these ideas in the Italian Renaissance, a mention of the third Jewish sect of the 78th century, the Warburg School, is not included, after all, as it is in tablets 79 and XNUMX, the anti-Semitic painting of the desecration of the host, in the political context of Italian fascism, is a cry for defense against the violence of anti-Semitism that persists well into the XNUMXth century.

*Ari Marcelo Solon He is a professor at the Faculty of Law at USP. Author of, among others, books, Paths of philosophy and science of law: German connection in the future of justice (Prisma). []


Miguel Vatter. Living law: Jewish political theology from Hermann Cohen to Hannah Arendt. New York, Oxford University Press, 2021, 360 pages. []

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