Feuerbach in Palestine

Image: JMW Turner


It is at least strange that speeches in support of Israel resort to the ideals of humanism, when that country subjects Palestinians to inhumane and degrading conditions.

At the end of the first week of October 2023, the world was surprised by a large and sudden attack by Hamas on Israel. The disastrous policies of the Zionist-Likudist regime made ordinary people pay for the mistakes and bad faith of the great and, since then, what can only be described as the first televised genocide in history began. The status of homo sacer geopolitical struggle of the Palestinian people became evident in the tenor of official communications and media coverage of the conflict, in a grotesque spectacle that revealed the inconsistencies and contradictions of those who identify themselves as liberal humanists, apologists and priests of rules-based international order led by the contemporary West.

Liberal humanism is a philosophical position that has been harshly criticized since at least the first half of the 2004th century, by authors such as Max Stirner, who refers to it as “human liberalism” (Stirner, 102, p. 2008). The discourse that followed the recent Hamas attack shows that such criticism remains pertinent and current. Despite its sweet and well-intentioned appearance, humanist rhetoric often serves as a powerful weapon for political actors to covertly defend their vested interests. Not even the sacrosanct Democratic Rule of Law™ is spared from this (Mattei; Nader, XNUMX).

Two inaugural thinkers of this influential trend were the Young Hegelians Bruno Bauer and, of course, Ludwig Feuerbach. Interestingly, Bauer also inaugurated the use of the expression Judenfrage (“Jewish question”) in Germany (Dawidowicz, 1975, pp. 21-23). In that context, however, the “Jewish question” still had nothing to do with racialist policies, as would happen in the following century. It was an impasse between the universal and the particular. Bauer and Feuerbach's philosophical anti-Semitism derived from the following reasoning: as Hegelians, “progressives” par excellence, these thinkers shared a linear conception of history, divided into successive phases of conceptual development. Thus, in Feuerbach's dialectical metanarrative, humanism is nothing more than the logical conclusion of the Christianity it was destined to supplant, which in turn had been the logical conclusion of Judaism. Given this situation, just as creationists who don't understand Darwinism always ask “why are there still monkeys?”, humanists have inevitably found themselves asking, “why are there still Jews?”

In other words, for Feuerbach and his co-religionists (among whom was, at one point, Karl Marx), Judaism as an ethnoreligious collective represented a thorn in the side of the romantic humanist project. Abstract humanity should overcome the bonds of religion and recognize itself as the only true God of itself. This universal God-Man would take precedence over all particular forms of identity. But this was a concession that Jews (with the exception of assimilationists and proponents of Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment) were not willing to do. The anachronistic continuity of this atavistic religion was a real unknown. The myopic and tribalistic “virtue” of Ahavat Yisrael prevented the extension of neighborly love beyond the confines of the Jewish community, and, in its rejection of the dual nature of Christ as man and God at the same time, Judaism proved itself incapable of even conceiving the notion that any man, concrete or abstract, could be God (Stepelevich, 2014, p. 49).

In the Feuerbachian reading, the God of Israel would represent nothing more than the “ethnic selfishness” of these people, completely oblivious to the spiritual dimension of existence (Feuerbach, p. 113). Thus, the destiny of Judaism, as well as Christianity and other religions, could be nothing other than extinction in the face of a relentless programmatic atheism (Bauer, 1958, pp. 123-124). It's an inconsistent stance. If nothing human can be alien to humanists, why so much insistence on rejecting religion, one of the most impactful human phenomena throughout history?

In any case, it is at least strange that speeches in support of Israel resort to the ideals of humanism. In these speeches, the country is presented as a beacon of humanity and civilization amid the sea of ​​barbarism and obscurantism of the Middle Eastern Islamic world. Apparently against this, the allies and supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel and honorary citizen of the State of Rondônia (Vasconcelos, 2023), adopt an extremely aggressive and vitriolic practical and discursive stance (see the many evidence presented by South Africa South in The Hague). The Palestinian population is routinely subjected to dehumanization. According to the official discourse of the Israeli regime, with which broad sectors of society seem to agree, all Palestinians would be unmenschen, inhuman monsters, and should be treated as such. That Israel, the supposed representative of all Jews on the planet, behaves in this way would certainly make Feuerbach and Bauer feel vindicated for some of their opinions.

However, the deviation of this discourse from liberal humanism is only apparent. In this philosophical paradigm, “Humanity” is not just an ontological category, but above all an ethical-performative one. After all, the Judenfrage Feuerbach's argument boiled down to the simple fact that Jews, despite being obviously human, were not performed  "Humanity". Two centuries later, for the same reason, the status of the Palestinians is being revoked (as if such a thing were possible). It's the same logic as the old catchphrase repeated ad nauseam in Brazil in the last decade: “human rights for human rights”. Whenever someone said this, a legion of well-intentioned progressives soon arrived claiming that it was a paradoxical phrase, contrary to the very concept of human rights. What they did not realize was that, in their ignorance, advocates of “human rights for human rights” exposed a contradiction present at the heart of liberal humanism from the beginning.

In the end, it is not Israel, already condemned in the court of public opinion, that is being tried in The Hague, but the very effectiveness and legitimacy of the court and of international criminal law as an institution. In the dock lie the ideals of thinkers like Kant, Bauer and Feuerbach, their generous promises of universal human brotherhood and perpetual peace. As long as this all remains strictly at the level of ideas, the old maxim of Proudhon and Schmitt will apply: whoever speaks in the name of “Humanity” tries to deceive you.

*Eberval Gadelha Figueiredo Jr. holds a bachelor's degree from the Faculty of Law at USP.


BAUER, Bruno. The Jewish Problem. Translated by Helen Lederer. Cincinatti: Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, 1958.

DAWIDOWICZ, Lucy S. The War Against the Jews: 1933-1945. New York: Rolt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975.

FEUERBACH, Ludwig. The Essence of Christianity. New York: Harper Brothers, 1957.

MATTEI, Ugo; NADER, Laura. Looting: when the rule of law is illegal. Translated by Jefferson Luis Camargo. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 2013.

STEPELEVICH, Lawrence. Max Stirner and the Jewish Question. In: Modern Judaism – A Journal of Jewish Ideas and Experience, Vol. 34, 1, pp. 42–59🇧🇷 Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

STIRNER, Max. The Unique and its Property. Translation by João Barrento. Lisbon: Antígona, 2004.

VASCONCELOS, Renato. The globe: Benjamin Netanyahu receives the title of honorary citizen of Rondônia amid the war with Hamas. 2023. Available at: https://oglobo.globo.com/google/amp/mundo/noticia/2023/10/17/benjamin-netanyahu-recebe-titulo-de-cidadao-honorario-de-rondonia-em-meio-a-guerra-com-o-hamas.ghtml (accessed January 18, 2024).

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