Jacob Taubes: the philosopher of the apocalypse

Janet Ledger, Railway Bridge at Deptford, oil on panel, 21x29cm.


Commentary on Jerry Miller's Book

Jacob Taubes: the philosopher of the apocalypse is the definitive biography of the philosopher. It is so well written by the author, Jerry Miller, that it can be sipped like any of Saw Bellow's books about the tumultuous life of an academic. Here, we will focus only on the theological-political concept of the apocalypse.

The cover of the book is Taubes, next to Marcuse, in Berlin. If, for Marxists, religion is an illusion,[1] Taubes's contribution is to reinsert Western Marxism into its apocalyptic origins. The idea of ​​the end of time, towards which history is heading, makes it a progressive process. This teleological history, with a linear, non-recurrent direction, is the product of an eschatological vision, whose origin is found in the hebrew bible. This view of Hegel has its origin both in hebrew bible, of course New Testament, and also in its medieval transformations and its final secularization.

The belief in the apocalypse is that the existing order and world is evil and corrupt. In this doctrine, signs are sought that this order is at an end, acting to seek the reign of God on Earth. The world would be fallen, but there is an alternative, more perfect. The apocalypse is antinomic, aiming at external transformation: this is the revolutionary aspect of its pathos. It originates in Book of Daniel, passes through primitive Christianity, Joaquim de Fiori, the Anabaptists and Puritans and, finally secularized, culminates in Marxism.

Taubes dialogues, in his work, with Ernst Bloch, Hans Urs von Balthazar, Carl Löwith. The topic is current, also studied by the influential Carl Schmitt, who commands conservative minds around the world. The latter, however, condemns agnosticism, which he sees as harmful. An intertext is also noticeable (although not noticed by Taubes himself) with doctrines of the so-called “new Marxism”, more specifically the New Critique of Value, by Robert Kurz, and his direct or indirect followers, such as Nick Land (this one, not Marxist) and Mark Fisher. If it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism, apocalyptic eschatology could consist precisely in the possibility of refounding the world according to the biblical designs of equality and fraternity among men.

The Taubesian revolutionary vision stems from a divergence from its master, Gershom Scholem. The understanding of messianism, for him, is internal. For his apprentice, both Judaism and Christianity, as we see in his reading of Paul, see Christ-like figures within Judaism, not outside of it. Taubes denies the Scholemian distinction between a Judaism turned to the Earth and an interiorized Christianity – in it, Christianity would explain the antinomic character of Jewish history.

Thus, we see the themes of Taubes: the apocalypse as the eschatology of history and the philosophy of history. One continues Scholem, diverging from him, back to Benjamin. For Taubes, this is a Pauline Marcionite philosopher, agnostic, of a Jewish nature.

Taubes' biography enriches philosophy to the extent that such a philosopher drinks from rabbinic thought. Thus, the author emerges as one of the great Jewish philosophers of the XNUMXth century, revolutionary and of mystical praxis, descendant of a Hasidic dynasty, of several scholars. All this energy is channeled into a life of political and academic turmoil. The author, who seems to be critical of the so-called postmodern left, does not fail to use irony in relation to his own radical action.

This does not mean that the book is no longer essential. Despite the excessive amount of irrelevant biographical data (aka academic gossip), the fundamental lines regarding the apocalypse and the blunt criticism of Schmitt's thinking, and the resumption of the revolutionary aspect of Judaism, make its reading worthwhile.

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

Alexandre de Lima Castro Tranjan is a law student at the University of São Paulo (USP).



[1] Such a conception, very present in Marx's youthful work, is notably influenced by Feuerbach's thought, from which Marx later distanced himself. The Young Marx, although pre-scientific (see By Marx, by Louis Althusser), has remained a relevant basis for Western Marxism, whose name is, in fact, more topographical than theoretical.

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