Between Prophecy and Apocalypse: Buber, Benjamin, and Socialist Eschatology

Research paper by Asher Wycoff

Indexed on: 14 Jul '20Published on: 07 Jul '20Published in: Political theory


Political Theory, Ahead of Print. Martin Buber’s political thought has enjoyed renewed attention lately, particularly his concept of “theopolitics,” a type of political practice that recognizes God as the ultimate political authority. In Buber’s biblical exegesis, theopolitics is a condition of everyday life in premonarchical Israel, but following the installation of the monarchy, it becomes a specialized activity of prophets, consisting chiefly in divinely commanded intercession against state actions. Buber suggests that a version of this prophetic activity is manifest in present-day socialist cooperatives, especially the kibbutzim. Indeed, for Buber, these cooperatives can be seen as laying the groundwork for messianic redemption. This essay probes some potentially troubling implications of Buber’s theopolitical framework, taking objections raised in Walter Benjamin’s correspondence as an entry point. A central concern for Benjamin is Buber’s nationalist articulation of Jewish identity, which appears all the more problematic when considered in tandem with the teleological view of history evident in Buber’s framework.