Walter Benjamin’s Zur Kritik der Gewalt (‘On the Critique of Violence’): reception, relevance, and a mis-diagnosis?

Abstract

 

Walter Benjamin’s early essay Zur Kritik der Gewalt [Zur Kritik] first published in 1921 is a notoriously difficult text, but its relevance to contemporary politics makes it a text to which theorists repeatedly return. This reading takes issue with those critics, notably Axel Honneth, who see Benjamin’s project in Zur Kritik as fatally, dangerously flawed. It is suggested here that Benjamin’s text, despite the difficulties, still posits the possibility of a ‘lookout point’ - not prescriptive per se but in keeping with his abiding interest in literature, metaphorical and exegetical. There is no ground on which to stand that does not in effect constitute the lookout point of the place and times of the lookout, but this reading suggests that the Benjaminian lookout point is the lookout which is never fixed because it is not ‘looking out’ on but towards others, and is not merely addressing and prescribing, but talking with itself and others. That Benjamin embraces religious language to effect this move, perhaps suggesting, a lookout in judgment from a fixed point, from some ‘higher’ (transcendental) ground, certainly might be troubling for some, but it will be suggested these anxieties are misplaced.

 

Author Biography

Valerie Whittington, University of Sussex
Phd Researcher in Social and Political Thought, Doctoral Tutor

References

Agamben, G. (1970/2009) ‘On the Limits of Violence’ tr. by Elisabeth Fay, ed. by Lorenzo Fabbri, Diacritics, Winter, 39(4), pp. 103-111. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23256452 (Accessed: 5 March 2016)

Barry, E. and Pérez-Peña, R. (2018) ‘Britain Blames Moscow for Poisoning of Former Russian Spy’ New York Times, 12 March, Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/12/world/europe/uk-russia-spy-poisoning.html (Accessed: April 2018)

Benjamin, W. (1978/2007) Reflections. tr. by E. Jephcott, ed. by P. Demetz, New York: Schocken Books, by arrangement with Harcourt Inc, Random House

Benjamin, W. (1996) ‘On the Program of the Coming Philosophy’ in Bullock, M. and Jennings, M.W. (eds.) Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings: Volume 1, 1913-1926. Cambridge Massachusetts: The Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, pp. 100-110

Benjamin, W. (2014) Gesammelte Werke: Essays + Aufsätze + Satiren + Kritiken + Autobiografische Schriften E-book: Kindle ed. EUSarl. e-artnow ISBN 978-80-268-2571-5

(Downloaded: 30 December 2014)

Bessel, R. (1977) ‘The Potempa Murder’ Central European History, September, 10(3), pp. 241-254. Available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/4545804 (Accessed: 16 June 2016)

Bloch, E. (2000) The Spirit of Utopia. tr. by Anthony A. Nasser, 2nd ed. German text Geist

der Utopie: Bearbeite Neuauflage der Zweiten Fassung von 1923 [1964], Stanford California:

Stanford University Press

Bredekamp, H. Thorson Hause, M. and Bond, J. (1999) ‘From Walter Benjamin to Carl Schmitt, via Thomas Hobbes’ Critical Inquiry, Winter, 25(2) 'Angelus Novus': Perspectives on Walter Benjamin, pp. 247-266 Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1344202 (Accessed: 8 April 2013)

Bulman, M. (2018) 'Slap in the face of desperation: Yarl's Wood women on hunger strike for ‘dietary’ reasons’, claims Home Office’ The Independent, 1 March. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/yarl-s-wood-home-office-claims-women-on-hunger-strike-for-dietary-and-religious-reasons-a8234751.html

(Accessed 4 April 2018)

Butler, J. (2006) ‘Critique, Coercion, and Sacred Life in Benjamin’s “Critique of Violence”’ in Political Theologies: Public Religions in a Post-Secular World. New York: Fordham University Press, e-book, pp. 201-219. Available at Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x06k8.12 (Accessed 7 October 2017)

de Wilde, M. (2011) ‘Meeting Opposites: The Political theologies of Walter Benjamin and Carl Schmitt’ Philosophy & Rhetoric, 44(4), pp. 363-381 Available at: ttp://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/philrhet.44.4.0363 (Accessed 5 March 2016)

Derrida, J. (1990) ‘Force de Loi: Le Fondement Mystique De L'Autorité’ Cardoza Law Review, Volume 11, pp. 920-1045. Provided by University of Sussex Library from HeinOnline. (Accessed 26 March 2018)

DV - detained voices. (2018) ‘The Strikers’ Demands’ detained voices, 25 February.

Available at: https://detainedvoices.com/2018/02/25/the-strikers-demands/

(Accessed 4 April 2018)

Graham, C., Riley-Smith, B., Sabur, R. and Henderson, B. (2018) ‘Syria airstrikes: America, Britain and France target Assad's chemical facilities in aerial barrage - latest news’ The Telegraph, 14 April. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/04/14/syria-airstrikes-donald-trump-set-make-announcement-military/

(Accessed April 2018)

Habermas, J. (1979) ‘Consciousness-Raising or Redemptive Criticism: The Contemporaneity of Walter Benjamin’, tr. by P. Brewster & C.H. Buchner, New German Critique, (Spring), 17 Special Walter Benjamin Issue, pp. 30-59. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/488008 (Accessed: 4 March 2018)

Hacker, R. (2018) ‘Here’s Why 100 Women Are on Hunger Strike at Yarl’s Wood’

Available at: https://rightsinfo.org/heres-100-women-hunger-strike-yarls-wood/

(Accessed 4 April 2018).

Heil, S. (1996) Gefährliche Beziehungen: Walter Benjamin und Carl Schmitt. Stuttgart: J.B.Metzler

Hirvonen, A. (2012/2013) ‘Marx and God with anarchism: on Walter Benjamin's concepts of history and violence’ Continental Philosophy Review, 4 January, Volume 45, pp. 519-543. Available at Springer online. DOI 10.1007/s11007-012-9234-9

Honneth, A. (2009) ‘Saving the Sacred with a Philosophy of History: On Benjamin's "Critique of Violence"’ Pathologies of Reason: On the Legacy of Critical theory Honneth, Axel tr. by J. Ingram, ed. by A. Allen, Chapter 6, pp. 88-125. Columbia University Press E-Book. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10,7312/honn14624.9 (Accessed:13 September 2017)

Hunt Tooley, T. (1988) ‘German Political Violence and the Border Plebscite in Upper Silesia, 1919-1921’ Central European History, March, 21(1), pp. 56-98. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4546111 (Accessed: 14 April 2018)

Jacobson, E. (2003) Metaphysics of the profane: the political theology of Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem. E-Book. New York, Chichester: Columbia University Press. E-ISBN 978-0-231-50153-8 (Downloaded: 5 November 2015)

Jones, M. (2016) ‘Conclusion’ in Founding Weimar: Violence and the German Revolution of 1918-1919. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781316335628.011 (E-Book Downloaded from Cambridge Core at Sussex University Library 14 April 2018) pp.324-338

Jurkevics, A. (2017) ‘Hannah Arendt reads carl Schmitt's “The Nomos of the Earth”: A dialogue on law and geopolitics from the margins’ European Journal of Political Theory, 16(3), pp. 345-366. Available at Sage Journals Online, journals.sagepub.com/home/ept, DOI: 10.1177/1474885115572837 (Accessed :6 August 2018)

McNulty, T. (2007) ‘The Commandment against the Law: Writing and Divine Justice in Walter Benjamin's "Critique of Violence"’ Diacritics, Summer - Fall, 37, 2/3 Taking Exception to the Exception, pp. 34-60. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20204164 (Accessed: 5 March 2016)

Pan, D. (2009) ‘Against Biopolitics: Walter Benjamin, carl Schmitt, and Giorgio Agamben on Political Sovereignty and Symbolic Order’ The German Quarterly, Winter, 82(1), pp. 42-62.

Sands, P., 2005. Lawless World: America and the Making and Breaking of Global Rules. London: Allen Lane, Penguin Books.

Schecter, D. (2010/2012) Ch.2 ‘The Revolutionary Critique of Instrumental Reason: Lukács and Benjamin’ in The Critique of Instrumental Reason from Weber to Habermas. Ch.2 pp. 43-77. Paperback edition. London: Continuum International Publishing Group

Schmitt, C. ([1922/1934], 1985) Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty. tr. by G.Schwab, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

Schmitt, C. (1996/2007) The Concept of the Political. tr. by G.Schwab, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

Smith, T. A., 2012. ‘Politics in the Wake of Divine Violence’ Studies in Christian Ethics, 25((4)), pp. 454-472. Available at Sage Journals Online, journals.sagepub.com/home/ept, DOI: 10.1177/0953946812454791 (Accessed: 3 August 2018)

Sorel, G. (1999) Reflections on Violence. tr. T.E.Hulme & J. Jennings, ed. by J. Jennings, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Weber, S. (1992) ‘Taking Exception to Decision: Walter Benjamin and Carl Schmitt’ Diacritics, 22(3/4) Autumn-Winter, Commemorating Walter Benjamin, pp. 5 – 18. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/465262 (Accessed: 18 May 2018)

Witte, B. (2011) ‘Politics, Economics, and Religion in the Global Age: Walter Benjamin's 'Critique of Violence' and 'Capitalism as Religion'’ Symposium: A Quarterly Journal in Modern Literatures, 65(1), pp. 5 - 15. Available at Routledge, Taylor & Francis Online https://doi.org/10.1080/00397709.2011.552846 (Accessed: 3 August 2018)

Wolin, R. (1994) Walter Benjamin: An Aesthetic of Redemption. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.

Published
2019-02-21
How to Cite
WhittingtonV. (2019). Walter Benjamin’s Zur Kritik der Gewalt (‘On the Critique of Violence’): reception, relevance, and a mis-diagnosis?. tudies in ocial and olitical hought, 28. https://doi.org/10.20919/sspt.28.2018.93
Section
Articles