(interior view, the Hindenburg)
What can I say? I have a soft spot for liberals. I remember talking to Jack Caputo some years after 9/11. There was an exchange during our Department reading group about something related to something in continental theory. It was probably about Zizek or something related to contemporary currents in “political theology.” With probably too much heat, I mentioned that I was looking for someone who could help get me over the George Washington Bridge in a traffic jam. I did not like at all getting stuck on traffic on the bridges and tunnels after 9/11. It made me very nervous. Zizek and company were no help to me whatsoever. Jack wisely recommended Isaiah Berlin, which was excellent advice, and for which alone I would be forever in his debt.
As for Weimar Germany, I’m pretty much ready to jump the LZ 129 Hindenburg (Luftschiff Zeppelin #129; Registration: D-LZ 129)! Aside from Adorno and Jonas, I think they are all toxic. Benjamin, Heidegger, Kracauer, Schmitt, Strauss, Taubes. I know this is an incredibly broad brush, but I won’t help myself. It’s the combination of  crisis, contradiction, and predicament expressed in  the cold, airless register of 1920s Neuesachlichkeit, and  acid either/or polar opposition between one thing and another (Athens/Jerusalem, secular/sacred, fascism/communism).
I appreciate the historical context to all of this, but that’s about it. I’ve always found myself more comfortable between things than at either point of a dead-end opposition. For something less extremely flammable, I’m interested in a more irenic posture, according to which one is ready to understand that most conflicts, even the most important ones, tend to be fungible, more or less. Without a whiff of fascism or totalitarianism, my Anglo-Franco American lodestars remain Bachelard, Barthes, Berlin, Cavell, Dewey, James, Kaplan, Kazin, Wittgenstein.
What links all this stuff together, from the right and from the left, then and today, is the anti-liberal animus driving the discourse of political theology. From Benjamin to Strauss and Schmitt, and from Zizek to Milbank, I think it is all disaster prone. And this includes Buber’s The Kingship of God, a text from the early 1930s, in which the absolutism ascribed to God reflects, unwittingly, the opposite side of the absolutism ascribed by Schmitt to the state.
Those Germans were very, very impressive, but one should not be so easy to impress. I’m looking forward to reading Peter Gordon’s book on Ernst Cassirer. It is Cassirer’s The Philosophy of the Enlightenment that still stands out to me as one of the greatest books written on and in the spirit of the German Enlightenment. Cassirer’s study is also probably among the last sensible things written in Germany at this juncture of the 20th century.
Cassirer, by the way, cared neither for Heidegger nor “political theology.” I think he was right. Regarding the latter, it is the combination of terms strikes me as too explosive, and obscures abiding historical tensions across the world religions, including Judaism and Islam, and also Christianity, between religious and political authority. About this there needs to be serious consideration and reconsideration about “law,” and what this term might mean or might have meant in, for example, Jewish intellectual and social history.