Messianism & Moral Radicalism (After the Holocaust) (Steven Schwarzschild)

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Avoiding him for years, I knew that reading Steven Schwarzschild’s Pursuit of the Ideal was going to be for me an unpleasant professional chore. He wrote an important article about “Jewish aesthetics” that appears in the volume. But that was all I was going to read, and really it too is a strange intellectual exercise. That essat occupied some three paragraphs in the preface to The Shape of Revelation, where it left an unfavorable impression. I highlighted there the confluence of Judaism and high modernism presented by Schwarzschild against postmodernism, Andy Warhol, and pop-art. That was years ago already. This spring, reading the entire volume ended up being one of the very last things I needed to do in the process of completing draft-chapters on ethics and messianism for new research, in which he will occupy at most a footnote or two. Not without an interest of their own, the essays collected in Pursuit of the Ideal only confirm what I already thought. There is something badly awry, albeit instructive, in this body of work. A radical thinker, a moral radical, Schwarzschild did not grasp very well the tension between the ideal and the real, which he posed in stark binary terms. For him, it was one or the other, with no in-between. As post-Holocaust Jewish thought, it is oddly obtuse to the problem of human suffering.

Schwarzschild invoked messianism years before it was brought into vogue in critical theory, and for that alone his work is worth a look. But to what purpose did he stick his hands into that fire? For someone writing well into the 1980s against political and religious Zionism, maybe Schwarzschild should have known better than to play the messianism card. To be sure, he was utterly prescient in his radical critique of the State of Israel, in particular Jewish racism in Israel, but for the wrong reasons. His critique of Israel conformed to a larger pattern of thought privileging idealism and ethical idealism, transformed into an uncompromising form of moral radicalism that he positioned over against “reality.” Compare him in contrast to post-Holocaust thinkers like Richard Rubenstein, Eliezer Berkovits, and Emil Fackenheim. Politically, they were, of course, conservative to the extreme about Israel. Writing so soon after 1945, Israel was for them a precious icon of life against death. And yet, for all that, the post-Holocaust thinkers understood the State of Israel more or less realistically, more or less historically. In the end, they did not look upon Israel through an idealist-eschatological lens. As they imagined it, Israel was for them a real place meant to meet real human problems in the here and now. From deep within “the religious,” they understood that God was a problem, not an ethical foundation of faith, as per Schwarzschild. They shared none of his austere theological confidence. For them the only important datum was the Jewish people, Israel after Auschwitz.

Associated with ethical socialism, messianism was for Schwarzschild the end all and be all of Judaism. Looking to the future and only to the future, messianism stood for ethical perfection. Ethics and messianism are radical and uncompromising figures of thought strictly opposed to reality (understood to be imperfect, compromised, and cruel). Itself always in pursuit of the ideal, Judaism was marshalled to teach that the world as it is is never what God wants it to be (pp.209-11). This is the essential teaching of “pure monotheism,” presented as the truth of Judaism, as a “clear cut norm,” “authoritative tradition,” with “no doubt,” “in fact,” as “historic fact” (cf. 3, 129,130, 209, 235, 244, 247). Hyperbolic to the extreme, the essence of Judaism is no longer “ethical monotheism,” that moderate bourgeois inheritance from nineteenth century liberal Judaism. Much more stringent Schwarzschild distilled the essence of Judaism into “moral radicalism,” which he posed against ethical eudaemonism and the Aristotelean mean (chapter 8).

As an aesthetic figure, moral radicalism may have been marked by an austere and alien grandeur, but, conceptually, it was mangled at the root. Let’s start with how Schwarzschild consistently confused moral radicalism (i.e. absolute and uncompromising commitments to justice, mercy, and the virtue of humility) with religious radicalism (loving God to the point of excess, the desire to imitate God, to see God, to confront God without any mediating intermediary). Reading Deuteronomy 6:5 in order to lampoon liberal religion, is it possible, he demanded to know, to love God with “a moderate part of one’s heart”?  Schwarzschild has just pulled a bait and switch. If we are to assume that ethics speaks to right human action or to individual virtue and social relations, then the commandment in Deuteronomy to love God with all one’s heart, soul, and might is not ethical per se (p.139). Unethical to the extreme, a “foolish pietism,” to turn all one’s attention to God is to turn one’s eye away from human beings.

Schwarzschild makes the same elision between ethics and religion when writing about Maimonides. Noting the ethical dictum at the end of the Guide that to know God is to practice grace, justice, and righteousness in this world, Schwarzschild fails to comment that this highpoint in the text is the precise moment at which the soul separates from the body, and allowing the perfected intellect to unite with the Active Intellect. We see this too in Schwarzschild’s reading of The Eight Chapters, also by Maimonides, his commentary to the ethical tractate Pirkei Avot. Here again what Schwarzschild himself calls the religious “extremism” in the effort to “see” God certainly outstrips Aristotelean moderation. About this, he was right about Maimonides. But this might be better understood to constitute the limits of Maimonidean ethics, or at best their consummation at the limit. Schwarzschild doesn’t seem to grasp that this extreme comportment is no longer ethical. Poltics and ethics are a condition for intellectual perfection, not its telos. Transcending interhuman and character ethics, the relation is religious-prophetic (pp.142-3).

What about the individual, which, according to Maimonides, Torah must always accommodate? While one can appreciate the religious intensity of the spiritual stretch of the vision, it would be a category mistake to call it ethical as conventionally understood, even as “infinite task.” In Schwarzschild an intense disregard if not for human life as such, then for the value of individual human life as a particular actuality. The contempt shown for “the vulgus” and hoi polio is consistent and withering. Viewed from an eschatological point of view, for Schwarzschild the value of a single human individual life, a suffering human life, pales before “the ideal.” As a general statement, does this hold true. Moral radicalism tout court is unsympathetic as such to human weakness, even to the human suffering that one might have thought, would have propelled it in the first place.

Under the surface, the strong pathos that inflects this transformation of ethical idealism into moral radicalism betrays a unique form of affective volatility undoubtedly pressured by the Holocaust. A mix of heart and heartlessness, the fever pitch of Schwarzschild’s moral radicalism explains why his discussion of the dispute between R. Akiva and ben Petura seems to go off the rails. In this well-known debate in tractate Bava Metzia of the Babylonian Talmud, there are two men in the desert, one in possession of just enough water for the one person to live, but only at the expense of the other. Ben Petura would have them share the water, meaning that both men will die in the desert. The opposing view is Akiva’s. In the Bavli, it is clear that either one person or no person will survive this zero-sum ordeal. Typically regarded in Jewish tradition as winning the argument, Akiva’s ruling is that, in order to survive this state of emergency, the owner of the water should keep the water and preserve his own life, even at the expense of the other.

Raising the stakes to that higher pitch of moral radicalism, Schwarzschild brings a post-Holocaust swerve to this classical conundrum. In his re-reading, the “model situation” under consideration is “actually” one in which it is unclear if either man in the discussion will survive the passage through the desert. Bending the text in light of “cool analysis” and the “history of Jewish martyrdom” leads Schwarzschild to conclude that both men will die in the desert, either as martyrs or as “frustrated survivors.” Bringing the conversation to bear on our own contemporary condition, Schwarzschild now complains, almost suddenly, that no one today wants to talk about “the possibility of future martyrdom.” He is distressed by the thought that in “our times,” “no one seems to have any idea anymore about having to draw the line somewhere, beyond which, as a limit, one may not go without losing one’s humanity, though, perhaps saving one’s life –not to speak of lesser sacrifices” (pp. 132-3). This is the view that we have no choice but to die sometime, and that one should always prefer one’s own death rather than to cause the death of another person. Schwarzschild conflates this with killing, which he insists “Judaism” forbids absolutely.” Having further conflated killing and murder, the appeal of martyrdom is unique to Schwarzschild.  “May my soul die the death of the righteous and my end be like theirs.” Against post-Holocaust theology, Schwarzschild calls “psychopathic” its will to survive at every cost after Auschwitz. Instead he embraces the example of the poet, Yehudah Halevy, as the willingness to suffer and to die (p.134-5). The martyr dies not for the sake of one’s fellow human being; the martyr dies for the sake of God’s name.

Guiding the moral radicalism undergirding this idiosyncratic appeal to martyrdom is the firm and unshakeable trust in the God of Israel. Schwarzschild trusts that God, even if we are to call God cruel, saw to the survival of the Jewish people during the Holocaust and will always see to the survival of the Jewish people (cf. pp 86, 89, 94-8 in chapter 4, “On the Theology of Jewish Survival”). This is the confidence that God will extricate humanity out of the inextricable muck of material existence (p.223). Sorting through old arguments about the soteriological effect of human action versus divine grace, Schwarzschild rejects apocalyptic modes of religious thought (the notion that redemption comes only by way of sudden catastrophic rupture) and also utopianism (defined as the false belief that the world can be made perfect). Against Scholem, Schwarzschild thinks one can separate both concepts from pure messianism (i.e. the notion that there is “some organic relationship between human history and its end” allowing us to grasp that ethical action is a necessary but insufficient condition for ethical perfection).

After the Holocaust, the confidence is fragile. Undercutting his own thesis, Schwarzschild could only say that to pin one’s hope for salvation upon some sudden, apocalyptic divine act of grace and only grace would depend upon an experience so “horrifying,” “morally atrocious” and “experientially painful” that one would never want the messiah to come in the first place (pp.225-6, “On Jewish Eschatology”). But surely, he must have understood that the Holocaust was exactly that — horrifying, morally atrocious, and experientially painful to the extreme. As much as he wants to subvert Scholem’s famous thesis that messianism is a theory of catastrophe, in writing these lines, Schwarzschild only highlights the degree to which the difference between messianism and apocalypticism is a too fine if not altogether non-existent line. For Schwarzschild, the pursuit of the ideal bears up over the weight of brute human reality. In this, it might be more to the point to concede that ethical perfection and moral radicalism are not worth the radically unbearable price of radical suffering.

Furthermore, when framed as radical ethical idealism, messianism is an eminently falsifiable belief. On the one hand, we have already suggested that Schwarzschild is critical of political and religious Zionism. On the other hand, he insists that “statements about life in the Messianic era or in the world to come are not logically self-contradictory or morally counterproductive and, in addition, produce this-worldly ethical injunctions which can both function empirically and be approved of morally” (p.222).  With an eye on rightwing religious radicalism in the State of Israel today, it is hard to follow this logic. As Schwarzschild himself knew well enough, statements about messianism can be ethically counterproductive, even morally atrocious. The so-called difference between messianism and false messianism is another thin line.

Another muddle: the pursuit of the ideal depends upon a view of the world according to which “reality” is too irredeemably rotten to function as a platform for the very ethical action it demands in relation to standards of messianism, perfectionism, and moral radicalism. Instead of determining ethical action in this world, these essays give way to an extreme form of religious love for the sake of the God of Israel. Unto death, the thinking here is no longer ethical if by ethics we mean the morally ambiguous terrain of human virtues and interpersonal relationships. None of this reflects “cool analysis.” It is all rather hot to the touch. The more coherent counterclaim would be that moral universe in this world is not given to the Platonic, mathematical precision that Schwarzschild wants for ethical action. Ours is an experience of the world too often overwhelmed by “horrifying experience” and moral atrocity. To work one’s way around in this world requires the kind of accommodation that Schwarzschild associates with Aristotelean ethics, even as the refusal to accommodate to the reality of this world lies at the heart of this post-Holocaust brand of ethical idealism and moral radicalism.

If Schwarzschild’s thinking is muddled, it because it bangs up against ontological muddles, not just conceptual ones. This is to say that he further confuses the relation between things that perhaps are already mingled at the root. They include muddled relations between what’s real and ideal, between is and ought, between what is permitted and forbidden, between messianism and apocalypticism, between religion and ethics through which there is no way out except perhaps through death. Does this explain the appeal of martyrdom? About the confused or confusing understanding of the relation between the ideal and real, this is what I wrote about Schwarzschild’s essay on Jewish art and modernism in the preface to The Shape of Revelation:

Writing at mid-century after the triumph of modernism…Steven Schwarzschild allows plastic art into Judaism; although once again, word trumps image in order to contrive a uniquely Jewish approach to visual art. Schwarzschild cites the Shulkhan ‘Arukh, to explain that Jewish law permits nonmimetic plastic expression. According to a gloss by Moses Isserles (152072), “There are those who hold that images of man or a dragon are not prohibited unless they are complete with all their limbs, but the shape of a head by itself or a body without a head is in no wise forbidden. Schwarzschild relates this opinion back to the rationalism of Moses Maimonides, who rejected any attempt to stand for the human soul, God’s very image. As Schwarzschild puts it, “To represent physical appearance as the whole person is, therefore, a misrepresentation. The converse is also true: a ‘misrepresentation’ will in fact be a true depiction. . . . To represent the empirical as tout court is, therefore, also to misrepresent God.”

 Deference to the authority of Jewish law notwithstanding, this stilted approach to art trips up on German philosophical idealism. Schwarzschild continues to patrol the anxious boundary separating art from reality, the ideal from the empirical. He wants to avoid that instance in which two objects, the original and its artistic reproduction, appear exactly identical. According to Schwarzschild, art is no longer art when the artwork neither adds to nor detracts from the real world. “What in truth is the difference between a pop art duplicate . . . of a soup can and the original on a display shelf? Hegel was surely right when he held that whenever and wherever the idea is believed to have become identical with the real, the ‘death of art’ has occurred. Couched in the idealist critique of empirical reality and in a modernism already at war with postmodernism, Schwarzschild’s discussion of the Shulkhan ‘Arukh proudly concludes, “We have thus deduced two of the chief principles of twentieth-century modern artabstraction and distortion.” Leaving copy realism far behind, abstract art nihilates physical semblance, whereas distortion detracts from and adds to it.

Modern art and Judaism are thereby forced to confirm each other on the basis of philosophical constructs regarding the fixed difference between appearance, representation, and reality. Mostly, the entire exercise remains fundamentally arbitrary, as seen by Schwarzschild’s embrace of Rembrandt, El Greco, and Modigliani, while excluding classical Greek art, its Renaissance revival, French pointillism, and American pop art. The author seems to think that the shadows and light casting human figures in Rembrandt’s paintings obviate their realistic character, while Warhol’s soup cans violate the fragile boundary between real and ideal. Spurious at best, such judgment reflects a rearguard modernism, not

halakhic principle. Kandinsky is far less dogmatic. “Approaching it in one way, he writes, I see no essential difference between a line one calls abstract and a fish. But an essential likeness.’ Line and fish are “living beings,” each with latent capacities. A “miracle,” these capacities are made manifest and radiant by the environment of their composition. And this despite the equally essential difference that a fish can swim, eat, and be eaten.”

For all that he turned to modernist abstract art, the philosopher was unable, as the artist was able, to negotiate the difference between the abstract or ideal versus the real, between a picture of a can of soup and an actual can of soup. In this, Schwarzschild refused to distinguish between spiritual and physical need. Unable to tolerate the distortions of ethical life, the pursuit of the ideal is unable to accommodate itself sympathetically to human weakness. The best one could say is that the thinking at work in these essays is hyperbolic, unreal like abstract art. But even Kandinsky’s art touched in some way upon the world. Perhaps it is the case that Schwarzschild’s thought was also touched by the world, or rather burnt by the real. By his own admission, the form of thought does not belong to this world. The pursuit can only end falling in on itself, instantiating the problem with moral radicalism in the first place.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish though and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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4 Responses to Messianism & Moral Radicalism (After the Holocaust) (Steven Schwarzschild)

  1. URIOUS OBSESSION FULL VIDEO
    CURIOUS OBSESSION FULL VID
    Response to Zachary Braiterman on Schwarzschild

    Interesting! I’m very glad to see Schwarzschild getting attention from anyone.

    But I think you’ve badly misunderstood him on several important points — (and let me be very transparent; I agree with very nearly everything Schwarzschild ever published as his considered view, so I’m a partisan here):

    1) I think it’s misleading to say that he ‘elides’ the difference between ethical and religious imperatives. He very consciously thinks that they are necessarily, literally, the same. This is eloquently summarised in the second paragraph of Ken Seeskin’s foreword (p. ix): ‘He [Schwarzschild] will not accept any suggestion that commandments must be appropriated in heteronomous fashion — that God reveals without at the same time educating. He will not accept any suggestion that God is to be dissociated from the moral law and the obligation to treat all of humanity as an end in itself. . . . Apart from rationality, and the moral obligations it imposes, there is no way of referring or appealing to God.’ This means that, for example, to love God with all one’s heart – i.e., utterly immoderately – is the polar opposite of to ‘turn *all* one’s attention to God is to turn one’s eye away from human beings’; it is *precisely* to turn one’s attention *toward* human beings. As he states explicitly, to die for God (the classic Akiban example of the Deuteronmic ‘loving God with all one’s heart’) is to die for “the absolute/divine value that inheres in humanness.’ (p. 128) You may think that this is a misreading of the tradition, but it is what Schwarzschild thinks; if he has made any mistake here, it is in his reading of the tradition, not in his diminution of the importance of interpersonal morality. Likewise, I am rather bewildered by your claim, ‘In Schwarzschild an intense disregard if not for human life as such, then for the value of individual human life as a particular actuality. . . . Viewed from an eschatological point of view, for Schwarzschild the value of a single human individual life, a suffering human life, pales before “the ideal.”’ I find it impossible to square this with anything I read in Schwarzschild. On the contrary, he writes passionately (among other things), ‘It seems to be thought widely that if, for example, one may not be an accessory to another’s murder, even at the risk of one’s own life, one’s own life has thereby been devalued. By the same token, it seems to be thought that if one favors universal values one thereby reduces, or perhaps even negates, one’s own specificity. But both these inferences are, of course, entirely false. Everything that the prohibition of murder implies about the second person – that you are infinitely valuable, may not be reduced in life or dignity, etc. – it also implies about the first person. And the moral values that are universal are not just universal-minus-one (to wit, myself or my national culture); they are valid for me just as they are for you. Practically speaking, the value of my life is vastly enhanced by virtue of the fact that your life, and every other human life, share with my life the unique characteristic of not being subject to another person’s disposition. And when the universal value is taken to be the autonomy and dignity of every historic social entity, then the Jewish people and its culture, for example, are possessed of an infinitely higher degree of inviolability than if exceptions could be stipulated to this universalisation – for under the latter alternative, who is to say that it is not just the Jews that will be made of an exception of. In short, universality does not infringe on but rather heightens – indeed, conceptually it creates – individuality.’ Similarly, when you write ‘Moral radicalism *tout court* is unsympathetic as such to human weakness, even to the human suffering that one might have thought, would have propelled it in the first place,’ I cannot help but think of how he writes (p. 128-129) movingly about the lack of standing any of us humans have — in principle! — to stand in condemnation over those fold under pressure from moral rigour when their lives are at stake (with the classic example of the conversos). Moral radicalism, I would also suggest, is the *only* way to be properly sympathetic to human weakness: without it, the duty to be sympathetic would *also* admit of the mercurial ‘moderation’ of a morality of the mean!
    2) Really a sub-point of the above, the following three sentences you wrote bewilder me so much that I wonder if they are simply a slip of the pen: ‘This [Schwarzschild’s] is the view that we have no choice but to die sometime, and that one should always prefer one’s own death rather than to cause the death of another person. Schwarzschild conflates this with killing, which he insists “Judaism” forbids absolutely.” Having further conflated killing and murder, the appeal of martyrdom is unique to Schwarzschild.’ Isn’t ‘causing the death of another’ *exactly* what ‘killing’ means? And Schwarzschild certainly does not conflate killing (of a human) and murder (although see the classical midrash preserved in Ginze Schechter p. 60 for precisely that conflation); on the contrary, he writes explicitly, ‘Certainly the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto had every human right to defend themselves and to fight back. The same is true of all the other military or paramilitary expressions of resistance and counterattack. Rightly do we honor their memories.’ (p. 94)
    3) Regarding Maimonides in particular, you seem to agree with Schwarzschild that Maimonides’s literal final word of the Guide (i.e., imatio dei in the form of lovingkindness, righteousness, etc. as being the thing of supreme importance) is indeed Maimonides’s philosophical last word and considered position. But you state, ‘Schwarzschild doesn’t seem to grasp that this extreme comportment is no longer ethical. Poltics and ethics are a condition for intellectual perfection, not its telos. Transcending interhuman and character ethics, the relation is religious-prophetic.’ It is certainly not Aristotelian-ethical; that’s exactly Schwarzschild’s point. But it *is* Kantian-ethical. What Maimonides calls ‘ethics’ is conventional, prudential, ethics Aristotelian; in his pre-Kant world, Maimonides has no language for an ethics of irreducible obligation to the Divine and the divine image in every human other than ‘Torah’. (And indeed, it is *this*, proto-Kantian ethics which seems to me to be far more ‘interhuman’ than Aristotle’s!)
    4) On practicality: You write, ‘To work one’s way around in this world requires the kind of accommodation that Schwarzschild associates with Aristotelean ethics, even as the refusal to accommodate to the reality of this world lies at the heart of this post-Holocaust brand of ethical idealism and moral radicalism.’ I am inclined to bite this bullet, as I believe Schwarzschild would as well: bracketing Providence, one is very probably going to get by in this world much more smoothly, happily, safely, and successfully as an Aristotelian than as a Platonist-Kantian like Schwarzschild. But I want to emphasise that this is, as a way of arguing that Schwarzschild is wrong about normative ethics, a way of begging the question. Implicitly, to argue that this is a reason to think that Schwarzschild is wrong, one requires accepting the premise that the correct normative ethical approach will lend itself to getting along well in the world. But this premise is at the heart of what Schwarzschild (and I) fundamentally reject and oppose. (I cannot help here but think of the famous image of Aristotle motioning to Plato calmly down toward the earth, while Plato insistently points up! It was well said that the fundamental division in Western thought is still between Aristotelians and Platonists.)
    5) On eschatology: I confess that I found myself again rather stunned at this line: ‘. . . when framed as radical ethical idealism, messianism is an eminently falsifiable belief.’ According to Schwarzschild, ethically idealistic messianism is “the regulatively postulated completion of [the] infinite historical process of spiritualization . . .’ (p. 215) I fail to see how the postulated completion of an infinite historical process could be falsifiable. (See also Schwarzschild’s remarks on ‘eschatological verification’ on p. 222.) Your argument seems to be that since ‘statements about life in the Messianic era or in the world to come’ are proffered as justifications of rightwing Israeli rationalism instead of ‘produc[ing] this-worldly ethical injunctions which can both function empirically and be approved of morally’, this empirically falsifies Schwarzschild’s position. But this is to conflate ‘being proffered as a justification for X’ and ‘rationally requiring X’. And surely one need not bother at this point to multiply examples of perfectly noble principles being irrationally or dishonestly used as putative justifications for evil. To take just one, “democracy” did not cease to be a rational political desideratum by virtue of the fact that it was used as a putative justification for American foiling of democratic processes in other countries – indeed, to suggest that it did would be circular. Further, you write, ‘Undercutting his own thesis, Schwarzschild could only say that to pin one’s hope for salvation upon some sudden, apocalyptic divine act of grace and only grace would depend upon an experience so “horrifying,” “morally atrocious” and “experientially painful” that one would never want the messiah to come in the first place (pp.225-6, “On Jewish Eschatology”). But surely, he must have understood that the Holocaust was exactly that — horrifying, morally atrocious, and experientially painful to the extreme. As much as he wants to subvert Scholem’s famous thesis that messianism is a theory of catastrophe, in writing these lines, Schwarzschild only highlights the degree to which the difference between messianism and apocalypticism is a too fine if not altogether non-existent line.’ The line is only thin if one conflates ‘apocalyptic passive quietism’ with moral radicalism and rigour. Schwarzschild is advocating the latter, not the former. He writes, ‘It goes without saying, too, of course, that, fully in accordance with the Halakhah, readiness for martyrdom may, and ought to, become operative only after all “permitted” (i.e., decent) recourses for survival have been exhausted; otherwise the equally wicked sin of suicide will be committed.’ (p. 134) Schwarzschild is, to take the old story of the man in the flooded town, emphatically *not* the man refusing to get into a boat out of a conviction that God will save him. He is the man who refuses to *push others out* of the boat, even at the cost of his own life.

    I want to conclude with some brief words of Rabbi Reuven Kimmelman, from an essay in a volume Schwarzschild introduced. ‘It would be wrong to think that this method is soft on evil. It is rather a stratagem that so abhors evil that it refuses to use evil to attain anything.’

    • Not sure about the bizarre lorem ipsum at the top; obviously it shouldn’t be there.

    • zjb says:

      Thanks so much for the intense response. There’s a lot to chew on here. But no, I don’t think I ever said he was soft on evil. If I can be sympathetic towards him it’s because I think he was badly burnt by it. About my critical remarks, all I can say is that I drew my comments about Schwarzschild from close readings. For instance, the comment about “the individual” is taken directly from what he says about the survival of Israel versus the survival of individual Jews. About a lack of human sympathy, that comes from the contempt I see expressed in comments about the vulgus and hoi poloi, about people who care about “mere survival.” His world revolves solely around philosophy, In this I’d contrast him to the post-Holocaust thinkers who write a lot about ordinary people. As for the elision of religion and ethics, that’s clearly what I think, namely that the two tend to bifurcate. His reading of Deut. 6:5 is very much to the point. He doesn’t seem actually to deploy the ordinary ethical concepts and figures that one comes to expect from let’s say Kant, Cohen, Buber, and Levinas. As a radical idealist, the frame of reference is too theocentric, in my view, to count as “ethical.”

      • Fascinating — I’m used to hearing more or less the opposite critique, i.e., that Cohenian God is too (Kantian-)ethical for devotion to Him to be really theocentric! I’d be really interested to see it developed.

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