“Jewish Thought, Utopia and Revolution” (2014)

Jewish UtopiaThe main purpose of this volume that I have edited together with Jayne Svenungsson and Alana M. Vincent was to shed new light on the intricate relation between the Jewish intellectual heritage and the notions of utopia and revolution. Both notions are multifaceted, comprising aspects such as political messianism, religious renewal, Zionism, and different forms of Marxist and Anarchistic movements.
Among the contributors to the volume are Catherine Chalier, Michel Löwy and Victor Seidler. My contribution is entitled “Jewish Rationalism, Ethics and Revolution: Hermann  Cohen in Nevel.”
In my chapter, I analyze Hermann Cohen’s ethical and religious rationalism alongside his vision of liberation, and argue that, despite many historical failures of universalistic and rationalistic projects, Jewish rationalism and universalism has great moral and political potential and still can inform current philosophical discourse on social revolution. Firstly, I present some fundamental features of Cohen’s religious rationalism. Cohen suggested a variant of universalist ethics that was simultaneously informed by Kantian rationalism and based upon what Cohen argued was the most important meaning of the Jewish monotheism and messianism. Secondly, I analyze this rationalism in relation to a philosophical and political controversy that appeared among Hermann Cohen’s Russian students in post-revolutionary Nevel and Vitebsk. I show how Matvei Kagan was using Cohen’s ethics and religious rationalism in order to develop a morally legitimate vision of social revolution, and contrast Kagan’s interpretation of Cohen with Mikhail Bakhtin’s severe criticism of Cohen’s rationalistic ethics. Lastly, I argue that the current political situation both invites us to reclaim the tradition of Jewish rationalism and its universalistic ethics, and also calls for a certain modification of that tradition.
“During an age when we never lack catastrophes but are becoming more and more short of imagination and courage for utopia and revolution, when the idea of universalism sounds most unpopular in a world obsessed with clash of identities, these authors bravely revisit and redefine the notions of utopia, revolution and universalism, through examining Jewish thought, which irreplaceably inspired and informed the thinking and praxis of revolutions in the 20th century, and exploring their universal significance and new potentialities.
This collection of insightful essays provides richly diverse perspectives – theological, political, philosophical, and aesthetic – but conveys the same strong message: one always has the right to hope for a better future.”
Dr. Hai Wang, Lecturer in Comparative Literature, Renmin University
Jewish Thought, Utopia, and Revolution was published by Rodopi in April 2014. It can be purchased from Rodopi and is also available on BokusAdlibrisBarnes&NobleAmazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.