Enlightened Prejudices : Anti-Jewish Tropes in Modern Philosophy

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapter

Abstract

In the wake of the atrocities of the twentieth century, the standard account of the Enlightenment, as a warranty of universal ideals of rationality and morality, has been challenged from a number of different angles. In line with these critical discourses, the present article investigates how, to a significant extent, two of the greatest philosophers of reason, Kant and Hegel, underpin their universal principles with prejudiced stereotypes about Jews and Judaism. More particularly, it demonstrates how both Kant and Hegel secularize and politicize a number of age-old anti-Jewish tropes which are deeply rooted in the Christian tradition; tropes which serve to reinforce their notions of freedom and enlightenment. Clearly, these tropes take on a different meaning once they are removed from their original theological context. The target of the stereotyping is no longer the individual Jew but, rather, Jewishness as a particular identity which stands in the way of universal ideals of freedom and rationality and which must be overcome in order for Jews to become free individuals. Even so, the same dialectics, between the universal and the particular, is at work – and particular Jewish individuals are still affected by the prejudices of a seemingly formal universalism.

In the last section of the article, attention is drawn to the recurrence of this troubling dialectic in still more subtle fashion, namely, when the universalist heritage of Christianity is invoked as a resource in contemporary philosophical debate, e.g. in the efforts by Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek to formulate a new political universalism. What is striking about these efforts is how “Jewishness” is once more invoked as a signifier of particularity. However, it should be clarified immediately that “Jewishness”, less even than for Kant and Hegel, here refers to particular Jewish individuals. Rather, it is used as a rhetorical marker which is interchangeable with any particular predicate that obstructs a truly universalist political order. Nevertheless, it is a good question as to whether the use of these longstanding anti-Jewish tropes does not reveal the lasting tensions generated by a universalist legacy that is dialectically reliant upon eliminating conflicting claims on definitions of the universal.

Details

Authors
External organisations
  • Stockholm school of theology
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Religious Studies
  • Philosophy

Keywords

  • Zizek, Badiou, Hegel, Kant, Enlightenment, reason, Judaism, anti-Jewish stereotypes
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRethinking Time : Essays on History, Memory and Representation
EditorsHans Ruin, Andrus Ers
PublisherSödertörn Philosophical Studies
Pages279-290
Volume9
ISBN (Print)978-91-86069-32-2
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

Name
Volume9
ISSN (Print)1650-433X

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