Martin Buber — was a prolific author, scholar, literary translator, and political activist whose writings—mostly in German and Hebrew—ranged from Jewish mysticism to social philosophy, biblical studies, religious phenomenology, philosophical anthropology, education, politics, and art. Most famous among his philosophical writings is the short but powerful book I and Thou where our relation to others is considered as twofold. The I-it relation prevails between subjects and objects of thought and action; the I-Thou relation, on the other hand, obtains in encounters between subjects that exceed the range of the Cartesian subject-object relation. Though originally planned as a prolegomenon to a phenomenology of religion, I and Thou proved influential in other areas as well, including the philosophy of education. The work of Martin Buber remains a linchpin of qualitative philosophical anthropology and continues to be cited in fields such as philosophical psychology, medical anthropology, and pedagogical theory. Buber's writings on Jewish national renaissance, Hasidism, and political philosophy also made him a major twentieth-century figure in Jewish thought and the philosophy of religion.

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Moses, op. Friedman, p. Moses , p. Gnosis, like magic, stands as the great threat to dialogical life and to the turning to God. Gnosis attempts to see through the contradiction of existence and free itself from it, rather than endure the contradiction and redeem it.

Buber illustrates this contrast through a comparison between Hasidism and the Kabbalah. The whole systematic structure of the Kabbalah is determined by a principle of certitude which hardly ever stops short, hardly ever cowers with terror, hardly ever prostrates itself. This gnosis is not found in the modern world in theosophies and occult systems alone. The psychological doctrine which deals with mysteries without knowing the attitude of faith toward mystery is the modern manifestation of Gnosis.

Gnosis is not to be understood as only historical category, but as a universal one. It -- and not atheism, which annihilates God because it must reject the hitherto existing images of God -- is the real antagonist of the reality of faith.

Even the belief in immortality may be a threat to the relation of faith, for by making death appear unreal or unserious, it may hinder our recognition of the limits of finitude as the threshold of Eternity. For the sake of Heaven op. Similarly, the very symbols which man uses to address God often stand in the way of that address.

The religious reality of the meeting with the Meeter. Symbols of Him, whether images or ideas, always exist first when and in so far as Thou becomes He, and that means It. The philosopher helps restore the lived concrete to the religious man through destroying the images which no longer do justice to God.

But when man has felt himself shut in by a strict and inescapable solitude, his thinking about himself has been deep and fruitful and independent of cosmology.

Buber criticizes Aristotle, Aquinas, and Hegel because in their systems of thought man attains to consciousness of himself only in the third person. Man is no longer problematic for himself, and the wonder at man is simply wonder at the universe as a whole. In it all the future can appear theoretically present. This principle is at once a religious and a normative one since it implies a concrete attachment of human life to the Absolute and an attempt to bring order and meaning into earthly existence through the imitation of transcendent Being.

All spheres of being are essentially determined by the relationship to this principle. In proportion to the development of its specific forms, however, every civilization strives increasingly to become independent of its principle. In the great Western civilizations, this manifests itself partly by their individual spheres isolating themselves and each of them establishing its own basis and order, and partly by the principle itself losing its absolute character and validity, so that the holy norm degenerates into a human convention, or by the attachment to the absolute being reduced, avowedly or unavowedly, to a mere symbolic-ritual requirement, which may be adequately satisfied in the cultic sphere.

At the Turning, op. As a result it is made easy for the secular law to gain ever more ground at the expense of the religious. The apocalyptic element in religion also tends to lead to a dualism between the secular and the religious. The eschatological expectation of the imminent rule of God leads to a desire to do away with law in the name of the divine freedom which is or will be directly present in all creatures without need of law or representation.

It is also found in Judaism, where the autochthonous prophetic belief is opposed by an apocalyptic one built up out of elements from Iranian dualism. Moses, p. Christianity, through its ascetic emphasis, desanctified the elemental and created a world alien to spirit and a spirit alien to world.

All historical religion must fight the tendency of metaphysics, gnosis, magic, and politics to become independent of the religious life of the person, and it must also fight the tendency of myth and cult to aid them in this attempt. In the modern world the moment is expropriated and dispossessed in four different ways.

Through the historicizing of the moment it is regarded as a pure product of the past. Through the technicizing of the moment it is treated as purely a means to a goal and hence as existing only in the future. Through the psychologizing of the moment its total content is reflected upon and reduced to a process or experience of the soul. Through the philosophizing of the moment it is abstracted from its reality. Modern life is divided into levels and aspects. Modern man enjoys erotic, aesthetic, political, and religious experiences independently of one another.

As a result, religion is for him only one aspect of his life rather than its totality. Nor did they believe it possible to be honest and upright in private life and to lie in public for the sake of the commonwealth. The dualistic character of our age is shown particularly clearly in its relation to work. In times when the relation with the Absolute enters into every sphere of existence men see meaning in their work, but in times like ours when life is divided into separate spheres men experience work as an inescapable compulsion.

The nature of work itself is perverted in the modern world by the divorce of technical means from value ends, I-It from I-Thou. The modern industrial worker has to perform meaningless and mechanical work because of an inhuman utilization of human power without regard to the worthiness of the work performed.

The modern worker divides his life into hours on a treadmill and hours of freedom from the treadmill, and the hours of freedom cannot compensate for the others for they are conditioned by them. To accept the treadmill and try to reduce working hours is merely to eternalize this condition. Kampf um Israel , pp. This purposelessness of modern life is also manifested in the worship of freedom for its own sake.

Modern vitalism and Lehensphilosophie have exchanged a life-drunk spirit for the detached intellect against which they reacted. This sickness of modern man is manifested most clearly of all, however, in the individualism and nationalism which make power an end in itself.

If a nation or civilization is not faithful to its basic principle, it can know no real fruitfulness or renewal. Help without mutuality is presumptuousness, writes Buber, it is an attempt to practise magic. Yet another product of the dualism of the modern age is the separation of means and ends and the belief that the end justifies the means. The use of evil for the sake of good not only produces inner division and dishonesty, it also betrays it, as Buber shows in his portrayal of the Seer in For the Sake of Heaven.

If this divided motivation goes far enough, it may even lead to that Gnostic perversion which elevates evil into something holy in itself. The radical Sabbatians believed that they could redeem evil by performing it as if it were not evil, that is by preserving an inner intention of purity in contrast to the deed. Instead of making reality the starting point of life, full as it is of harsh contradictions, but for this very reason calling forth true greatness, namely the quiet work of overcoming the contradictions, man submits to illusion, becomes intoxicated with it, surrenders his life to it, and in the very measure in which he does this the core of his existence becomes burning and unfruitful, he becomes at once completely stimulated and in his motive power crippled.

These are the days in which people still fulfill the commandments, but with a soul squinting away from its own deeds The realms are overthrown, everything encroaches upon everything else, and possibility is more powerful than reality. What lends especial impetus to the various psychological and theosophical cults through which the individual seeks to overrun reality in the modern world is the dualism in the soul of modern man.

In this man the sphere of the spirit and the sphere of impulse have fallen apart more markedly than ever before. He perceives with apprehension that an unfruitful and powerless remoteness from life is threatening the separated spirit, and he perceives with horror that the repressed and banished impulses are threatening to destroy his soul. Modern man is sick in his very soul, and this sickness springs, in its turn, from his sickness in his relations to others. Where confidence reigns man must often, indeed, adapt his wishes to the commands of his community; but he must not repress them to such an extent that the repression acquires a dominating significance for his life Only if the organic community disintegrates from within does the repression acquire its dominating importance.

Now there is no longer a human wholeness with the force and the courage to manifest itself. The divorce between spirit and instincts is here, as often, the consequence of the divorce between man and man. Vital dissociation is the sickness of the peoples of our age, writes Buber, and this sickness is only apparently healed by forcing people together in centralized states and collectivities.

The price which the modern world has paid for the liberation of the French Revolution has been the decay of those organic forms of life which enabled men to live in direct relation with one another and which gave men security, connection, and a feeling of being at home in the-world.

These organic forms -- the family, union in work, and the community in village and town -- were based on a vital tradition which has now been lost.

There is no real turning to the other, no real desire to establish mutuality. Here men have the illusion of getting beyond themselves when actually each speaks only with himself. By far the largest part of what is called conversation today would be more correctly described as talk. In general, people do not really speak to one another. Each turns to the other, to be sure, but he speaks in reality to a fictitious audience which exists only to listen to him.

The understanding of true conversation is so rare in our time that one imagines that one can arrange a genuine dialogue before a public of interested spectators with the assistance of proper publicity. But a public debate, on no matter how high a level, can neither be spontaneous, direct, nor unreserved. Such public discussion is unbridgeably separate from genuine dialogue. It is much closer to propaganda, which seeks to win the individual over for a cause.

To propaganda the individual as such is always burdensome. Its only concern is more members, more followers, a larger supporting base. Propaganda means mastering the other through depersonalizing him. It is variously combined with coercion, supplementing or replacing it according to need and prospect, but ultimately it is itself nothing other than sublimated coercion, invisibly applied.

It sets the soul under a pressure which still allows the illusion of autonomy. In the modern age an analytic, reductive, and derivative glance predominates between man and man.

It is analytic, or rather pseudoanalytic, because it treats the whole body-soul being as composite in nature and hence as dissectible -- not the so-called unconscious alone, which is susceptible to a relative objectification, but also the psychic stream itself, which can never in reality be adequately grasped as an object.

This glance is reductive because it wishes to reduce the manifold person, nourished by the microcosmic fullness of possibility, to a schematically surveyable and generally repetitive structure.

And it is derivative because it hopes to grasp what a man has become, and even his becoming itself, in genetic formulas, because it tries to replace the individual dynamic central principle of this becoming by a general concept. Today a radical dissolution of all mystery is aspired to between man and man. Personality, that incessantly near mystery which was once the motive-ground for the stillest inspiration, is levelled out.

Corresponding to the absence of genuine dialogue between men is the absence of real communication between peoples of different situations and points of view.

This theory consists of seeing through and unmasking the other in terms of individual psychology or sociology. As a result, the mistrust between man and man has become in a double sense existential.

It is, first of all, no longer only the uprightness, the honesty of the other which is in question, but the inner agreement of his existence itself. Secondly, this mistrust not only destroys trustworthy conversation between opponents but also the immediacy of togetherness of man and man generally.

Man seeks confirmation either through himself or through membership in a collective, but both of these confirmations are illusory. Images of Good and Evil, op.


Eclipse of God, and At the Turning, by Martin Buber

Moses, op. Friedman, p. Moses , p. Gnosis, like magic, stands as the great threat to dialogical life and to the turning to God. Gnosis attempts to see through the contradiction of existence and free itself from it, rather than endure the contradiction and redeem it.


Eclipse of God

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