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Among Others.


I was brought up an Orthodox Jew in a Brooklyn of ethnic Jews and Catholics. At Columbia I studied physics during that department's high Chinese-Jewish period. Eventually, at 30, I entered a rather more explicitly Christian world, teaching for four years at the University of Minnesota, one in which the mutual hostility of Protestants and Roman Catholics is often recalled. Many of my students had areligiously-oriented education in undergraduate school, Lutheran or Benedictine or Jesuitical, for example. A familiarity with Scripture, or a Thomistic Aristotelianism, came through in their questions.

Being concerned professionally with how new ideas enter and take over the public arena, I became interested in how Judaism's offshoots, Christianity and Islam, arose and fared in the Antiquity that was Greek and Roman and otherwise pagan--a lacuna in my otherwise fine general education in high school and college. How did a Jewish man become the salvific figure Jesus Christ? And how did this particular Judaic sect become so dominant, its doctrine claiming to be less and less conventionally Jewish? Much of secular history is remarkably Christian (or Whiggish) and consequently unhelpful for my inquiry. The conventional story assumes that the solution is Christianity, and so Judaism becomes a problem in Christian history. [1]

There are many canonical ways of thinking about and judging public policy and doctrine. Legal and Talmudic interpretation, traditional political theory and ethics, or demography and economics might do. But the policies we select as both good and as worthy of being pursued are it seems not founded directly upon our empirical or theoretical inquiries. We have long-standing commitments to some projects, commitments that are unlikely to be abandoned no matter what inquiry yields.

We know that new ideas and practices in the public arena are never the only or the best solution. They are often ignored; and they are always succeeded by other ideas. It is better to see the workings of putative salvific figures, and of conversion to new beliefs, as aspects of avowedly secular history in which there is no transcendent salvation. In a history without salvation, new ideas and discoveries have an ironic quality. The ideas are no more the solution than is Jesus of Nazareth or Sabbatai Sevi for present-day Jews.

My concern is not only with the success and succession of ideas but with how those ideas are employed. Systematic knowledge of the world is useful for public policy-making because it suits our practical instruments for action and helps us achieve particular political goals. For example, economic theory and incentives may be preeminent in our thinking if the process of the market is important as apolitical instrument. But such economic theory will be less useful if our politics and political theory pays more attention to substantive questions of political stability and legitimation, family relationships, satisfying work, and a meaningful life. [2]

There is a gap between what we actually do and believe and their deductive and empirical foundations, much as there is a gap between what we are actually given and our desires. Understanding such a gap is perhaps the deep motivation for my engagement with a sequence of German thinkers, from Kant to Heidegger (and proverbially, from Luther to Hitler). Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy notes that "All German philosophy is but an attempt to remove the kingdom of heaven to a transcendental space and time which is inaccessible for mortals, but which nevertheless stimulates us constantly to make anew (though hopeless) effort in the direction of the ideal." [3]

Kant argued in The Critique of Judgement (1790) that the gap is bridged by a "common sense" and by a set of conventions we share in our community. We appeal to that sharedness when we make an argument, so demanding that others will appreciate the force of our reasons. In The Phenomenology of Mind (1807), Hegel tried to bridge a similar gap between adjacent historical periods, or between the kinds or levels of organization found among natural phenomena, or in society. He is not a crude historical or rational determinist, as he is sometimes portrayed. He expected that emergent phenomena would occur (between stages), and they would transcend the gap. We make rational sense of those phenomena, afterwards, by discerning patterns in the gaps and emergences which we could not have predicted ahead of time, even though in retrospect we can account for them. Heidegger, in Being and Time (1926), following Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, described how the gap between the future and the past is played out in the present. Our commitments to what we shall do guide us in the present. And those commitments project the future back into the past, giving history the meaning it has for us.

The reasons we give for what we are up to make sense only in terms of a larger vision of what we are doing. The gap between our reasons and actions is bridged by our common sense and community, or by rational patterns we may discern only after we have acted, or by commitments we cannot be sure we can deliver upon when we make them.

I first heard of Being and Time, and of Heidegger, in about 1962. Irene Klenbort took me to Robert Cumming's seminar on Heidegger. I can picture the room, the chairs, the ambiance, and Irene's incandescence. But little else stuck.

I recall being told in passing that "Heidegger was a Nazi" in the Being and Time course I attended in the early 1970s. (As I recall, Stanley Fish also was in attendance.) And then more and more was publicized, in detail, over the next decade or so, including his relationship with Hannah Arendt. (This was before postmodernism's ascension.) At the same time, I was reading Kemp Smith's translation of The Critique of Pure Reason all the way through much as one might read a novel, and telling a philosopher friend how much I enjoyed it.

In the middle of the Heidegger lectures, when we were discussing his analysis of anxiety, I realized how I might employ Heidegger's notion of fallenness, as a technical device, to redo the manuscript that eventually became my first book, Advice and Planning. And Kant's architectonic, as well as Hegel's of The Phenomenology of Mind, led me to an armature (or formal structure) on which I could develop my argument.

As for Heidegger, it would appear that ambition, pride, vanity, opportunism, and prevarication, plus a dose of moral obtuseness and romanticism, led to his support for National Socialism and for Hitler, as well as his subsequent inability to come to terms with that past. (Paul Lawrence Rose's new book on the physicist Werner Heisenberg is hauntingly familiar here. And there is no lack of proud Nazi academics--Gotlob Frege, Pascual Jordan....) It would appear that his devoted friends were so taken by his brilliance and personality, that they allowed him to maintain his illusions--even if they themselves were fully aware of them. And a historically accurate reading of Being and Time (1926) can readily show how its use of "historicity" is not merely technical, but is meant to recall a mission of civilization that must be resurrected. And eventually National Socialism is taken to be that savior. In this sense, Being and Time is reactionary. "Heidegger was paving the way for Nazism," but we only can say that afte r National Socialism comes to be. Whether he would like it or not, he might well have found that he was paving the way for liberalism, the world taking him at its word, so to speak.

But of course we often read a historically. Mathematicians are notorious for hiding their footsteps, and for reading the work of previous generations in light of their own current knowledge and preoccupations. And that Bieberbach was a proponent of Deutsche Mathematik need not devaluate his work in number theory, which is readily rehabilitated. Most contemporary philosophers in the English speaking world use an English translation of Kant, and employ the work as a hobby horse on which to play their problems. And Leo Steinberg, in The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion (1996), has shown how modern art historians have proved oblivious to what should be in front of their eyes (the madonna playing with Christ's genitalia, the crucified Christ and the deposed one exhibiting a tenting and erection at his loins), giving wonderful reasons for denying the obvious, ignoring the historical theological evidence.

So Heidegger too will be read. If we want to characterize how we employ technological objects, or the nature of anxiety, or the experience of time, we might well read Being and Time for those purposes. It becomes a "technical" achievement, solving a problem, stripped of its history and context and authorial intent. Of course, we are welcome to ask if such technical or alienated readings are as free of their matrix as they would appear to claim to be. In any case, it is common, and sometimes a good thing, that we read bringing foreign interests and concerns to bear, deliberately and not so deliberately oblivious to what is in front of our eyes.

There is by now a substantial literature coming to terms with Heidegger's past. The exculpatory portion often takes him at his word, perhaps describing human sin in modern terms, bringing up the actual dangers of communism and technology. The accusatory portion shows how his work and his ideas build in antisemitism, the authentic romantic Volk and bucolic values contrasted with the cosmopolitan urban Jew. Either the Jews are too particular or they are part of a universalistic destructive modernism. And it is important to recall that Enlightenment Kant makes antisemitic canards in his Anthropology. [4]

Still, to make use of Kant, Hegel, and Heidegger in my scholarly work is almost surely to inherit problems intrinsic to the way they think. For example, perfection plays a central role in their philosophies. An ideal world, not to be known or achieved here on earth, guides how Kant and Hegel understand and evaluate our mundane world which they see as limited or flawed. That ideal world is a model of total knowledge, order, and reason. These thinkers are quite clear that such a perfect world cannot be made immanent here and now. Note that perfection itself need not imply stasis, totality, or lack of plurality. Perfection may be an ongoing process.

Perfection made immanent is one recipe for totalitarianism and disaster. Each putatively messianic moment is ironic, for its successors show up its transitory even if recurrent character. Even if the idea of perfection is sharply separated from its full and present realization, that separation can then be used to set up another perfect and so mysterious world to which only some might have true access. To avoid the totalitarian turn lurking in our institutions, science, government, or church must be open and visible, exoteric and clarifying.

Between the commandments which define our duty, and our actual actions there is a space of choice and meaning. In the secular sphere, we are perhaps best acquainted with constitutional arguments concerning what is called original intent. In the Talmudic sphere, there is a play at the boundary of peshat and derash, of the literal and the figurative, as David Halivni has described it. [5] Original intent and peshat are rhetorical, jurisprudential, and hermeneutic stances, "plain" meaning itself being a problematic hermeneutic. In effect, fundamentalism is an immanentism that is no more acceptable than is an unlimited figural (or derash) interpretive stance. At the boundary, at the gap, we must reconcile ourselves to the limits of the mundane world we live in.

So what did it mean to find myself using a particularly Protestant (and sometimes Catholic, albeit Catholic Heidegger's thought is described as "Protestant through and through") tradition of mediating between the divine and the mundane, between our arguments and what we actually do?

Now, our secularized intellectual culture would appear to be classical and Christian. [6] If we read in Western works about what it means to be Jewish, it is almost always in the light of being Christian or Roman or Greek. But much of the actuality of my life has been, and continues to be, that I am, simply... Jewish. For me it is the Christians who are different, as one might expect to be the case for a Jewish sect.

Analogously, no matter how much I read and appreciate of the literature on the social construction of natural science, or in current history of science, I find that I remain fully committed to the reality of the physics I learned and once practiced. I can see how much of what we were told in school served "other" purposes, but in the end I remain...a natural scientist. Yes, doing physics and telling about it participates in the particular history and society, and much effort is expended to more or less biding that fact. But, so what for Maxwell's equations?, I find myself saying in unguarded moments. And, as an undergraduate, I was told about Newton's religiosity (by one of my more renegade physics teachers)--but again, so what for the inverse square law of gravitation and for celestial mechanics?, if not for the Principia Mathematica of 1687.

Questions about salvation and even my relationship to God are for me, as the Jew I am, Christian questions. One did not worry about the afterlife growing up in Bensonhurst, even if nowadays it may be a serious question in Borough Park. And if God were present in the world, my relationship to this figure was surely less important than the time spent with my family, and especially my grandmother.

So the questions about the relationship of Heaven to Earth, or of faith to rationality, were not the naive Jewish questions I knew. They were Christian questions, questions intrinsic to the Great Books curriculum to which I was educated. Yet, surely enough, I found myself worrying about those Christian questions in this (traditionally Christian) academic world dominated by the figures of Kant, Hegel, and Heidegger, and coming to Christian answers.

I have been speaking of the relationship of Heaven to Earth. As participants in the Lutheran heritage (Protestant or Catholic), the problem for the German Idealist thinkers was: How can we, in our selves, realize the ideal wholeness and unity of the Christian world? This is their version of the great German historiographical problem of the relationship of Romanticism, Idealism, and Protestantism. The gap between Heaven and Earth is for them a matter of faith, justification, and the proclamation of God's work, but now it is to be expressed in a partly secularized form. Reason and analysis are seen to go only so far, and then there is a gap, namely, the possibility for faith: Kant's phenomenon/noumenon distinction, Hegel's "cunning of reason" or Heidegger's "authenticity." As long as reason does not deny the province of faith, as long as it is not presumptuous, both can be in accord and make room for each other. In Luther's formulation, "natural" reason rules in the Earthly domain while "regenerate" reason inf ormed by faith guides us in the space between Heaven and Earth. But, ultimately, we are measured by our faith and by God's grace, by our recognition of a hiatus between the mundane and the ideal: Kant's thing-in-itself, Hegel's Geist, or Heidegger's "resoluteness."

If I read the technical literature about Jewish theology correctly, just about every Western philosophy has had its Judaic manifestations or sources, each well within the mainline tradition of Judaism. There have been strong Neoplatonic, Aristotelian, Neo-Kantian, and Heideggerian strains. So Judaism is not so isolated from standard philosophic themes and arguments and from historically Christian questions.

Also, arguably, Judaism may be said to be closer to Protestant thought than it is to that of Ancient Greece or Roman Catholicism. The legal and messianic traditions of Judaism are ways of working on what I have called the gap. The historical orientation of Judaism, its commitment to a comparatively literal rather than figural reading of Scriptures, although there is a tradition of Kabbalistic hermeneutics, and its pervasive concern with a community or a people, are also congenial to German Lutheran traditions.

Still, my feelings of discomfort have some foundation. For our times and my understanding of (1950s Brooklyn and American)Judaism, there are some notions that seem so Protestant as to be alien to me. They go back to Luther's most radical understanding of an evangelical, proclamatory, faith-filled religion. One can have a Christian theology that avoids these radical notions, but not if one wants to recall Luther's strongest vision.

Surely, the Protestant and Kantian notions of a gap and a community are compatible with Judaism. And, surely, there is a salvific tension in Kant, Hegel, and Heidegger. But that does not overwhelm my commitment to rationality. In drawing from this tradition I can fairly emphasize, as did Luther, the role of reason in organizing our inquiries and the importance of rational justification for what we do, without violating the tradition's theological sources. I accept its notion of a gap as a boundary along which we live rational and hopeful lives. The vision of the future we share is rational, not immanent messianism.

In using Kant and his successors in my work I do pick up elements that are strange and alien to how I understand myself as a Jew. But they are not so alien to Judaism. Jews of the Brooklyn I came from do without idols or messiahs, be they scientistic or a false messiah of absolute rationality. But legal prudentiality without a transcendent commitment to the meaningfulness of the world, characteristic of much of contemporary philosophic thought, will not hold up well either. Rationality and transcendence do meet in the Talmud.

Among the Natural Philosophers

But the story is not over yet. Recently, I taught a semester course that fulfilled the Western Civilization II requirement in our General Education program. I had been wanting to read Descartes and Spinoza and Leibniz and knew that the only way to do so was to teach them. Theirs is the world of natural philosophy, and of a theology that is very much influenced by mathematics and its modes and by experimental science. And for these thinkers theological issues are deeply intertwined with scientific ones, whether it be how we are to think about God or the nature of the mechanism of gravity. The axial figure here is Isaac Newton (1642-1727), who in fact spent as much or more time on his Christian and theological speculations as he did on his mathematical and scientific ones. He is obsessed with describing God, a God who turns out to be an Old Testament personal God, a Lord over his dominion, a Creator, a Universal and singular figure. Newton's God surely had to attend to the Reformation of the orbits of the plane ts and comets so that the universe would be stable; God cared for the Universe. Moreover, it was generally thought that Newton's action-at-a-distance account of gravitation, with no intervening mechanism or medium, was an occult theory. The most famous text is the General Scholium to the 1713 second edition of the Principia Mathematica, asserting the consistency of the experimental philosophy with a Lord God. But the unpublished texts are vast and deep, currently a gold mine for scholars.

Now, if you are trained as a physicist probably the two most important figures are Newton and James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), the latter of molecular mechanics, electromagnetic theory, and thermodynamics fame. There's Newton's Laws and Maxwell's Equations. As for Maxwell, "In private life Clerk Maxwell was one of the most lovable of men, a sincere and unostentatious Christian. Though free from any trace of envy or ill-will, he yet showed on fit occasion his contempt for that pseudo-science which seeks for the applause of the ignorant by professing to reduce the whole system of the universe to a fortuitous sequence of uncaused events." [7] Newton would have approved, I suspect.

As a theologian Newton became an extraordinarily controversial figure, largely because of his commitment to the experimental philosophy as a source of theology, and so his focus on God the Creator, rather than on the other vertices of the Trinity, Christ, and the Spirit. And what we learn of Newtonian ideas in school are the universality of the law of gravitation, that it applies to everything known by its mass (and through Einstein, its energy as well). What we learn from Maxwell is of the unity of electricity and magnetism, expressed through those Equations which connect electric fields to magnetic ones, that Michael Faraday in effect made mathematical. So what I learned again and again is just that story of universality and unity and unification that is as well the Shma. Not quite the Trinitarian message, despite the Council of Nicea of 325 CE and Augustine's heroic subsequent efforts. By the way, as for Bohr, Schroedinger, and Heisenberg, theirs was the interpretation of quantum mechanics that insisted on a wave-particle duality that was only apparent. There was in the end only one wave-function.

Among the Sephardim

I now live in Beverly Hills, California, 90211. My son's elementary school has about 40% Farsi-speaking parents, most of whom are Jewish. Many of them live in modest apartments and condominiums. But in the case of David's school and its catchment area, many of those parents live in Beverly Hills, North of Santa Monica, and even North of Sunset-90210, for short. (Their children even make it into the script of the movie Clueless.) Arriving in the United States with little money, they have become financially successful. And so they bought houses in Beverly Hills, tore them down, and built homes reminiscent of the Westernized section of Teheran, which itself is reminiscent of modernity and cosmopolitan reference. These Persian Palaces of Beverly Hills are wondrous creations, rather similar in their design, burnished by landscaping that rapidly becomes lush and obscuring of the cliches that might have informed the original plans. Of course, the English Tudors of Beverly Hills are much the same, not to speak of the Italian Tuscanys. (You've seen them all in movies and in television.)

It is a local commonplace to deride and ridicule these homes, albeit the adjacent "older" homes are in general of no particular architectural distinction themselves. For there is a fetishism at work here, the critics confusing the object itself with the social life and memories it embodies-all the relatives can be together in a place that recalls the displaced place of Persia, albeit that place is a Western pastiche and nostalgia-suitably nouveau riche'd as are the Beverly Hills Georgians and Tudors.

The sacred is always embodied in actual objects and concrete places, visiting is part of exchange and gift-giving, and a symbolically evocative home is needed if the rituals are to be authentic. The large round windows above the entryway of these homes, the filigreed gates and rails, are the totemic signs that say we are this family, intrinsically, even if we are displaced-even if, again, these signs are themselves borrowed, as is the case in general for all architecture. We are different and whole, even as we are within a larger more dispersed world.

I have of course been employing the language and understanding of Marx and of Durkheim, who are writing in a time when the sacred character of Judaism is most intertwined with and exposed to the secular state and society-the entry of the Jews into civil society. In Durkheim's description of the Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912), the totem is identified with the being of a clan, transcending the individuals of that clan. While there is perhaps nothing distinctively Jewish about Marx's or Durkheim's thought, they are enmeshed in a particular dialog about that entry into civil society that then deeply informed their writing. [8]

There is a lesson here for those who would colonize alien worlds. You will surely change those worlds, but more to the point they will change you-not by any particular essence, but by the distinct historical situation of the time of colonization. You don't become a Lutheran by using Kant, a Catholic by reading Hegel, an Arianist by doing mathematical astronomy, a Presbyterian by solving Maxwell's equations, or a French Jew when you analyze a Persian Palace. Rather, you cannot help but participate in the conversations of the Enlightenment, the Romantics, the Scientific Revolution, or of liberal Modernism. You might "not think," and so efface the memory of the historical sources of your endeavors. But, in a generation or two you, too, shall be forgotten or placed in that history.

After Bensonhurst, it never was the same. Surely, our house still stands, now with new windows, and it is painted yellow rather than green. The big fancy apartment houses on Avenue P still reign. But for me being Jewish no longer comes with the territory.

MARTIN H. KRIEGER is professor of planning in the School of Policy, Planning, and Development at the University of Southern California, His most recent book is Entrepreneurial Vocations (Scholars Press, 1996), whose argument features Augustine and Paul, Moses, Mothers, Oedipus and Antigone, and Prospero and Miranda.


(1.) Modern scholarship has shown how fluid and unsure in their doctrine were early Christianity and other such sects.

(2.) See J. Q. Wilson, "Capitalism and Morality," Public Interest (Fall 1995): 42-60. Also, M. Tamari, With All Your Possessions: Jewish Ethics and Economic Life (New York: Free Press, 1987). Martin H. Krieger, Advice and Planning (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1981), pp. 101-102. See also Martin H. Krieger, Doing Physics: How Physicists Take Hold of the World (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992). As for what might be Jewish here, see G. Holton, "I. I. Rabi as Educator and Science Writer," Physics Today (September 1999): 37-42. Rabi(1898-1988), the longstanding leader of the Columbia physics department, Nobel Laureate 1944, was brought up in an Orthodox family. He continued to refer to himself as an "Orthodox Hebrew," but now his Judaism is perhaps not unlike Newton's Arian Christianity, Nature itself being the transcendent object. Holton's illuminating article appeared as my article was in press.

(3.) Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, The Driving Power of Western Civilization: The Christian Revolution in the Middle Ages (Boston: Beacon, 1950), p. 104. Rosenstock-Huessy was a notable convert from Judaism to Catholicism.

(4.) A sampling, in no particular order, some of which is more reliable than others: B. Lang, Heidegger's Silence (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996). G. Steiner and A. Spire, Barbarie et L'Ignorance (Bordeaux: Le Bond de L'Eau, 1998). The articles and letters concerning R. Wolin and J. Derrida in the New York Review of Books, January 14, February 11, March 4, and March 25, 1993. M. Lilla, "The Politics of Friendship--J. Derrida," New York Review of Books (June 25, 1998) pp.36- 41). P. L. Rose, Heisenberg and the Nazi Atomic Bomb Project: A Study in German Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998). E. Ettinger, Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995). H. Ott, Martin Heidegger: A Political Life (New York: Basic Books, 1993). M. A. Bernstein, "Being and His Time," The New Republic (October 26, 1998), pp. 30-38.

(5.) D. W. Halivni, Peshat and Derash: Plain and Applied Meaning in Rabbinic Exegesis (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).

(6.) See, for example, the initial chapter of E. Auerbach's Mimesis (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953 [1946]), which compares the Odysseus story with the Abraham story. For other references, see M. H. Krieger, "What Does Jerusalem Have to Do with Athens," Journal of Planning Education and Research 14 (1995): 217-221.

(7.) Peter Guthrie Tait, Encyclopaedia Britannica, edn 11, vol. 17, p. 930.

(8.) See Ivan Strenski, Durkheim and the Jews of France (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997).
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Publication:Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought
Date:Sep 22, 1999
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