Special Issue "Levinas and the Political"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 October 2018)

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Richard A. Cohen

Professor of Philosophy, Professor of Jewish Thought, University at Buffalo (SUNY), Buffalo, New York 14260, USA
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Interests: ethics, political philosophy, Levinas, contemporary and modern continental philosophy
Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Jolanta Saldukaityte

Department of Philosophy and Cultural Studies - SNR-II 102, Faculty of Creative industries, Vilnius Gediminas Technical university, Trakų str. 1, LT 01132 Vilnius, Lithuania
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Interests: Levinas, Heidegger, aesthetics, phenomenology

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Emmanuel Levinas has taught that ethics is straightforwardness itself, the sincerity of the face soliciting assistance, the inter-humanity constituted through our moral responsiveness, and the laws and institutions of justice that responsibility requires to keep oppression and exploitation at bay. And yet we know that in today’s world police states, global corporations, capitalist commodification and mass media surveil, deceive and exploit humanity through the manipulation and even manufacture of desires in a posthumanity in which nothing is what it seems. This volume raises the questions of how to be ethical in today’s environment and if and how an ethical politics is possible. There is a great deal of literature on this contemporary topic. The distinctive character of this volume, however, is to examine and develop these central questions from the perspective of Levinas’s ethics of the other person. Religions is the appropriate journal for this discussion because Levinas’s ethics is at once, and explicitly, a morality and a religious calling.

In this particular issue of Religions we will draw upon the scholarship of those scholars who have participated in the 5th and 6th Levinas Philosophy Summer Seminar (LPSS), directed annually by noted Levinas scholar Richard A. Cohen. The 5th LPSS, on the topic “Morality, Justice and the Political,” was held at the University at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York, July, from July 17 to 21, 2017. Fourteen American scholars, selected from a larger pool of applicants, attended. This summer seminar was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The 6th LPSS, on the topic “Ideology and Justice,” is to be held at the University of Chicago Center in Paris, France, from July 2 to 6, 2018. It is anticipated that sixteen international scholars will participate. Contributors to the special issue of Religions will be drawn from selected attendees from both the 2017 and 2018 LPSS.   

Prof. Dr. Richard A. Cohen
Prof. Dr. Jolanta Saldukaityte
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

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Keywords

  • Ethics, politics
  • justice
  • ideology
  • vulnerability
  • responsibility
  • liberalism
  • socialism
  • humanism
  • posthumanity

Published Papers (13 papers)

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Research

Open AccessArticle Testimonial Image Practices as a Politics of Aesthetics after Levinas
Religions 2019, 10(3), 216; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10030216
Received: 12 February 2019 / Revised: 13 March 2019 / Accepted: 18 March 2019 / Published: 21 March 2019
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Abstract
The transition from ethics to politics still lacks a proper understanding. I propose thinking of this transition in terms of a politics of aesthetics. However, thinking about a politics of aesthetics means also thinking about images and their prohibition. The prohibition of images [...] Read more.
The transition from ethics to politics still lacks a proper understanding. I propose thinking of this transition in terms of a politics of aesthetics. However, thinking about a politics of aesthetics means also thinking about images and their prohibition. The prohibition of images has a long history, dating back to the Bible and Plato; its implications are crucial for image theory. Since Levinas did not systematically develop a political theory, aesthetics, or image theory, it is necessary to collect and systematize his distributed statements. Having image theory as a starting point for a politics of aesthetics, I choose a media philosophical approach to identify the mediality of the image after Levinas. Key elements for a Levinasian image theory are the temporal aspect of its transient appearance, its involving affective power, and its negativity. I propose to think of this image theory as an image-pragmatics that testifies and responds not only to the Other but also to the mediality of the image. With Levinas it becomes possible to turn the prohibition of images into a commandment to remember. I call this a testimonial image practice that becomes a regulatory idea for a politics of aesthetics. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Levinas and the Political)
Open AccessArticle Levinas’s Political Chiasmi: Otherwise than Being as a Response to Liberalism and Fascism, Humanism and Antihumanism
Religions 2019, 10(3), 170; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10030170
Received: 24 January 2019 / Revised: 25 February 2019 / Accepted: 3 March 2019 / Published: 7 March 2019
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Abstract
In this article, I approach the relationship between the ethical and political in Levinas from the perspective of the hermeneutic strategy he employs when engaging with political thought. I argue that, in two key texts—“Reflections on the Philosophy of Hitlerism” and Humanism of [...] Read more.
In this article, I approach the relationship between the ethical and political in Levinas from the perspective of the hermeneutic strategy he employs when engaging with political thought. I argue that, in two key texts—“Reflections on the Philosophy of Hitlerism” and Humanism of the Other—Levinas situates seemingly opposed traditions of political thought in chiastic relation to one another: liberalism and fascism, and humanism and antihumanism, respectively. Furthermore, I argue that Levinas’s views on the relationship between the ethical and political in Otherwise than Being can be read as a response to the chiasmi found in the above texts. The relationship between the ontologies of liberalism and fascism is chiastic, because the latter’s fatal embrace of embodied and historical existence relies on the dualism the former establishes between the subject as transcendent and the body as immanent. Humanism and antihumanism are in chiastic relation in terms of the question of violence. The latter critiques the former for the violence of its Platonist devaluation of historical cultures, and argues instead for the equivalence of cultures; however, in locating intelligibility in structures of which specific cultures are merely configurations, antihumanism repeats the devaluation of specific cultures. In an altered manner, it is, therefore, also a potentially violent view of intercultural relations. Levinas’s analysis of sensible proximity to the human other is an attempt to account for the gravity of culturally situated meaning without turning it into an irrevocable fatality. I argue that the ethical does not detract from the situatedness of intelligibility, but demonstrates that we are bound to our cultural situation, not by fate, but by responsibility. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Levinas and the Political)
Open AccessArticle Translation as an Ethical Relationship between Ethics and Politics. An Interpretive Reading of Emmanuel Levinas
Religions 2019, 10(2), 135; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10020135
Received: 7 December 2018 / Revised: 7 February 2019 / Accepted: 12 February 2019 / Published: 25 February 2019
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Abstract
The otherness of the other, considered as foreignness, is deeply intertwined with the problem of translation and with the one of morality. How can the two of them be brought together based on the work of Emmanuel Levinas? The main question which leads [...] Read more.
The otherness of the other, considered as foreignness, is deeply intertwined with the problem of translation and with the one of morality. How can the two of them be brought together based on the work of Emmanuel Levinas? The main question which leads my analysis is the following: does morality limit itself to the relationship with another person or does it concern society in its entirety? In the thought of Levinas, ethics is placed on the side of the dual relationship with the other, while the presence of the third institutes the realm of politics. At first glance, the two dimensions contradict each other, for the first one is characterized by infinity, overabundance, and love, while the second one comports a dimension of finitude, measure, symmetry, and justice. Yet these two domains always exist contemporaneously, each of them needing the limitation brought by its counterpart. How is their relationship to be thought? I will argue that the answer can be found within the domain of translation, understood as an essential asymmetry that is both harmonic and disruptive. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Levinas and the Political)
Open AccessArticle Political Justice: Levinas Contra Aristotle
Religions 2019, 10(2), 126; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10020126
Received: 20 January 2019 / Revised: 15 February 2019 / Accepted: 18 February 2019 / Published: 21 February 2019
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Abstract
In this paper, I argue that two radically different conceptions of political justice can be derived from the work of Aristotle and Emmanuel Levinas—notions of justice that are indeed directly opposed. Aristotle defines justice in terms of considerations of moderation, prudence, and measure, [...] Read more.
In this paper, I argue that two radically different conceptions of political justice can be derived from the work of Aristotle and Emmanuel Levinas—notions of justice that are indeed directly opposed. Aristotle defines justice in terms of considerations of moderation, prudence, and measure, where the virtuous actor is supposed to demonstrate aspects of character and perform acts that are neither deficient nor excessive; yet the ethics of Levinas, as instantiated in justice, is a demand that responding to the needs of others not be limited by moderate considerations, but can precisely be realized as an exorbitant and anarchic assumption of responsibility. It thus becomes of decisive importance for both a thinking of the political, and political praxis, in determining which conception of justice is found to be more compelling. I illustrate the stakes of this difference with reference to the politics of asylum, and in particular, a discussion of the historical case of the Kindertransport. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Levinas and the Political)
Open AccessArticle “I’m a Pacifist”: Peace in the Thought of Emmanuel Levinas
Religions 2019, 10(2), 84; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10020084
Received: 1 December 2018 / Revised: 21 January 2019 / Accepted: 23 January 2019 / Published: 28 January 2019
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Abstract
This paper develops and examines the idea and importance of peace in the ethical philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, starting from an anecdote regarding his parody of Ernst Cassirer during a student performance in Davos. It examines Levinas’s stated views on peace from across [...] Read more.
This paper develops and examines the idea and importance of peace in the ethical philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, starting from an anecdote regarding his parody of Ernst Cassirer during a student performance in Davos. It examines Levinas’s stated views on peace from across his career, arguing Levinas should be viewed as a pacifist, albeit a highly original one, who shows that political structures are characterized by violence but reveal their origins in the radical peace of the face-to-face encounter. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Levinas and the Political)
Open AccessArticle The Place and Face of the Stranger in Levinas
Religions 2019, 10(2), 67; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10020067
Received: 31 December 2018 / Revised: 16 January 2019 / Accepted: 17 January 2019 / Published: 22 January 2019
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Abstract
This essay addresses the topic of place, more specifically it raises the question how and why place is essential for defining the strangeness of the other person. In Levinas’ philosophy the Other as stranger is the one whom I welcome to my home [...] Read more.
This essay addresses the topic of place, more specifically it raises the question how and why place is essential for defining the strangeness of the other person. In Levinas’ philosophy the Other as stranger is the one whom I welcome to my home and country, i.e., to my place. This essay takes up three interrelated topics: (1) the general notion of place; (2) the ethical notion of place in Levinas’ philosophy, contrasted with an ontological notion of place. The deepest significance and virtue of place appears not in my dwelling or my compatibility with being but at the site from which the I is able to welcome the Other. Furthermore, the “ownness” of my place is always contested by the stranger as I have no necessity, no ultimate right to be; (3) the strangeness of the Other in Levinas’ philosophy defined not by topology but by vulnerability. To welcome the stranger and give up my place comes from my infinite responsibility for the Other. On the ethical level, the vulnerable face of the Other cannot be objectified and classified. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Levinas and the Political)
Open AccessArticle A Levinasian Reconstruction of the Political Significance of Vulnerability
Religions 2019, 10(1), 10; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10010010
Received: 12 November 2018 / Revised: 12 December 2018 / Accepted: 24 December 2018 / Published: 27 December 2018
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Abstract
The concept of vulnerability has been renewed in meaning and importance over recent decades. Scholars such as Judith Butler, Martha Fineman and Pamela Sue Anderson have endeavored to redeem vulnerability from its traditional signification as a negative individual condition, and to reveal the [...] Read more.
The concept of vulnerability has been renewed in meaning and importance over recent decades. Scholars such as Judith Butler, Martha Fineman and Pamela Sue Anderson have endeavored to redeem vulnerability from its traditional signification as a negative individual condition, and to reveal the positive meaning of vulnerability as a transformative call for solidarity, equality and love. In this paper we examine the newly constructed positive understanding of vulnerability, and argue that the current way of pursuing this positive understanding affirms a merely functional positivity. In the recent accounts, vulnerability is still a status to avoid, yet functions positively as a corrective force to the environment that produces vulnerability. We will try to find an essential way of designating the positivity of vulnerability by revisiting the philosophical discussion on vulnerability in Emmanuel Levinas. We will argue that Levinas’s notion of vulnerability is positive in a sense which goes beyond the purely functional; it is seen as essential for his definition of humanity. Yet compared to the contemporary discussion, Levinas’s notion of vulnerability lacks a direct social political meaning. We will tentatively explore how the essential positivity drawn from Levinas can provide a new way to construct the political significance of vulnerability. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Levinas and the Political)
Open AccessArticle The Power of Carl Schmitt: Fascism, Dualism and Justice
Religions 2019, 10(1), 7; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10010007
Received: 29 November 2018 / Revised: 12 December 2018 / Accepted: 17 December 2018 / Published: 24 December 2018
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Abstract
The purpose of this paper is to show that underlying Schmitt’s account of fascist politics lies a Gnostic-like metaphysical dualism separating the realms of value and power. Contrary to the normative political tradition of the West, which defends ethical politics, Schmitt—jurist and theorist [...] Read more.
The purpose of this paper is to show that underlying Schmitt’s account of fascist politics lies a Gnostic-like metaphysical dualism separating the realms of value and power. Contrary to the normative political tradition of the West, which defends ethical politics, Schmitt—jurist and theorist of the Nazis—aligns himself with Machiavelli and Hobbes to defend realpolitik for which sovereignty is ultimately a function of the Dictator’s will alone. This paper shows the contradiction within such a position, which criticizes values in politics, but by its advocacy and its defense of the Dictator’s willing, relies on valuation, choice and hence, the ethical. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Levinas and the Political)
Open AccessArticle Levinas, Simmel, and the Ethical Significance of Money
Religions 2019, 10(1), 3; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10010003
Received: 30 November 2018 / Accepted: 20 December 2018 / Published: 22 December 2018
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Abstract
An examination of Emmanuel Levinas’ writings on money reveals his distance from—and indebtedness to—a philosophical predecessor, Georg Simmel. Levinas and Simmel share a phenomenological approach to analyses of the proximity of the stranger, the importance of the face, and the interruption of the [...] Read more.
An examination of Emmanuel Levinas’ writings on money reveals his distance from—and indebtedness to—a philosophical predecessor, Georg Simmel. Levinas and Simmel share a phenomenological approach to analyses of the proximity of the stranger, the importance of the face, and the interruption of the dyadic relationship by the third. Money is closely linked to the conception of totality because money is the medium that compares heterogeneous values. Levinas goes beyond Simmel in positing an ethical relation to money permitting transcendence. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Levinas and the Political)
Open AccessArticle Levinas and the “Matter” of Poverty
Religions 2018, 9(12), 391; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9120391
Received: 31 October 2018 / Revised: 26 November 2018 / Accepted: 26 November 2018 / Published: 28 November 2018
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Abstract
“Poverty” is a term Levinas uses to describe the face-to-face encounter and the Other all through his corpus. Scholars regularly use this term, but no research has shown its origin nor that Levinas has a concept of poverty. This paper addresses both of [...] Read more.
“Poverty” is a term Levinas uses to describe the face-to-face encounter and the Other all through his corpus. Scholars regularly use this term, but no research has shown its origin nor that Levinas has a concept of poverty. This paper addresses both of those questions through an analysis of an early reflection on Judaism and the relevant sections of his Totality and Infinity. In the process, I argue for an alternative interpretation of Levinas’s ethical phenomenology on the basis of poverty concluding with some suggestions on how a Levinasian spiritual poverty can aid the pursuit of justice. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Levinas and the Political)
Open AccessArticle Otherwise Than Politics: A Levinassian Defense of Political Indifference
Religions 2018, 9(12), 385; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9120385
Received: 22 October 2018 / Revised: 18 November 2018 / Accepted: 23 November 2018 / Published: 25 November 2018
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Abstract
Emmanuel Levinas critiques the political sovereignty of what is Said (le Dit), the surface differences and visible identities politics imposes, through a recourse to the nudity of the invisible face, which, audible rather than visible, is a pre-predicative Saying (le [...] Read more.
Emmanuel Levinas critiques the political sovereignty of what is Said (le Dit), the surface differences and visible identities politics imposes, through a recourse to the nudity of the invisible face, which, audible rather than visible, is a pre-predicative Saying (le Dire). Although Levinas does not deny systemic and political injustices, he is not convinced that the solution to these problems is itself systemic and political, as the political is a problem rather than a solution. Only the ethical and/or religious can offer a response to the problem of the political. Given this Levinassian edifice, then, this article argues that all thinking that fails to skeptically unsay (le Dédire) the social and institutionalized differences of the political machine makes no difference. The article will first articulate why, following Levinas, politics is the problem rather than a solution and then explain why ethical (and religious) relation is prior to politics (and ontology) by demarcating different senses of thirdness (le tier). A criticism of natural rights will follow before some concluding remarks are offered that explain how one might enact a skeptical comportment toward all politics that may nevertheless let political situations lie exactly as they were. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Levinas and the Political)
Open AccessArticle The Other, Shame, and Politics: Levinas, Justice, and Feeling Responsible
Religions 2018, 9(12), 381; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9120381
Received: 7 November 2018 / Revised: 16 November 2018 / Accepted: 21 November 2018 / Published: 23 November 2018
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Abstract
Adi Ophir has suggested that the political realm is an order of evils, producing and managing regular forms of suffering and violence rather than eliminating them. Thus, the political is always to some extent a corrupted order of justice. Emmanuel Levinas’ work presents [...] Read more.
Adi Ophir has suggested that the political realm is an order of evils, producing and managing regular forms of suffering and violence rather than eliminating them. Thus, the political is always to some extent a corrupted order of justice. Emmanuel Levinas’ work presents in its focus on the face-to-face relationship a means of rethinking how to make the political more open to compassionate justice. Though Levinas himself doesn’t sufficiently take on this question, I argue that his work facilitates a way of thinking about commiserative shame that provides a means to connect the face-to-face to its potential effects in the political sphere. If such shame isn’t ignored or bypassed, it produces an unsettling relation to the other that in its adversity motivates a kind of responsibility and care for the other that can alter the public sphere. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Levinas and the Political)
Open AccessArticle How Levinas Can (and Cannot) Help Us with Political Apology in the Context of Systemic Racism
Religions 2018, 9(11), 370; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9110370
Received: 12 September 2018 / Revised: 25 October 2018 / Accepted: 16 November 2018 / Published: 19 November 2018
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Abstract
What is the structure of an apology? What is an apology supposed to achieve, and how do we know when it has achieved its purpose? These questions seem pretty straightforward when we are speaking of an apology as it is traditionally conceived, which [...] Read more.
What is the structure of an apology? What is an apology supposed to achieve, and how do we know when it has achieved its purpose? These questions seem pretty straightforward when we are speaking of an apology as it is traditionally conceived, which considers an explicit action that I have performed toward another individual. But how does one apologize for one’s thrownness into systemic structures of inequality and violence—such as America’s long history of racism toward people of color? I call this here a “political apology,” which may take both national forms—such as Australia’s National “I’m Sorry Day”—or personal acts—such as when a white person might apologize to a friend who is a person of color for the persistence of anti-Black racism in America. This essay will consider Emmanuel Levinas’s work and how it relates to this notion of a political apology. In some respects, Levinas’s thought is profoundly constructive and useful; however, his ahistorical, asymmetrical account of intersubjectivity is inadequate to explain what an apology seeks to achieve on a substantial political level. For this, I believe we must articulate a Levinasian-inspired account of the self–other relation that more adequately takes into account both parties as well as the concrete situation in which the need for apology arises. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Levinas and the Political)
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