2019-02Thematic Section
Benjamin and Spinoza: Divine Violence and Potentia

Abstract:

In this paper, I seek to clarify, criticize, and expand upon the ambiguous-yet-influential concept of divine violence introduced by Walter Benjamin’s “Zur Kritik der Gewalt”. I proceed in three parts: in the first, I outline Benjamin’s argument about the cycle of mythical violence and divine violence’s special role as an interruption of that cycle. Next, I explicate Spinoza’s key concepts of potentia and potestas, which can be used to more clearly define what ought to instead be translated as “divine force”. In the third part, through Benjamin’s brief discussion of Sorel’s theory of the anarchist general strike, I equate potentia as a determinate power of aggregative individuals to divine force, both as a collective action and as an idea itself. I use this renewed and more sophisticated concept of divine force to oppose several interpretations of Benjamin’s concept, including Benjamin’s own quietist stance toward divine force.

Keywords:

Walter Benjamin, Baruch Spinoza, Georges Sorel, divine violence, power, potentia, potestas

How to cite:

Bodde, Emerson R. “Benjamin and Spinoza: Divine Violence and Potentia.” Eidos. A Journal for Philosophy of Culture 3, no. 2(8) (2019): 75–90. https://doi.org/10.14394/eidos.jpc.2019.0019.

Author:

Emerson R. Bodde
Department of Philosophy, Vanderbilt University
111 Furman Hall, Vanderbilt University, Nashville TN 37240, USA
https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2772-5349
emerson.r.bodde@vanderbilt.edu

References:

Balibar, Etienne. Spinoza and Politics. Translated by Peter Snowden. London: Verso, 1998.

Barbone, Steven. “Power in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus.” In Piety, Peace, and the Freedom to Philosophize, edited by Paul J. Bagley, 91-109. Volume 47. The New Synthesis Historical Library: Texts and Studies in the History of Philosophy. Baltimore: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-2672-6_5.

Benjamin, Walter. “Critique of Violence.” In Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writing, 277-300. New York: Schocken Books, 1986.

Benjamin, Walter. “Zur Kritik Der Gewalt.” In Walter Benjamin Gesammelte Schriften. Volume II.1. Edited by Rolf Tiedemann and Hermann Schweppenhäuser, 179-203. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1999.

Bottici, Chiara. “Philosophies of Political Myth, a Comparative Look Backwards: Cassirer, Sorel and Spinoza.” European Journal of Political Theory 8, no. 3 (2009): 365-82. https://doi.org/10.1177/1474885109103840.

Butler, Judith. “Critique, Coercion, and Sacred Life in Benjamin’s ‘Critique of Violence.’” In Political Theologies: Public Religions in a Post-Secular World, edited by Hent de Vries and Lawrence Eugene Sullivan, 201-219. New York: Fordham University Press, 2006. https://doi.org/10.5422/fso/9780823226443.003.0009.

Curley, Edwin. “Kissinger, Spinoza, and Genghis Khan.” In The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza, edited by Don Garrett, 315-342. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Curley, Edwin. “The State of Nature and Its Law in Hobbes and Spinoza.” Philosophical Topics 19, no. 1 (1991): 97-117. https://doi.org/10.5840/philtopics199119114.

Derrida, Jacques. “Force of Law: The ‘Mystical Foundation of Authority’.” In Acts of Religion. Edited by Gil Anidjar, 228-298. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. Edited and translated by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. New York: International Publishers, 1971.

Guzmán, Luis. “Benjamin’s Divine Violence: Unjustifiable Justice. CR: The New Centennial Review 14, no. 2 (2014): 49-64. https://doi.org/10.14321/crnewcentrevi.14.2.0049.

Kwek, Dorothy H.B. “Power and the Multitude: A Spinozist View.” Political Theory 43, no. 2 (2015): 155-184. https://doi.org/10.1177/0090591714537080.

Negri, Antonio. The Savage Anomaly: The Power of Spinoza’s Metaphysics and Politics. Translated by Michael Hardt. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.

Procyshyn, Alexei. “Manifest Reason: Walter Benjamin on Violence and Collective Agency.” Constellations 21, no. 3 (2014): 390-400. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8675.12102.

Robespierre, Maximilien. “On the Action to Be Taken against Louis XVI.” In Great Lives Observed: Robespierre. Edited by George Rudé, 27-31. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1967.

Sorel, Georges. Reflections on Violence. Edited and translated by Jeremy Jennings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Spinoza, Benedictus de. “The Letters.” In Spinoza: Complete Works. Edited by Michael L. Morgan. Translated by Samuel Shirley, 755-960. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2002.

Spinoza, Benedictus de. Ethics. In Spinoza: Complete Works. Edited by Michael L. Morgan. Translated by Samuel Shirley, 213-383. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2002.

Spinoza, Benedictus de. Political Treatise. In Spinoza: Complete Works. Edited by Michael L. Morgan. Translated by Samuel Shirley, 676-754. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2002.

Spinoza, Benedictus de. Political Treatise. Translated by Samuel Shirley. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2000.

Spinoza, Benedictus de. Theologico-Political Treatise. In Spinoza: Complete Works. Edited by Michael L. Morgan. Translated by Samuel Shirley, 383-583. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2002.

Uyl, Den. “Introduction.” In Political Treatise, by Benedictus de Spinoza. Translated by Samuel Shirley. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2000.

Žižek, Slavoj. Violence: Six Sideways Reflections. New York: Picador, 2008.

Open Access Statement:

This is an open access journal which means that all content is freely available without charge to the user or his/her institution. Users are allowed to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of the articles, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without asking prior permission from the publisher or the author, as long as the author and original source are properly cited. This is in accordance with the BOAI definition of open access.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Submitting a text to Eidos. A Journal for Philosophy of Culture means that the author agrees with the general conditions of this license. The author does and will maintain copyrights and publishing rights for his/her article without any restrictions.