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.
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.
Emerson R. Bodde
Department of Philosophy, Vanderbilt University
111 Furman Hall, Vanderbilt University, Nashville TN 37240, USA
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