Critique, Coercion, and Sacred Life in Benjamin's “Critique of Violence”

Judith Butler

in Political Theologies

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print November 2006 | ISBN: 9780823226443
Published online March 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780823237043 | DOI:
Critique, Coercion, and Sacred Life in Benjamin's               “Critique of Violence”

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This chapter takes up the question of the distinction in Walter Benjamin's “Critique of Violence” between “law-instating” and “law-preserving” violence, as well as the relationship between them. It reassesses the political and politics at a moment of a redefining of the rulings and jurisdiction of legal courts, an increase in the intermediary role of “the police”, and an increasing role of the military in matters of national and international security and intelligence (with the checks and balances between them rapidly—and disturbingly—fading). It offers an alternative trajectory, one that lies in a further unfolding of a now seemingly theological, then again political perspective, epitomized by what Benjamin calls “divine intervention” and “the general strike”. Benjamin appears to be exploring the possibility of another form of violence or authoritative force that would be non-coercive, or a violence that can be invoked and waged against the coercive force of law, and that hence, in a sense, would be fundamentally non-violent. Benjamin's term for this alternative, non-violent violence is that of a messianic-Judaic “divine violence”.

Keywords: Walter Benjamin; divine violence; politics; legal courts; police; military; security; intelligence; divine intervention; general strike

Chapter.  10920 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Religions

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