Prophetic politics in transatlantic transfer. Discourses on prophecy in the Weimar Republic and in the USA from the 1940s to the 1960s
A series of workshops will discusse the figure of the Prophet in the political theory of the 20th century. This figure is attracted by increased attention in Christian and Jewish discourses around 1900, stands for a democratic but not liberal policy in the Weimar Republic and has been traveling with the exile across the Atlantic where it still plays an important role in political discourses.
In his Science as a Vocation (1918) Max Weber warned of the »Kathederpropheten« [ex-cathedra prophets] who advocated a new form of sacred or healing teaching in their classes. A year later, Hermann Cohen identified the prophets as the founders of modern historical thinking, while Karl Jaspers examined prophetic philosophy as the only possible reformer of thought. It is already in the early stages of the Weimar Republic that one notes the barefoot prophets (Ulrich Linse), the healers and inflation-apostles. Prophecy has become an important model for different forms of intellectual politics.
The renaissance of messianism in the Weimar Republic implies also the revival of prophetic charisma. In that new reality, the prophet embodies, as a revolutionary or a reformer, the radical discourses of moral politics and shapes a whole set of related epistemological claims.
The fascination with prophetic tropes goes, of course, further back. It belongs to the core differentiation between the faiths. In the context of modern Germany, it resurfaced in a powerful way with Adolf von Harnack, the Hermann Cohen and Ernst Troeltsch debate, and the rise of Cultural Zionism with Martin Buber, to take just a few obvious examples.
An analysis of prophetic politics is a topical issue at a time of de-secularization of politics and of a fashionable revival of Carl Schmitt’s political theology, by both conservative and progressive thinkers. From the perspective of prophetic politics, it is not sufficient to talk about religious rhetoric in relation to concepts such as hegemony and control; it is as important to consider its appearance in law and different forms of popular resistance, and then not only as mere gesture, but in the form of specific rhetorical practices.
A first workshop was held in Berlin in June 2017, and focussed mostly on references to an elitist and theoretical form of political prophecy in the Weimar Republic. A second workshop, in New York, will follow the prophetic figure across the ocean, as it moves, with A.J. Heschel, Martin Buber, and Paul Tillich, to the American context. Here, historians believe, prophetic politics became more vernacular and more democratic. The second workshop will examine how and where the radical intellectual figure meets with other traditions of prophetic speech, such as the American Jeremiad, Walt Whitman’s transcendental prophetic plea, or Martin Luther King and Malcolm X’s use of prophetic tropes for the sake of concrete social and political reform.
- The Jerusalem School: The Theopolitical Hour, by Nitzan Lebovic, in: New German Critique 105, Vol. 35, No. 3, Durham: Duke University Press 2008, 97–120.
- Prophetie und Prognostik. Verfügungen über Zukunft in Wissenschaften, Religionen und Künsten, ed. by Daniel Weidner, Stefan Willer, Trajekte book series, München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag 2013
- The Political Theology of Ethical Monotheism, von Daniel Weidner, in: Randi Rashkover, Martin Kavka (eds.): Judaism, Liberalism, and Political Theology, Bloomington: Indiana University Press 2013, 178–196.
- Speaking Boldly: The Prophetic in 20th Century Political Thought, Paper held by Daniel Weidner at the Lehigh University 17.04.2012
The Power of the Future. Prophetic Politics between Political Crises and Civil Rights
Center for Jewish History New York, 15 West 16th Street, New York 10011 (USA)
Ethical Idealism, Charisma, and Cultural Critique: Prophetic Politics in the Weimar Republic
ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, 3. Et., Seminarraum 303