Dunkle Denker: Jewish Readings of the Counter-Enlightment

Internationaler Workshop

Dienstag, 29. Mai – Mittwoch, 30. Mai 2018

The Enlightenment plays a rather ambivalent role in modern Jewish history. While its major proponents refuted centuries-old religious prejudices and endorsed values such as the rule of law, personal liberty and social equality, Voltaire and his companions were at the same time fierce critics of Rabbinic Judaism and an ascribed “Jewish nature.” Some even denied the Jews the right of full legal emancipation and gave voice to antisemitic accusations.
In light of this, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer argued that the Enlightenment so far is incomplete. Against the background of the Holocaust, they famously detected a negative “Dialectic of Enlightenment,” a conjunction of human progress and social domination in the form of a “rational irrationality.” During and after the catastrophe, Jewish philosophers in particular were fascinated by the philosophers of the “Counter-Enlightenment” (Isaiah Berlin) in order to uncover the negative potential of the Enlightenment itself. Resting upon Heraklit’s notion of the Dunkler Denker (dark thinker), Counter-Enlightenment philosophy seemed to provide deep insights into the hidden nature of modernity: “The dark writers of the bourgeoisie, unlike its apologists, did not seek to avert the consequences of the Enlightenment with harmonistic doctrines,” concluded Adorno and Horkheimer in their masterpiece Dialectic of Enlightenment. They continued that those thinkers “did not pretend that formalistic reason had a closer affinity to morality than to immorality. While the light-bringing writers protected the indissoluble alliance of reason and atrocity, bourgeois society and power, by denying that alliance, the bearers of darker messages pitilessly expressed the shocking truth.”
The workshop addresses numerous examples of Jewish readings of “dark men in dark times” (Hannah Arendt), from Niccolò Machiavelli and Joseph de Maistre to Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche to Martin Heidegger and Carl Schmitt. It is concerned with the motives and strategies of Jewish philosophers in their contentions with those who reject equality, freedom and the priority of reason. Hence, the workshop seeks to identify a “Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment” in Jewish readings of their most ferocious adversaries.

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Historisches Kolleg, Kaulbachstr. 15, 80539 München

Eine Teilnahme am Workshop ist nur nach bestätigter Anmeldung möglich

Gastveranstaltung des Lehrstuhls für Jüdische Geschichte und Kultur an der LMU München