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Martin Buber: The Life of Dialogue by Maurice S. Friedman


Maurice S. Friedman is Professor Emeritus of religious studies, philosophy and comparative literature at San Diego State University. Martin Buber (1878-1965).was a Viennese Jewish philosopher and religious leader who translated the Old Tetament into German. He was a Zionist. He sought understainding between Jews and Arabs. Published by The University of Chicago Press, 1955 and reprinted in 1960 by Harpers, N.Y. as a First Harper Torchbook edition. This material prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


Chapter 16: The Eclipse of God


The absolute affirmation of the self in the second stage of evil is an extreme form of man’s hiding from the ‘signs’ which address him. A more common form of cutting oneself off from dialogue is the action of the man who ‘masters’ each situation or approaches it with a formulated technique or programme. Another is the various types of ‘once for all’ which make unnecessary the ‘ever anew’ of real response to the unique situation which confronts one in each hour. This false security prevents us from making our relationships to others real through opening ourselves to them and thereby leads us to ‘squander the most precious, irreplaceable and irrecoverable material’ of life. It also prevents us from making real our relationship to God, for the meeting with God takes place in the ‘lived concrete,’ and lived concreteness exists only in so far as the moment retains its true dialogical character of presentness and uniqueness. (Between Man and Man, ‘Dialogue, p. 16, What Is Man?’, p. 170; Eclipse of God, op. cit., ‘Religion and Philosophy,’ p. 49.)

The logical and dialectical God of the theologians -- the God who can be put into a system, enclosed in an idea, or thought about philosophically as ‘a state of being in which all ideas are absorbed’ -- is not the God who can be met in the lived concrete. The ‘once for all’ of dogma resists the unforeseeable moment and thereby becomes ‘the most exalted form of invulnerability against revelation.’ ‘Centralization and codification, undertaken in the interests of religion, are a danger to the core of religion, unless there is the strongest life of faith, embodied in the whole existence of the community, and not relaxing in its renewing activity.’ (Between Man and Man, ‘The Question to the Single One,’ p. 57 f.; Israel and the World, op. cit., ‘The Love of God and the Idea of Deity,’ p. 53; Kampf um Israel op. cit., p. 203 f; Between Man and Man, ‘Dialogue,’ p. 18; The Prophetic Faith op. cit., p. 70.)

It is only one step from dogma to ‘magic,’ for a God that can be fixed in dogma can also be possessed and used. ‘Always and everywhere in the history of religion, the fact that God is identified with success is the greatest obstacle to a steadfast religious life.’ Magic operates wherever one celebrates rites ‘without being turned to the Thou and . . . really meaning its Presence.’ In magic God becomes a bundle of powers, present at man’s command and in the form in which man wishes them. (Moses, op. cit., pp. 88, 185; Eclipse of God, ‘God and the Spirit of Man,’ trans. by Maurice S. Friedman, p. 161 f.; Israel and the World, ‘The Faith of Judaism,’ pp. 21-24; Hasidism, ‘Spirit and Body of the Hasidic Movement,’ p. 79, ‘Symbolical and Sacramental Existence in Judaism,’ p. 142 f. Cf. Moses, p. 22 f. for Buber’s contrast between ‘technical magic’ and ‘magic of spontaneity.’)

As a step in one direction leads from dogma to magic, a step in another leads to ‘gnosis,’ the attempt to raise the veil which divides the revealed from the hidden and to lead forth the divine mystery. Gnosis, like magic, stands as the great threat to dialogical life and to the turning to God. Gnosis attempts to see through the contradiction of existence and free itself from it, rather than endure the contradiction and redeem it. Buber illustrates this contrast through a comparison between Hasidism and the Kabbalah.

The whole systematic structure of the Kabbalah is determined by a principle of certitude which hardly ever stops short, hardly ever cowers with terror, hardly ever prostrates itself. Hasidic piety, on the other hand, finds its real life just in stopping short, in letting itself be disconcerted, in its deep-seated knowledge of the impotence of all ready-made knowledge, of the incongruity of all acquired truth, in the ‘holy insecurity.’ (Israel and the World, ‘The Faith of Judaism,’ pp. 21-24, ‘The Two Foci of the Jewish Soul,’ p. 31 f.; Eclipse of God, ‘God and the Spirit of Man,’ p. 162; Hasidism, ‘Symbolical Existence in Judaism,’ p. 141 f.)

This gnosis is not found in the modern world in theosophies and occult systems alone. ‘In many theologies also, unveiling gestures are to be discovered behind the interpreting ones.’ Gnosis has even found its way into modern psychotherapy through the teachings of Carl Jung:

The psychological doctrine which deals with mysteries without knowing the attitude of faith toward mystery is the modern manifestation of Gnosis. Gnosis is not to be understood as only historical category, but as a universal one. It -- and not atheism, which annihilates God because it must reject the hitherto existing images of God -- is the real antagonist of the reality of faith. (Eclipse of God, ‘God and the Spirit of Man,’ p. 162, ‘Reply to C. G. Jung,’ p. 175 f.)

Concern with revelation of the future, the attempt to get behind the problematic of life, the desire to possess or use divine power, the acceptance of tradition and law as a ‘once for all’ in which one can take refuge -- all these prevent the meeting with God in the lived concrete. Even the belief in immortality may be a threat to the relation of faith, for by making death appear unreal or unserious, it may hinder our recognition of the limits of finitude as the threshold of Eternity. (For the sake of Heaven op. cit., p. 238 f.; Martin Buber, ‘Nach dem Ted’, Münchener Neuesten Nachrichten, February 8, 1928.) Similarly, the very symbols which man uses to address God often stand in the way of that address.

The religious reality of the meeting with the Meeter . . . knows only the presence of the Present One. Symbols of Him, whether images or ideas, always exist first when and in so far as Thou becomes He, and that means It.

‘God, so we may surmise, does not despise all these similarly and necessarily untrue images, but rather suffers that one look at Him through them.’ But there inevitably comes a time when the symbol, instead of enabling men to enter into relation with God, stands in the way of that relation. (Eclipse of God, ‘Religion and Philosophy,’ p. 62 f., ‘The Love of God and the Idea of Deity,’ p. 84.)

The philosopher helps restore the lived concrete to the religious man through destroying the images which no longer do justice to God. But the ‘pure idea,’ which he raises to the throne of reality in their place, also stands between man and God. Philosophy begins with ‘the primary act of abstraction,’ that ‘inner action in which man lifts himself above the concrete situation into the sphere of precise conceptualization.’ The concepts which man develops in this sphere ‘no longer serve as a means of apprehending reality, but instead represent as the object of thought Being freed from the limitations of the actual.’ From the lived togetherness of I and It, philosophy abstracts the I into a subject which can do nothing but observe and reflect and the It into a passive object of thought. The ‘God of the philosophers,’ in consequence, is a conceptually comprehensible thing among things, and no longer a living God who can be the object of imagination, wishes, and feelings. Nor is this situation changed by the special place which philosophy gives the absolute as the object from which all other objects are derived, or as ‘Speech’ (Logos), ‘the Unlimited,’ or simply ‘Being.’ ‘Philosophy is grounded on the presupposition that one sees the absolute in universals.’ As a result philosophy must necessarily deny, or at the very least turn away from, the reality on which religion is grounded, ‘the covenant of the absolute with the particular, with the concrete.’ (Ibid, ‘Religion and Philosophy,, pp. 44 f., 53-63, ‘Religion and Reality,’ p. 28.)

Both the philosophizing and the religious person wonder at phenomena, says Buber, but ‘the one neutralizes his wonder in ideal knowledge, while the other abides in that wonder.’ (Moses, p. 75) When man has felt at home in the universe, his thought about himself has only been a part of his cosmological thought. But when man has felt himself shut in by a strict and inescapable solitude, his thinking about himself has been deep and fruitful and independent of cosmology. Buber criticizes Aristotle, Aquinas, and Hegel because in their systems of thought man attains to consciousness of himself only in the third person. Man is no longer problematic for himself, and the wonder at man is simply wonder at the universe as a whole. Hegel’s theoretical certainty is derived from his incorporation of cosmological rather than actual human time into the groundwork of his image of the universe. ‘Cosmological time’ is abstract and relativized. In it all the future can appear theoretically present. ‘Anthropological time,’ in contrast, has reality only in the past. Since the future depends in part on man’s consciousness and will, on decisions which have not yet taken place, no certainty of the future is possible within the boundaries of the human world. Marx takes over Hegel’s cosmological time to provide the proletariat the security of an assured victory in the future. This security, like Hegel’s, is a false one since it ignores man’s powers of decisions. ‘It depends on the direction and force of this power how far the renewing powers of life as such are able to take effect, and even whether they are not transformed into powers of destruction.’ (Between Man and Man, pp. 126-129, 131 f., 139-145.)

The submersion of the dialogical life by the ‘once for all’ of gnosis, theology, philosophy, and social doctrine is only a part of a larger development of civilization. All great civilizations at their early stages are ‘life-systems’ built up around a supreme principle which pervades the entire existence of the group. This principle is at once a religious and a normative one since it implies a concrete attachment of human life to the Absolute and an attempt to bring order and meaning into earthly existence through the imitation of transcendent Being. All spheres of being are essentially determined by the relationship to this principle. In proportion to the development of its specific forms, however, every civilization strives increasingly to become independent of its principle.

In the great Western civilizations, this manifests itself partly by their individual spheres isolating themselves and each of them establishing its own basis and order, and partly by the principle itself losing its absolute character and validity, so that the holy norm degenerates into a human convention, or by the attachment to the absolute being reduced, avowedly or unavowedly, to a mere symbolic-ritual requirement, which may be adequately satisfied in the cultic sphere. (At the Turning, op. cit., ‘Judism and Civilization,’ pp. 11-15)

Once the spheres have become independent of the original principle of the civilization, ‘religion’ no longer means just the whole of one’s existence in its relation to the Absolute but a special domain of dogma and cult. ‘The original evil of all "religion," writes Buber, is ‘the separation of "living in God" from "living in the world."’ This separated religion is man’s greatest danger whether it manifests itself in the form of a cult in which sacramental forms are independent of everyday life or of a soul detached from life in devotional rapture and solitary relation with God. ‘The sacrament . . . misleads the faithful into feeling secure in a merely "objective" consummation without any personal participation.’ In such a service the real partner of the communion is no longer present. Similarly, when the soul cuts itself off from the world, God is displaced by a figment of the soul itself: the dialogue which the soul thinks it is carrying on ‘is only a monologue with divided roles,’ (Hasidism, ‘Spinoza,’ pp. 104, 99 f., ‘Symbolical Existence in Judaism,’ p. 132.)

This dualism between the life of the spirit and the life of the world was already present in biblical Judaism, but it gained still greater ground in Christianity because of the latter’s surrender of the concept of a ‘holy people’ for that of personal holiness. ‘Those who believed in Christ possessed at every period a twofold being: as individuals in the realm of the person and as participants in the public life of their nations.’ Although ‘in the history of Christian peoples there has been no lack of men of the spirit afire and ready for martyrdom in the struggle for righteousness,’ the norm of realizing the religion in all aspects of social existence can no longer occupy a central place. As a result it is made easy for the secular law to gain ever more ground at the expense of the religious. At the point at which the public sphere encroaches disastrously on the personal, as it does in our time, ‘the disparity between the sanctification of the individual and the accepted unholiness of his community’ is transferred to an inner contradiction in the redeemed soul. (Eclipse of God, ‘Religion and Ethics,’ pp. 138-141; Two Types of Faith, op. cit., p. 173.)

The apocalyptic element in religion also tends to lead to a dualism between the secular and the religious. The eschatological expectation of the imminent rule of God leads to a desire to do away with law in the name of the divine freedom which is or will be directly present in all creatures without need of law or representation. As soon as this expectation slackens, ‘it follows historically that God’s rule is restricted to the "religious" sphere, everything that is left over is rendered unto Caesar; and the rift which runs through the whole being of the human world receives its sanction.’ This dualism enters deeply into Paul’s essentially Gnostic view of the world. It is also found in Judaism, where the autochthonous prophetic belief is opposed by an apocalyptic one built up out of elements from Iranian dualism. The one ‘promises a consummation of creation,’ the other ‘its abrogation and suppression by another world completely different in nature.’

The prophetic allows ‘the evil’ to find the direction that leads toward God, and to enter into the good; the apocalyptic sees good and evil severed forever at the end of days, the good redeemed, the evil unredeemable for all eternity; the prophetic believes that the earth shall be hallowed, the apocalyptic despairs of an earth which it considers to be hopelessly doomed.... (Moses, p.188; Israel and the World, ‘The Power of the Spirit,’ pp. 176-179.)

The prophetic and Hasidic belief in the hallowing of the earth also stands in contrast to the pagan world’s glorification of the elemental forces and the Christian world’s conquest of them. Christianity, through its ascetic emphasis, desanctified the elemental and created a world alien to spirit and a spirit alien to world. ‘Even when Christianity includes the natural life in its sacredness, as in the sacrament of marriage, the bodily life is not hallowed, but merely made subservient to holiness.’ The result has been a split between the actual and the ideal, between life as it is lived and life as it should be lived. (Israel and the World, ‘The Power of the Spirit,’ pp. 176-179)

All historical religion must fight the tendency of metaphysics, gnosis, magic, and politics to become independent of the religious life of the person, and it must also fight the tendency of myth and cult to aid them in this attempt. What is threatened by these extra-religious elements is the lived concrete -- the moment ‘in its unforeseeableness and . . . irrecoverableness . . . its undivertible character of happening but once.’ The lived concrete is also threatened by those religious elements that destroy the concreteness of the memory of past moments of meeting with God that have been preserved in religious tradition -- theology, which makes temporal facts into timeless symbols, and mysticism, which dilutes and weakens the images of memory by proclaiming all experience accessible at once. (Eclipse of God, ‘Religion and Philosophy,’ p. 48 f.; Martin Buber, ‘Religion und Philosopie,’ Europäische Revue, Berlin, V [August 1929], p. 330 f.)

In the modern world the moment is expropriated and dispossessed in four different ways. Through the historicizing of the moment it is regarded as a pure product of the past. Through the technicizing of the moment it is treated as purely a means to a goal and hence as existing only in the future. Through the psychologizing of the moment its total content is reflected upon and reduced to a process or experience of the soul. Through the philosophizing of the moment it is abstracted from its reality. Modern life is divided into levels and aspects. Modern man enjoys erotic, aesthetic, political, and religious experiences independently of one another. As a result, religion is for him only one aspect of his life rather than its totality. The men of the Bible were sinners like us, says Buber, but they did not commit the arch sin of professing God in the synagogue and denying him in the sphere of economics, politics, and the ‘self-assertion’ of the group. Nor did they believe it possible to be honest and upright in private life and to lie in public for the sake of the commonwealth. (‘Religion und Philosophie,’ p. 334; Martin Huber, ‘Religion und Gottesherrschaft,’ a criticism of Leonhard Ragaz’s Weltreich, Religion und Gottesherrschaft. Frankfurter Zeitung, ‘Literaturblatt,’ No. 9, April 27, 1923; Israel and the World ‘The Man of Today and the Jewish Bible,’ p. 90 f., ‘And If Not Now, When?’ p. 235 f.,’Hebrew Humanism,’p. 246 f.; Des Baal-Schem-Tow Unterweisung, op. cit., p. 116 f.)

The dualistic character of our age is shown particularly clearly in its relation to work. In times when the relation with the Absolute enters into every sphere of existence men see meaning in their work, but in times like ours when life is divided into separate spheres men experience work as an inescapable compulsion. The nature of work itself is perverted in the modern world by the divorce of technical means from value ends, I-It from I-Thou. The modern industrial worker has to perform meaningless and mechanical work because of an inhuman utilization of human power without regard to the worthiness of the work performed. The modern worker divides his life into hours on a treadmill and hours of freedom from the treadmill, and the hours of freedom cannot compensate for the others for they are conditioned by them. To accept the treadmill and try to reduce working hours is merely to eternalize this condition. (Kampf um Israel, pp. 281, 277)

‘Man is in a growing measure sociologically determined,’ writes Buber. In the technical, economic, and political spheres of his existence he finds himself ‘in the grip of incomprehensible powers’ which trample again and again on all human purposes. This purposelessness of modern life is also manifested in the worship of freedom for its own sake. Modern vitalism and Lehensphilosophie have exchanged a life-drunk spirit for the detached intellect against which they reacted. Progressive education has tended to free the child’s creative impulses without helping him to acquire the personal responsibility which should accompany it. This sickness of modern man is manifested most clearly of all, however, in the individualism and nationalism which make power an end in itself. ‘Power without faithfulness is life without meaning,’ writes Buber. If a nation or civilization is not faithful to its basic principle, it can know no real fruitfulness or renewal. (Between Man and Man, ‘Dialogue,’ p. 39, ‘What Is Man?’, p. 158; Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, Die Schrift und ihren Verdeutschung (Berlin: Schocken Verlag, 1936), ‘Der Mensch von heute und die jüdische Bibel,’ p. 31 f., from a section of this essay of Buber’s which is not included in the translation in Israel and the World; Between Man and Man, ‘Education,’ p. 90 ff., ‘What Is Man?’, pp 150-153; Martin Buber, Die Stunde und die Erkenntnis, Reden und Aufsätze, 1933-1935 (Berlin: Schocken Verlag, 1936), pp. 16 f., 37 f.; Israel and the World, ‘Nationalism,’ pp. 216, 219 ff., 225; At the Turning, ‘Judaism and Civilization,’ p. 23 f., Two Types of Faith, p. 171; Israel und Palästina, op. cit., pp. 180 f., 12 [my translation].)

The inevitable result of the ‘will to power,’ whether on the national or individual level, is the tendency to use others as means to one’s end. This tendency is found not only in those governed by the ‘profit motive’ but also in the professional men who give others technical aid without entering into relationship with them. Help without mutuality is presumptuousness, writes Buber, it is an attempt to practise magic. The educator who tries to dominate or enjoy his pupils ‘stifles the growth of his blessing,’ and it is the same with the doctor and the psychotherapist: ‘As soon as the helper is touched by the desire, in however subtle a form, to dominate or to enjoy his patient, or to treat the latter’s wish to be dominated or enjoyed by him as other than a wrong condition needing to be cured, the danger of falsification arises, beside which all quackery appears peripheral.’ The writer and observer of life who associates with people out of ulterior motives and the ‘religious’ man who forgets his relation with God in his striving to attain higher and higher spiritual levels are subtler examples still of the will to power. (Between Man and Man, ‘Education,’ p. 94 f.; For the Sake of Heaven, pp. 140 f. 216. The sentence on presumptuousness is from a lecture on the belief in rebirth given by Buber at Amersfoort in the summer of 1925 and is quoted by Hans Trub in ‘J. C. Blumhardt über unheimliche Hilfe,’ Aus unbekannten Schriften, op. cit., p. 157)

Yet another product of the dualism of the modern age is the separation of means and ends and the belief that the end justifies the means. The essence of the essays that Buber has written on Zionism over a period of fifty years is the teaching that ‘no way leads to any other goal but to that which is like it.’ ‘It is only the sick understanding of this age that teaches that the goal can be reached through all the ways of the world.’ If the means that are used are not consistent with the goal that has been set, then this goal will be altered in the attainment. ‘What knowledge could be of greater importance to the men of our age, and to the various communities of our time,’ wrote Buber in 1947, than that ‘the use of unrighteousness as a means to a righteous end makes the end itself unrighteous?’ The person or community which seeks to use evil for the sake of good destroys its own soul in the process.

I sometimes hear it said that a generation must sacrifice itself, ‘take the sin upon itself,’ so that coming generations may be free to live righteously. But it is a self-delusion and folly to think that one can lead a dissolute life and raise one’s children to be good and happy; they will usually turn out to be hypocrites or tormented. (Kampf um Israel, pp. 425 f., 451; Die Stunde und die Erkenntnis, p. 126; Martin Buber, ‘Drei Sätze eines religiösen Sozialismus,’ Neue Wege, Zurich, XXII [1928], No. 718, p. 329, reprinted in Hinweise, op. cit., p. 259 ff., and to be published in Pointing the Way, op. cit.; Martin Buber, Zion als Ziel und Aufgabe [Berlin: Schocken Verlag, 1936], ‘Zum Geleit,’ p. 5; For the Sake of Heaven, pp. 58, 238 f, i56; Israel and the World, ‘What Are We to Do About the Ten Commandments?’, p. 68, ‘And If Not Now, When?’, p. 238.)

The use of evil for the sake of good not only produces inner division and dishonesty, it also betrays it, as Buber shows in his portrayal of the Seer in For the Sake of Heaven. If this divided motivation goes far enough, it may even lead to that Gnostic perversion which elevates evil into something holy in itself. The radical Sabbatians believed that they could redeem evil by performing it as if it were not evil, that is by preserving an inner intention of purity in contrast to the deed. ‘That is an illusion,’ writes Buber, ‘for all that man does reacts on his Soul, even when he fancies that his soul hovers over the deed.’ Buber Speaks of this revolt against the distinction between good and evil as ‘the lust for overrunning reality.’

Instead of making reality the starting point of life, full as it is of harsh contradictions, but for this very reason calling forth true greatness, namely the quiet work of overcoming the contradictions, man submits to illusion, becomes intoxicated with it, surrenders his life to it, and in the very measure in which he does this the core of his existence becomes burning and unfruitful, he becomes at once completely stimulated and in his motive power crippled.

This demonic ‘lust for overrunning reality’ is not simply a product of unbelief but a crisis within men’s souls, a crisis of temptation, freedom, and dishonesty:

These are the days in which people still fulfill the commandments, but with a soul squinting away from its own deeds.... Behind the demonic mask people fancy to behold the countenance of God’s freedom; they do not allow themselves to be deluded by those temptations, but neither do they drive them away.... The realms are overthrown, everything encroaches upon everything else, and possibility is more powerful than reality. (Hasidism, ‘The Foundation Stone,’ pp. 39, 49.)

The fascination with the demonic in modern literature, the tendency of many to turn psychoanalysis or ‘psychodrama’ into a cult of self-realization, and the illusory belief that personal fulfillment can come through ‘release’ of one’s deep inward energies all show the peculiarly modern relevance of the ‘crisis of temptation and dishonesty’ which Buber describes. In Carl Jung’s teaching, for example, the integrated soul ‘dispenses with the conscience as the court which distinguishes and decides between right and wrong. ‘The precondition for this integration is the "’liberation from those desires, ambitions, and passions which imprison us in the visible world," through "intelligent fulfillment of instinctive demands."’ What this means becomes clear through Jung’s statement that it is necessary to succumb ‘in part’ to evil in order that the unification of good and evil may take place. Jung thus resumes, under the guise of psychotherapy, the Gnostic motif ‘of mystically deifying the instincts.’ (Eclipse of God, ‘Religion and Modern Thinking,’ pp. 112-121, ‘Reply to C. G. Jung,’ p. 176.)

What lends especial impetus to the various psychological and theosophical cults through which the individual seeks to overrun reality in the modern world is the dualism in the soul of modern man.

In this man the sphere of the spirit and the sphere of impulse have fallen apart more markedly than ever before. He perceives with apprehension that an unfruitful and powerless remoteness from life is threatening the separated spirit, and he perceives with horror that the repressed and banished impulses are threatening to destroy his soul. (Between Man and Man, What Is Man?, p. 187)

In the philosophical anthropology of Max Scheler, as in the Freudian psychoanalysis from which it in part derives, this division of spirit and impulse is regarded as basic to man’s nature. In Buber’s opinion this is a mistaken identification of the state of modern man with the state of man in general. The ‘central significance of repression and sublimation in Freud’s system,’ derives from the pathological condition of modern man and is valid in terms of it. Modern man is sick in his very soul, and this sickness springs, in its turn, from his sickness in his relations to others. Freud’s categories are of importance precisely because of the decay of organic community, the disappearance of real togetherness in our modern world.

Where confidence reigns man must often, indeed, adapt his wishes to the commands of his community; but he must not repress them to such an extent that the repression acquires a dominating significance for his life.... Only if the organic community disintegrates from within does the repression acquire its dominating importance. The unaffectedness of wishing is stained by mistrust, everything around is hostile or can become hostile, agreement between one’s own and the other s desire ceases . . . and the dulled wishes creep hopelessly into the recesses of the soul.... Now there is no longer a human wholeness with the force and the courage to manifest itself. For spirit to arise the energy of the repressed instincts must mostly first be ‘sublimated,’ the traces of its origin cling to the spirit and it can mostly assert itself against the instincts only by convulsive alienation. The divorce between spirit and instincts is here, as often, the consequence of the divorce between man and man. (Ibid., pp. 185-197.)

Vital dissociation is the sickness of the peoples of our age, writes Buber, and this sickness is only apparently healed by forcing people together in centralized states and collectivities. The price which the modern world has paid for the liberation of the French Revolution has been the decay of those organic forms of life which enabled men to live in direct relation with one another and which gave men security, connection, and a feeling of being at home in the-world. These organic forms -- the family, union in work, and the community in village and town -- were based on a vital tradition which has now been lost. Despite the outward preservation of some of the old forms, the inward decay has resulted in an intensification of man’s solitude and a destruction of his security. In their place new community forms have arisen which have attempted to bring the individual into relation with others; but these forms, such as the club, the trade union, and the party, ‘have not been able to re-establish the security which has been destroyed,’ ‘since they have no access to the life of society itself and its foundations: production and consumption.’ (Die Stunde und die Erkenntnis, p. 121 f; Between Man and Man, ‘What Is Man?’ p. 157 f.; Paths in Utopia, op. cit., p. 139.)

The corollary of this decay of organic forms is the growing difficulty of genuine conversation, ‘and most especially of genuine conversation between men of different kinds and convictions.’ ‘Direct, open dialogue is becoming ever more difficult and more rare, the abysses between man and man threaten ever more pitilessly to become unbridgeable.’ This difficulty of conversation is particularly discernible in the dominance of ‘false dialogue,’ or ‘monologue disguised as dialogue.’ In false dialogue the participants do not really have each other in mind, or they have each other in mind only as general and abstracted opponents and not as particular beings. There is no real turning to the other, no real desire to establish mutuality. ‘Technical dialogue’ too is false dialogue because it ‘is prompted solely by the need of objective understanding and has no real concern with the other person as a person. It belongs, writes Buber in one of his rare notes of sarcasm, ‘to the inalienable sterling quality of "modern existence."’ It is for monologue that disguises itself as dialogue, however, that Buber reserves his full scorn. Here men have the illusion of getting beyond themselves when actually each speaks only with himself. This type of ‘dialogue’ is characteristic of our intensely social age in which men are more alone than ever before.

A debate in which the thoughts are not expressed in the way in which they existed in the mind but in the speaking are so pointed that they may strike home in the sharpest way, and moreover without the men that are spoken to being regarded in any way present as persons; a conversation characterized by the need neither to communicate something, nor to learn something, nor to innuence someone, nor to come into connexion with someone, but solely by the desire to have one’s own self-reliance confirmed by making the impression that is made, or if it has become unsteady to have it strengthened; a friendly chat in which each regards himself as absolute and legitimate and the other as relativized and questionable; a lovers’ talk in which both partners alike enjoy their own glorious soul and their precious experience -- what an underworld of faceless spectres of dialogue! (Martin Buber, ‘Hope for This Hour,’ an address translated by me and given by Buber at a tribute for him at Carnegie Hall, New York, April 6, 1952, published in World Review, December 1952; Between Man and Man, ‘Dialogue,’ p. 19 f.)

By far the largest part of what is called conversation today would be more correctly described as talk. In general, people do not really speak to one another. Each turns to the other, to be sure, but he speaks in reality to a fictitious audience which exists only to listen to him. The understanding of true conversation is so rare in our time that one imagines that one can arrange a genuine dialogue before a public of interested spectators with the assistance of proper publicity. But a public debate, on no matter how high a level, can neither be spontaneous, direct, nor unreserved. Such public discussion is unbridgeably separate from genuine dialogue. It is much closer to propaganda, which seeks to win the individual over for a cause. To propaganda the individual as such is always burdensome. Its only concern is more members, more followers, a larger supporting base. Propaganda means mastering the other through depersonalizing him. It is variously combined with coercion, supplementing or replacing it according to need and prospect, but ultimately it is itself nothing other than sublimated coercion, invisibly applied. It sets the soul under a pressure which still allows the illusion of autonomy.

Almost all that one understands in our time as specifically modern stands in opposition to the awareness of one’s fellow as a whole, single, and unique person, even if, in most cases, a defectively developed one. In the modern age an analytic, reductive, and derivative glance predominates between man and man. It is analytic, or rather pseudoanalytic, because it treats the whole body-soul being as composite in nature and hence as dissectible -- not the so-called unconscious alone, which is susceptible to a relative objectification, but also the psychic stream itself, which can never in reality be adequately grasped as an object. This glance is reductive because it wishes to reduce the manifold person, nourished by the microcosmic fullness of possibility, to a schematically surveyable and generally repetitive structure. And it is derivative because it hopes to grasp what a man has become, and even his becoming itself, in genetic formulas, because it tries to replace the individual dynamic central principle of this becoming by a general concept. Today a radical dissolution of all mystery is aspired to between man and man. Personality, that incessantly near mystery which was once the motive-ground for the stillest inspiration, is levelled out. (‘Elements of the Interhuman,’ op. cit., sections 2, 4, 5.)

Corresponding to the absence of genuine dialogue between men is the absence of real communication between peoples of different situations and points of view. ‘The human world,’ Buber wrote in 1952, ‘is today, as never before, split into two camps, each of which understands the other as the embodiment of falsehood and itself as the embodiment of truth.’ Man not only thinks his principle true and the opposing one false, as in earlier epochs, but he now believes ‘that he is concerned with the recognition and realization of right, his opponent with the masking of his selfish interest.’ The mistrust that reigns between the two camps has been decisively enhanced by the theory of ‘ideology’ which has become prevalent through the influence of Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. This theory consists of seeing through and unmasking the other in terms of individual psychology or sociology. One assumes that the other dissembles of necessity and looks for the unconscious motive, ‘complex,’ or group interest that clothes itself in his seemingly objective judgment. These psychological and sociological theories of ‘seeing through’ have again and again fallen into the boundless simplification of reducing man to the newly discovered elements instead of inserting these elements into man’s total structure. As a result, the mistrust between man and man has become in a double sense existential.

It is, first of all, no longer only the uprightness, the honesty of the other which is in question, but the inner agreement of his existence itself. Secondly, this mistrust not only destroys trustworthy conversation between opponents but also the immediacy of togetherness of man and man generally. (‘Hope for This Hour,’ Pointing the Way, pp. 220-229.)

The result of this progressive decline of dialogue and growth of universal mistrust is that man’s need for confirmation no longer finds any natural satisfaction. Man seeks confirmation either through himself or through membership in a collective, but both of these confirmations are illusory. He whom no fellow-man confirms must endeavour to restore his self-confirmation’ with ever more convulsive exertions . . . and finally he knows himself as inevitably abandoned.’ Confirmation is by its very nature a reciprocal process: the man who does not confirm his fellow-man will not only receive no confirmation from others but will find it increasingly difficult to confirm himself. ‘Confirmation through the collective, on the other hand, is pure fiction.’ Though the collective employs each of its members in terms of his particular ability and character, it ‘cannot recognize anyone in his own being and therefore independently of his usefulness for the collective.’ (‘Hope for This Hour.’ Cf. Images of Good and Evil, op. cit., p. 77.)

These two types of illusory confirmation correspond to the false dichotomy which dominates our age, that between individualism and collectivism. Despite their apparent opposition, the individualist and the collectivist are actually alike in that neither knows true personal wholeness or true responsibility. The individualist acts out of arbitrary self-will and in consequence is completely defined and conditioned by circumstances. The collectivist acts in terms of the collectivity and in so doing loses his ability to perceive and to respond from the depths of his being. Neither can attain any genuine relation with others, for one cannot be a genuine person in individualism or collectivism, and ‘there is genuine relation only between genuine persons.’ (Between Man and Man, ‘The Question to the Single One,’ p. 80 f., ‘What Is Man?’, p. 200 ff.)

Collectivism is the greater danger to the modern world. Whether in the form of totalitarianism or of self-effacing loyalty to political parties, it represents the desire of this age to fly ‘from the demanding "ever anew"’ of personal responsibility ‘into the protective "once for all"’ of membership in a group. ‘The last generation’s intoxication with freedom has been followed by the present generation’s craze for bondage; the untruth of intoxication has been followed by the untruth of hysteria.’

Today host upon host of men have everywhere sunk into the slavery of collectives, and each collective is the supreme authority for its own slaves; there is no longer, superior to the collectives, any universal sovereignty in idea, faith or spirit. (Ibid., ‘The Question to the Single One,’ p. 70, ‘The Education of Character,’)

Collectivism is typical of our age in giving the appearance but not the reality of relation, for in our age the great hopes and dreams of mankind have been fulfilled one after another -- ‘as the caricature of themselves.’ Collectivism imperils ‘the immeasurable value which constitutes man,’ for it destroys the dialogue between man and God and the living communion between man and man.

Man in a collective is not man with man.... The ‘whole,’ with its claim on the wholeness of every man, aims logically and successfully at reducing, neutralizing, devaluating, and desecrating every bond with living beings. That tender surface of personal life which longs for contact with other life is progressively deadened or desensitized. Man’s isolation is not overcome here, but overpowered and numbed.... The actual condition of solitude has its insuperable effect in the depths, and rises secretly to a cruelty which will become manifest with the scattering of the illusion. Modern collectivism is the last barrier raised by man against a meeting with himself. (Die Stunde und die Erkenntnis, p. 126 f.; Between Man and Man, ‘The Question to the Single One,’ p. 80 f., ‘What Is Man?’, p. 201).

‘We experience this not only as an hour of the heaviest affliction,’ Buber wrote in 1952, ‘but also as one that appears to give no essentially different outlook for the future, no prospect of a time of radiant and full living.’ (‘Hope For this Hour’) With each new crisis in man’s image of the universe ‘the original contract between the universe and man is dissolved and man finds himself a stranger and solitary in the world.’ As a result of this insecurity, man questions not only the universe and his relation to it, but himself. Today, writes Buber, ‘the question about man’s being faces us as never before in all its grandeur and terror -- no longer in philosophical attire but in the nakedness of existence.’ (Between Man and Man, ‘What Is Man?’, pp. 132 f. 145.) In other eras of cosmic insecurity there was still ‘a social certainty’ resulting from ‘living in real togetherness’ in ‘a small organic community.’ Modern man, in contrast, is homeless both in the universe and in the community. Our modern crisis, as a result, is the most deep-reaching and comprehensive in history. (Ibid.,p. 196 f.) In it the two aspects of social and cosmic insecurity have merged into a loss of confidence in human existence as such:

The existential mistrust is indeed basically no longer, like the old kind, a mistrust of my fellow-man. It is rather the destruction of confidence in existence in general. That we can no longer carry on a genuine conversation from one camp to the other is the severest symptom of the sickness of present-day man. existential mistrust is this sickness itself. But the destruction of trust in human existence is the inner poisoning of the total human organism from which this sickness stems. (‘Hope for This Hour.’)

The loss of confidence in human existence also means a loss of trust in God. ‘At its core the conflict between mistrust and trust of man conceals the conflict between mistrust and trust of eternity.’ In the way leading from one age of solitude to the next, ‘each solitude is colder and stricter than the preceding, and salvation from it more difficult.’ It is only in our time, however, that man has reached a condition in which ‘he can no longer stretch his hands out from his solitude to meet a divine form.’ This inability to reach out to God is at the basis of Nietzsche’s saying, ‘God is dead.’ ‘Apparently nothing more remains now to the solitary man but to seek an intimate communication with himself.’ Modern man is imprisoned in his subjectivity and cannot discern ‘the essential difference between all subjectivity and that which transcends it.’ (Ibid., Between Man and Man, ‘What Is Man?’, p. 167; Eclipse of God, ‘Religion and Reality,’ p. 33.)

This mounting spiral of subjectivism has manifested itself most clearly in the progressive relativizing of all values.

The conspicuous tendency of our age . . . is not, as is sometimes supposed, directed merely against the sanctioning of . . . norms by religion, but against their universal character and absolute validity . . . their claim to be of a higher order than man and to govern the whole of mankind. In our age values and norms are not permitted to be anything but expressions of the life of a group which translates its own need into the language of objective claims, until at last the group itself ... is raised to an absolute value.... Then this splitting up into groups so pervades the whole of life that it is no longer possible to re-establish a sphere of values common to mankind. (Between Man and Man, ‘The Education of Character,’ p. 108 ff., ‘The Question to the Single One,’ p. 81 f.)

The roots of this relativism lie in part in the philosophy which ‘seeks to unmask the spiritual world as a system of deceptions and self-deceptions, of "ideologies" and "sublimations."’ Buber traces the development of this philosophy through Feuerbach and Vico to Marx, who made the distinction between good and evil a function of the class struggle, and Nietzsche, who, ‘like Marx, saw historical morals as the expression and instruments of the power struggle between ruling and oppressed classes.’ (Eclipse of God, ‘Religion and Ethics,’ pp. 141-14)

Sartre accepts Nietzsche’s cry ‘God is dead,’ as a valid statement of fact. Recognizing, like Nietzsche, that ‘all possibility of discovering absolute values has disappeared with God,’ Sartre adopts as his own Dostoievsky’s phrase, ‘all is permitted’ to man. Since "’life has no meaning a priori . . . it is up to you to give it a meaning, and value is nothing else than this meaning which you choose."’ But, Buber points out, this is just what one cannot do. The very nature of value as that which gives man direction depends on the fact that it is not arbitrarily invented or chosen but is discovered in man’s meeting with being. (Ibid., ‘Religion and Modern Thinking,’ pp. 88, 93 f. [Cf. Jean Paul Sartre, L’Existentialisme est un Humanisme, pp. 33, 89].) Because value guides man in the process of becoming what he is not, it cannot be derived from what he is. Sartre’s concept of the free invention of meaning and value is reminiscent of Buber’s second stage of evil in which ‘truth’ and ‘good’ are what the individual ordains as such.

Subjectivism dominates not only the attitude of our age toward values but modern thinking in general. In the progress of its philosophizing the human spirit is ever more inclined to regard the absolute which it contemplates as having been produced by itself, the spirit that thinks it: ‘Until, finally, all that is over against us, everything that accosts us and takes possession of us, all partnership of existence, is dissolved in free-floating subjectivity.’ In the next age, which is the modern one, the human spirit annihilates conceptually the absoluteness of the absolute. Although the spirit may imagine that it still remains ‘as bearer of all things and coiner of all values,’ it has annihilated its own absoluteness as well. ‘Spirit’ is now only a product of human individuals ‘which they contain and secrete like mucus and urine.’ (Ibid., ‘God and the Spirit of Man’ p. 159 ff.)

In these two stages we can recognize idealism and the various types of modern relativism which have succeeded it -- immanentism, psychologism, historicism, naturalism, and materialism. What is in question in this process is not just atheism. The traditional term ‘God’ is preserved in many cases ‘for the sake of its profound overtones.’ But this ‘God’ is utterly unlike the traditional conception of God as an absolute that transcends man. ‘Specifically modern thought can no longer endure a God who is not confined to man’s subjectivity, who is not merely a "supreme value."’ It seeks ‘to preserve the idea of the divine as the true concern of religion’ and at the same time ‘to destroy the reality of the idea of God and thereby also the reality of our relation to Him.’ ‘This is done in many ways,’ writes Buber, ‘overtly and covertly, apodictically and hypothetically, in the language of metaphysics and of psychology.’ (Ibid., ‘Religion and Reality,’ pp. 28, 32, 26.)

Even more eloquent than Nietzsche’s proclamation that God is dead, writes Buber, are the attempts to fill the now-empty horizon. Heidegger, for example, intimates that after our present imageless era -- the era in which ‘God is dead’ -- a new procession of divine images may begin. But he does not hold, says Buber, that man will again experience and accept his real encounters with the divine as such. (Eclipse of God, ‘Religion and Reality,’ pp. 27-34.) What brings about the reappearance of the divine, in Heidegger’s view, is human thought about truth; for being, to Heidegger, attains its illumination through the destiny and history of man. ‘He whose appearance can be effected or co-effected through such a modern-magical influence,’ writes Buber ‘clearly has only the name in common with Him whom we men, basically in agreement despite all the differences in our religious teachings, address as God.’ Heidegger ends, Buber points out, by allying to his own historical hour this clarification of the thought of being to which he has ascribed the power to make ready for the sunrise of the holy. "’History exists,"’ writes Heidegger, "’only when the essence of truth is originally decided."’ Yet the hour that he has affirmed as history in this sense is none other than that of Hitler and the Nazis, ‘the very same hour whose problematics in its most inhuman manifestation led him astray.’ When Heidegger proclaims Hitler as "’the present and future German reality and its law,"’ writes Buber, ‘history no longer stands, as in all believing times, under divine judgment, but it itself, the unappealable, assigns to the Coming One his way.’ (Ibid., Religion and Modern Thinking,’ pp. 94-97, 99-103.) Here again we are reminded of the absolute self-affirmation of the second stage of evil!

In modern philosophy of religion the I of the I-It relation steps ever more into the foreground as the ‘subject’ of ‘religious feeling,’ the ‘profiter from a pragmatist decision to believe.’ Even more important than this is the subjectivizing of the act of faith itself, for this latter has penetrated to the innermost depth of the religious life. This subjectivization threatens the spontaneous turning toward the Presence with which the man who prays formerly overcame what distracted his attention. ‘The overconsciousness of this man here that he is praying, that he is praying, that he is praying . . . depossesses the moment, takes away its spontaneity.’ His subjectivity enters into the midst of his statement of trust and disturbs his relation with the Absolute. (Ibid., ‘God and the Spirit of Man,’ p. 162 ff.)

When he has to interpret his encounters with God as self-encounters, ‘man’s very structure is destroyed,’ writes Buber. ‘This is the portent of the present hour.’ (Ibid., ‘Religion and Reality’ pp. 21, 32 f.)

In our age the I-It relation, gigantically swollen, has usurped, practically uncontested, the mastery and the rule. The I of this relation, an I that possesses all, makes all, succeeds with all, this I that is unable to say Thou, unable to meet a being essentially, is the lord of the hour. This selfhood that has become omnipotent, with all the It around it, can naturally acknowledge neither God nor any genuine absolute which manifests itself to men as of nonhuman origin. It steps in between and shuts off from us the light of heaven. (Ibid., ‘God and the Spirit of Man’ p. 165 ff.)

‘Eclipse of the light of heaven, eclipse of God,’ this is, as Buber sees it, ‘the character of the historical hour through which the world is passing.’ This eclipse is not taking place in human subjectivity ‘but in Being itself.’ It is the human side of ‘the silence of God,’ of ‘God’s hiding His face.’ (Ibid., ‘Religion and Reality’ pp. 21, 32 f.)

‘He who refuses to submit himself to the effective reality of the transcendence,’ writes Buber, ‘. . . contributes to the human responsibility for the eclipse.’ This does not mean that man can effect ‘the death of God.’ Even if there is no longer ‘a God of man,’ He who is denoted by the name ‘lives intact’ in the light of His eternity. ‘But we, "the slayers," remain dwellers in darkness, consigned to death.’ Thus the real meaning of the proclamation that God is ‘dead’ is ‘that man has become incapable of apprehending a reality absolutely independent of himself and of having a relation with it.’ Heidegger is right in saying that we can no longer image God, but this is not a lack in man’s imagination. ‘The great images of God . .’: are born not of imagination but of real encounters with real divine power and glory.’ Man’s power to glimpse God with his being’s eye yields no images since God eludes direct contemplation, but it is from it that all images and representations are born. When the I of the I-It relation comes in between man and God, this glance is no longer possible, and, as a result, the image-making power of the human heart declines. ‘Man’s capacity to apprehend the divine in images is lamed in the same measure as is his capacity to experience a reality absolutely independent of himself.’ (Ibid, ‘Religion and Reality,’ pp. 34 f., 22, ‘God and the Spirit of Man,’ p. 164 f. ‘On the Suspension of the Ethical,’ p. 154 f.) In all past times men had, stored away in their hearts, images of the Absolute, ‘partly pallid, partly crude, altogether false and yet true....’ These images helped to protect them from the deception of the voices. This protection no longer exists now that ‘God is dead,’ now that the ‘spiritual pupil’ cannot catch a glimpse of the appearance of the Absolute.

False absolutes rule over the soul which is no longer able to put them to flight through the image of the true.... In the realm of Moloch honest men lie and compassionate men torture. And they really and truly believe that brother-murder will prepare the way for brotherhood I There appears to be no escape from the most evil of all idolatry. (Ibid., ‘On the Suspension of the Ethical,’ pp. 149-156.)

The most terrible consequence of the eclipse is the silence of God -- the loss of the sense of God’s nearness. ‘It seems senseless to turn to Him who, if He is here, will not trouble Himself about us; it seems hopeless to will to penetrate to Him who may . . . perhaps be the soul of the universe but not our Father.’ When history appears to be empty of God, ‘with nowhere a beckoning of His finger,’ it is difficult for an individual and even more for a people to understand themselves as addressed by God. ‘The experience of concrete answerability recedes more and more . . . man unlearns taking the relationship between God and himself seriously in the dialogic sense.’ During such times the world seems to be irretrievably abandoned to the forces of tyranny. In the image of Psalm 82, the world is given over by God to judges who ‘judge unjustly’ and ‘lift up the face of the wicked.’ This situation is nowhere more clearly described in modern literature than in the novels of Franz Kafka: ‘His unexpressed, ever-present theme,’ writes Buber, ‘is the remoteness of the judge, the remoteness of the lord of the castle, the hiddenness, the eclipse....’ Kafka describes the human world as given over to the meaningless government of a slovenly bureaucracy without possibility of appeal: ‘From the hopelessly strange Being who gave this world into their impure hands, no message of comfort or promise penetrates to us. He is, but he is not present.’ (For the Sake of Heaven, p. 116, At the Turning, p. 58 ff.; Right and Wrong, ‘Judgment on the Judges’ (Psalm 82), pp. 30-33; Two Types of Faith, pp. 165-168.)

Not only Kafka, the unredeemed Jew, but even the redeemed Christian soul becomes aware in our day of the eclipse of the light of God, ‘of the still unredeemed concreteness of the human world in all its horror.’ Nothing in our time has so confirmed Kafka’s view or made the silence of God appear so terrifying as the concentration camps of Nazi Germany in which millions of human beings were systematically and scientifically exterminated as if they were insects. Never has the world appeared so forsaken, so engulfed in utter darkness.

How is a life with God still possible in a time in which there is an Oswiecim? The estrangement has become too cruel, the hiddenness too deep. One can still ‘believe in the God who allowed these things to happen,’ but can one still speak to Him? Can one still hear His word? . . . Dare we recommend to . . . the Job of the gas chambers: ‘Call to Him; for He is kind, for His mercy endureth forever’? (Two Types of Faith, pp. 162 f., 166 f.; At the Turning, p. 61.)

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