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 23: Social Philosophy
Modern man is insecure and repressed -- isolated from his fellows yet desperately clinging to the collectivity which he trusts to protect him from the might of other collectivities. Divided within himself into instincts and spirit, repressions and sublimations, he finds himself incapable of direct relation with his fellows either as individuals in the body-politic or as fellow members of a community. The tremendous collective power with which he allies himself gives him neither relationship nor freedom from fear but makes his life a sterile alternation between universal war and armed peace. The modern crisis is thus a crisis both of the individual and of society at large.
Though many social reformers of the last century have recognized the double character of this crisis, few of them have really faced the problem in both of its aspects. Some have argued that it is necessary to change society first and that this change will in itself produce a change in the individual. Others have said that we must start with the individual and that change in individuals will inevitably result in changed social relationships and a new pattern of society. Martin Buber has refused to fall into this dilemma as he has refused the either-or of individualism and collectivism. In both cases he has resolved the tension between the two poles through a creative third alternative -- the relation between man and man. This relation takes place not only in the I-Thou of direct meeting but also in the We of community. Similarly, it must be based not only on the personal wholeness of the individual but also on a social restructuring of society. Relation is the true starting-point for personal integration and wholeness and for the transformation of society, and these in turn make possible ever greater relation.
Both moral and social philosophy are basically determined by whether one believes the individual, the organic group, or the dialogue between man and man to be of basic reality and value. For the radical individualist, both interpersonal relations and society can be nothing but the sum of separate individuals. For those who make society the basic reality, on the other hand, the individual is only a derivative reality and value. For these latter, also, the relations between individuals are essentially indirect, mediated through their common relationship to society. For the dialogical philosopher, however, both the individual and society exist as reality and value but they are derived from the basic reality of the meeting between man and man. Thus for him the ‘individual’ and ‘society’ are abstractions which must not be taken for reality itself.
The individual is a fact of existence in so far as he steps into a living relation with other individuals. The aggregate is a fact of existence in so far as it is built up of living units of relation. (Between Man and Man, ‘What is Man?’, p. 202 f.)
Buber designates a category of ‘the essential We’ to correspond on the level of the relation to a host of men to the ‘essential Thou on the level of self-being.’ As the primitive Thou precedes the consciousness of individual separateness whereas the essential Thou follows and grows out of this consciousness, so the primitive We precedes true individuality and independence whereas the essential We only comes about when independent people have come together in essential relation and directness. The essential We includes the Thou potentially, for ‘only men who are capable of truly saying Thou to one another can truly say We with one another.’ Through this essential We and only through it can man escape from the impersonal ‘one’ of the nameless, faceless crowd. ‘A man is truly saved from the "one" not by separation but only by being bound up in genuine communion.’ (Ibid., p. 175 ff.)
There is, of course, a reality of society which is something more than a complex pattern of dialogical relationships. Buber himself warns against blurring the distinction between the ‘social’ in general and the togetherness of true dialogue. In 1905 Buber used the term ‘das Zwischenmenschliche’ (a now familiar expression which he was the first to employ) as the social-psychological in general, ‘the life of men together in all its forms and actions,’ ‘the social seen as a psychological process.’ Half a century later he restricted the use of the term to that in human life which provides the basis for direct dialogical relations. In distinction to it he now set the sphere of the ‘social’ in which many individual existences are bound into a group with common experiences and reactions but without any personal relation necessarily existing between one person and another within the group. There are contacts, especially within the life of smaller groups, which frequently favour personal relationships, and not seldom, also, make them more difficult. But in no case does membership in the group already involve an essential relation between one member and another. What is more, the direction of groups in general, at least in the later periods of human history, has been toward the suppression of the elements of personal relation in favour of the elements of pure collectivity. (Introduction by Martin Buber to the first edition of Werner Sombart’s Das Proletariat [Frankfurt am Main: Rütten & Loening, 1906], the first volume of Die Gesellschaft, a collection of forty social-psychological monographs edited by Martin Buber from 1906 to 1912. Quoted in Kohn, Martin Buber, op. cit., pp. 310-313 [Footnote 2 to p. 89]; ‘Elements of the Interhuman,’ op. cit., section 1, ‘The Social and the Interhuman.’)
The structure of modern society makes true dialogue difficult, and the tremendous force of social and psychological conditioning often brings society close to that deterministic and organic social structure that many accept as reality. But it is precisely here that the ethical question enters in most forcefully. If the basic reality and value is the organic group, then there is nothing to be done about this condition, and what is is what ought to be. If, on the other hand, the basic reality and value is the concrete dialogical relations between men, then there is a vital necessity for a restructuring of society that will enable the relations between men to be of a more genuinely dialogical nature. For this reason Buber has called for a socialist restructuring of society into a community of communities, and for this reason also he has stressed the danger of the confusion between the ‘social’ and the ‘political’ principles and the need for transforming the political, in so far as possible, into the social sphere.
The ‘social principle,’ for Buber, means the dialogical while the ‘political’ means the necessary and ordered realm of the world of It. The former means free fellowship and association, the latter compulsion and domination. (Martin Buber, ‘Society and the State,’ World Review, May 1951, New Series 27, p. 5.) A social restructuring of society is necessary, in Buber’s opinion, because capitalism is inherently poor in organic community and is becoming poorer every day. Marxist socialism cannot remedy this poverty of structure because its means -- unity and centralization -- are entirely unlike and cannot possibly lead to its ultimate ends -- multiplicity and freedom. Both the Marxist movement and the Soviet regime have constantly subordinated the evolution of a new social form to political action. They have oscillated in practice between radical centralization and tolerance of relative decentralization (in the form of producer Soviets and compulsory co-operatives when these served a political purpose), but they have never put the social principle above the political nor attempted to realize Marx’s dictum that the new society will be gestated in the womb of the old. True socialism, in contrast, summons the reality of community from out of the depths of a people where it lies hidden and undeveloped underneath the incrustations of the state. Communal living grows most easily out of closeness of people in mode of life, language, tradition, and common memories. There is, for this reason, a legitimate connection between the nation and socialism which supports rather than obstructs the international character of socialism as a force for world unity and peace. Socialism based on the political principle starts from the top with an abstract and uniform political order. Socialism based on the social principle starts at the bottom and discovers those elements of genuine community which are capable of development. ‘True socialism is real community between men, direct life-relations between I and Thou, just society and fellowship.’ (Paths in Utopia, op. cit., pp. 13 f., 48 f., 56, 98 f., 118, 124 f.; Kampf um Israel op. cit., p. 291.)
The social restructuring of society cannot take place as a result of the blind working of economic forces or success in production. It demands a consciousness and will -- setting a goal and demanding extraordinary efforts in order to reach that goal. This goal is based on the longing for ‘rightness’ -- the vision of perfection that in religious expectation takes the form of Messianism -- perfection in time and in social expectation the form of Utopia -- perfection in space. The Utopian systems that grow out of this longing for social rightness are by no means essentially the same, for they tend to two opposite forms. One is ‘schematic fiction’ which starts from a theory of the nature of man and deduces a social order which shall employ all man’s capacities and satisfy all his needs. The other undertakes to transform contemporary man and his conditions on the basis of an impartial and undogmatic understanding of both. This latter form is aware of the diversity and contrariety of the trends of the age and tries to discover which of these trends are aiming at an order in which the contradictions of existing society will truly be overcome. (Paths in Utopia, pp. 11 f., 26, 58 f,)
This latter, according to Buber, is genuine ‘Utopian’ socialism. If it does not expect blind providence to save man through technical and material change, neither does it trust to a ‘free-ranging human intellect which contrives systems of absolute validity.’ True community can only be built if it satisfies a situation and not an abstraction. For this reason the movement to community must be ‘topical,’ that is, growing out of the needs of a given situation and realizing itself to the greatest possible degree here and now. At the same time this local and topical realization must be nothing but a point of departure for the larger goal of organic cells unified in a restructured society. (Ibid., pp. 26, 81,134)
The reconstruction of society can only begin, writes Buber, with ‘a radical alteration of the relationship between the social and the political order.’ The state must cease to be a machina machinarum which ‘strangles the individuality of small associations’ and must become instead a communitas communitatum - - a union of communities within which the proper autonomous life of each community can unfold. In this latter form of state the compulsive order that persisted would not be based on the exploitation of human conflicts but would represent the stage of development which had been reached. There is a degree of legitimate compulsion, writes Buber, and this is determined by the degree of incapacity for voluntary right order. In practice, however, the state always greatly exceeds this degree of legitimate compulsion because accumulated power does not abdicate except under necessity. Only the vigorous pressure of those groups that have increased their capacity for voluntary order can force the state to relinquish some measure of its power. (Paths in Utopia, pp. 27, 39 f., 47.)
The essential point is to decide on the fundamentals: a restructuring of society as a League of Leagues, and a reduction of the State to its proper function, which is to maintain unity; or a devouring of an amorphous society by the omnipotent State.... The right proportion, tested anew every day according to changing conditions, between group-freedom and collective order; or absolute order imposed indefinitely for the sake of an era of freedom alleged to follow ‘of its own accord.’ (Ibid.,p. 148)
The essential thing which enabled man to emerge from Nature and to assert himself, writes Buber, is, more than his technical efficiency, the fact that he banded together with others in a social life which was at once mutually dependent and independent. The line of human progress up till now has been ‘the forming and re-forming of communities on the basis of growing personal independence’ -- ‘functional autonomy, mutual recognition and mutual responsibility.’ Buber calls this mutual dependence of increasingly free and independent individuals the ‘decentralistic social principle.’ This principle has been subordinated in the modern world to the ‘centralistic political principle,’ and modern industrial development and economy have aided this process through creating a struggle of all against all for markets and raw materials. Struggles between whole societies have replaced the old struggles between States. The resulting emphasis on the organization of power has caused democratic forms of society no less than totalitarian forms to make complete submission to centralized power their guiding principle. (Ibid., pp. 129-132)
‘The social vitality of a nation,’ writes Buber, ‘and its cultural unity and independence as well, depend very largely upon the degree of social spontaneity to be found there.’ This social spontaneity is continually threatened and diminished by the fact that the political principle is always stronger in relation to the social principle than the given conditions require. (‘Society and the State,’p. 11 f.) This difference between the strength of the political and the social principles is called the ‘political surplus’ by Buber and is explained in terms of the difference in nature between ‘Administration’ and ‘Government.’
By Administration we mean a capacity for making dispositions which is limited by the available technical facilities and recognized in theory and practice within those limits; when it oversteps its limits, it seals its own doom. By Government we understand a nontechnical, but ‘constitutionally’ limited body; this signifies that, in the event of certain changes in the situation, the limits are extended and even, at times, wiped out altogether. (Ibid.)
The excess in the capacity for making dispositions beyond that required by given conditions is what we understand by political power, and the measure of this excess, the ‘political surplus,’ represents the difference between Administration and Government. This political surplus cannot be determined exactly, nor can it be done away with entirely, for it depends upon the latent state of crisis between nations and within every nation. As long as this latent crisis exists, the state must have that excess of decision which will make possible special powers in the event that the crisis becomes active. Nevertheless, even in this situation a movement toward righting the balance in the direction of the social principle is possible. ‘Efforts must be renewed again and again to determine in what spheres it is possible to alter the ratio between governmental and administrative control in favour of the latter.’ The change in the apportionment of power in the direction of decentralization must be accompanied by a continuous change in the nature of power, and political Government transformed into social Administration as far as the particular conditions permit. (Ibid., p. 12)
The continued supremacy of the centralistic political principle, however, is in general assured by the negative nature of the present peace and the preparation for new war. The unifying power of the state rests primarily on this general instability and not on the punitive and propagandistic facilties at the state’s disposal. It is necessary, therefore, that we begin the social restructuring of society with the establishment of a true, positive, and creative peace between peoples. This peace cannot be attained through political organization, writes Buber, but through ‘the resolute will of all peoples to cultivate the territories and raw materials of our planet and govern its inhabitants, together.’ (Ibid. P. 11; Paths in Utopia, p. 132.)
If, instead of the prevailing anarchical relationships among nations, there were co-operation in the control of raw materials, agreement on methods of manufacture of such materials, and regulation of the world market, Society would be in a position, for the first time, to constitute itself as such. (‘Society and the State,’ p. 11.)
The great danger in such planetary production is that it will result in ‘a gigantic centralization of power’ which will devour all free community. If international co-operation is to lead to true world peace, it must rest on the base of a confederation of commonwealths all of which are in turn based on ‘the actual and communal life of big and little groups living and working together.’ (Paths in Utopia, p. 132 f.)
Everything depends on whether the collectivity into whose hands the control of the means of production passes will facilitate and promote in its very structure and in all its institutions the genuine common life of the various groups composing it . . . on whether centralist representation only goes as far as the new order of things absolutely demands. (Ibid., p. 133f.)
This is not a question of either-or, but of an unwearying scrutiny which will draw ever anew the right line of demarcation between those spheres which must be centralized and those which can be reserved to the autonomous regulation of the individual communities. The larger the measure of autonomy granted to local, regional, and functional groups, the more room will be left for the free unfolding of social energies. (Ibid., p. 134, ‘Society and the State,’ p. 12)
The excess power of the state cannot be destroyed by revolution, for it is the result of a relationship between men which makes the coercive order necessary and, in particular, the weakness of those communal groups which could force the state to yield this excess power. The creation and renewal of a real organic structure itself destroys the state and replaces superfluous compulsion. ‘Any action . . . beyond this would be illegitimate and bound to miscarry because . . . it would lack the constructive spirit necessary for further advance.’ Revolutions are tragically destined to produce the opposite of their positive goal so long as this goal has not taken shape in society before the revolution.
In the social as opposed to the political sphere, revolution is not so much a creative as a delivering force whose function is to set free and authenticate . . . it can only perfect, set free, and lend the stamp of authority to something that has already been foreshadowed in the womb of the pre-revolutionary society. (Paths in Utopia, pp. 44-48.)
The real way for society to prepare the ground for improving the relations between itself and the political principle, according to Buber, is ‘social education.’ Social education seeks to arouse and develop the spontaneity of fellowship which is ‘innate in all unravaged souls’ and which is entirely harmonious with the development of personal existence and personal thought. This can only be accomplished, however, by the complete overthrow of the political trend which nowadays dominates education. True education for citizenship in a state is not education for politics but ‘education for the effectuation of Society.’ (‘Society and the State,’p. 12.) Politics does not change social conditions’ It only registers and sanctions changes that have taken place. (Israel and Palestine, op. cit., p. 140)
"’Utopian" socialism regards the various forms of Co-operative Society as being the most important cells for social re-structure,’ writes Buber. This does not mean that consumer and producer co-operatives in their present form can serve that purpose, for the co-operative movement has not developed in the direction of an organic alliance of production and consumption in a comprehensive communal form or a true federation of local societies. Instead the consumer co-operatives have tended to become large-scale, capitalistic bureaucracies, and the producers co-operatives have become specialized and impersonal or have succumbed to the temptation of getting others to work for them. Consumer co-operatives are least suited to act as cells for social reconstruction because common purchasing ‘brings people together with only a minimal and highly impersonal part of their being.’ Buber finds the remedy for these deficiencies in what he calls the ‘Full Co-operative’ (Vollgenossenschaft). The Full Co-operative at its best combines production and consumption, industry and agriculture in a co-operative community centering around commonly-held land. Although less widespread and successful than the consumer and producer co-operatives, these Full Co-operatives have existed in many places as an outgrowth of consumer or producer co-operatives or as separate communal experiments. (Paths in Utopia, pp. 61-67, 78 f., 81)
Full Co-operatives have usually been unsuccessful, writes Buber, for they have often been built on the flimsy base of sentiment or the inflexible base of dogma. Common sentiment is not enough to hold a community together, and dogma results in the paralysis, isolation, or fragmentation of a community. Moreover, unlike consumer co-operatives which grew out of local needs, they have often taken their point of departure from an abstract idea or theory without reference to given localities and their demands. For this reason they have lacked the basis for federation which the consumer co-operatives possessed through the identity of local problems in different places. A third reason for the failure of these communal experiments, or ‘Colonial’ Full Co-operatives is their isolation from society and from each other. This isolation can be remedied by federation of the communities with each other, for federation makes up for the smallness of communal groups by enabling members to pass from one settlement to another and by allowing the groups to complement and help each other. Furthermore, because of the need for markets for their surplus production, the refusal of youth to be cut off from the outside world, and the need to influence the surrounding world, it is important that these communities maintain some real, if variable, relation with society at large. (Paths in Utopia, pp. 71-74, 79.)
The most powerful effort in the direction of Full Co-operatives, in Buber’s opinion, has been the Village Communes which have taken the form of an organic union of agriculture, industry, and the handicrafts and of communal production and consumption. The modern communal village possesses a latent pervasive force which could spread to the towns if further technological developments facilitate and actually require the decentralization of industry. Already many countries show significant beginnings in the direction of organically transforming the town and turning it into an aggregate composed of smaller units.
The most promising experiment in the Village Commune, according to Buber, has been that of the Jewish communes in Palestine. These have been based on the needs of given local situation rather than on abstract ideas and theories. At the same time they have not been limited to the purely topical but have combined it with ideal motives inspired by socialistic and Biblical teachings on social justice. The members of these communes have combined a rare willingness to experiment and critical self-awareness with an ‘amazingly positive relationship -- amounting to a regular faith -- . . . to the inmost being of their Commune.’ The communes themselves, moreover, have worked together in close co-operation and at the same time have left complete freedom for the constant branching off of new forms and different types of social structure, the most famous of which are the kvuza and the kibbuz. ‘Nowhere, as far as I see, in the history of the Socialist movement,’ writes Buber, ‘were men so deeply involved in the process of differentiation and yet so intent on preserving the principle of integration.’ (Ibid., pp. 140-148.)
The rapid influx of Jewish refugees into Palestine has resulted in many cases in the rise of a quasi-elite who have not been able to provide true leadership for the communes and have come into conflict with the genuine chaluzim. The failure of the quasi-chaluzim lies not in their relationship to the idea, to the community, or to their work, but in their relationship to their fellows. This is not a question of intimacy such as exists in the small kvuza and is lost in the big. It is rather a question of openness.
A real community need not consist of people who are perpetually together; but it must consist of people who, precisely because they are comrades, have mutual access to one another and are ready for one another.... The internal questions of a community are thus in reality questions relating to its own genuineness, hence to its inner strength and stability. (Ibid.,p. 143 ff.)
Despite an inadequate development of neighbourly relationship between the communes, Buber feels that the Jewish communes are of central significance in the struggle for a structurally new society in which individual groups will be given the greatest possible autonomy and yet will enjoy the greatest possible interrelationship with each other. This picture of the socialist restructuring of society is based on the awareness of an underlying trend toward social renewal -- a trend which is not at present dominant but has the potentiality of becoming so. This trend ‘is thoroughly topical and constructive,’ Buber writes. The changes at which it aims are feasible in the given circumstances and with the means at its disposal. Of equal importance, it is based on an eternal human need: ‘the need of man to feel his own house as a room in some greater, all-embracing structure in which he is at home, to feel that the other inhabitants of it with whom he lives and works are all acknowledging and confirming his individual existence.’ (Ibid., p. 139 f.) The decision between the centralistic socialism of political power and the spontaneous socialism of genuine social change is, for this reason, the most important decision of the next generation. ‘The coming state of humanity in the great crisis,’ said Buber in 1952, ‘depends very much on whether another type of socialism can be set up against Moscow, and I venture even today to call it Jerusalem.’ (From an address on Israel given by Professor Buber at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York City, April 1, 1952.)
Commenting on Buber’s social philosophy, Paul Pfuetze writes:
It seems to be a remedy which . . . cannot be taken by the patient until he is already well. Communities incorporating the I-Thou attitude and the Utopian socialism of Buber cannot be manufactured to order -- except perhaps in a small new land like modern Israel, or at certain plastic points within the established order, there to work as yeast in the lump. (The Social self, op. cit., p. 347 f.)
Pfuetze’s comment is not so much a criticism of Buber’s social philosophy as a reminder of the difficulties which would attend the attempt to apply it in any large-scale industrial society, difficulties Buber himself would be the first to recognize. Buber is not advocating a simple substitution of one social structure for another but a direction of movement, a ‘restructuring.’ He is not advocating simple decentralization, but the greatest measure of decentralization compatible with the need of the state to maintain unity. Nor does he suggest that this social restructuring will come about through any revolution or merely political change, but through social education -- ‘the education of a generation with a truly social outlook and a truly social will.’ (‘Society and the State,’ p. 12.) In this connection, as we have seen, Buber redefines education for citizenship as education for the effectuation of society, or the social principle. This redefinition of true citizenship is of particular significance at the present time when ‘citizenship’ is almost universally regarded as a purely political virtue. Not only the blind loyalty of the totalitarian conception of citizenship and the compulsory conformity of the democracies, but even the exclusive emphasis of the liberal on the citizenship of political organization and votes serves to increase the power of the centralized state and to strengthen the political principle at the expense of the social. This diminution of social spontaneity has grown to such a degree in our time that education throughout the world is dominated by the political trend and society is generally politicized.
The crucial thing here was not that the State, particularly in its more or less totalitarian forms, weakened and gradually displaced the free associations, but that the political principle with all its centralistic features percolated into the associations themselves modifying their structure and their whole inner life, and thus politicized society to an ever-increasing extent. (Ibid., p. 11f.; Paths in Utopia, p. 131.)
It is this domination of the political principle that stands in the way of recognizing the realistic significance of Buber’s social philosophy. That a genuine social revolution can only take place from below will first become convincingly clear, writes Heinz-Joachim Heydorn, when we are able to free ourselves from the predominance of a purely political thought that does not understand the long-term problems of our modern life.
Buber’s inquiries represent, in my opinion, the most important contribution that has been made in many years to the question of socialism. Here the basic question of all renewal is posed once again: the question about man. But this question remains closely bound to reality; it is concerned with man in his present-day form, with man in our time. The reality in which this man lives, the reality of his technical greatness, has barred him in growing measure from the true road to himself. We shall not be able to reopen this road for him if we wish to redeem him through purely political means without restoring to him the immediacy of his existence. (Heydorn, ‘Martin Buber und der Sozialismus,’ op. cit., p. 709 [my translation].)
A significant confirmation of Buber’s social philosophy is contained in Kurt Riezler’s article, ‘What Is Public Opinion?’ Riezler defines public opinion as the concern of an I and a You about ‘what They, the others, taken collectively, are thinking and saying,’ and he defines society itself as a growing and changing group based on the mutual response of I and Thou. ‘I and Thou,’ he writes, ‘are the eternal cell of any living body social.’ He uses the term ‘response’ as including genuine responsibility, listening as well as speaking, and an element of possible surprise -- all in clear contrast to ‘the general interest in salesmanship, the worship of efficiency for its own sake,’ and ‘the emphasis of psychological schools on stimuli, conditioned responses and the manipulation of emotions.’ These emphases ‘conjoin in inflating the concept of propaganda and allow the simple fact of Adam’s and Eve’s mutual response . . . to fall into scholarly oblivion.’ This mutual response is the real cohesive force of society, for when a crisis comes it is this which is tested: ‘Only a response of honesty to honesty can re-establish the common ground, face the facts, revise the assumptions, and keep the society flexible enough to withstand the storm.’ (Kurt Riezler, ‘What Is Public Opinion?’, Social Research. XI , pp. 398-415.)
This flexibility is endangered by the formation of large social groups which receive their opinions ready made and cease to communicate with one another. Such cleavages are the inevitable result of the mass society of our age. If they grow and ‘split the society on a nationwide scale into parts that no longer understand one another’s language, the free society faces its doom.’ This is just what took place in Germany, Riezler points out, years before Hitler captured the machinery of the state. (Ibid., p. 418 ff.) He concludes:
Only if and in so far as the mass society of the industrial age can be and remain a universe of mutual response, in which responsive and responsible people respond to one another in matters of common concern, will this mass society remain a society . . . mutual response must exist in an understandable form between those who know and those who do not know; the former must call for and listen to the latter’s response. (Ibid., p. 426.)
The conclusion to be drawn from Riezler’s treatment of public opinion is that true community must be re-established in mass society if that society is to remain a free one which serves the people. Thus Buber’s restructuring of society into genuine communities, however ‘impractical’ it may seem, is a necessity toward which we must work. This does not mean any optimism about the ease with which Buber’s social philosophy can be applied. On the contrary, to turn one’s face in the right direction is to see how far we have to go. The dominance of the social principle over the political cannot be achieved through any rearrangement of existing relations but only through really changed relations within and between communities.
Here not only the present mass structure of individual nations stands in the way but also the relations between nations. Faith in dialogue is perhaps the one antidote to the fear which makes us see a country with an ideology different from our own as the alien, the ‘other,’ which has to be destroyed in order that we can live in a truly ‘human’ world, that is, a world dominated solely by our own ‘world-view’ or ego-perspective. Yet no faith in dialogue can be genuinely founded unless it includes the whole man, with all of his irrationality and ‘evil impulses,’ as the bearer of this dialogue. Nor can it be genuinely founded if it thinks in terms of the ‘dialogue’ between states rather than between peoples, between the representatives of states rather than between the responsible and tested leaders of genuine communities. What is more, as Buber has pointed out, the resumption of true dialogue between peoples will only be possible when the existential mistrust which divides the world into two hostile camps is overcome. Commenting on Robert Maynard Hutchins’ call for a Civilization of the Dialogue which can be attained when we induce the other party to talk through ‘exhibiting an interest in and a comprehension of what he might say if he were willing to speak,’(Robert Maynard Hutchins, ‘Goethe and the Unity of Mankind,’ Goethe and the Modern Age, ed. by Arnold Bergstraesser [Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1950), p. 399 f. ) Buber writes:
Nothing stands so much in the way of the rise of a Civilization of Dialogue as the demonic power which rules our world, the demonry of basic mistrust. What does it help to induce the other to speak if basically one puts no faith in what he says? The meeting with him already takes place under the perspective of his untrustworthiness. And this perspective is not incorrect, for his meeting with me takes place under a corresponding perspective. (‘Hope for This Hour’, op. cit.)
‘The factual life of factual men,’ writes Buber, ‘is smeared and crusted over with the varnish of political fiction.’ Some of the reproaches which the one side hurls at the other are realistic enough, he adds, but in order for this reality to be regarded concretely it must first be freed from its incrustation of catchwords. In the closed sphere of the exclusively political there is no way to penetrate to the factual nor to relieve the present situation. ‘Its "natural end" is the technically perfect suicide of the human race.’ It is just this powerlessness of politics which must be recognized today before it is too late, and it must be recognized by men who will come together out of the camps and will talk with one another, despite their criticism of the opposing system and their loyalty to their own. If-these men will begin to speak with one another not as pawns on a chessboard but as they themselves in the chamber of human reality, a tiny seed of change will have been started which could lead to a transformation of the whole situation.
I mean especially just those who are basically convinced of the rightness of the idea from which their government ultimately stems and know, just for that reason, that the catastrophe which would flow from the victory of the regime would mean the collapse of the idea. (Martin Buber, ‘Abstrakt und Konkret,’ Hinweise, op. cit., p. 327 ff., an additional note to ‘Hoffnung für diese Stunde,’ the German original of ‘Hope for This Hour.’ Hoffnung für diese Stunde’ was published in Hinweise pp. 313-326.)
If men such as these arise, they will have behind them an unorganized group for whom they speak. Although they will be ‘independent persons with no other authority than that of the spirit,’ they may yet be effective in the time that approaches as no merely political representatives can be. Unlike the latter, they will not be bound by the aims of the hour and hence will be able to distinguish between the true and the exaggerated needs of their own and other people. When they have sifted out of the alleged amount of antagonisms the real conflicts between genuine needs, they will be ready to move toward a settlement of those conflicts on the base of the fundamental question: What does every man need in order to live as man? ‘If the globe is not to burst asunder,’ writes Buber, those who stand in the authority of the spirit must come to one another out of the camps and dare to deal with this question in terms of the whole planet. There is one front of such men, writes Buber, the representatives of a true humanity who fight together even without knowing it, each in his own place. Only through genuine dialogue between them in which each of the partners, even when he stands in opposition to the other, attends to, affirms, and confirms him as this existing other, ‘can the opposition, certainly not be removed from the world, but be humanly arbitrated and led toward its overcoming.’ (Pointing the Way, ‘Genuine Dialogue and the Possibilities of Peace, Hope for This Hour,’ ‘Validity and Limitation of the Political Principle’ (1953 ).
SUPPLEMENTARY NOTE (1959): For an important statement by Buber on the problem of Jewish-Arab co-operation in the Near East see his essay, ‘Israel and the Command of the Spirit,’ trans. by Maurice Friedman, Congress Weekly, XXV, No. 14 (Sept. 8, 1958), p. 10 ff. On international relations in general see Buber’s statement in the ‘Hydrogen Cobalt Bomb’ special issue of Pulpit Digest XXXIV, No. 194 (June 1954), p. 36, and Irwin Ross’s interview with Buber in the New York Post, Vol. 156, No. 300 (November 7, 1957), M2, ‘Voice of the Sages,’ Article II. In an address at Cambridge University on June 5, 1958 Dag Hammarskjold, the Secretary General of the United Nations, echoes Buber’s call for renewed ‘contact and communications across geographical and political boundaries.’ Hammarskjold quotes at length from Buber’s statement on unmasking in Pointing the Way, ‘Hope for This Hour,’ p. 223 f., referring to Buber as ‘one of the influential thinkers of our time whose personal history and national experience have given him a vantage point of significance.’ (United Nations Press Release SG/684, June 5, 1958.) In a recent press conference Secretary General Hammarskjold announced his intention of translating into Swedish some of the essays from the ‘Politics, Community, and Peace’ section of Pointing the Way. ‘I think that Martin Buber has made a major contribution’ in these essays, said Hammarskjold, ‘and I would like to make that more broadly known.’ (Note to Correspondents # 1934, February 5, 1959. P. 5)
Although Reinhold Niebuhr considers Buber the greatest living Jewish Philosopher, he is, in contrast to Hammarskjold, highly critical of Buber’s social philosophy. In his review of Pointing the Way Niebuhr suggests that Buber’s thought becomes utopian when its illuminating insights into personal life are applied to the relations of the ‘we’ and ‘they’ of organized groups or nations. (New York Times Book Review, April 13, 1958.) In a letter to me of June 22. 1956, Niebuhr writes: ‘Personal relations exist in transcendence over the basic structure of society, which is partly organic and partly an artifact . . . insofar as the justice, particularly in modern technical society, depends upon artfully constructed equilibria of power.’ To this Buber replied in two letters to me: ‘There is indeed a norm of justice. . . But man tends to accept and to realise this norm only in general and abstract laws . . . and without justice in personal relations justice becomes poisonous.’ (July 1956.) ‘What Niebuhr calls the basic structure of society is . . . based on personal relations, and where it subdues them it becomes wrong. As to modern technical society, of course it depends upon "artfully constructed equilibria of power," but what depends on them is its order and not its justice.... I cannot see the God-willed reality of justice anywhere other than in "being just," and this means of course: being just as far as it is possible here and now, under the "artful" conditions of actual society.... Sometimes, striving to be just, I go on in the dark, till my head meets the wall and aches, and then I know: Here is the wall, and I cannot go further. But I could not know it beforehand, nor otherwise.’ (November 29. 1956.) The political order embodies justice in the sense of making it possible and of putting limits on the practice of injustice. But real justice does not exist until men actually make use of the foundation and material provided by this impersonal political order to build just relationships in concrete situations. (This correspondence between Buber and Niebuhr will be published in Maurice Friedman, ed., ‘Martin Buber’ section, Interrogations of Contemporary Philosophers, ed. by Sidney C. Rome. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press. 1960.)
Viewed 283874 times.