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


This book is the product of a dialogue, a dialogue first with the works of Martin Buber and later with Martin Buber himself. The influence of Buber’s thought has steadily spread throughout the last fifty years until today Buber is recognized throughout the world as occupying a position in the foremost ranks of contemporary philosophers, theologians, and scholars. What has made such men as Hermann Hesse and Reinhold Niebuhr speak of Martin Buber as one of the few wise men living on the earth today, however, is not only his eminence as a thinker but also his concern with the ‘lived concrete,’ the everyday reality which he takes up into his imagining and bears as his responsibility. Buber’s eightieth birthday, on February 8, 1958, was celebrated all over the world, for Martin Buber is one of the truly universal men of our time. ‘More than any other person in the modern world,’ said the Protestant theologian H. Richard Niebuhr at one such celebration, ‘more even than Kierkegaard, Martin Buber has been for me, and for many of my companions, the prophet of the soul and the witness to that truth which is required of the soul not as solitary, but as companionable being.’ In a time in which we are in danger of losing our birthright as human beings, Martin Buber has shown us what it means to live as men.

When in 1944 Dr. Simon Greenberg gave me the first book of Buber’s that I ever read -- The Legend of the Baal-Shem -- Buber himself was practically unknown in America and only two of his books were in English, both published in England. Even when I wrote my doctoral dissertation on Buber in 1950, few had heard of him and few of his books were published here. Today more than twenty of Buber’s books have been published in English, most of them in both England and America, several more translations are underway, five of his books have been reissued in paperback editions, four anthologies of his writings have appeared, and several books in English have been written on his thought, including the forthcoming Philosophy of Martin Buber volume of The Library of Living Philosophers, which I have had the honor of editing. In 1951-1952 Buber spent almost a year in America under the auspices of the Jewish Theological Seminary; in 1957 he was brought here by the Washington School of Psychiatry to deliver the fourth William Alanson White Memorial Lectures; and in 1958 he was brought to this country by Princeton University. Martin Buber is now enjoying a vogue in America, says William Barrett in The Irrational Man. If so, it is a ‘vogue’ that seems to be becoming firmly established!

At the time of this book’s first edition (The University of Chicago Press, 1955) it represented the first comprehensive study of Buber’s thought in any language, and it is still the only comprehensive study in English. As such it can serve both as an introduction to Buber’s works for those who have not yet read him and as a commentary and systematic presentation for those who have. The most obvious form in which the unity of Buber’s thought expresses itself is his philosophy of dialogue, and much of this book is centered on the development and implications of that philosophy. But I have also drawn Buber’s thoughts together in terms of his attitude toward the nature and redemption of evil, and I have attempted to show the significance of this attitude for such fields as ethics, social philosophy, psychotherapy, and education.

In treating a thinker whom many have criticized before understanding, my aim, first of all, has been to understand. I have also tried, in Parts V and VI, to show the implications of Buber’s thought for various aspects of human life and to evaluate the use that others have made of his thought. A special problem has been the faithful presentation of the dialogue that has existed throughout Buber’s creative life between Buber as original thinker and Buber as interpreter of tradition. Here, too, one must walk the ‘narrow ridge’ -- between the temptation of considering Buber a thinker who reads his philosophy into his interpretations and that of considering him a thinker who derives his philosophy from his religious tradition.

In addition to numerous changes and additions throughout, I have added to the present Torchbook edition of this book two pages of bibliography since 1955 and important supplementary notes at the end of the chapters on ‘Psychotherapy’ and ‘Social Philosophy.’

I should like to acknowledge by indebtedness to my friends Professor Marvin Fox and Professor Abraham J. Heschel for criticism of this book in its early stages. I am deeply grateful to my wife Eugenia for her invaluable assistance as critic and editor and to Professor Buber himself, without whose help, encouragement, and patient answering of questions throughout years of correspondence this book could not possibly have achieved its present form. I also wish to thank the editors of Judaism, The Journal of Bible and Religion, The Review of Religion, The Journal of Religion, and The Review of Metaphysics for permission to use materials from articles published in those journals.


Bronxville, New York

August 1959