Living Law

Jewish Political Theology from Hermann Cohen to Hannah Arendt

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Miguel Vatter
  • Oxford: 
    Oxford University Press
    , January
     360 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.
Review coming soon!

Review by Mark A. Kaplowitz forthcoming.


It is often assumed that modern democratic government has a special link with Christianity or was made possible due to Christianity. As a challenge to this belief and echoing a long-held assumption in the republican tradition, Hannah Arendt once remarked that "Washington's and Napoleon's heroes were named Moses and David." In this book, Miguel Vatter reconstructs the political theology of German Jewish philosophers during the twentieth century and their attempts to bring together the Biblical teachings on politics with the Greek and Roman traditions of political philosophy.

Developed alongside modern experiences with anti-Semitism, the rise of Zionism, and the return of charismatic authority in mass societies, Jewish political theology in the twentieth century advances the radical hypothesis that the messianic idea of God's Kingdom correlates with a post-sovereignty, anarchist political condition of non-domination. Importantly, Jewish philosophers combined this messianic form of democracy with the ideal of cosmopolitan constitutionalism, which is itself based on the identity of divine law and natural law.

This book examines the paradoxical unity of anarchy and rule of law in the democratic political theology developed by Hermann Cohen, Franz Rosenzweig, Gershom Scholem, Leo Strauss, and Hannah Arendt. Critical of the Christian theological underpinnings of modern representative political institutions, this group of highly original thinkers took up the banner of Philo's project to unify Greek philosophy with Judaism, and rejected the separation between faith and reason, as well as the division between Biblical revelation and pagan philosophy. The Jewish political theology they developed stands for the idea that human redemption is inseparable from the redemption of nature. Living Law offers an alternative genealogy of political theology that challenges the widespread belief that modern republican political thought is derived from Christian sources.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Miguel Vatter is professor of politics at Flinders University, Australia. He is author of Divine Democracy: Political Theology after Carl Schmitt and The Republic of the Living: Biopolitics and the Critique of Civil Society.


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