1.6 Hannah Peaceman

Jewish perspectives and their potential for political philosophy

as an example with the political-philosophical considerations in the Verein für Cultur und Wissenschaft der Juden

Jewish perspectives are still largely invisible in present-day political philosophy. That is no coincidence; rather it is the product of excluding Jewish people from institutions and society for a long time and its ramifications. Jewish perspectives are generally found at the margins of discipline, in their own subdiscipline (“Jewish philosophy”) or at disciplinary boundaries, where they are hidden as background information to a supposedly context-independent theory or as a particular one.

One quite unknown example of Jewish perspectives in philosophy is the political- philosophical consideration in the Verein für Cultur und Wissenschaft der Juden. The association was founded in 1819, in the wake of the anti-Semitic Hep-Hep riots, which were associated with excluding Jewish scholars from universities. The aim of the association members was on the one hand the scientific research of Judaism in its diversity from a historical, philological and philosophical perspective. On the other hand, the goal was to advance Jewish emancipation and evaluate the conditions for it in cognitive and social theory. Jewish emancipation would only be possible hand in hand with emancipation for the whole of society.

The Cultural Association’s political-philosophical reflection can be understood as a critique of knowledge and society, which has an emancipatory potential. In addition to the criticism of excluding Jews and discriminating against them in society and academia, they developed independent access to the philosophical question, based on Jewish perspectives and traditions, on which basis the multiplicity of unity in the whole would be conceivable. Or, to put it differently: how to make it possible to live together as equals amid our differences while eliminating existing power relations.

The Cultural Association is regarded as the birth of Judaism science, although it ceased its work in the mid-1820s because central members bowed to social pressure and were baptized. It is not only instructive to consider their perspectives as a way of understanding the pressure Jewish scholars faced, but also to bring their desire for emancipation and considerations of social theory into the discourse.

In order to make the potential of Jewish perspectives fruitful for contemporary political philosophy, an archive of Jewish perspectives and traditions must be appropriated (rather than focusing on an established canon). Such an archive thrives on searching for formerly excluded and therefore still invisible Jewish perspectives like those of Cultural Association’s members. Making them visible means critically examining one’s own premises in thinking and questioning which gaps shape one’s own thinking.

Photo: Private

Hannah Peaceman, born in 1991, studied philosophy, political science, and gender studies in Marburg, London, and Jena. She earned her doctorate at Max Weber College in Erfurt, writing her dissertation on the potential of Jewish perspectives for the political philosophy of the present. She is a co-founder and co-editor of the magazine Jalta – Positionen zur jüdischen Gegenwart. Hannah Peaceman works on post-migrant memory culture, the relationship between racism and anti-Semitism and Jewish self-empowerment.