Walter Benjamin’s 'Zur Kritik der Gewalt' (‘On the Critique of Violence’): reception, relevance, and a mis-diagnosis?

Whittington, Valerie (2019) Walter Benjamin’s 'Zur Kritik der Gewalt' (‘On the Critique of Violence’): reception, relevance, and a mis-diagnosis? Studies in Social and Political Thought, 2018 (28). pp. 44-62. ISSN 2398-3884

[img] PDF - Published Version
Download (614kB)


Walter Benjamin’s early essay Zur Kritik der Gewalt [Zur Kritik] first published in 1921 is a notoriously difficult text, but its relevance to contemporary politics makes it a text to which theorists repeatedly return. This reading takes issue with those critics, notably Axel Honneth, who see Benjamin’s project in Zur Kritik as fatally, dangerously flawed. It is suggested here that Benjamin’s text, despite the difficulties, still posits the possibility of a ‘lookout point’ - not prescriptive per se and certainly not metaphysical, but in keeping with his abiding interest in literature, metaphorical and exegetical. Even if it may seem inevitable when there is no ground on which to stand that does not in effect constitute the lookout point of the place and times of the lookout, this reading suggests that the Benjaminian lookout point, suggested in Zur Kritik is, the lookout which is never fixed because it is not ‘looking out’ on but towards others, and is not merely addressing and prescribing for the masses, but talking with itself and others. That Benjamin embraces religious language to effect this move, perhaps suggesting, a lookout in judgment from a fixed point, from some ‘higher’ (transcendental) ground, certainly might be troubling for some, but it will be suggested these anxieties are misplaced.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Walter Benjamin, 'Zur Kritik der Gewalt', ('On the critique of Violence'),violence, politics, political legitimacy, parliamentary democracy, profane, mythic and divine, political theology,commandment
Schools and Departments: School of History, Art History and Philosophy > Philosophy
Research Centres and Groups: Centre for Social and Political Thought
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General) > B3209.B584 Benjamin, Walter, 1892-1940
J Political Science > JC Political theory. The state. Theories of the state > JC328.6 Violence. Political violence
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Valerie Whittington
Date Deposited: 25 Feb 2019 15:25
Last Modified: 01 Mar 2019 11:48

View download statistics for this item

📧 Request an update