Hermann Cohen’s Critical Idealism pp 259-279

Part of the Amsterdam Studies in Jewish Thought book series (ASJT, volume 10) | Cite as

Hermann Cohen on State and Nation

A Contemporary Review
  • David Novak


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  1. 1.
    Thus we begin our re-search having thought out the question and the approach to the question for ourselves. As Hermann Cohen himself says,’ sources remain mute and blind if I do not approach them with a concept, which I myself lay out as a foundation in order to be instructed by them and not simply guided by their authority.’, Religion der Vernunft, 4–5; Religion of Reason, 4.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, chapter 18; also, S. M. Nadler, Spinoza (Cambridge, 1999), 153–54.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    For Cohen’s respectful ambivalence toward Mendelssohn, see his ‘Deutschtum und Judentum’ (I), in: Jüdische Schriften II, 266–68.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See his Jerusalem, transl. A. Arkush (Hanover, N.H, 1983), 89–90.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    See A. Poma, The Critical Philosophy of Hermann Cohen, transl. J. Denton (Albany, N.Y., 1997), 157–69.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    This comes out quite strongly in an essay by Jacques Derrida, ‘Interpretations at War: Kant, the Jew, the German’, New Literary History 22 (1991), 39–95. There Derrida seems to reduce Cohen to his unfortunate naiveté in uncritically endorsing German militarism in World War I. But, in his treatment of Cohen’s essential Gestalt for us, Derrida confines himself to Cohen two wartime essays ‘Deutschtum und Judentum’ (Jüdische Schriften II, 237–318). These essays from 1915–16, along with a 1915 appeal to American Jews to influence their government not to enter the war against Germany on the side of England, France, and, especially, Russia (Jüdische Schriften II, 229–236), are clearly works of propaganda, only employing philosophy whenever useful. Indeed, Derrida seems to be so fixated on this aspect of Cohen’s thought that he even suggests it might be analogous to Heidegger’s evil endorsement of the Nazi regime in his infamous Rektorat Rede at the University of Freiburg in 1933 (81). Nevertheless, was it not irresponsible of Derrida not to seriously engage Cohen’s truly philosophical and theological works, viz., his philosophical-theological system, to see how his more disciplined insights might well transcend his propaganda? Cf. D. Novak, Jewish Social Ethics (New York, 1992), 242, n. 42; The Election of Israel (Cambridge, 1995), 71, n. 72. Furthermore, isn’t there a difference between one philosopher’s political naiveté and another philosopher’s enthusiasm for a regime that never made any pretense to even rationalize its evil program, an enthusiasm which Heidegger never recanted, even after the horrendous atrocities of the Nazi regime were fully revealed after its defeat in 1945?Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    See his ‘Religion und Zionismus’, in: Jüdische Schriften II, 319–27.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    This can be based on the priority Cohen assigns to mathematical deduction over empirical induction in the natural sciences. See e.g. Logik, 74, 520–21, 572–74.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Note Maimonides’saying: ‘Accept the truth (ha-emet) from whomever said it’, in his Commentary on the Mishnah, Avot, introduction [Shmonah Peraqim, beg.], ed. Y. Kafih (Jerusalem, 1965), 247.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    See D. Novak, Natural Law in Judaism (Cambridge, 1998), 137–42.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    See, esp., Religion der Vernunft, 452–454; Eng. transl., 389–91.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    See Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 15, columns 77–79, s.v.’ sofer, Moses’.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    See Religion der Vernunft, 143–144; Eng. transl., 123–24.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    See Derrida, ‘Interpretations at War,’ 92; Novak, The Election of Israel, 69–70.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    See Cohen, Ethik, 240–54. For a good discussion of Cohen’s use of Staat in distinction from Volk, see H. Wiedebach, Die Bedeutung der Nationalität für Hermann Cohen (Hildesheim and New York, 1997), 101–108.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Religion der Vernunft, 418–19; Eng. transl., 360.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Religion der Vernunft, 426; Eng. transl., 366–367.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    See Religion der Vernunft, 35–36; Eng. transl., 30–32.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    See Religion der Vernunft, 421; Eng. transl., 362.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    See Religion der Vernunft, 422, 427–428; Eng. transl., 363, 368. Cf. Novak, The Election of Israel, 72–77.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    See Ahad Ha’Am, ‘Priest and Prophet’, in: Selected Essays, transl. L. Simon (Philadelphia, 1912), 137.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    For Cohen’s acknowledgment of Plato’s influence on his own thought, see Logik, 144–48; ‘Das Soziale Ideal bei Platon und den Propheten’, in: Jüdische Schriften I, 306–30; Religion der Vernunft, 339; Eng. transl., 291. For Plato’s most concentrated discussion of the question of the one and the many, see Parmenides, 141C–143C.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    See The Zionist Idea, ed. A. Hertzberg (New York, 1971), 250.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    See Novak, Natural Law in Judaism, 185.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Note Logik, 60–61: ‘Die Sonderung muss der Vereinigung voraufgehen; vielmehr sie ist selbst ein Art der Einigung [...] Die Sonderung muss ebenso sehr und ebenso bestimmt als Vereinigung gedacht werden. Ohne diese Korrelation kommt die Tätigkeit des reinen Denkens nicht zu durchsichtiger Bestimmtheit. [...] Die Synthesis der Einheit ist ebenso Sonderung, wie Vereinigung.’ See Logik, 144–45; also, Wiedebach, Die Bedeutung der Nationalität für Hermann Cohen, 61–68. Cf. Hegel, The Encylopaedia Logic, no. 96, transl. T. F. Geraets, W. A. Suchting. H. S. Harris (Indianapolis, 1991), 154.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    See Menachem Elon, Jewish Law 4, transl. B. Auerbach and M. J. Sykes (Philadelphia and Jerusalem, 1994), chap. 45. (The original Hebrew work is entitled Ha-Mishpat Ha’Ivri, 2 vols., Jerusalem, 1978.) See, also, Moshe Silberg, Talmudic Law and the Modern State, transl. B. Z. Bokser (New York, 1973), 145–50. The late Justice Silberg, like Elon a former member of the Israeli Supreme Court, is considered by many to be the founder of mishpat ivri in Israel, even before the establishment of the State in 1948.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    See I. Englard, ‘The Problem of Jewish Law in a Jewish State’, Jewish Law in Ancient and Modern Israel, ed. H. H. Cohn (New York, 1971), 143–67.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    See Religion der Vernunft, 421; Eng. transl., 362.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Ethik, 65.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    See e.g. Mishnah, Makkot 1.10, where two leading Rabbis discuss capital punishment, but admitting that they never had the opportunity, much less the political power, to adjudicate capital cases. See, also, Palestinian Talmud, Sanhedrin 1.1/18a; Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 30a-b.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    See Ethik, 500; Religion der Vernunft, 290–291; Eng. transl., 249.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    See Ethik des reinen Willens, 434; Religion der Vernunft, 298; Eng. transl., 255.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    See esp. Religion der Vernunft, 38; Eng. transl., 33.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    See his Totality and Infinity, transl. A. Lingis (Pittsburgh, 1969), preface.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    See Novak, Natural Law in Judaism, chap. 4.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    See Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws Concerning Murder, 4.9.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    See Mishnah, Peah 4.1.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Novak
    • 1
  1. 1.University of TorontoCanada

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