Emmanuel Levinas conceives of our lives as fundamentally interpersonal and ethical, claiming that our responsibilities to one another should shape all of our actions. While many scholars believe that Levinas failed to develop a robust view of political ethics, Michael L. Morgan argues against understandings of Levinas’s thought that find him politically wanting or even antipolitical. Morgan examines Levinas’s ethical critique of the political as well as his Jewish writings—including those on Zionism and the founding of the Jewish state—which are controversial reflections of Levinas’s political expression. Unlike others who dismiss Levinas as irrelevant or anarchical, Morgan is the first to give extensive treatment to Levinas as a serious social political thinker whose ethics must be understood in terms of its political implications. Morgan reveals Levinas’s political commitments to liberalism and democracy as well as his revolutionary conception of human life as deeply interconnected on philosophical, political, and religious grounds.
Part I. Overview
1. Tears the Civil Servant Cannot See: Ethics and Politics
2. Judaism, Zionism, and the State of Israel
Part II. Philosophical Articulation
3. The Third Party: Transcendental Ethics and Realistic Politics
4. Ethics as Critique
5. Responsibility for Others and the Discourse of Rights
6. Liberalism and Democracy
Part III. Ethics, Politics, and Zionism
7. Teaching Prophetic Politics: Ethics and Politics in Levinas’s Talmudic Lessons
8. Zionism and the Justification of a Jewish State
9. Ethics, Politics, and Messianism
10. Levinas’s Notorious Interview
Part IV. Defense
11. Levinas and His Critics
Against the prevailing consensus that Levinas’s political theory is at best irrelevant and at worst hypocritical, Michael L. Morgan vigorously defends its abiding power. Through a painstaking analysis of Levinas’s oeuvre, including his controversial interview after the massacres at Sabra and Chatila, he allows us to appreciate the potential an ethics of infinite responsibility may still have to temper a politics of agonistic struggle and impersonal proceduralism.
author of Reason after Its Eclipse: On Late Critical Theory
Michael L. Morgan provides an intriguing alternative to much current thinking in political philosophy. His reading of Levinas amounts to a rigorous but flexible vision of the simultaneous indispensability of political justice and its necessary vulnerability to ethical critique.
author of The Self and its Shadows: A Book of Essays on Individuality as Negation in Philosophy and
With his usual talent for clear prose and for putting Levinas in helpful conversations (including, here, with Michael Walzer, Avishai Margalit and Ruth Gavison), Michael Morgan warns his readers not to confuse Levinas’s ethics with Levinas’s politics. For while a political program can be more or less ethical than another, Levinas’s distinction between ethics and politics means that all political acts will always fall short of any ethics that animates them. In defending his reading of Levinas, Morgan teaches us to see hope where others might see only tragedy.
Florida State University
Simply put, this is the best book on Levinas and political philosophy that is available in English. . . This book is essential reading not only for Levinas scholars, but for all political philosophers. Highly Recommended. not yet published