What Martin Buber Can Teach Us about Political Life

Looking at the degraded state of political discourse in America, Paul Meilander turns to the thought of the 20th-century Jewish philosopher and theologian Martin Buber. Meilander admits that Buber’s most famous work, I and Thou, is a “frustrating book” that is often “fragmentary, allusive, vague,” and “overwritten.” But he also finds in it some surprising lessons:

[Buber’s] dialogical vision does not provide us with a direct model for political interaction. . . . Rather, Buber describes a certain attitude or stance toward the world and toward other people that in some fashion we need to recapture. His vision is as much educative as political, calling for a particular kind of character formation, a training in the attitudes and virtues necessary for relationship and mutual respect. He offers what we might call a pre-political preparation for politics, a call to develop in ourselves and in others the disposition of openness to encounter.

Before we declare other people our political allies or foes, we must first encounter their fundamental humanity. This is not a prescription for a wishy-washy, half-hearted politics aiming at moderation for its own sake or dreaming foolishly of an elusive human unity. Instead, it is a call to let others appear to us first in their concrete personhood before we concern ourselves with their propositions and plans, the various things they might want to do for us, to us, with us, or in spite of us.

Read more at Public Discourse

More about: Martin Buber, Religion and politics, U.S. Politics


Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict