Christian Martin

Ethik der Gewalt?
Heidegger oder Benjamin

According to Derrida the word „violence“ is one of those expressions connected with „certain
highly equivocal and disquieting analogies“ between Heidegger and Benjamin. My
contribution to the conference aims at bringing some of these analogies into the open as well
as focusing on the radical difference between Benjamin’s and Heidegger’s conception of
violence.

Both of them share an interest in how violence and order relate and, more specifically, an
interest in some kind of primordial violence, whose function is not the preservation of an
already existing order but its interruption as well as the instauration of a radically different
one. Yet, the ways in which Heidegger and Benjamin conceive of this difference radically
differ themselves according to their respective understanding of death, time and history.

In Being and Time “Gewaltsamkeit” remains a thoroughly polemical expression, naming how
the call for authentical being-towards-one’s-own-end presents itself to inauthentical everyday
being-there. Later on, in some of Heidegger’s Lectures and Seminars of the early thirties,
“Gewalttätigkeit” comes to designate a fundamental aspect of being-there, namely the way in
which a whole people in a resolute and fateful decision founds its own historical being in a
state. Heidegger’s notion of violence seems marked by a dangerous indeterminacy
corresponding to a deep ambiguity of the call for authentic existence. Accordingly, the
relation of violence and justice, one of the central tasks of a “critique of violence” according
to Benjamin, remains a blind spot in Heidegger’s thought. From the viewpoint of Benjamin’s
Critique of Violence Heidegger’s concept of “Gewalttätigkeit” as resolute, fateful
establishment of an authentic political order can only be classified as mythical.

Benjamin’s own conception of pure, divine violence on the other hand could be reproached
from Heidegger’s perspective with being based on theological assumptions which render it
not only philosophically irrelevant but historically insignificant as well.

It shall be argued, though, that Benjamin’s notion of divine violence has its root not so much
in a dogmatic theological stance but in a specific conception of time and death: This
conception excludes a thorough reversal of historical reality, which is supposed to inaugurate
a new historical continuity of a radically different kind. Rather, the only way in which divine
violence can appear, is in terms of radically discontinuous interruptions of any such order –
interruptions, which remain largely negative and incomplete as well as use- and purposeless
and only in this manner might contribute to a transformation of the whole of time instead of
establishing a different historical age.