World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies
Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010< Back to SUMMARY OF PANELS
· Date: MON 19, 2.30-4.30 pm
· Language: English
Paper presenter: Merom Kalie (PhD candidate- University of Toronto, Canada), “Humanism and Nationalism in the Thought of Martin Buber”
In my paper I examine the tension between universal humanism and national particularism in the thought of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber. Buber was a Zionist thinker who moved to Palestine from Germany in 1938 and became one of the prominent advocates for bi-national state and for dialogue between Arabs and Jews, at a time when the conflict between the two sides reached its climax. One of the most interesting characteristics of Martin Buber's thought is the interplay between his universal humanistic message and his emphasis on the particular and unique nature of the Jewish people and their national collective mission. Buber is known for his universal call for dialogue and understanding between individuals as well as nations. He lamented the alienation that characterizes the modern Western world, and tried to promote what he called an “I-You” mode of relationship, which is based on true dialogue, acceptance and inclusion of the other, rather than relationships that are based on formal regulations and boundaries that defend and separate people from one another. Buber was also well known for his effort to promote humanistic moral values, which, in the political sphere, were made most clear in his claim that the strength of the Zionist enterprise largely depended on its conduct towards the Arabs in Palestine. At the same time, and just as passionately, Buber emphasized the uniqueness of the Jewish people, their organic essence, their special relationship with God and the Land of Israel, and their unique, divine mission. These ideas, together with his call for spontaneous and direct relationships between people, amounted to a kind of a rather particularistic ideology that stood in tension with the values of the liberal West. In my paper, I will discuss the ways in which Buber tried to reconcile these two potentially conflicting tendencies - toward universalistic humanism and particularistic nationalism - especially by dismissing the role of power in politics. As such, I will also discuss the adequacy of dealing with actual political questions (such as Zionist nationalism or the Israeli-Arab conflict) with means that are more suitable for the interpersonal, or sub-political, sphere.