Paganism as a Political Problem: Levinas’s Understanding of Judaism in the 1930s

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In response to the rise of neopagan fascist political theologies in Europe in the 1930s, the young Emmanuel Levinas developed a novel conception of the theopolitical role of Judaism. The existing scholarly consensus maintains that (1) Levinas responded to the rise of pagan Hitlerism by opposing it to a Jewish conception of transcendence and (2) this putative contrast involved a critique of Heidegger’s thought, which Levinas identified with pagan Hitlerism. By focusing on under-examined occasional pieces Levinas wrote in the 1930s, I offer a significantly revised understanding of Levinas’s position in the 1930s. The argument shows how Levinas describes Judaism as a way of ‘being riveted’ that does not resort to transcendence, as does the Greco-Christian West, but rather affirms the immanence of existence while breaking with its disposition to paganism. This places Levinas’s conception of Judaism on the same plane as paganism and within the terms of Heidegger’s philosophy. From this perspective, a new way of understanding Levinas’s theopolitical view of Judaism as “the anti-paganism par excellence” takes shape.

Original languageEnglish
Article number529
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2024

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  • 1930s
  • Heidegger
  • Judeo-Christianity
  • Levinas
  • paganism
  • political theology


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