“Exile, Statelessness, and Migration: Playing Chess with History from Hannah Arendt to Isaiah Berlin” by Seyla Benhabib— Exile and Migration, A Philosophical Look

Benhabib, Seyla. “Exile, Statelessness, and Migration: Playing Chess with History from Hannah Arendt to Isaiah Berlin”, Princeton University Press, 2018.

Exile and Migration,  A Philosophical Look

Amos Lassen

Seyla Benhabib examines the intertwined lives and writings of a group of prominent twentieth-century Jewish thinkers who experienced exile and migration. These include Theodor Adorno, Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Isaiah Berlin, Albert Hirschman, Judith Shklar, Hans Kelsen, Emmanuel Levinas, Gershom Scholem, and Leo Strauss. These philosophers and intellectuals who were informed

by their Jewish identity and experiences of being outsiders, taken as a whole produced one of the “most brilliant and effervescent intellectual movements of modernity.”  These thinkers faced migration, statelessness, and exile because of their Jewish origins, even if they did not take positions on specifically Jewish issues personally. The sense of belonging and not belonging, of being “eternally half-other,” led and caused them to confront essential questions: “What does it mean for the individual to be an equal citizen and to wish to retain one’s ethnic, cultural, and religious differences, or perhaps even to rid oneself of these differences altogether in modernity”? Benhabib concentrates on and isolates four themes in their works: dilemmas of belonging and difference; exile, political voice, and loyalty; legality and legitimacy; and pluralism and the problem of judgment. I have always found it interesting that Jews have been regarded as people with one voice and “that we all think alike”. We know that is far from the truth and we see this in our daily lives. We also see I here among the illustrious names that appear in this study. What I do love is that they influenced one another and they will be the first to say so. I find this even more interesting when we look at the names of our thinkers here and while they do not share the same thoughts, they do share that they think. When Benhabib shows us here is the valuable plurality of their Jewish voices, most of whom developed their universal insights in the face of the crises of this new century.

We look at key aspects of German-Jewish thought in the twentieth century and we see affinities and differences in the lives and work of intellectuals confronting the pressures of exile, statelessness, and migration. We understand that we must consider the political challenges of our time as real and viable. The intellectuals here were quite a force in the twentieth century. In most cases, they were Jewish refugees and exiles and who still speak eloquently to timely political and philosophical issues.

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