Messianica ratio. Affinities and Differences in Cohen’s and Benjamin's Messianic Rationalism

Fabrizio Desideri


In my paper, I intend firmly to criticize Taubes' interpretation of Benjamin's Theology as a modern form of Gnosticism (Benjamin as a modern Marcionit). In a positive way, I sustain rather the thesis that Benjamin's Messianism is in close connection with his conception of reason (“the sharpened axe of reason”) and, in particularly, with the paradoxical unity of Mysticism and Enlightenment, which, according to the famous definition of Adorno, distinguishes his thought. As a radically anti-magical and anti-mythical conception of the historical time, Benjamin's Messianism has to be considered as an original synthesis between motifs of the mystical tradition of the Jewish Kabbalah and motifs belonging to the rationalist tradition of the Jewish philosophy. Moving from Cohen's standpoint of a continuity between Maimonides and Kant, I consider therefore the affinity between his messianic conception of history and that of Benjamin. Both, Benjamin and Cohen, share, together with the reference to the a priori of the idea of justice, the reference to the Kantian connection between rationality and hope. Hence originates the non-eschatological Messianism of both. Motives of difference between Cohen and Benjamin’s messianic idea are to be found, conversely, in their different way to consider the idea of "the infinite task" and of its infinite fulfillment in the context of the historical time. Unlike the fundamentally ethical interpretation that Cohen gives of this relationship, Benjamin understands it ontologically in a monadological sense. This explains the constitutive relationship that exists, in Benjamin's philosophy, between Origin, Fragment and Revelation. In the light of this connection, Benjamin's messianic understanding of the historical time exceeds the Scholemian alternative between a restorative and a utopian conception of Messianism. Consequently, the Krausian motto “Ursprung ist das Ziel” (“The Origin is the Goal”) displays its truth in the idea of the messianic fragment or spark.


Walter Benjamin; Hermann Cohen; Gnosticism; Messianism

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