Nelson Maldonado-Torres argues that European modernity has become inextricable from the experience of the warrior and conqueror. In Against War, he develops a powerful critique of modernity, and he offers a critical response combining ethics, political theory, and ideas rooted in Christian and Jewish thought. Maldonado-Torres focuses on the perspectives of those who inhabit the underside of western modernity, particularly Jewish, black, and Latin American theorists. He analyzes the works of the Jewish ...
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Against War: Views from the Underside of Modernity

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Nelson Maldonado-Torres argues that European modernity has become inextricable from the experience of the warrior and conqueror. In Against War, he develops a powerful critique of modernity, and he offers a critical response combining ethics, political theory, and ideas rooted in Christian and Jewish thought. Maldonado-Torres focuses on the perspectives of those who inhabit the underside of western modernity, particularly Jewish, black, and Latin American theorists. He analyzes the works of the Jewish Lithuanian-French philosopher and religious thinker Emmanuel Levinas, the Martiniquean psychiatrist and political thinker Frantz Fanon, and the Catholic Argentinean-Mexican philosopher, historian, and theologian Enrique Dussel.

Considering Levinas’s critique of French liberalism and Nazi racial politics, and the links between them, Maldonado-Torres identifies a “master morality” of dominion and control at the heart of western modernity. This master morality constitutes the center of a warring paradigm that inspires and legitimizes racial policies, imperial projects, and wars of invasion. Maldonado-Torres refines the description of modernity’s war paradigm and the Levinasian critique through Fanon’s phenomenology of the colonized and racial self and the politics of decolonization, which he reinterprets in light of the Levinasian conception of ethics. Drawing on Dussel’s genealogy of the modern imperial and warring self, Maldonado-Torres theorizes race as the naturalization of war’s death ethic. He offers decolonial ethics and politics as an antidote to modernity’s master morality and the paradigm of war. Against War advances the de-colonial turn, showing how theory and ethics cannot be conceived without politics, and how they all need to be oriented by the imperative of decolonization in the modern/colonial and postmodern world.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“[T]his is an innovative, passionate and provocative work that carefully synthesizes excellent close readings of several important thinkers. Against War is a significant contribution to the liberationist tradition and should attract attention across philosophy, theology, and ethnic studies.” - Mark Kjellman, Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory

Against War is a tour-de-force study in ethics and the philosophy of liberation that brings together the European Jewish, Afro-Caribbean, and Latin American undersides of modern thought. Nelson Maldonado-Torres does this not for the sake of articulating an intellectual historicism or textual mastery but for the sake of illuminating his own theory of critical epistemic normativity. This long-awaited work, written by the best critical theorist of his generation in Caribbean and Latin American thought, is groundbreaking; it properly takes the ‘decolonial turn’ to another level as it inaugurates what the author aptly coins ‘decolonial ethics.’ I expect this work to receive much well deserved study for generations to come. It is a triumph.”—Lewis R. Gordon, Laura H. Carnell Professor of Philosophy, Religion, and Judaic Studies, Temple University

Against War is a treatise on a new type of ethics: decolonial ethics. As we associate discourse ethics with Jürgen Habermas, the scholarly community will soon associate decolonial ethics with Nelson Maldonado-Torres.”—Paget Henry, author of Caliban’s Reason: Introducing Afro-Caribbean Philosophy

Mark Kjellman

“[T]his is an innovative, passionate and provocative work that carefully synthesizes excellent close readings of several important thinkers. Against War is a significant contribution to the liberationist tradition and should attract attention across philosophy, theology, and ethnic studies.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822388999
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 3/19/2008
  • Series: Latin America Otherwise
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 1,277,788
  • File size: 756 KB

Meet the Author

Nelson Maldonado-Torres is Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a coeditor of Latin@s in the World-System: Decolonization Struggles in the 21st Century U.S. Empire.

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Read an Excerpt




Copyright © 2008 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4170-3

Chapter One


TRACING THE ORIGINS OF VIOLENCE AND WAR Perhaps the most revolutionary fact of our twentieth-century consciousness ... is that of the destruction of all balance between Western thought's explicit and implicit theodicy and the forms that suffering and its evil are taking on in the very unfolding of this century. This is the century that in thirty years has known two world wars, the totalitarianisms of right and left, Hitlerism and Stalinism, Hiroshima, the Gulag, and the genocides of Auschwitz and Cambodia. This is the century that is drawing to a close in the obsessive fear of the return of everything these barbaric names stood for: suffering and evil inflicted deliberately, but in a manner no reason set limits to, in the exasperation of a reason become political and detached from all ethics.-EMMANUEL LEVINAS

In a brief autobiographical essay entitled "Signature" Emmanuel Levinas comments that all his life has been marked by the "presentiment and the memory of the Nazi horror." It is most revealing that he uses the notion of "presentiment" and not only of "memory." The word "presentiment" indicates that the "Nazi horror" hardly took Levinas by surprise. Quite the opposite, it is almost as if he was expecting it. Nazism appeared to be for him a lived possibility of a culture, rather than a radical unexpected departure from a moral destiny. The opening lines of the preface to his profound first major work, Totality and Infinity, give an indication of the sources for this Levinasian suspicion:

Everyone will readily agree that it is of the highest importance to know whether we are not duped by morality. Does not lucidity, the mind's openness upon the true consist in catching sight of the permanent possibility of war? That state of war suspends morality; it divests the eternal institutions and obligations of their eternity and rescinds ad interim the unconditional imperatives.... The art of foreseeing war and of winning it by every means-politics-is henceforth enjoined as the very exercise of reason. Politics is opposed to morality, as philosophy to naiveté. (TI 21)

Lucidity (clarity and distinctiveness), Levinas points out here, is interrupted by the intervention of morals. If true philosophical knowledge is knowledge without presuppositions, then it is clear that morality should be either parenthesized or simply ignored as a significant epistemological factor. The search for the truth thus requires the methodic exclusion of morals. And among the many experiences that bring this clarity war stands at the very top. "In war reality rends the words and images that dissimulate it, to obtrude in its nudity and its harshness" (TI 21). If true knowledge is obtained through a gentle indifference toward ethics, the radical suspension of morality in war accomplishes the most radical and effective means to reach true knowledge and to serve rationality. For Levinas, the Nazi horror was a radical expression of this ideal. It represents the moment where rationality fully joins politics through the achievement of a complete detachment from morals. From this point on rationality and politics unfold as systematic and calculated murder.

Let us examine the Levinasian suspicion that violence and war are not foreign elements of Western culture but logical results of dominant paradigms of thinking. I would like to highlight the idea that Levinas could only have a "presentiment" of the Nazi horror because the possibility of a drama of war and systematic violence was already present in the culture in which he lived. This chapter offers a close reading of Levinas's first explicit exploration into the sources of violence in the West, "Reflections on the Philosophy of Hitlerism." In this essay, Levinas traces the initial sources of violence to the limitations and the ambiguities of a dominant paradigm of thinking inscribed in modern political philosophy-primarily in French liberalism. I expand on Levinas's reflections to show the links not only between liberalism and Hitlerism, but also between these two and two other apparently alternative accounts offered by Friedrich Nietzsche and by Edmund Husserl. Through this exploration it will become clear how the exercise of "war and conquest" may be ultimately traced back to conceptions of subjectivity and human community that reproduce the logic of a division between master and slaves. Hitlerism along with Eurocentrism emerge as two ideals of subjectivity and human community mounted on the privilege of imperial experience. While this first chapter endeavors to clarify the basis of the Levinasian diagnosis of the Western civilizing project, the second chapter will aim to articulate Levinas's alternative accounts of subjectivity and of human interaction.


As for the question of knowing, in the context of the violence that fills us all with dread, whether we can incriminate philosophy, in which the concept of man can be comprehended-I think, indeed, that it is in the world of violence that philosophy has been established as Reason and has been explicated as such. Philosophy is one of the essential adventures of reason, without which the philosophy of the absolutely dissimilar I would also present dangers, but which if left to itself would intensify the violence that it wants to combat, wherever it arises.-EMMANUEL LEVINAS Philosophy's itinerary remains that of Ulysses, whose adventure in the world was only a return to his native island-a complacency in the Same, an unrecognition of the other.-EMMANUEL LEVINAS

It was 1934, four years after Levinas had completed his doctoral dissertation in Germany, and a year after Hitler had emerged as the new leader of the country and Martin Heidegger had offered several discourses in favor of Hitler's regime, that Levinas wrote his brief essay "Reflections on the Philosophy of Hitlerism." As Manuel Reyes Mate points out, Heidegger had used his philosophical artillery, particularly phenomenology, to explain and defend the emergence of National Socialism in Germany. With his short essay on the philosophy of Hitlerism, "Levinas wishes to make the point that ... it is possible to make a critical interpretation of Hitlerism using the same philosophical tools." However, while it is true that Levinas draws heavily from phenomenology, his essay offers a different path of thinking that is highly informed by "Jewish wisdom" and the experience of being a Jew in France, particularly after the Dreyfus Affair. His essay is also critical of two of the most significant intellectual sources of Heidegger's work: Nietzschhe and the father of phenomenology itself, Edmund Husserl-who, like Levinas, was also a Jew but who did not consider Judaism as a relevant epistemic source. Thus, Levinas's article can be read not only as a critique of Heidegger, but also as a critical response to the Nietzschean and the Husserlian philosophical responses to the crisis of Europe. I will elaborate this point in this first chapter and turn to the Levinasian critique of Heidegger in the second.

Levinas's "Reflections on the Philosophy of Hitlerism" attempts to elucidate the extent of the challenge that Hitlerism poses to Western philosophical and political thought. In a way that is reminiscent of Nietzschean reflections on the sources and motivations of Western thought and morals, Levinas provides the sketch of a genealogical account of dominant Western anthropological and epistemological conceptions. In his essay, he portrays Hitlerism simultaneously as the excessive expression of a logic inaugurated by Western ideals and as the return of what has been repressed in Western culture. Hitlerism does not appear to be a necessary outcome of Western culture, but it is not merely an accidental effect either. It takes Western thought by surprise because it is simultaneously completely strange and uncannily familiar. A close reading of this essay will clarify the fundamental intuition behind the Levinasian diagnosis of modernity and the sources of the alleged violent tendencies in Western civilization.

For Levinas, the most basic anthropological principle expressed in the dominant religious and philosophical ideas of Western civilization is the notion of renovation or freedom from fate or material necessities (RPH 64-65). Although Levinas traces this notion to the Judaic conception of "remorse and pardon," he notes that it also appears in the Christian revolt against the Greek notion of tragedy and temporality (RPH 65). In Christianity, this freedom refers ultimately to the liberty of the soul in respect to everything else to which it might be submitted-for example, to the past or to nature. With modern philosophical and political thought this freedom is transformed into the superiority of humans with respect to the material world, and, ultimately, into the idealism of reason according to which only the spiritual exists. Gradually the Christian notion of "liberation through grace," which indicates regained freedom over causal determination, gives way to the notion of the autonomy of the subject in modern philosophy (RPH 66). This conception of an autonomous human being who escapes physical, psychological, and social determinations is inscribed in the French liberal Declaration of the Rights of Man. Even Marxism, with the ideal of gaining awareness of one's social situation, expresses, according to Levinas, this notion of freedom (RPH 66-67).

The philosophy of Hitlerism is not merely a spurious reaction against liberalism. It takes on and reveals a fundamental experience to which liberalism does not do full justice. Ultimately, the philosophy of Hitlerism makes reference to the unique ties between the self and the body, something that hardly finds adequate expression in the anthropology of liberalism. While for Christianity and liberalism the body is taken as "eternally foreign," Hitlerism takes on the biological bondage of the self. As Levinas points out,

From this point on, every social structure that announces an emancipation with respect to the body, without being committed to it [qui ne l'engage pas], is suspected of being a repudiation and betrayal. The forms of a modern society founded on the harmony established between free wills will seem not only fragile and inconsistent but false and deceitful. The assimilation of spirits loses the grandeur of the spirit's triumph over the body. Instead, it becomes the work of forgers. A society based on consanguinity immediately ensues from this concretization of the spirit. And then, if race does not exist, one has to invent it! (RPH 69)

The anthropological and the social ideas that find place in the philosophy of Hitlerism are matched by parallel conceptions of truth and thinking. Here, again, the philosophy of Hitlerism performs an ingenious but perverse subversion of the dominant ideals in Western civilization. Western epistemology is intrinsically related to dominant Western anthropological conceptions. The free human being, detached from the world, searches for and chooses his truth. "He is free and alone in the face of the world" (RPH 69). This ideal opens the possibility of not choosing or adhering to any truth, that is, of skepticism. The free human being enjoys his freedom and lack of commitment to the point where he suspends all judgment. The lack and the impossibility of conviction are appraised, and the search for truth becomes a foolish hope. The resolute search for the truth becomes only the illusory hope of a heroic age. As Levinas points out, "Sincerity becomes impossible and puts an end to all heroism. Civilization is invaded by everything that is not authentic, by a substitute that is put at the service of fashion and of various interests" (RPH 70). The possibilities of reaching the truth through freedom vanish; the Nazi idea of glory tied to racial determinism becomes a lived possibility for a culture (RPH 70).

The intricate, and at times ambivalent, relations between Hitlerism and liberalism make it difficult to reach a conclusion about Levinas's aims in the essay on the philosophy of Hitlerism. Ultimately, it is not entirely clear if for Levinas the philosophy of Hitlerism represents either a consistent expression of dominant ideals in Western civilization or a dishonest betrayal of whatever is good in French liberalism. Liberalism is grounded on a modern anthropology and epistemology according to which certainty and truth can only be achieved through extreme doubt or skepticism. Cartesianism as well as what often goes as the "philosophy of the Enlightenment" are good examples of this. Both premise the search for truth and epistemic foundations on radical critique. The liberal conception of self as free and autonomous is grounded on the "evidence" of the cogito or autonomous self, who is conceived as the indispensable agent of knowledge and critique. The liberal Rights of Man, for instance, are the rights of this ultimate foundation. But the irony is that the idea of the full autonomy and freedom of the subject opens the possibility of a renewed skepticism, based on the notion of a radical freedom beyond absolute norms and values. This new and more radical form of skepticism of transcendental values and concepts, which include the notions of "rights" and Man themselves, opens the door for relativism and natural determinism. The Levinasian lesson is clear: excessively abstract concepts of freedom and subjectivity that promote relativism ultimately lead to decadent forms of nihilism, to racial conceptions of human determinism, or both. The question here is whether such abstract conceptions of freedom and subjectivity and their concomitant outcomes (including Hitlerism) are a consistent expression of the Western search for truth through critique or if they rather represent misguided steps in the veritable search for truth and freedom. If the former, then, the very ideal of searching for truth is at stake. In that case, an alternative response to it would have to demonstrate that attaining the truth is neither possible nor desirable in itself. It would also be necessary to show how a consistent abandonment of the ideal of searching for the truth at all costs represents an authentic liberation, and not an enslavement into the captivity of the body. If, on the contrary, one considered liberalism's excessive abstraction and its results as a betrayal of the search for freedom, which initiated the process of the search for truth and critique in the first place, then the appropriate answer would involve a reaffirmation of the search for the truth on a new basis-which avoids excessive abstraction and relativism. In this case it would be necessary to show that the attainment of truth is not only possible but also desirable (in that it is the best remedy against decadent nihilism and racial determinism). These two possible interpretations of and responses to the predicament of the philosophical anthropology of liberalism point to two influential responses to what is known as the "crisis of modernity." One of them is Nietzschean, the other Husserlian. Levinas was largely acquainted with the two responses. I will attempt to clarify the distinctiveness of the Levinasian response through a discussion of and comparison with these two responses to the "crisis." I first turn to Nietzsche, and then to Levinas's beloved teacher, Edmund Husserl.


Excerpted from AGAINST WAR by NELSON MALDONADO-TORRES Copyright © 2008 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

About the series ix

Preface xi

Abbreviations of Frequently Cited Titles xvii

Introduction: Western Modernity and the Paradigm of War 1

Part I. Searching for Ethics in a Violent World: A Jewish Response to the Paradigm of War

1. From Liberalism to Hitlerism: Tracing the Origins of Violence and War 23

2. From Fraternity to Altericity, or Reason in the Service of Love 51

Part II. Of Masters and Slaves, or Frantz Fanon and the Ethico-Political Struggle for Non-sexist Human Fraternity

3. God and the Other in the Self-Recognition of Imperial Man 93

4. Recognition from Below: The Meaning of the Cry and the Gift of the Self in the Struggle for Recognition 122

Part III. From the Ethical to the Geopolitical: A Latin American Response to Coloniality, Neoliberal Globalization, and War

5. Enrique Dussel's Ethics and the Philosophy of Liberation 163

6. Enrique Dussel's Contribution to the De-colonial Turn: From the Critique of Modernity to Transmodernity 187

Conclusion: Beyond the Paradigm of War 237

Notes 255

Bibliography 313

Index 335
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