All actual life is encounter: Martin Buber's politics of de-politicization




Chow, George

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Martin Buber's diagnosis of modern politics points to the disengagement of citizens from direct and personal encounters as a central contributing factor to the increasing politicization afflicting human life. Buber sees meaning situated in actual life with the world, with others, and with God. The living reality is encounter; living truth, hence, cannot be possessed, only actualized in mutual encounter. The importance of Buber's work to political problems lies in his ability to negotiate paradoxes in three cases: between being and becoming, between individualism and collectivism, between personal relationships and the real demands of an existent condition. In the first case, a radical openness to relation exposes human interlocutors to the surprising mutuality of genuine dialogue, hence allowing them to be changed by the encounter. Existential being is made present through encounter, but in doing so, interlocutors set towards a path to human becoming in dialogue. Social education, the embrace of social spontaneity through mutual encounter, resists the grip of propaganda over interhuman life by challenging and testing the "ready-made truths" often peddled in modern politics. In the second case, he contends that actual life cannot be found in the individual simply as individual, or the individual who surrenders himself to a collective. Human life,for Buber, is actualized in partnership. Hence, there is no presentness for the individual or the collective. This alienation leads to a situation where political illusion dominates - where real conflicts that invariably do arise between groups of people are obscured by "political surplus conflicts", conflicts that are exaggerated and possibly fabricated for the sake of politics. In the third case, people work towards transforming a shared existent condition by providing honest and direct address to persons - to confront the world in its presentness, rather than continuing to live under political illusions. Buber provides us a rebellious spirit who knows he cannot act alone. Buber's rebellious spirit understands that the most effective form action is immediate human togetherness, when genuine address is responded in kind. It is in the direct and immediate encounter, the genuine word between persons, that interhuman trust can weaken the presumed vice grip of distrust on human existence. Once people can dare to trust, they can once again renew actual life - a life of partnership.



Martin Buber, criticism and interpretation, philosophical anthropology