§1. The Failure and the Success of Social Criticism

§2. Critical Distance

§3. Another Honourable Company of Social Critics

§1. The failure and the success of social criticism

The last Talmudic story is well known among the Jews. It is often quoted to support the rabbinic doctrine that rational interpretation alone is sufficient to understand the given Torah. The rabbis who formulate this argument do not deny the possibility of revelation. On the contrary, they presuppose it, even in its most spectacular form as a voice coming from heaven. The rabbis ingeniously show that God himself has to bow to the shrewdness of human reason by using God’s words against God’s words. Rabbi Joshua’s protest is a direct reference to Deuteronomy 30,12: “It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?” These are the words that God says to the Israelites. He tells them that he has given them his commandment and that they cannot pretend not to know it. He says, “But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it (Dt 30,14).” If the law is given and written down in readily comprehensible form, it is natural to infer that no one, with no exception for its author, should have special privilege or authority to interpret it. Once something is uttered, it is open to public interpretation. The correctness of its interpretation is not determined by the author or by an elected central committee. Rather it is left to persuasion and the majority rule. God must likewise obey this rule. Thus the Talmud confidently concludes: “After the majority must one incline.”1Baba Metzia 59b, I. Epstein (ed.), Hebrew-English Edition of the Babylonian Talmud, London, 1962.

This rabbinic argument can have diverse implications. Walzer adapts and incorporates it into his moral interpretation. But one thing he does not mention, a downside in the Jewish history, is that the story conceals the failure of prophecy. The names of the rabbis in the story already hint at the conflict between the prophet and the sage: it is Eliezer versus Joshua. Eliezer might be an allusion to Elisha, the disciple of an outstanding Israelite prophet Elijah, who prophesied against the King and the Queen at the risk of his life, and who once challenged 450 prophets of Baal, defeated them, and slaughtered them all (1 Kg 17-19).2Cf. M. Walzer, M. Lorberbaum, N. J. Zohar (eds.), The Jewish Political Tradition. Vol. I: Authority, New Haven, CT – London, 2000, pp. 209-211. Elijah is the symbol of a solitary, oppositional, and charismatic prophet. Joshua, on the other hand, was the disciple of Moses. He served the people more like a judge than a prophet. In the Talmudic story, Eliezer stands alone against a group of sages headed by Joshua. God is clearly on the side of Eliezer, but the sages manage to defeat him. And the victory is put in the mouth of Elijah: 3Baba Metzia 59b.

R. Nathan met Elijah and asked him: What did the Holy One, Blessed be He, do in that hour?—He laughed [with joy], he replied, saying, ‘My sons have defeated Me. My sons have defeated Me.’

The defeat is not merely the defeat of God. Its intended references are the defeat of supernatural revelation and the defeat of the practice of prophecy.4Cf. David Hartman’s commentary on Bava Metzia 59b, in The Jewish Political Tradition, pp. 264-269. Since the failure of prophecy appears to be paradigmatic—that is, it has parallels with the failure of the twentieth century social criticism described by Walzer, it is worthwhile to look into it in more detail.5Walzer intends the prophet to be a paradigm of social criticism. But I suspect that his paradigm is more rabbinic than prophetic. As a full development of this hypothesis lies beyond the scope of this dissertation, I will just give some hints of the rabbinic criticism.

A. When social criticism fails

1. The prophet and the sage

In the biblical literature, the basic meaning of “prophet” is “a messenger of God”—a person who receives a message from God and proclaims it to the people. Needless to say, this understanding is quite loose. Many personalities have been called “prophet,” though they have played different roles in the Jewish history. Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Amos, Daniel, Haggai, and Jonah, to name but a few, are all of them prophets. Not each one of them, however, may be understood as a social critic. In view of the diverse activities of the prophets, it is necessary to narrow down the spectrum to a certain type of prophets that will be useful in our comparison with the modern social critics. At first sight, the classical prophets to whom a collection of biblical books has been attributed are the closest match. Among them, Amos, possibly the first classical prophet, stands out sharply as a social critic. He is indignant at the current social practices, and believes that things are not done in the ways that they should be. In the name of God, the prophet speaks out against the injustice and condemns the oppressors to divine retribution.

It is difficult to trace with certainty the origin of prophecy in Israel. Some say it starts with Moses; others ascribe it to Samuel.6Cf. J. Blenkinsopp, A History of Prophecy in Israel. From the Settlement in the Land to the Hellenistic Period, Philadelphia, PA, 1983, Ch. 2. We are not sure who the first prophet is. They, however, have one thing in common: they take charge of all things from great to small. We are told that Moses had to work “from morning unto the evening” until his father-in-law intervened and advised him to delegate part of his responsibility to other capable men (Ex 18,13-22). At all events, there was not yet a clear division of labour in governance. The early Israelite leader was simultaneously the lawmaker, arbitrator, administrator, military commander, and sometimes even priest. This kind of so-called judges went on to rule Israel until this institution collapsed under the pressure of Philistine aggression. Apparently, the political organization of the Philistines was more efficient than that of the Israelites. Their king, who had more authority and resources, could assemble a regular army and rapidly deploy it whenever necessary. The people of Israel seemed to have no choice but to replace the old system with the institution of kingship. Samuel, who was the judge at that time, yielded to public demand. He made the compromise of handing over the military and administrative power to the king while holding on to the spiritual authority himself. As a result, Paul Hanson opines, the office of judge was split into two separate offices: “the spiritual responsibility of discerning Yahweh’s will and translating the implications of his cosmic rule into the categories of history fell to the new office of the nābî’ (‘the one called’), whereas the political responsibility of carrying out the action required by this translation was invested in the office of nāgîd, or military leader.”7P. D. Hanson, The Dawn of Apocalyptic, Philadelphia, PA, 1975, p. 15. In other words, Hanson suggests that the executive responsibility goes to the king and the legislative responsibility to the prophet. Hanson’s conception of prophet as a political office is inaccurate. As noted by the editors of The Jewish Political Tradition, “from the time of the monarchy forward, prophecy is more closely tied to divine knowledge and critical judgement than to political office.” Here, the word “role” is preferred to “office.”8The Jewish Political Tradition, pp. 202-203. It is better to say that the role of the judge is divided into political and prophetic roles. While the former is institutionalized, the latter is vocational though its authority and function are generally acknowledged. The two roles are often antagonistic. Prophets are ill at ease with political power. They expose the hypocrisy of the ruling classes, condemn the abuse of power, and criticize foreign and internal policies.

a. Waiting in the desert

This division of labour was the framework of governance throughout the period of the kingdoms. It was only plunged into crisis when the First Temple was destroyed in 586 b.c. and the ruling élite was sent into exile in Babylonia. Now the Jews lost their sovereignty and the king was abolished. Could the prophet assert himself and adapt his mission to the new political milieu? Many theologians think that the blow is fatal, and that prophecy has come to its demise. Joseph Blenkinsopp contends against the popular opinion that prophecy has in fact entered into its second phase of proliferation and diversification. Quite a few prophets have arisen. They recorded the exilic history, condemned the foreign oppressors, encouraged the people in exile by proclaiming the hope of restoration, edited the previous prophetic oracles, and reinterpreted the history of Israel.9J. Blenkinsopp, A History, Ch. 5.

If Israelite prophecy survived its first blow, it obviously could not stand the second. After the destruction of the Second Temple, the Jews refused to believe in prophecy anymore. The cause for the failure of prophecy is a long story. Here I can only briefly suggest some reasons. First, the king and the prophet are two complimentary roles in the Israelite social order. Prophecy exists and evolves around the political leadership. If sovereignty is taken away, prophecy will lose its immediate ground of existence. Second, in the exilic and postexilic periods, the prophet has had the chance to adjust his role and message to the new situation. He seizes it, but he does it in such a way that ultimately leads to the final failure of prophecy. In his reflection on the fall of the kingdom and the subsequent exile, the prophet attributes the cause not to God’s reluctance to intervene in human affairs or to the mightiness of their neighbours but to idolatry and oppression committed by the Israelites themselves. Hence exile is perceived as a divine punishment. The solution, he thinks, lies in reconciliation and restoration. He sets himself the tasks of asking the people to propitiate God with their genuine repentance, and of proclaiming the promise of restoration. The destruction of the Second Temple, however, utterly shatters this promise. By now, the hope of the people has been exhausted. Prophecy, in the form of criticism, judgement and redemption, has lost its credibility.10Walzer also opines that “the popular hatred of prophets” is not “entirely unwarranted” because “the sins of ordinary people don’t seem large enough to warrant the total destruction of the city.” The doctrine of collective punishment is suspect and looks always strained. If the promised redemption cannot be delivered, prophecy will become bankrupt. (The Jewish Political Tradition, pp. 217-219.) Finally, prophecy is perceived as an ineffective means of education. A modern rabbi, Abraham Kook, commenting on a verse from the Talmud—“A sage is superior to a prophet (Baba Bathra 12a)”—argues: “And what prophecy, with its impassioned and fiery exhortations could not accomplish in purging the Jewish people of idolatry and in uprooting the basic causes of the most degrading forms of oppression and violence,—of murder, sexual perversity, and bribery,—was accomplished by the sages.”11A. I. Kook, The Sage Is More Important than the Prophet, in H. Dimitrovsky (ed.), Exploring the Talmud, Vol. I, New York, NY, 1976, 103-104, p. 104. Cf. The Jewish Political Tradition, pp. 271-273. For a long period of time, the prophets have had the opportunity to educate the people, but they fail to achieve the intended result. The prophets blame the people for their stubbornness and rebelliousness. The sages, in their turn, shift the responsibility to the prophets: the chief cause of the fall is the inefficacy of prophetic instruction.

In any event, our interest here is more in the consequences of the failure than in its causes. They may offer us (and Walzer as well) a perspective to conceptualize the responses of modern social critics to their failure. What would the Jews do when prophecy failed? A straightforward response would be to carry on the prophetic tradition regardless of adverse circumstances. And this was precisely what happened. After the destruction of the First Temple, instead of beginning to wane as some might expect, prophecy actually entered its renaissance in the exilic era. Signs of its decline can only be found in the postexilic period. We may even say that it is not declining, but that it is transforming into a new kind of apocalyptic literature, which proliferates well after 70 a.d.12Readers who are unfamiliar with the apocalyptic literature can consult R. H. Charles’s two-volume collection: The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English, Oxford, 1913. Prophecy and apocalypse, as noted by Hanson, form a continuum: apocalypse is prophecy adapted to the socio-political milieu of sovereignty lost.

According to Hanson’s analysis, there are two important elements in Judaism: vision and reality, or the cosmic realm of the divine council and the historic realm of everyday life. The prophet, who is endowed with divine privilege, witnesses the happenings and the decision made in the divine council. After returning from the cosmic world, the prophet translates his vision into reality, and instructs the ruler or the people in the proper reaction. Prophecy thus consists of vision and its application.13P. D. Hanson, The Dawn, p. 11. A typical example can be found in Isaiah 6. In the year when king Uzziah dies, the prophet Isaiah has a vision in which he ascends to the divine court, and sees God sitting on his throne with his divine council. Isaiah hears God saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” The prophet immediately responds, “Here am I; send me (Is 6,8).”14Cf. The Jewish Political Tradition. Vol. I: Authority, New Haven, CT – London, 2000, pp. 206-208.

In stark contrast to this emphasis on revelation, there are other passages that emphasize the concealment of revelation. At the end of the Book of Daniel, the prophet is told to “shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end (Dn 12,4).” What it means is not to bury or burn the book but to conceal the interpretation of the vision. Hanson points out that this is the main difference between prophecy and apocalypse: prophecy contains visions and interpretations, but apocalypse contains visions only.15P. D. Hanson, The Dawn, pp. 11-12.

Although Hanson’s study is restricted to the corpus of eschatological texts, his distinction between vision and reality is quite useful for our purpose. The preexilic and exilic prophets, generally speaking, are mainly concerned with real politics. They invoke the name of God and appeal to cosmic vision, but their aim is to deal with a particular problem in a concrete historical context. In the postexilic period, prophets tend to leave their visions unexplained. As for the apocalyptists, they formulate their visions in specialized languages which, though tangible to the members of their own groups, cease to address the concerns of ordinary people.

The transition of prophecy from perspicuity to ambiguity, and then to obscurity is readily understandable in the light of Israel’s history. In the beginning, the prophets firmly believed they could bring about real social change. Even in the exilic period, they were optimistic that if the people followed their instruction, Israel would regain its sovereignty and past glory. They had hope in this world; their tangible messages reflected their optimism. The test of their prophecy came when the Jews were given the chance to rebuild their community in Judea. Under the reigns of the Persian kings, they were allowed to return to their own land. But the restoration, the fruit of their hard labour, was far from the ideal promised by the prophets. This time, it became nonsensical for the prophets to blame solely the people for its failure when there were successive oppression and exploitation inflicted by their Persian, Greek, and Roman masters. The prophets, though trying hard to uphold the hope, lost the optimism of its fulfilment in the near future. Instead, they proclaimed visions to encourage the people, but they were unwilling to translate them into real politics. Such visionary prophecy was difficult to attract a large audience, and it eventually slid into apocalypse. Gradually, the apocalyptists had lost all hope of establishing a righteous kingdom in this world. Their hope had to be otherworldly, which would not be fulfilled until the coming of the Son of Light, who would then establish his kingdom on earth and reign forever with his righteousness. Hence they, as exemplified by the community of the Essenes in Qumran, retreated into the desert and waited for the Messiah.

b. Compulsive globalization

Another way to give meaning to the exile is to invent the idea of compulsive missionary or globalization. Such idea is certainly not extraneous to the Jewish monotheism. Since God is the creator of heaven and earth, abundant in love and grace, he could not be so partial or mean as to elect only the Israelites. His election of Israel should be seen as the initial step of his universal salvation plan. He intends Israel to be a holy people, a kingdom of priests, and a light unto nations. The Israelites fail to understand this global mission and God has to execute his plan himself, without their full understanding, by dispersing them among the nations.

There are some biblical texts that support the idea of compulsive globalization. The Book of Jonah is an example. Although it contains no reliable data as regards its date of writing, it is highly probable that, judging from its language and its message, it was written in the exilic or postexilic period.16Cf. U. Simon, Jonah (The JPS Bible Commentary), Philadelphia, PA, 1999, pp. xli-xlii. The book is composed in a third-person narrative genre, which is different from the first person narration usually found in other prophetic books. The author portrays Jonah as a prophet on the run, who refuses to accept the mission of preaching in a foreign land. God commissions Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh, but Jonah flees instead to Joppa and boards a ship bound for Tarshish towards the opposite direction. God impedes the prophet from running by hurling a great storm into the sea. Jonah, however, does not care. He sleeps under the deck while the other passengers are earnestly praying to their gods. When all means have been exhausted, they cast lots and discover Jonah to be the cause of their misfortune. Jonah admits it. Nonetheless, instead of pleading to Yahweh, he asks the crew to throw him into the sea. The prophet is stiff-necked. If he is not allowed to go to Tarshish, he prefers to go to hell. But God has no intention to let Jonah go to hell. He sends a great fish to swallow up Jonah. After three days and three nights in the purgatory, Jonah yields and cries out to God. God orders the fish to vomit Jonah onto the land, and sends him to Nineveh again. This time Jonah reluctantly obeys.

Why is Jonah so reluctant to preach in Nineveh? Is it because of the awkwardness of the mission? Who would believe in a stranger pronouncing judgement in the name of his tribal god? The author, however, assures us that this is the least thing that needs to be worried about. Jonah is so proud of his Yahweh, the God of heaven, that he will not be shy of speaking his name (Jon 1,9). Besides, the Gentiles are God-fearing and ready to repent. (One must say that they are too pious and too willing to repent.) We are told that when the passengers of the ship hear the name of Yahweh and Jonah’s rebellion, they are “exceedingly afraid,” and afterwards they offer sacrifice to God (Jon 1,10-16). When Jonah casually walks through one-third of Nineveh and heartlessly issues the doom, the people return to God whole-heartedly: they put on sackcloth, sit in ashes, and fast, from the greatest to the least, with no exception for the animals (Jon 3). The reluctance of Jonah is an enigma to the theologians. Why would a messenger of God refuse to save people from the wrath of God? Several explanations have been put forward.17Cf. U. Simon, Jonah, pp. vii-xiii. Apparently, the “mercy-versus-justice” hypothesis is the most plausible. On the one hand, God is love and merciful, whose ultimate will is to save, both Jews and Gentiles. On the other, man’s demand for justice exceeds his love and he cannot love as God loves. Jonah knows that God will surely forgive the people of Nineveh once they repent, but he thinks that the Ninevites should receive their due punishment. Hence he refuses to prophesy in Nineveh. This hypothesis, albeit plausible, has one weakness: the biblical author has never explicitly told us the reason for Jonah’s reluctance. For some reason, Jonah refuses to preach in Nineveh. Perhaps we should take the face value of the book seriously and withhold our judgement. It is true that God’s ultimate will is to save, but for some unidentified reasons, the messenger of God does not want to carry out his mission. This is also a plausible interpretation.

If the allusion of Jonah in the stomach of a fish as the suffering Israel looks rather strained, there are other passages in the Bible that interpret the affliction of Israel as divine providence. Second Isaiah is full of such allegories of which the Song of the Suffering Servant is the most well-known (Is 52,13-53,12). In this song, Israel-in-exile is portrayed as the suffering servant of God. “For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not (Is 53,2-3).” Afflicted and despised, yet the servant of God is a “righteous” man. He suffers not for his own wrongdoings but for the sins of others. God wills him to be the sacrifice for the iniquities of mankind. “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all … Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin … (Is 53,5-10).” By using the concept of scapegoat, Israel’s exile is interpreted as the atonement for all sins. This explanation may seem incredible to the modern mind, it may look the same as well to the Israelites. The Israelites have themselves slaughtered many scapegoats, but this does not make it easier for them to accept themselves as a scapegoat. Even the prophet exclaims, “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? (Is 53,1)” Incredible though it is, the prophet is pressed by an emergent need to seek an alternative rationalization, and he chooses to couch his explanation in symbols plucked from their sacrificial rites.

Since the Song is written in allegorical form, the suffering servant has been given various interpretations despite some explicit references in second Isaiah which suggest the servant to be Israel (Is 44,1; 44,21; 48,20). The early Christians overwhelmingly took it for granted that Jesus of Nazareth was the fulfilment of the suffering servant. The conversion of a Judaistic proselyte into Christianity recorded in Act 8,26-35 reveals that the Song of the Suffering Servant might be a strategic text in the hand of Christian preachers. The story begins with an eminent Ethiopian eunuch, a proselyte of Judaism, returning home from his worship in Jerusalem. The eunuch is reading Isaiah 53,7-8 in his carriage, but he does not understand who the suffering servant is. A Christian preacher, Philip, approaches him and explains to him that this servant is Jesus. The Ethiopian eunuch is convinced beyond doubt, and on his own initiative, he is immediately baptized into Christianity. Jesus as the suffering servant was a fundamental conviction in early Christianity. Indeed, the Gospels follow basically the plot of the Song. All of them directly or indirectly refer to it. The Nazarene movement has certain connection with the idea of compulsive globalization. Whether the disciples of second Isaiah have anything to do with the Nazarenes, we cannot be sure. In any case, the movement finds its inspiration and justification in the Song.

c. Nation-building

Besides retreating to the desert or going global, some Jewish intellectuals have worked out a third way. These rabbis neither want to detach themselves from the people and to wait for the Messiah in the desert, nor desire to universalize their religion and to dissolve themselves in the Empire. Their option is to stay with the people, and their mission is to keep the community intact. Apparently, the rabbis have devised an effective strategy that is similar to the “national-popular” position described by Walzer.18The term originates from Antonio Gramsci and is elaborated by Walzer. See Critics, pp. 83,233-238.

The two main issues confronting the Jews in the postexilic period and afterwards are the messianic hopes and the religious worship in the temple, which are related to the prophets and the priests respectively. The numerous messianic passages collected in the Jewish canon indicate that messianic salvation was widely preached among the Jews. This hope accords with the traditional Jewish collective desire for national identity and independence. They believe that God delivered them from the bondages of Egypt through Moses, and that God will save them again through the Messiah. It is not surprising that the Nazarenes, who daringly broke down the wall of partition between the Jews and the Gentiles, were condemned by the rabbis as the first Jewish heretics. The prophets, in the eye of the rabbis, rightly sustain and elaborate the national self-understanding by their prophecies. In the name of God, they bolster the faith of the community by invoking the messianic redemption. The prophetic hope, however, must be tangible and imminent. Otherwise, the proclamation will be unverifiable, and it will be rendered into a false prophecy (Dt 18,21-22).19True and false prophecy is an important category in the Jewish tradition. Cf. The Jewish Political Tradition, pp. 220-235. History happens to work against the prophecy: the Messiah, according to the Jews, has yet to come. The late-coming of Messiah creates a tension in the prophecy. To resolve it, the sages disparage revelation but affirm the messianic hopes. Being free of the burden of divination, they can extend the coming of the Messiah to an indefinite time, and urge the people to wait for the salvation without putting their credibility at stake. The people wait for the Messiah, and they have a cause to cling to the community despite the loss of sovereignty and the hazard of discrimination.

Competition for leadership also came from the priests. In the Second Temple period, the high priests were effective rulers of Judea. Under the imperial edicts, they took over the political authority and became a kind of priest-king. The Pharisees, however, did not accept the hegemony of the priests and the Sadducees. They thought that the only legitimate authority had to come from the interpretation of the tradition. Apparently, the Pharisees and the Sadducees have different interpretations. The Pharisees insisted that theirs was superior, for correct interpretation hung upon learning and piety and it had nothing to do with heritage. Nevertheless, they recognized that the priests were doing an indispensable service to the nation by performing cultic rituals in the temple. Thus, the Pharisees affirmed the cultic role of the priests but rejected their spiritual leadership.20Cf. The Jewish Political Tradition, pp. 196-198. The Sadducees were finally defeated not by the arguments of the Pharisees but by the army of the Romans. The destruction of the temple in 70 a.d. swept away the very foundation of the authority of the priests, and their demise followed. In spite of their antagonism towards the Sadducees and the ruin of the temple, the rabbis devoted more than half of the Mishnah (the oral Torah) to the temple cult.21E. R. Trattner, Understanding the Talmud, Westport, CT, 1978, p. 19. This fact reflects the centrality of the temple in the life of the Jews in the Second Temple period. The rabbis captured this national spirit and successfully transformed the temple rituals into other forms of religious acts. A modern Jewish theologian, in assessing the work of the rabbis, comments: “The greatest accomplishment which the teaching of the Talmud achieved for the Jewish people was to make them feel that the end of the Temple did not imply an end to their religion. Severe as the loss was, the way of approach to God was kept open. In addition to charity, justice, and Torah-study there was also prayer, which was declared to be even ‘greater than sacrifices’ (Ber. 32b). On the basis of the words, ‘We will render the calves of our lips’ (Hos. xiv. 2), the doctrine was taught, ‘What can be a substitute for the bulls which we used to offer before Thee? Our lips, with the prayer which we pray unto Thee’ (Pesikta 165b).”22A. Cohen, Everyman’s Talmud, New York, NY, 1975, pp. 157-158. The rabbis, indeed, took over the duty of the priests. But they did not claim this privilege only for themselves, they also distributed it among members of the household. They invented domestic rites, established laws, and taught every Jew to observe them.23Cf. G. F. Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era. The Age of the Tannaim, Vol. I, Cambridge, MA, 1958, p. 114. In this way, the Jewish people are entrusted with the responsibility of building a spiritual temple in each of their own homes.

The rabbis’ assumption of both spiritual and political functions, one suspects, will put an end to the critical prophetic tradition. The prophet has the king or the priest to criticize. But the rabbi has neither a target, nor is he himself the object of criticism. How can he be critical now? Walzer seems to share the same concern. Nevertheless, he affirms that the rabbi still retains certain critical edge. The editors of The Jewish Political Tradition, of which Walzer is one, point out: “Rabbinic interpretation replaces prophetic inspiration and turns out … to be more accommodating (though never easily or entirely so) to political considerations.”24The Jewish Political Tradition, p. 205. Conceivably, the rabbis can now criticize the people or one another. Criticism does not come to an end with the prophet. Rather it takes up a new form in the rabbinic literature. The rabbi, I think, tends to focus on what Walzer calls the second task of criticism: “he [the critic] gives expression to his people’s deepest sense of how they ought to live.”25Critics, p. 232.

2. The vanguard

The twentieth century social criticism, as perceived by Walzer, is a failure. At the end of the Company of Critics—a study on a series of social critics and movements, he draws the following conclusion: “The movements they [oppressed men and women] create, heroic in their origins, turn out later on to be lethargic, bureaucratic, corruptible.… In the best of cases, neither national liberation nor socialist revolution meets the standards of the social critic; and sometimes the new regimes are as bad as the old; sometimes they are far worse.”26Critics, p. 227.

Popular movements do not originate in the twentieth century. They are rather commonly said to have originated with the 1789 French Revolution. First come the bourgeois, then the socialists, then the communists, and then the nationalists. Although the movements are organized by different radicals and for different purposes, the storyline of liberation undergirds all these struggles. Liberation, in fact, is also not a modern idea. It owes its origin to the biblical narrative of Exodus. Many leaders of radical movements, Walzer notes, have received their inspiration from the narrative. He argues that the Exodus is “a paradigm of revolutionary politics.”27M. Walzer, Exodus and Revolution, [New York, NY], Basic Books, 1985, p. 7. Nobody wants to be enslaved in Egypt, and the alternative is Exodus. Partly due to the intuitive imperative of liberation and partly due to the centrality of the Bible in Western societies, intellectuals who see themselves as the conscience of society unreservedly endorse the liberation movement. They join the movement and become critics of society. They have great hopes that the modern world will soon become an earthly heaven free of oppression and inequality. Surely, exodus should be recommended to the oppressed if not for its risky nature. The army of Pharaoh is strong and his chariots formidable. And before stepping into the promised land, freedom fighters must traverse the dangerous desert where some will certainly perish. For the heroic intellectuals, risk is a threshold of authenticity; those who refuse to take risk do not live a genuine life. The intellectuals see to it that everyone joins the exodus, and whip the people into motion if necessary.

In the struggle for liberation, revolutionaries have developed a two-stage strategy: (1) control the state power by any means; (2) use the state as an instrument to implement social reforms or developments. Many Marxists and nationalists have succeeded in achieving the first goal, but they are unable to deliver the ultimate goods that the people desired. They leave Egypt, defeat the army of Pharaoh, cross into the promised land, and set up a people’s country. The people work hard to realize their dream. Having gone through years of great effort, it proves that their country will never become a land flowing with milk and honey as its prophets have promised. More distressingly, the life in the people’s country is all in all worse than that in Egypt. The liberation movement has failed, and the failure is twofold—the vanguards are, at best, the same as the conservatists; and the radical ideals are infeasible. Ironically, the radicals gain power only to prove their politics impractical. The former British-occupied Hong Kong, for instance, symbolized the triumph of Egypt over the people’s country. Hong Kong is geographically connected to Mainland China and inhabited by the same people. The people of both sides were divided only by barbed wire, one side under the rule of the capitalist imperialists, the other under the communist nationalists. It was under this setting that the people on the two different sides lived drastically different lives. It is rather sad that the Hong Kong people seemed much happier, in all respects, than their relatives in the Mainland. Of course, the case is absolutely too simplistic. No serious researchers will compare the two places in such a simple way. Nevertheless, ordinary people, including those in Mainland China, do perceive it in exactly the same way, not to mention the propagandists who want to make Hong Kong a showcase for laissez-faire economy. In the twentieth century, radical politics has failed, and so did its critics, who failed to revert its fate. Could the failure be interpreted as the end of radical politics? How should the intellectuals respond to the defeat and disappointment?

a. Herbert Marcuse and the critic-at-large

One of the responses, Walzer says, is to become a “critic-at-large.” The critic, by now, is disappointed down to the ground with popular revolt, and loses his faith. He detaches himself from any further movement. Yet, he wants to remain a true intellectual. Firmly rooted in his mind, an intellectual is nothing if not critical. Once a critic or an intellectual (the two are interchangeable), he cannot be otherwise. To shift to other career is to debase himself. The critic has to continue criticizing, albeit without any specific objective. He criticizes, as it were, for the sake of criticism. Art for art’s sake, and criticism for criticism’s sake. This will hardly trouble the critic, for he values the purity of intention. There is, however, a problem in his criticism. Wrenched loose from a particular interest or purpose, the critic is free to criticize anything he dislikes, but only in general terms. He criticizes at ease; no major achievements can escape his scrutiny: modernity, culture, institutions, material well-being, science, technology and so on and so forth. But such a critic, Walzer comments, lacks “critical penetration,” and people can easily “shrug off” his criticism. Moreover, “the tone of such work suggests a collectivist version of misanthropy.” The members who belong to this group of misanthropists are: critical theorists, leftist admirers of Greece and Rome, latter-day Rousseauians, conservative communitarians, religious fundamentalists, and the exemplar of critic-at-large Herbert Marcuse.28Critics, pp. 188,190,227.

Marcuse, in the opinion of Walzer, sets himself up as a negative example of critics—an example that novices should not imitate.29The following account of Marcuse is based on Walzer’s interpretation in Critics, Chapter 10 Herbert Marcuse’s America. (It is unfortunate that many people have mistaken him for a positive example.) By overrating negativity, he turns himself into a “false” critic, and provides the would-be critics a second dimension of social criticism for study.30Walzer does not classify social critics as “true” or “false.” I borrow the categories of true and false prophets from the Jewish tradition and apply them to modern social critics. Cf. The Jewish Political Tradition, pp. 220-235. So far, I am describing Marcuse in his own terminology. To the unfamiliar readers, I have to give some explanation.

Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man is a critique of the post-Marxist American society. In America, Marcuse observes that the class of proletarians has been eliminated, and that people are gratified by all kinds of enticing commodities. On the surface, this is a triumph of humanity. But further analysis reveals that human condition actually gets worse. Marcuse believes that material well-being should be the stepping-stone for the pursuit of spiritual well-being. Matter exists for the sake of the Geist. Material satisfaction can never be justified as an end in itself. The affluent society reduces everyone to the material dimension and effectively annihilates one’s consciousness of the second dimension. In the past, the proletariat was a form of negativity, shaped by material deprivation into a “living contradiction to the established society.” Now, this embodiment of the spiritual consciousness is submerged by the flood of commodities. As if the killing of the living embodiment of the Spirit were not enough, the affluent society continues to subvert the second form of negativity—“the oppositional, alien, and transcendent elements [of] the higher culture by virtue of which it constituted another dimension of society.”31H. Marcuse, quoted in Critics, p. 180. This negative force is undermined by the commercialization of high culture, and by the cultivation of tolerance. The evidence that Marcuse provides to support his argument is that Plato and Hegel are published by rival publishers in colourful paperbacks standing side by side in the same drugstore bookrack with gothic romances and murder mysteries.

The argument betrays Marcuse’s lack of common sense. One may say that he is a man having special knowledge in abundance but not sufficient common sense. He criticizes his fellow Americans with whom he is not well acquainted. He spends no time talking to them or doing empirical research before he jumps to his conclusion. The one-dimensional man appears to him as a salient fact. In the introduction to the One-Dimensional Man, he tells us how he does his research: “Perhaps the most telling evidence can be obtained by simply looking at television or listening to the AM radio for one consecutive hour for a couple of days, not shutting off the commercials, and now and then switching the station.”32H. Marcuse, quoted in Critics, p. 171. How could a scholar write social criticism on the basis of this kind of information? In fact, Marcuse has his sources. He depends largely on the American social critics of the 1950s: C. Wright Mills, William H. Whyte, Vance Packard, Fred Cook, David Riesman, and John Kenneth Galbraith. Their works describe a quintessential American phenomenon on which Marcuse exercises his theoretical formulation. Without the constraint of common sense, he is left at large to the creation of the one-dimensional man that has actually no match in reality.

The mistake made by Marcuse is the consequence of his detachment from the populace and his disgust with popular culture. Marcuse is an aristocrat. Even when he plays the role of a liberator (rather than a ruler), his attitude towards the ordinary people is still the one that is typical of the aristocracy. He holds the standard view that the poor is a nameless mass, whose only meaningful existence is to provide the necessities for human betterment. His view is no difference from that of the townsmen in Ignazio Silone’s Italy, who says, cafoni are flesh used to suffering.33I. Silone, Fontamara, in The Abruzzo Trilogy. Fontamara. Bread and Wine. The Seed beneath the Snow, trans. E. Mosbacher, South Royalton, VT, 2000, p. 36. The townsmen value the poor for their production and services; and Marcuse, because of his simplicity, for their suffering itself. The poor are born to suffer by virtue of which they embody the second dimension of human existence. Deprived them of their suffering, they become nothing. Could education transform the poor into human individuals? Perhaps. But Marcuse has no faith in the American education. General education that produces the semi-educated masses is but a sacrilege leading to profanation. The past cultural aristocracy, Marcuse writes, “provided a protected realm in which the tabooed truths [of art and literature] could survive in abstract integrity—remote from the society that repressed them.”34H. Marcuse, quoted in Critics, pp. 181-182. Now society has destroyed the abstract integrity of the tabooed truths by popularizing them. Once the classic is translated into the vulgar, its antagonistic force will be lost. In the process, the Spirit is slowly dying. The only way to save the Spirit, in Marcuse’s opinion, is to erect the “educational dictatorship” of the philosophical élite.

b. Michel Foucault and the critic-in-the-small

In contrast to the critic-at-large, Walzer reports another response to the critical failure, namely, the “critic-in-the-small.”35Critics, p. 228. Unlike the critics-at-large, some critics, who are more serious and less optimistic, accept the failure of the radical project. People on the left, the critic admits, have been defeated by themselves. Could he continue to pretend to know a better future? Could he tell another grand story? No, he couldn’t. Yet, the critic is not prepared to lay down his critical weapon. He still wants to wage war against oppression. Our relentless critic, then, falls into delirium; he has difficulty in locating his object of criticism. Proletarians are a minority in developed countries. Even if they are found, the critic has lost the courage to repeat the old tactics. Instead, he turns his weapon towards the ruling class. There, he has the difficulty of identifying the oppressors too. The head of the king has already been cut off and the ancien régime abolished in a brave move. In liberal society, politicians are elected by the people, and they are assumed to be working for the people. Likewise, the capitalists are indispensable if the people are to enjoy useful and beautiful goods. (This is, at least, the majority opinion.) Besides, the capitalist appears almost like a philanthropist in comparison with the communist apparatchik. Liberal society has erased the symbol of oppressors. The critic, nonetheless, knows that oppression still exists. The differences are that power has been dispersed to the local authorities, and that oppression is localized at home, at school, at work, and most visibly in prison. Therefore, the struggle has to shift to local sites, and the critic has to fight infinite small issues. In other words, the critic-in-the-small aims not to change the whole system, but to improve a little bit of everything here and there. Perhaps, when infinite infinitesimal improvements are added together, the sum would amount to a new system.

The strategy of local resistance sounds banal. In fact, we all, since infancy, resist, at home, at school, or at work. We resist if necessary and if we can. We know as well that individual strength is limited. We thus form alliance. But the defeated critic is hurt and afraid of political association. He has lost the discernment of legitimate and illegitimate coercion, and refuses to join any political league. He wants to be a lone fighter. In due course, his criticism becomes more and more personal, and few people can understand him. He slides from a critic-in-the-small-matters into a critic-in-the-small-world. Walzer has a description of the transition:36Critics, p. 228.

He is not so much a professional critic as a critic in the little world of his profession, and the likely profession these days is academic: hence the critical wars of the 1980s, which have no echo outside the academy since the critics have no material ties to people or parties or movements outside. Academic criticism under these circumstances tends steadily toward hermeticism and gnostic obscurity; even the critic’s students barely understand him.

The quoted paragraph is written with Michel Foucault in mind. Foucault, in Walzer’s portrait, is a person who vacillates between being a critic-in-the-small-matters and a critic-in-the-small-world.37Cf. Critics, Chapter 11 The Lonely Politics of Michel Foucault. As a critic-in-the-small-matters, Foucault seems to conceal the defeat of the leftists by his analysis of contemporary power relations. His argument starts with the proposition that the king is the only possible physical embodiment of sovereignty. When the king was executed, the ancien régime fell and sovereignty disappeared forever. Democrats believe that political power is distributed equally among the people, and then centralized in the government. But Foucault thinks that this is just a fable, for there is no general will of the people or any stable coalition of interest groups. Neither the people nor the government controls the political power. Rather, power resides in the mechanisms of professional expertise and local discipline. In the modern state, political power has no focal point but is dispersed to the extremities. Hence power has to be challenged at numerous points.

It is interesting to note that, in the first place, Foucault’s theory has anti-Leninist implications, that is, if power is not at the centre, there is no more power to be seized and no more revolution is possible. Second, Foucault’s analysis is “rhetorically inflated.”38Critics, p. 193 While it is true that power is exercised in local disciplines regulated by professional expertise, there exists obvious power centre or centres in liberal states. Moreover, politicians can influence, if only indirectly, the expertise mechanism through the allocation of resources, the appointment of experts, or the distribution of recognition. Foucault neglects all these well-known facts. Maybe Foucault is a one-sided thinker. Or he is driven to this conclusion by his disappointment with leadership—the leftists are no better politicians than the liberals, and it is better for them to stay away from power positions.

Foucault’s disappointment eventually pulls him into his own small world. Though hopeless of the radical enterprise, he refuses to accept the liberal society as if it were corrupted beyond redemption. He thinks that the liberal society is an oppressive system being primped up by its crafty beauticians as democratic, scientific, technological, and progressive. The absence of power centre does not lead to the extinction of oppression. Rather the oppressive force now operates from its “underside.” Disciplinary agencies work together, as though coordinated by a dark force, into an oppressive whole. Foucault calls this system in a variety of names: “capitalism,” “the disciplinary society,” “the carceral city,” “the panoptic régime,” or “the carceral archipelago.” His ultimate indictment is that the liberal society is a prison, where the discipline of prison extends itself in various forms across all spheres of ordinary life. No one would deny that surveillance and discipline exist in every society. They are even more intensively used in the modern world. Nevertheless, there is significant difference between the discipline of a school or a factory and that of a prison. “Foucault tends systematically to underestimate the difference,” Walzer writes.39Critics, p. 200. His tendency makes him perceive idiosyncratically the liberal society as the carceral archipelago.

What alternative does one have if liberal society is beyond redemption and communism is unworkable? Has Foucault any idea? Yes, he has: “It is possible that the rough outline of a future society is supplied by the recent experiences with drugs, sex, communes, other forms of consciousness, and other forms of individuality.” A glimpse of hope provokes Foucault to disown the practical value of local resistance. Commenting on the prison reform he is engaging in, he says, “The ultimate goal of [our] interventions was not to extend the visiting rights of prisoners to 30 minutes or to procure flush toilets for the cells, but to question the social and moral distinction between the innocent and the guilty.” The loss of utopia leads Foucault to question the distinction between not only innocence and guilty but also sanity and insanity. He advocates experimenting some novel forms of existence that are even more extravagant than utopia. Except for some impractical social experiments, I can’t see how Foucault can find a better world for us, who can distinguish the sane from the insane. Here I have to add a word of caution. Foucault is not always living in his own small world. He returns to the common world in his better days, and is entirely capable of making sound judgement. Once he castigated his faithful followers of his prison reform for following his words too literally, he said: they stumbled for “a whole naive, archaic ideology which makes the criminal … into an innocent victim and a pure rebel…. The result has been a deep split between this campaign with its monotonous, lyrical little chant, heard only among a few small groups, and the masses who have good reason not to accept it as valid political currency.”40M. Foucault, quoted in Critics, pp. 202-203.

Foucault is totally disillusioned with the leftist ideal, but he refuses to reconcile with the liberal society. He accepts the failure of Marxism, but at the same time he continues to resist. Unlike the postexilic prophets of Israel, he lacks a cosmic vision. Maybe he has some visions induced by drugs. He knows that such visions will not be realized by themselves or by an invisible hand. He cannot lead his followers to wait in the desert. To realize the visions, he has to work in the real world. But the question is: would people be convinced by his visions? It seems unlikely that he will have enough followers to change the world. In any event, the above argument is counterfactual. Foucault, according to Walzer, does not have any vision; he is a nihilist. It is more difficult for nihilism to attract audience than for hallucinative visions. Moreover, Foucault himself does not believe that local resistance can really change the world; his actions only serve the purpose of provocations. This is the dilemma Foucault creates for himself. So, he vacillates between the local social reform and his own inner world, which, like the Nirvana, only a privileged few can access.

The critic-in-the-small comes to a dead end just as the critic-at-large, albeit in different ways. They offer no practical direction or advice on social reform. They lead radical forces and the critical enterprise astray. Their criticism is only lamentation for the loss of utopia. They confess in negative ways that the ultimate victory belongs to the liberals. Indeed, they are later rejoined by the liberal prophet Francis Fukuyama singing “The End of History” at the historic moment of the fall of the Berlin Wall.41F. Fukuyama, The End of History?, in The National Interest 16 (1989) 3-18. Personally, I doubt the credibility of any end-time saying, be it the religious or the secular version. Fukuyama’s eulogy is at most the end of American History. No doubt, liberalism is at its height: the major rival has fallen, and the remaining commissars of China are converted into red bourgeois. That does not mean, however, it will prevail forever. Even if we suppose it will last forever, it still needs criticism, and we can criticize it by holding up, using the image of Walzer, a Hamlet’s glass. The critic can do what Hamlet does to his mother:42W. Shakespeare, Hamlet, III. iv. 19-20. Cf. Critics, p. 230.

You go not till I set you up a glass,
Where you may see the inmost part of you.

Walzer also points out that the death is the death of a social theory, not social criticism itself. Social criticism is a specialized form of complaints. Can we imagine a society without complaint? That is impossible. As long as there is society, there will be complaints and the specialists of complaints. The failure of a social theory is its failure to shape the popular complaint into a practical way of life, or a realistic political programme. The common complaint is out there, waiting to be shaped into a practical way of life. In every situation, it is “almost always” possible to do something, Walzer affirms.43Critics, pp. 230, 239. The choice is up to the critic. He can either commit himself to the people, like the rabbis of the Jews, or wrench himself loose and criticize for the sake of criticism itself, like Marcuse, or form a critical cult, like Foucault. Social criticism has not finished yet, and the critic will become wiser if he learns from past failures. The first lesson Walzer tries to teach is the causes of their failures.

B. The causes of critical failure

1. The imitation of heroism

The standard image of the critic is a solitary intellectual who, cutting loose from every connection and walking in the blaze of the sun, pays tribute to nothing but the Truth. Julien Benda writes a script for such a critic. The practising critic, however, finds it difficult to play Benda’s script. He is demanded to walk out of his solitude in order to show solidarity with the people he claims to serve. Martin Buber, Antonio Gramsci, Ignazio Silone, and Albert Camus, all struggle between solitude and solidarity without coming to any definite conclusion. After the defeat of the radical politics, the critic, represented by Herbert Marcuse, returns to his solitude and surveys the world from his absolute height.44Critics, p. 228. This is the trend of the twentieth century social criticism. This is not, Walzer argues, necessarily the only or the proper way of doing social criticism.

The disease of the twentieth century critical profession, according to Walzer’s diagnosis, is disconnection. To take disconnection as the prime requisite of social criticism is to undermine the critical enterprise; it is entirely counter-productive. The idea of the critic as a solitary is a misconception resulted from a greater disconnection—the disconnection from tradition. Modern men and women liberate themselves from tradition to such an extent that some become ignorant of it. They mistake social criticism as a totally new project, and give free rein to their imagination. They romanticize the critic as “self-conscious,” “oppositional,” and “alienated”—a nascent kind of intellectuals.45Critics, p. 4. Their underlying motive, Walzer suspects, is the imitation of heroism.

Complaint without the passion of heroism is palaver. Intellectuals naturally want to see themselves as heroes instead of woman-like gossips. Few intellectuals, however, would admit that they are motivated to criticize by an urge to imitate heroes. In their self-descriptions, Walzer notices, they usually ascribe their motive to benevolence. The critic is a disinterested observer, who criticizes for the well-being of his fellow citizens, or more generally, for humanity’s sake. “Criticism may be ruthless and painful, but the critic talks to us like Hamlet to his mother: ‘I must be cruel only to be kind.’ Kindness forces his hand, but since what he says doesn’t sound kind, he would be happier to be silent.” This is the myth of the reluctant critic, Walzer says. Walzer does not believe in this myth; he suspects that this is not generally how one becomes a critic. Benevolence can be a mask of misanthropy. “In fact, there are many critics … who, like the Roman Cato, positively enjoy the castigation of others.” Perhaps, misanthropy, rather than benevolence, is the more frequent motive for criticism. We dislike something, so we criticize it. Walzer, however, attributes this adversative feeling not to the pathological misanthropy but to the normal emotion of disappointment. He says, “Disappointment is one of the most common motives for criticism.”46Critics, pp. 20,22. We have certain expectations of our society and of our friends. When things happen contrary to our expectations, we are disappointed. We want to put them right, and we are driven to criticize them.

Benevolence, misanthropy, and disappointment are some of the motives for criticism. Legitimation is not a question here: neither of them can be used to legitimize or to discredit criticism, for a critique should be evaluated on the merit of its argument. Walzer’s point is not the proper motive of social criticism, it is “connection.” Benevolence, misanthropy, or disappointment is not the ultimate motive of criticism. The lover of humanity, if he is really disinterested, will not meddle in other people’s affairs. If he finds the truth or the way of life, he can write it down for himself, for the philanthropists of his own kind, or for later generations. There is no need to shape it into a critique. The critic, on the other hand, must have some concern for the people. Likewise, the misanthropist cannot be disinterested. It is highly improbable that a person would criticize for the pure pleasure of torturing the others, even “disappointment isn’t enough,” Walzer adds.47Critics, p. 23. Criticism must originate from connection.

Connection is a very general term. Indeed, it is so general that one may find it somewhat difficult to apprehend. What does Walzer mean by “connection”? There are two types of explanations in the Company of Critics—one explicit, one implicit. Explicitly, Walzer mentions “moral tie” twice without caring to define it formally. A better explanation is the one in the introduction:48Critics, pp. 23,229.

A moral tie to the agents or the victims of brutality and indifference is more likely to serve [as a sufficient motive of social criticism]. We feel responsible for, we identify with particular men and women. Injustice is done in my name, or it is done to my people, and I must speak out against it.

Here, moral tie refers to a feeling of responsibility or an identification. Yet the explanation is vague, and can have diverse interpretations.

Implicitly, Walzer elaborates connection in the portraits of the connected critics, such as Martin Buber, Ignazio Silone, George Orwell, Albert Camus, and Breyten Breytenbach. All these critics are aware of the givenness of life and strive to commit themselves to the givenness. Take Buber for example. After the hope of a binational state for Palestine was shattered, some of his comrades left for other “more suitable” countries, but Buber insisted on staying in Israel:49M. Buber, quoted in Critics, p. 77.

I have accepted as mine the State of Israel, the form of the new Jewish community that has arisen from the war.

Buber’s announcement is, as usual, “portentous.”50Critics, p. 64 He emphasizes too much the “I” and annoys some committed Jews. He speaks like a liberal having made up his mind in a process of rational calculation, as if he could refuse to accept the State of Israel as his. In fact, it is his givenness more than his reason that leads him to hold on to the connection.

If Buber’s case still leaves room for doubt, Silone’s tie with his fellow villagers is beyond dispute. His connection to them is undeniably founded on his givenness, and is quite mystical: it comes from his deepest being and binds him forever to his native Abruzzi. Frustrated by the ignorance, selfishness, and resignation of the Abruzzi’s peasants, Silone left his village for the city to join the radical movement. He seemed to have cut the tie with his villagers. But, when he thought that his end was near, he wanted to return to his village and rest with his ancestors. At that moment, he was fleeing from the fascists and hiding in Davos. He could not return. So, he wrote a book dedicated to his native land. In the note of that book Fontamara, he writes:51I. Silone, Fontamara, pp. 3-4.

Since I was there [in exile] alone, unknown, and living under a false name, writing became my only defense against loneliness and isolation, and since in the doctors’ view I had only a short time to live, I wrote hurriedly, in an indescribable state of anxiety and distress, to construct to the best of my ability that village in which I put the quintessence of myself and the district in which I was born, so that at least I might die among my own people.

The struggle with commitment to the givenness is more intense in Breytenbach, and hence the connection more conspicuous. Breytenbach was openly at war with the South African apartheid régime, which he found completely unredeemable. Neither liberalization nor humanization could save it from the crimes it had done. He insisted that political power should be turned over to the black Africans, though he did not believe that the black nationalists could make a better country. He fought with pen, then with arms, and then with pen again. He was in exile, then imprisoned in South Africa, and then in exile again. While residing in Paris, he could not forget his country. He occupied his mind in forging a new national identity for the South Africans—the people he both loved and hated. The situation was grim, and the hope dim, but he continued to “hang in there”:52B. Breytenbach, quoted in Critics, p. 220.

I could argue—well, yes, I must blow them out of the bathtub, see, I’m trying to yeast Afrikaner sensibilities from within and therefore I start with the bread we break together, even if only via the basic complicity of the common mumbo-jumbo, I mean, language, I mean, taal. How else could I have a say-so? Ah, but how do I avoid the twisting and the bending, the kneeling and the back-stabbing, the compromises, the ethical corruption, in my attempts to “hang in there?”

The kind of connection elaborated and praised by Walzer is the intense commitment to one’s givenness. The bond with one’s people is natural for “premodern” men and women, but mystical for modern minds. The above-mentioned critics could choose another identity. Indeed, they had lived abroad and experienced another way of life. But they chose to follow the inward calling, and remained connected with their own peoples. The connected critics are modern men who can still hear the inward voice, and respond.

Connection, Walzer argues, is the basic motive of criticism, and that every social critic should acknowledge it. Modern critics do acknowledge it, but as a fetter that hampers one from reaching an objective or impartial judgement. Since criticism is harsh words, we expect it to be based on accurate analysis and expressed in modest terms. The pioneers of modern criticism recommend that sound argumentation can only be made on a condition free from social and emotional bonds. Though Walzer offers no definite idea of how a better critique is to be written, he disagrees with the prevailing opinion. He argues from history that disconnection does more harm than good to social criticism. On the theoretical level, he refutes it by pointing out that the conception of disconnection is based on the romanticization of the critic’s role, and that detachment cannot guarantee a better criticism.

The act of criticizing, Walzer admits, requires a certain distance between the subject and the object of criticism. What he objects to is the standard view of total disconnection, which he thinks it impossible to attain. A long distant critique, in the best case, turns social criticism into “palaver.”53Walzer concedes that there is some substance in the criticism of the critic-at-large. But that criticism lacks “specificity and force,” and hence becomes a palaver. Cf. Walzer’s comment on the old and new Breytenbach, in Critics, p. 228. Critical distance is very short; in Walzer’s own words, it is measured in “inches.”54Critics, p. 41. The majority of critics have exaggerated the distance needed. Their exaggeration is motivated by the imitation of heroism, and bolstered by romanticization of the critical role. Their stories have a common form: social criticism is a highly risky enterprise; since nobody, especially the ruler, likes chastisement, a critic will be intimidated by all means into silence or defection; hence before the critic undertakes the critical venture, he must cut all his social ties and prepare to die at any moment.

This storyline is appealing because it matches our daily experience. We all remember the sorrowful break-up of relation after a fierce quarrel with friends or family members. We know that complaint may harm relationship, so in order to maintain good relationship, we may distort or suppress our complaint. Hence if we want to complain boldly and rightly, we had better cut off all relationships first. This experience is reinforced by the legends of critic-heroes. We all inherit a certain kind of tales in which the heroes speak out courageously and relentlessly against injustices and are put to death at the exhaustion of the authorities’ patience. We read their critiques and admire their courage. Needless to say, not many of us dare to imitate them. But it only makes our heroes even more admirable and gives the courageous few more motivation to imitate.

Walzer mentions two Western exemplars of critic-heroes.55Critics, pp. 12-16. The first is a religious figure, Jesus. Besides being described as the Saviour of the world, Jesus is sometimes regarded as a social critic. He severely criticizes the Pharisees and stirs up the crowd to go against the Priests. As a result, he dies a cruel death on the cross. Jesus knows his destiny, but takes up his cross nonetheless. He tells his disciples: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me (Mt 16,24).” The self-denial, the cross, and the discipleship are supported a well-known passage (Mt 10,34-39):

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

Jesus stands for the truth. To pursue the truth, one must be ready to forego one’s relations, and be ready to die. This is the price of following the truth, but the reward is handsome— it is the authentic life.

Socrates is the Greek and philosophical version of Jesus. In the portrait of his disciples, Socrates is a critic-hero, who devotes his life first to the pursuit of truth and later to its proclamation; he cares nothing but the truth. Socrates has extraordinary endurance for hardship. He has served as a hoplite for several wars. But he has no interest in holding public office, for office will compromise the truth that he treasures the most. Socrates takes no formal occupation and lives in poverty. He walks in the streets of Athens and talks to anyone he meets. His teaching method, which stresses reflexivity, is well advance of his time: he questions his audience about their beliefs and leads them to discover the truth. Youths are attracted to his instruction, but the elders find it too irritating and subversive. They think that if Socrates is not stopped, he will bring disorders to the city. They put Socrates on trial for the corruption of youth and the worship of new gods. Socrates is unrepentant, he insists on defending himself in his own way. His message is clear: kill me, or I will do what I used to do. There is no middle ground for Socrates. He will speak either nothing or the whole truth. Life or death is out of his consideration. He will tell anyone who advises him to save his life as follows:

You are mistaken, my friend, if you think that a man who is worth anything ought to spend his time weighing up the prospects of life and death. He has only one thing to consider in performing any action; that is, whether he is acting rightly or wrongly, like a good man or a bad one.

In Socrates’ mind, the philosopher-critic must have the courage of a warrior, who fights a good fight. “Had Achilles any thought of death and danger?” he asks. Like a good warrior, the fate of a true intellectual is to die for his mission:56Plato, The Last Days of Socrates, trans. H. Tredennick, London, 1959, pp. 59-60 (Apology 28B-D).

[Achilles], if you remember, made so light of danger in comparison with incurring dishonour that when his goddess mother warned him, eager as he was to kill Hector, in some such words as these, I fancy, “My son, if you avenge your comrade Patroclus’ death and kill Hector, you will die yourself; Next after Hector is thy fate prepared,”—when he heard this warning, he made light of his death and danger, being much more afraid of an ignoble life and of failing to avenge his friends, “Let me die forthwith,” said he, “when I have requited the villain, rather than remain here by the beaked ships to be mocked, a burden on the ground.”

Socrates dies as he wishes. He drinks the cup of hemlock without regret. He is faithful to his fate, and sets an example for the would-be critics.

The above portraits are only snapshots of the silhouettes of the two heroes. They can be quite misleading if they are interpreted with a romantic spirit. “The stories of Socrates and Jesus,” Walzer says, “have been oddly confused and conflated. The trial of the philosopher, the passion of the prophet/savior are made to yield a single message: death is the entailed risk of philosophy and prophecy alike whenever these two are critical in character.”57Critics, p. 14. Traditionally, Jesus’ death is taken to be inevitable—the centre of history and an act of God. Walzer has doubt about its inevitability in political terms, but he does not contest it, apparently because its theological interpretation is definite and many people have accepted it. He states, however, that it is factually wrong to superpose the theological interpretation of Jesus’ life on Socrates. Socrates’ death is not inevitable. In Socrates’ self-understanding, his work does not incur or require the penalty of death to complete his mission. He has no intention to die. He defends himself before the jury, and contends that it will be a loss to the Athenians to kill a benefactor like him, who forfeits his personal interests for the purpose of exhorting others to care for truth and virtue, and for the affairs of the state. Indeed, they should reward him, he argues—he should be paid to carry on his work for the rest of his life. In the opinion of his fellows, Socrates is not an unpopular figure. He has friends and followers, who neither betray him to the accusers nor desert him at his trial. He may even have been acquitted. He is surprised that the votes on the two sides are so close. “It seems that,” he says, “if a mere thirty votes [out of five hundred] had gone the other way, I should have been acquitted.” In a retrospective mood, he continues, “Even as it is, I feel that so far as Meletus’ part is concerned I have been acquitted; and not only that, but anyone can see that if Anytus and Lycon had not come forward to accuse me, Meletus would actually have forfeited his £50 [one thousand drachmae] for not having obtained one-fifth of the votes.”58Plato, The Last Days, p. 69 (Apology 36A-B). It is true that Socrates is faithful to his principle and suffers accordingly, but this faithfulness does not lead inevitably to death.

Social criticism does not entail persecution and death. Social critics, of course, face risks, and hence need courage. Risks, however, vary from society to society. A totalitarian régime may impose imprisonment or death on some of its critics. But many governments cannot or prefer not to practise this kind of naked brutality. On the contrary, many societies have an office for their social critics. The officials recognize the critics’ contribution and protect them, as Socrates argues that they should. In ancient China, the ruler actually set up an Office of Criticism responsible for criticizing the monarch and high officials. The liberal society too, in a less formal way, has its professor-critics in the university.

The twentieth century theorists of social criticism somehow confuse danger with disconnection. In fact, neither Jesus nor Socrates is disconnected. The theorists wrongly identify disconnection as the first risk and the touchstone of social criticism. A real critic, they believe, must pluck up courage to break loose from all relations. This article of faith is understandable. Persecution or death is a remote and uncertain event. The critical endeavour does not guarantee the trophy of heroism. But the title of Hero is badly needed in advance. If the heroic drama does not present itself, the critic has to make it up for himself. There is nothing better than disconnection that transforms the critic into a living dead.

Once disconnection is affirmed, theories have to be constructed to legitimize it. The standard philosophical theory is “detachment.” It assumes that a connected critic tends to tilt toward the side of his connection. His bias will corrupt social criticism and turn it into a struggle for self-interest. Can we avoid this pitfall? Yes, we can, some philosophers assure us. We can have an objective standpoint if we take an impartial position. To attain impartiality, detachment is indispensable. The critic must step back mentally and detach from the injured and angry self in order to create the impartial self. Self two looks at self one and the world with a created indifference, and he is deemed to be in a better position to speak the moral truth.

Walzer does not deny the possibility of stepping back, but he doubts if the indifferent self would actually take the trouble to criticize the world. Why does it become “a radical sceptic or a mere spectator or a playful interventionist, like the Greek gods?” he asks.59Interpretation, p. 50. Floating free, one is not obliged to criticize. One could choose any activity that pleases oneself. Given the unpleasant character of social criticism, it is unlikely that the critic would like it for long. Socrates, the acclaimed philosopher-critic, does acknowledge his connection, which the theorists selectively ignore. He tells the jury that he questions, examines, tests and reproves every willing person he meets, “young or old, foreigner or fellow-citizen; but especially to you my fellow-citizens, inasmuch as you are closer to me in kinship.”60Plato, The Last Days, p. 61 (Apology 29E-30A). We have every reason to believe every word he says, for Socrates is indifferent to the safety of his life and will not use rhetoric to solicit the sympathy of the jury. Socrates concerns about other people, especially his fellow Athenians. He criticizes because he is connected.

Thomas Nagel entertains the difficulty of detachment and admits the limits of objectivity. Yet, he does not give up the ideas of detachment and objectiveness. He tries to give them a more nuanced account. To start with, Nagel assumes that stepping back is possible. For him, it is unnecessary that self two should detach totally from the connected self and the world. Self one has some partial knowledge of the world. Self two detaches from self one and judges the opinion held by self one. Self two regards the knowledge of self one as subjective appearance of the world. By comparing it with the real world, self two corrects the appearance, and consequently achieves a more objective view of the world. In matters of morality, self two needs not give up the concerns or values of self one. What he needs is to open himself to the innumerous values in the world. “To find out,” Nagel says, “what the world is like from outside we have to approach it from within: it is no wonder that the same is true for ethics. And indeed, when we take up the objective standpoint, the problem is not that values seem to disappear but that there seem to be too many of them, coming from every life and drowning out those that arise from our own.”61T. Nagel, The Limits, p. 115. Nagel’s method boils down to two steps. First, immerse self one in a flood of values. Second, let self two examine the sea of values and select the ones that he deems to be the best.

An account of detachment as such is more credible. Yet, one question remains: how could self two know what is the best? Walzer skips this question, and assumes that self two can experience the values, “though not quite in the common mode,” and choose the best ones among them. But then, this is not the undertaking of social criticism in Walzer’s understanding. Social reform is based on the criticism of what is to be reformed. The drowning out of one’s values and their replacement by others are, in Walzer’s own words, “an enterprise far more radical than social criticism … an enterprise more like conversion and conquest: the total replacement of the society from which the critic has detached himself with some (imagined or actual) other.” Walzer’s criticism of Nagel stops here. He does not want to go on to define social criticism so as to exclude Nagel’s venture. He just remarks that replacement is “most often … a morally unattractive form of social criticism and not one whose ‘objectivity’ we should admire.”62Interpretation, pp. 51-52.

Besides self one and self two, Walzer suggests a self three (the equivalence of the superego?), who should be a better critic than both self one and self two. We all have experience of remorse on the occasions when we behaved badly in public. We have a painful picture of ourselves, and the painfulness is a proof that that picture is seen from without. We form an opinion of ourselves not from our own ideals but from the standards of the significant others: our parents, our teachers, our lovers, or our friends. These standards are not arbitrary or idiosyncratic; they are values shared in the part of the world where we live. In other words, they are local values. When we use these local values to criticize ourselves, it is self-criticism. When we use them to criticize others, it is social criticism. Thus an objective social criticism does not require a detachment to the point of nowhere. Moreover, Walzer comments that self three “is bound to be more critical” than self two. Self two is looking at himself looking at society. This activity itself betrays the special interest the critic bestows on himself. It might not be narcissism, but apparently he values himself more than the others. Would it be more accurate to say that he is not completely detached or impartial? There is a more detached one, self three, who looks at society from the view of the society.63Interpretation, pp. 49-52.

The other justification of disconnection is “alienation,” which Walzer has also tackled. This explanation approaches disconnection from a sociological point of view. The sociologist proposes that disconnection is a consequence of alienation. It is imposed not from within but from without. Whenever a member of a society is neglected and abandoned, he becomes angry and hostile. This hostility then motivates him to criticize. This is how one becomes a critic. Walzer cites Christopher Lasch’s argument as an example:

It is time we began to understand radicals … not as men driven by a vague humanitarian idealism but as men predisposed to rebellion as the result of an early estrangement from the culture of their own class; as a result, in particular, of the impossibility of pursuing within the framework of established convention the kind of careers they were bent on pursuing. The intellectuals of the early twentieth century were predisposed to rebellion by the very fact of being intellectuals in a society that had not yet learned to define the intellectual’s place…. [They] were outsiders by necessity: a new class not yet absorbed into the cultural consensus.

Lasch opines that the critic is an intellectual predisposed by his circumstances to rebellion. His explanation has the form of the standard sociological answer to every question, namely, that society is infinitely larger than individuals and the main cause of individual actions. As if to confirm my suspicion, Lasch uses the same alienation to explain why a critic ceases to criticize:64C. Lasch, quoted in Critics, p. 21.

Detachment carried with it a certain defensiveness about the position of intellect (and intellectuals) in American life; and it was this defensiveness … which sometimes prompted intellectuals to forsake the role of criticism and to identify themselves with what they imagined to be the laws of historical necessity and the working out of the popular will.

“It is as useful in explaining the end as the beginning of radical criticism,” Walzer comments, “which makes it too useful by half.” Why do some estranged intellectuals become critics, and some don’t? Why do some critics cease to criticize, and some don’t? Lasch’s theory of estrangement falls short of giving an adequate explanation. In view of these general difficulties, Walzer suggests that estrangement should be replaced by marginalization. The critic is not alienated. He is a member of the higher class. For some sociological reasons, he is pushed out of the power centre to the margin. Or he identifies himself with the oppressed, and wilfully marginalizes himself. The critic is both connected and oppositional. His is a kind of “antagonistic connection.”65Critics. pp. 21-22.

2. Julien Benda’s homage to the ascetic monk

The imitation of heroism, a product of confusion and conflation between Socrates and Jesus, is probably an allusion to Julien Benda. In his Trahison des clercs, which can be taken as the manifesto of the twentieth century social critics, Benda repeatedly refers to Socrates and Jesus as the exemplars of social critics. At the end of his book, Benda actually places Socrates side by side with Jesus.66J. Benda, La trahison des clercs, Paris, 1990 (repr., 1995), p. 228. Underlying Benda’s romantic ideas of heroism is the conceptual framework of the ascetic monk. Walzer opines that the ascetic monk as a paradigm of social criticism is seriously misleading, and that this paradigm is one of the major factors that lead to the failure of the twentieth century social criticism. Walzer wants to correct this misconception, and hence directs his criticism squarely at Benda.

In the narration of Walzer, Benda is a universalist clerk after the Augustinian tradition. Unfortunately, he is born in the wrong place at the wrong time, when monasticism is on the decline and the masses are rising up. He naturally finds socialist reform and nationalism irritating. Most disgusting of all, even the clerks join these popular movements. Not only that, they actually volunteer to be the cheerleaders, inflaming the passion of the activists and stirring up more people to join the tumult. These clerks use their expertise to translate antagonism among people into coherent doctrines of hatred, and moralize them. As a result, nations, classes, and races are all depicted as perpetual enemies that will attack one another whenever opportunity presents itself. War is bound to come as the culminating point of this kind of passion politics. Benda’s indictment to these false intellectuals is “betrayal.” They betray their vocation of “single-hearted adoration of the Beautiful and the Divine,” and go into politics. They betray their (divine) duty of telling people the eternal truth; instead, they tell lies.67Critics, pp. 33-34. Cf. J. Benda, La trahison, pp. 107-123.

The cause of the betrayal, according to Benda’s analysis, is passion, primarily the passion of nationalism, then the passion of race, and then the passion of class. The passions for identification and belonging drive the intellectuals into a chauvinist mania. Amid this frenzy, Benda remains calm and disinterested. He reminds his fellow intellectuals, by quoting Jesus’ words, saying: “Mon royaume n’est pas de ce monde.” The intellectuals are in the world but not of the world. Although they are physically present in the world, their mind and spirit are fixed upon the Beautiful and the Divine, which are not of the world. In Benda’s thinking, the model for modern intellectuals, as Walzer correctly points out, is the Catholic clerk of the Middle Ages. At the beginning of the chapter Les clercs. La trahison des clercs, Benda divides the walks of life into two classes. The masses—bourgeois, ordinary people, kings, administers, and politicians—belong to the class of “laity,” whose function “par essence, consiste en la poursuite d’intérêts temporels.” Except the attention to the Divine, Benda stresses. The other class reserved for this function, he calls the “clerk,” who “par essence, ne poursuit pas de fins pratiques, mais qui, demandant leur joie à l’exercice de l’art ou de la science ou de la spéculation métaphysique, bref à la possession d’un bien non temporel.”68J. Benda, La trahison, pp. 131-132. For Benda, the one and the only employment worthy of the clerk is to contemplate, if not the Eternity itself, then the signs of eternity.

To fulfil his vocation, the clerk must undertake a strenuous course of strict discipline, something like the practice of ascetic monks. Benda is not so much concerned with sensual enjoyment as with the intoxication of passions. The greatest temptation of the time, Benda discerns, is the indulgence of affection. Passion, unlike the joy of contemplation, hangs on the attachment to relations, which are temporal and particular.69J. Benda, La trahison, p. 125. Cf. Critics, p. 31. The true clerk must abstain from passions and adhere to the exercise of detachment. Benda repeatedly exhorts the clerks to be “désintéressé,” and teaches that “le vrai intellectuel est un solitaire.”70J. Benda, quoted in R. Nichols, Treason, Tradition, and the Intellectual. Julien Benda and Political Discourse, Lawrence, KS, 1978, p. 164. Cf. Critics, p. 37. It does not mean that the clerk has to put himself in seclusion, but it does say that he must withhold his passion in everything he is involved in. “He plays human passions instead of living them.”71J. Benda, quoted in Critics, p. 31. This virtue is, without doubt, very difficult to attain. In fact, few clerks can achieve this. Benda, in a reflection recorded in the Exercice d’un enterré vif, suddenly discovers that his own solitaire is facilitated by his Jewish statelessness: “elle [la spécialité de l’esprit critique] pourrait bien tenir en partie à ce qu’étant pour la plupart liés aux nations qu’ils adoptent par des liens intellectuels et non charnels, ils échappent aux préjugés nationaux et traitent certains problèmes avec une liberté que ne connaissent pas toujours les non-Juifs les plus affranchis ou à quoi ils n’accèdent qu’avec effort et résignation.”72J. Benda, Exercice d’un enterré vif, in La jeunesse d’un clerc suivi de Un régulier dans le siècle et de Exercice d’un enterré vif, Paris, 1968, p. 374. Thus, Benda’s detachment is, at least partly, a historical consequence; he is socially predisposed to be un solitaire, and a perfect example of sociological alienation. Walzer sarcastically remarks that Benda’s solitaire is double: he is not only “a Jew cut off from other nations,” but also “an assimilated Jew cut off from other Jews.”73Critics, p. 37.

What is Benda going to do with his double portion of detachment? One would naturally expect him to invest his fortune in the contemplation of the signs of eternity. I have no idea about his activity in art, science, or metaphysical speculation, but I know that he did sometimes engage himself in social criticism as well as in political actions. These activities are both temporal and particular. Why did Benda enter the realm that he warned other clerks to avoid? One possible answer is that he wants to defend the eternal. In Walzer’s understanding, Benda’s explanation is a functional one: the clerk is not of the world, but while he is in the world, he serves the world. “Benda is a dualist and a functionalist,” says Walzer. His world view is Augustinian and Lutheran rather than Catholic. He divides human activities into two realms. The realm of reality belongs to the laymen, among them politicians and soldiers are the dominant players. Politicians conceive the world in a utilitarian way and act unscrupulously what is necessary to cater for the well-being of the society. On the other side lies the ideal realm, where the intellectuals alone dwell. The clerks are entirely disinterested in practical ends. They pursue whatever is beautiful and eternal. The only obligation that the intellectuals owe the people is to use their speciality in critical discernment to criticize the politicians, and to make sure that they understand what they do is immoral.74Critics, pp. 30-31. The intellectuals “jetèrent dans le monde, au prix de leur repos, l’idée de moralité.”75J. Benda, Exercice, p. 372. Mysteriously, both the aimless contemplation of the signs of eternity and social criticism serve an indispensable and irreplaceable practical end, that is, the furtherance of civilization. Benda, revamping the argument of the monastic monks, writes: “La civilisation … ne nous semble possible que si l’humanité observe une division des fonctions; que si, à côté de ceux qui exercent les passions laïques et exaltent les vertus propres à les servir, il existe une classe d’hommes qui rabaisse ces passions et glorifie des biens qui passent le temporel.”76J. Benda, La trahison, p. 190.

Benda, who endeavours to paint and live the ideal image of the intellectual, is a sincere and honourable man. Despite acknowledging this, Walzer severely criticizes the picture of Benda’s intellectual, for the reason that the ideal is unrealistic and misleading. Benda’s clerk, in Walzer’s criticism, is psychologically deprived and politically naïve. He is psychologically deprived of love, or more accurately in Benda’s terms, deprived of passion. Love sans passion, Benda seems to say, is the purest love. The clerk must cut his fleshy ties and reconnect through his intellect. If he expresses any emotion, he plays it for the sake of courtesy. His being inside is still and undisturbed. This is the ideal human being in certain philosophical or religious tradition. But I have doubts about it. Benda divides human beings into two classes: the common class of laity who possesses love and passion and the superior class of clerks who cultivates the pure love. I suspect that those who can make connection both intellectually and emotionally are superior. (One has only to image the difficulty to engineer emotion in a robot.) I also suspect that human beings (under normal circumstances) possess both intellectual and affective faculties, which cannot be annihilated once and for all or suppressed always and entirely.

The clerk is naïve in the matters of politics. In order to become a true intellectual, he has to suspend his intellect in political affairs. The clerk, of course, knows the eternal truth about human conduct, but that truth is not workable in the present world order. The world has its own rule, which the clerk does not care; (he probably does not understand either). Benda insists, Walzer says, that “Caesar’s morality is the right morality for the prosperity of worldly kingdoms.” He puts Benda’s political maxim side by side with Luther’s dictum: “You have the kingdom of heaven, therefore you should leave the kingdom of earth to anyone who wants to take it.”77Critics, p. 31.

This two-kingdom rationality is very problematic. The clerk claims to uphold the ideals, but at the same time he forsakes the practical interests of the people. What kind of values is he defending? The dialogue between Benda and his contemporary Paul Nizan best illustrates the point. In 1932, Nizan launched a savage attack on the French intellectuals, among whom Benda was taken to be “the shrewdest.” Nizan criticized Benda’s detachment as a cover for indifference; it actually upheld the established order. Reasoning in Nizan’s mode, Walzer writes: “When one leaves the world to Caesar, one doesn’t serve the ideal; one serves Caesar. Everything else—universal values, critical detachment, the pursuit of truth—is mere hypocrisy. The only alternative is to join the class struggle, to attach oneself to the working class.” Benda’s response to Nizan, as reported by Walzer, was that “if he had to choose between the maintenance of oppression and the loss of intellectual independence, he would ‘resign [himself] to maintaining oppression’.”78Critics, pp. 39-40.

Benda’s response, one has to concede, is consistent with his beliefs. On the other hand, it confirms Nizan’s or Walzer’s charge that “when one leaves the world to Caesar, one doesn’t serve the ideal; one serves Caesar.” If one proposes that Caesar’s morality is the morality of the real world, isn’t he ceding legitimacy to Caesar? What kind of intellectuals would Caesar prefer? Machiavelli will surely be the most welcome, the second will be the apologist, the third will be Benda’s oppositional consenter. The first two classes are useful to Caesar. But the clerk criticizes Caesar with the eternal truth, how come Caesar applauds him? A clever Caesar would certainly do that as long as the eternal truth does not touch any real issue. The clerk’s cacophony is tolerable if he admits that his ideal is not of this world. Caesar rules the world by his law, and the clerk criticizes the world by his ideal. Together they work to sustain the civilization. There is opposition but no inherent contradiction: the critic condemns Caesar as immoral, but he consents to his work. Moreover, a clever Caesar can claim himself to be a hero, someone like the Greek tragic hero. He can speak in the same way as the communist leader Hoerderer in Sartre’s Dirty Hands: “Well, I have dirty hands. Right up to the elbows. I’ve plunged them in filth and blood. But what do you hope? Do you think you can govern innocently?”79J.-P. Sartre, Dirty Hands, in No Exit and Three Other Plays, trans. L. Abel, New York, NY, 1955, p. 224. Cf. M. Walzer, Political Action. The Problem of Dirty Hands, in Philosophy and Public Affairs 2 (1973) 160-180, p. 161. If the answer is no, then someone must get his hands dirty. Caesar goes into the world, plunges his hands in filth and blood, and risks descending into hell. The clerk retreats from the world, keeps himself aloof, and criticizes. To whom should we be grateful?

The script of the intellectual written by Benda is almost impossible to play, not even for Benda himself. Benda was not psychologically deprived. He had passion as well as commitment, not to the Jews but to the French. “The Betrayal,” Walzer writes, “is full of naive expressions of his love for France, a love that went far beyond the ‘affection … based on reason’ that is all he permitted to true intellectuals.” Benda is “wholly absorbed” in the life of France. To prove his case, Walzer cites an example of his language preference. In the 1930s, Benda was preaching a unified Europe. He suggested that French, because of its “rationality,” would be the best substitute for Latin, which was no longer in use. Walzer regards Benda’s “rationality” as a sign of his passion for France.80Critics, pp. 38-39. Another incident that betrays Benda’s passion is the Franco-German war of 1914. That year, Germany invaded the neutral Belgium. Benda openly supported the French campaign to drive out the Germans. He insisted that his motive was not based on national interests but on the abstract, Scholastic principle of jus ad bellum. According to that principle, France rightly waged war against Germany. Walzer, however, queries why Benda does not go on to criticize the Germans for using poisonous gas, which is a clear violation of jus in bello. The reason, Walzer suspects, is that the French has also used gas. “If the Germans had been alone in their use of gas, Benda would have been more open to arguments about just and unjust means of warfare.” “When it came to the French and the Germans,” Walzer pronounces his verdict, “he was never a disinterested clerk.”81Critics, p. 35.

Benda was not an entirely unreconstructed naïve critic. He was not ready to leave the world to Caesar, neither in his act nor in his writing. He joined the Dreyfusards in the 1890s, and again the antifascists and the anti-Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s.82Critics, pp. 31,40. Benda was pressed by real circumstances to stray from his ideal and compromised: “J’admets le clerc séculier, le clerc militant, le clerc qui, pour obtenir quelque chose de la nature humaine, se résigne au relatif. Mais je tiens qu’à côté de ce séculier il faut des réguliers, de purs spéculatifs, qui maintiennent l’idéal dans son absolu.”83J. Benda, Un régulier dans le siècle, in La jeunesse, p. 259. Cf. Critics, p. 40. Benda allowed some clerks to concern themselves with temporal and particular things (secular) and even to become militant. There are still some temporal human values for Benda to strive for at the expense of his life, or more importantly, of his peaceful contemplation of the Absolute. Contrary to his two-kingdom thinking, Benda was always unwilling to let Caesar rule the world by his law. “There is ample evidence,” Walzer says, “that he preferred victory to defeat and the triumph of justice to the martyrdom of its advocates.”84Critics, p. 36. An ironical example can be found in La trahison, the same book in which he preaches the separation of the two kingdoms. Benda rebukes those intellectuals; he calls them “mystical pacifists” who criticize the joy of the French victory over Germany and the French demand for indemnification. “Le mobile qui animait ici ces moralistes,” Benda says, “est la pensée que le juste doit nécessairement être faible et pâtir; que l’état de victime fait en quelque sorte partie de sa définition. Si le juste se met à devenir le fort et à avoir les moyens de se faire rendre justice, il cesse pour ces penseurs d’être le juste.” Benda’s condemnation of these moralists, which is equally applicable to himself, is that they establish “la religion du malheur” by way of equating justice with defeat.85J. Benda, La trahison, p. 219. Cf. Critics, p. 36.

There is contradiction between theory and practice. Benda upholds the ideal of the intellectual but at the same time strays from the ideal. His difficulties, according to Walzer, arise from his inaccurate analysis of the state of affairs at his time, and from his incorrect prescription. Benda rightly catches the spirit of his time. He correctly predicts that the frenzy of nationalism would ultimately lead to mutual destruction. He attributes the frenzy to the human passions for identification and belonging. Intellectual traitors dive into the passions; mystical pacifists oppose these passions with the sole result of falling into another passion of impartiality. Benda thinks that the right response is detachment, and hence proposes the paradigm of ascetic monk and the two-kingdom framework.

While agreeing that passion breeds intellectual betrayal, Walzer suggests another possibility. He observes that the surrender of critical judgement “is a yielding more often to power than to passion.”86Critics, p. 43. Benda has not failed to perceive the influence of power on intellectuals. But he thinks that power only comes indirectly, and that the main cause is passion. Walzer sees it the other way around. Intellectuals love power, but that is something they usually cannot acquire. A substitute for this desire is the direct access to power—whispering to the ear of the prince. Which is the more likely cause of intellectual betrayal: passion for fellowship or passion for power? It is really difficult to say. But I tend to agree with Walzer that “justice is a judgment on power, not on love.”87Critics, p. 43. While love is indispensable to the formation of personality, power, which is indispensable to society, is a hindrance—wise men advise the lovers of justice or wisdom to eschew it. Socrates, for instance, did not teach a life of detachment from love. On the contrary, he walked down to the market and greeted the people he met, especially his Athenians, in a brotherly way. For him, if one wants to conduct a philosophic life, the thing that he needs to shun is politics. In an explanation of his position to the jury, Socrates said:88Plato, The Last Days, p. 64 (Apology 31E-32A).

No man on earth who conscientiously opposes either you or any other organized democracy, and flatly prevents a great many wrongs and illegalities from taking place in the state to which he belongs, can possibly escape with his life. The true champion of justice, if he intends to survive even for a short time, must necessarily confine himself to private life and leave politics alone.

The conceptual frameworks used by Benda are wrong insofar as justice is concerned. There is no such sociological division of the two kingdoms, nor is there a kind of pure clerk or pure layman. “Pure science, art for art’s sake, the contemplation of God,” Walzer says, “these may well carry their votaries, not into another realm, but out of the reach of the rest of us…. But the love of justice is very different. It brings the intellectual back into reach, forces him to stand among his fellows. Here the proper model is not the medieval monk but the biblical prophet.”89Critics, pp. 41-42.

Has Benda weighed the two models? Apparently, the social critic comes closer to the prophet. Why did Benda choose the monk? The answer as given by Walzer is that Benda, despite being a Jew, never read the prophetic books until the early 1940s, when he was already in his middle seventies.90Critics, p. 42. Had he read them before the publication of La trahison and had he reconciled with his Jewish origin, his clerk would have been cast in a more correct mode. What a pity that such a sincere man as Benda could lead himself astray by being disconnected.

C. The ancient and honourable company of social critics

The twentieth century social criticism is a grim story. It begins with Benda’s high posture, but ends with Marcuse’s airy criticism and Foucault’s entanglement. Social criticism seems to have come to a dead-end. But this is not what Walzer believes. “I complain, therefore I am,” he says.91Critics, p. 3. As long as individuals interact with each other, there will be complaints. How can it be otherwise? Since social criticism is only a specialized form of complaint, we can expect its continuation. Society needs criticism, and someone will play the specialized role as a critic. The concerns of the critical enterprise are the right kind of social criticism and the right kind of social critics. Social criticism, Walzer argues, is not a new phenomenon. It is an ancient venture, as old as society itself. Benda traces its origin to Socrates and Jesus, and models its practice after the ascetic monks. This is a big mistake owing to the ignorance of tradition. Walzer points out that the first appearance of the specialists in complaint, at least in the Western history, is in the land of ancient Israel. The Israelite prophets are the inventors of social criticism who have started “the Ancient and Honourable Company of Social Critics.”92Critics, p. 8.

1. Critical success

Something more has to be said about why the prophet merits imitation whereas the hero or the monk does not. At the beginning of the chapter, I have described the failure not only of the twentieth century social criticism but also of prophecy, which Walzer does not mention. Arguably, the twentieth century intellectuals and the prophets have made mistakes of different kinds. The intellectuals injudiciously choose detachment as their basic discipline; whereas the prophets, while not adopting any practice that is intrinsically contradictory to social criticism, single-mindedly identify foreign conquest as the punishment of God. Israelites have sinned and God punishes them by foreign hands. If they repent, God will re-establish their country. History somehow does not seem to follow this theology, and the prophets lose their credential.93I am aware that the above explanation involves a lot of theological controversies, but I deem it quite unnecessary to pursue them further here as what I propose is just a possibility. Their message has failed, but their practice is still worthy of imitation.

The practice of the prophets is, in the words of Walzer, a “critical success.” If a critic can attract a large crowd of audience, inspire faithful followers, and bring about the kind of social reform he preaches, he is certainly a successful critic. Every critic wants that kind of success, but very often he finds himself ending up in the opposite—like a lone voice crying in the wilderness. In this respect, the prophets are no more successful than the modern intellectuals. “Success as the world measures it is not the measure of social criticism,” Walzer says.94Critics, p. 79. Critical success is of a different nature. The prophetic message is caustic and difficult to follow. Indeed most Israelites did not follow. Yet why did they copy, preserve, and repeat the prophetic message? asks Walzer.95Interpretation, p. 70. Why did they value something they did not practise themselves? The reason, Walzer suggests, is that the prophet has articulated the core beliefs and aspirations of the people in such a powerful way that he hurts his listeners and haunts them for generations.96Interpretation, p. 89; Critics, p. 79. They may not follow his words, but the words sting, and they have to deal with the sting. The prophet forces the people to confront themselves. This is the critical success which impresses all other critics.97Critics, p. 235.

An eloquent example of the critical success can be found in Walzer’s Interpretation. The incident is recorded in the prophetic book Amos. Amos, who lived in Judah, went to Beth-El of Israel, where the temple was built, and prophesied against the cultic practices. His attack was not so much against the priests as against the avaricious merchants. Amos was born in a period of transition, when the loose and dispersed political power became centralized in the king. Under the newly established monarchy, a new upper class of merchants emerged and took hold of the country’s economy. These merchants were unrestrained in the accumulation of wealth. They unduly extracted profit by extortion and by fraud. In spite of their exploitation and oppression, they were patriots, and they expressed their patriotism in religious observance. They kept the Sabbath, participated in festivals, offered sacrifice, and probably donated money for the maintenance of the temple. Amos has an ironical description of the merchants’ piety:

Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy,

Even to make the poor of the land to fail,

Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn?

And the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat,

Making the ephah small, and the shekel great,

And falsifying the balances by deceit?

That we may buy the poor for silver,

And the needy for a pair of shoes,

Yea, and sell the refuse of the wheat? (8,4-6)

Amos questions their beliefs: what kind of patriotism and what kind of piety are these if the pious patriots exploit the people and offer part of the acquisition to bribe God, and pretend patriotic in order to cover their damage done to the nation? This is his warning to them: justice is more important than sacrifice.

Amos’s theology is a well-established doctrine nowadays; it has been elaborated in the Sinai tradition. But it was not so in the days of the prophet. At that time, justice and ritual, Walzer suggests, were competing for superiority. Why justice, rather than ritual, was the true expression of piety was not self-evident. The royalists, the merchants, and the priests affirmed that cultic observance was the true and sufficient service to God. Amos denounced it as religious hypocrisy. How would a just god possibly be pleased with an extorted offering? Worship without praxis is a self-deceit. Amos stood out, and, drawing upon a previous tradition which was later systematically formulated in Deuteronomy, he attacked the cultists. Amaziah the priest of Beth-El responded by sending a message to Jeroboam, king of Israel, saying: “Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words (7,10).” Then, Amaziah told Amos: “O thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there: But prophesy not again any more at Bethel: for it is the king’s chapel, and it is the king’s court (7,12-13).” Amaziah does not defend the cultic religiosity, Walzer emphasizes, but appeals for political power to force Amos out. The priest of Beth-El should not be in want of words. So why does he choose the path of politics? It is because, Walzer opines, Amos’s argument articulates the core values of the people so that Amaziah is forced to silence.98Interpretation, pp. 73,84-89. When argument runs out, physical coercion becomes the next option. Amos defied Amaziah’s intimidation. But we are not told that Amos remained in Beth-El and fearlessly confronted the guards of the king. Probably he went back to Judah, ate bread, and wrote down his prophecies there, as Amaziah had told him to. The priest continued his routines in Beth-El, and the merchants gladly rejoined the celebrations. Amaziah won the contest. So did Amos, though of a different kind—a victory that is most appropriate to a social critic. Critical success as such is not valued by the worldly standard, but it is one of the highest honours that one can achieve in the world.

2. The prophet as social critic

At the end of the Company of Critics, Walzer extracts the essence of social criticism and states it in terms of three tasks:99Critics, p. 232.

1. the critic exposes the false appearances of his own society;
2. he gives expression to his people’s deepest sense of how they ought to live;
3. and he insists that there are other forms of falseness and other, equally legitimate, hopes and aspirations.

Walzer accredits the first two to Breytenbach, and the last one to himself. They appear to be the conclusions drawn at the end of the study of a series of social critics. These tasks have, however, already been explicated in the last chapter of the Interpretation, which constitutes a “theoretical preamble” to the Company of Critics.100Interpretation, p. vii. Since they bear close resemblance to the practice of the prophets, I will take them as though they were laid down by the prophets, and show briefly how Walzer extracts them from the prophets.

First, the prophet exposes the false appearances of his own society. This task can easily be seen in the messages of the prophets. Most prophets are patriots and nationalists. Their main concern is their own country Israel, and their writings display the fiercest love for it. Speaking in the name of God, Amos told his countrymen:

You only have I known of all the families of the earth:
Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. (3,2)

Although there exist many nations and many countries, “you only have I known.” These are the words not only of God but also of Amos. “The paradigmatic task of the prophets,” Walzer writes, “is to judge the people’s relations with one another (and with ‘their’ God), to judge the internal character of their society.”101Interpretation, pp. 79-80.

“For the same reason,” Walzer states, “the message of the prophets is resolutely this-worldly.” This statement appears to be too resolute and too reactionary to the supernatural claim of the prophets. It needs qualification. Walzer does give us some qualifications though. “First, there is no prophetic utopia, no account (in the style of Plato, say) of the ‘best’ political or religious regime, a regime free from history, located anywhere or nowhere.” “Second, the prophets take no interest in individual salvation or in the perfection of their own souls.” Furthermore, Walzer shows us that the prophets base their message on a particular religious and moral tradition. They do not actually preach something novel. Some of the messages “are mysterious to us,” but Walzer immediately adds, “they were presumably not mysterious to the men and women who gathered at Beth-El or Jerusalem to listen.” He quotes Amos 2,8 (ASV) as an example:

And they lay themselves down beside every altar
Upon clothes taken in pledge.

The prophet’s indictment may seem incomprehensible to us, but it is not so to the Israelites who knew the law concerning pledge:

If thou at all take thy neighbour’s raiment to pledge, thou shalt deliver it unto him by that the sun goeth down: For that is his covering only, it is his raiment for his skin: wherein shall he sleep? (Ex 22,26-27)

This law of pledge is not universal. We may have our own idea of how pledge should be kept. The prophets do not care; they care only about their own tradition.102Interpretation, pp. 80-82.

A more serious task of the prophet is to shape the cultural identity of his nation. When a prophet ventures into the enterprise of social criticism, he inevitably encounters conflicting moral claims and equivocal interpretations. In the absence of a complete set of defined moral conduct, the prophet has to, in Walzer’s own words, “emphasize” certain aspects and “de-emphasize” other aspects of the tradition. The prophet relies on the tradition, but he also “interprets” and “revises” it.103Interpretation, pp. 82,84. This is a far more interesting aspect of social criticism, and a necessary one, especially during the period of transition. Amos’s case fits this social milieu well. The eighth century b.c. Israel and Judah, Walzer points out, were transforming from a more or less “association of freemen” to a hierarchy in which power and wealth were concentrated in the hands of the royalists and the merchants. The new upper classes exploited the people economically, while at the same time they behaved scrupulously religious. Amos perceived the contradiction. He associated the political oppression in Egypt with the present economic oppression, and denounced the cultic piety as insufficient and hypocritical.104Interpretation, pp. 84-88.

As for the third task, the prophet is manifestly a particularist: his main concern is his own people. Although his message may involve other nations, he makes no claim that other societies must conform to the Jewish society. Is this particularist practice in contradiction to the belief in the universal God? Wouldn’t it be more plausible that the only God makes a universal standard for all nations? This is not what Amos contemplates, Walzer opines. Amos assumes that God, like him, has a special relationship with Israel. He also recognizes that God, unlike him, can have other intimate relationships with other nations. As a proof of such belief, Walzer cites Amos 9,7: “Are ye not as children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel? saith the Lord. Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt? and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?” Walzer interprets this verse as Amos’s recognition of the particularity of each nation—Israel is one among many other God’s liberations and one among many other God’s children, and each nation can have its own prophecy and its own prophets.105Interpretation, pp. 93-94.

As if Amos stated his (not God’s) opinion about the particularist nature of prophecy, Walzer continues to explore the possibilities of universal prophecy. What would a prophet say when he is sent by God to speak to another nation? This is not merely a speculative question. The Bible has records of prophets, like Balaam and Elijah, who speak to foreign nations. The prophetic books likewise have a number of prophecies that address other nations (though the audience were the Israelites). The book of Jonah actually tells the story of how God forces the Israelite prophet to prophesy to the inhabitants of Nineveh. Walzer takes Jonah as an example of the universal prophet, and compares his message with that of the local prophet Amos. Jonah appears to have no knowledge about the religion and the moral law of the Ninevites. In fact, he is a totally detached prophet; he cares nothing at all about the Ninevites. His prophecy consists of a single sentence: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown (3,4).” No elaboration, no cause, no poetry, no admonition. Jonah is a reluctant prophet. Perhaps something more could have been said by a zealous prophet who is eager to help the local people. Even then, the conversation would be thin, Walzer argues, since communication depends on a communal life, which is what the prophet does not share with the people. The prophet and the people could only base their dialogue on the existing minimal code, such as the “sin” of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gn 18,20) or the “violence” of the flood (Gn 6,11).106Interpretation, pp. 76-79. No allusion to cultural particularity, no nuance, no subtlety—these are the general features and the limitations of universal prophecy. If a prophet goes into details, he should acknowledge his connection.

I agree with what Walzer says so far, but I find Walzer’s interpretation somewhat selective. There exists another dimension in the prophetic message, that is, the plane of transcendence, which is repressed and left out in Walzer’s discussion. All prophets in the Bible claim to have been sent by God, and they substantiate their claim by recounting some transcendent experience. They hear God’s voice or they see a vision in the heavenly court, and then they are commissioned to announce the revelation to the people. This is the standard form of prophetic vocation. Every prophet needs it to prove his authenticity. Very often, this formula is written into the prophetic books in the form of vision and the translation of the vision. The prophet sees a vision concerning the future of Israel. With divine aid, he understands what the vision means. He is urged to proclaim and to explain the vision to the people. Apparently, the prophet takes the liberty to translate the vision in his own style. His message concerns this place and this people, but it is founded on a transcendent source. The prophet is motivated to attack injustices not merely by his indignation but first and foremost by divine vocation. This is true at least in the self-understanding of the prophet.

Consider the example of Amos, the exemplar of social critic. His book is the best that resembles a modern social critique. The three tasks of social criticism listed by Walzer can be found there. Amos is also a neat example of prophetic revelation. The book begins with the standard form:

The words of Amos, who was among the herdsmen of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah…. (1,1)

The basic meaning of the verb saw (חָזָה) is to see with the eyes or to perceive withthe inner vision. If we take the verse literally, the words of Amos record what he saw or perceived in some transcendent experiences. Noticeably, the last chapter is presented in the form of vision (9,1-4) and the translation of the vision (9,5-15). It is true that most of the prophecies in Amos are not in vision form. And the few visions that it has are only inserted at the end of the book. Yet we should not ignore the possibility that the social critiques are based on some cosmic visions. The prophet may have omitted the original visions and presents only his interpretations in order to suit the occasion of proclamation. Consequently, we cannot be sure of the conditions under which Amos received his visions and how he dealt with them. However that may be, the prophet stamped every prophecy with the seal: “This is the words of God.” It seems unlikely that Walzer would dismiss Amos’s words as a mere blasphemy.

In addition to the transcendent source of prophetic proclamation, the message itself contains some otherworldly elements. Calamities, whether inflicted by nature or by enemies, are perceived by the prophets as acts of God. Likewise, prosperity is a deed of God’s blessing. God punishes and God saves are the two indispensable elements found in almost every prophetic book, whereas the condemnation of injustice is not always present, especially in some late prophetic works when the prophets are unable to translate cosmic visions into social and political terms. It seems that the prophets are motivated to speak more by the vision of (divine) punishment or (divine) restoration than by indignation.

Obadiah is such a book. It concerns wholly punishment and restoration. The condemnations are the universal “violence” done by Edom to Israel. Because of the violence, the prophet says, God will punish Edom. “But upon mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions (17).”

At the beginning of his discussion on the prophetic paradigm, Walzer writes:107Interpretation, p. 70.

Of course, there were prophets before the [classical and literary] ones we know, seers and soothsayers, oracles, diviners, and clairvoyants; and there is nothing very puzzling about their messages or about their audiences. Foretellings of doom and glory will always find listeners, especially when the doom is for enemies, the glory for ourselves.

Walzer despises this kind of prophets; he just stops short of calling them “false prophets.” Now, Obadiah obviously fits into this category. His message constitutes of nothing but doom for enemies and glory for ourselves; on the contrary, he is a soothsayer. Yet, Obadiah is not a prophet before the classical ones; he is one of the classical prophets. So, Walzer’s prophetic paradigm cannot accommodate Obadiah.

There are still other prophetic activities or messages that cannot be circumscribed by Walzer’s paradigm. I trust the above two points suffice to demonstrate that Walzer construct his paradigm on a selected type of prophetic texts while “de-emphasizing” the transcendent dimension of prophecy. He follows the same line as the rabbis, who downplay revelation and elevate interpretation. But unlike the rabbis who maintain a distinction between the prophet and the sage, Walzer attempts to identify the modern social critic with the ancient prophet. Walzer’s paradigm, to borrow his own words, is a modern reinterpretation of prophecy. Given that true vision is rare nowadays, his interpretation is not an unattractive one.

3. Randolph Bourne the modern prophet

The connection between modern social critics and ancient prophets is not purely a theoretical construction. Not a few Western critics throughout the ages have derived inspiration from the prophets. Traces of prophetic elements can be found in their critiques. To substantiate his argument, Walzer selects a contemporary American critic, Randolph Bourne, and casts him in the model of the prophet. Bourne was “a clerk avant la lettre,” Walzer writes, who was born in 1886, nearly twenty years after Benda. But Bourne’s criticism was ahead of Benda’s: he trumpeted the betrayal of the intellectuals during the First World War, a decade before Benda published his Trahison. Bourne, though young, inexperienced, and lacking Benda’s handbook, showed remarkable consistency in his social criticism. He played his part, Walzer writes, “with splendid vehemence and political recklessness.”108Critics, p. 45. How could he play a critic so marvellously without a script? Bourne actually had a script, Walzer argues, not the script of Benda, but the script of the prophet.

Looking at Bourne from the perspective of the prophet is uncommon in the critical literature. Bourne, in the view of his critics, is both physically and socially assigned to be a social critic. Born with a twisted face and a hunched back, he is stigmatized for mockery and exclusion. Alienated in his small hometown Bloomfield, he moves to New York only to find himself ending up in a magnified alienation. Estranged early on and denied of the possibility to pursue his career within the framework of established convention, Bourne becomes an outsider by necessity. In standard sociological understanding, he is predisposed to criticism and rebellion.109Critics, p. 46. Indeed, the idea of predestination sometimes hovered in Bourne’s mind: I am “a lonely spectator,” he once told his friend in a letter, “reserved from action for contemplation…. I have unsuspected powers of incompatibility with the real world.”110R. Bourne, quoted in Critics, p. 46.

Nevertheless, both Bourne’s self-understanding and the account of his critics are partial. Bourne describes his critical power by means of his innate ability, which is the biological version of predestination, while his critics use more sophisticated sociological terms. Both explanations neglect the dimensions of education and personal beliefs, which play equally important roles in shaping a person’s character and perception. As a matter of fact, Bourne was brought up in the Presbyterian tradition. Worship, Bible study, daily prayer and Scripture reading were his routine. These spiritual exercises would deposit a layer of Protestantism in him and dispose him to criticize things incongruous with his beliefs. Walzer provides evidence to show that some biblical images are at work in Bourne:111R. Bourne, quoted in Critics, p. 46.

I want to be a prophet, if only a minor one. I can almost see now that my path in life will be on the outside of things, poking holes in the holy, criticizing the established, satirizing the self-respecting and contented. Never being competent to direct and manage any of the affairs of the world myself, I will be forced to sit … in the wilderness howling like a coyote that everything is being run wrong…. Between an Ezekiel and an Ishmael, it is a little hard to draw the line; I mean, one can start out to be the first and end only by becoming the latter.

The passage shows that Bourne was conscious of the internal and external constraints acting upon him. He believed, perhaps from past experience or from the testimonies of the prophets, that the world would not accept his criticism. (A later event—the First World War verified his prediction is completely correct: in wartime America, there is no room for dissent.) He also felt incapable of reverting the fate of being treated as a traitor and an outcast: he had to continue to criticize because he lacked the means to engage himself in another career. If this is the fate of Bourne, it is not merely an act of God but also a consequence of his will. “I want to be a prophet,” he confessed. Bourne chose to become a critic. His source of inspiration and his conception of the critical role came from the prophets. The reference to Ezekiel and Ishmael reveals that Bourne was well versed with the Bible. Ezekiel was one of the most eccentric prophets, who had his peculiar way to provoke the Israelites, whereas Ishmael was the banished but literally innocent son of Abraham. Although it would be a little exaggerated to say that a prophet will ultimately become an outcast, the prophet surely experiences a certain degree of exclusion and loneliness. This common experience of rejection was probably reinforced in Bourne’s mind by the numerous accounts of the persecution of the prophets. Bourne conceived his career in Old Testament imagery, and anticipated his end also in Old Testament imagery.

We should not, however, overlook the fact that Bourne was a Presbyterian, not a Jew. We would expect to see in him the seal of the New Testament as well. If he apprehended his career and his life in Old Testament terms, would he not associate reality with New Testament imagery? In the exploration of the deeper side of Bourne, Walzer unavoidably touches upon Bourne’s apostolic spirit: “I have a picture of a host of eager youth missionaries swarming over the land.” “Eager youth missionaries,” Walzer remarks, “if Bourne had ever written about the revolutionary vanguard, that is probably the way he would have described it.” Walzer continues to describe Bourne’s conception of generations and classes in terms of a “secular evangelism.” Bourne frequently used the words “lift and stir,” which have strong evangelical connotation, to denote “forward movement, radical agitation, for the sake of a richer culture and a more ‘experimental’ life.” Still further, Walzer notes that Bourne directly compared the ideal critic with the missionary: “The ironist is a person who counts in the world…. His is an insistent personality; he is as troublesome as a missionary.”112Critics, pp. 48-50.

Walzer is doing justice to Bourne in describing the influence of his Protestant heritage on his political thinking. But I can’t help having the impression that Walzer has toned down the evangelical element in Bourne. While commenting the last quoted sentences, he says: “‘missionary’ isn’t quite the right word, for a missionary carries his gospel to foreign lands, while irony, as a critical style, works only at home. Bourne did think of himself as a man with a mission—to interpret and defend the newness of America. But he had no gospel to proclaim, at least not in the usual sense of that word.”113Critics, p. 50. In short, Bourne is not a missionary; he is at most a man with a mission of indefinite nature. This is not quite correct. As noted by Walzer, Bourne did preach a kind of service to the public: “food inspection, factory inspection, organized relief, the care of dependents, playground service, nursing in hospitals.”114R. Bourne, quoted in Critics, pp. 48-49. Despite the fact that some of these services are new projects, all of them can be understood within the framework of traditional Christian charity work. Bourne was not converting people to Christianity, but nonetheless he advocated public service derived, at least partly, from his Christian ideals. Walzer has interpreted “mission” in a very narrow sense as overseas Christianization. In the Protestant churches, it is not uncommon to give the word different usages. The central meaning of “mission” is “to send off.” Anyone sent off is a missionary. Although missionaries are usually sent off to foreign lands, they may have to be sent off to their homeland if their people happen to forget and deviate from their common ideals. In such case, irony is a powerful means of missionizing.

Judging from the portrait painted by Walzer, I cannot say for sure whether Bourne is a prophet or an evangelist or something in between. I suspect that the Gospel would have a wider ramification and deeper penetration in a Christian. But I don’t want to pursue the argument further lest I shall stray too far from my subject. Right now, suffice it to say that besides the prophet, the evangelist might be a source of inspiration to social criticism.

§2. Critical distance

The prophetic paradigm, which may be sufficient in itself as a guide to social criticism in premodern society, is no longer sufficient to address a situation peculiar to the modern state arising from the transferral of sovereignty from the monarch to the people. In the ancien régime, the king or the ruler was the head of the state, and the people were his subjects. There was only a relatively small number of élite that could participate in the decision-making of the state. The masses were disregarded as ignorant and passive subordinates. In this circumstance, the critic would naturally choose the élite or the king as his object of criticism. He himself was most often one of the élite. He stood on their side, shared their values, and looked at things from their perspective. He criticized them because they did not live up to the ideals that they themselves professed. The critic had an unambiguous standing vis-à-vis his audience. This is, however, no longer the case in modern state. Since the head of the king was cut off, sovereignty has been resided, at least nominally, in the people. Ever since “the revolt of the masses,” it has become difficult for the critic to justify his defence of the interests of the élite.115Critics, p. 25. If he sides with the ruling class, he will be charged with intellectual betrayal. But going over to the side of the oppressed is a problem too. How far should the intellectual identify himself with the popular movement? If one goes too far, as the Marxists often do, join hands with the other side and declare war on one’s side, Walzer warns, one may commit “treasonous engagement.”116Interpretation, pp. 59-60.

A. Absolute opposition

1. Jean-Paul Sartre’s smokescreen politics

The first critical stand we will examine is what Walzer calls “absolute opposition.”117Critics, p. 237. This position is theoretically formulated by Jean-Paul Sartre and acted out by his followers. Sartre is basically a Benda’s intellectual. He believes that the intellectual must criticize the world, and that to be qualified as a critic, the intellectual must attain a superior standing, like God, surveying the world from a point beyond the world. Benda teaches his intellectuals detachment as a method of discipline. To Sartre, asceticism is old-fashioned. At any rate, it does not and cannot elevate the intellectual to the ultimate objective standpoint. To achieve this aim, a sociologically adequate methodology is needed. Intellectuals are, de facto, bourgeois. Even when one begins as a proletarian, one will be co-opted into the bourgeoisie through successful education. To undo the bourgeois socialization, Sartre recommends the exercise of perpetual self-criticism. The intellectual must criticize the bourgeois inside before he can criticize the bourgeois society outside. He must declare war on himself before he can declare it on the world. If he is always at odds with himself, he will not be in favour of anyone else. The process is painful, but it is heroic and worth the effort. After the thorough self-emptying, the intellectual will then be able to lift himself to an objective and impartial stand. From there, he searches for the truth, and he realizes that the universals and the future humanity are embodied only in the oppressed. Thus, Sartre demands an “unconditional” commitment to the movement of the oppressed. Nevertheless, the Sartrean intellectual, Walzer points out, is “unassimilable.”118Interpretation, p. 58. Marx instructs the intellectuals to go over to the other side and connect themselves to the proletariat. Or in metaphorical language, the intellectuals are the head and the proletariat are the body of an organic society. Sartrean intellectuals also go over and commit themselves unconditionally, but they are not required to connect themselves to the oppressed. For the sake of the universals, Sartre says, the critic “can never renounce his critical faculties if he is to preserve the fundamental meaning of the ends pursued by the movement.”119J.-P. Sartre, quoted in Interpretation, p. 58. The critic must keep his transcendent standpoint, and remain disconnected.

What does it mean by holding unconditional commitment and disconnection at the same time? How can the critic commit himself unconditionally and remain disconnected? These are the questions raised by Walzer. It does not seem to be a plausible political position. Walzer suspects that Sartre’s critical theory is “a kind of theoretical smokescreen” covering “a familiar politics of internal opposition.”120Interpretation, p. 59. He argues that Sartre and his friends are on the side of the bourgeois despite their declaration of war. They have never attained the transcendent standpoint. Their universals are values internal to the bourgeoisie. They simply use the bourgeois standard to measure the bourgeois. Likewise, the Sartrean critic never seriously engages with the oppressed. He changes his position, but the move is not physical, nor social, but only political. He chooses to remain in France as a member of the privileged class standing on the side of the enemy. “Henceforth he aimed his ideas,” Walzer says, “as a soldier … might aim his gun, in only one direction.”121Interpretation, p. 58. Italics added.

2. Simone de Beauvoir the assimilated woman

To justify his suspicion, Walzer uses Simone de Beauvoir, instead of Sartre, as an example. The choice has certain advantages. De Beauvoir was the faithful and intimate follower of Sartre. She probably knew him better than anybody did, and she was eager to follow in his footsteps. Indeed, contemporary feminists regret that she follows him so closely that her reputation as a socialist and une femme émancipée is compromised. When she wrote of Sartre on leave from the French army in 1940, de Beauvoir unreservedly expressed her attachment to Sartre: “A radical change had taken place in him and in me too since I rallied to his point of view immediately.”122S. de Beauvoir, quoted in Critics, p. 154. On the other hand, de Beauvoir was a better and more influential social critic in comparison with Sartre. She was a Sartrean critic and a successful one. Now, we have here an excellent case that may disprove Walzer’s claim that disconnection leads to bad social criticism.

The first counter-evidence that Walzer gives is the Algerian War. Prior to its independence in 1962, Algeria was a colony under French rule. In 1954, the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) demanded independence and full sovereignty. The pied noirs perceived that the FLN intended to destroy their community and to wipe them out. Their action towards the FLN was classical: they suppressed the liberationists. The FLN’s reaction was also standard: they conducted terrorist campaigns to expel the Frenchmen. Who first began the violence is not our concern here. What we need to know is that the violence escalated and spun out of control. The struggle presents a typical ethical dilemma of national liberation in the twentieth century. At that time, there were over one million Europeans settled in Algeria. It was their home, and they wanted to stay. But it was also the home of nine million Arabs. Their demand could not be ignored either. A reasonable solution would be to establish some kind of autonomy and coexistence. But moderation was overpowered by extremity, and the situation evolved into an either-you-or-me scenario. Which side should a French critic take?

The decision can easily be made in accordance with Sartre’s critical theory. The pied noirs are the oppressors, and the Algerian Arabs are the oppressed. The critic should thus stand on the side of the Arabs unconditionally. De Beauvoir strictly followed this line of thinking. “All those people in the streets,” she wrote, “they were all murderers. Myself as well. ‘I’m French.’ The words scalded my throat like an admission of hideous deformity.”123S. de Beauvoir, quoted in Critics, p. 140. De Beauvoir distanced herself from the French people and ferociously criticized the government. Walzer concedes that de Beauvoir was “courageous” and that her criticism was often correct, but he also points out that the criticism was one-directional—she had never said a word about the terrorist acts of the Arabs. With no intention to go to Algeria or to become an Algerian, de Beauvoir remained in France and fought a war of letter against “her own” people from within. “The lives of Moslems were of no less importance in my eyes than those of my fellow countrymen,” she explained. By attacking her own people, she indeed proved her impartiality. She won the honour of Benda’s True Intellectual. Walzer, however, is very severe towards this kind of impartiality. He accuses her of “cold indifference.” Since the words are very harsh, I had better let Walzer speak for himself:124Critics, p. 142. Italics added.

In fact, there is little evidence that she attached much importance to any particular lives. Terrorist attacks on French civilians left her unconcerned; and she was outraged by Algerian deaths only when they were caused by the French…. She knew about the brutality of the FLN’s internal wars but chose not to write about it; she seems never to have given a thought to the likely fate of the pied noir community after an FLN victory. So her hard-won impartiality slides into a cold indifference.

Insofar as the Algerian War is an ease case, we have to look further into de Beauvoir’s major achievement. The Second Sex, de Beauvoir’s first critical book and an instant success, is heart-touching and provocative. It has a high critical quality, and thus earns a permanent place in the feminist literature. Does it not demonstrate the practicability of Sartre’s critical theory? Why does the same theory, applied by the same author, produce critical works of vastly different quality? Walzer insists that Sartre’s theory is a bad one. It is de Beauvoir’s intrinsic otherness as a woman and her creativity that redeem her from being totally overshadowed by Sartre. We should not forget that de Beauvoir was a sophisticated French woman. She was a feminist before there was a feminist movement. She was an adventurer who treasured independence and originality. Being a faithful partner and follower of Sartre, she was nevertheless uneasy about Sartre’s existentialist conception of freedom which says that all men are free by nature. This contradicted her own experience of freedom: she experienced that while man was born with freedom, woman had to earn it. She wanted to express her discontent and to give voice to this different experience. Since gender was not a category in Marxist theory, de Beauvoir was free from doctrinal bondage. She had to find her own way to criticize the unfreedom of woman. Her originality made a difference to the Second Sex.

The position de Beauvoir took in the war against the oppression of women is amazing—it is entirely anti-Sartrean. If de Beauvoir had followed the oppressed-oppressor analysis, she would have chosen the side of women and aimed her arms of criticism at the direction of men. De Beauvoir did not take this stand. On the contrary, she criticized women for their passivity and slave mentality. De Beauvoir believed that women are born free, as free as men. A woman, like a man, can plan her life and strive to actualize it. If she fails to do that, it is her own fault; she cannot put the blame on men. In reality, women were unfree. How can we explain this collective failure of women? De Beauvoir attributed the causes to the female body and the social construction of gender. Men construct the gender roles. Women accept and play the feminine role. But men do not, de Beauvoir thought, assign the role to women arbitrarily: men construct it according to the physical characteristics of women. Therefore, the root of the enslavement of women is not men but the female body.

Man in his physical being, conceived by de Beauvoir in existentialist terms, is pour-soi, being-for-itself, whereas woman is en-soi, being-in-itself. Male body is designed for action. “He is … larger than the female, stronger, swifter, more adventurous.” His body enables him “to take control of the instant and mold the future. It is male activity that in creating values has made of existence itself a value.” He is “a being of transcendence and ambition.” De Beauvoir is a worshipper of the male body. In contrast, she despises the female body. Woman is a being of immanence. Her body is made for reproduction, rearing, and repetitive work. It deprives her of the chance of adventure. “From puberty to menopause,” de Beauvoir says, “woman is the theater of a play that unfolds within her and in which she is not personally concerned.” She especially loathes sexuality and mothering: “First violated, the female is then alienated … tenanted by another, who battens upon her substance.” Again: “Giving birth and suckling are not activities, they are natural functions; no project is involved, [sic] and that is why woman found in them no reason for a lofty affirmation of her existence—she submitted passively to her biologic fate … imprisoned in [sic] repetition and immanence.”125S. de Beauvoir, quoted in Critics, p. 157; cf. The Second Sex. Translated and edited by H. M. Parshley (Everyman’s Library, 137), London, 1993, pp. 25,69,60,29,23,66-67. It seems that woman is destined to enslavement. But de Beauvoir does not think that this is inevitable. She has herself escaped the enslavement and planned her life like man. Other women can do the same only if they renounce marriage and mothering.

De Beauvoir’s conception of freedom is no different from the liberal idea of life as a project. It is a social construction—by man. De Beauvoir never questions this construction, only the exclusion of woman. She demands for the admission of woman, at least for the qualified one, who hunts, who fights, who risks her life. This is an assimilationist politics, Walzer comments, and de Beauvoir is “an assimilated woman.”126Critics, p. 161. She looks at the suffering of woman from the male perspective. She criticizes the man’s world from this perspective. She also criticizes woman from this perspective. Consequently, her criticism is harsher toward woman. De Beauvoir would never have agreed that hers is merely the perspective of man. She claimed that her view was objective. Of course, only an angel could be completely objective, she said, but then it would be “ignorant of all the basic facts involved in the problem.” The ideal person is a woman who knows “what it means to a human being to be feminine,” but who is at the same time “fortunate in the restoration of all the privileges pertaining to the estate of human being.” De Beauvoir admitted that she and some of her contemporaries had “won the game,” and they could “afford the luxury of impartiality.” What she saw from this luxurious estate is that the existing world is the best possible world, and that men have constructed the world as it should be because male is the embodiment of the universals. She had a de facto argument to support her view: “The fact is that culture, civilization, and universal values have all been created by men, because men represent universality.”127S. de Beauvoir, quoted in Critics, pp. 161-162.

In the Second Sex, de Beauvoir does not adhere superficially to Sartre’s doctrine of unconditional commitment to the oppressed. She follows it at a deeper level—going over to the side of the enemy. She goes over to the side of men and conforms to the rules of game made by men. She criticizes women from the other side. Her criticism of the female body is especially savage. It is an ultimate denial, an assault, an anathema to the woman body—a typical Neo-Platonic judgement pronounced by the soul on the body. Nevertheless, de Beauvoir’s disconnection with women is not complete. How can she—with her memory and her untransfigured body? “When she is not belaboring the bad faith,” Walzer writes, “she has a keen sense for the pain of women whose hopes and ambitions are first deferred, then repressed, then turned into sentimental fantasy. She writes about these women with a mixture of sympathy and repugnance that very few male students of women’s lives could possibly match.”128Critics, p. 162. Intellectually going over to the side of men while physically connected to women—these are the strength and weakness of de Beauvoir’s social criticism.

B. Connected opposition

The ideal critic, according to Walzer, is one who accepts one’s body, and not only one’s body but also one’s class, one’s place, one’s country, one’s culture, and one’s race. To deny any of these may in a certain way corrupt social criticism. It is crucial for the social critic to know who he is and to stand fast where he is. He looks at the world from that particular standing, and then extends his solidarity to those badly in need. Attachment is commonly suspected as the first and foremost impediment to self-criticism. Walzer, however, argues against this maxim of modernity. And not merely against it, he actually argues the other way round that attachment is the prerequisite of social criticism, at least for the kind of criticism that merits imitation. The American politician Carl Schurz once asked in the United States Senate: “Our country, right or wrong! When right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right!”129C. Schurz, quoted in Interpretation, p. 36. Walzer cites Schurz’s words to show that even practical man would ask critical question. When one loves one’s country, will he not be likely to ask the same question as Schurz did? Will he not be likely to deliver the proper criticism and to propose the right solution? Is it not likely that he will be listened to attentively by the people? The critic loves his country even though it behaves wrongly. And his love and guilt provoke him to stand on the side of those being wronged and to criticize the oppressors. George Orwell, in Walzer’s opinion, is such an ideal connected critic. “He moved left and remained whole,” says Walzer.130Critics, p. 121. The wholeness of Orwell marks him out as one of the most distinguished critics of the English society and the totalitarian politics in the twentieth century. But before moving on to Orwell, we need to consider two contemporary critics of Orwell, Antonio Gramsci and Ignazio Silone. Their lives and their works can serve as a contrast to Orwell’s. Together, they display the depth of connected opposition.

1. Antonio Gramsci’s common sense

Antonio Gramsci was a founder of the Italian communist party. He became its head in 1924. Two years later, he was arrested and imprisoned by the fascists. He died in 1937 in a hospital at the age of forty-six after eleven years of confinement. Most of Gramsci’s communist life was spent in prison. His absence in social reform did not deprive him of a prominent place in the Marxist pantheon, for he had produced thousands of pages of concentratedly intellectual work, which were collected in the Prison Notebooks. His confinement and his theoretical works made him a “rare bird” among the Marxists. He was an “innocent communist,” and he acquired his innocence without denouncing the communist party or criticizing the party’s doctrine.131Critics, p. 81. Hence he is the best subject for the latter-day Marxists to work out a democratic politics within Marxism. Does Gramsci’s Marxist theory contain some democratic elements? This question, Walzer thinks, inevitably leads to the counterfactual question about Gramsci himself: was he a democratic communist?

One has to admit that Gramsci has breathed some freshness into the otherwise monolithic Marxist thinking. Though Gramsci holds the same teleological vision as other Marxists, he comes up with a different strategy of pushing history to its end during his solitary confinement in prison. The Marxist orthodox view of revolution defines intellectuals as agents of history. First, they have to organize the proletariat to seize state power. Then, they are to construct a proletarian state, under the dictatorship of the proletariat and led by the communist party. After indefinite cycles of class struggle, they believe, a pure communist society will ultimately appear. The strategy of coup d’état, Gramsci contends, is not applicable to the advanced capitalist country, like Italy, or France, or Britain. Unlike the rustic state, the bourgeois civil society has developed complex networks of relations. The state is only one of the instruments controlled by the hegemonic class and its immediate allies. Under such circumstances, it is difficult to mobilize and organize the proletarians to seize the state. Even if the party does seize the state, it will not be able to subdue the tremendous resistance from the civil society. Gramsci deems it more appropriate to wage a “war of position” in developed countries than a “war of manoeuvre” such as the one that had been used by the Soviet Communist Party to seize power. Instead of seizing state power, the war of position is to seize the civil society. It works more like infiltration than takeover. The process is painfully long and arduous. Walzer sums it up in three stages: “(1) the party creates the terrain for (2) the development of a national-popular (not merely proletarian) will, which is not yet the achievement of but is only directed toward (3) the realization of a new way of life.”132Critics, p. 83.

The Prison Notebooks deals mainly with stage (1). The initial task of the party, Gramsci states, is “intellectual and moral reform.” Like every Marxist, Gramsci affirms that the working class is the embryo of the future society, which means, the workers carry the future civilization in their activity, but not yet in their understanding of the world. The aim of the party then is to raise the workers’ consciousness to the level of their activity, or what Gramsci calls, “fitting culture to the sphere of practice.”133A. Gramsci, quoted in Critics, p. 84.

Most Marxists hold an oversimplified view of the workers’ consciousness. They treat the peasant-converted industrial workers as children, or as Frank Parkin puts it, patients “suffering from a kind of collective brain damage.”134F. Parkin, quoted in Critics, p. 84. They think that workers accept unreflectively the ruling ideas, which represent a false conception of social reality. They thus have a “false consciousness,” where faith is contradicted by fact. Gramsci refutes this explanation: “[Bad faith] (malafede) can be an adequate explanation for a few individuals taken separately, or even for groups of a certain size, but it is not adequate when the contrast occurs in the life of great masses.” He thinks that it would better to seek explanation in the social historical order:135A. Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, ed. Q. Hoare & G. N. Smith, London, 1971, p. 327. Cf. Critics, p. 85.

[The disjunction] signifies that the social group in question may indeed have its own conception of the world, even if only embryonic; a conception which manifests itself in action, but occasionally and in flashes—when, that is, the group is acting as an organic totality. But this same group has, for reasons of submission and intellectual subordination, adopted a conception which is not its own but is borrowed from another group; and it affirms this conception verbally and believes itself to be following it….

The worker should not be taken as a child, least of all a brainless hand. “Homo faber,” Gramsci said, “cannot be separated from homo sapiens.” “All men are intellectuals … but not all men have in society the function of intellectuals.”136A. Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, p. 9. The professional intellectual invents his own philosophy and thinks in a systematic way, but the ordinary man must rely on “common sense,” which is a mixture of borrowed ideas and intuition. The problem with the subordinate classes is not that their members suffer a collective brain damage, but that “common sense” does not enable them to think and to act in a coherent way. When the workers think in “normal times,” they follow submissively the consciousness that is “a product of the historical process to date which has deposited in [them] an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory.”137A. Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, p. 324. Besides the deposit, the workers have a vague consciousness of their activities and their life. Unfortunately, neither have they the ability themselves nor can they nurture their own professional “organic intellectuals” to translate their consciousness into ideas and to harmonize these ideas with the previous ones. Consequently, they can never conceive reality in a systematic and coherent mode.

Common sense, Walzer agrees, does open up a path to democratic politics in communism. At the time of Gramsci’s writing, the bourgeoisie had already created the terrain for the development of a national-popular will, which legitimates the capitalist world system. Gramsci knew that “ruling intellectuals are armed with pens, not swords; they have to make a case for the ideas they are defending among men and women who have ideas of their own, who are intellectuals-of-everyday-life.” In order to make their ideas the ruling ideas, bourgeois intellectuals must work on common sense in such a way that a new trace is deposited in the subordinate classes, and that the new layer gives rise to the best available world view, which enables the subordinate classes to understand the meaning of their life, and at the same time legitimates the hegemony of the bourgeoisie. The resulting common sense must accommodate the “interests and tendencies” of the subordinate classes; otherwise, it has no appeal to the philosophers-of-everyday-life. Thus Walzer infers: “Marxist intellectuals don’t have to stand outside the world of culture and common sense in order to see the ‘real’ interests of the working class.”138Critics, pp. 86-87. Opposition can begin with the existing culture, and this culture war is fought with pens, not swords. In the same way as the bourgeoisie, the party has to create “the terrain for a subsequent development of the national-popular collective will.”139A. Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, p. 133. That creation entails democratic politics.

There is another inference that can be derived from the general idea of consciousness, and unfortunately, it points in the opposite direction. Ruling ideas form the “high culture,” which incorporates not only the interests and tendencies of the subordinate classes but also the best cultures of the past. They are the continuation and the consummation of past ideas; they are simply the best of the best. Marxism, Gramsci opines, is the finality of all ruling ideas. It presupposes Renaissance, Reformation, German philosophy, the French Revolution, Calvinism, English economics, and liberalism. And it is “the crowning point of this entire movement of intellectual and moral reformation.”140A. Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, p. 395. The common sense of the masses, however, is founded on popular culture. Since popular culture (Stage 2) can never fully carry the sublime high culture (Stage 3), the proletariat can never understand Marxism or become true communists unless they are uplifted to the Marxist consciousness. The process of the Marxist enlightenment is painfully long and arduous. It is almost hopeless that the proletariat can achieve it by themselves. The only chance they have is to be led under the guidance of Marxist intellectuals. This comes close to a demand for the intellectuals’ authoritative pedagogy if not dictatorship.

Democratic politics or the supremacy of the intellectuals is the dilemma that Gramsci has to contend with. Gramsci aspires to becoming a “new type of philosopher … a ‘democratic philosopher’,” in the sense that the cultural environment he proposes to modify corrects his personality—“it is his ‘teacher’.”141A. Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, p. 350. But the main substance of the cultural environment, that is, the popular culture, has scarcely anything to teach the democratic philosopher, who already possesses superior scientific truths. Gramsci believes that the proletariat cannot breed its own organic intellectuals in a competitive environment: “The proletariat as a class is poor in organizing elements, does not have and cannot form its own stratum of intellectuals except very slowly, very laboriously, and only after the conquest of State power.”142A. Gramsci, quoted in Critics, pp. 88-89. Although many proletarians have changed into traditional intellectuals or bourgeois intellectuals through education, their personality has also been changed—they are no longer peasants or workers. The intellectuals, of course, can choose to stand on the right side of history and join the workers’ movement. Nevertheless, there exists an unbridgeable chasm between the intellectuals and the workers. Gramsci’s communist faith requires him to bridge the gap. His inventing of “democratic philosopher” is a gesture of equality towards the workers.

Walzer is surprised at Gramsci’s use of the model of the preaching friars to secure the relationship between the intellectuals and the workers. “The preaching friars of the Middle Ages,” Walzer explains, “organized in religious orders that imposed an ‘iron discipline’ on their members, not for conspiratorial purposes, but ‘so that they [would] not exceed certain limits of differentiation between themselves and the ‘simple.’ When they move beyond such limits, intellectuals ‘become a caste or a priesthood’.”143Critics, p. 91. It seems that Walzer is inaccurate here. The model Gramsci invokes is not the preaching friars but the Church. The Communists and the Church face the same problem: the division between the intellectuals and the simple. The Church uses politics to bind the two groups together, the Communists should also do the same. “There are, however,” Gramsci says, “fundamental differences between the two cases.” The Church imposes an “iron discipline,” which “render the split catastrophic and irreparable.” “In the past such divisions in the community of the faithful were healed by strong mass movements,” which were led by the preaching friars.144A. Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, p. 331. Gramsci does not go on to explain how the mendicant movements heal the divisions. We are not sure if he models the Communist politics on the preaching friars. Gramsci emphasizes that the Communists must take a position antithetic to the Church. “The philosophy of praxis,” he writes, “does not tend to leave the ‘simple’ in their primitive philosophy of common sense, but rather to lead them to a higher conception of life.”145A. Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, p. 332. Walzer is more correct to note that Gramsci’s solution resides in the communist party.146Critics, pp. 89-91. The party, Gramsci believes, is the best terrain where the intellectual élite meets with the “most advanced” sections of the proletariat, where the two groups can interact on an equal footing and edify each other, and where the intellectual element can “understand” and “feel” while the popular element can raise itself to the “higher levels of culture.”147A. Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, pp. 334-335,418.

This is easier said than done. How can the intellectual element who is in possession of scientific truths communicate with the popular element who is possessed by common sense? In his discussion on the study of philosophy, Gramsci gives hints to the manner of communication:148A. Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, pp. 330-331.

A philosophy of praxis cannot but present itself at the outset in a polemical and critical guise, as superseding the existing mode of thinking and existing concrete thought (the existing cultural world). First of all, therefore, it must be a criticism of “common sense”, basing itself initially, however, on common sense in order to demonstrate that “everyone” is a philosopher and that it is not a question of introducing from scratch a scientific form of thought into everyone’s individual life, but of renovating and making “critical” an already existing activity.

The most advanced philosophy cannot but present itself at the outset in a form of high culture. The base line is firmly stated. The initial reference to common sense is only a gesture towards the culturally retarded workers: everyone has critical power, and you can become a philosopher of praxis if …

The relationship between the intellectual and the worker, as Walzer rightly observes, is a relationship between “a stern teacher” and “a backward, recalcitrant, but somehow promising student,” or in Gramsci’s own words, “a master-pupil relationship.”149Critics, p. 96; A Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, p. 350. “What Gramsci demands,” Walzer writes, “is that the promising student give [sic] up his own ‘culture and society.’ This is the demand that the party makes upon the working class as a whole (though always with the caveat that the practical activity of the workers already represents a new culture and society, of which only the party intellectuals and a few ‘advanced’ workers are fully aware).”150Critics, p. 96. A master-pupil relationship is unattractive to adults. Such relation can’t be the basis of a democratic politics. At the end, Walzer concludes:151Critics, pp. 99-100.

Gramsci is a victim … of Marxist teleology. Advancement is the form of his detachment, and it is a bar to a comradely politics…. His political activity is an irregular movement toward and then away from the people he hopes to lead. He knows that he can’t lead them without their consent, but he also knows, and this time with a “scientifically and coherently elaborated” knowledge, that they ought to consent … to his leadership.

Gramsci could not be a democratic communist, though his analysis of consciousness opens up the possibility of internal opposition, and thus democratic politics in communism. Walzer attributes the primary cause of such failure to Gramsci’s disconnection. “The dilemma of the Gramscian intellectual,” he suggests, “is ultimately a personal dilemma.”152Critics, pp. 94-95. Gramsci was born in the remote and backward island of Sardinia. It was only on account of the sternest education that he was able to leave for modern Turin and become a member of the intelligentsia, and then promoted to the most advanced section, and even became its head. He had left the backward Sardinia behind and became a most advanced agent of history. He demanded the workers to go through the same intellectual and moral education and to obey the party discipline imposed by the master-intellectuals. For him, this is the only viable means for the culturally retarded workers to raise themselves to higher cultural planes. Despite Gramsci’s self-repression, Walzer points out, we can still find traces of Sardinia in him: “the first stirrings of revolt, sympathy with the oppressed, even solidarity.”153Critics, p. 95. Gramsci cannot completely eradicate his Sardinian root, but disconnection tilts the balance between solidarity and cultural capacity, and drives him to the side of advanced knowledge.

2. Ignazio Silone’s moral sense

Ignazio Silone, who came from the faraway and underdeveloped Abruzzi mountains, was an ex-comrade of Gramsci. He was equally an influential leader of the communist movement in Italy. He witnessed the founding of the Italian Communist Party in 1921. When the party went underground during the fascist régime, Silone was the leader of the underground organization, and presided over the Central Committee. Despite of his senior position, Silone finally left the party after living almost ten years under its discipline. Both Silone and Gramsci had similar profiles, but they made different choices: Gramsci remained loyal to the party but Silone deserted it. Why?

This is an unfair question. Gramsci spent the larger part of his party life in prison and hospital. He knew and speculated about a communist life, but did not understand or feel it. Had he been active in the outside world and participated in the communists’ struggle, he might have made the same choice as Silone. I pose the question in this way because it is implicit in the Company of Critics. Walzer believes that Gramsci would remain in the party because he had experienced a conversion from backwardness to the most advanced culture, and thus, he was and would remain a true believer of Marxist doctrine. In contrast, Silone was never converted to communism. He was a “natural communist,” Arthur Koestler writes, “the only one among us.” Walzer takes him “as a representative of all those men and women who become critics of their own society and even revolutionaries, who pay the common price in inner turmoil, quarrels with their families, and personal danger, but who have no experience at all of conversion, rebirth, or moral transformation.”154Critics, pp. 101-102.

Why then, did Silone leave the Church, take the trouble to join the Communist party, only to leave it in the end? If the leaving of one’s inborn faith and the joining up with its adversary do not constitute a conversion, what then are they? Walzer explains all these changes in terms of Silone’s “habits of moral life.”155Critics, p. 101. Silone’s integrity and his commitment to some permanent values led him to leave his part of the world to search for comrades. He was first disappointed by the priests and his natives, and then by the communists. But he retained his integrity and commitment till the very end.

“The first stirrings of revolt,” the root of all troubles, lies in “taking things literally.”156Cf. I. Silone, Bread and Wine, in The Abruzzo Trilogy, p. 333. Silone took the teachings of the fathers, teachers, and priests seriously. He was indignant at the hypocrisy of the priests, orators, lawyers, and politicians. He found no option but to rebel. In his semi-autobiographical novel Bread and Wine, Silone, speaking in the voice of the main character Pietro Spina, who is a Communist and a Christian saint, tells us, in the most beautiful and moving lines, how he became a revolutionary:157I. Silone, quoted in Critics, p. 104. The text quoted by Walzer is longer and more emphatic. In some later editions, the passage is shorter. Cf. I. Silone, Bread and Wine, p. 341; Vino e pane, Milano, 1975, p. 231.

[We begin] by taking seriously the principles taught us by our own educators and teachers. These principles are proclaimed to be the foundations of present-day society, but if one takes them seriously and uses them as a standard to test society as it is organized and as it functions today, it becomes evident that there is a radical contradiction between the two. Our society in practice ignores these principles altogether…. But for us … they are a serious and sacred thing … the foundation of our inner life. The way society butchers them, using them as a mask and a tool to cheat and fool the people, fills us with anger and indignation. That is how one becomes a revolutionary.

Anger and indignation finally led Silone to choose side. On the one side were the oppressors and their collaborators: apologists, complacent middle classes and sceptics, and on the other the downtrodden peasants. For Silone, the decision was unequivocal. The principle he recalled—be compassionate towards those in misfortune—was taught by his father ever since he was a child. It is also taught by Jesus in a different version: “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.” Or, in modern theology, it is stated as an option for the poor. In his autobiography Emergency Exit, Silone describes his decision to leave the Church as a choice of comrades:158I. Silone, quoted in Critics, pp. 105-106.

One fine Sunday some of us stopped going to Mass, not because Catholic dogma seemed to us, all of a sudden, false, but because the people who went began to bore us and we were drawn to the company of those who stayed away…. What characterized our revolt was the choice of comrades. Outside our village church stood the landless peasants. It was not their psychology we were drawn to: it was their plight.

Silone sided with the poor, but the peasants were passive, ignorant, timid, self-interested, poor in organizing element, and suspicious of outside organizers. A long history of intimidation and delusive socialization have moulded them into cafoni—a tribe of nameless and mute beings-pour-autre, which are content with their bare existence, and which can be found in every society. The air of oppression and resignation in the countryside suffocated Silone. He was forced to run for an emergency exit from his beloved Abruzzi.

In search of comrades, Silone journeyed to the city. “His choice of the peasants,” Walzer writes, “led him ‘naturally’ into the party of the proletariat: first the Socialist Youth and then the new Communist party.”159Critics, p. 106. Unexpectedly, the communist scientific truths required him to break with his friends and family and to denounce his faith. Silone accepted the party discipline, but he found the scientific truths difficult to digest. It was not easy, he wrote, “to reconcile my state of mental rebellion against an old and unacceptable social order with the ‘scientific’ requirements of a minutely codified political doctrine.”160I. Silone, quoted in Critics, p. 106. It is obvious to Walzer that “the reconciliation was never complete … Silone never became a scientific socialist.”161Critics, p. 106. It is true that Silone did once lose his faith and was unrooted. He exclaimed: “Who can describe the private dismay of an underfed provincial youth living in a squalid bedroom in the city, when he has given up forever his belief in the … immortality of the soul?”162I. Silone, quoted in Critics, p. 105. “But it is possible,” Walzer comments, “to lose one’s immortal soul and hold on to one’s practical principles, to leave the Church but cling to the teaching of holy books and faithful priests.”163Critics, p. 105.

Walzer is certainly right in saying that Silone clings to the teaching of faithful priests, but I would add that he leaves the Church but does not lose his immortal soul. He disavows the official teaching of the Church only to free his soul for the search of God, who cannot be confined by the establishment and doctrines. A conversation between Bianchina, a young woman, and Pietro, disguised as a priest Don Paolo, reveals that Silone has discovered a young God who is active in the world:164I. Silone, Bread and Wine, p. 343.

“May I confess a suspicion of mine?” Bianchina said. “I’m not at all sure you’re a real priest.”

“What do you mean by a real priest?”

“A boring person who has the Eternal Maxims in the place where his head ought to be….”

“You’re right, I’m very different from that kind of priest,” Don Paolo said, “Perhaps the biggest difference is that they believe in a very old God who lives above the clouds sitting on a golden throne, while I believe He’s a youth in full possession of His faculties and continually going about the world.”

Silone once thought that he had given up forever his belief in the immortality of the soul, but in retrospection, after he had left the communist party, he revised his former statement: he had never renounced his faith in the true God; he renounced only the image of God formulated by the Church Fathers and dogmatized by the Church authority.

Silone left the old God of the Church, but he did not find the young God in the Marxist scientific doctrine, and in due time he left the Communist party. “Silone left the party,” Walzer explains in a footnote, “according to his old friend and comrade, Togliatti, because of his anima bella, his beautiful soul.”165Critics, p. 110. This is not meant to be a compliment. In fact Togliatti is sneering at Silone’s scrupulousness and his refusal to accept the communist amoral, tough politics. Togliatti shares the same opinion with Max Weber that anyone who cares about the salvation of his soul should not seek the way of politics.166M. Weber, Politik als Beruf, in Wissenschaft als Beruf 1917/1919. Politik als Beruf 1919 (Max Weber Gesamtausgabe, 1,17), Tübingen, 1992, p. 247. Silone, in Togliatti’s view, has chosen the wrong way to realize his goodness. But this is not how Silone perceives life. He is a man who follows his inner conscience. He joined the party to become a revolutionary as his anima bella led him, and he left it to become a social critic also as his anima bella urged him. He gave up the abstract, scientific truths, and found his critical principles anew in “the moral conventions and the heretical Christianity he had learned as a child.”167Critics, p. 111. Walzer mentions the word “heretical” several times without qualification. Judging Silone by his two novels Bread and Wine, and The Seed beneath the Snow, which are both forged in Christian imagery, I cannot find any heretical thought, at least not in the sense of what “heretical” should literally mean or is meant to Silone. A conversation in Bread and Wine, between Don Benedetto (a retired priest and Pietro’s former teacher) and Don Piccirilli (Pietro’s classmate, a priest and an informant to the Church authority) will illustrate my point:168I. Silone, Bread and Wine, p. 201.

“In 1920 Spina wanted to be a saint,” [Don Piccirilli] said. “Very well. But in 1921 he joined the Young Socialists, who were atheists and materialists.”

“I am not interested in politics,” Don Benedetto said dryly.

“You are not interested in atheism, the struggle against God?” the young priest asked curiously.

Don Benedetto produced a slight ironic smile.

“My dear Piccirilli,” he said slowly, almost articulating each syllable separately, “he who does not live according to expediency or convention or convenience or for material things, he who lives for justice and truth, without caring for the consequences, is not an atheist, but he is in the Lord and the Lord is in him. You can teach me many things, Piccirilli, how to get on in the world, for instance, but I was your master in the use of language, your master in the science of words, and please note that I am not afraid of them.”

Silone is not afraid of words; he is a master in the science of words. He pleads that he is not an atheist. In fact, “he is in the Lord and the Lord is in him.” It is the spark in his conscience that impels him to give up the official way of knowing God and to encounter him in the real world and in a personal way. The relinquishment of comfort and fearlessness of hardship are clear signs of God’s indwelling in the soul. This theology is not something novel. Christians will not be surprised when hearing it, for Saint Paul has already argued that it is not orthodoxy but orthopraxy that justifies a person before God. If someone does not have God’s law but acts according to the law, it shows, Paul says, “the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another (Rm 2,15).” In the same vein, Thomas Aquinas says that when the teaching of the Church comes into conflict with one’s conscience, one should follow one’s conscience. Silone is adapting the teaching of faithful priests to his own situation; he is, in fact, not heretical at all. Were he to be condemned by the Church, it would not be because he has lived for justice and truth, but because he has pursued them “without caring for the consequences.” Such person, Walzer rightly predicts, “is likely to find it difficult … to measure up to the ideological versions of propriety and respectability or to avoid the attentions of the police.”169Critics, pp. 111-112.

The return of Silone to the traditional wisdom, Michael Harrington opines, “is a sign of despair.”170M. Harrington, quoted in Critics, p. 112. Disappointed, Silone takes his second emergency exit. But this time, he has no new comrade to choose and no new object of oppression to side with. The unbearable emptiness of free-floating forces him to return to the soil, to reconnect his root, or at least to rest with his ancestors. Silone does express his strong desire for homecoming in the note of Fontamara. But the actual return, Walzer explains, is intellectual, not physical. He notes that after Silone had left the Abruzzi, he never lived there again, except for a visit. Silone’s return is the rediscovery of moral sense in the very foundation of life. Marxist scientific theory unroots him and the Communist politics dissects him, but the stirrings of revolt have remained in him. Silone knows the stir comes not from theory, but from “the ordinary sense of rights and duties.”171I. Silone, quoted in Critics, p. 105. Theory may fail. Absolute theory may fall far short of its claim to account for reality. (Silone has experienced twice: one in the Church, the other in the Communist party.) The moral sense of ordinary life cannot be wrong. To Silone, it is a better guide than theory in the case of uncertainty. “In a situation where the premises of metaphysics and even of history are uncertain and open to question,” he wrote, “the moral sense is forced to extend its scope, taking on the additional function of guide to knowledge.”172I. Silone, quoted in Critics, p. 115.

In the Company of Critics, the portrait of Silone offers a sharp contrast to that of Gramsci. They come from similar background, meet at the same party, and receive the same doctrine, but in the end, they make different choices. Walzer has highlighted their antithetical mental and psychological inclinations. I find, however, that something is missing in Silone’s portrait, as if something is omitted deliberately. In the chapter on Gramsci, Walzer devotes a considerable length in describing the relationship between the Gramscian intellectual and the proletarian. On Silone, such nuance disappears. We are told that Silone chooses the side of the oppressed, but we find no word on how he relates to them. It gives the impression that Silone’s return is only a return to the Christian and pre-Christian heresies and utopias of the Abruzzi. Silone returns emotionally and intellectually, but he is unable to reconnect himself to the peasants of Abruzzi. Who is Silone then after the emergency exit from the communist party? He is no longer a rustic revolutionary. He becomes, Walzer says, “an urban and urbane social critic.”173Critics, p. 116. What then is an urbane social critic’s standing vis-à-vis the groups of people?

Walzer does not answer this question. I am tempted to speculate a little farther since the question is related to Orwell. In Bread and Wine, Pietro disguises himself as the priest Don Paolo. Throughout the book, he keeps the distance between a priest and the various strata of rural society, though he behaves somewhat differently from a traditional priest. But in the sequel The Seed beneath the Snow, Pietro can no longer maintain the well-defined distance because his mask is lifted and his real identity as a communist is disclosed. Pietro has to go underground. In his underground life, Pietro meets his comrade Simone, a diehard rebel, and befriends the deaf-mute and nameless cafone Infante (whose name is given by Pietro). Together, they have wonderful adventure and finally settle in a remote village. They enjoy and treasure their friendship. Unhappily, Pietro is being pulled by another set of relations. Pietro is the son of a prominent local landlord. His family and friends wish him to lead a “normal” life: to marry a wife, to raise children, to establish a family. Indeed, a beautiful woman Faustina is ready to marry him. Between the spark of conscience and the natural desire, Pietro has to make a decision. This is a hard choice. At first Pietro hesitates. He then gives in to the insistent persuasion of his friend Don Severino to marry Faustina. His decision breaks up the rebel fellowship he helps to build: Simone vanishes and Infante becomes hysterical and kills his father. The story ends with Pietro’s taking the place of Infante and being arrested by the carabinieri. Pietro decides to go back to his middle class life and leaves behind the peasant reformation, but fate prevents him from undertaking both. Silone resolves the tension between family and comrades by ending the story in tragedy. His choice reflects his own struggle and his inability to find a satisfactory solution. Perhaps because of this, Walzer skips Silone’s tragedy—he has to look for a model elsewhere.

3. George Orwell’s red pillar-box

George Orwell is Walzer’s ideal critic. He calls Orwell “the very model of a national-popular intellectual,” who conceives problems from the viewpoint of his national history and culture, and who formulates his solutions in the ordinary language.174Critics, p. 132. What Orwell conceives as the main problem of the English society is the entrenched class system. “Hatred of hierarchy,” writes Walzer, “is the animating passion of his social criticism.”175Critics, p. 129. Orwell expresses his hatred in popular language: “A family with the wrong members in control—that, perhaps, is as near as one can come to describing England in a phrase.”176G. Orwell, quoted in Critics, p. 127.

Raymond Williams, a leftist critic of Orwell, accused Orwell of his use of the “family” image as the chief cause of the failure of radical politics in England:177R. Williams, quoted in Critics, p. 127.

If I had to say which [of Orwell’s] writings have done the most damage, it would be … the dreadful stuff from the beginning of the war about England as a family with the wrong members in charge, the shuffling old aunts and uncles whom we could fairly painlessly get rid of. Many of the political arguments of the kind of laborism … usually associated with the tradition of Durbin or Gaitskell can be traced to those essays.

Williams accuses Orwell of overlooking or repressing the severity of the struggle that is required to overthrow the class system. His family image was later exploited by the Labour to bargain for a compromise between the hierarchy and the popular demand. The result of the struggle was “only a welfarist socialism,” which fell short of Williams’s expectation, (and Orwell’s also). “Not quite fair,” Walzer counters, for Orwell did contemplate a “bitter political struggle,” and even the use of violence. In The Lion and the Unicorn, Orwell writes: “The bankers and the larger businessmen, the landowners and dividend-drawers, the officials with their prehensile bottoms, will obstruct for all they are worth…. It is no use imagining that one can make fundamental changes without causing a split in the nation.”178G. Orwell, quoted in Critics, p. 127. Orwell knew that even family quarrel could sometimes be fierce and deadly. The reason that led Orwell to use that image, Walzer suggests, was the prevailing popular feeling. Williams also concedes that many people on the left had the same feeling during the war. Orwell only honestly pointed out this common connection between the populace and the English capitalists.

Orwell had political aspirations, he had drawn up a political programme, but he never followed the Marxist scientific truths nor insisted on imposing his own ideas. He recommended a socialist solution to England, such as democracy and collective ownership of means of production. But it would be a kind of socialism with concrete objectives tailored to the English style and adapted to the English taste. “Above all,” Orwell said, perhaps with the leftist advanced elements in mind, “it is your civilization, it is you. However much you hate it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away from it for any length of time. The suet puddings and the red pillar-boxes have entered into your soul.” Orwell accepted the English culture as something given and loathed the leftist demand for deracination. He once called the English Communism the “patriotism of the deracinated.” He believed that revolution should make the English more English, not less. “By revolution, we become more ourselves, not less.”179G. Orwell, quoted in Critics, pp. 119,125-126. In his mind, Orwell was constantly thinking of an English socialism as opposed to the international, rootless and faceless socialism.

One of the crucial differences between the English socialism and the universal socialism, Walzer points out, is their attitudes towards commodities. Marx condemns the “fetishism of commodities.” He speaks about alienation between workers and their handicrafts: the worker produces the product, but the product becomes independent and exerts its control over the worker. Many twentieth century left-wing thinkers, like Marcuse, borrow Marx’s criticism and adapt it to “consumerism.” Now, it is not the alienation of workers and products, but that of consumers and commodities. For ordinary people, the consumer benefits from and is defined by what he consumes and possesses. It is quite puzzling that commodities will alienate the consumer. In contradiction to our common experience, Marcuse argues that when the commodity becomes the be-all and end-all of everyday life, it overpowers its owner—it alienates its owner from his true self. “The attack on consumer goods,” Walzer comments, “is the work of social critics at the farthest reach of their willfulness. For men and women deprived of things are not liberated for radical politics any more than starving artists are liberated for art.” “Ordinary life makes its own demands,” he continues, “not only for what is absolutely necessary but also for what is merely desirable. Orwell was from the beginning sensitive to these demands.”180Critics, p. 123.

The English sensitivity towards the “small personal gear of life” is evident in Orwell’s work. “It finds its most remarkable expression in 1984 where, also remarkably,” Walzer points out, “it has gone largely unnoticed.” Most critics’ attention is captured by the clandestine love between Winston Smith and Julia. Walzer notices that it is not only sexual love that Big Brother wants to destroy, but also the love of things: “the notebook in which Winston Smith writes his diary, ‘a peculiarly beautiful book [with] smooth creamy paper’; the coral paperweight, smashed later on by the thought-police, ‘a beautiful thing’; the bed in the furnished room where he and Julia make love, ‘a beautiful mahogany bed’.”181Critics, p. 124. Sex and material, commonly condemned as immanent and corruptive, are the only concrete things that enable Winston to have a sense of privacy and possession. He longs for them because they symbolize an ordinary way of life: “He wished that he were walking through the streets with her … openly and without fear, talking of trivialities and buying odds and ends for the household. He wished above all that they had some place where they could be alone together without feeling the obligation to make love every time they met.”182G. Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (Everyman’s Library, 134). Introduction by J. Symons, London, 1992, p. 146. Is Orwell’s plea for a socialism that respects the ordinary way of life an unforgivable bourgeois mentality?

An English patriot and a socialist, yet Orwell is critical of both the class system and the totalitarian politics of the left-wing. Because of his double connection and double criticism, Orwell stands out as a brilliant counterexample to the established belief that either you are disconnected and critical or you are connected and uncritical. Connectedness and integrity, Walzer argues, constitute the foundation of Orwell’s criticism. People on the left, and on the right alike, would disagree with Walzer: the Orwell betrayed was no longer a socialist after his return to England in 1937. Orwell was such an unstable character that he changed his physical locations as well as his political positions several times. He was born in India, studied at Eton, joined the Burmese police force and left afterwards, went down and out in Paris and London, changed his name (from Eric Blair to George Orwell), descended to the mines of Northern England, volunteered to fight in Barcelona, and finally came back to “England, Your England.” “He travels light,” says Williams.183R. Williams, quoted in Critics, p. 122. “He moved left and remained whole,” counters Walzer. “At bottom, he was always Eric Blair, the ‘lower upper-middle class’ Englishman who went to school at Eton and who joined, and left, the Burmese police.”184Critics, p. 120. Orwell changes fronts but his early education and socialization have determined his basic character. We don’t know why he changes his name. But he does give us an account of his radicality. In describing the days in the Burmese police force, he wrote:185G. Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, London, 1975, pp. 129-130.

For five years I had been part of an oppressive system, and it had left me with a bad conscience. Innumerable remembered faces—faces of prisoners in the dock, of men waiting in the condemned cells, of subordinates I had bullied and aged peasants I had snubbed, of servants and coolies I had hit with my fist in moments of rage … —haunted me intolerably. I was conscious of an immense weight of guilt that I had got to expiate…. I had reduced everything to the simple theory that the oppressed are always right and the oppressors are always wrong: a mistaken theory, but the natural result of being one of the oppressors yourself. I felt that I had got to escape not merely from imperialism but from every form of man’s dominion over man. I wanted to submerge myself, to get right down among the oppressed, to be one of them and on their side against their tyrants.

Guilt more than indignation turns Orwell into a revolutionary. He chooses to side with the oppressed ever after. But there is no conversion or emergency exit, notes Walzer.186Critics, p. 120. Under the weight of immense guilt, Orwell did dress up as a proletarian and went down and out in Paris and London. What he found out was that he was not a proletarian, and that he was always Eric Blair, the “lower upper-middle class” Englishman who studied at Eton. He came to himself, accepted who he was, and stopped playing the proletarian. In a confessional tone, he wrote:187G. Orwell, The Road, p. 201.

Once again, here am I, with my middle-class origins and my income of about three pounds a week from all sources. For what I am worth it would be better to get me in on the Socialist side … But if you are constantly bullying me about my ‘bourgeois ideology’, if you give me to understand that in some subtle way I am an inferior person because I have never worked with my hands, you will only succeed in antagonizing me. For you are telling me either that I am inherently useless or that I ought to alter myself in some way that is beyond my power. I cannot proletarianize my accent or certain of my tastes and beliefs, and I would not if I could. Why should I?

It is important that Orwell knows, at the outset, that his conviction—the oppressed are always right and the oppressors are always wrong—is a “mistaken” theory. The same consciousness—the proletarian culture is not the finality of humanity—pulls him out of the proletarian disguise. Equally important is the fact that Orwell knows he does not have to become a proletarian before he takes the side of the proletarians—a bourgeois can know, understand, and feel the suffering of the proletarians and a bourgeois intellectual can write a socialist programme that accommodates the demands of various family members.

C. The heaviness of connection

If connection leads social critics to formulate a national-popular critical standard, that standard, according to the popular wisdom, will tilt towards the critics’ personal preferences. Walzer has argued against the popular wisdom in the case of class division, namely, that middle-class intellectuals can defend the rights of the oppressed without giving up their original position. But in the case of national division, it is unclear if the critic can side with the people oppressed by his own nation while holding fast his connection. It will be more difficult for the critic to cross the national border than to cross the class border without becoming a traitor, for on the other side of the class line, the people there is still the critic’s people, but on the other side of the national line, the critic is only a stranger—going over to the side of the “enemy” is treason. What is the critic supposed to do when his own people are occupiers, colonialists, or oppressors? Should he side with the oppressed and criticize his own nation? Or, should he maintain his patriotism and rally for the national interests? Doesn’t patriotism require one to defend one’s nation? We have a conflict of obligations here. How should we balance them? The clash of national interests, Walzer acknowledges, is the toughest test for the theory of connection. Connection means, he insists, that one gives priority to one’s nation because one knows one’s needs first, and by extension recognizes that the other has the same needs. If the critic belongs to the group of oppressors, then he must accept the burden of connection and find ways to negotiate a solution acceptable to both sides. In the Company of Critics, we find three cases—Albert Camus, Martin Buber, and Breyten Breytenbach—illustrating three different plausible responses to the problem of connection. I arrange them in the order of my own preference, not knowing whether it is also Walzer’s order.

1. Albert Camus on the wrong side of history

Born in Algeria in 1913, Albert Camus was a son of a poor worker of the pied noir community. Due to his early experience of poverty, Camus was sympathetic to those who suffered. He knew that suffering had its human causes, and he devoted himself to fighting against them. Camus was commonly regarded as a man of principle, a “just man,” who spoke out against injustices, especially the injustices done to the Algerian Arabs by the pied noirs. Yet after the outbreak of the independent war in Algeria in 1954, Camus was condemned for betraying his principle: he could not denounce colonialism and ask the pied noirs to surrender political power. Simone de Beauvoir describes him in her memoirs as “that just man without justice.”188S. de Beauvoir, quoted in Critics, p. 137. Camus sinned just this once because of his love for his own community. And because the pied noir community was “historically in the wrong,” Camus’s sin seemed unavoidable.189A. Memmi, quoted in Critics, p. 142. This is a classical dilemma of justice versus love, or impartiality versus patriotism, or objectivity versus attachment, depending on how you call it. Thus the maxim runs: either one relinquishes love, or one risks having one’s justice corrupted. The maxim appears to apply in Camus’s case. But Walzer invites us to look deeper.

First of all, Walzer reminds us that Camus was not ignorant or indifferent to the suffering of the Algerian Arabs. As early as 1939, the young Camus received his assignment and went to study the problems of Berbers in the Kabyle mountains. He wrote a series of articles criticizing the colonial régime. Some of the articles were later collected in Actuelle III. Camus’s proposed reform consisted of “a redistribution of land, technical assistance on a large scale, local self-government, equal rights for all the inhabitants of Algeria.” Nonetheless, he did not call for an end to the French rule. Camus’s criticism aroused the suspicion of the authority and led to his exile a year later.190Critics, p. 143.

The belief in the coexistence of the French and the Arabic element in Algeria was firmly held by Camus throughout his life. In Lettre à un militant algérien, he writes:191A. Camus, quoted in Critics, p. 145.

The “French fact” cannot be eliminated in Algeria, and the dream of a sudden disappearance of France is childish. But there is no reason either why nine million Arabs should live on their land like forgotten men; the dream that the Arab masses can be cancelled out, silenced and subjugated, is just as mad.

The solution that Camus was contemplating was based on the principles of equality and federation. Both sides had to negotiate and work out the details that matched the identities and the interests of the two Algerian nations.

The plea of Camus was not heard by either side. The French authority did not initiate any process of assimilation or reconciliation, let alone equality and federation. The FLN seized the national mood of resentment and started a terrorist campaign in 1954 with the aim to erase the French fact. The pied noirs’ response was all-too-familiar: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. They tortured and executed the rebels, repressed and massacred the Arabs. The vicious circle of violence escalated and spun out of control. Very soon, the hope of coexistence became an impossibility. Camus was caught in this tragic situation; he had no room for manoeuvre. What is more: “that just man” was demanded to choose side, to draw a clear line. For the French left-wing intellectuals, the FLN’s demand for independence was just, and justice required everyone to support the FLN’s struggle. On the other hand, the pied noir community asked their members to stay together and fight for their survival. Camus refused to make an either-or decision. “Love is injustice,” he wrote, “but justice is not enough.”192A. Camus, quoted in Critics, p. 137. This antinomic theme appeared repeatedly in his works and in his speeches. His most famous statement on Algeria, which was delivered to a group of students in Stockholm in 1957 when he went there to receive the Nobel Prize, was coined thus: “I believe in justice, but I will defend my mother before justice.”193A. Camus, quoted in Critics, p. 145.

No one took Camus’s words seriously, Walzer says. People on the left considered the statement as clear evidence that Camus had betrayed his principle because of love. Even his friends dismissed the statement as a passionate outburst. The statement, in Walzer’s opinion, is ambiguous. Camus could have avoided the ambiguity by translating the antinomy into simple sentence like “a justice without room for love would be itself unjust.”194Critics, p. 138. Walzer thinks that this was what Camus believes. He cites a passage from the Preface of Actuelle III to support his claim:

When one’s own family is in immediate danger of death, one may want to instill in one’s family a feeling of greater generosity and fairness … but (let there be no doubt about it!) one still feels a natural solidarity with the family in such mortal danger and hopes that it will survive at least and, by surviving, have a chance to show its fairness.

Walzer interprets the passage as a denial of the antinomy of love and justice. “True justice,” he writes, “must include one’s own people.”195A. Camus, quoted in Critics, p. 147. Love would require Camus to hold dear the pied noirs more than the Algerian Arabs. It would require him to seek for their security and autonomy. By extension, love would also require the Arabs to do the same. Thus justice would require both sides to negotiate a term. Is Camus unjust, Walzer asks, when he approaches the problem from his connected position? I do not think Camus is unjust if he has a massive restitution in mind and persuades his people to go to the negotiation table. Camus had tried to find the guidelines that would facilitate the negotiation, but he never succeeded.

After 1958, Camus became silent; he wrote no more about Algeria. Critics took Camus’s silence as tacit compliance to the right-wing fanatics. But Walzer defends the silence as a natural response of a connected critic in face of a total failure. “Camus’s silence,” he writes, “was eloquent in its hopelessness.”196Critics, p. 148. Criticism is an intimate activity, Walzer explains. “It has its own (implicit) rules. We don’t criticize our children, for example, in front of other people, but only when we are alone with them. The social critic has the same impulse, especially when his own people are confronted by hostile forces.” There is, however, no social space like the familial space; the only place the critic can speak is the public space. If the critic’s speech will endanger his people, he had better remain silence. But the silence of the connected critic is louder than the voices of detached moralists combined: “The detached and disinterested moralist drones on and on, and we don’t care. But the silence of the connected social critic is a grim sign—a sign of defeat, a sign of endings. Though he may not be wrong to be silent, we long to hear his voice.”197Critics, p. 152.

Should we expect Camus to call for the retreat of the pied noirs so that both sides will have less casualties and less grievances? “That too much is expected of a writer in such matters,” replies Camus.198A. Camus, quoted in Critics, p. 148.

2. Martin Buber and the Palestine tragedy

The modern encounter of the Jews and the Arabs in Palestine is a tragedy. In the late nineteenth century, some Jewish leaders in Europe drafted a political Zionist programme for the creation of a Jewish home in Palestine. When the movement gathered momentum, more and more Jews from Europe emigrated to the land of their origin. Palestine at that time was, of course, not a no-man’s land; it was inhabited by Arabs all over the land. Multitudes of Jewish migrants were able to settle there because Palestine was under British rule and the British government had officially promised to support the creation of a Jewish national state in Palestine. Tension was mounting between the local Arabs and the Jewish settlers, and there seemed to be no ground for cooperation or negotiation. The Arabs saw the Jews as intruders, whom could be tolerated if their number was not expanding exponentially. The provision of the Arabs was unacceptable to the Zionists, who aspired to creating a home for every Jew. Their aspiration turned into a moral obligation when the Nazi annihilation campaign broke out in Europe. The Jews had to come, and the Arabs had to defend their land. It is sure now that a historical tragedy has been played out. What is not sure is the end of this tragedy.

The tragic view was accepted among the Zionist leaders, but not by Martin Buber, Walzer points out. Throughout his long political life, Buber resisted the fate of tragedy; he believed that nothing was inevitable. He fought against the tragedy in two planes. On the macrolevel, Buber proposed to resolve the Arab-Jewish conflict by establishing a binational state. On the microlevel, he offered to build mutual trust on the initiative of the Jews in “thousand small decisions,” restraining from every act of provocation or terrorism, and looking for opportunity of cooperation.199Critics, p. 70.

Walzer does not believe that binationalism is ever a plausible politics. What is the meaning of a binational state to the Arabs? They have their right to form an ordinary national state. Why do they need to share political power with the Jewish settlers? The same is true for the Jews. Their main purpose is to establish “the right of free immigration to the land,” an objective that Buber also assents.200M. Buber, quoted in Critics, p. 71. An ordinary Jewish state will suit their purpose. Buber insisted that only a binational state would do justice to the Arabs and thus, create ground for a legitimized Zionism; as an ideal moralist, he could not accept a Jewish state built at the expense of the Arabs. He had argued for as long as twenty years before WWII that the Arabs would accept Jewish immigrants if the Jews had offered, in return, economic cooperation and political compromise. Such arguments, Walzer thinks, are totally unrealistic; Buber proposes them only because he is driven by his doctrinaire fervour. What is at stake is the membership of the future state, and membership cannot easily lend itself to compromise. The Arabs are the majority. If they would ever agree to form a binational state, they would insist on remaining as the majority and imposing a quota on immigration. This condition violates the basic principle of Zionism. Many Zionists will never consider it. Buber, however, is willing to restrict the number of Jewish immigrants.

“The formula Buber eventually adopted,” Walzer writes, “called for the ‘greatest possible number’ of Jewish immigrants, where ‘possible’ was (or seemed to be—his language here was never explicit) a complex function of the absorptive capacity of the Jewish community in Palestine and the agreement of the Arab community.” Buber adopted this formula in the late 1930s and early 1940s when the need of the Jews for a safe haven was overwhelming. It was “an impossible position within the Zionist movement,” and not “an adequate response to [the refugees’] experience.”201Critics, pp. 71-72. Not only was his argument for a binational state ignored, but also Buber himself was discredited among the Jews. The final blow to Buber’s ideal of macro-justice came when Israel declared independence in 1948. Buber immediately responded angrily: “today the Jews are succeeding at [normality] to a frightening degree.”202M. Buber, quoted in Critics, p. 73. His anger was caused not merely by the burst of his binational-state dream. Buber was both an idealistic philosopher and a practical social critic. He knew, far better than many politicians, that independence meant war with the Arabs, and that not one, but many wars would follow.

War broke out following the declaration of independence. When the fighting stopped, Buber was greeted on the street by a sympathetic Jerusalem shopkeeper: “Oh! An utter political rout like the one your circle suffered is no common thing. It looks as if you’ll have to face the facts and resign yourselves to total silence for the time being.” Walzer agrees with the shopkeeper that Buber was in the greatest crisis of his life. Buber has to make a choice, and his critical situation is paradigmatic. “Here is a model moment in the history of criticism,” Walzer writes solemnly, “when a critic is forced to respond to the failure of his largest hopes.” To resign or not to resign? To be silent or not to be silent? To be or not to be? That is the hardest choice to decide. Some of Buber’s friends and followers left Palestine to find some “more suitable” country.203Critics, p. 76. But Buber chose to follow the example of the prophets. The prophet, he wrote, “does not confront man with a generally valid image of perfection, with a Pantopia or a Utopia. Neither has he the choice between his native land and some other country ‘more suitable to him.’ In his work of realization, he is bound to the topos, to this place, to this people, because it is the people who must make the beginning.”204M. Buber, quoted in Critics, pp. 74-75. Buber’s choice is the topos, rather than a Pantopia or a Utopia. He refuses to be silent. “He seems to have been no less active and outspoken,” Walzer writes, “after the war than before, at least until age and illness began to limit his activity (he was seventy-two in 1949 but still politically engaged and wonderfully busy).”205Critics, pp. 76-77. Buber’s thousand-small-decisions micro-criticism can still be employed despite the failure of his macro-criticism. He insists on acting justly in every single dealing with the Arabs. Unlike Camus’s Algeria, Buber’s people have established a state, which allows him to foster the optimistic view that it is always possible to do something.

Nevertheless, Buber was “no more successful, as the world measures success,” Walzer comments, on “thousand small decisions” than on the binational state. Buber knew the inefficacy of his criticism. He did not hold that “under all circumstances the interest of the group is to be sacrificed to the moral demand.” He only wondered why politicians did not bear the scars of the inner conflict. He was sometimes tempted to resign, but his belief in human conscience carried him on. The prophet, Buber wrote, “must speak his message. The message will be misunderstood, misinterpreted, misused; it will even confirm and harden the people in their faithlessness. But its sting will rankle within them for all time.”206Critics, pp. 78-79. As long as his criticism carries a sting that rankles his people, Buber is successful—not a worldly success, but a critical success.

3. Breyten Breytenbach and apartheid

If Camus’s pied noirs were on the wrong side of history, Breyten Breytenbach’s Afrikaners were on the far-wrong side of history. Apartheid, a régime so low and so nude that I could hardly believe that it could be proposed and installed in the twentieth century and after WWII. Amazing thing did happen: Afrikaners translated their cultural and technological superiority into a doctrine of racial superiority; they claimed they had rights to exploit and to oppress the blacks. This is a claim that their advanced culture obviously opposes, and that their own people have unceasingly fought against. Liberty heightened at the expense of other people is always a temptation, but it is also morally condemned almost everywhere. How could Afrikaners deny this basic moral principle? How could they pretend not to see the suffering of the black Africans? How could they bear the internal strife? Some of the white Afrikaners could not bear the sting, and they spoke out. Breytenbach is, perhaps, the fiercest one among them. He is a gem of Afrikaners—a fine produce of high culture. He is said to be one of the finest Afrikaans poets. Yet, Breytenbach unlashed his poetic talent against his own people, or more accurately, against the dark side of his people. Under a terrible burden of guilt and anger, he once wrote: “We whiter ones are the scum of a civilization based upon injustices.”207B. Breytenbach, quoted in Critics, p. 216.

Although Breytenbach disliked apartheid, he had not yet committed himself to criticize the régime until the late sixties. Breytenbach left South Africa at the age of twenty. But that was not for political reason. He left for Europe to wander and to explore the land of his ancestors. Three years later, in 1962, he settled in Paris, again not for political reason. He was, Walzer writes, “more a bohemian expatriate than a political exile.” There he met and married a Vietnamese woman, Yolande Ngo Thi Hoang Lien. Breytenbach wrote Afrikaans poems in Paris. He was then, in his own designation, the only Afrikaans-writing French poet. Breytenbach’s poems were received enthusiastically by his natives in Africa, and he was awarded various literary prizes. When he wanted to return home with his wife to collect the prizes personally, his wife was refused a visa and he was threatened with prosecution for living with a woman of a different race under the Immorality Act. Since that moment, Walzer says, Breytenbach’s real exile began.208Critics, p. 212. It was also the beginning of his career as a poetic social critic, who attacked human ugliness in a beautiful, imaginative language. Thus he declared:209B. Breytenbach, quoted in Critics, p. 212.

To the best of my powers, I oppose
my people: cave dwellers.

Let us not be mistaken, Breytenbach loved his Afrikaners; he always used first person pronouns in his criticism. He criticized the Afrikaners because they were his people. The intensity of his criticism came from his connection. Breytenbach sometimes denied the connection only to find out afterward that he was bonded to them. His connection, insofar as the Law of Impartiality was concerned, did not infatuate him and impair his sense of justice. He wanted neither to defend his mother before justice nor to establish a binational state. He thought that the future South Africa should be a unitary and democratic state, and that the white minority should come to terms with the black majority rule. Breytenbach also insisted that the white Africans were “there to stay.”210B. Breytenbach, quoted, in Critics, p. 221. He nevertheless argued: “it would be a kind of indecency to focus on white rights and white security” while blacks are being enslaved.211Critics, p. 222. Breytenbach wanted to retain his independent national identity. He deemed it best for an activist to work among his own people: whites among whites and blacks among blacks. “Just as I respect the black man trying to improve the dispensation of his … people,” he wrote, “just so, I believe, will the black man respect me only to the extent that I am prepared to work for the transformation of my community—and not if I attempt to tell him what he ought to do.”212B. Breytenbach, quoted in Critics, p. 213.

In 1973, the South African authorities finally issued visas to Breytenbach and his wife. The trip was meant to inveigle Breytenbach to spy on exiled dissidents for the government. But it worked the other way round: it hardened Breytenbach’s belief that the apartheid régime was beyond humanization and any other means of redemption. After his return to Paris, he organized a small political group aiming to overthrow the apartheid régime. In 1975, Breytenbach, with forged documents, returned to South Africa on a vague clandestine mission. When he arrived in Johannesburg, the police was tipped off. Upon his departure, he was arrested then tried as a terrorist and sentenced to prison for seven years. His fellow Afrikaner André Brink explains Breytenbach’s recklessness as his attempt to resolve his guilt by suffering in the hands of his own people. But Walzer suspects that “he was in headlong flight from his exile.”213Critics, p. 214.

Released from prison, Breytenbach renounced secret politics. He criticized the clandestine cells as “colonies of grave dwellers”—even more severe than the apartheid. He described how the clandestine cell closes up in itself, “how the means corrupt the men.”214B. Breytenbach, quoted in Critics, p. 215. He ceased to believe that secret politics could be the means to achieve a right political end. Breytenbach was defeated, but he did not give up his Afrikaners. Indeed, he undertook an even more difficult task, that is, “to yeast Afrikaner sensibilities from within,” and to forge a new identity for Afrikaners.215B. Breytenbach, quoted in Critics, p. 220. Breytenbach described himself as “a whitish Afrikaans-speaking South African African,” and claimed that “South African Whites are African; they are there to stay.”216B. Breytenbach, quoted in Critics, p. 217. The identity, Walzer agrees, is “no mere construct, … a poetic invention.” The Afrikaners have become, after a long historical process, one of the African tribes; and the Afrikaans is a creole language: seventeenth-century simplified Dutch with Malay and African additions. It is a common language that the Afrikaners interact with the coloreds.217Critics, p. 217. In this sense, Afrikaans is an African language, not a European language. Breytenbach does have some concrete material, some inarticulate but shared experience to shape an African identity. Walzer is not at all optimistic about Breytenbach’s enterprise at all. In 1988, Walzer said: “Today the task remains but it isn’t clear that time remains. Who is it, after all, who supports apartheid? Whose interests are served by the ideology of separation? Once one has finished a critique of Afrikaner ‘attitudes,’ is there anything left to hope for from Afrikaner ‘aspirations’?”218Critics, p. 219.

Breytenbach, in Walzer’s judgement, is not sanguine about his own project. His new South African identity only pushes him to the margin. Nonetheless, Breytenbach insists that he is the mainstream. Walzer describes such kind of connection as “perpetual torture.” He can find signs of escape in Breytenbach: “But connection of this sort is a perpetual torture, and to dissociate oneself, to make the most of one’s marginality, is a permanent temptation. The temptation takes many different forms, and Breytenbach, one feels, has worked his way through all of them.”219Critics, p. 218. Breytenbach is intensely in love with his country. But he is not mad, nor blind, nor naïve. He knows, after passing through the training ground of politics, that revolution may or may not bring forth a more equal society. In the South African situation, the hope is dim. He thinks that the black Africans will ultimately take over South Africa, but that the régime they will have established may even be more oppressive. He wrote in 1983, in an appendix to his prison memoirs: “It is conceivable that the present totalitarian state will be replaced by one which may be totalitarian in a different way, and intolerant of alternative revolutionary schools of thought, more hegemonic but minus the racism.”220B. Breytenbach, quoted in Critics, p. 221. No hope of revolution, no hope of transformation, not much hope of social improvement, why then did Breytenbach keep on barking, “like a dog loving the moon?”221B. Breytenbach, quoted in Critics, p. 211. In his End Papers, Breytenbach gives a glimpse of his reflection on his “just hang in there”:222B. Breytenbach, quoted in Critics, p. 223.

To get through with it. To break through to clarity. Also to continue the struggle. I know power structures are practically immutable and when broken down they’re more likely than not to be replaced by others which are as exclusive and manipulative…. But I must hang in there, hoping to help set off some alarms somewhere…. I know, don’t I, that I need not believe or trust in the possibility of attaining the objective in order to keep moving…. Besides, continued commitment may just succeed in being perceived as a form of solidarity and support—by those in … transit areas and prisons who need to feel some human concern in order to survive.

§1. Another honourable company of social critics

From the Israelite classical prophets and the modern social critics, Walzer has constructed an immanent and elitist model of social criticism. Walzer’s attempt is to heal the wound of deracination inflicted by modernity. He attributes the failure of modern social criticism, and to a certain extent of the liberation movement, to the disconnection of the radicals. What he suggests to the social critics is that they should ground themselves in the tradition of the prophets. Walzer’s argument is compelling. But as usual, some people, who can roughly be classified as liberals and Christian ethicists, are uneasy with certain features of his proposal. Liberals are uncomfortable with the immanence of prophetic criticism. They find it especially hard to accept the kind of connection exemplified by the prophets. To weaken Walzer’s connected criticism, they have devised a strategy of first dichotomizing connection and objectivity and then antagonizing them. Their aim is to replace Walzer’s unconditional commitment with a conditional commitment.223Cf. J. Allen, The Situated Critic or the Loyal Critic? Rorty and Walzer on Social Criticism, in Philosophy and Social Criticism 24 (1998) 25-46. In my judgement, their arguments are flawed in the similar fashion as Joshua Cohen’s SCD (simple communitarian dilemma). Since I have already provided comprehensive argument and ample counterexamples against this type of arguments, there is no need to repeat it.

Although the liberals have not thought up a better argument right now, what they argue for is justifiable in liberalism. People are not plants that can’t move, so to speak. Why should they not find a more suitable country? Of course, people have obligations to a country. But the obligations must be conditional, for only conditional obligations are congruent with the ideal of liberty. On the other hand, the liberals have not touched the core issues raised by Walzer. They think that man is per se individualistic, and that relations come as a result of rational calculation. This is, however, a sociological misconception, argues Walzer. Men and women are born into webs of social connections; they are involved in crucial bonds even before they can reason. Social connections constitute the foundation of human existence. What will be the effects on people who renounce their crucial givenness—their bonds with land and people? Part of the answer given by Walzer is that they are not fit to engage in social criticism. At a deeper level, Walzer shows that some persons (Buber, Silone, Orwell, Camus, Breytenbach) cannot and will not give up their connections. Why? A liberal answer would be that they are irrational. But this answer only reveals an impasse of liberalism. Deprived of (premodern) literature or religion, liberals seem to have lost touch with the very ground of human existence.

For the Christian ethicists, they are sympathetic to Walzer’s approach, except that Walzer’s prophetic criticism is too immanent and too elitist. As I have pointed out before, there are some transcendent elements present in the prophetic messages. These elements disappear in Walzer’s reinterpretation. Walzer accepts the authority of the Bible only to the extent that it forms part of the shared understandings. This standpoint is unsatisfactory to some Christian ethicists, who want to claim a superior status for the Bible or for the Christian community as the locus of value generation. Moreover, the equality of shared understandings of different communities is only upheld by Walzer in theory. In practice, Walzer favours the hegemonic culture, which constitutes the ruling ideas. Walzer speaks of “common language” and “common principles” insofar as they are common among the ruling classes and the intellectual élite. Walzer fights for the oppressed, but his politics, inclusion of the excluded, is elitist. It assumes the inferiority of the poor: they have no way out save to be assimilated into the mainstream. Maybe this is a political reality. The Christian ethicists, however, tend to resist this reality. They believe that there are some virtues peculiar to the poor, who, under a long history of suffering, have cherished some values of resistance. These values are an integral part of humanity and are indispensable in the criticism of the dominant culture. Hence they see it as their duty to promote these values. Since their complaints are substantial, it is worthwhile to take a more detailed look at their complaints and how Walzer responds to them.

1. A Christian questioning of Walzer’s prophetic paradigm

In 1994, the Journal of Religious Ethics published three articles commenting on various aspects of Walzer’s theory, and at the end, the response of Walzer. Tyler Roberts first criticizes Walzer’s social criticism, he is then joined by Elizabeth Bounds who challenges Walzer’s conception of community, and finally Glen Stassen comes to the defence of Walzer’s position. In his response, Walzer directs his attention only to Roberts and Bounds, and he uses the same arguments to respond to both of them because they are tackling more or less the same issues. Since Roberts’s argument is directly related to our subject, we shall base our discussion on his article.

a. Differently connected

Roberts’s critique of Walzer’s theory begins with his emphasis on the common culture. Walzer, in explaining Gramsci’s culture war, states: “Ruling ideas are always something more than rationalizations of class interest…. The visible organization of hegemony and their range of values it expresses are worked out through a complex political process; the result is something close to a common culture.”224Critics, p. 86. It implies that criticism can always start from the dominant culture itself. At this point, Roberts agrees with Walzer. He nevertheless thinks that Walzer is too restrictive. What if some values are not incorporated into the common culture? What if they exist only in an excluded group? Social criticism can start from the dominant culture, and it can also start from the cultures of the oppressed groups. In the pluralistic setting of the United States, Roberts’s question is not a hypothesis, but a reality, and he is going to exploit this situation.

To launch an attack on Walzer, Roberts calls upon two other authors: Sharon Welch and Cornel West. Welch is a feminist and a liberation theologian, whereas West is somewhat difficult to classify—he “grounds his principles and his criticism” on the traditions of “prophetic African-American Christianity, progressive Marxism, and American pragmatist philosophy.”225T. T. Roberts, Michael Walzer and the Critical Connections, in The Journal of Religious Ethics 22 (1994) 333-353, p. 344. Welch and West, Roberts argues, are connected critics of another kind. Walzer’s connected criticism is “the immanent critique of the betrayal of the core values by those in power.” “There is … [another] kind of criticism in which the critic is connected to more than one community or group and uses his or her connection with an oppressed or marginalized group to criticize the dominant community and to call for the creation of new principles or shared understandings.”226T. T. Roberts, Michael Walzer, p. 343. Walzer’s connected critic is a marginalized rebel of the dominant class. Roberts suggests another kind of connected critics, who are connected to both the dominant group and an oppressed group. Obviously, the critical distance of the latter is greater than the former. If the former’s distance from the power centre is measured in millimetres, then the latter’s must be measured in centimetres. It seems that the latter has attained a longer critical distance without losing any advantage that the former has in relation to the mainstream.

Both Welch and West have committed themselves in the retrieval of the “dangerous memories,” Roberts tells us. West argues that “Enlightenment moral thought and social criticism has shown an ‘inability to believe in the capacities of the oppressed to create products of value and oppositional groups of value.” This is, however, the prejudice of the bourgeois. Despite the ideological repression of the élite, the oppressed group does have its own values. Welch, for instance, has discovered the “ethic of risk” in the literature of African-American women, and West the spirit of resistance in African-American Christians. “Such memories are dangerous and tragic,” Roberts explains, “because they are memories of oppression, failure, and despair: recovering them means confronting the inescapable reality of evil and suffering without attempting to ‘cover it with names’—that is, explain it away.” The remembering is crucial to people who belong to the oppressed groups since it “[keeps] alive a sense of alternative ways of life and of struggle.”227T. T. Roberts, Michael Walzer, pp. 344-345.

Neither Welch and West nor Roberts are sectarians or separatists. They are active citizens of society, and advocates of social reform. They believe that their “dangerous memories” of oppression are invaluable resources of social criticism. The ruling class rejects their values and imposes limits on popular wilfulness to contemplate alternative values beyond those of the mainstream. Critics must dare to imagine the unimaginable. Critics must ask, Welch says, “whether previously accepted limits are actually necessary.” “The motive that gives rise to this question,” Roberts adds, “is not some fanciful denial of human limitation but the duty to engage in ‘sophisticated questioning of what a social system has set as ‘genuine limits’.” The “genuine limits” of a social system are the self-regulatory control that cannot be transcended from within. “All moral traditions have blind spots,” in reproducing Welch’s argument Roberts writes, “which prevent them from seeing how their ways of life and their ideals affect others. Thus social critics must engage in structural criticism of dominant traditions. Such criticism finds its resources not in the internal principles of the dominant group, but in the principles and histories of suppressed traditions.”228T. T. Roberts, Michael Walzer, pp. 345-346.

The notion of “reiteration,” Roberts argues, is one example of the so-called “genuine limits.” “It is not by comparison and classification that we acquire moral knowledge of other people”; Walzer says, “rather, we understand others by reiterating our self-understanding.” The idea of reiteration is fundamental to the Walzerian mode of thinking; Walzer uses it to counter universalism. Roberts criticizes reiteration as a mode of self-centred thinking. Walzer argues that we come to know others “by seeing how they are like us,” Roberts says. In this way, Walzer imposes a limit on the moral actor. This limit, however, is an unnecessary self-imposed restriction. Why can’t we understand the other as the other, that is, from the other’s perspective? And if we can understand the other as the other, why can’t we improve ourselves by learning from the differences? Apparently, Walzer’s reiteration puts too much limitation on “dialogue and political participation.”229T. T. Roberts, Michael Walzer, p. 347. Walzer himself has criticized de Beauvoir for her adoption of “male forms of autonomy,” Roberts correctly notes.230T. T. Roberts, Michael Walzer, p. 342. De Beauvoir should be more imaginative and more creative, Walzer urges. She should create a new role for woman in modern society, and not just follow in the man’s step. “The very idea of a universal humanity is itself oppressive,” Walzer writes, “insofar as it holds subordinate groups to standards they have had no hand in shaping.”231Critics, p. 167. Cf. T. T. Roberts, Michael Walzer, p. 342. “In other words,” Roberts infers, “Walzer suggests that oppressed groups need to find ways to help shape shared understandings, that criticism involves not simply an appeal to the past, but also the effort of forging new shared understandings in the light of social conflict.”232T. T. Roberts, Michael Walzer, pp. 342-343.

In contrast to Walzer’s ordinary language and common principles, Roberts contends for extraordinary language and uncommon hope. He does not mean to replace the ordinary with the extraordinary; he only intends to supplement the ordinary with the extraordinary. Walzer stresses the ordinary and depreciates the extraordinary; Roberts strives to restore the extraordinary to its proper relation with the ordinary. But what does Roberts mean by extraordinary language and uncommon hope? If he means the creation of new shared understandings, Walzer would not object to it—he is an advocate of tradition reflexivity. The real charge against Walzer is that he fails to acknowledge the special, continual contribution of religious (Christian?) communities in shaping the shared understandings. “Though Walzer stands out among secular moral thinkers for the detailed attention he has devoted to the impact religious traditions have had on social thought in the West,” Roberts writes, “his writing does not attend to the living power of religious communities as sites of social criticism and empowerment.”233T. T. Roberts, Michael Walzer, pp. 348-349. The Christian communities, in Roberts’s view, are the embodiment of the Bible and theology (extraordinary language), which contains utopian ideal (uncommon hope). They were, are, and will be a vital source of social reform. Walzer has attended to their past contribution, but chooses to neglect their present and future significance. Of course, Walzer could say that the Church has ceased to be the mainstream. In return, Roberts could probably insist that the real Church is always a minority, and has never been the mainstream; nevertheless, she has had tremendous influence on the world. Today, as in the past, we still have real Christian communities littered all over the world. One example, Roberts cites, is the Christian base-communities founded on liberation theology in Latin America. “Accordingly,” he concludes, “reflection on the task of social criticism has to attend to the positive connections between the ordinary and the extraordinary, connections that, paradoxically, do not preclude certain forms of critical detachment.”234T. T. Roberts, Michael Walzer, p. 350.

In response, Walzer attempts to defend his conception of shared understandings by arguing that it not only functions in a multicultural nation-state but also respects difference. Since his theory is grounded on temporal and particular conditions, he wants first of all to clarify the present conditions of the United States of America. What is the nature of the United States? Is it an empire? Or, is it a pluralistic, democratic state? This question is crucial to the social critic because the nature of the régime shapes his interests and his mode of social criticism. “In a multinational/imperial setting,” Walzer writes, “‘national-popular’ critics are likely to confine themselves to their own nations. They show little interest in reforming the imperial state; they want to escape from it.” Their motive is readily understandable, for they have little, if any, sense of belonging, and “the empire is not a world of shared meanings” to them. “By contrast,” Walzer continues, “in a poly-ethnic or multicultural/democratic setting, like that of the United States, critics from the different communities are definitely interested in reforming the democratic state.”235M. Walzer, Shared Meanings in a Poly-Ethnic Democratic Setting. A Response, in The Journal of Religious Ethics 22 (1994) 401-405, pp. 401-402. The reason for their eagerness is equally obvious: they are invited, in principle, to participate in the process of nation-building. They will thus see the state as a world of shared meanings in spite of the existence of conflict and domination.

Under the multicultural/democratic setting, what is the best course that a social critic, who belongs to a particular community or culture, should take in his social criticism? In order to enrich the common culture, Roberts proposes that the critic, in addition to affirming the common principles, should bring in the extraordinary language and the uncommon hope peculiar to his background. Walzer seems to think that Roberts’s proposal so idealistic that it could hardly be efficient. Instead, he is content with the strategy to challenge domination from the “hegemonic” cultural and political discourse. “There really is no choice about this,” Walzer says. “That is what ‘hegemonic’ means,” he adds.236Shared Meanings, p. 402.

Even if one agrees with his prudence and accurate political calculation, Walzer’s pragmatism seems to fall under Roberts’s moral judgement that the mainstream ignores the voices of subordinate groups and religious communities, and imposes the shared meanings from above. “Truth and justice are not served,” Roberts protests, “if dominant cultures and communities refuse to look beyond their shared social meanings in order to listen to different voices.”237T. T. Roberts, Michael Walzer, p. 351.

Walzer’s answer to Roberts’s charge is that he has listened carefully to the voices of minorities and attended to the differences. The fact is, Walzer does not find any significantly differences in the minority groups when he reads the criticisms of African-American, Latino, Jewish, feminist, and gay writers and publicists. Their criticism is differently accented, but “they speak, almost always, in the name of values like equality and freedom, understood in a specifically American way.”238Shared Meanings, p. 402. The minorities speak the common language, and they want other members of the society to accept and treat them on the basis of the common principles. Gay critics, for instance, do not want an independent health care system for gays, let alone a gay health care system for all the Americans. All they want is to be included into the general health care system so that diseases specific to their community are cared for as diseases specific to other communities are cared for.

In the past, Walzer notes, minorities were shy of exposing their peculiar mode of life to the public. Their expression had appeared in “obscure places,” and their voices had been “soft, timid, repressed.” Why does Roberts now speak emphatically about communal values? Why is he indignant of their exclusion from the mainstream? How could he be “indignant with the rest of us for failing to live up to values peculiar to themselves?” It is because, Walzer points out, Roberts is riding on the tide of a “newly assertive multiculturalism.” Now, every group can assert its particularity in the United States. Walzer, however, seems to think that it is simply unwise to be too assertive. First, it is imperious to criticize people for their refusal to accept something that they do not share. Second, if you elevate your particularity and use it to criticize the commonality, you invite criticism of your community in return. And it is entirely uncertain that your community can prove itself worthy of imitation. “Better to focus on the failures we have in common,” Walzer advises.239Shared Meanings, p. 403.

After explaining his position to assertive multiculturalists, Walzer then addresses their assertion that particular communal values should be incorporated in the mainstream. What are the values that Roberts proposes to incorporate? Walzer asks. Roberts mentions no concrete value. And without a concrete case, it is difficult to evaluate his claim. Indeed, Walzer has hit Roberts’s Achilles’ heel. He could have stopped the discussion, but instead he goes on to give some general remarks on the process of incorporation. In reality, Walzer affirms, the shared understandings of a society are under constant revision. Ideally, all the cultural groups of a multicultural state should participate in the process of making and remaking, and the final results should be in proportion to the relative numbers of the groups in the population. Walzer would not agree, however, with the establishment of a central cultural committee to censor the process. He recognizes that the process is “more mysterious,” and that the results depend on “power relations,” “socio-economic position,” and “the quality of the writers, artists, musicians, and scholars that the different groups produce in any given generation.”240Shared Meanings, p. 404.

So far as it goes, Walzer’s argument is all right. His emphasis on the mainstream is prudent, and his explanation of culture revision fits the multicultural, democratic setting. Moreover, he has demonstrated elsewhere how group culture is to be incorporated into the mainstream. Walzer once admitted openly: “When I speak personally, I speak in a Jewish voice (also American, twentieth century, male, white, and so on)…. I don’t speak only to other Jews, for dispersion and emancipation have provided me with a wider audience.” Walzer likes to have audience because he takes “seriously Isaiah’s notion that Jews should be … ‘a light unto nations’.”241Particularism, pp. 194-195. In the works of Walzer, it is not difficult to notice that some of his main ideas are related to the Jewish tradition, such as the prophetic paradigm of social criticism, the interpretation of shared understandings (rabbinic interpretation of the Bible), the spirit of democracy (the politics of Exodus),242Cf. Exodus. and the ideas of spheres,243The paradigm of spheres or separation is one of the fundamental categories in Jewish thought. Jews throughout history insist on their separation from other people. Noticeably, they have formulated this motive in the creation narrative, and in the cultic rituals. It does not follow, however, that Walzer is a “separationist.” I mean to point out that spheres are an imagery in the Jewish tradition. Cf. Seminar, p. 236. socialism,244Walzer once confessed, “Indeed, I lived for a long time with the easy conviction that socialism and Judaism were more or less the same thing. Socialism, to be more precise, was a militant version of Judaism. Judaism a prayerful version of socialism.” (Particularism, p. 196, c. 2.) and pluralism.245Walzer argues that the correct interpretation of the monotheism of Old Testament is not the kind of covering-law universalism understood by Christianity but what he calls “reiterative universalism”. He quotes the prophet Amos to support his claim: “Are ye not as children of the Ethiopians unto me, O Children of Israel? … Have I not brought Israel out of the land of Egypt, And the Philistines from Caphtor, And the Syrians from Kir?” He goes on to explain: “These questions suggest that there is not one exodus, one divine redemption, one moment of liberation, for all mankind, the way there is, according to Christian doctrine, one redeeming sacrifice. Liberation is a particular experience, repeated for each oppressed people.… Each people has its own liberation at the hands of a single God … What makes it different from covering-law universalism is its particularist focus and its pluralizing tendency.” (Nation, p. 513.) Arguably, these ideas are shared by the Christians, and Walzer always interprets them within the framework of liberalism. Walzer is the mainstream, albeit differently accented. This is how he demonstrates what a minority writer may do in a multicultural, democratic setting.

b. Transcendent element

Roberts is a good reader and a sympathizer of Walzer. He expresses explicitly that he has no intention at all to replace Walzer’s model of social criticism with one of his own. Yet, he is aware of some differences between what Walzer preaches and what his community is practising. He tries to poke holes in Walzer’s theory in the hope of, I guess, gaining recognition for his own practice. Walzer does recognize Roberts’s work. “I am wholly on [your] side,” he says.246Shared Meanings, p. 404. At the same time, he defends his theory as an adequate model for a pluralistic society. In such a subtle way, Walzer avoids confronting directly the cross-cultural social criticism suggested by Roberts and remains in an ambivalent position. So, Walzer’s response to Roberts is incomplete.

Two important issues are left out. The first issue is related to what Roberts calls “the extraordinary language and the uncommon hope.” They can be translated philosophically as “transcendence,” or in plain religious language as “revelation.” Roberts invents his terms, perhaps because he wants, as Walzer puts it, to “veil” his religious concern.247Cf. Shared Meanings, p. 403. Understandably, Walzer is not a theologian, and should not be subject to theological questioning. We could not complain to him if he declines to talk about revelation. Since Walzer is one of the few mainstream social scientists who refer to the Judeo-Christian tradition as a source of their research and are able to show their sensitivity—the most amazing thing is that he even wrote a (liberal?) commentary on the event of Exodus (Exodus and Revolution), theologians are interested in hearing Walzer’s opinion on revelation. Hence I will put the question of revelation bluntly before Walzer, and try to extract an answer from his writings and seminars.

“My own mind is theologically blank. The questions that interest me are worldly questions.”248Particularism, p. 195, c. 2. This is, so far as I know, the first open theological statement given by Walzer in his self-introductory essay published in Religious Studies Review, July 1990. It is quite puzzling to hear a writer utter such words, who (not long ago) in his lectures delivered in Brasenose College, Oxford in 1989, couched his reiterative universalism in terms of theological language,249The lectures are published as Nation. who advised future social critics to learn from the model of the Israelite prophets in his Interpretation and Social Criticism (1987) and Company of Critics (1988), and who published Exodus and Revolution in 1985. Throughout the 1980s, Walzer was occupying himself with religious texts, if not theology. Yet, in retrospect, he found himself “theologically blank.” I find it hard to take Walzer’s words literally. How could a person be theologically blank but have interest in religious texts? Even more startling are Walzer’s insight into the biblical texts and his understanding of theology in the areas that he is dealing with. Since religious writers are driven by their religious zeal, it is highly improbable that an interpreter can interpret the texts properly without taking into account their authors’ motive. So, Walzer is not theologically non-receptive. What he means by “theologically blank” is, perhaps, that he has no interest in the speculation of God, or he does not believe in the theological message, or he does not accept the transcendent authority of the texts or their authors.

About a decade later, Walzer appeared to be willing to acknowledge the issue of revelation. In a seminar held by Walzer in Louvain 1999, he was challenged with the query that his interpretation of the Bible could lead to the acknowledgement of revelation.250For the exact formulation of the question, see Seminar, pp. 223-224. Walzer’s first response is a kind of avoidance: “Well, I don’t have an experience of transcendence from which to talk about these questions.”251Seminar, p. 224. This is a typical answer we can expect from a scientist. Transcendence is conceived as something that cannot be experienced or objectively observed, and hence it cannot be an object of scientific research. Walzer upholds this position, nevertheless he goes further to suggest a solution so as to bypass the insolvable problem posed by modernity to religion. He affirms that the Torah, in the Jewish tradition, is regarded as given by God. There has been a continuous debate about its authority and its interpretation. The final consensus reached among the rabbis is that since the Torah has already been given, it only needs to be interpreted by human reason. In other words, Walzer is saying that we are not sure whether there is revelation or not. Anyway, there is givenness in every culture. We can take the givenness as an authority or some kind of constraint. We start from the givenness, but we reinterpret it on the basis of our experience and our reason.

Walzer’s approach to revelation is a practical one. His method bridges the gap between social sciences and traditional disciplines, but it is only half satisfactory to theologians, for the claim of revelation does not merely reside in the texts, but more importantly in the living community, which is seen as the locus of interaction between the divine and the profane. Walzer invokes the rabbinic wisdom to circumvent the first issue. As for the second, he leaves it untouched. The question came back squarely before Walzer when the same theologian in the seminar accused him of being a “reductionist,” who assumes that “God disappears once the law is given.”252Seminar, pp. 224-225. This is really a hard question for a social scientist. Walzer, like any other scientists, could choose the option that God indeed rests himself once the world is created—this thesis is also accepted by some theologians, who even explain it as a necessary act of God if he is to allow man to grow into a mature person. Surprisingly, he puts this protective clothing aside and ventures to respond to this question.

In his own experience, Walzer notices that there is indeed a difference between religious Jews and secular Jews in their manner of Torah reading. The rabbis invest “great emotion” in the study of the law. “One of the hardest things for a secular Jew to understand,” Walzer said, “is the deep absorption of rabbinic scholarship with questions that had no meaning whatsoever in the everyday life of the people rabbis were claiming to lead. That feature of study and interpretation seems to have been almost pure worship, but what exactly that means is very, very difficult to figure out.”253Seminar, p. 225, c. 1. Walzer observes that something extraordinary is motivating the rabbis in their study of the Torah. He interprets their act as pure worship. But what does worship mean? Walzer cannot say. Worship normally consists of a deity as the object of worship and human beings as the worshippers. In the Jewish or Christian understanding, it is a form of communication between the creator and the creatures. The sustained effort undertook by the worshippers indicates that worship has some substantial effects. Otherwise, it would be difficult to explain the piety of the worshippers. At the same time, it is impossible to confirm or to explain the effects scientifically. This is, perhaps, why Walzer finds it “very, very difficult to figure out.”

Walzer also notices that piety has something to do with authority. The interpretive authority does not solely depend on reason alone. “The authority,” Walzer said, “came from some combination of learning and piety. It wasn’t always the most learned who had the most authority, it was some combination of a religious aura and a visible intellect and I don’t know exactly how the judgements were made.” It is sure that Walzer affirms interpretive authority as a result of some combination of learning and piety in the religious community. What is not clear is whether piety has a role to play in secular society. Walzer has not mentioned this aspect. Maybe, intellectual authority is enough for secular interpretation and secular society. On second thoughts, it seems to me that reason alone is not enough to constitute the sole authority in religious interpretation as well as in secular interpretation. The authority of the interpreter is partly related to his zeal for justice and his moral integrity. This relation can be readily explained in terms of freedom and connection. Human has the ability to break every moral rule. A person observes the moral rules because, besides many things, the rule belongs to his community, and because some people in the community take the rule seriously. Moral observance is related to the connection with community and with practitioners in the community. It often happens that the more serious practitioner will attract more followers. A similar view is expressed by a philosopher in the seminar, Herman De Dijn. In response to Walzer, he said: “If there is any transcendent interpretation to be found, it is precisely in what you say: this combination of interpreting and worship. Perhaps that is why authority is not primarily related to orthodoxy but to orthopraxy, because the point is not so much to know something you can write down. That would be useful for science but is not the real point in matters of religion and ethics.”254Seminar, p. 225. Walzer may or may not accept the theological conception that God today is still actively present in religious communities. But it is quite sure that he rejects the exclusive claim to revelation by any religion.

The second issue is the alternative social criticism mentioned by Roberts. There are significant differences between the kind of social criticism practised by liberation theologians and some feminist writers and the kind of social criticism practised by Walzer. Roberts notes that social critics of the former type emphasize the importance of the marginalized group they belong. They see their group as a carrier of some unique human values, which constitute an integral part of humanity but are disparaged and repressed by the masters of the world. The masters cultivate the kind of virtues that encourage competition and domination, and leave the kind of virtues that emphasize love and sacrifice to the “slaves.” The so-called mainstream, which is not necessarily espoused by the majority of a population, is dominated by the morals of the masters. Walzer regards the mainstream as the common culture, and criticizes the use of “false consciousness” to explain the prevalence of the mainstream. He is right to say that the common culture is a compromise between the masters and the slaves; he may not be right that the complacence of the slaves is not, at least partially, the result of endless ideological bombardments.

Walzer thinks that the most effective way is to work within the hegemony, to turn what is secondary into primary. Roberts does not deny this possibility. He nonetheless deems it inadequate. Similar to Bourne, Roberts advocates an “emancipatory social experimentalism.”255T. T. Roberts, Michael Walzer, p. 348. Cf. Critics, p. 49. Such kind of experiment has no place in the mainstream. That is why social critics have to carry out their experiment in marginal groups. Roberts emphasizes that his intent in the article “has not been to set up two rigidly contrasting models of criticism.”256T. T. Roberts, Michael Walzer, p. 351. But I find that Roberts’s social criticism is also rooted in an ancient tradition, though not as ancient as the prophets. I also find that many Western social critics are somewhat influenced by this tradition. Hence it would be meaningful to define this tradition of social criticism. As opposed to Walzer’s prophetic paradigm, I would call it the evangelical paradigm. I cannot undertake to investigate this model in detail here. All I can do is to highlight some central features of an evangelical paradigm.

2. The evangelical paradigm

To construct a critical paradigm from the life of Jesus as exclusively reported by the evangelists is an intricate task. The difficulty lies not merely in the fact that the evangelists wrote with their religious conviction and reported distorted pictures of Jesus so that a reconstruction is needed to recover the real Jesus, the Jesus of Palestine. More importantly, Jesus was a controversy: he violated the socially defined roles, and thus stirred up a debate among his contemporaries. Who was Jesus? And what was he doing? These were, probably, some of the hottest topics discussed among the dwellers of Jerusalem and other megapolis in the Mediterranean during the first and second century. The evangelists all asked the question who Jesus was. Mathew, Mark, and Luke formulated the question in almost the same way: Jesus confronted his disciples and asked, “Whom say the people that I am?” “Whom say ye that I am?” John expressed the question differently in the dialogue between Jesus and a Samaritan woman.257Mt 16,13-15; Mk 8,27-29; Lk 9,18-20; Jn 4,3-29. The evangelists’ answers to both questions were unanimous. People said that Jesus was John the Baptist, or Elias, or Jeremias, or one of the prophets risen from the death. His disciples said that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ of God. The message is clear: Jesus is not a prophet; he is the Christ. What is not clear is the nature and the work of the Christ. The evangelists had to do a lot of explaining in order to introduce a new religious figure. Hence John made use of the form ἐγώ εἰμι, which is reserved for God’s self-revelation in the Septuagint, to reveal the messianic secret of Jesus. And as if that were not emphatic enough, the evangelist put one more ἀμὴν before the ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν phrase used by Jesus in the other three Gospels.

Despite the evangelists’ effort to explain Jesus’ identity, readers of the Gospels throughout the centuries have not stopped doubting who he is. The debate of the Son of God or son of man was widespread, and partisans were formed in the early Church. Dispute lingered on even after the official doctrine was established. In modern times, when the authority of the Church is eroding, reinterpretation of Jesus has proliferated. The first series was done by the German liberals and documented by Albert Schweitzer in his Von Reimarus zu Wrede. Eine Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung, which was translated into English as The Quest of the Historical Jesus. Being enlightened, many German scholars undertook the project of recovering the historical Jesus. But in the end, Schweitzer found their effort futile: the researchers constructed images of Jesus, each according to his own image. Schweitzer concluded that it was impossible to reconstruct the historical Jesus.258For a brief review of Schweitzer’s work, see J. M. Robinson, Albert Schweitzer’s Quest of the Historical Jesus Today, in A New Quest of the Historical Jesus and Other Essays, Philadelphia, PA, 1983, 172-195. This conclusion, however, does not discourage people from speaking about Jesus. It only heightens their awareness of a Jesus with many faces. In 1931, Arthur McGiffert categorized seven figures of Jesus: the literary Jesus, the dogmatic Jesus, the ecclesiastical Jesus, the mystical Jesus, the communal Jesus, the symbolic Jesus, and the historic Jesus.259A. C. McGiffert, The Significance of Jesus, in T. S. Kepler (ed.), Contemporary Thinking about Jesus. An Anthology, New York, NY, 1944, 333-338, pp. 333-335. Recently, Daniel Harrington has reported another seven Jesus with Jewish characteristics: an eschatological prophet, a political revolutionary, a magician, an Essene, a Galilean Charismatic, a Hillelite, and a Galilean rabbi. He tells the readers that he can go on with the list but he prefers to stop at seven.260D. J. Harrington, The Jewishness of Jesus. Facing Some Problems, in The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 49 (1987) 1-13, pp. 7-8. “Myriad” is probably the right word to describe Jesus. A brief look at the portraits of Jesus shows that on the one hand, it is inadequate to conceive Jesus solely as a prophet, and that on the other, Jesus certainly bears some resemblance to the prophets, otherwise his contemporaries would not have called him one of the prophets risen from the dead. Jesus may not be a traditional prophet, though. But how about an eschatological prophet as proposed by E. P. Sanders?261E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, London, 1985.

Having exposed the difficulty in constructing an evangelical paradigm for social criticism, I had better give some justification. As discussed before, Walzer is highly selective in his construction of the prophetic paradigm. Among the myriads of prophets, he selects Amos; and within the book of Amos, he selects certain type of texts. His selection enables him to erect a perfect model social critic. If he takes into account the broad range of prophets and the various types of prophecies, he will encounter complications no less than mine. Problems also emerge when the critical models proposed by Walzer are applied to the understanding of the eleven critics in the Company of Critics. In the book, Walzer argues that those critics who do not follow the prophetic paradigm not only cause trouble for themselves but also mislead others. He rebukes the modern critics for their romantic conception of the critic as hero, which he deems to be utterly unfounded. Julien Benda calls upon the ascetic monk as his guide, and Walzer says that this is not an appropriate model. Hero, monk, and prophet are the three paradigms used, I suppose, to understand the critics in the book. Some of the critics do not comfortably fit into either category. Breytenbach is the best match of the prophet. Bourne and Buber consciously follow the prophet, but their practice only partially resembles the prophet. Silone, who in Walzer’s opinion starts a critical tradition that influences two other of his favourite critics Orwell and Camus, shows no salient characteristics of the prophet.262Critics, p. 116. On the contrary, his two major works, Bread and Wine and The Seed beneath the Snow, are in fact modelled on the Gospel. The names of the books, the plot, the characters, the imagery, all bear unmistakable marks of the Gospel. The two books are probably a reinterpretation of Jesus. The author is constantly asking himself how Jesus would react in fascist Italy. Silone may be an evangelist, never a prophet. Heroism and detachment may be used to explain Sartre’s and de Beauvoir’s treasonous crossover. Equally, or better still, their act can be understood as a deviation from the evangelical paradigm. I suspect that most Marxist critics are to some extent influenced by the evangelical paradigm. Since they are the primary targets of Walzer’s criticism, a knowledge of their historical background will enhance our appreciation of the previous discussion.

There is an existential reason for Christians to assert the evangelical paradigm. The crux is not whether the prophet or the evangelist offers the better model for social criticism. Effectiveness is not their sole concern. The raison d’être for Christians is that they are the followers of Jesus. They follow him not by force of argument but by force of life originating from him. Because of that, the immediate disciples of Jesus ascribed to him the titles of Christ and Son of God. Generations after generations, people find strength and inspiration in him. His influence does not cease even in the religion-hostile modernity. Schweitzer, though shattered in the hope of finding the historical Jesus, wrote: “Jesus means something to our world because a mighty spiritual force streams forth from Him and flows through our time also. This fact can neither be shaken nor confirmed by an historical discovery. It is the solid foundation of Christianity.”263A. Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus. A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede, trans. W. Montgomery, London, 21936, p. 397. Of course, he is not quite right to assert that historical discovery cannot shake the foundation of Christianity. Historical discovery, or more accurately, modern reconstruction of the past has already shaken and undermined the foundation of Christianity. Yet he is right to declare that history cannot annihilate existence. History can alter its perception, render it inarticulate, or even suppress it, but history cannot destroy existence. Sooner or later, rebels will appear and assert it. Schweitzer’s life is an illustration of the disjunction between reason and faith. He conformed to the rational criteria of the enlightenment and declared the failure of the research on historical Jesus. But he also refused to accept that Jesus was a literary figure, a non-existence. To demonstrate Jesus’ existence, Schweitzer left his professorship in university, and went to Africa to live among the blacks, the poorest people at his time.

Between the Christ of faith and the Jesus of Nazareth, contemporary biblical scholars, unlike Schweitzer, believe that there is a middle ground for manoeuvre. Since Jesus was a Jew, a historical reconstruction must begin with this Jewishness. Among the various identities, eschatological prophet is the closest to the perspectives of the evangelists, and may serve as a starting point in our interpretation of Jesus’ acts and teachings. Jesus may be seen as a late eschatological prophet and the founder of a new religious movement. Born in the first century, Jesus shared with other Jews the despondency of their nation. After centuries of foreign domination, and with each conqueror stronger than the previous one, most Israelites were spent and lost hope of a national restoration. Rational calculation saw no end of Roman imperial rule in the near future. More and more people became sceptical of the prophetic message which identified the loss of sovereignty as the divine punishment for Israelite disobedience. Israelites had to admit that prophecy had failed. It was no longer sensible to proclaim the kind of prophecy proclaimed by classical prophets, like Amos. Another possibility to regain autonomy was through armed conflict. An angry prophet might take up arms and transform himself into a zealot. But this was not really an attractive alternative because the chance of success was slim and the consequence would be disastrous. Still, not a few fanatic Israelites chose this option and organized bands of zealots.

Apparently, Jesus forged a strategy somewhere between the prophet and the zealot. Like an eschatological prophet, Jesus preached the kingdom of God without specifying its concrete social and political implications. He proclaimed that his kingdom was not of this world, and yet in the world. These two conflicting claims betray Jesus’ ambiguous political stand. Was he for the establishments or against them? Obviously, Jesus was not for the establishments. The otherworldliness of his kingdom was a kind of reaction against the worldly establishments. Indeed, one of the main charges brought against him is that he wanted to destroy the temple.264Mt 26,61; 27,40; Mk 14,50; 15,29.

Matthew and Mark denied the charge as false witness. They, together with Luke, reported that Jesus only predicted the destruction of the temple.265Mt 24,2; Mk 13,2; Lk 21,6. John’s defence was somewhat different. He recorded Jesus saying: “[You] destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up (Jn 2,19).” The statement is hypothetical, and it is not Jesus but the people who destroy the temple. The evangelist further added an allegorical explanation clarifying that the said temple was not the real temple, but the body of Jesus, and that Jesus was speaking about his own crucifixion and resurrection (Jn 2,21-22). The four evangelists were careful to portray that Jesus was a critic of the Jewish establishments but not a social reformer, still less a rebel.

Strange enough, Jesus was never reported to have voiced any criticism against the Roman imperial force. The synoptic Gospels mention one incidence where Jesus was confronted. He was then forced by the opponents to express his attitude towards Roman oppression. They asked him: “Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?” Jesus told them to show him a coin, and he showed them in return the image inscribed on it. Thus he said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”266Mt 22,17-21; Mk 12,14-17; Lk 20,22-25. This answer was taken as the key to understand the kingdom of God by the evangelists and the early Church. It was interpreted as thus: The worldly kingdom and the heavenly kingdom were two separate entities. Each was ruled by a different set of laws and by a different king. The kingdom of God entered the kingdom of the world only to save the souls of men; it did not intend to disrupt the law of the world. This is a strained interpretation, however. How can a person who observes the law of Moses and the prophets be complacent with a personalized religious life? How can he accept social injustice as a normal business of life? If Jesus is God and if God is consistent, he will not tell us to tolerate or accept oppression joyfully in the hope of receiving eternal life. Under the control of the Roman Empire, it is not surprising that the evangelists took this line of interpretation.

Possibly, Jesus was an idealist, while at the same time he did not have the illusion that his ideal could be realized in this world. He did not accept the compromise position taken by the Jewish élite. Neither did he opt for armed rebellion. Jesus followed the eschatological prophecy of his time and preached the kingdom of God in the same style. Unlike the prophets, Jesus chose other audience. He blamed the failure of prophecy not so much on God or on the prophets as on the ruling élite. He often called them “hardhearted.”267Mt 19,8; Mk 3,5; 10,5; Jn 12,40. His final condemnation was that their fathers were killers of prophets and they were the collaborators: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets (Mt 23,29-30).” Jesus had had enough of the Jewish élite. He did not want to preach to them any longer. His compassion for the masses drew him further from the élite and closer to the poor: “when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd (Mt 9,36).” He suffered and could not bear to see people’s faces being trampled on. Hence he forsook the ruling classes and turned to minister to the poor. He comforted them, taught them how to live, and preached to them that they were the heirs of the kingdom of God. As for the content of the kingdom, he could only tell them in metaphors. Though Jesus did not take up arms and revolt, his action shook the status quo. The priests and the Pharisees gathered together to discuss him. They said, “If we let him go on thus, every one will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” The authorities could not take his ministry as apolitical. They knew that if Jesus were left to continue his work, sooner or later the crowd would be out of control and they would attract the attention of the Romans. The high priest thus concluded: “It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish (Jn 11,48-50).”

Jesus preaches like an eschatological prophet and dies as a rebel. But neither category can fit him well. He criticizes the society, and he organizes a social movement. He is the founder of the evangelical model. In modern terms, he is in between a social critic and a revolutionary. Perhaps, we might call him a visionary. A visionary is a moral idealist. He believes in a certain version of an ideal society. He cannot accept political compromise when the majority of people are being exploited. He criticizes the ruling classes. Yes, his social action is “an enterprise far more radical than social criticism as [Walzer has] described it.”268Interpretation, p. 52; cf. pp. 44-46. It is not, however, necessarily a work of conversion as what the missionaries have done in a foreign land. The visionary preaches to his own people an ideal, not adapted from anywhere else but embedded in their own shared understandings. It is a particular interpretation, and in Jesus’ case, an impractical one. The focus of the proclamation is a conversion of heart more than a conversion of mind. Should peoples live peacefully together? Almost all people will answer yes. Will they then live peacefully together? Most people will answer no. To deal with the anticipated conflict, social critics construct a just war theory to minimize the brutality of war. In contrast, the visionary rejects this kind of legitimation. He goes further to convert people’s heart rather than to legitimize human weaknesses. Calling for repentance is the mission proper of the prophet. Jesus’ ministry is the continuation and the actualization of this mission. His course of action can be seen as a correction of the practice of past prophets.

The prophets target their messages primarily to the Israelite élite. But centuries have passed, the ruling classes show no signs of improvement. Worse still, they now levies double portions of burden on the poor—one for themselves and one for the Romans. What is the use of prophecy? No doubt, the messages of the prophets rankle. To expiate their guilt, the ruling classes build tombs for the prophets. Jesus sees this act as hypocritical. It signals the failure of the leadership to respond to God’s calling, to become a holy nation and a light unto nations. Words alone cannot change the heart of the ruling classes. Not only does the message of the classical prophets fail, but also their practice. Jesus changes the strategy and turns to the poor. The lower classes are the ones who are fooled by the priests and the teachers using the very words of God. Perhaps, when they understand the true meaning of the law, they will repent. Hence Jesus invests his hope in the poor. He denies the ruling classes the privilege of attention and counsel. He denies them the control of intellectuals. He denies them the exclusive sovereignty over the people. He insists on preaching a utopia without concrete political programme. His ministry is highly subversive. In this sense, Jesus is a rebel and a revolutionary.

Two features of the evangelical paradigm stand out in stark contrast to Walzer’s prophetic paradigm. The first is its utopian overtone or otherworldliness, and the second its preference for the poor. Both of them have been under Walzer’s severe criticism. Walzer has successfully exposed some weaknesses of the evangelical paradigm. Even so, he cannot persuade me that the evangelical paradigm is a kind of destructive social criticism.

“It is one of the major failures of Marxism,” Walzer writes,269Interpretation, p. 56.

that neither Marx himself nor any of his chief intellectual followers ever worked out a moral and political theory of socialism. Their arguments assumed a socialist future—without oppression or exploitation—but the precise shape of that future was rarely discussed. When Marxists wrote social criticism, … The force of their criticism derived, however, from the exposure of bourgeois hypocrisy…. Marxists never undertook the sort of reinterpretation of bourgeois ideas that might have produced Gramsci’s “new ideological and theoretical complex.” The reason for this failure lies in their view of the class struggle as an actual war in which their task, as intellectuals, was simply to support the workers.

The above passage is one of Walzer’s main criticisms on the Marxists, where he links the unqualified socialist ideal with the intellectuals’ preference for the workers. These two features resemble those of the evangelical paradigm. Since Walzer also recognizes a resemblance between a Marxist and an evangelist, I assume that the Marxists have adopted (and at some points modified) the evangelical paradigm.270Cf. Interpretation, pp. 44-46. Some of Walzer’s criticisms on Marxist critics can thus be taken as his criticisms on the evangelical paradigm. Walzer criticizes the Marxists for failing to concretize the socialist ideal in terms of bourgeois ideas. Their failure is due to the fact that they have gone completely over to the side of the workers. Consequently, Marxists deprive themselves of an important medium of social criticism. Nonetheless, the total rejection of the bourgeois, Walzer concedes, is “a major force within Marxism.” “It accounts for the essentially polemical and agitational character of the Marxist critique and the ever-present readiness to abandon ‘the arm of criticism’ for the ‘criticism of arms’.”271Interpretation, p. 57. Walzer has pointed out the tension in the evangelical critique—to criticize by not criticizing. He ridicules it, but he at least acknowledges its agitational force. That force, however, should not be underestimated, especially when it is channelled not to the fostering of hatred but to the conversion of heart. Jesus, and his most faithful imitators, such as Francis of Assisi, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta, have sent shock waves across the world. These personages warrant imitation. Though Jesus has never been a clear-cut prophet in his lifetime, his dedicated life inspires an evangelical style of social criticism.

Walzer is cautious of the preference for the poor. He agrees that the critic should give priority to the oppressed. Then, he draws a fine line between political identification and social identification. Political identification is deemed to be a sufficient condition for social criticism: the critic stands politically on the side of the oppressed, and thus creates a distance for his criticizing of the ruling class. Whereas social identification is both unnecessary and harmful. Generally speaking, the critic is an intellectual who does not belong to the poor. (Marx himself was a petit bourgeois, at least before his transformation.) The critic, in Walzer’s opinion, can never become one of the poor. If he cuts himself off from his social network and pretends to be a proletarian, he will end up harming himself and the people he is supposed to help. Disconnection produces adverse consequences. A grave case, for instance, is the crossover to the side of the enemy, or what Walzer calls “treasonous engagement.” So far as Marxist critics are concerned, Walzer’s criticism is correct. But I want to make a distinction between a Marxist critic and a Christian critic. The Christian critic is not disconnected, though he may bring about “undesirable” social effects.

It is true that Jesus calls people to follow him, and that the following requires a decisive disconnection. The most poignant teaching can be found in Luke 12,51-53:

Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

Disconnection is commonly understood as a price of discipleship. Ordinary believers may not be required to observe it. But it is the touchstone of true discipleship. Francis, for instance, is a fulfilment of the father-against-son prediction. After his conversion, Francis gave away all that he had to the poor. His father tried to stop him by confining him at home. But Francis, with his mother’s help, escaped. When his father knew that he could not control his son anymore, he brought Francis before the bishop to renounce him in order to protect the family possessions. Francis’s decision was as resolute as his father. His official biographer Bonaventure tells us: “Francis showed himself eager to comply; he went before the bishop without delaying or hesitating. He did not wait for any words nor did he speak any, but immediately took off his clothes and gave them back to his father…. he even took off his underwear, stripping himself completely naked before all.”272S. Bonaventure, The Life of St. Francis, trans. E. Cousins, in The Soul’s Journey into God. The Tree of Life. The Life of St. Francis, New York, NY, 1978, 177-327, pp. 193-194. Francis’s disconnection was complete. Now, he was ready for discipline of any schools.

Francis, indeed, is ready to experiment a new mode of life, but he is not totally disconnected. He disconnects with his family only because and after he is connected with God. (Since Walzer quotes E. M. Foster’s “Only connect!” in the Company of Critics, I need to speak a little more on the connection with God.)273Critics, p. 142. “Only connect!” are words inscribed on the front page of E. M. Forster’s Howards End, ed. O. Stallybrass, London, 1975 (repr., 1989). Ancient records testify that Francis’s change is the direct consequence of a vision he receives from God:274S. Bonaventure, The Life, p. 191.

One day when Francis went out to meditate in the fields … he walked beside the church of San Damiano which was threatening to collapse because of extreme age. Inspired by the Spirit, he went inside to pray…. he heard with his bodily ears a voice coming from the cross, telling him three times: “Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling completely into ruin.”

Francis’s drastic change and his subsequent acts are very, very difficult to figure out if we exclude the possibility of divine vision. The modern biographer Paul Sabatier has tried to understand Francis against his historical background, but in the end he still cannot evade attributing Francis’s conversion to his vision in the church of San Damiano. In Francis’s account, his disconnection from his family is the direct consequence of his connection to God. He is drawn closer and closer to God while farther and farther from the world. But this is only half of the experience of Francis. He is also called to reconnect himself with the creation. His detachment is temporary, and it serves to a vacuum so that Francis can reconnect himself anew. This is the crucial difference between an evangelist and a Marxist. From now on, Francis cares for the lepers as though they are his dearest friends, and he calls bird sister, and wolf brother.275Cf. P. Sabatier, Vie, p. 73; The Little Flowers of St. Francis, trans. R. Brown, New York, NY, 1958, pp. 88-92.

Enough distinctions have been made between the prophet, the evangelist, and the Marxist. I shall stop here. But, overhearing the debate among the rabbis on revelation, I am tempted to intrude my own opinion. The rabbis should allow me, though an outsider, to speak because I am an attentive audience, and besides, I shall abide by their rule of argument. I am impressed by the rabbis’ shrewdness in forcing God to surrender his privilege. God has said enough, they argue, and we can apply the existing law to deal with our life. If God is unhappy with our interpretation, either he himself or his prophet is always welcome to join in our debate on the understanding that he too must be obliged by the existing law. Nevertheless, I am dissatisfied with Elijah’s report to Rabbi Nathan. I surmise that God may not so easily and happily defeated—something must be missing from the report.

“R. Nathan met Elijah and asked him: What did the Holy One, Blessed be He, do in that hour?—He laughed [with joy], he replied, saying, ‘My sons have defeated Me. My sons have defeated Me’.” The Holy One’s happiness was short. Later, He became sorrowful and had some sleepless nights. He was not grieving over His broken self-image, nor was He upset by the maturity of His sons. His concern was that oppression still existed. He heard cries ascending from the earth, and could not bear to ignore them. “Prophecy, with its impassioned and fiery exhortations, could not accomplish in purging the Jewish people of idolatry and in uprooting the basic causes of the most degrading forms of oppression and violence—of murder, sexual perversity, and bribery.” “My sons are right: enough has been said, and there is no point in sending more prophets,” the Holy One said to Himself. “My sons know the law, some even use it to fool others. The problem lies not in their mind, but in their heart. In the course of evolution, their brain becomes sophisticated, but their heart hardens. Perhaps I should come down to instil more sympathy on them.”