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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/13/19

Martin Buber Can Explain the Trouble with Trump (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Martin Buber - Das Wort, das gesprochen wird (Audio) Vortrag des Philosophen Martin Buber (1878-1965) aus dem Jahr 1962. Darin widmet sich Buber dem Gesprch als .Matrix. des Denkens.
Martin Buber - Das Wort, das gesprochen wird (Audio) Vortrag des Philosophen Martin Buber (1878-1965) aus dem Jahr 1962. Darin widmet sich Buber dem Gesprch als .Matrix. des Denkens.
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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) June 13, 2019: I recently posted my OEN article "Martin Buber's Legacy for Americans Today":


Subsequently, I devoted more time to pondering Phil Huston's carefully written book Martin Buber's Journey to Presence (Fordham University Press, 2007). The title of her book refers to the lectures on "Religion as Presence" that Buber delivered in 1922. A stenographer's copy of Buber's lectures can be found in Rivka Horwitz's book Buber's Way to "I and Thou": The Development of Buber's Thought and His "Religion as Presence" Lectures, translated by Esther Cameron (Jewish Publication Society, 1988; orig. German ed., 1978).

But Huston discusses Buber's 1922 "Religion as Presence" lectures only in her final chapter (pages 185-208). Her lengthiest chapter (pages 106-184) is devoted to discussing Buber's pivotal 1913 work Daniel: [Five] Dialogues on Realization, the English translation of which by Maurice Friedman has recently been reissued by Syracuse University Press in 2018.

Briefly, according to Huston, Buber accentuates in Daniel what he refers to as direction (pages 112-115) that is, the human soul's direction that is, when the human soul's direction is activated and engaged in decision-making oriented toward God (i.e., the unconditioned ground of being) through the person's own spirituality (see esp. page 113).

However, just as Buber discusses the activation of the human soul's direction, so too he also discusses the undirected soul (i.e., the soul in which the person's spirituality has not activated the soul's direction). For the person whose spirituality has not activated the soul's direction, according to Huston, "the life of the 'divine force' present in the whirlpool of happenings is deadened" (page 118).

I am reasonably certain that Trump represents a person with an undirected soul (i.e., his soul's direction has not been activated).

Buber's imagery of the "whirlpool of happenings" reminds me of the imagery of studying the whirlpool that the Canadian Renaissance specialist and cultural historian Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980; Ph.D. in English, Cambridge University, 1943) uses in the preface to his book The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man (Vanguard Press, 1951, pages v-vi).

McLuhan refers to Edgar Allan Poe's story "A Descent into the Maelstrom." McLuhan says, "Poe's sailor saved himself by studying the action of the whirlpool and by cooperating with it" (page v). However, according to Buber in his 1913 work Daniel, only the person whose soul's direction has been activated can possibly hope to discern "the life of 'divine force' in the whirlpool of happenings."

According to Huston, "Direction that primal tension that moves one to choose intrinsically involves meaning and value. Each person has to make a decision as to whether realization or orientation will be the dominant force in his or her life. It is the way of realization that awakens one to ultimate meaning" (page 140).

I am reasonably certain that Trump is dominated by what Buber refers to in Daniel as orientation, not by realization.

For further discussion of Trump, see Dr. Justin A. Frank's book Trump on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President (Avery/ Penguin Random House, 2018).

Now, Huston quotes Buber's Daniel at length: "'Direction is that primal tension [Urspannung] of a human soul which moves it to choose and act to realize this and no other out of the infinity of possibilities. Thus the soul strips off the net of directions, the net of space and of time, of causes and of ends, of subjects and objects, it strips off the net of directions and takes nothing with it but the magic of its direction. That is the strength that the soul has found in itself, to which it recalls itself, which it raises out of itself'" (quoted on page 119; bracketed material added by Huston).

Buber also discusses "the strength that the soul has found in itself" further in his famous 1923 book I and Thou, 2nd ed., translated by Ronald Gregor Smith (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958): "In the language of the Bible, 'Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength' [Isaiah 40:31]" (page 110; I have added the bracketed reference).

Now, my favorite scholar is the American Jesuit Renaissance specialist and cultural historian Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955). I have no doubt that his practice of Jesuit spirituality awakened him to the divine ground of being and ultimate meaning and value and thereby enabled him to escape what Buber in Daniel refers to as orientation. But that's not all.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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