Józef Tischner "The Challenge of Totalitarianism. Judaism and Christianity in Relation to Twentieth-Century Totalitarianism"
Article translated by Anna Pomian. This article was originaly published in "Jews and Christians in a Pluralistic World" edited by Ernst-Wolfgang Boeckenfoerde and Edward Shils, Weidenfeld & Nicolson London in association with the Institut fuer die Wissens
This essay intends to present a framework for a dialogue between Judaism and Christianity on the subject of totalitarianism. Today both Jews and Christians are burdened by the memory of two totalitarianisms: Nazi totalitarianism and Communist totalitarianism, particularly its Stalinist variant. Although the experiences that were suffered arouse dread, they also force our consciences to be vigilant. They demand that every effort be made both to avoid a repetition of the tragedy and to extract some prospect of hope from the agonizing memories. Particular attention will be paid to the possibility of dialogue on a philosophical level since it is an undeniable task of intellectuals addressing the issue of totalitarianism to deprive it of its ideological legitimacy. A critique of totalitarian ideologies should be adequate to the nature of the particular ideologies in question. It is characteristic of these ideologies that they claim to be rational; and since totalitarianism cites science, rational philosophy and theory based on experience, philosophy is the only discipline which has the necessary means of countering these claims. Although criticism from a strictly religious or even theological standpoint cannot in principle be ruled out, it is in the nature of such criticism that it can only be conducted on a level that is accessible exclusively to the faithful; this automatically precludes any direct confrontation. This does not, however, mean that a philosophical critique of totalitarianism is incompatible with religion. The religious inspiration of philosophy must nonetheless be distinguished from the rational criteria which philosophy applies.
Although it would no doubt be interesting to consider possible ways in which the religious inspiration and rational thought in philosophy could be reconciled, this would constitute a wide digression from our subject. What we propose to do here is to set forth a critique of totalitarianism through the dialogue between Christian philosophy – particularly its Augustinian variant – and the so-called philosophy of dialogue which has – at least through two of its advocates: Franz Rosenzweig and Emanuel Levinas – engaged in a radical critique of modern totalitarianism from the Jewish standpoint.
It is not just totalitarianism, however, that is the crucial issue at stake in the dialogue on totalitarianism. There comes a point at which we must raise the issue of the genuine meaning of our faiths – I say 'our' because they have evolved from a common origin – and of the attitude to the world of unbelief that has arisen from it. This attitude has polarized until now into two partly divergent standpoints: on the one hand were those, in the main Christians, who in their apostolic zeal attempted to bring about a 'synthesis' between the truths of the revelation and the wisdom of pagan knowledge, and on the other hand were those, in the main Jews, who out of concern for the treasures that had been delivered to them and them alone disassociated themselves from everything that was pagan, and lived on this earth as if they were lonely islanders. There was a certain danger inherent in both standpoints. Attempts at synthesis resulted in problematical compromise, and preoccupation with maintaining a distinctive identity led to isolation. The tragedy of totalitarianism and its unimaginable atrocities has convulsed both Jews and Christians and has led to the question whether compromise with the pagan world does not open the floodgates to totalitarianism, and whether preoccupation with personal spiritual excellence is not tantamount to the sin of passivity. In other words, we must ask whether we ourselves were not, through insufficient loyalty to our own heritage, directly or indirectly responsible for summoning up the evil spirits which spread throughout Europe. The possibility of such a conjecture raises the crucial issue of the significance of the faith of Abraham as a value both for us and for the world. In this way the dialogue on totalitarianism is gradually transformed into a dialogue on the essential nature of the common aspects of our faith.
I propose to discuss three issues. First, a clarification of the concept of totalitarianism is needed to provide a foundation for further analysis. Second, an evaluation of totalitarianism from the perspective of the basic tenets of the Judaeo-Christian tradition is also necessary. Only when we have done this will it be possible to enter upon a critique of totalitarianism. Finally, I will ask which experiences, concepts and beliefs common to both Judaism and Christianity can lay the basis for denying the claims of totalitarianism. It is only when these questions have been answered that it may be possible to illuminate the area of our common responsibility.
The Essence of Totalitarianism
Totalitarianism eludes simple definition since it is not clear whether it is to be viewed from the standpoint of those who exercise totalitarian power or from the standpoint of its subjects and especially its victims. It is an essential feature of totalitarianism that it does not allow any viewpoint other than its own; the consciousness of power and power itself permeate all things and tend to fill the framework in which power itself is to be thought about.
An analysis of the concept can serve as a starting-point. The word 'totalitarianism' is derived from the Latin 'totus' meaning 'whole' and it is worth examining the intentional meaning of this word when the suffix '-ism' is appended to it. The concept of totalitarianism denotes a system of exercising power in which that power, aiming to subjugate the whole person, claims to be the expression of a force which rules over the whole of reality and therefore has the right to use all and any means of coercion against its opponents. Totalitarianism is more than just tyranny or absolutism; the difference between them does not, however, lie in the extent of its lawlessness but in the way it seeks to legitimate its power. Power in a totalitarian regime presents itself as the expression of an absolute force which rules over everything in the territory in which it prevails, and which simultaneously claims that it and it alone possesses the knowledge necessary for the attainment of this objective. The omnipotence of power is the foundation of its claim to infallibility. Its belief in its infallibility reinforces its omnipotence.
There is a further aspect to the concept of totality. One of the consequences of totalitarian ideology is the thesis that all relations between one person and another can be reduced to the relationship of the part to the whole. This implies that all relations between human beings, including the most intimate, are subordinated to the interests of the 'whole' and in particular to the interests of the state. As a result, every close relationship becomes a relationship, which must be controlled by the state; even friendship must have the approval of the state. The power of totalitarianism owes its success to the industrial age, and for this reason the concept of the whole and the part should be extended to include the image of a machine and its components, or even better the image of electricity and the billions of light bulbs and engines which it illuminates or sets in motion. It was Lenin, after all, who said that Communism equals Soviet power plus human beings and the relationships between them as instruments for its own end. Totalitarianism is a radical negation of the Kantian categorical imperative, which asserts that the human being should always be an end in him or herself and not a means to the end of another person. The instrumentalization of the relationships of human beings would, nevertheless, appear to be more a consequence of totalitarianism than its principal tenet; this derives from the entire ontology and epistemology which totalitarianism adduces to legitimate its claims.
Stalinism can serve as an example. Stalin defined the essence of historical materialism as follows: 'Historical materialism is the extension and application of the principles of dialectical materialism to the study of the phenomena of social life and of its history’.
What does this `extension` mean? It means that a dialectic describing the relations between objects is imposed on social dialogue. Dialectical materialism describes the dialectic of physical nature whereas historical materialism describes social life. Stalin therefore presupposed that the same processes which take place between physical objects such as atoms, also govern the relations among human beings. Dialogue, therefore, becomes dialectic. Objects are ranged in opposition to each other, and these opposing forces are in a state of collision with each other. A similar process occurs in the relations of human beings. Society is cloven by class conflict. All human beings belong to one or another class and cannot avoid involvement in the conflict. Hannah Arendt`s thesis of the totalitarian instrumentalization of human relationships has to be modified. It is true that totalitarianism treats human beings as instruments. Stalinist totalitarianism tried to make human beings into a particular kind of instrument that would function as a weapon against other human beings; a human being is assimilated to an instrument with rather more resemblance to a tank or gun than a ploughshare or a hammer and sickle.
Totalitarianism therefore justifies itself first of all through an ontology. Its main argument can be expressed by the thesis: to have a real existence is to exercise power. Those who do not have power cannot be said to exist in any real sense. Martin Heidegger associated totalitarianism with the philosophy of Nietzsche`s `will to power`. In his study of Hegel, Franz Rosenzweig went even further back: he referred to Parmenides and his belief that all plurality is reduced to unity. Emanuel Levinas is no less radical in citing Heraclitus, for whom the true nature of being was manifested in war. But if it is to appeal to the masses, totalitarianism has to abandon ontological abstraction and to address them in a language which they understand. This is a language which stirs the sensitivity to the sacred and the human conscience. In this way totalitarian sacrology and ethics emerge alongside totalitarian ontology.
The sacred or the holy, according to the persuasive arguments of Rudolf Otto, is the supreme value. It endows all other values with meaning, and it transports the human being who encounters it into a state of fascination and dread. The sacred demands unreserved self-renunciation and sacrifice. The temptation of Abraham serves to illustrate the way in which the sacred works. God chose Abraham, and the fact that he was chosen placed Abraham in a dramatic conflict between God as the highest transcendental value and his son as the highest primordial value. The experience of the sacred demands that those who are dominated by the highest transcendental value have no right to the enjoyment of other values. This is parallel to the totalitarian claim, even though it originated in the experience of the sacred. Stalinism made the same demands, except that it was no longer God but the revolution which was the site of the sacred. The revolution demanded unlimited devotion and sacrifice. The new model of the revolutionary ideal was exemplified by the son who denounced his father since the father had been unmasked as an enemy of the revolution. It was no longer the father who led the son to the altar on the mountain where he was to be sacrificed but the son who led the father. The underlying drama in both situations is the same; the totalitarian principle has an identity with the relationships of the transcendental and the sacred.
The ethical legitimation of totalitarianism has a similar pattern. Anyone whose behaviour is governed by the conviction that his deeds serve to realize the highest ethical values acts with a good conscience. Totalitarian ideology aims to ensure that its agents, even if they are criminals, have a good conscience. It skilfully achieves this by manipulation which assigns high ethical values to political activity. Stalinism illustrated this very well: it assumed that the proper aim of political power was to eliminate the exploitation of man by man. This aim could be achieved only by violence. The new ethics therefore allowed the use of violence as the means to this end. Why should only evil be entitled to use force for the attainment of its ends? Why should the good be powerless? The new ethics engendered a new heroism. The revolutionary was not afraid to bear the onus of the use of violence because he believed that future generations would exonerate him from all guilt. Someone had to do the dirty work so that others could live in a better world. Such an ethic could be so persuasive that a person could have a good conscience for inflicting torture on others. There were even those who would take on themselves the guilt of others, bearing the punishment for deeds they had not committed so that the ennobled future would be more speedily attained. They justified their conduct by the argument that the truths of existence were disclosed to them in the performance of acts of violence. In doing so they participated in the sacred.
Ontological and ethical legitimation and the sacred reach their apogee in the concept of a total power which no human being and no sphere of life can evade. This vision is manifested most clearly in Stalinism which seeks to `expropriate` and abolish private property as a condition for the `socialization` of human beings. Since the power of one man over another is exerted through possession, the `abolition` of private property is a prerequisite for the `liberation` of man. In accordance with Marxist principles, Stalinism did not, however, aim to `abolish` all property but only private property in the means of production. Private ownership of the means of production was not only intrinsically evil but it was also the source of all social evil. Through the `socialization` of the means of production, totalitarian power was able to dominate the sphere of human labour and so ultimately became the owner of both labour and its product. It imposed limits on every manifestation of creativity in the sphere of work, and through its dominion over all labour, it also gained power over the entire human being. The attack on private property was only a means to an end: the object was the human being. In place of the `old human being` the `new human being` was to come forth. It was to be a `human being` who had been divested of all acquisitive desires. This type of person was not to possess anything, not even himself. He had to be totally at the disposition of those who exercised power from which he was to draw the meaning of his existence.
No distinction can be drawn in totalitarianism between political power and the legitimation of that power: political power is not only power over the actions of individuals; it is also power over their thought and consciousness, and particularly over the way in which they think about power. The legitimation of power occurs at three levels – the ontological, the sacred and the ethical. Under totalitarianism, these three levels yield their autonomy to the demands of the totalitarian rulers. Science and human thought lose their autonomy and become instruments of totalitarian power in the war it wages against its real or imagined enemies. In totalitarianism truth does not exist as an objective value of human thought since `truth` is whatever serves totalitarian power.
The Lure of Totalitarianism
The second issue is the assessment of totalitarianism from the basic Judaeo-Christian standpoint. The conclusion may be brief but the explanation that totalitarianism is the product of pagan religious belief requires more space. For the heirs of the faith of Abraham, in order to understand the significance of totalitarianism, the standpoint of paganism must be taken into account. The concept of paganism may, however, be too ambiguous to serve an explanatory purpose. Paganism is too complex a phenomenon for it to be considered here in any great detail: we are both the debtors and the heirs of this culture, while our attempts to understand it have been no less strenuous than our desire – albeit unsuccessful - to escape from it. Only those aspects of paganism will be treated here which have been disclosed in a new light by the recent history of Communism.
Despite its unquestioned ambiguity, the concept of paganism served Europe for many centuries as a means of defining its own distinctive character. It had at first a negative connotation: anyone who was not a Jew or a Christian was a pagan. Pagans were excluded from the community of the chosen people and the community of the baptized, and were regarded as the enemies of both.
Since a negative interpretation is inadequate, a positive meaning must be sought. For reasons of geography and history the religion of ancient Greece and Rome served as the model of pagan religion for the Jews and Christians. On the question of how these religions conflicted with the faith of Abraham, an explanation can be found in the views of Rosenzweig and the interesting commentary on his views by Stefan Moses, which state that they differed by reason of their belief in fatum and their profound disbelief in the word, particularly the word denoting choice. Although the word could define the world, describe objects and express the tragic aspects of human life, it could not provide a basis for relationships among human beings, constitute loyalty or form a nation's history, and above all it had not the slightest relevance to religion. The word reached its highest point in the language of tragedy.
One of the consequences of a belief in fatum and a simultaneous disbelief in it is the acknowledgement that human fate is primarily governed by obscure subterranean forces which determine man's destiny without his having any influence on it. Whether it destroys or saves, fatum does so indifferently to the desires or efforts of those it affects. It follows that man's freedom is only an illusion of freedom. The human will is impotent. There is no lasting connection between 'willing' and 'acting'. It becomes impossible for one human being o make a permanent choice of another, or to remain loyal to the persons and values that he has chosen. The relationship between one person and another, for example between Oedipus and his father and mother, becomes like the relationships of material objects among themselves. Human beings – like physical objects – are connected with each other by chains of causality. Oedipus kills his father without knowing whom he is killing. He takes his mother as wife without knowing that she is his mother. The actions of Oedipus have a cause and an effect but it is not those that define the meaning of his deeds; that meaning is defined by fatum and it differs from that intended by Oedipus. It is fate which separates people or brings them together. Dialogue therefore becomes nothing more than a multi-voiced soliloquy of fatum.
It would be an oversimplification to consider all of Graeco-Roman culture as a direct extension of the belief in fatum since that culture, and particularly its philosophy, developed in profound conflict with the belief in fatum. But it was difficult to ignore fatum. Paul Ricoeur pointed out that fatum was a symbol of evil, and evil accompanies men throughout their lives. The resistance to fatum was manifested in art, science, philosophy and politics. Almost every sphere of life was pervaded by an underlying urge to live in the light. The realm of fatum was darkness, and the man who could lighten that darkness could thereby avoid the ruses of fatum. The intellectual struggle against the power of fatum which was so prominent in Greek thought was later taken up in the Christian dialogue with the Greek tradition. Among the results of this dialogue are the Augustinian theory of free will, the love of God and grace.
Belief in fatum was the foundation of a particular concept of political power. The origin of power, its justification and its basic principle rested on fatum. Power only became power when it understood its actions as the fulfilment of fatum. Power did not need to take into account the desires of its subjects. Power was validated by the omens of oracles and by victories over enemies.
The irrational cult of cruelty is directly associated with the belief in fatum. This can be seen above all in ancient Rome where cruelty became an intrinsic component of art and entertainment. Cruelty was not a means to an end, but an end in itself. Its purpose was neither to compel confessions nor to inflict punishment for crimes committed. It had a qualitatively different function. Cruelty revealed the essential truth of the drama of life. Fatum was cruel. The cruelty revealed the ultimate truth of the lives of those from whom good fortune had turned away and those whom fate still favoured. Fate was like the gesture of Caesar in the amphitheatre: the upward or the downward motion of the thumb revealed the metaphysical depths of existence.
It would be an oversimplification to assume from this that paganism is only an historical and geographical category or an element in the culture of a given age. From the debate with paganism, it is clear that there is some ultimate, inexplicable, forever restless and rebellious internal element in human beings which begins to stir violently whenever the soul comes in contact with the word of God or with baptismal water. This element makes man unusually susceptible to the lures of paganism.
The link between modes of totalitarianism and pagan tradition is undeniable. Totalitarian ideologies are constantly striving to create and cultivate rituals. However ridiculous they seem to be to an outsider, their intention is clear. On closer investigation it became clear how deeply rooted they have been in Europe's pagan past. In totalitarianism, the belief in fatum is transformed into belief in the inevitability of the laws of economic and historical development. It is of secondary significance that these laws are ascribed to either race or class; the basic fact is that it is fatum that ordains some persons to live and others to die. The legitimation of power, according to these ideologies, is dependent on fate. The consent of the citizenry is deemed superfluous since it is sufficient to be in harmony with 'the objective laws of history'. Oracles have been supplanted by ideologists who claim to have a monopoly of insight into the objective laws of history. Victory over enemies confirms their ideological prophecies. According to Marxism, the ultimate criterion of truth is practice. But these victories are to a large extent matters of the interpretations made by the ideologists themselves. The unity of power and fatum reaches its height in the thesis that totalitarian power cannot be supplanted by any other power. If totalitarian power were to fail, the state would collapse; whole peoples and their world itself would go under.
The ideology of power has entailed an immense tolerance towards cruelty. Totalitarian power is cruel, and yet no rational justification for cruelty can be found in its ideological principles. The only possible explanation is the religious argument that the image of cruelty reveals the truth of the working of fatum: 'Such is life, and such is the fate of those who rebel against fate.'
Totalitarianism unites Jews and Christians in commonly experienced grief. For this common experience of grief to endure, it must build upon a deeper understanding of common faith. For ultimately, it is faith, and not just grief, on which a dialogue of understanding can be based. Otherwise, understanding would not last longer than the experience of shared grief.
The Levels of the Dispute
The confrontation with totalitarianism may take both practical and theoretical forms. The practical confrontation has involved the opposition and protest of individuals, who regardless of the consequences, have borne witness to their spiritual autonomy in a totalitarian world. Their protests swelled until the moment arrived when, in the words of Adam Michnik, 'different individuals who have become joined in opposition reach out to each other, linking hands in an invisible chain of good will, and in this way establish new social relationships. It is not true that despotic, totalitarian systems of government fall only as a result of external convulsions; often they evolve under internal pressure, and the course of this evolution is a fascinating phase on the road to freedom'.
The theoretical confrontation aims at depriving totalitarianism of its ideological legitimation. Among the many intellectual opponents of totalitarianism, philosophy, which has religious overtones, has acquired a special significance. This is because totalitarianism inevitably seeks a sacral legitimation. This can be seen in the war which totalitarianism has waged against religion. After all, religion contains the idea of the sacred, in particular the idea of the sacred as the highest good. The religiously oriented philosophical criticism of totalitarianism has brought out the autonomy and authenticity of the sacred. This concern for authenticity should likewise pervade the criticism conducted on other levels.
If totalitarianism seeks legitimation through ontology and related intellectual activities, then the confrontation with totalitarianism will restore the authenticity of these fields. The same applies to ethics, indeed the more so, since any deformation of ethics leads to catastrophic consequences for society. The critique of totalitarian power will show that totalitarian power bases itself on an erroneous conception of itself. Totalitarian power and its self-consciousness cannot stand up under serious criticism.
Confrontation at the Ontological Level
The ontological confrontation with totalitarianism postulates a protest against ontology's claim to universalism. The positive aspect of this dispute is the vindication of dialogue as an autonomous pattern of relationships of individuals. The fundamental issue is whether dialogue is indeed an autonomous pattern of relationships among individual persons or whether it is a derivative and in part illusory connection which obscures the more fundamental levels of a causal chain. The question is put more succinctly in the language of the Stalinist ideology: 'Is dialogue nothing more than a superstructure of j the dialectics of nature?' or in the language of Greek drama: 'Is dialogue nothing more than a multi-voiced soliloquy conducted by fatum?'
An especially strong protest against the claims put forward for ontology has been expressed recently by Emanuel Levinas. He writes: ‘Political totalitarianism is based on ontological totalitarianism. Being is everything. Being, in which nothing begins and nothing ends. Nothing opposes it, no one judges it. An anonymous neutrality, an impersonal universality, a universe without language. Speech is impossible, for how else can the validity of the statement be confirmed if not by another statement, which no one will risk making. The entire West recognizes itself in this wordless world. It has been proceeding from Socrates to Hegel in the direction of an ideal of speech in which the word has meaning only as a constituent of an eternal order which it brings to consciousness. At the end of this road, the person who speaks, feels that he is a participant of a conversation. The meaning of language does not depend on the intention which it contains but on the coherence of the conversation to which the speaker merely lends his lips and palate. Not only Marxism but also the whole of sociology and psychoanalysis provide evidence of language in which the crucial matter is found not in what the words say but in what they hide’.
There is now an increasingly large body of literature which upholds the autonomy of word and language. It presents detailed analyses of speech which has declined under totalitarian captivity, and of speech which is free, particularly that speech between God and man. Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy writes: 'The purpose of speech is to create peace, to express trust, to honour the aged, and to free future generations. The forms of speech must serve these purposes for without them all human speech decays. This has been so since the beginning of history. The power of human speech has always been at work' .
I will not go into a detailed analysis of the concept of dialogue. I will only indicate some of its consequences.
The principle of dialogue above all recognizes the primacy of freedom over necessity. For before it becomes an exchange of words, dialogue is an exchange of free decisions. Whoever begins to speak makes a decision regarding whom he is addressing. Similarly the person addressed when he replies to a question has decided that he is in fact responding. God chose Abraham and called him by his name. Abraham responded to God's choice of him by the words: 'Here I am.' The case of Adam was different: when he was called by name, he ran off and hid himself from God. The principle of dialogue is freedom, and the extent of this freedom is symbolically revealed in the actions of Adam and Abraham. Levinas writes: 'The banal fact of conversation signifies that the system of violence has been annulled. This banal fact is a miracle of miracles’. But freedom also implies that there can be worldviews other than the world-view of those who exercise power. Dialogue puts the principle of totalitarian epistemology into question. It places the standpoint of power and that of its subjects on an equal footing; it rejects the claim of the powerful to be the sole interpreters of the mysterious intentions of fatum. Hegel drew attention to this in his analysis of the relationship between master and slave. The ascendancy of masters would cease if it were not recognized by the slaves. Subjugation is the result, not of the force of fate in history, but of the simple act of recognition on the part of the subjects. But such an act cannot be elicited by coercion. A person can be driven out of paradise, he can be forced into simulation, but he cannot be compelled to surrender in spirit if he does not want to surrender.
The principle of dialogue shakes the foundation of the totalitarian system. It happens sometimes that the word 'dialogue' is uttered by totalitarian power, and has happened particularly in recent times. In that case, the totalitarian power does not know what it is saying.
The principle of dialogue also has a great significance for Christian thought. It cautions against the temptation to yield to ontological claims particularly about the working of grace. The theology of grace is the core of Christian thought, for here thought impinges on the mystery of man's relationship to God. If the actions of God on man were the same as those of a totalitarian power, then there would be no protection from political totalitarianism. The attempt to understand the working of grace calls forth such a danger. It attempts to deal with the working of grace in the categories of stimulus and response. Cause and effect connect one being with another, one object with another. This connection does not entail consciousness or free will. Is grace a link in the chain of causality between God and man? Does God act on man without man's knowing it? For this to be so would require that grace be reduced to the categories of ontology and that 'grace' be a result of the working of fate. God's grace stands in contradistinction to the idea of fatum.
Sacrology, the study of the sacred, is the second level at which the confrontation takes place. The totalitarian interpretation of the sacred states that sacrum, as the supreme value, demands that everything, including the most precious values, be renounced. Summoned by the call of the sacred, the father sacrifices the son, and the son his father. The Bible presents this as the temptation of Abraham. Temptation makes the tempted person think that he is catching a glimpse of truth but not the full truth which is not accessible to him. A clear distinction must be drawn in the confrontation with totalitarianism between the sacred and the illusion of the sacred. Totalitarian ideologies are not wholly incorrect when they say that the sacred makes claims to total submission. The sacred is the highest value to which human emotion can respond; it is a value which requires a certain unconditional acceptance. The first intimation of the sacred arouses in man the profound trememendum which then induces fascinosum. Between these two forces, man has no alternative but to yield. Such yielding by no means requires an acknowledgement of the metaphysics of envy. Such an acknowledgement causes man to sacrifice his son. The question however arises whether the ways of the living God can be reduced to influence over emotions.
Levinas once said: 'The numinosum or sacred enfolds man and transports him beyond his powers and desires. But genuine freedom rejects such uncontrolled excesses. The numinosum nullifies the relationships between individuals by compelling them to participate, if only through ecstasy, in either a drama for which they have no desire, or an order which plunges them into an abyss. This, in some respect, sacramental power of the divine appeals to Judaism as a power which curtails the freedom of the human being and is contrary to an education of man which is an action based on freedom. It is not that freedom is an end in itself, but it is the prerequisite of every value that man can attain. Sacrum which enfolds and transports me is violence’.
Rosenzweig in The Star of Redemption draws attention to an important phenomenon: the closer that Graeco-Roman paganism came to its demise, the more eagerly it increased and elaborated its sacrum. In the end, the pagan sacrum was ubiquitous: in every glade, village and house. But at the moment when God spoke, this sacrum disappeared and the world shrank to its normal dimensions.
The sacred arouses trembling and fascination but it cannot arouse what is most fundamental, namely the consciousness of responsibility. This, however, occurs at a completely different level from the level of the emotions. Every encounter with God arouses in us a consciousness of responsibility. Levinas writes: 'To know God is to know what must be done.'
The prerequisite for the emergence of the consciousness of responsibility, as well as its source and justification, is the presence of the Good. Man experiences the absolute Good in his encounter with God. The infinitely Good transcends the sacrum and is not attained through the emotions. The mystery of the influence of the Good, unlike other values, lies in the fact that whoever has encountered the Good wishes to do good, and does so selflessly. This selflessness banishes envy, and thereby the conflict between the supreme value and the value of what is closest to us disappears. Through the highest Good which is God, man acts towards his neighbour in accordance with the Good, which is the value closest to him. This brings that value even closer: the father draws nearer to the son, and the son to the father. The commandment to love one's neighbour is founded on this encounter with the Good.
Recognition of the absolute primacy of the experience of the Good in the triangular relationship between God, man and neighbour opens up a perspective, a new conception of power. God is the real ruler of man; God exercises his dominion through the Good. The Good closest to man is his neighbour. In a society which acknowledges God and which pursues the Good, ruling means serving.
Ethics is the third level of the confrontation. The two totalitarianisms discussed postulated an ethical revolution as the prerequisite for the political revolution which they brought about. The old ethics were, according to them, to yield to the new. The old ethic was taken to mean the religious ethic derived from the Bible. The new ethic was to be based on the fundamental principle that the higher the value, the more justified the use of violence in its name. The antithesis to this would be that the higher the value, the greater the freedom. The basic issue is that of violence and the ethical limits of the use of violence.
The thesis that the hierarchy of values is not parallel to the hierarchy of the degree of violence to be applied has been accepted in ethical thought from Kant to Hegel and up to Scheler and his successors. Only the lower values connected with desires and basic needs put man under pressure. Values of a higher order such as justice, peace and the pursuit of truth flourish only in freedom. Their realization is conditional on their being freely chosen. What is important is not only the fact of certain axiological structures being established among men, but rather the fact that men themselves become the bearers of these values and embody them in their actions. There can be no justice without just men, no peace without peace-loving men, and no pursuit of truth without devotion to truth. The outward realization of values must be a concomitant of their realization within men themselves. The internal establishment of values cannot be realized without freedom. The issue of the ethical limits of the use of violence is essentially that of the underlying ethical experience in the course of which those limits are encountered. The purpose here is neither to promulgate yet another theory nor to offer an interpretation of commandments known for millennia. Both totalitarian ideologies have done this to serve their own ends. What we must do is to analyze an experience which would be prior to or presupposed by any or every theory. But is there such experience ?
Levinas says that fundamental to ethics is the 'experience' of another human being directly perceived through his 'face'. This is not a superficial experience; it is something which transcends ordinary knowledge. He writes: 'Perception reveals names, and thereby classifies. Perception takes its object. It takes control of it. Possession denies the autonomy of being, although it does not destroy it; it denies and maintains it. A face cannot be violated; those eyes which are utterly defenceless and which are the most naked part of the body, offer absolute resistance to possession. It offers an absolute resistance and a readiness for martyrdom which is a temptation to murder; it arouses the temptation of absolute negation. To see a face is to hear „You will not kill. ” And to hear „You will not kill” is to hear „social justice”. And everything that I can hear from God and directed to God who is invisible should reach me through this one unique voice'. The ethical experience described by Levinas is inherently tragic. That tragic element becomes resistance when it is associated with pangs of conscience and these set in, unfortunately, after the crime has been committed. The horror of murder is revealed only after the event. The value of justice can only be perceived in an unjust world. Cruelty gives rise to the need for mercy. This does not contradict what we have been saying. The memory of ethical catastrophes points the way to a better future. Levinas's reflections which are imprinted with the recollection of the Holocaust provide the point of departure for new hope.
Response to the Challenge
The intellectual confrontation with totalitarianism is primarily a dispute over the nature of power. Totalitarian power is pathological power. Observation of disease can permit a better understanding of the nature of health. It provides a clearer definition of our responsibilities in the face of the threat posed by totalitarianism.
Let us repeat our main observations: totalitarian power is directed at the subjugation of the whole man, and to this end, it has created a corresponding ideology to justify its actions. This ideology claims that power is the expression of the force which rules the world and the course of history. But there is a contradiction in this pursuit of man's total subjugation. Pursuit of total power over all things abolishes the distinction between ruler and subject. The abolition of the stratum of subject destroys the foundation of totalitarian power. In order to avoid self-destruction, totalitarian power which is aware of this must, therefore, constantly call into being new enemies. In order to exist, totalitarian power needs enemies as much as it needs subjects. Stalin saw this clearly when he formulated his celebrated theory that class conflict increases as Communism advances. The disease of totalitarian power originates in this contradiction. Totalitarian power creates enemies in order to fight against them; it fights against them in order to create them anew. Thereby, it exhausts all its creative capacities.
The Bible reveals totalitarianism as one of the greatest temptations to which man can be exposed. The thought that violence should be used for the good of man is very attractive; totalitarianism builds on this idea. Was it really not an honour for Isaac to be sacrificed to God? The temptation of totalitarianism should be taken seriously. There are many impulses in man which dispose him to yield to temptation. This is all the more reason for those who know the Bible to remain vigilant. It is not only a matter of preventing the distortion of ontology, sacrology and ethics, and to protect man from the temptations which are made more attractive to human beings who suffer from the anxieties which are inherent in human life. It is necessary to provide a testimony of faith in the face of the extremes of life and death. Faith is the only force which can master the temptation of totalitarianism. The sources of faith are deeper than the claims of totalitarianism. The totalitarian temptation must recede before the far greater force of faith which draws on very much deeper sources. Man is more perfect in his humanity through his rootedness in these deeper sources. In returning his son to Abraham, God desired Abraham to gain in his humanity. Man realizes the humanity in himself when he makes a choice, and in his choice chooses the One who first chose him. He is himself when he remains faithful to the decision he has made. He is himself when he gives his word and accepts the word. Faith is fidelity to God and man. Faith brings out, from the depths of man into the light of day, the very forces which are decisive for his existence, namely, freedom, the word and fidelity.
In opposition to totalitarian power stands the human being who has been brought into being by faith. It is an exceptional person who breaks out of every category of totalitarian ideology. He entirely evades its grasp. Totalitarian power has no place for such a human being in its calculations. He should not exist, according to totalitarianism, but he does exist nonetheless. He should not speak but, nevertheless, his voice is heard. He should be frightened, but he is perfectly serene. This man should not be regarded simply as an enemy of totalitarianism, because if that were so he would be one with its agents and would be on their level, he is also not a supporter of the system. He transcends the totalitarian system and that makes him a great danger to it. He is the symbolic equivalent to a fortress which cannot be taken. His existence demonstrates the reality of a world which is utterly beyond totalitarianism. The ultimate aim of the dialogue between Judaism and Christianity that is now in process, following the experiences of the Holocaust, is a joint effort to foster the existence of human beings of such faith and bearing.
 J. Stalin, Problems of Leninism, Moscow, 1954, p. 713.
 A. Michnik, Polskie pytanie [Polish Questions], Zeszyty Literackie (ed.), Paris, 1987, p. 131.
 E. Levinas, Difficile liberte, A.Michel (ed.), Paris, 1976, p. 267.
 E. Rosenstock-Huessy, Die Sprache des Menschengeschlechtes 2, Heidelberg, 1964, p. 478.
 E. Levinas, op. cit., p. 21.
 E. Levinas, op. cit., p. 29.
 E. Levinas, op. cit., p. 22.