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  • Writer's pictureWalter

One I recommend: Walter Benjamin’s "Theses on the Philosophy of History" in Illuminations.

Benjamin’s “Theses” deals with the question of social transformation where revolutions are necessarily experienced as rupturing the continuity of history.

Past events are given their historical meaning retrospectively, in messianic moments (due to despair). Those moments in the past are comprehensible only from the position of redemption (thesis III), while the idea of ‘redemption’ is framed within his view of messianism. The other kind of messianic time is associated with the experience of immediacy (the here and now). The present generation of activists always seem to potentially bring the messiah (the saviour) past revolutionaries were waiting for.

However, if the present resistance fails this might be redeemed by future movements so, it is not in vain. On Thesis II, Benjamin stresses that every generation is endowed with a ‘week messianic power’, because “every past generation hoped for redemption or resurrection in the future” [and] “our image of happiness is bound up with the image of redemption. The same applies to our view of the past, which is the concern of history.”

The moment of messianic rupture, the redemption or revolution, is also a moment when past debts are cancelled out.

Like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak Messianic power, a power to which the past has a claim. That claim cannot be settled cheaply. Historical materialists are aware of that.

He argues that the messianic moment consummates history. The historical world therefore cannot be built on a divine or messianic model. It should be built on a model of happiness instead.

Politically speaking, I see the image of the politician in position of power seeing as ‘divine’ authority for themselves. The messianic image of a president who comes to “save you” from the despair citizens experience in society. More so, during the sense of a “permanent state of emergency” connected to a sort of ongoing disaster. And Benjamin seems to use the idea of emergency to critics the social order, rather than reinforce.

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