Marking the centenary of Walter Benjamin's immensely influential essay, "Toward the Critique of Violence," this critical edition presents readers with an altogether new, fully annotated translation of a work that is widely recognized as a classic of modern political theory.
The volume includes twenty-one notes and fragments by Benjamin along with passages from all of the contemporaneous texts to which his essay refers. Readers thus encounter for the first time in English provocative arguments about law and violence advanced by Hermann Cohen, Kurt Hiller, Erich Unger, and Emil Lederer. A new translation of selections from Georges Sorel's Reflections on Violence further illuminates Benjamin's critical program. The volume also includes, for the first time in any language, a bibliography Benjamin drafted for the expansion of the essay and the development of a corresponding philosophy of law. An extensive introduction and afterword provide additional context.
With its challenging argument concerning violence, law, and justice—which addresses such topical matters as police violence, the death penalty, and the ambiguous force of religion—Benjamin's work is as important today as it was upon its publication in Weimar Germany a century ago.
About the authors
Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) was a German Jewish philosopher.
Peter Fenves is Joan and Serapta Harrison Professor of Literature, Northwestern University.
Julia Ng is Lecturer in Critical Theory and codirector of the Centre for Philosophy and Critical Thought, Goldsmiths, University of London.
"This translation places before English readers for the first time the most comprehensible version yet of Benjamin's compelling and demanding essay."
—Kevin McLaughlin, Brown University
"Fenves and Ng have assembled the definitive scholarly edition in English of Walter Benjamin's influential 1921 essay "Toward the Critique of Violence"...An indispensable resource for those interested in Benjamin's particular intervention at a place where political theology meets questions of morality, power, and authority. Essential." –G.D. Miller, CHOICE
"A new edition of Benjamin's allusive essay helps elucidate what is often enigmatic and esoteric about a text whose author is working towards a more Marxist perspective. It is fully annotated and includes a large and helpful selection of notes and fragments by Benjamin that are closely related to what he was formulating."
—Sean Sheehan, The Prisma
"In making Benjamin's essay and these various sets of writings easily accessible to a new generation of English-language readers, as well as scholars already conversant with the main text, this critical edition encourages the sort of deep analysis it enables. Readers of Benjamin of all kinds, from undergraduate and graduate students to established scholars, will surely appreciate the book and the manifold resources it has to offer."
—Michael Powers, The German Quarterly
Unpublished Fragments from the Period of Human, All Too Human I (Winter 1874/75–Winter 1877/78)
The Joyful Science / Idylls from Messina / Unpublished Fragments from the Period of The Joyful Science (Spring 1881–Summer 1882)
Unpublished Fragments from the Period of Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Spring 1884–Winter 1884/85)