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Dark Riddle: Hegel, Nietzsche, and the Jews


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Dark Riddle: Hegel, Nietzsche, and the Jews

Yirmiyahu Yovel

ISBN: 978-0-745-62033-6 May 1998 Polity 256 Pages


This brilliant and absorbing study examines the image of Judaism and the Jews in the work of two of the most influential modern philosophers, Hegel and Nietzsche. Hegel was a proponent of universal reason and Nietzsche its opponent; Hegel was a Christian thinker and Nietzsche a self-proclaimed 'Anti-Christ'; Hegel strove to bring modernity to its climax, while Nietzsche wanted to divert the evolution of modernity into completely different paths. In view of these conflicting attitudes and philosophical projects, how did each of them assess the historical role of the Jews and their place in the modern world?

The mature Hegel partly overcame the fierce anti-Jewish attitude of his youth, yet continued to see Judaism as the alienation of its own new principles. Post-Christian Judaism no longer had a real history, only a contingent protracted existence, and although modern Jews deserved civil rights, Hegel saw no place for them in modernity as Jews.

Nietzsche, on the contrary, who grew to be a passionate anti- anti- Semite, admired Diaspora Jews for their power and depth and assigned them a role as Jews in curing Europe of the decadent Christian culture which their own ancestors, the second-temple Jewish "priests", had inflicted upon Europe by begetting Christianity. The ancient corrupters of Europe are thus to be its present redeemers.

Through his masterly analysis of the writings of Hegel and Nietzsche, Yovel shows that anti-Jewish prejudice can exist alongside a philosophy of reason, while a philosophy of power must not necessarily be anti-Semitic.


Part 1: Hegel and the Religion of Sublimity.

1. Hegel and his Predecessors.

2. The Young Hegel and the Spirit of Judaism.

3. Jena and the Phenomenology: A Telling Silence.

4. The Mature Hegel: The Sublime Makes its Appearance.

5. Sublimity is not Sublime: The Philosophy of Religion. .

6. Hegel and the Jews: A Never-Ending Story.

Part II: Nietzsche and the People of Israel.

7. Nietzsche and the Shadows of the Dead God.

8. The Anti-Anti-Semite.

9. Nietzsche and Ancient Judaism: The Antichrist.

10. Diaspora and Contemporary Jews.





"An original, masterful exploration of the philsophic significance of Judaism and the Jews in the thought of Hegel and Nietzsche. Yovel's study is not only a superb intellectual reconstruction: He also raises profound and disturbing questions about the legacy of the Enlightenment in confronting Judaism." Richard J. Bernstein, New School for Social Research

"Yirmiyahu Yovel's Dark Riddle is a well-crafted and much-needed contribution to three scholarly literatures: on Hegel, on Nietzsche,and on the situation and the perception of the Jewish people in nineteenth-century Europe. This book is engaging and fascinating reading for anyone who cares about the interplay of philosophical ideas with the events of modern history." Stephen Crites, Wesleyan University

* A highly original study of the ways in which Hegel and Nietzsche addressed Judaism and the question of "the Jew".
* The book argues that both authors were deeply ambivalent about Judaism and shows, at the same time, that their views were much more complicated than many commentators have assumed.
* This is a very insightful account of some of the classic works of modern philosophy and the book will also be of interest to a wider range of readers interested in the cultural significance of Judaism.