Throughout history, Jewish notions of justice, hope and redemption have inspired political visions within as well as beyond the Jewish tradition. In the past century, examples can be drawn from Ernst Bloch to Walter Benjamin and Jacques Derrida. Also in the present politico-philosophical debate, a number of prominent voices draw explicitly on Jewish sources in their attempts to formulate radical visions. This article engages with one of the more influential figures in this respect, Giorgio Agamben. Although Agamben offers a highly original and constructive reading of Jewish notions of justice, hope and redemption, it will nevertheless be argued that he fails to do justice to an essential element in Jewish conceptions of liberation. In consistently posing ‘law’ as the counterpole to liberation, Agamben disregards the extent to which law, in the Jewish tradition, is constitutive of justice, hope and redemption. Moreover, in equating ‘law’ with coercion and oppression he also fails to recognize the progressive force of the politico-juridical system, which is the target of his critique.
Jayne Svenungsson is Professor of Systematic Theology at Lund University. Her most recent publication is Divining History: Prophetism, Messianism and the Development of the Spirit (Berghahn Books, 2016).