The Genesis of Secular Responsibility: Aesthetic Education and the Neighbor

JVF Conference Papers

In The Gift of Death (1995), a suggestive moment occurs when Jacques Derrida discusses the political theorist and sometimes Nazi jurist, Carl Schmitt, and his reading of Matthew 5: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-4).

Schmitt concludes that Jesus’ teaching addresses the love “we must show to our private enemies, to those we would be tempted to hate through personal or subjective passion, and not to public enemies,” and he reminds us that “no Christian politics ever advised the West to love the Muslims who invaded Christian Europe.”[1] Schmitt subscribes to a clear us/them, friend/enemy distinction and from his perspective to love your neighbor as you love yourself makes sense only as long as that neighbor is someone from the same community or neighborhood. We can even love our enemies as long as they are private enemies or rivals found within our own group; loving them makes sense because passion can cloud our judgment and potentially threaten our own locality. But loving the foreigner, stranger, or outsider who threatens me and mine—for Schmitt this is non-sense.

However, it is this position that Derrida critiques, and his argument focuses on the symmetry of Schmitt’s reading of loving the neighbor as you love yourself.

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