Interview with Michael Löwy (CNRS): Russian literature, philosophy and messianism


  • Jimmy Sudário Cabral Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora - UFJF



Entrevista, Michael Löwy, Literatura russa


In the history of the Dostoevsky’s and Tolstoy’s reception in modern philosophical thought, a philosophical tradition of German-Jewish origin has a prominent role. Product of a singular “spiritual synthesis”, as observed by Michael Löwy, the thought of Franz Kafka, George Lukács, Ernst Bloch, and Walter Benjamin has appeared in modern times as the sign of messianic claim for a libertarian, radical, and revolutionary socialism. Bearing in common the experience of not being reconciled with the world and history, this generation of intellectuals from Central Europe had “Jewish messianism” and “German romanticism” as privileged sources of their world-view. The religious concept of redemption and the political notion of libertarian utopia were combined in the trajectory of this German-Jewish intelligentsia that promoted an unprecedented reconfiguration of philosophical thought. It is well-known that the works of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy traverse the messianic and utopian imagery of this generation of revolutionary intellectuals and, as professor Michael Löwy assertively stated, “the utopian Bloch finds in Dostoevsky elements that legitimize The Principle of Hope: Aliocha Karamazov would be a precursor to the ‘religious kingdom of justice’…”. Such an observation is at the heart of a critical fortune accumulated in the works of Löwy and opens paths of analysis that have yet to be made in relation to the reception of Russian literature in modern Jewish philosophy.

Michael Löwy is director of research at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS-Paris) and is one of the most significant and creative intellectuals of today. The Marxist philosopher’s work offers a rare intertwining of socialism and surrealism, and establishes a meticulous approximation between philosophy and literature. The acuity with which Löwy interprets the German-Jewish messianism and romanticism, the tragic negativity and the ethical and human claims brought to light by such a tradition presents us with a revolutionary and libertarian state of being that only has equivalents in the utopian-messianic glimpses we find in the great Russian novels. The concept of “Romantic anti-capitalism”, which made it possible to read the romantic tradition in a revolutionary way, can be interpreted as the fil rouge that connects the world of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky to the messianic utopianism of modern Judaism. The reception of Russian literature in the philosophical thought of the 20th century was complex and polyphonic, and the example of Dostoevsky, a thinker who, for Löwy, “is clearly situated on the grounds of the romantic world-view”, becomes significantly emblematic. Although a conservative romanticism has found in the author of The Brothers Karamazov elements that could legitimize the nationalist desire for roots arising from a conservative tradition (Moeller van den Bruck, Goebbels, Heidegger), the utopian-revolutionary interpretation of the Russian writer made by “Jews of German culture” is among the most creative pages of modern philosophy. The set of analyses offered by Michael Löwy on the Jewish and neo-romantic tradition represented by authors such as Kafka, Lukács, Bloch, and Benjamin is an essential material for those who seek to better understand the reception and influence of Russian literature, especially Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, in the philosophical constellation of Judaism in the first half of the 20th century. The elective approximation carried out by the Franco-Brazilian philosopher between the “spiritual culture” expressed in the works of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy and the historical condition of Jewish intellectuals in Central Europe appears here as an essential element.

An anecdote told by Emmanuel Levinas during an interview with François Poirié reveals that, during the visit of an Israeli from Eastern Europe to his home, the visitor noticed the complete works of Pushkin on the bookshelves and stated: “One immediately sees that we are in a Jewish house”. In the interview we present here and, above all, in the greatness of Michael Löwy’s works, we can find fundamental clues to interpret the spiritual proximity between a Central European Jewish tradition and the great Russian literature. This “attractio electiva”, coming from a neo-romantic Jewish intelligentsia in relation to the theological and utopian residues that are embodied in the works of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy (residues that may be essentially Jewish), can be interpreted as the most explosive element of modern philosophical messianism.


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Biografia do Autor

Jimmy Sudário Cabral, Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora - UFJF

Professor no Departamento e no Programa de Pós-Graduação em Ciência da Religião da Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora. Coor-denador do Núcleo de Estudos da Religião em Dostoiévski e Tolstói, Nerdt.


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Como Citar

Cabral, J. S. (2021). Interview with Michael Löwy (CNRS): Russian literature, philosophy and messianism. RUS (São Paulo), 12(18).