Buber

Do we best organize society by changing structures or by changing individuals? These two poles dominate today’s political climate, yet rarely is the dichotomy questioned, either by the Left or Right. As the 2016 Presidential election season continues to ramp up in the United States, we’re likely to see this either/or become more acute.

In order to get past this political stalemate, Luke Bretherton, in Resurrecting Democracy: Faith, Citizenship, and the Politics of a Common Life, draws on the wisdom of Martin Buber. As the great Jewish philosopher writes,

Two views concerning the way stand irrevocably opposed to each other. The demands that one begin by changing the “relations” [structures of production or power], for only out of their being different can a change of men and their relationships to one another arise. The other explains that the new orderings and institutions in the place of the old will not change one particle of life so long as they are carried by unchanged persons. This alternative is false. One must begin at both ends at once; otherwise nothing can succeed. What new relations really are, even in their operation, depends upon what kind of human existence is put into them; but how shall a new humanity persist on earth if it is not preserved and confirmed in new orderings? The world of man without the soul of it in addition is no human world; but also the soul of man without the world in addition is no human soul.

Buber then discuss the need for “a third:”

At both ends at once therefore – but that it may avail, a third is needed that cannot be among us without the breath from another sphere: spirit… To me, it is as if two choruses stride about the arena there, the chorus that calls for the orderings and the chorus that calls for the men; their call will not reach its goal until they being to sing in one: Veni creator spiritus.” (Bretherton, 208-209).

Veni creator spiritus, indeed.

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