Theopolitics Contra Political Theology: Martin Buber's Biblical Critique of Carl Schmitt

Charles H.T. Lesch*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


This article recovers Martin Buber's important but neglected critique of Carl Schmitt's political theology. Because Buber is known primarily as an ethicist and scholar of Judaism, his attack on Schmitt has been largely overlooked. Yet as I reveal through a close reading of his Biblical commentaries, a concern about the dangers of political theology threads through decades of his work. Divine sovereignty, Buber argues, is absolute and inimitable; no human ruler can claim the legitimate power reserved to God. Buber's response is to uncover what he sees as Judaism's earliest political theory: a theopolitics, where human beings, mutually subject to divine kingship, practice non-domination. But Buber, I show, did not seek to directly revive this religious vision. Instead, he sought to incorporate the spirit of theopolitics, as embodied by Israel's prophets, into modern society. The result is a new and significant perspective on liberal democracy and political theology.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)195-208
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Political Science Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 American Political Science Association.


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