Emmanuel Levinas, Radical Orthodoxy, and an Ontology of Originary Peace

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Abstract

Radical Orthodoxy, a growing movement among contemporary Christian theologians, argues that the prominent philosophical paradigms of modern and postmodern thought lack transcendence, are ultimately nihilistic, and are guided by an ontology of violence. Among the thinkers Radical Orthodoxy criticizes are Hegel, Nietzsche, and Hobbes, but surprisingly also the Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, whom they claim offers an ethics for nihilists. In this essay, I analyze the claims of two prominent thinkers in Radical Orthodoxy, John Milbank and Catherine Pickstock, and argue that their account of Levinas is not only unfounded but point out the ways in which Levinas himself is also just as critical of the prevailing ontology of violence that figures in modern accounts of intersubjectivity and politics. Indeed, in his own way, Levinas also offers an ontology of peace, making him an important dialogue partner for Radical Orthodoxy's construction of an alternative ethics and politics.

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