Theodicies of Violence: From Benjamin to Žižek

  • Agata Bielik-Robson
Keywords: Theodicy, violence, Benjamin, thanatopolitics, Žižek


The purpose of this essay is to analyze the theodicy of violence in its two different forms: the antinomian and the hypernomian. The theodicy of violence deliberately blurs the lines between the messianic idiom of Walter Benjamin’s Toward the Critique of Violence (2021), with its stark contrast between mythic and divine violence, and the Lacanian idiom of various subjective positions toward the symbolic order. While the antinomian line turns out to be close to the discursive strategies of the Hysteric, the hypernomian line resembles those of the Pervert. My goal is to present them in purely descriptive and value-free terms. I will thus begin with the close reading of the Critique of Violence, which is, in fact, an apology of a certain form of political violence, and then juxtapose it with another praise of violence, originating in Slavoj Žižek’s deliberately “perverse” reading of both Paul and Benjamin. The difference between them will be revealed by the Benjaminian phrase: for the sake of the living. I will try to prove that while violence for the antinomian/hysterical line can be justified only with regard to life conceived as survival, for the hypernomian/perverse line violence becomes a goal in itself.


Agamben, Giorgio (2004). The Open. Man and Animal, trans. Kevin Attell, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Badiou, Alain (2001). Ethics. An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, trans. Peter Hallward, London: Verso.

Benjamin, Walter (1968). Illuminations. Essays and Reflections, trans. Harry Zohn, New York: Schocken Books.

Benjamin, Walter (2021). Toward the Critique of Violence. A Critical Edition, trans. Peter Fenves and Julia Ng, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Blumenberg, Hans (1985). The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, trans. Robert M. Wallace, Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press.

Caruth, Cathy (1996). Unclaimed Experience. Trauma, Narrative, and History, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Derrida, Jacques (1993). Circumfession, in Jacques Derrida and Geoffrey Bennington, Jacques Derrida, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Derrida, Jacques (1994). Specters of Marx. The State of Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf, London: Routledge.

Derrida, Jacques (2005). Rogues. Two Essays on Reason, trans. Michael Naas, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Derrida, Jacques (2011). Learning to Live Finally. The Last Interview, trans. Pascal-Anne Brault, New York: Melville House.

Derrida, Jacques (2014). The Death Penalty, vol. I, trans. Peggy Kamuf, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Derrida, Jacques (2016). The Death Penalty, vol. II, trans. Elizabeth Rotenberg, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Derrida, Jacques (2005). Writing and Difference [1967], trans. Alan Bass: London and New York: Routledge Classics.

Goethe, J. W. (1994). Faust, Part I, trans. by Anna Swanwick, Dover: New York.

Green, André (2001). Life Narcissism, Death Narcissism, trans. A. Weller, London: Free Association Books.

Hegel, G. W. F. (1977). Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Heidegger, Martin (1985). Early Greek Thinking, trans. David Farell Krell, San Francisco: Harper and Row.

Horkheimer, Max and Adorno, Theodor W. (2002) Dialectic of Enlightenment. Philosophical Fragments, trans. Edmund Jephcott, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Kojève, Alexandre (1973). “The Idea of Death in the Philosophy of Hegel: Complete Text of the Last Two Lectures of the Academic Year 1933-1934,” trans. Joseph J. Carpino, in Interpretation. A Journal of Political Philosophy, vol. 3/ 2,3 (Winter 1973)

Lacan, Jacques (1989). Écrits. A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan, London: Routledge.

Lacan, Jacques (1992). The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (1959–1960), trans. Dennis Porter, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, New York: Norton.

Lacan, Jacques (2014). The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book X: Anxiety, trans. A.R. Price, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Lear, Jonathan (2000). Happiness, Death, and the Remainder of Life, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Lévinas, Emmanuel (1990). Nine Talmudic Readings, trans. Annette Aronowicz, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Lévinas, Emmanuel (1969). Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso Lingis, Duquesne University Press.

Nechayev, Sergey (1869). The Revolutionary Catechism. Marxists Internet Archive.

Rosenzweig, Franz (1985).The Star of Redemption, trans. William W. Hallo, Notre Dame & London: University of Notre Dame Press.

Scholem, Gershom (2016). Sabbatai Sevi. The Mystical Messiah, 1626-1676, trans. R. J. Zwi Werblovsky, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

de Spinoza, Benedict (1994). The Ethics and Other Works, trans. and ed. Edwin Curley, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Swales, Stephanie (2012). Perversion. A Lacanian Psychoanalytic Approach to the Subject, London & New York: Routledge.

Szondi, Peter, Caldwell, D., Esh S. (1983). “Reading "Engführung": An Essay on the Poetry of Paul Celan,” in boundary 2, Vol. 11, No. 3, The Criticism of Peter Szondi (Spring, 1983), pp. 231-264 (34 pages)

Taubes, Jacob (2003). The Political Theology of Paul, trans. Dana Holänder, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Wajcman, Gérard (1982). Le maitre et l’hysterique, Paris: Navarin.

Wolfson, Elliot R. (2002). “Beyond Good and Evil: Hypernomianism, Transmorality, and Kabbalistic Ethics,” in Crossing Boundaries: Ethics, Antinomianism and the History of Mysticism,eds. JJ. Kripal and W. Barnard, New York and London: Seven Bridges Press, 2002, 103-156.

Žižek, Slavoj (2000). The Fragile Absolute Or, Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For?, London: Verso.

Žižek, Slavoj (2003). The Puppet and the Dwarf. The Perverse Core of Christianity, Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press.

Žižek, Slavoj (2007). The Inidivisible Remainder. On Schelling and Related Matters, London: Verso.

Žižek, Slavoj (2008). In Defense of Lost Causes, London: Verso.

Žižek, Slavoj (2009). The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology, London: Verso.

Žižek, Slavoj (2012). Less than Nothing. Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism, London: Verso.
How to Cite
Bielik-Robson, A. (2023). Theodicies of Violence: From Benjamin to Žižek. Stasis, 11(1-2). Retrieved from