Waiting for the Messiah


Supposedly there are Jewish families who, when they have dinner, serve an additional plate on their table. This additional plate is for in case the Messiah decides to come to earth and happens to be hungry. In that case he or she can always eat with the Jewish family in question. There is a deeply emancipatory logic in this idea that if the Messiah comes, it will be in the guise of a stranger, a traveller so to speak.

If the Messiah comes, he or she will be able to discern right from wrong, good from bad and justice from injustice. In short, he or she will be able to tell what the truth is. The fact that you wait for the Messiah thus automatically means that you acknowledge that you don’t know what the truth is now, in the present. Yet, the fact that you believe that he or she might show up one day makes you responsible to never stop asking these questions: What is right? What is good? What is just?

This logic is present in radical emancipatory politics as well. Although most activists would consider themselves to atheistic to believe in the coming of the Messiah, it could still be argued that activists consider their struggles as struggles for a better future, a future where their struggles will finally be rewarded. But, just as there is no guarantee that the Messiah will come, it is important to take into account that this better future should never be considered as a promised future. Something which is promised to you is something which you have a right to. The idea that someone has a more privileged right to the future than someone else seems profoundly totalitarian to me.

Walter Benjamin, one of the most creative and influential figures within twentieth century Marxism, once claimed that if the Messiah comes, it will be a historian. He or she will be able to tell the stories of all the victims which are now simply forgotten because history is written by the victors. Whereas the future will always be an abstract concept, history is at least something which happened. Although there must be victims of capitalism, of state-power, of patriarchy, of racism, of injustice which will always remain forgotten, some of these victims will have left traces. Traces which will help us think about the questions: What is right? What is good? What is just? Traces which will help us realize that if present day struggles will be beaten, there might always be a future where someone will find our traces and remember these struggles as they where meant.

Yet, this will always be a future which might be, there is no guarantee that it will come. It could very well be that these struggles where fought completely in vain. As such, it’s better to look at the past and leave the future open than to fight for a future while forgetting your past. Just as the waiting for the Messiah should be considered as more messianistic than the actual coming of the Messiah.

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