Erik Peterson

Does anyone know of any plans to translate Erik Peterson? Looking through the University of Chicago’s catalogue, I see only one translation, of Das Buch von den Englen. It seems that with all the interest in “political theology,” a translation of Der Monotheismus als politisches Problem — which is actually fairly widely cited — might be in order, either together with the other texts in the Teologische Traktate or as a separate book.

Perhaps once Il Regno e la Gloria is translated, Agamben’s agenda-setting powers will go to work.

(Incidentally, my advisor happened to have the Teologische Traktate in his office and let me borrow it — I’m making my way through Der Monotheismus, slowly.)

12 thoughts on “Erik Peterson

  1. Isnt Peterson’s explicit antisemitism (you note its function in the Monotheism-book yourself in your reading notes of R&G) reason enough to leave his book in the original language, to be studied by scholars rather than spread in multiple languages? OK – one could perhaps make a case if he was an antisemite with interesting other ideas, or an influential writer that should be known at least for his effects on intellectual history, etc, but in Peterson’s case I cant really see either of that. (I read the book in German.)

  2. It looks like there was a Spanish edition of the ‘monotheism as a political problem’ book in 1999 (ISBN 8481642649).

  3. RL, It may be that Peterson isn’t famous or important enough to outbalance the anti-Semitism, which would explain why he hasn’t been translated into English — but it seems strange to me that there should be a normative argument against translating it on that basis. After all, every bookstore I’ve ever been to has a copy of Mein Kampf.

  4. Less famously than Hitler, Carl Schmitt – in part the reason why Adam is asking about Peterson – was most certainly an anti-semite and that hasn’t kept his books out of circulation. New translations appear all the time. (Fingers crossed for Dictatorship!)

  5. To clarify: I understand that Peterson’s anti-Semitism is a good reason for any particular translator or publisher to decide not to take him on. (I am not personally inclined to translate him, and although it was brought to my attention by Agamben, I’m mainly just reading his text for German practice.)

    What was weird to me is that the translation should not be done because that would de facto restrict access to an anti-Semitic text.

  6. The secondary stuff I’ve read on Peterson (albeit not much) suggests that although there’s anti-Semetic strains in his theology, what’s still of interest is that his refusal of a direct parallelism between divine categories and earthly categories at least results, practically speaking, in more “tolerant” politics than someone like Schmitt, explicitly advocating for dictatorship (!). Unless I’m misremembering something, I thought Peterson had to leave Germany after _Der M. ala P. P._ came out in 1935, as it was read as an anti-Nazi attack. He does write-off “Judaism” (as if it’s one thing) as being prone to political theology, but his disagreements with Schmitt were still important. I think he was also close with, and/or schooled with, Barth, before converting to Catholicism.

  7. There was a French translation of “Monotheismus” published just last year (info here:
    I think Peterson went to Rome in 1930 when he converted and remained there, so he wasn’t exactly forced to leave Germany. He was, though, close with Barth – they taught at Göttingen together, and Peterson announced his conversion via a letter to Barth.

    Also, Peterson’s anti-Semitism seems somewhat ambiguous to me: he also traces political theology to Greek sources. He does evince some irritation, especially in “Die Kirche,” that the Jews didn’t convert at the time, as he thought Jesus expected them to, but it’s hard to argue that this rises too far above garden-level 1930s Catholic anti-Semitism, and he is certainly far less culpable than someone like Schmitt.

  8. James — Thanks, I misremembered the timing of his move to Italy. Do you know if a chunk of _Monotheismus…_ was published earlier, before 1935?

  9. I don’t think so, although it’s definitely presaged in a “Hochland” piece he wrote in 1933 (“The Newest Development of the Protestant Church in Germany”). I haven’t actually read this, but there are quotations from it in “Petersons theologischer Weg”, an article by Ernest Fellechner in Schindler, ed., “Monotheismus als politisches Problem? Erik Peterson und die Kritik der politischen Theologie.”

  10. If you read French, two Peterson books were published at the end of last year, the one on Monotheism as political problem and the one on Martyrs (Witness to Truth) whose translation I published last year in Switzerland with a essay on Peterson.
    A part of my essay is devoted to Peterson harsh polemic with Schmitt, and the question of Peterson’s antisemitism is also raised, which is a real one on theological level (nothing to see with the racial one and remember Peterson couragous attitude under nazism) but this reality must be judged (1) in the average context of Christian Theological antisemitism at the time (2) with other more positive aspects of Peterson’s theology concerning Israël. Maritain, who was just the contrary of an antisemit, held in great consideration Peterson and published a French translation of Peterson Commentary on Paul’s Letter to Romans, about the mystery of Israel and of the Church. Some historians think even that Peterson played a role in the Christians rediscovery of their Jewish roots.
    I just add that not translating Peterson because he wrote some theological antisemitic pages looks very strange. If you refuse to translate (or publish) any writer who on a serious and import(ant question like this one or another one has not always be righteous or distingiushed from his age prejudices, how many books will be ever translated or published ?

  11. Thanks for commenting. I have actually been reading Peterson in German, and I agree with you that he is worth translating and studying, even if he said some unfortunate things about Judaism.

  12. I am late to this discussion, having just been alerted to its existence thanks to a communication from Barbara Nichtweiss, Peterson’s intellectual biographer. I have a translation of Monotheism As a Political Problem completed, along with a lengthy introduction, and have finished translating more than half of the remaining essays and tracts in Theologische Traktate. I am currently negotiating with an American university press about publishing the translations — if the proposal is not accepted, I expect to get it accepted somewhere else before long.

    About the anti-Semitism (sic): there are passages in several works, such as Zeuge der Wahrheit and Die Kirche aus Juden und Heiden, that reflect widespread anti-Judaic biases and certain anti-Semitic stereotypes. Probably a distinction should be made between inherited anti-Judaic theological bias (supersessionism, to use shorthand) and more culturally-determined anti-Semitic stereotypes and prejudices. Without meaning to excuse the harm such biases and prejudices have caused, I would say that they were widespread among educated Protestant and Catholic theologians and churchmen of his generation and not particular to Erik Peterson. I am also fairly confident that Die Kirche aus Juden und Heiden (“The Church from Jews and Gentiles”), which is a reflection on parts of St Paul’s Letter to the Romans and was delivered as public lectures in Germany and Austria in the summer of 1932, was meant to protect the Old Testament as revelation and Christianity’s origins in Judaism at a time when especially among Protestants there was tremendous populist pressure to deemphasize them.

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