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Levinas Studies

Volume 3, 2008

James E. Faulconer
Pages 79-100

The Past and Future Community
Abraham and Isaac, Sarah and Rebekah

Emmanuel Levinas asks, “In what meaning can community dress itself without reducing Difference?” (OB 154 / AE 197). Can there be a community that does not create its unity by erasing the differences between those whom it joins, a community that does not establish itself by imposing the Same? His answer is yes. Contrary to the thinkers of community in the philosophical tradition, thinkers like Hobbes, Rousseau, and Kant, Levinas states, “between the one I am and the other for whom I am responsible there gapes a difference, without a basis in community. The unity of the human race is in fact posterior to fraternity” (OB 166 / AE 211 ). “Community with him begins in my obligation to him” (OB 87 / AE 109–10) rather than in something that we share. It begins in hospitality, in which the Infinite is consummated (TI 27 / TeI xv) because obligation is infinite, because the third is revealed in the face of the Other. Hospitality is a welcome of not only the one who faces me, but the third implicated in that face, a face that “compels me to goodness, which is better than goods received . . . a he in the depth of the Thou.”1 This original relation of difference between oneself and the other person, an asymmetric relation that opens the possibility of equality, is the nonfoundational foundation, the original being-together in being-apart, on which the social and political community of law and equal rights can be built — and continually rebuilt in light of the goodness toward which I am compelled, in light of the eschatology of peace.

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