This article analyzes Benjamin's enigmatic essay of 1921, “Critique of Violence,” together with related fragmentary writings from the postwar period (including the “Theological-Political Fragment”) and, from 1931, “The Destructive Character.” Benjamin's deconstruction of violence (Abbau der Gewalt) is seen in the context of phenomenology. In addition, texts by Hermann Cohen and Georges Sorel are studied as principal sources, and critical commentaries by Herbert Marcuse, Jacques Derrida, Giorgio Agamben, and Werner Hamacher are discussed. Violence is considered an essentially moral phenomenon, a function of human actions and intentions; strictly speaking, there is no natural violence. The critique of violence itself bespeaks a kind of violence. Benjamin's critique of the reifying “mythic violence” that founds and administers the law presupposes an expiatory “divine violence” that reveals myth as such and thereby opens the possibility of justice beyond law and beyond the myth of possession fundamental to positive law and knowledge, including mathematized and strategically militarized knowledge.

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