Gérard Rabinovitch (born 1948, Paris) is a French philosopher and sociologist. He is a researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), member of the Center for Research on Sense, Ethic, Society (CERSES) andof the Center for Research on Psychoanalysis, Medicine and Society, at the University of Paris VII-Denis Diderot. He is also a regular visiting faculty member at the University of Minas Gerais (Brazil).
Gérard Rabinovitch was born in Paris, France in 1948. He is the son of the resistance fighter Léopold Rabinovitch (1922-2009) who was a member of the FTP-MOI group, Compagnie Carmagnole-Liberté, deported as a Résistant to Dachau in 1944, and of Anna née Portnoï, who was a hidden child in France during WWII.
Gérard Rabinovitch situates his work and writings in the weberian tradition and in consonance with political philosophy as embodied by the Frankfurt School and its heirs and relatives, such as Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Ernst Bloch, and Siegfried Kracauer. His work is also informed by clinical psychoanalysis and its implicit vision of man, as well as by the field of history.
"Destructiveness", a concept to understand Nazism and genocide
Gérard Rabinovitch has developed the concept of “destructiveness” elaborating upon earlier work in phenomenological (Georg Simmel) and weberian sociology centered on the role of emotions in society. He develops the concept of the ‘death drive’ in its hetero-destructive form (destructive urge) that has been theorized in the field of psychoanalysis and which echoes Kant’s notion of Radical Evil. The notion of “destructiveness” is a powerful concept for understanding Nazism, that enduring enigma of Western culture. In his book, De la destructivité humaine, fragments sur le Béhémoth (On Human Destructiveness: figures of the Behemoth) Gérard Rabinovitch reconsiders and criticizes the limited viewpoint of political, sociological and philosophical thinkers who have understood Nazism through the Hobbesian metaphor of the Leviathan. In the footsteps of Franz Leopold Neumann, he proposes instead, that we take up the idea of the Behemoth, the opposite of the Leviathan, to study this phenomenon. The Behemoth is a model of disorganization, chaos and criminal pleasure. Gérard Rabinovitch analyses the Nazi chimera, with its heroicisation of violence, its promotion of aggression, and the liquidation of all ethical norms. This Nazi chimera is made-up of gangster activity, of pagan inspired peasant actions, of medical biologicalism, and of instrumental rationalism.
Using his notion of “destructiveness”, Gérard Rabinovitch discusses and criticizes the central thesis of Zygmunt Bauman’s Modernity and the Holocaust, and suggests that we must go beyond the categories of instrumental reason and action. Using Freudian terms, Gérard Rabinovitch, puts forth the philosophical proposition that the Leviathan could, by excessive constraint, stand for “morbid attachments”, and the Behemoth for “thanatophiliac detachments” while pointing up the nuances between attachments and detachments in life: “The distinction lies not between attachment and detachment, but in the morbid scenario or the erotic dynamic which animates them.” The idea of destructiveness allows Gérard Rabinovitch to perceive, articulate and think about the similarities and differences between the practical modalities and conditions that gave rise to the Shoah and the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. Gérard Rabinovitch is currently extending his exploration of the notion of “destructiveness” beyond his work on Nazism and the Rwandan genocide to the underworld and the mafia as well as to the resurgences of Nazism as manifest in the breakdown of contemporary society.
An ethics of disillusionment
Building upon Freudian knowledge and reflections, in particuliar Civilization and Its Discontents, and upon his own discoveries issuing from the concept of “destructiveness”, Gérard Rabinovitch reflects upon the consequences of the versatile character of destruction and our capacity to adapt it to a variety of historical situations while it remains intact. Facing this disagreeable truth—that barbarism haunts humanity—Gérard Rabinovitch works toward establishing the basis for an ethics of disillusionment, an ethics which would bolster our capacity to resist the destructiveness intrinsic to the human race.
Reflections on Humor
Gérard Rabinovitch has deepened and fleshed-out his inquiry into the ethics of disillusionment through his analyses of humor, which he sees as a veritable jewel produced by the work of our culture (Kulturarbeit). In his book, Comment ça va mal? L’humour juif, un art de l’esprit, he explores the specificity of Jewish humor, that symbol of and testimony to the existence of a specifically Jewish culture and identity, which is situated between anthropological disillusionment and messianic hope. In his second work on the subject, Et vous trouvez ça drôle?!...variations sur le propre de l’homme, Gérard Rabinovitch pursues his reflection on humor and its ethical vocation, that of the benediction: i.e., the well-said. Analyzing the differences and similarities between the two great humorous traditions, Jewish humor and British humor, Gérard Rabinovitch throws light on the conditions that make humor possible and analyzes its civilizing effects and how it emancipates us with its lucidity. Through his research which seeks to articulate radical psychoanalytical anthropology with the recurring problems of classical political philosophy as posed by thinkers like Leo Strauss and Claude Lefort, Gérard Rabinovitch sets out new epistemological and ethical bases for us to assume our responsibilities as human subjects in the world.
Books in French
- Éthique et environnement, direction de l'ouvrage, La Documentation Française, 1997.
- Questions sur la Shoah, éd. Milan, collection "Les essentiels", 2000.
- Le Sourire d’Isaac, L’humour juif comme Art de l’Esprit, éd. Mango/ ARTE éditions Paris, 2002.
- Abraham Joshua Heschel, un Tzaddiq dans la Cité, direction de la publication, Ed. du Nadir, collection "voix", Paris, 2004.
- Antijudaïsme et Barbarie, direction de la publication avec Shmuel Trigano, Éditions In Press, coll. Pardes n°38, 2005.
- Connaissance du Monde juif, direction de la publication avec Évelyne Martini, Éditions du CNDP/CRDP, coll. Documents, Actes et Rapports, Paris, 2008.
- Comment ça va mal ? : L'humour juif, un art de l'esprit, édition Bréal, 2009.
- De la destructivité humaine, fragments sur le Béhémoth, PUF, 2009.
- Et vous trouvez ça drôle ?!... variations sur le propre de l'homme, édition Bréal, 2011.
Books in Portuguese (Brazil)
- "Schoà : Sepultos nas Nuvens", Éditora Perspectiva, coll. Khronos, São Paulo, Brésil, 2004.
Article in English
- "In a Petrified World", On Robert Antelme’s The Human Race, Ed. Northwestern University Press, Illinois, U.S.A., 2003, p. 131-138
Article in German
- "Von der versachlichenden, allmacht und vom wissenschtlichen denken", in Ethik und Wissenschaft in Europa (Die gesellschasftliche, rechtliche und philosophische Debatte), Verlag Karl Alber, 2000, seite 126-140, ISBN 978-3-495-47811-0
- Modernity and The Holocaust by Zygmunt Bauman, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press 1989
- Comment ça va mal? L'humour juif, un art de l'esprit, Bréal, 2009
- Et vous trouvez ça drôle?!... variations sur le propre de l'homme, Bréal, 2011