Thursday, May 7, 2009

War and Peace: My First Conference Presentation and My Weekend at Purdue (Part IV)

(Part I, II, III)

I was supposed to be the second of two people speaking at the third session. The other person, whom I have never met and shall remain nameless, did not show up to the conference. So I got a full session all to myself to speak about David Reubeni. This presentation was based on a paper I did for Dr. Robert Davis and I intend to use it in some form for my dissertation. My presentation was on the political thought of David Reubeni, an early sixteenth century Jew who claimed to be an ambassador from several of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Reubeni wandered around Europe for several years attempting to form alliances with various Christian powers to fight the Muslims and was taken seriously by a number of important people, including Pope Clement VII. I argue that Reubeni managed to create a power structure around himself and claimed the sort of authority usually reserved for states. His initial success in this endeavor was due to his claim that he was a representative of a political state and a man of noble birth.

Throughout his diary Reubeni continuously strives to portray himself as a man capable of using violence. Like a political state he and his followers use “legitimate” violence against those who do not have “legitimate” power and, by doing so, bring “peace,” “justice” and “order” to all. The fact that Reubeni represented a state and acting against individuals who did not represent states, by definition, meant that his acts of violence were legitimate and that they were just and that the actions of his opponents were, by definition, illegitimate. In keeping with his interest in violence, Reubeni took a great interest in the instruments of violence such as swords, armor and particularly guns and his ability to possess and use them. I offered an analysis of several episodes found in Reubeni’s diary, where we see him playing the role of a statesman, engaging in acts of violence and thereby attempting to bring about justice, order and peace.

My intention was to move beyond the traditional issues regarding Reubeni - Reubeni the messianic claimant and Reubeni the con-man. He may have been a fraud, but he was also a brilliant political thinker, with a plan of action built around issues pertaining to this world and not just apocalyptic expectations. Ultimately, and this is the main point of my dissertation, I wish to, following in the footsteps of Norman Cohn and Richard Popkin, challenge the distinction between apocalyptic Messianism and earthly politics.

If readers of this blog are interested I might post a fuller version of the paper As I was the sole presenter at this session I spoke for a little longer than my allotted twenty minutes and we had a longer than usual question and answer session afterwards. The people in attendance were simply a fantastic audience so this session ended up going on for close to the allotted hour.

After attending a conference full of post modern liberal sophistry, I was looking forward to driving back to Columbus with Cory Driver. We were driving through rural Indiana (Sarah Palin’s real America) when we stopped at a gas station. In what can only be described as something out of a comedy sketch, the gas station was named Gas America.

I went inside and did not find Achmed the Dead Terrorist behind the counter. Instead I found what looked to be a perfectly normal American girl.

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