Volume 6 / Issue 1 SPRING 2020

S p i r i t ua l i t y S t u d i e s 6 - 1 S p r i n g 2 0 2 0 3 7 Peter Šajda Although it is obvious that Buber finds various aspects of mystical experience inspirational it must be emphasized that his understanding of mysticism was based on an analytical study of mystical literature and not on his personal religious experience. Thus, it is appropriate to describe his conception of mystical ecstasy as a purely theoretical construction rather than an expression of his own spiritual life [3]. It must also be said, however, that Buber took the experiences described by the mystics very seriously and attempted to capture their common core in a philosophical way. Buber’s theory of the passionate religious individual experi - enced a critical test in the times of World War I. As MendesFlohr suggested, Buber’s mystical interpretation of the war disclosed the untenability of his genuinely acosmic concept of a metaphysical (psychological) communion with others (Mendes-Flohr 1979, 131–140). The failure of Buber’s theo - retical model of a spiritual community was accompanied by an existential crisis, since he took a personal stance towards the war on the basis of this model. Thus, at this point we can speak of a practical application of Buber’s previously purely theoretical considerations on mysticism. In the face of the conflict between nations Buber initially welcomed the war believing that it would bring about a new quality of the individuals’ relation to themselves and to the Absolute. He was enthusiastic about the intensification of in - ner life that the war provoked in those who joined the fight. As he claimed, the war prompted engaged individuals to overcome their atomization and provided them with an opportunity to strive for inner unity while focusing on a single goal. Each individual was confronted with a unique chance to embrace the intensive and unifying experience of passionate heroism (Buber 1915, 490; Buber 1916, 1). Through this experience a community of passionate individuals came into being. It is quite obvious that the community Buber envisioned when speaking about the soldiers passionately fighting for their causes is as abstract and devoid of actual intersubjectivity as the mystic’s communion with others described in Ekstatische Konfessionen . In his essaysBewegung (1915) and Die Losung (1916), Buber suggests that the true community brought about by the war consists of those, who through their passionate service in the war realize the Absolute in this world. It is the intensity of their experience of committed service that connects them, regardless of which country they fight for. By fighting for “ the absolute value ”– that is embodied in the notion of the fatherland – these individuals are metaphysically united, as they fight with “ the same intensity, sincerity and directness ” (Buber 1915, 490, 491). They may never meet, and they struggle to achieve mutually opposed goals, yet, they all fight “ out of the sense of a paramount duty ” (Buber 1916, 1), which unites them and sets them apart even from their countrymen who do not share in this experience. Buber’s mystical interpretation of the war was severely at - tacked by his friend Gustav Landauer. Landauer criticized both Buber’s mystical description of the experience of war - time heroism and the notion of an abstract transnational and transfrontal community of committed fighters. In his letter from May 12, 1916, Landauer argued that such an interpretation not only devalued the horrors and sufferings of the war but implicitly negated the legitimacy of other kinds of war experience. He dismissed the idea of a metaphysical com - munity as “ a lifeless construct ” and suggested that Buber had no right to speak about the war in these terms (Buber 1996b, 190). Both Mendes-Flohr and Buber’s biographer Maurice Fried - man agree that Landauer’s letter must have caused Buber deep distress and eventually prompted him to substantially reorient his thinking (Mendes-Flohr 1979, 139–140; Friedman 1991, 89). As Mendes-Flohr explains, Buber’s subsequent writings show an evident change of mind, as the focus of his philosophical inquiry shifts from consciousness and the inner life of the individual to the realm of interpersonal relationships. Following his philosophical metamorphosis in 1916, communion with other humans is no longer rooted in the individual’s private inner experience, but rather in concrete interpersonal relationships arising from irreducible historical encounters with other persons. For this reason, Mendes-Flohr speaks of a relocation of Buber’s philosophical emphasis from pathos to ethos (Mendes-Flohr 1979, 14, 142). This shift of emphasis is accompanied by Buber’s turning away from inward oriented mysticism and a critical stance toward such mysticism in all religious and philosophical traditions.