I and Thou

by: Martin Buber

Part II, aphorisms 1–6: The It-World

Summary Part II, aphorisms 1–6: The It-World

There is, however, a basic problem with Buber's sociological analysis and that is his failure to explain how the newly restructured society might work on a practical level. How does one tie the will to profit and the will to power to the will to relate? How does one run a society based on loving responsibility? These sound like very appealing ideas but in the absence of any indication otherwise, it is hard not to conclude that they are more like slogans than practical blueprints.

In addition to the mere vagueness of his proposal, there also seem at first glance to be several specific counts against it. First of all, in modern society we must interact with many people with whom we have no close ties. Presumably, we have never had encounter with these people because we have never even met most of them. A politician has never encountered most of his constituents, and a businessman has never encountered most of the people whom his decisions effect. How will the ability of these men to encounter really effect society?

In addition, there is an even graver, related worry: Imagine that we did all develop the ability to encounter those around us, and we developed a loving responsibility for those people. Then we might become heavily biased towards the interests of those closest to us, and perhaps even behave unjustly toward those whom we did not yet know. Wars might become more frequent, national politics might degenerate into quarrels between local interests. When we think of instances of groups among whom the sense of the responsibility between members is particularly strong, we find that these groups are often associated with gross crimes against non-members. Take for example, the case of Nazi Germany, which believed strongly in national ties, or of the mafia, which believes strongly in the sanctity of family ties. An overwhelming sense of love or responsibility toward certain persons is not necessarily a good basis on which to build national and international governance. Objective rationality—i.e. viewing each person as an equal life, none with any more importance than the other—is much more conducive to fostering justice. Buber, though, has a solution to these worries. In the community he envisions, human beings do not simply have a loving responsibility toward members of the group, but toward all human beings, even human beings they have never met and will likely never meet. This becomes possible only after one encounters God. Given that in such a society human beings love everyone, the two worries just mentioned disappear. The vagueness of the account, though, is still troubling. It is hard to envision how this community would work. Buber claims, for instance, that the will to profit could still exist, but would such a desire exist in a world based wholly on loving responsibility toward all other people? Would such a society be capitalist or socialist? How would the distribution of goods among the nations of the world work? Who would rule whom? This is not to say that Buber's proposal is not a feasible one, but only that it is difficult to determine whether it is feasible or not without more specifics about its operation.