[PT 11.1 (2010) 5-14] doi:10.1558/poth.v11i1.


Political Theology (print) ISSN 1462-317X Political Theology (online) ISSN 1473-1719

Editorial introduction Political Theology—The Continental Shift Creston Davis
Assistant Professor Department of Philosophy and Religion Rollins College 1000 Holt Avenue, Box 2659 Winter Park, FL 32789 USA creston.davis@gmail.com

What is at stake for political theology today? This is the basic question this issue attempts to address. It is true that the subject of political theology resists a singular definition; indeed the term functions like a nebulous concept—a Rorschach test whose ink markings are given meaning by the individual perceiver taking the exam. In this way, political theology can dangerously become like the joke of universal refutation where the individual perspective defines the very terms of the discipline without being familiar with the discipline itself. There once was a philosopher who had a dream.
First Aristotle appeared, and the philosopher said to him, “Could you give me a fifteen-minute capsule sketch of your entire philosophy?” To the philosopher’s surprise, Aristotle gave him an excellent exposition in which he compressed an enormous amount of material into a mere fifteen minutes. But then the philosopher raised a certain objection, which Aristotle couldn’t answer. Confounded, Aristotle disappeared. Then Plato appeared. The same thing happened again, and the philosopher’s objection to Plato was the same as his objection to Aristotle. Plato also couldn’t answer it and disappeared. Then all the famous philosophers of history appeared oneby-one and our philosopher refuted every one with the same objection. After the last philosopher vanished, our philosopher said to himself, “I know I’m asleep and dreaming all this. Yet I’ve found a universal refutation for all philosophical systems! Tomorrow when I wake up, I will probably have forgotten it, and the world will really miss something!” With an iron effort, the philosopher forced himself to wake up, rush over to his desk, and write down his universal refutation. Then he jumped back into bed

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html on 29 July 2009. On the other hand. Of course.6 Political Theology with a sigh of relief. It was. by God’s grace. “That’s what you say. began in ambiguity and even contradiction in what he and others have called the theologico-political problem. “This world. . but for the very truth of the political and its various ideological formulations (from communism. socialism. The history of how theology and the political mixed with each other. no subject and no substance and so by extension the political is rendered impossible. the good that it provided—salvation—was not of this world. But since all human actions were faced with the alternative of good and evil (except those actions considered “immaterial”).” “Caesar’s world. this would be an example of the subject castrating himself in the very act of stealing the law because to transcend or suspend the “ethical-universal” stage would be to dissolve the subject into nothingness. the connection between the subject of political theology and its inherent need for active debates. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2010. democracy and fascism). as Pierre Manent rightly argues. 1983). What’s more. it had been assigned by God himself and by the Son the mission of leading men to salvation. he went over to the desk to see what he had written. On the one hand. Retrieved from http://consc.” did not interest it. The next morning when he awoke.net/misc/univ-joke. for which the Church. there is a positive side to the nebulousness of a subject like political theology. and Other Philosophical Fantasies (New York: St. In psychoanalytical terms this would be what Žižek calls the superego as ethical agent whereby the law is all there finally ever is beyond which there is nothing. that its very open-ended nature welcomes and even nurtures debate about how and under what conditions theology and the political function together and on what terms. The definition that the Church gave itself embodied a contradiction. the 1. Consequently it had a right or duty to oversee everything that could place this salvation in peril. Martin’s Press. namely. then. was the unique vehicle.C. discussions and arguments about different and rivaling traditions.”1 This joke fully reveals the end-point where philosophy or political theology ends up once traditions and communities are systematically removed from learning a discipline both in its historical and conceptual materialization. 5000 B. In Kierkegaardian terms. the nature of sovereignty and authority and so forth. So you get a general shift from community based epistemological claims to the individual who steals the law for himself such that the subject now become the sole arbiter of truth and so forth. From Raymond Smullyan. are crucial not just for the future of theology. What you end up with is a Protagoras-cum-Prometheus moment in which “Man is the measure of all things” precisely because he has stolen the Law [fire] from Heaven.

a plenitudo potestatis as Manent puts it. the secular for Schmitt finally neutralizes the “theological-political problematic” into a more sinister and base concept called “the political. trans. only his conclusion was the base Economic sub-structure that gives the conditions of possibility to everything else. This raises the question: What is the Church or the rulers of “this world”? This struggle to give clarity of who can rightly claim a supreme power (Church or secular rulers) was fundamentally reformulated in the secular theories of both Machiavelli and Hobbes (in the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries) which devised new secular ways of thinking about the world in terms that could finally win the struggle over who possessed absolute (sovereign) power. then. 1995). it simultaneously tends to impose a theocracy on them. p. . And among human actions. this so-called “secular” position of the modern nation-state whose operating assumption was antithetical to any belief in the theological view was a distinct product of a human-centered outlook subsequently raised to its final apex in the twentieth century in the controversial thought of Carl Schmitt.2 7 Enter the political! Manent summarizes this problem as follows: “although the Church leaves men free to organize themselves within the temporal sphere as they see fit. etc. 2. social. and its materialization into constituent forms of governance. 4–5.. Moreover. politics as supreme power is the bedrock of all reality and consequently determines the truth of the world. 4.”4 In other words. It brings a religious constraint of a previously unheard of scope. 3. 36. For Schmitt the tension between the secular-political and the theological spheres (or any other sphere. 5.”3 So. Ibid. that the essence of all truths was not the reality of the Incarnation founding a politics of exceptionality/love but was finally founded on a stripped-down naked and vulgar reality of the political. 1985). and at the same time offers the emancipation of secular life. In doing so it had to invent new versions of power. authority. Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. which is precisely what Marx did.Editorial Introduction Church had a duty to oversee all human action.) finally and forever gave way to a more fundamental and existential truth. Rebecca Balinski (Princeton: Princeton University Press. the most important were those carried out by rulers. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2010. economic. This is what Schmitt means when he asserts: “all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts. Pierre Manent. In this way Schmitt’s outlook vulgarly reduces the world down to the primacy of naked power. Carl Schmitt. essentially what you have played out here is a struggle for a supreme power. An Intellectual History of Liberalism.” For Schmitt. viz.

”6 Similarly St.’ But I say to you. for instance. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. And this is where one can see Hobbes most clearly in his work in so far as Schmitt thinks that the state of our existence is replete with violence checked only by the absolute sovereignty of the ONE through the process of state-formation. An enemy is defined. rules and norms—this was Kierkegaard’s basic point in Fear and Trembling. “in a specially intense way. But is this vulgar reduction to violence really the only terms on which humans ultimately relate? Does not the very core of political theology suggest the possibility that humans could relate in non-violent terms (and that the nexus between non-violence might well be bound up in the aesthetics of revelation)? To raise another question: Is there something more hopeful about our existence than a simple and insulting distinction between my identity and someone else’s identity? Might the kernel logic of Christianity break with this sinister reduction to violence based on one’s identity and its other? Counter to the ontological assumptions of violence one can think of Jesus’ interpretation of the Torah in the Sermon of the Mount in Matthew’s gospel where he defines the core of the law as love. violence is de facto the a priori for Schmitt. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2010.”5 What Schmitt is saying is that human beings are strictly defined in terms that cannot finally be related other than reductive appeals to violence. “You have heard it said: ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 6. In this 5. . In other words. this ominous and sinister reduction to base-power as the locus of the world’s truth explains the importance of Schmitt’s essential friend/enemy distinction that grounds his theory of identity and so too grounds his politics. 7. but rather on the dispossession that the death of God unleashes in the world. existentially something different and alien. The Concept of the Political (Chicago: University of Chicago Press.8 Political Theology In as much as this is the case for Schmitt could we not say that he was NOT in fact a thinker of political theology. at least in terms of human standards solidified in abstract false universal laws. Matthew 5:43–44 (nrsv). emphasis added. but of the political (or power) altogether sundered from the theological? Furthermore. 1996). Galatians 3–28. so that in the extreme case conflicts with him are possible. there is no longer slave or free. Paul’s understanding of the message of Jesus is not based on identity-politics as most fundamental. Carl Schmitt. But—and here is the sticking point—the measure of love itself cannot be measured. “There is no longer Jew or Greek. there is no longer male and female…”7 For Paul it is not violence (or the law stolen by the subject) but love that becomes the measure of all things. 27.

The core of the cosmic scandal to which Paul refers and whose very meaning irrupts in the void of the cross. examples of this abound. more like a cataclysmic Event defined by Paul and Kierkegaard. But this shift is not the result of two pre-existing entities that simply bump up against each other and so shift from their original position. among other things. This radical thesis is what we may call the “continental shift” in political theology. politics etc. then. morality. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2010. This means that theology itself is shattered by the very reality of Incarnation-Event as such! It is our hypothesis that this continental shift redefines the very debate over what defines the terms of the political and the theological in the wake of the deconstruction of both modernist “liberal” theology and 8. Paul’s New Moment: Continental Philosophy and the Future of Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic). indeed. It is. Rather. a general liberal stance toward being). love is exclusive and absolutely committed to a singularity and so flies in the face of the idea of inclusiveness and in this sense ruptures the ideology of tolerance. Indeed.) and founds a new universal based on the infinity of love that gives birth to rethinking the very foundations of political theology in our time. What’s more. love. which affords the world new coordinates for how humanity is defined in a manner that radically breaks with Schmitt’s false dichotomy of friend/enemy.e.Editorial Introduction 9 sense. and recently expressed in the atheism of the Continental theorist Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek who both articulate the notion of an irruptive Event which breaks from the ruling ideologies of our time and in the wake of which new subjects emerge whose identities are shaped by their very fidelity to this singular Event. I own this insight to Marcus Pound. For a more fleshed-out version of Pauline “Event” in relationship to political theology see my forthcoming book (co-written with Slavoj Žižek and John Milbank). is VIOLENT! Love is violent precisely because it is the opposite of being committed to indifference to difference (i. this irruption of the status quo (of the fake universal) establishes the universal-exception of the Incarnational Event. this shift radically breaks with nearly the entire twentieth century theological tradition from Barth to Hauerwas and from Tillich to Volf in that all foundational security apparatuses on which theology rests are no longer secured.. is love. The point here is that nevertheless Christianity proffers the universal-exception for love that breaks with the ideology of tolerance and identity politics. . it is this dis-possessive exceptional scandal that ruptures the immediate fake “universal” (law. It is a fidelity to a materialization of an Event and not to an abstract idea that signals a shift on a concrete register. as my friend Slavoj Žižek has pointed out. Of course this is not to say that Christianity has not been responsible for violence in the name of love. in death as such. rather.8 What’s more. ethics.

10 Political Theology “Christianity. its history and truth than the one(s) en vogue. In effect. and by and large Radical Orthodoxy is the best school in theology that has been able to accomplish this. what is significant for us now is to realize the emergence and intensity of trying to address and overcome the crisis of the political that we confront today. And what’s more. then. With this we can begin to see the basic thesis that this issue attempts to argue.” And that is really what unites the new theoretical trajectories within recent political theology that finally brings this discipline out from under the influence of Carl Schmitt and his theoretical opposite. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2010. Alain Badiou. Judith Butler. the Incarnation and so forth. In order to do this they developed a thick enough account of the world that does not fold to the fake universals that seem to be operative. Slavoj Žižek. the ideology of capitalism. lukewarm. Ernesto Laclau and Toni Negri. The key here. the authors represented in this issue in some way transcend the two camps of Radical Orthodoxy or atheistic theology. the logic of utilitarianism and its constitutive laws that secure it. Catherine Malabou. Agamben. then. American liberal theology.e. the ideological state apparatus [ISA]). Like the atheist counterpart. we should not ignore significant and pronounced differences between Radical Orthodoxy and atheistic theologies especially over theological doctrines such as the nature of God. Yet. everything really turns into philosophizing the equivalent of a prison-break from the appearances of a self-enclosed system. Derrida. Indeed there are a growing number of continental thinkers and theorists who have engaged theology as a means by which to recover a profound meaning structure in the midst of corporate-cum-banking fascism. So it is little wonder why Marxist (materialist) atheists have recently been attracted to theology (especially Christian theology) as a means to reclaim a materialist front to capitalism. after the fall of secular-socialism there is a great need to reorganize the conceptual and practical resources of existence in terms neither determined by the logic of the secular nation-state nor capitalism’s barbarism nor even a return to a theocracy. This shift is made even more acute in the wake of the collapse of any ideological system that challenges and checks capitalism. . Radical Orthodoxy. despite all these differences (differences that mark a real difference). Jean-Luc Nancy. especially Mary-Jane Rubenstein. Radical Orthodoxy seeks to develop the resources to circumvent a politics trapped within the register of capitalism and neo-liberalism. the late J. viz. or what Max Weber famously called the “Iron Cage. is to organize an ontology that tells a different story about our world. Some of these theorists include G.” Liberal theology is defined in terms of the fake universal (i. new developments within theology have also addressed the fundamental problem of the ideological twin of the nation-state and capitalism in the name of a new radical theology. Of course. Church. At the same time. Thus.

They go on to challenge the privileging of messianism in contemporary philosophy and theology. In following this thesis this issue presents essays that flesh-out this stance either by positing a new way to address and overcome the impasse of the political in our time or else challenge specific and recent attempts to define political theology. Negri is one of the greatest thinkers of the Continental philosophical tradition and in this issue he contributes an essay entitled “The Eclipse of Eschatology: Conversing with Taubes’s Messianism and the Common Body” which is about Jacob Taubes’s thoughts on Paul and messianism. Once we have radicalized thinking beyond the messianic within political theology we turn to Kenneth Reinhard’s direct engagement with Carl Schmitt. Malabou and Crockett’s opposition to messianism should not be read as being opposed to theological thinking. In the spirit of radicalizing thought. .Editorial Introduction 11 The thesis is that there is a great need to redefine the very coordinates of the discipline of political theology especially in light of the return to the theological in our time.” He asks us to think differently about political theology predicated on the conception of “sovereignty” theorized by Carl Schmitt and others. In doing this he is able to reconceptualize the idea of political theology not bound to the One (of the primal father materialized in the Master’s Discourse) but to the exterior neighbor. “There is Something of (One) God: Lacan and Political Theology. Negri wrote this seminal piece in prison in the late 1990s and we are delighted to be publishing it in English for the first time here. What Reinhard proposes is that we dislodge the grip on the sovereign “One” by drawing on Lacanian psychoanalysis. which they show to have resources that finally overcome the impasses of contemporary thought in a counter-messianic way. and the one God etc.). which is indebted to a limited if historically conditioned view of the One (the one king. the one dictator. To this end Catherine Malabou and Clayton Crockett unite forces by developing a theoretical and political critique of the contemporary notion of the deconstruction of Christianity primarily in the later work of Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Nancy. “Plasticity and the Future of Philosophy and Theology” argues that the deconstruction of Christianity relies upon an understanding of temporality and messianicity derived from Heidegger and Benjamin. We begin by laying out a new way to think about theology. Kenneth Reinhard contributes an ingenious reconceputalization of the very foundations of political theology in his piece. but rather to opening out a creative and productive political space for a radicalizing theological and philosophical reflection. this essay turns from Malabou/ Crockett to Antonio Negri. He specifically moves away from © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2010. Let me briefly highlight the contents. In contrast to Messianism they pick up the Hegelian idea of plasticity. Their essay.

In doing this. and not an Augustinian church. From radicalizing thought to thinking of another political theology not predicated on the sovereign “One” we move to an essay that founds the truth of democracy not based on recent trendy Continental theories but on Augustine. Bell systematically argues that their theories ultimately fall short basically because they fail to provide a materialist body capable of escaping the terrorizing ideology of capitalism. and the Coming Community” engages the recent thought of three continental philosophers: Michael Hardt. He thus structures a political theology that not only supplements Schmitt’s doctrine but also potentially undoes the One in the very action toward the other-one. he argues that the hope nurtured by Agamben. that is. and challenges the idea that these two concepts © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2010. But. Hardt and Negri fails to hold out the promise of life beyond empire and this is because finally they. even within the scope of the shared common-thesis. In the end. In his attempt to develop a postliberal materialist Augustinian political theology. “Migrations of the Host: Fugitive Democracy and the Corpus Mysticum” begins by showing how Sheldon Wolin’s critique of liberal democracy is largely dependent upon Henri de Lubac’s book Corpus Mysticum. “Capital Shares: The Way Back into the With of Christianity” keenly and carefully critiques recent claims that Christianity represents the only true and universal political stance. are insufficiently materialistic and democratic.12 Political Theology the masculine formulas of sexuation that is bound up in a vertical logic of the love of the One God to one based on the feminine formulas of sexuation whose trajectory is exteriorized and emptied into a love of the neighbor. according to Pecknold. Chad Pecknold adds to Bell’s position by materializing the political specifically in and through the practice of the Eucharist.” By tracing this “migration” out through its historic variations Pecknold tightly argues for a new political theology premised on a materialist-mysticism seen most intensely in the Eucharist revealed in the Church as it unfolds the City of God. their accounts of the political problem of the early twenty-first century West are helpful but finally incomplete and unsatisfactory. Rubenstein examines the relationship between Christianity and empire. Multitude. Pecknold constructs his stance by looking into the genealogy of the term corpus mysticum through how this concept has “migrated. reveals the importance of the theological tradition and how it provides an essential stance against the ill-fated logic of liberal-democracy. Bell argues that these figures offer many seminal insights about basic notions of political organization but these insights are cast in a negative register. . Antonio Negri and Giorgio Agamben. Daniel Bell’s article “ ‘The Fragile Brilliance of Glass’: Empire. This. His essay. Mary-Jane Rubenstein’s essay. there is room for different stances.

Kuhn’s “shift” was indebted to the epistemological—that is. in sum. indeed. it was concerned about knowledge claims (i.” So. 11. is this “shift” that this issue proposes? No doubt the mere mention of a “shift” signals the famous Kuhnian “paradigm shift” which describes a fundamental change in the way in which science was framed— how problems themselves were perceived as problems and so forth. Slavoj Žižek and John Milbank (Cambridge. is the space in which the subject can choose from among the available options presented to them within that domain. more original than Christianity itself.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ot/zizek. 2009). is much more radical in a way analogous to the difference that Lenin makes between formal and actual freedom. Rubenstein thus identifies an intractable and dialectical “gap” located in the very core of Christianity—the gap between both giving the conditions for Empire and a resistance to it! This aporia within Christianity is situated by Rubenstein by appealing to Jean-Luc Nancy’s “deconstruction of Christianity” specifically seen in his attempt to find “a source of Christianity. justified true beliefs etc. In a fashion this issue’s thesis is like Kuhn’s idea in that it is an attempt to radically rethink the foundations of political theology (especially the one indebted to Schmitt’s idea of the sovereignty of the One).marxists. Creston Davis. then. that might provoke another possibility to arise. which has in fact precipitated the actual emergence of global capitalism. and suggest a way the Schmittian ontology of the “one” can be subverted via psychoanalysis (Reinhard). viz.. MA: MIT Press. The issue will then present another round of the Žižek/Milbank debate which was first recorded in The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic?9 This time Joshua Delpech-Ramey will introduce round two with his brilliant insight about what’s at stake between Milbank and Žižek. the Continental tradition. See Slavoj Žižek’s gloss on Lenin’s distinction between formal and actual freedom at http://www. 10. then articulate a robust Christian political theology premised on Augustine and the Eucharist (Bell and Pecknold) and finish our thesis by tracing out the logic of universalism and empire found within the very core of Christianity. Thanks to Slavoj Žižek for this insight. as Žižek points out. she argues that the very logic of Christianity’s proposed universal ontology recently espoused by the adherents of Radical Orthodoxy is finally unable to ground a countervailing socialist praxis.htm. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2010. actual freedom is the 9. In this way.). But in another sense some of the philosophical and theological tradition that this issue draws on.e.Editorial Introduction 13 are really independent from each other. . The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic?. Her argument is solidly premised on the history of Christian universalism.10 Formal freedom.11 By contrast. ed. we begin by examining the ground for a radical theology and philosophy (Crockett/ Malabou and Negri). What.

Said differently. 1995. Princeton: Princeton . New York: St. trans. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ed. . C. MA: MIT Press. 1983. and Other Philosophical Fantasies. the continental shift does not simply move a few big ideas slowly around but frames it with the fragility of contingency within the heart of political theology in our time. Milbank. Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty. Smullyan. Cambridge.net/misc/univ-joke. Žižek and J. published by Columbia University Press. Davis. So we take Lenin’s distinction and apply it to political theology and here we introduce a decisive and exclusive EVENT that rests in the very heart of the world. 5000 B. and Culture. Schmitt. He is the author. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. of Paul’s New Moment: Continental Philosophy and the Future of Christian Theology. In this sense. formal freedom is linked to the epistemological because it gives you a coherent “world” but the problem is that it does not let you think of it as being contingent but operates as if it were a necessary world or domain. Grand Rapids. C. S. Rebecca Balinski..C. MI: Baker Academic. P An Intellectual History of Liberalism. Manent.html on 29 July 2009. Milbank. The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic?. Insurrections: Critical Studies in Religion.14 Political Theology freedom to choose the domain itself. and co-edits the book series. forthcoming. Žižek and J. University Press. with Slavoj Žižek and John Milbank. Retrieved from http://consc. 1985. Again. 1996. Martin’s Press. it can choose to reject the actual framework in which formal freedom appears. It is the singularity of Incarnation—of God becoming human—that gives rise to a destabilizing force that calls into question the given coordinates of our world within the very coremiddle of the world. S. BiBliography Davis. Politics. R. C. Creston Davis is an Assistant Professor in the Philosophy and Religion Department at Rollins College. That is to say. © Equinox Publishing Ltd 2010. by contrast. —The Concept of the Political. namely the Christian concept of Incarnation. Paul’s New Moment: Continental Philosophy and the Future of Christian Theology. 2009. actual freedom gives the subject the coordinates to make the appearance of this world—this domain—contingent and thus one can traverse the epistemological closure.

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