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Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

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Theology and Marxism in
Eagleton and iek

A Conspiracy of Hope

Ola Sigurdson

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Copyright Ola Sigurdson, 2012.
All rights reserved.
First published in 2012 by
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ISBN: 9780230340114
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sigurdson, Ola, 1966
Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek: a conspiracy of hope /
Ola Sigurdson.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 9780230340114
1. Philosophical theology. 2. Philosophy, Marxist. 3. Eagleton, Terry, 1943
4. iek, Slavoj. I. Title.
BT40.S56 2012
261.21dc23 2011046766
A catalogue record of the book is available from the British Library.
Design by Newgen Imaging Systems (P) Ltd., Chennai, India.
First edition: May 2012
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Printed in the United States of America.

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To Johannes

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Acknowledgments ix

1 Introduction 1
2 Ideology as Idolatry or Vice Versa 27
3 The Need for Faith 63
4 God, Evil, and Freedom 109
5 An Arrested Dialogue: Eagleton and iek 145
6 An Anatomy of Hope 163

Notes 205
Bibliography 231
Index of Names 241

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This book has been written in an office with a view of Trinity Church
in Princeton, New Jersey, not far from the house where Thomas Mann
spent a productive couple of years between 1938 and 1941. It is thus
with some symbolic significance of place that I express my gratitude
to the Center of Theological Inquiry (CTI) for their hospitality during
the academic year 20102011. Its director Willam Storrar, its asso-
ciate director Thomas J. Hastings, and its assistant Jeanie Mathew
have all been constantly at work during this year, creating the utmost
conditions for scholarly work in a multidisciplinary setting, and my
colleaguesand friends!at CTI, Ann Astell, Brian Daley, and
Gijsbert van den Brink, have kept the spirit of discussion and debate
high. I thank them all.
I am grateful to The Birgit and Gad Rausing Foundation for
a start-up grant that made it possible to write the application to
the Swedish Research Council that eventually provided funding
for a three-year research project, the result of which is this book
and my sincere thanks. Many thanks also to the Swedish Fulbright
Commission for facilitating our entrance to the United States with a
visiting scholarship as well as the generous support of Riksbankens
Jubileumsfond that made the stay possible for our entire family.
The Wenner-Gren Foundation as well as Helge Ax:son Johnsons
Foundation contributed kindly to the same aim.
My best ideas are usually, to begin with, the ideas of my friends, so
I thank Jayne Svenungsson, Stockholm, for suggesting that I should
read iek in the first place; although this project, it needs to be said,
is my own responsibility. Appreciated is also the helpful suggestions I
have received from the following friends and colleagues in earlier or
later stages of the process: Niels-Henrik Gregersen, Copenhagen, Eric
Gregory, Princeton, Jan-Olav Henriksen, Oslo, Werner G. Jeanrond,
Glasgow, Hans Joas, Berlin, Maria Johansen, Gteborg, Sven-Eric
Liedman, Gteborg, Charles T. Mathewes, Charlottesville, George

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x Acknowledgments

Parsenius, Princeton, Marcus Pound, Durham, Mats Rosengren,

Gteborg, Jesper Svartvik, Lund/Jerusalem, Kathryn Tanner, New
Haven, Cornel West, Princeton, and Bjrn Wittrock, Uppsala. Peter
Carlson and Hjalmar Falk, both Gteborg, merit a special mention
for reading and suggesting improvements on the next-to-last version
of the manuscript.
Without the support of my colleagues at the Department of
Literature, History of Ideas, and Religion at the University of
Gothenburg, it would not have been possible to be absent from all
departmental duties for a year. My gratitude is not limited to what
they do for me when I am away, however, but extends most of all to
their continuing academic as well as personal friendship. I would espe-
cially like to thank Ingemar Nilsson, Marita hman, Mats Jansson,
and Pernilla Josefson,for helping out with things that needed urgent
attention during my absence.
Last but not least, I owe this book, perhaps more than my previ-
ous, to my family who unselfishly accompanied me to Princeton. This
was an adventure to all of us, and we are sincerely grateful for all the
friends we made there. This book is dedicated to my son Johannes to
whom the whole adventure seemed somewhat absurd, but at least he
found a good soccer team to play in.

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Nobody who is interested in political philosophy these days could but

have noticed the quite extensive interest in religion and theology in
contemporary philosophy. From liberal political thinkers to politically
radical or Marxist thinkers, despite their very different conclusions
about the relevance of religion for politics, all are concerned about
the question of the return, or perhaps better, the new visibility of reli-
gion in politics. This new wave of political interest in religion as a
social phenomenon as well as the philosophical interest in theology,
as the critical and constructive reflection about religion, extends all
over academia, not just in the particular discipline called theology. In
his book From Marxism to Post-Marxism? where he inquires about
the history of Marxism today, Swedish sociologist Gran Therborn
regards this as [t]he most surprising development in left-wing social
philosophy in the past decade.1 Therborn also notes that in most
cases this theological turn has little or nothing to do with left-
wing intellectuals starting to embrace religious faith, but rather with
a scholarly interest in religion and in a use of religious examples in
philosophical and political argumentation.2 As a theologian, one can
note that there has been an interest in religion and theology from the
perspective of Marxist philosophy (and vice versa) for a long time
now. However, I do agree that this theological turn in general has
to do with an interest in theology rather than a religious conversion.
But why has such a theological turn in Marxist philosophy taken
place? What is the agenda behind this turn, and what kind of theol-
ogy is it that is used by Marxist philosophers?
My purpose in this book is to inquire about the uses of theology
in contemporary Marxist philosophy. A thematic inquiry into the
works of Marxist philosophers in general and their use of theology

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2 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

could, however, run the risk of just giving an incomplete sketch of

the central lines of thought that form the background of the theo-
logical focus for my study. The purpose is not just to describe these
developments in Marxist philosophy, but alsoto some extentto
engage the Marxist use of theology from a theological perspective.
Thus, I have chosen to focus upon two prominent thinkers in the
Marxist tradition, the British literary theorist Terry Eagleton and
the Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj iek. The rea-
sons for choosing these two thinkers are several. To begin with,
both Eagleton and iek are at the center of the ongoing renewal of
Marxism. Further, they are quite well known even outside of their
particular fields of expertise and of their Marxist tradition, which
means that it is quite easy to suggest that one, through them, engages
with a strand of the Marxist tradition with contemporary impor-
tance. Several of the other philosophers who also are relevant to this
theological turn of Marxism and radical philosophy themselves
relate to Eagletons and ieks work. Further, both Eagleton and
iek have, in many of their books and articles, actively occupied
themselves with quite extensive discussions of Christian (and to some
minor extent also other) theology. Arguably, this means that theol-
ogy, for neither of them, is a peripheral concern that shows up in
their writings because of its exotic appeal or because it is la mode.
Through Eagleton and iek, we see a sustained effort to deal with
theology. This is also the reason that theology in this book usually
will mean a critical, self-critical, and constructive reflection on the
Christian faith; it is not meant to suggest that other or broader uses
of the term are not legitimate, just that this happens to be the focus
of theirand consequently myconcern here. Finally, for reasons of
exposition, Eagleton and iek are good choices as they, typologically,
represent a Protestant and a Catholic theological inclination.
Through juxtaposing their respective take on theology, we get to see
their theological choices more clearly.

Aim and Structure

Taking my cue from the renewed interest in theology among Marxist
and politically radical philosophers or theorists, in this study I pro-
pose to do three things. First, focusing on Terry Eagleton and Slavoj
iek, as two contemporary Marxists, I will inquire into the reasons
for this interest in theology. Why has Marxist philosophy taken such
a theological turn? What is the agenda behind this turn, and what

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Introduction 3

kind of theology is it that is used by Marxist philosophers? Second,

I will use this comparison between Eagleton and iek to discuss
why the discipline of theology is of continuing intellectual impor-
tance even for secular inquiries into current political philosophy,
not solely for illustrative purposes or as a matter of historical acci-
dent, but for structural reasons as well. This means, perhaps, that
theology, in some sense, is unavoidable for a political philosophy of
this kind. Third, I will also use this comparison between Eagleton
and iek and the discussion of the role of theology for contemporary
inquiry into political philosophy, for more constructive elaborations
about hope as a political category, suggesting both that hope as such
is vitally important for both Eagleton and iek and that this is one
reason for their turn to theology. The main thesis of the book is that
both Eagletons and ieks work could be read as extensive theoreti-
cal reflections on the conditions for hope and that this is the reason
for their use of theology.
The structure of this book is quite straightforward. In this introduc-
tory chapter, I will, besides the usual preliminaries regarding matters
of the aim and scope of my study, give a basic outline of the life and
works of Eagleton and iek. Then, I will move on to the presentation
of Eagletons and ieks theories in the next three chapters, start-
ing with the critique of ideology. Ideological criticism, it seems to
me, is central to the Marxist project in general as well as to Eagleton
and iek. This chapter will become an introduction to some of their
more important theoretical tools, but it will also give us the back-
ground we need to understand their concerns in political philosophy
as well as theology. But as both Eagleton and iek point out, the
critique of ideology has its prehistory in the Judaic and Christian ban
on idolatry, and so the theological trajectory in their work is already
established here. The next and third chapter will concern itself with
the question of faith in Eagleton and iek, both as the act of faith
(fides qua) and as the content of faith (fides quae). As it happens,
both Eagleton and iek respond to what they perceive as the need
for faith today in a direct discussion of the Christian tradition. Here
it becomes obvious that Eagleton keeps something of a Catholic
emphasis on the concordance of faith with reason, whereas iek has
a more Protestant emphasis on the act of faith as a moment of lib-
eration from ideology. I will also show how Eagletons philosophy
is more in continuity with a traditional Catholic theology, whereas
ieks understanding of Christianity is mediated by Hegel and so
becomes self-confessedly heterodox and atheistic. These themes will

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4 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

be deepened by the fourth chapter on God, evil, and freedom. Here,

I will show how the understanding of the relationship between these
three entities is integral to their respective theories, and why this also
means that theology becomes structurally unavoidable in some sense.
Whereas Eagleton advocates a basically Thomistic understanding of
God, evil, and freedom, allowing him to substantiate his insistence on
the embodied reason of human beings, iek develops an account of
human subjectivity modeled after the German philosopher F. W. J. von
Schellings mythopoetic account of the intra-divine struggle between
good and evil.
My argument, so far, will proceed more cumulatively than by
linear progression. To get a full picture of the uses of theology in
Eagleton and iek, we need to see how they turn out in several theo-
logical loci. This means, however, that I have chosen to present their
respective take on theology in a fairly traditional way. The reason
for this is not to measure their use of theology against some pre-
sumed theological orthodoxy, but rather to make clear both how they
actually respond to a traditional outline of the Christian faith, thus
establishing the scope of their uses, and also what kind of theological
choices they have made. It is part of my hypothesis that their respec-
tive understanding of theology is so integrated into their thinking as
a whole that their theological choices is of structural importance to
their overall political philosophy. In other words, it matters politically
and theoretically whether they are Catholic or Protestant (or any vari-
ety of these designators).
In each of these chapters, then, I shall discuss Eagletons and
ieks theoretical choices against the background of theology. The
more general comparison between the two, however, will take place
in chapter 5, where I will suggest that that there are, indeed, quite
extensive disagreements between the two, where their basic theo-
logical stances correspond to differences in philosophy and politics
(or vice versa). Curiously enough, despite Eagleton being instrumen-
tal for the introduction of ieks philosophy in Great Britain, and
despite their common concerns with Marxist philosophy, psycho-
analysis, and Christian theology, there is not much of a dialogue
between Eagleton and iekat least in print. Maybe this has to
do with their philosophical, political, and theological differences?
Basically, Eagleton is an Aristotelian and a Thomist, whereas iek
is a Kantian and a Hegelian. This accounts for their different uses
of psychoanalysis as well as for their descriptions of what kind of
political conversion is necessary for a contemporary radical politics.

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Introduction 5

This chapter will both draw out these differences as well as critically
assess what they have to offer for the understanding of love today.
Finally, in chapter 6 , I will show what my findings so far mean for
their view on the possibility of a radical politics today as well as for
the more constructive aspect of this study: the question of radical
hope. As I am not interested in measuring the orthodoxy of Eagleton
or iek (neither as Marxists nor regarding their use of theology),
what I will do is ask what they both can contribute to a theology of
hopean eschatologytoday. I am here particularly interested in
the notion of radical hope as something distinct from mere opti-
mism or utilitarian calculation. This is, in the end, what the Marxist
tradition has in common with, for example, the theological tradition
of Christianity, and also a political virtue that is sorely needed for
the politics of today. The chapteras well as my bookends with
a return to the question what role theology plays in the political
philosophies of Eagleton and iek.

Marxism and Theology

Before we turn to Eagleton and iek, a few general words need to
be said regarding the project of putting theology and Marxism side
by side. First, as I have already mentioned, there is, despite all mutual
suspicion, historically a quite extensive mutually critical dialogue
between the two, and so Eagletons and ieks interest in theology
and my theological interest in them is hardly original. The reasons
for this are, of course, many, but I would suggest that theology and
Marxism have always shared an interest in what I would call hope:
a mutual expectation, beyond mere wishful thinking, that something
new is possible, a better society than the current alienated and social
existence of humankind. Theology and Marxism are both expres-
sions of human dissatisfaction with contemporary conditions. Even
when they have been at the most hostile toward one another, blaming
each other for being godless or illusory, some of their representa-
tives have been drawn to each other, inquiring into whether there still
is not something to learn from the other.
Second, after the decline of socialism as a governmental system
since 1989 (to use a symbolic date), Marxism finds itself in a different
world, where its political as well as academic viability is increasingly
put into question. At the same time, we have on a Western European
scale witnessed the recess of the Westphalian state-church system,
giving way to an increasing religious pluralism, and on a more global

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6 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

scale, the return of religion as a political force (although this last

observation might look as a return only from the perspective of a
European belief in the inevitable correlation between modernization
and secularization). In a way, both Marxism and theology have found
themselves marginalized in relation to a hegemonic liberal-secular
discourse, perhaps symbolized best by Fukuyamas thesis about lib-
eral democracy as the end of history.3 If one happens to think that
it would be best if history has not ended after all, given the abiding
presence of alienation, oppression, and violence, and that liberal democ-
racy, despite all its assumed virtues, is not entirely free from internal
contradictions, then theology and/or Marxism might have something
to say in the matter, as two traditions of critical thought. Theology
and Marxism becomes, then, two sites of critical resistance toward
the cultural and political hegemony of liberalism. Not only does this
mean a new situation for both theology and Marxism vis--vis the
dominant cultural and political trend, given that they no longer can
lay claim for being a part of the dominant discourse, but it might
also mean a new situation for their interaction with each other. As
we shall see, this is a recognizable reason why theology is important
to Eagleton and iek, and it is also a reason why my own study of
them is conducted from a perspective dissimilar from kindred works
before 1989. It is in this situation, however cursory described here,
that I would suggest we find the contemporary context for the interest
in theology among Marxists (and vice versa).
What is meant by the importance of theology for the interpreta-
tion of the problems and traditions of political philosophy? To create
a typology, we could say that theology could be of importance for
political philosophy for three different reasons (that should neither be
understood as mutually exclusive nor existing in a pure form): histori-
cal, actual, and structural. A historical reason for the importance of
theology for political philosophy is when someone claims that liber-
alism or Marxism has its historical roots in a theological tradition
of reflection about politics. This reason, it seems to me, could be
acknowledged by a political philosopher without an accompanying
acknowledgment that theology is important for political philoso-
phy today. If we, like Karl Lwith, would like to suggest that the
Communist creed is a pseudo-morphosis of Judeo-Christian mes-
sianism, this could be acknowledged by the contemporary Marxist
as a matter of historical fact.4 It need not necessarily imply that
theology is important for any particular Marxist political philoso-
phy today. In other words, it is a rather weak claim that only gets

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Introduction 7

stronger if it is also suggested that the Judeo-Christian messianism

still is important for Marxism as it delivers a kind of substructure
without which Marxism would not be recognizable as such. This is
what Walter Benjamin suggests with his image of the dwarf and the
puppet in the first of his Theses on the Philosophy of History, in
which a small dwarf who is an expert in chess is hidden within a chess-
playing puppet, steering its hands, and so giving the impression of a
chess-playing automaton.5 In this philosophical allegory, dialectical
materialism is the puppet and theology the dwarf, and the reason that
the dialectical materialism wins all the time is that it secretly has kept
a version of teleology, guaranteed by theology. Such an image would
suggest that the connection between Marxism and theology is actual
(whether it is acknowledged as such or not) and not only historical,
because without it, Marxism could not keep its utopian dream of the
equal and just society.
It is not uncommon to read an argument that the historical and
the actual reason for the importance of theology for political phi-
losophy are combined. As an example of this, I would mention Carl
Schmitts thesis in his Political Theology that [a]ll significant con-
cepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological
concepts.6 The thesis of Schmitt is that contemporary theories of
the state have grown out of theological discourse, and although it
seemingly has shed all theological concepts, it has kept the structure
of theology, which means, in effect, that political theory addresses
the concept of sovereignty in much the same way as theology has
addressed the concept of God. The historical reason for the relation-
ship between theology and political philosophy has also given rise to
the actual reason where political philosophy has an unacknowledged
debt to theology. A genealogy of political philosophy could thus give
cause for a more thorough critique of the concepts and structures with
the help of which philosophy tries to make sense of politica more
thoroughgoing secularization so to speakin making an effort not
only to shed the content of theology but also its form. But on the other
hand, all things equal, it could also give cause for a more thoroughgo-
ing recognition of the actual theological element in the concepts and
structures of political philosophy, admitting that certain theological
elements or questions seem to be unavoidable, given that we want to
hold on to certain values or ideas about, for instance, human dignity.
This gets us closer to what I would call a structural reason for the
relationship between political philosophy and theology. Maybe some
kinds of political philosophy are unavoidably theological?

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8 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

This typology of historical, actual, and structural reasons for the

importance of theology in political philosophy, suggested above, is
both schematic and formalistic. Schematic, in that it actually sug-
gests that the choice between political philosophy and theology could
be a question of either/or. In reality, the distinction between the two
is probably not so neat, given that there is not only one tradition of
either political philosophy or theology, but many, and that these tra-
ditions in themselves are, more often than not, heterogeneous. Here,
it is wise to remind ourselves of Alasdair MacIntyres definition of a
tradition: A living tradition . . . is an historically extended, socially
embodied argument, and an argument precisely in part about the
goods which constitute that tradition.7 The work of genealogy,
then, is a complex work of unweaving threads of thoughts that long
since seem to have merged with each other. My typology above is
also formalistic, in that it only offers some, quite general, distinc-
tions between different types but not any instrument to assess what is
involved in choosing one way or the other in a political philosophy or
theology. Most political philosophy or theology (including my own
attempt in this book) would have a view about whether it is prefer-
able to acknowledge the presence of theology in political reasoning
and whether one should try to exorcise it, invite its presence more
seriously into the discussion, or perhaps, as a third option, recognize
the ambivalence of the philosophical and theological as such and
so avoid forcing a choice where none is possible. A typology, how-
ever, has its merit in its humble pretensions, as a heuristic means for
sorting between some general types in the hope of making the more
interesting choices stand out more clearly. In this book, the reason
for mentioning this typology only serves the purpose of demonstrat-
ing that the reasons for the relationship between political philosophy
and theology found in Eagleton and iek are of the strongest kind:
not only historical and actual, but structural as wellbut in very
different ways. To the reader who at this point would like to point
out that Eagleton and iek are far from the only options in political
philosophy today (implicitly hinting that he or she would prefer other
options), even when it comes to the relation between theology and
political philosophy, let it immediately be clear that this study does
not carry any such global pretensions. It seems to me, however, that
one needs to be aware that typologies such as my own here are pre-
cisely only typologies, which implies that there is no final principle
through which we could sort all contingent examples of this relation-
ship without remainder. All we have, then, if we are interested in the

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Introduction 9

more general relationship between theology and political philosophy,

are contingent examples, borrowed from historical and contempo-
rary debates, no final key or fixed terminology. The universal could
only be hinted at through the particular.

How to Read Eagleton and iek

As any reader of Eagleton or iek knows, both authors are highly
conscious of their particular style of writing. Whereas iek is the more
flamboyant, hurling himself from a discourse on Lacan to a detailed
exegesis of a horror movie and back again, via a detour through some
dirty joke, Eagleton is the more refined, although often as drastic as
iek, choosing instead to allude to his considerable literary knowl-
edge to draw a punch line as a way of pushing his argument forward.
If Eagleton is more likely to discuss his views on a certain matter with
the help of, for instance, Shakespeare or Thomas Mann, iek would
rather explain his opinion through a discussion of Starbucks, James
Camerons latest movie, or a verse from a song by Johnny Cash. When
Eagleton discusses popular culture, as in After Theory, it is more as
an object of study than ieks explicit use of it. This is not saying
that Eagleton is more serious than iek, but rather that the use of
popular culture belongs to ieks explicit aim of analyzing contem-
porary culture with the help of Lacan and vice versa. Both Eagleton
and iek, then, have strategies of communication (and considerable
rhetorical skills) that influence how they write.
How shall one read Eagleton? As someone who has been teach-
ing and writing upon how to interpret texts in general, Eagleton
has delivered a number of sustained reflections on the practice of
reading, for example, Literary Theory: An Introduction from 1983
(second edition 1996), Criticism & Ideology from 1976 (new edi-
tion 2006), and How to Read a Poem from 2007. Even though these
books consists of a reflection upon how to read primary liter-
ary texts rather than secondary theoretical texts, which would
suggest that these reflections are not instructions for how to read
Eagletons own texts, indirectly they still do reflect upon the read-
ing of theoretical texts. For one thing, Eagleton does not believe in
a clear distinction between literature and theory, as there is no
such thing as literature in itself as an autonomous textual object
(and presumably, then, not theory either). For another, these books
of Eagleton are, indeed, reflections upon the uses of theory, not just
the application of theory to literature. The essence of the study of

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10 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

literature is, according to Eagleton, neither ontological (inquiring

into what literature is) nor methodological (inquiring into how we
should approach literature) but primarily strategic (inquiring into
why literature is to be studied).8 The reason for the strategic nature
of literary theory is because literature plays a certain roleis given
a certain taskin a society such as ours and accordingly produces
some effects. Literature is a social practice, and as any social
practice, it needs to be critically studied for its effect. Theories and
methods are chosen by the literary theorist in accordance with their
value for the strategic aim, not the other way around. The ultimate
end of the theoretical inquiry is therefore practical or even politi-
cal because it wants to do something, and this end for a radical or
Marxist theory such as Eagletons own is human emancipation.
That literary theory has a political aim does not mean that the
study of literature is just a pretext for advocating a certain radical
politics, nor does it mean that the literary work disappears in its ide-
ological effects, as any reader of Eagletons own, often very sensitive
literary critique knows. A literary work may well have emancipatory
effects of its own. What it does mean is that no literary work could
be understood apart from its context of origin as well as its historical
effectsas well as the effects of the literary institution as such. This
means that for Eagleton, literary studies isor at least should bea
form of rhetorics as an examination of the way discourses are con-
structed in order to achieve certain effects.9 Such discourses may
not be literary in the traditional sense but may as well comprise film,
philosophy, or advertisements as modes of discourse that have certain
social effects. A way of describing Eagletons own mode of discourse
(in his books and articles) would be to describe them as rhetorical
analyses of certain other modes of discourse with the aim of not
only exposing the way they work but also to evaluate whether their
effects are ideological (in the sense explained in the next chapter) or
emancipatory. A reason for Eagletons own style of writingwhich
is often, at least compared to iek, quite accessible even to a more
general audience not familiar to theoretical idiomis his wish to
communicate and thus to contribute to the general aim of human
emancipation. There is no such thing as a politically innocent inter-
pretation according to Eagleton, as little as there is any theoretically
innocent reading of a literary work. This is only the illusion of a
formalist methodology in service of the status quo, and therefore it is
more honest to be open about ones practical aims. Eagletons empha-
sis on rhetorical analysis means that any cultural or social practice

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Introduction 11

could be the object of such an inquiry, not only literature but also,
for instance, religion; it is thus slightly ironicbut not morethat
most of Eagletons work in literary criticism deals with the traditional
English literary canon and not popular culture.
Anyway, we are here not far from iek who talks about the aim
of psychoanalysis as well as Marxism as the truth-effect it unleashes
in its addressees (the proletarians), in transforming them into revo-
lutionary subjects; it is measured not by its factual accuracy but
by the way it affects the subjective position of enunciation.10 For
reasons that hopefully will be clear as the argument develops in this
book, iek should not here be interpreted as being epistemologically
obscurant, saying that any falsehood would do as long as it has the
intended effects, but rather something else that has to do with the
authors position of enunciation as well as the readers, in regard to this
truth. In accordance with this, I would suggest that we should inter-
pret the aim of ieks own works as having a performative rather
than merely descriptive aim in the sense of Marxs thesis 11 in his
Theses on Feuerbach that [t]he philosophers have only interpreted
the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it (which
iek, not surprisingly, refers to).11 According to Marx, Cornel West
says, objective truth should not be associated with representations
agreeing with objects in the world, but rather with people transform-
ing circumstances and conditions in the world, and this is the whole
gist of Marxs thinking in the Theses on Feuerbach.12 The same could
be said about ieks philosophy.
But if truth is, in essence, performative and practical, psychoanaly-
sis nevertheless warns us against the identification of the analysand
with the analyst, if therapy is going to be successful and not just the
repetition of the analysands former identification with the superego,
this time in the psychoanalytic register.13 This would structurally be
similar to the identification of the reader of ieks books and articles
with iek the author (and superego) as a defense against its insights.
To counter this identification, iek rhetorically has to put the reader
in a position where he or she would not be inclined to perform such
identification. I would suggest, therefore, that some of ieks more
shocking pronouncements on, for instance, communism or ter-
rorism should be understood as a way of actively, through the text,
forcing the reader to take up precisely such an engaged perspective
(perhaps even to the point of denying some of the things iek has
to say?); a perspective of faith even that remains loyal to the event of
truth. The alternative is, according to iek, the mere description of

9780230340114_02_ch1.indd 11 3/1/2012 11:12:52 AM

12 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

the state of things but such descriptions, no matter how accurate,

fail to generate emancipatory effectsultimately, they only render the
burden of the lie still more oppressive.14 This means, accordingly, that
there is no neutral description or set of facts, just the choice between
oppressive and emancipatory accounts, or, as Kierkegaard put it in
his Concluding Unscientific Postscript, subjectivity is truth.15 This
is, again, not a version of all truth is subjective but, as we will
see later, rather a reflection upon the conditions of the production of
knowledge, with an explicit emancipatory aim.
In one sense, it amounts to a certain reaction against either a cer-
tain navet or a manipulative intent on behalf of the authoritative and
objective author of a philosophical (or any other) work, seeking to
undermine a certain position of authority or objectivity through a
shock effect. But, as would be well known both to Kierkegaard and
to iek, there is no simple way beyond textual manipulation. Even
when writing pseudonymously or actively taking into account and
working toward the readers nonidentification with the author, the
effect could be as manipulative as in (almost) any other philosophi-
cal or theological form, as this performative action unavoidably is
mediated through a denotative text that calls for some kind of factual
accuracy. iek tries to counter even this possibility in claiming that
[f]idelity should be strictly opposed to zealotry, in that [a] subject
truly dedicated to his Cause regulates his eternal fidelity by means of
incessant betrayals.16 But perhaps even this hyperbolic version of the
continuous need of interpretation to stay true to the original message
only displaces or postpones a potential (or necessary?) manipulation;
there is no way around or beyond this dilemma, at least not from the
perspective of an agonistic ontology such as ieks. Any text is there-
fore a risk the author and the reader must take. I shall take this risk
in this study, and actually take iek at his words, that the truth of
his version of the relation between theology and Marxism only could
become clear from an engaged perspective, but possibly one for whom
the fidelity to his philosophy only could take the form of the denial of
some of its fundamental axioms.
It is notable that the writings of Eagleton and iek do not restrict
themselves to political philosophy, literary studies (in the case of
Eagleton), and theology only, but deals with a wide range of refer-
ences to psychoanalysis, sociology, cultural studies, and further into
popular culture, cinema, and the literary. Cyril ORegan has sug-
gested (with regard to iek) that this style of writing serves the
purpose of undermining the idea of any master discourse being

9780230340114_02_ch1.indd 12 3/1/2012 11:12:52 AM

Introduction 13

able to contain it all, thus avoiding giving the impression of present-

ing a finished work of thought.17 My hermeneutical point of depar-
ture regarding this plethora of voices in their writings is that reading
them from the perspective of theology is a profitable way of under-
standing their thought. This is not to suggest, however, that theology
is the real master discourse hovering just beneath the surface of any of
their texts, only that it is of a not negligible importance to the overall
symphony (or cacophony); as Sarah Kay, one of the first and finest
introducers of ieks thought, writes: [E]very reading of a iek
text is only a possible trajectorywhich is not to say that it is not
trueand the same goes, I would say, for Eagleton, even though his
prose is not usually as extravagant as ieks.18
The choice of such a perspective will, for reasons of textual econ-
omy if nothing else, leave something out in the presentation of their
oeuvre. For instance, I will not deal with Eagletons literary criti-
cism at all and only minimally with his literary theory, aspects that
in another study than mine would come, for good reasons, to the
forefront.19 Neither will I have much to say about ieks recurring
discussions of quantum physics or neurobiology in relation to psycho-
analysis, however interesting they might be. 20 A neglect that might
be more noticeable, given the aim of my own book, is the relatively
scarce discussions of their respective analyses of liberalism or capital-
ism. This is where I think both Eagleton and iek are at their most
interestinga proposition I do not expect the reader to accept at face
valuebut, alas, given the scope of this book as well as its textual
economy, even such a discussion has to be postponed indefinitelyor,
better, is to be found in their own works. A further limitation of my
work has to be confessed: given the importance of Thomas Aquinas,
Hegel, Schelling, Marx, Freud, Lacan, and many others for Eagleton
and iek, a critical examination of how they are interpreted by them
would be interesting; this, however, would require much more detailed
studies of these thinkers than are appropriate within the scope of this
The legitimacy of a theological reading of both Eagleton and iek
is not only established by the recent proliferation of secondary litera-
ture on their relationship to theology but by the very texts themselves.
Instead of here giving proof texts as a way of establishing this claim,
the more profound attestation of it is to be found in this book as a
whole and the extent to which it will be able to show how Eagletons
and ieks writings resonates with the loci communes of theology.
Regarding the recent work on Eagleton or iek and theology, it has,

9780230340114_02_ch1.indd 13 3/1/2012 11:12:52 AM

14 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

as mentioned, increased greatly in recent years.21 Although I have

not only learned from them all, but also have reason to disagree with
them on some issues, I do not see it as my task to comment upon
them as such, and therefore they will only occasionally figure in my
book, and then only in the endnotes. This massive interest, especially
in ieks theology, witness however to the importance of the ques-
tion which kind of theology we find in Eagleton and iek, and this,
among other things, is my own interest in this book and also one of
the points where it differs from most of the previous works. Before
I turn to the interpretation proper of Eagleton and iek, I will end
this chapter with a short summary of their life and work including a
preliminary presentation of their interest in theology.

Eagleton and the Sublunar Sublime

Terry Eagleton was born in 1943 in a Catholic family in Salford,
Lancashire, just outside of Manchester. This is a milieu that he him-
self in his (sort of) autobiography claims has played an important
role not only for his life but also for his thinking. 22 When Eagleton
was around 16 years old, he carried a badge that advocated nuclear
disarmament, which resulted in a reprimand both in church and
at school. 23 His headmaster sent him to the school chaplain for a
severe word, but this chaplain turned out to be the Dominican
Herbert McCabe who was not only theologically and philosophi-
cally erudite but also politically radical. McCabe was for a number
of years a kind of British intellectual underground figure; many of
his works in philosophy and theology were not published until after
his death in 2001. Nevertheless, his influence extended to a number
of well-known intellectuals in literary studies, history, philosophy,
and theology. Eagleton has himself witnessed to the importance of
McCabe for his thinking in the prefatory note to After Theory from
2003 when he writes that the influence of the late Herbert McCabe
is so pervasive on my argument that it is impossible to localize.24
Concerning McCabe, one of his former students once told me that
he was so soaked in Aquinas and Wittgenstein that he did not know
where he himself ended and they began.25 That McCabe has played
an important role for Eagletons thinking, the more explicitly theolog-
ical as well as the more general theoretical is beyond doubt, and one
of Eagletons commentators, Smith, has pointed out that his influence
on Eagleton stretches as far as his rhetorical style and the use of wit

9780230340114_02_ch1.indd 14 3/1/2012 11:12:52 AM

Introduction 15

in his argumentation. 26 One reason that Terry Eagletons use of theol-

ogy is more theologically orthodox than ieks heterodoxy is
in all likelihood the influence of McCabe and, through him, Thomist
philosophy and theology.
When Eagleton moved to Cambridge in the beginning of the 1960s
to study, he came in contact with a quite lively setting of left-wing
Catholics. He produced, among other things, a left-wing Catholic
journal called Slant as well as a number of theological books, among
them The New Left Church from 1966 and The Body as Language:
Outline of a New Left Theology from 1970. These are books whose
thoughts are possible to trace through his entire authorship, but curi-
ously enough they have not been explicitly recognized by Eagleton in
his recent theological (re)turn in any significant way. Eventually,
in the 1970s, Eagletons Catholic commitment and authorship came
to diminish as his Marxist commitment increased. At the same time,
his Catholic upbringing had given him, even when he was at his most
alienated state from this, a predilection for clarity, system, totality,
rigour.27 After the recent turn of the century, however, Eagletons
theological interest has returned in a number of books, and one rea-
son that Eagleton himself mentions for this is that iek, Badiou, and
Agamben, among others, have been so explicit with their theology,
even from an atheistic standpoint. 28 When Therborn because of this
proposes that Eagleton has returned to the left-wing Catholicism
of his youth, Eagleton defends himself against the perception of a
dramatic return. 29 Instead, Eagleton claims, he has been interested
in theology and its emancipatory potential for a long time. What has
changed is rather the intellectual climate, which has made it easier
to give an account of such interests than in the 1970s. Such interests
does not mean, however, that Eagleton describes himself explicitly as
a believer in his text but rather as giving an agnostic account of why
(some) Christian theology is reasonable even if it might not be true.
Moreover, his theological (re)turn has not diminished his interest
in Marxism; the final book of Eagleton published within the scope
of this study is his 2011 publication Why Marx Was Right, a follow
up of and extension of his 1997 pamphlet Marx and Freedom, both
of which make very minimal mention of theology. In line with his
Catholic as well as his Marxist commitment, we could perhaps draw
the conclusion that Eagletons private faith and doubt is not of a very
public interest for him, as such an interest in ones own subjectivity
rather comes from a more Protestant and liberal tradition.30

9780230340114_02_ch1.indd 15 3/1/2012 11:12:52 AM

16 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

Some of Eagletons most relevant books for my project has already

been mentioned, but it needs to be said that Eagleton since After
Theory has been putting out a steady stream of publications of explicit
theological relevance. Most publicly known among these is probably
his acidic refutation of the so-called New Atheists Richard Dawkins,
Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett in Reason, Faith, and
Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate (2009). But one should
also mention his book on what he calls the metaphysics of terror,
Holy Terror (2005), and his defense of the reality of evil in On Evil
(2010). He has also written an introduction to the radical publisher
Versos edition of the four gospels, Jesus Christ: The Gospels (2007).
But theological themes also have an explicit place in his early work
Walter Benjamin, or, Towards a Revolutionary Criticism (1981) as
well as in later works such as Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic
(2003) and Trouble with Strangers: A Study of Ethics (2009). In other
works, there is a more implicit presence of theology, as we shall see
further on.
As already mentioned, the motive for Eagletons return to theology
has not only to do with matters of personal biography. Most of all, it
concerns what we could call the recession of left-wing politics after
the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989. These
events were followed by an increase in self-confidence for liberal
political currents, as, for example, in the already-mentioned proposal
by Fukuyama, in his book The End of History and the Last Man, that
liberal democracy is free from internal contradictions and thus is the
end of history. This liberal optimism has in its turn more or less run
aground at another symbolic date, 9/11, 2001, when the two planes
flew into the Twin Towers and in a tragic sense illustrated that not
everyone was as persuaded by the merits of the new world order. One
should be careful not to jump to too many conclusions just because
of spectacular public events at particular dates however; the recess of
left-wing politics has also to do with other developments in the 1980s,
for instance, Thatcherism in the United Kingdom and Reaganism in
the United States at the same time that more postmodern theories
has gained ground and modified or even replaced Marxism in certain
parts of the universities around Europe or the United States. In and
after 2001, neoliberalism was replaced or perhaps rather supplemented
with neoconservatism, politics took on an increasingly post-political
form and the so-called war of terror was inaugurated.
Eagleton, who has been politically active his entire adult life, sug-
gests that one of the consequences of this recess of left-wing politics

9780230340114_02_ch1.indd 16 3/1/2012 11:12:52 AM

Introduction 17

should be that Marxism needs to take theology more seriously. He

mentions a number of reasons why this should be the case. To begin
with, it is hardly so that the Left has so many good ideas at the cur-
rent moment that it can afford to neglect other radical traditions of
thought, wherever they come from. In 2009, he writes:

If the agnostic left cannot afford such intellectual indolence when it

comes to the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, it is not only because
it belongs to justice and honesty to confront your opponent at his or
her most convincing. It is also that radicals might discover there some
valuable insights into human emancipation, in an era where the politi-
cal left stands in dire need of good ideas. 31

The kind of ideas that could be found in a certain kind of theology

are more and not less radical than much of what could be found in the
left-wing tradition today.32
But there is also another reason for left-wing thought and politics
to be interested in theology, namely that these scriptures and thus also
theology deals with a number of important questions where radical
thought most often only has maintained an embarrassed silence:
existential questions such as death, suffering, love, self-dispossession
and the like.33 [W]hatever one thinks about theology, Eagleton
says in a volume of interviews, it raises a lot of starkly fundamental
questions, questions that Eagleton has found neither in orthodox
political theory nor in philosophy.34 Marxism isnt some Theory of
Everything, he declares in the same book, and therefore it should be
possible to address these questions not as an alternative to Marxism
but rather in a complementary way, especially since, according to
Eagleton, Christian faith far from providing some kind of comfort-
ing retreat from the real political world . . . makes the most harsh,
uncompromising political demands.35 The appeal to theology is thus
not perceived as a political retreat for Eagleton but rather has to do
with a possible cure for the malaise of left-wing politics as well as a
recognition of certain existential questions usually not thematized by
Marxism, but that also might have a political bearing as such.
Eagleton does not only compare theology to Marxism but also to
psychoanalysis. One similarity between these two traditions is institu-
tional; both of them have a plethora of popes, priests, sects, schisms,
laypersons (or patients), confessionals, excommunications, esoteric
knowledge, rituals of redemption, and the like.36 Most importantly,
however, they pose questions of similar depth about the truth and

9780230340114_02_ch1.indd 17 3/1/2012 11:12:52 AM

18 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

nature of the human subject. They differ, to be sure, in the answer

they give about the true infinity of humanity: for Christian theology,
it is divine love whereas for psychoanalysis, it is the eternity of human
desire. Both divine love and human desire means that human beings
are fundamentally decentered, but if the sharpness of the divine law
is just another side of divine love and so in the end something that
is friendly to the real concerns of human existence, the desire that
according to psychoanalysis constitutes human subjectivity is palpa-
bly indifferent to human well-being. Thus, whereas for Christianity,
the tragedy that is at the heart of the human subject is resolved in the
life and death of Jesus, for psychoanalysis, it is in principle unresolv-
able. There is no final resolution of this constitutive tragedy.
Given these reasons, Eagletons return to theology is far from an
uncritical acceptance of everything that theology has to say, whether
about God or about human beings and the world. To clarify what
Eagleton suggests that theology can offer, we must specify what kind
of theology Eagleton wishes to claim as part of the emancipatory
project. It is, to begin with, important to point out that he is very criti-
cal toward much of contemporary religion. In his book from 2009
where he deals with right-wing atheists such as Dawkins or Hitchens,
he begins by establishing in its very first paragraphs that [r]eligion
has wrought untold misery in human affairs. For the most part, it
has been a squalid tale of bigotry, superstition, wishful thinking, and
oppressive ideology.37 That he is not out of sympathy with the critics
of religion is not just a courteous introductory remark by Eagleton,
but a returning refrain. But the problems with right-wing atheism,
as Eagleton sees it, are two. In the first place, their rejection of reli-
gion is bought much too cheap: It is as though one were to dismiss
feminism on the basis of Clint Eastwoods opinion of it.38 In other
words, they are much too ignorant and prejudiced, not necessarily as
regards to religion as a source of human misery, but what concerns
the content of its sources and its theology. Second, even their rejection
becomes a kind of ideology, as they, although deservedly, discard,
for example, Islamic fundamentalism but at the same time do not
see how Western smugness and hubristic self-belief contributed to
the conditions for its growth.39 In contrast to Hitchens, for example,
Eagleton calls for a more historico-materialistic explanation of reli-
gious extremism. This is not a way of defending radical Islamists such
as Osama bin Laden but instead to direct a critical glance against
smug dismissals that avoid to self-critically deal with the darkness at
the heart of ones own civilization.40

9780230340114_02_ch1.indd 18 3/1/2012 11:12:52 AM

Introduction 19

What kind of theology, then, does Eagleton prefer, and in what does
its emancipatory potential consist? Although Eagletons own theology
comes to the front in the margins of his own writings rather than in
some kind of systematic exposition, it is a rather full theology we find
there. As mentioned already, Eagletons theology is a quite traditional
Catholic theology with deep roots in, above all, Thomas Aquinas.
This is not surprising, as his interest in theology is mediated through
Herbert McCabe who, just as Eagleton himself, reconciles tradition
with radicality.41 His concern is distinguishing between a scriptural
and an ideological kind of Christian faitha distinction which can
never simply be assumed but must be interminably argued.42 Eagleton
the literary critic thus does not suggest any unmediated or easy access
to the scriptural in contrast to the ideological faith but suggests that this
access always must be fought for. In a way, Eagletons theology could
be regarded as an injunction to theologians to rediscover the radical-
ity that is found in Christian theology but that, for many reasons, has
been hidden. The same note returns in his dismissal of the notion of
God as a kind of mega-manufacturer, as a lot of the latest critique
has imagined God, to the benefit of an unsayable God that exists just
for the hell of itin line with his Thomistic streak.43 As social-
ism and psychoanalysis, Christianity is also persuaded that only by
a process of self-dispossession and radical remaking can humanity
come into its own.44 At its most clear, the story of this alienation is
expressed in the story about Christ.
In After Theory, Eagleton refers to the time when theology was
where the intellectual pitched his tent as theology was seen as the
queen of the sciences (then it became the queen of the humani-
ties in a less reputable sense of the word).45 This role was then
taken on by philosophy and further on by the sciences. The rea-
son for the nomination of any particular academic field of study as
queen is that it is seen as integrating all knowledge, not just being
a learned specialty. So theology, in medieval times, conveniently
linked ethics, politics, aesthetics, metaphysics, everyday life and
ultimate truth.46 A classic intellectual, in Eagletons understand-
ing, is a person who also strives for this overarching knowledge, and
who therefore does not primarily consider him- or herself as a spe-
cialist. As examples of current-day intellectuals Eagleton mentions
Raymond Williams, Susan Sontag, Jrgen Habermas, Julia Kristeva,
and Michel Foucault, as none of them very neatly fit any particular
academic label (and could not he himself as well as iek be included
in this list?). Their intellectual trajectory was and is the bearing of

9780230340114_02_ch1.indd 19 3/1/2012 11:12:52 AM

20 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

ideas on society and humanity as a whole.47 What Eagleton fears,

which is also the reason why he has a discussion of this integrative
function of thinking, is that the fragmentation of society as well as
academia would mean the demise of any such attempts to raise ques-
tions about fundamental ends and values, in the midst of a society
impatient with such airy-fairy notions.48 It could be argued that this
is precisely what Eagleton himself is doing in his later writings, but
what is interesting for my work is that this also is one of the reasons
that Eagleton gives for his (and the more general) renewed interest in
theology; in Reason, Faith, and Revolution, theology is proclaimed
to be one of the most ambitious theoretical arenas left in an increas-
ingly specialized worldone whose subject is nothing less than the
nature and destiny of humanity itself, in relation to what it takes to
be its transcendent source of life; it is to theology that the radical
impulses have migrated; and it is also in theology that you could find
some of the most informed and animated discussions of Deleuze and
Badiou, Foucault and feminism, Marx and Heidegger.49 Eagleton
surely must know that this is not true of all theology, but neverthe-
less, contemporary theology seems to comprise at least three of his
own scholarly interests: existential questions of life and death, radi-
cal politics, and high theory.

iek and the Trauma of Faith

Slavoj iek was born in Ljubljana in former Yugoslavia in 1949.50
Unlike Eagleton, iek was not raised in a religious family, nor were
there anyas far as I can tellformative experiences of religion in
ieks schooling in Slovenia. Matters of biography are then, per-
haps, less interesting when it comes to religion than in the case of
Eagleton. What has been of great importance to iek both intellec-
tually and culturally is, of course, growing up in the socialist republic
of Yugoslavia, and then experiencing its demise in 1989. His under-
graduate years were spent at the University of Ljubljana, where he
studied philosophy and sociology and also earned a doctoral degree
in philosophy with a thesis on Heidegger. He also studied psycho-
analysis at the University of Paris VIII with, among others, Jacques-
Alain Miller, Lacans son-in-law and the editor of Lacans seminars.
There he embarked upon a second doctoral project, published as Le
plus sublime des hystriques: Hegel passe in 1988. In Yugoslavia
before 1989, iek was considered (rightly so) to be among the dis-
sidents, resulting, among other things, in having a marginalized early

9780230340114_02_ch1.indd 20 3/1/2012 11:12:53 AM

Introduction 21

academic career. Nevertheless, iek was relentlessly active, being one

of the founding members of the Ljubljana school of psychoanalysis,
writing for newspapers, and also, in the years around 1989, launching
a political career. Leaving the Communist Party of Slovenia in 1988,
he supported the civil rights movement and became the presidential
candidate in the first free election 1990 for the Liberal Democratic
Party. iek lost the election, and his period of active participation
in party politics was aborted. Since his international academic career
was launched, he has been a senior researcher at the University of
Ljubljana, a professor at the European Graduate School, and the
international director at the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities in
Londonas well as numerous other academic institutions all over the
Western world. Being today a kind of cult figure, sometimes named
the Elvis of philosophy, there are even a number of iek films as
well as a iek CD, containing some of ieks lectures, his views on
film, et cetera.
The international renown of iek had its beginning in 1989 with
his first English book, The Sublime Object of Ideology, and ever
since then iek has been incredibly prolific, often publishing several
books every year, besides writing columns for major international
newspapers and touring the world as a guest lecturer and profes-
sor. He has written acclaimed works on German idealism as well as
psychoanalysis, film theory, and political theory and is heldnot
uncontroversiallyto be one of the most interesting contemporary
philosophical authors from a perspective of continental and radical
philosophy. At the same time as iek has renewed the psychoana-
lytic tradition (at least in its theoretical aspects) as well as deliv-
ered some notable contributions in all of the above fields, it would
not be an exaggeration to say that most of his work are oriented
toward a contribution to political philosophy, especially Marxism.
In The Sublime Object of Ideology, one of his aims is a renewal of
the Marxist tradition, and over the years, it has become clear that
iek not only seeks to defend Marxism as an intellectual alterna-
tive but also as an incitement to economic and social revolution.
iek has stepped forward as one of the most prominent Western
critics of liberal capitalism and even of democracy as well as some-
one who reconnects to the revolutionary heritage of Robespierre,
Lenin, and Mao. 51 Even among sympathetic critics such as Ernesto
Laclau, however, his renewal of Marxism has been put into ques-
tion, in the claim that he disregards almost the whole of the Marxist
tradition; All ieks Marxist concepts, examples and discussions

9780230340114_02_ch1.indd 21 3/1/2012 11:12:53 AM

22 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

come either from the texts of Marx himself, or from the Russian
As ieks fame has grown, so has also the critique of his philoso-
phy. At the end of the first decade of the second millennia, iek has
increasingly defined himself not only as a Marxist but a Communist
(over against, for instance, socialism) as well. This has earned him
the titles the deadly jester and the most dangerous philosopher in
the West, and he has been suspected, especially after the publication
of In Defence of Lost Causes (the cover of which pictures the blade
of a guillotine) in 2008, of anti-Semitism as well as advocating ter-
rorism.53 At the same time, iek is known to draw a full house in his
lectures all over the world, in part perhaps because of his reputation
for putting on a good show, but in part undoubtedly because he is
regarded as someone offering an alternative to capitalism. Thus, it is
not surprising that he is considered as highly controversial.
His theological interests are noticeable already in The Sublime
Object of Ideology, but one important landmark is his work on
the mythopoetic philosophy of the German idealist philosopher
F. W. J. von Schelling in the books The Indivisible Remainder: An
Essay on Schelling and Related Matters (1996) and The Abyss of
Freedom/Ages of the World (1997)the second being a translation
of Schellings Die Weltalter (1813) together with an essay by iek.
Schellings account of the intra-divine struggle between good and bad
became instrumental for ieks understanding of subjectivity, and
after these works, we see an increasing engagement with theology in
almost all of ieks later works. In The Ticklish Subject: The Absent
Centre of Political Ontology (1999), iek turns to his fellow radi-
cal philosopher Alain Badious work on the apostle Paul for a philo-
sophical account of universality as well as writes about a materialist
theory of grace. And in 2000, iek published the book The Fragile
Absolute with a subtitle that announces his theological interests: or,
Why Is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For? Since this book,
iek has published several books where his interest in theology plays
a crucial part. Some of these, On Belief (2001), The Puppet and the
Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity (2003), as well as the book
with his debate with the British radical orthodoxy theologian John
Milbank, The Monstrosity of Christ (2009), have theology as an
explicit theme. Even if his interest in theology is more obvious in some
of his books than others, and even if the books on Schelling in some
way marks a turning point, I think it is fair to say that the presence of
theology continues in almost all of ieks works since The Sublime

9780230340114_02_ch1.indd 22 3/1/2012 11:12:53 AM

Introduction 23

Object of Ideology. In other words, I am not convinced by the talk of

a decisive theological turn in ieks works, but will draw on all of
his major works for my interpretation of his theology.54
Despite all this interest in theology and his collaboration with
Milbank, iek has repeatedly and explicitly stated that he himself
is an atheist and thus has no interest in any religious commitment;
he is a fighting atheist and an absolute materialist.55 Still, iek
thinks that there is an emancipatory kernel in religion, particularly
in Christianity. The message of Christianity, according to iek, is
that there is no objective meaning in history; no Other who guar-
antees the happy outcome of our lives and deeds. ieks view, in a
nutshell, is, contrary to what most humanisms and Marxisms hold,
that it is only Christianity that has the ability to become genuinely
atheistic and materialistic. Only Christianity could liberate humanity
from all hidden religion, since here Gods impotence is revealed on
the cross. Thus, salvation is up to us human beings alone. His own
theology, then, does not stand in service to any religious community,
but he advocates a call for a renewal of atheismperhaps what
we truly need is a dose of good old atheismbut not of the liberal
Dawkins-Hitchens-Dennett kind, but a Hegelian atheism, which stays
true to its Christian legacy.56 To iek, the ultimate heroic gesture
that awaits Christianity is for the Christian church to sacrifice its
institutional form to save its essence, like Christ once sacrificed himself
to launch the birth of Christianity.57 This is indeed a prime example of
a Hegelian dialectical movement, where the true content is preserved
through abolishing its inadequate form, thus elevating it to a higher
form. ieks atheism is thus, according to himself, not a denial of
Christianity, but it is only as an atheist that one can stay true to the
Christian legacy today. It is, of course, a decisive question whether
ieks appeal to Christianitys ultimate heroic gesture of sacri-
ficing its own form is a kind of moral injunction issued by iek to
Christianity, or whether he regards it, in a classical, old-fashioned
Marxist way, as the inevitable outcome of the progress of history, and
I shall return to it in due course.
Interestingly, the kind of Christianity that iek uses for his athe-
istic, materialistic argument is not some kind of liberal Christianity.
Such Christianity could only, to iek, become a fetish for the modern
society of consumption, thereby losing all possibility of providing a radi-
cal criticism of it. Instead iek is, despite his heterodoxy, concerned
with a resolutely traditional understanding of Christianity inspired by,
among others, the British Roman Catholic author G. K. Chesterton and

9780230340114_02_ch1.indd 23 3/1/2012 11:12:53 AM

24 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

his popular work on theology Orthodoxy with which iek agrees that
traditional Christianity is the greatest adventure of all.58 It is certainly
true that, despite his allusions to Chesterton and other more conser-
vative Christian thinkers, ieks greatest debt in regard to theology
isbesides SchellingSchellings friend and fellow German idealist
G. W. F. Hegel and his philosophical conception of Christianity. This
is, I believe, where Eagleton and iek differ the most, the one being,
through McCabe, a Thomist and the other a Hegelian in their respec-
tive understanding of Christianity. I will come back to this throughout
the book.
The appeal of Chesterton and other traditional Christian authors
to iek, however, is that Christianity here not only becomes a kind
of mirror image of contemporary society, as, for instance, iek
claims is the lot of all kinds of New Age movements and post-
secular philosophy in the wake of Emmanuel Lvinas and Jacques
Derrida. What unites ieks version of Christianity and Marxism
against such obscurantisms is their common emphasis on human
homelessness and estrangement. iek proceeds from the assump-
tion that an authentic, emancipatory philosophy must break with the
kind of political-philosophical consensus that is typical for our time
and that is expressed in, for instance, a post-political multicultur-
alism. The dividing line that is of interest to iek therefore is not
drawn between theism and atheism or between religion and science.
To call oneself an atheist isif it is the wrong kind of atheism
only pathetic; the fighting atheist still acts as if the big Other exists.
The crucial dividing line is instead drawn between on the one hand
Christianity and dialectical materialism and on the other hand post-
secularism, New Age, Western Buddhism, et cetera. Christianity and
dialectical materialism are allies, according to iek: [T]o become
a true dialectical materialist, one should go through the Christian
experience.59 What, then, is this Christian experience that iek
refers to? In actual fact, this experience refers to, according to iek,
the positively valued arrogance regarding Christianitys claim, namely
that Christ stands for a break with all totalities and cosmic schemes.
Instead of the indiscriminate, postmodern talk about differences,
Christ divides between good and bad in accordance with the saying
in the Gospel of Luke 12:51: Do you suppose that I came to grant
peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division.
This division could be illustrated by one of ieks many stories. In
the introduction to On Belief, iek begins by retelling a Larry King
debate between a rabbi, a Catholic priest, and a Southern Baptist.60

9780230340114_02_ch1.indd 24 3/1/2012 11:12:53 AM

Introduction 25

The rabbi and the priest both declared that any good person can
count on Gods mercy, despite his or her creed, whereas the Baptist on
the contrary suggested that only those who explicitly confess Christ
would avoid going to hell. Goodness apart from the Gospel is just a
semblance of goodness, according to the Baptist, and iek agrees: a
materialist version of the Baptists claim is a politics of truth that is
the only available alternative to the pragmatic post-political liberal
capitalism of the so called third way. Why do we need such an alterna-
tive? The short answer is that to iek, post-politics is ideological, in
that it lives in denial of the urgency of our situation with its ecological
crisis, its biogenetic revolution, its struggle over intellectual property
as well as natural resources, and its growing social divisionthese
are the four riders of the apocalypse according to iek.61 Why
thein terms of religious imageryvery provocative formulation of
this dilemma? Because it belongs to ieks rhetorical style to articu-
late very stark alternatives and thus force the reader to take sides.
Of course iek does not literally agree with this Southern Baptist
from a TV show. His point is to maintain a materialist version of
this position. The reason for choosing such examples is that iek
for materialistic reasons is skeptical toward the kind of religion that
really is just an accommodation to the present society and therefore
only has the function of a fetish. The fetish, in ieks understanding,
is what makes it possible for us to play along with the game of con-
sumer society at the same time as we hide from ourselves what we are
doing. For example, a certain kind of Western Buddhism can easily
lend itself to such a use: [T]he Western Buddhist meditative stance
is arguably the most efficient way, for us, to fully participate in the
capitalist dynamic while retaining the appearance of mental sanity.62
On another occasion iek compares the Dalai Lama to the late Pope
John Paul II and holds that whereas the first figure fits like a hand in
a glove in a capitalistic society, since he delivers a vague spirituality
without any specific consequences, the pope is an authentic ethical
person, since his stance implies that ethics have consequences that are
not possible to reconcile with any lifestyle whatsoever.63
ieks point is that a religionor a political philosophywithout
any specific consequences becomes what Marx called an independent
realm in the clouds or a fetish.64 The trouble with Western forms
of Buddhism as well as liberal forms of Christianity and any talk
of a post-secular philosophy is that they try to avoid the identifica-
tion of religiosity with a particular institution, but thereby disregard
anything in Christianity (or any other religion) that potentially could

9780230340114_02_ch1.indd 25 3/1/2012 11:12:53 AM

26 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

lead to a conflict between religion and society or state. The post-

secular temptation is to try to keep the authentic kernel of religion but
to throw away its institutional and mystifying husk, as for instance,
when someone tries to advocate an authentic Christianity before
its institutionalizing by the apostle Paul or an authentic Marxism
before its institutionalizing by Lenin. But since, according to iek,
there is no Christ outside Saint Paulin the same way that there
is no authentic Marx beside Lenins interpretation of himthe
thought of an authentic Christianity before Pauls institutionaliz-
ing of it is simply a fetishizing, according to iek, an attempt to
escape the uncomfortable dimensions of religion in favor of a mere
thought experiment without any social consequences.65 The kind of
Christianity that is of interest to the materialist iek is therefore not
about faith in the sense of some kind of inner state or a metaphysi-
cal idea, but rather concerns a concretely practiced and therefore also
necessarily socially and institutionally embodied religion. A genuine
faith is always objective in the sense that it is embodied in practice.
Human beings are fetishists in practice, but not necessarily in theory.
Post-secular religion becomes, according to iek, a fetish, since it
hides (from herself) that the post-secular human being believes in
capitalism, how cynical her own inner distance yet might be toward
her practice. That the Christian legacy is worth fighting for, as a
subtitle of one of his books puts it, depends upon the fact that this
legacy has a common cause with dialectical materialism against all
current obscurantisms. In other words, iek and Eagleton share
the ideologico-critical legacy as discussed in the next chapter.

9780230340114_02_ch1.indd 26 3/1/2012 11:12:53 AM

Ideology as Idolatry or Vice Versa

In this chapter, I will introduce some of Eagletons and ieks most

important theoretical tools, especially the concept of ideology cri-
tique. As Marxists, whatever else their agendas might be, it could
be argued that such a critique has a prominent place in their respec-
tive theories, as far as the aim of these theories is emancipation and
not, primarily at least, theoretical investigation. Thus, to get a hold
on how they regard the critique of ideology will help me to put their
use of theology in a proper perspective, as this use, as will be shown
throughout this book, is intimately connected to the vital questions
of how to achieve human emancipation as well as what a legitimate
hope would mean. I shall here introduce a structure of my book that,
more or less, will be repeated in the coming chapters, beginning with
a short introduction to the key concept itself, moving on to Eagletons
and ieks respective views on the matter, and then ending with a
comparative critical discussion.
To begin with, it is important to establish that the term ideology,
in contemporary theory as well as everyday parlance, could be used
both as a descriptive and as a critical term. In the first case, ideology
would be something like an opinion or even a worldview, that
is, a more or less consistent view of the world that is both factu-
ally descriptive and normative for action. This is how we, perhaps,
sometimes talk about political ideologies such as liberalism, con-
servatism, communism, or fascism, and in this case, we refer to some
kind of assumptions about the nature of reality as well as the norms
for evaluation and action that could be found in a certain political
party. For example, liberalism is referred to, in this sense, as an
ideology that puts the freedom of the individual at the center of its

9780230340114_03_ch2.indd 27 3/1/2012 11:15:34 AM

28 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

political worldview. In the second and more critical sense of the term,
however, ideology refers to something like a false consciousness.
Significant for a false consciousness is that the ideological notion
of reality is distorted. In other words, this use of the term proceeds
from the assumption that there is a recognizable difference between
appearance and reality, a difference that is concealed by ideology
but that lies within the power of the critique of ideology to expose. If
one, in this second meaning of the term, talks about a liberal ideol-
ogy, the suggestion is not just that a certain political party wishes
to advocate the freedom of the individual, but that, in a common
form of ideology, the talk of the freedom of every individual hides a
very real form of unfreedom, for example, that the political freedom
of the individual is a way of hiding how a person is dependent upon
unjust conditions of ownership regarding the means of production or
the unequal access to the means of communication. Note that this
second use of the term ideology not only concerns a certain view
of the nature of reality but also how a view of the nature of reality is
dependent upon the power relations in a given society. The study of
ideology, says Eagleton in a general but nevertheless apt definition,
is among other things an inquiry into the ways in which people may
come to invest in their own unhappiness.1 Why this investment in
unhappiness has taken place and how it may be remedied belongs to
the central tasks of a critique of ideology, also in Eagletons and in
ieks works.
Marxism takes pride of place among the modern political philoso-
phies that have developed such a critique. Among other things, Marx
and Engels claimed in the unfinished book The German Ideology
that it is not ideas that move history forward but the material cir-
cumstances, and that every attempt to write history as the history of
ideas is open to mystification. Marxism is thus, as the philosopher
of religion Denys Turner has pointed out, not just another ideology
in the first sense of the notion, as it actually claims to tell us what
ideology is all about, so that either it is more than ideology or, if
unsuccessful, less than ideology, it is but a pretentious falsehood.2
But something like a critique of ideology has, of course, existed earlier
than Marxism, for instance, in the prophetic tradition in the biblical
literature. Examples of this could be found in the Hebrew scriptures
as well as in the Gospels. To take just one short example, the prophet
Isaiah condemned those who worshipped idols instead of the one
God of Israel. This God, according to Isaiah, is incomprehensible, so
nothing created could capture Gods essence. The problem with the

9780230340114_03_ch2.indd 28 3/1/2012 11:15:34 AM

Ideology as Idolatry or Vice Versa 29

idol is its falsity, that it puts up an appearance of divinity where in

reality it is fabricated by human beings (Is 46:6f.):

Those who lavish gold from the purse,

and weigh out silver in the scales
they hire a goldsmith, who makes it into a god;
then they fall down and worship!
They lift it to their shoulders, they carry it,
they set it in its place, and it stands there;
it cannot move from its place.
If one cries out to it, it does not answer
or save anyone from trouble.

In referring to the dealing with gold and silver, the quote from Isaiah
at least suggests how the critique of idols also express a social cri-
tique, as the worshipping of false idols would lead to social injustice.
It is indeed the case that, for the Jewish prophets, unjust relations
with fellow human beings denoted that something is wrong with the
relationship to God and vice versareligion was not, as in Western
modernity, a sphere distinct from politics or economy.
In a similar way, Jesus also condemned idolatry when he accused
some Pharisees for invalidating the word of God for the sake of
[their] tradition (Mt 15:6), and thus confounding the word of God
with human precepts (v. 9). Simply put, the essence of idolatry is
to confound humanity with divinity and thereby hiding the differ-
ence between them. The problem is not, nota bene, what is human or
created as such, but rather when creation usurps the place of divinity
and thus obfuscates the difference between the two. Idolatry comes
from the Greek eidolos, which means image and is contrasted by
some New Testament authors with eikonos, which also means image
(cf. 2 Cor 4:4). But whereas the idol is a reflection of ourselves, which
confines us to our own horizon, the icon represents something else,
which opens our horizon toward what is different than ourselves. This
is not a problem just because God is replaced by creation in the idol, but
also because this has negative consequences for humanity and the whole
of creation; a lot of the prophetic critique in the Hebrew scriptures is
consequently directed against social injustices in their society, which
were hidden by a supposed righteousness toward God (cf. Am 5:2224).
The critique of idolatry was so to speak a religiously inspired self-
criticism coming from within the religious institutions themselves,
a critique that sprung from the perception of a difference between
appearance and reality (where the apparent offering to God in reality

9780230340114_03_ch2.indd 29 3/1/2012 11:15:34 AM

30 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

served self-righteous purposes). Accordingly, it is correct to suggest,

as does Turner a propos a comparison of Marxism and Christianity,
that for the Christian, ideology and idolatry are synonyms.3 Or,
as Nicholas Lash has put it, although in more negative terms, If
Christian discourse is not to become idolatrous, it must be perma-
nently i[]conoclastic.4 There is, and has always been, such a tradition
of the critique of idolatry within Judaism and Christianity, which,
from time to time, also has been picked up by Marxism. 5
However, that there are biblical predecessors for the critique of
ideology does not mean that one could find a full-scale critique of
ideology among the Hebrew or New Testament prophets. In the Bible,
there is no social analysis in the modern sense, naturally so because
its genres are not theoretical in the same sense as most philosophical
or theological reflection but rather narrative or exhortative. Further,
the societies who are the target of critique from the prophets are in
many senses different from our own. The modern, critical concept
of ideology has evolved at a time when the bourgeois society started
to become aware of its own particularity through the exposure from
alien or different ideas or discourses; at a time when, with the words
of Marx and Engels, all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is
It is of course possible to argue, against Marx and others (includ-
ing Eagleton),7 that certain societies already had been confronted
with the other and the alien, especially when you think about minor-
ity cultures such as European Judaism, without being able to control
or govern the interaction between ones own culture and the alien
culture. In other words: what is solid and what is fluid depends
on your position in society. But what Marx and others do with the
concept of ideology is that they try to interpret the social dynamic
that is peculiar to a certain historical form of capitalism and that
gives rise to a certain form of false consciousness. The point with my
biblical comparison is just to show that the critique of ideology is not
inventedcut and driedwithin nineteenth-century Marxism but is
a part of a longer and also broader tradition that extends beyond
Marxism, both then and now. I also want to introduce the theme that
is central for this entire book, namely, Eagletons and ieks appeal
to theology in their own Marxist philosophies. This appeal has to do
with the critique of ideology. It is, of course, true that the roots of
modern critique of ideology is found within Marxism and that Marx
himself in The German Ideology meant that religion was the prime
example of ideology, a masque for the proper motives.8 But at the

9780230340114_03_ch2.indd 30 3/1/2012 11:15:34 AM

Ideology as Idolatry or Vice Versa 31

same time, it is clear to at least parts of the Marxist tradition how

theologically influenced the critique of ideology has been and that the
criticism of religion that Marx calls for is found as much internally
to as external to the religions. It is thus perhaps not very surprising
that iek inverts the traditional Marxist idea that the criticism of
heaven is a prerequisite for the criticism of ideology when he in The
Puppet and the Dwarf nominates the Book of Job in the Hebrew
scriptures as the first exemplary case of the critique of ideology in
human history.9 For iek, it is first and foremost the contempo-
rary liberal-democratic society that is an independent realm in the
clouds and that lacks a solid ground. The aim of his critique of ide-
ology is to expose this lack of foundations. Let us now turn to first
Eagleton and then iek to see how they understand the concept of
ideology critique today.

Ideology Critique Beyond the Postmodern

Neither for Eagleton nor for iek is the critique of ideology a static
tool that could be applied in the same way regardless of what contem-
porary society looks like. For the critique of ideology to be successful in
exposing an unjust society, it needs to be sensitive of its context. Thus,
the first task will be to establish how, in this section, Eagleton con-
ceives of this critique in relation to our present (Western) society and its
particular form of capitalism. In his Ideology: An Introduction from
1991, Eagleton maintains that the critique of ideology has been down-
played or even disappeared in contemporary theoretical discussions
but in the introduction to a later edition of the book in 2007, he regards
this conclusion as premature. A way to understand Eagletons concept
of ideology, as well as introducing his thinking as such, will then be to
take a look at the reasons for why, as Eagleton suggests, the perceived
urgency of a critique of ideology fluctuates. This gives us a clue to what
is distinctive about his own concept.
One reason for the closure of the critique of ideology Eagleton
traces to what he calls a postmodern critique of all absolute claims for
knowledge. The condition for any critical concept of ideology is that
there is a position from where it is possible to distinguish between
appearance and reality. But given the radical dependence upon context
for any kind of claim to knowledge, it becomes harder to maintain the
possibility of such a position. With his usual acerbic irony, Eagleton
claims that [w]e cannot brand Pol Pot a Stalinist bigot since this
would imply some metaphysical certitude about what not being a

9780230340114_03_ch2.indd 31 3/1/2012 11:15:34 AM

32 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

Stalinist bigot would involve.10 We are, once again, in a period of

the end of ideology as in the 1950s, but this time around, it is not
justified by the crimes of fascism and Stalinism. But Eagleton is, of
course, critical toward such an end of ideology attitude and advo-
cates that a critique of ideology still is possible as well as necessary, as
long as human beings invest in their misfortune. The very notion of
a critique of ideology does, nevertheless, presuppose that no human
being is totally mystified. In other words, Eagleton refutes the idea
that ideology consists in a false consciousness, at least if this means
that certain human beings are trapped in a complete illusion.11 To be
able to experience oppression as oppression, it is required that some
part of us can imagine what it would be like to exist in a state free
from oppression. Critique is that form of discourse which seeks
to inhabit the experience of the subject from inside, in order to elicit
those valid features of that experience which point beyond the sub-
jects present condition.12 Such a presupposition does exist even if we
cannot claim to inhabit a position wholly outside of all ideology and
mystification. Precisely like the biblical prophets, the concern is here
not to carry on criticism from a position wholly outside of or beyond
those institutions that are criticized, but rather a kind of immanent
critique, the possibility of which emerges from the very contradic-
tions of the social system. It is as a part of the common tradition of
the Jewish people that the prophet can refer to this very tradition
as a way of elucidating injustices, not as a stranger from the moon
on a temporary visit on earth. Even to iek, as we shall see below,
the critique of ideology is a form of immanent critique, when he in
book after book supplements German Idealism and Marxism with
psychoanalysis or vice versa. The concern is, in Eagleton as well as in
iek, a modified concept of ideology that would meet the challenges
of our time, rather than a simple repetition of Marxs own critique of
The critique of ideology is a recurring theme in Eagletons books,
and as a Marxist, most of his books, whatever the topic, puts it to
use in some way. His most sustained effort to explain the concept in
theory is found, however, in his already mentioned book Ideology:
An Introduction, the first edition of which was published in 1991
and the second in 2007 with a new introduction. It will be interest-
ing to note, in due time, what Eagleton perceives as how the situa-
tion in society and in theoretical work has changed during these 16
years. The book begins with what Eagleton calls a paradoxalready
alluded to in the beginning of this sectionnamely, the discrepancy

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Ideology as Idolatry or Vice Versa 33

between, on the one hand, the resurgence of ideological movements

such as Islamic fundamentalism, revolutionary nationalism, neo-
Stalinism, a very patriotic brand of Christian evangelicalism and,
of course, the Thatcherite regime in Great Britain, and on the other
hand, the theoretical declaration, in the wake of postmodernism and
post-structuralism, that the concept of ideology now is obsolete.13
Eagleton offers three reasons whywhat he callspostmodernism
has led to the demise of the concept of ideology, but for our pur-
poses here, it suffices to say that in general, he offers very much the
same line of thought as I presented above, namely, that the difference
between appearance and reality is hard to uphold in any strong sense,
given our unavoidably interpretative access to all of reality. Even if
Eagleton in this book and elsewhere finds it necessary and also emi-
nently possible to argue against postmodernism in this regardand
thus to rescue some sense of the critical concept of ideologythis is
recognized by Eagleton as a real theoretical challenge, and one way of
characterizing his own concept of ideology would be to say that it is
an argument against the notion that the interpretative access to real-
ity would mean the end of the concept of ideology. Speaking of the
end of ideology, Eagleton revives Marxs quip on Hegels remark that
all historical events happen twicefirst as tragedy, then as farcein
saying that the first time ideology ended, in the 1950s, this was an
effect of the Cold War and the traumatized response to the crimes
of fascism and Stalinism; next time around there is no such political
rationale, but rather an effect of a certain theoretical fad.14
So what is ideology, according to Eagleton? In general, he goes
along with the critical understanding outlined above, but one interest-
ing definition (he does not believe in a single, comprehensive defini-
tion of ideology) that he offers, and that I already have mentioned,
is that ideology could be said to be the ways in which people may
come to invest in their own unhappiness. This definition gives us a
clue to why Eagleton still believes that the concept is workable: the
terms investment as well as happiness suggests that in Eagletons
concept there is never a question of such a radical alienation on behalf
of the ideological subject that he or she would not have the ability to
understand authentic happiness when it is availableincluding some
of the desires and goals that would be included in such happiness. In
other words, the depravity of the ideological subject does not go all
the way down; [N]obody is ever wholly mystified.15 As mentioned
above, Eagleton refutes the idea that ideology means that certain
human beings are trapped in a complete illusion. In his introduction

9780230340114_03_ch2.indd 33 3/1/2012 11:15:34 AM

34 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

to his book on ideology, Eagleton refers to a fundamental trust in the

moderately rational nature of human beings16 that he shares with the
Enlightenment, even if this does not mean that he shares its rational
optimism regarding the possibility of an external standpoint from
where the critique of ideology would be possible. The trouble with the
Enlightenment was, in short, that it was not very enlightened about
the sources of its own light; In illuminating the obscurantism of the
old order, it cast upon society a dazzling light which blinded men and
women to the murky sources of this clarity.17 In other words, it had
no self-critical awareness that not only the object of its inquiry but
also itself were parts of a configuration of power that provided the
framework for its actions and thoughts. The notion of a disinterested
nature that was open to the investigations of an unprejudiced ratio-
nality among the French eighteenth-century ideologues as well
as in the English empiricism of John Locke was a part of bourgeois
ideological assumptions. The challenge, then, will be to advance
beyond their idea of rationality rather than claiming that they were
unsuccessful; Eagleton searches for a post-, rather than a precritical
notion of rationality.

The Embodied Self

One line of argumentperhaps not the most centralagainst a certain
postmodern critique of the concept of ideology that holds that power
and thus ideology is everywhere (which, in effect, could mean that
everybody is wholly mystified) is that such a ubiquitous concept of ideol-
ogy threatens to make the concept superfluous. If there is no possibility
to distinguish between ideology and nonideology, then the concept
loses its critical edge. But in practice, according to Eagleton, every-
body makes distinctions between good and bad uses of power.18 The
central argument against any leveling of all distinctions, however, is
an appeal to what Eagleton calls certain deep interests generated
by the nature of [human] bodies: interests in eating, communicating
with one another, understanding and controlling their environment
and so on.19 This emphasis on embodiment is central to Eagletons
thinking and has more or less been so ever since his early and perhaps
only sustained theological work from 1970 up to his book on Marx
from 2011. 20 As this is a returning argument in Eagletons thinking, I
shall spend some effort to try to explain in more detail how Eagleton
thinks these deep interests work. Again, it is not a question of say-
ing that these interests are brute facts that somehow are accessible as

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Ideology as Idolatry or Vice Versa 35

uninterpreted givens. Eagleton wants to find a way beyond objectiv-

ity and relativity to use the title of Richard J. Bernsteins book.21
In his After Theory from 2004, for instance, Eagleton argues
against a certain kind of philosophical postmodernism or nonfoun-
dationalism (he mentions Richard Rorty and Stanley Fish as examples
of this position). While he allows that they are correct in their posi-
tion that we do not have access to any position outside of our own
culture[w]e would have to scrutinize ourselves as though we were
not there. But it is impossible to haul ourselves up by our cultural
bootstraps in this waythis does not mean that there is no pos-
sibility to argue in a sensible way for, say, that torture is repulsive.22
A particular culture such as ours is neither completely free floating
nor firmly anchored; Culture only seems free-floating because we
once thought we were riveted in something solid, like God or Nature
or Reason.23 Just because we lack this absolute foundation does not
mean that there is no firmness of our ground. Here Eagleton seems
to reject what Bernstein calls the Cartesian anxiety according
to which anything that is not firmly founded must be in a state of
constant flux. Says Bernstein: The specter that hovers in the back-
ground . . . is not just radical epistemological skepticism but the dread
of madness and chaos where nothing is fixed, where we can neither
touch bottom nor support ourselves on the surface.24 But the two
alternatives in this dichotomy is not a choice we have to make, as our
very embodiment gives us a certain way of being in the world that
cannot easily be relativized even if it does not supply us with the kind
of firm foundation affirmed by modernists and abhorred by post-
modernists. What Eagleton suggests is that we do not need to get out
of our own skin or culture to be able to have a critical view upon it.
To be able to have a critical view upon our existence is built into our
system as human beings, and it is this that, among other things, dis-
tinguishes us from our fellow animals.25 Even if our fellow animals
as well as children that have not yet learnt to speak might have both
beliefs and reasons, they do not reflect upon these beliefs or desires
the way a self-reflected agent would do. This critical faculty is indeed
something we learn through our culture, but at the same time it is
something that is natural for us as human beings to develop. Nature
and culture does not compete against each other but neither are they
indistinguishable. So being entirely outside ones own culture would
mean that the criticism one could offer hardly would be of very much
interest for the culture in question. It is rather because we are cultural
animals that our critique is relevant. Cultures are never harmonious

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36 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

wholes but always in conflict, so that a certain part of a culture could

be used to criticize another part, and the same also goes for a criti-
cal comparison between cultures; since the boundaries of cultures
are porous and ambiguous, cultures can always be influenced by and
stand in dialogue with other cultures, and this is what happens all
the time. In a way, what Eagleton suggests is that nonfoundational-
ism has fallen victim of certain metaphors of depth and surface
and of a certain contrastive understanding of nature and culture that
keeps them from seeing that there is a difference in depth between
the praxis of perceiving other human bodies as persons and the
praxis of banning customers who are not wearing evening dress
from hotdog stalls; whereas the latter could easily be understood as
a contingent and highly idiosyncratic cultural habit, the former might
be harder to think oneself outside of. 26 This distinction, it seems,
implies a more nuanced talk of differences where it is not a question
of either-or: either an objective natural foundation given for all to see,
or a contingent, cultural, and linguistic relativity where each one of
us (as individual or as a part of a culture) are locked up inside of a
language game like in a prison.
It is interesting to note that Eagleton, in The Idea of Culture, rec-
ognizes a theology as well as a history and a politics concealed in
the word culture.27 This theology has to do with the relationship
between nature and grace, and, according to Thomas Aquinas, grace
does not destroy nature but perfects it, which is also Eagletons
view. 28 To be effective, grace cannot work against human nature, but
must relate to a potential within it. But on the other hand, it also sug-
gests that something is lacking in human nature; it calls, from within
itself, for something more. This is exactly how Eagleton understands
the relation between nature and culture, as is seen in the following
quotation (and note here also the theological terminology of trans-
figuration): If culture transfigures nature, it is a project to which
nature sets rigorous limits. The very word culture contains a ten-
sion between making and being made, rationality and spontaneity,
which upbraids the disembodied intellect of the Enlightenment as
much as it defies the cultural reductionism of so much contemporary
thought.29 This is a way of saying that culture is something that
comes natural to human beings, or that neither any simple dichotomy
between nature and culture nor the reduction of one to the other will
do. In Eagletons opinion, there is no need of any deconstruction of
the binary pair nature-culture, since the idea of culture already is
such a deconstruction.30 Eagletons understanding of the relationship

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Ideology as Idolatry or Vice Versa 37

between nature and culture, then, seems to follow along the lines of
his understanding of the relationship between ideology and nonideol-
ogy and is also, important for my purposes in this book, parallel to
his Thomistic understanding of the relationship between nature and
grace. One would not be mistaken, I believe, to draw the conclusion
that there is a Thomist substructure to Eagletons theory in the sense
that some important structural theoretical decisions are operative
also outside of any explicitly theological context. This is a claim that
I shall demonstrate further in the context of the coming chapters, but
already in the vital distinction between nature and culture, we see
this substructure at work.
Eagleton launches, in After Theory as well as elsewhere, an attack
upon what he calls postmodernism, defending suchin the eyes of
postmodernismunfashionable notions as truth and objectivity.
To take his definition of this style of thought, postmodernism is
suspicious of classical notions of truth, reason, identity and objec-
tivity, of the idea of universal progress or emancipation, of single
frameworks, grand narratives or ultimate grounds of explanation.31
About truth, Eagleton claims that cultural relativism really amounts
to a way of avoiding conflict: if there is no way of deciding which of
two conflicting understandings of something that is correct, then it
makes no sense of seeing these understandings as contradictory or
conflicting. So the reference to truth introduces conflict into human
existence, which Eagleton believes is a necessary step toward eman-
cipation. But truth does not necessarily have something to do with
dogmatism or fanaticism, nor the notion that truth claims are made
independent of context; truth is instead the outcome of argument,
evidence, experiment, investigation and might always be vulnerable
to revision.32 But why is it important to defend truth? It is because
it belongs to our dignity as moderately rational creatures to know the
truth.33 And this dignity must be defended, which includes being
able to tell why oppression is wrong, for example.
Truth has its foundation in objectivity, another notion that Eagleton
thinks is in need of rehabilitation. Regarding objectivity, he presents
an idea of human nature that is in debt to the Aristotelian tradition
where happiness consists in fulfilling your nature. This does not mean
that human nature is something eternally fixed. Rather, it means some-
thing like the way we are most likely to flourish.34 This flourishing,
Eagleton suggests, cannot be achieved by an individual alone but only
when we become the occasion for each others self-realizationand
this leads us to the notion of objectivity.35 To be able to give an account

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38 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

of how this flourishing shall be achieved, we need to realize that

there are certain ways that are common to human flourishing, and
that the reference to such objective commonalities do not impose
any arbitrary totalization of human striving. Not all objectification
is identical to alienation. These commonalities are not something that
can be determined, further, through a view from nowhere but are
something that is deeply rooted in our embodied nature: It is because
of the body . . . that we can speak of morality as universal. The material
body is what we share most significantly with the whole of the rest of
our species, extended both in time and space; The body is the most
palpable sign we have of the givenness of human existence. It is not
something we get to choose.36 That we as human beings share the
trait of being embodied does not only mean, however, that Eagleton
suggests that I have my body and you have your body, and thus we are
all in the same predicament. The connection is intrinsic to embodi-
ment rather than extrinsic. Embodiment as such implies sociality, in
that it suggests that the human subject is constituted by dependency
rather than self-sufficiency. Not that these two are polar opposites;
the way to independence and autonomy goes through recognizing the
inevitable dependency upon other fellow beings.37 But through desire,
our embodiment is always aimed at our fellow creatures, and as desire
is not a biological givenlike instinctbut rather something that is
established in the intersection between nature and culture, this means
that it is culturally produced but on a material basis. It also means, in
turn, that the denial of sociality is a denial of human nature, whereas
the affirmation of embodiment also is the affirmation of sociality. To
be sure, embodiment is a constant theme also in postmodern thought,
but Eagletons take on the theme is more in line with Aquinas and
Maurice Merleau-Ponty.38
Even if embodiment always is mediated through culture, it still
leaves us with enough commonalities between ourselves so as our bod-
ies will not be dissolved in language. Even if our embodiment is never
outside of signification, which means that there are different ways of
signifying this embodiment, this does not mean that it is a contingent
fact of human nature. Just because there are different ways of signify-
ing death, this does not mean that we, in some cultures, do not die:
Death represents Natures final victory over culture; Death is the
limit of discourse, not a product of it.39 But death is not the only trait
of human nature that does not change, but also temporality, language,
sociality, sexuality, suffering, production and the like, all things that
have to do with human embodiment and so necessities of the human

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Ideology as Idolatry or Vice Versa 39

condition.40 This does not mean, however, that conflict over the
meaning of embodiment (or, perhaps, over whose bodies shall enjoy
happiness) is marginal. Quite the contrary, our shared embodiment is
the very condition of possibility for conflict and strife; Only within
some kind of common framework is conflict possible . . . Difference
presupposes affinity.41 So the very same common nature is both the
condition of possibility for strife and for solidarity. This means further
that [o]bjectivity and partisanship are allies, not rivals, and so the
wretched of the earth can, at least sometimes, know more about an
oppressive situation than the nonpartisan bystander.42 Any objectivity
or universality will not do, however, as there are examples of bogus
universalities. The kind of objectivity or universality that Eagleton
wishes to defend turns out to be a defense of an Aristotelian ethics that
has been transformed through the tradition of Judeo-Christianity,
Hegel, and Marx and is what he sometimes calls a materialist con-
ception of universality.43 This universality does have a foundation
whether the world is created by God or notbut this foundation,
according to Eagleton, is freedom, and so it appears to be not a very
firm foundation after all. As this regards many of the question that I
will address in my chapter on God, evil, and freedom, I shall have to
return to this, but for now, I just want to conclude this section by a
claim that none of what has been said so far about truth, objectivity,
and foundations excludes, for Eagleton, a recognition of the funda-
mental contingency of human existence nor the possibility of using
claims of universality for ideological purposes.44 It could rather be
described as an attempt to come to terms with this contingency with-
out falling for the postmodern temptation of taking this contingency
for an occasion of refuting the possibility of a functional distinction
between appearance and reality in the critique of ideology.
Eagleton, then, bases his argument for the possibility of distinguish-
ing between ideology and nonideology upon what could be called
a hermeneutical and phenomenological account of what it means
to be a human being. This account, however, is not based on any
detailed exegesis of other philosophers on embodiment, for instance,
of Merleau-Ponty, nor of the critique that have been directed against
such accounts.45 Rather than focusing on the body as such, it becomes
a prominent theme together with more traditional political and liter-
ary themes, as, for instance, in his book The Ideology of the Aesthetic
from 1990.46 Even though Eagleton repeatedly acknowledges that he
is not a philosopher by trade, throughout his writings we find a deep
acquaintance with traditional philosophical themes.

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40 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

The Moderately Rational Nature

of Human Beings
Let me now return to Eagletons concept of ideology. It is hopefully
clear why, to Eagleton, the reification of culture could be as ideologi-
cal as the reification of nature.47 The purported endless flexibility of
human naturethat is, the lack of such a natureis rather the form
that ideology takes today, as it is in the interest of capitalism that
human beings shall be infinitely pliable and adaptable.48 For all its
materialism, capitalism is uninterested in human embodiment as any-
thing else than a resource of individual expression, meaning also that
the body is exploited by its voracious appetite for endless change.49
This is why Eagleton makes a connection between postmodernism and
capitalism: The creature who emerges from postmodern thought is
centreless, hedonistic, self-inventing, ceaselessly adaptive. He thus fares
splendidly in the disco or supermarket, though not quite so well in the
school, courtroom or chapel.50 Of course, capitalism is not a single
form for organizing society but many, but it could well be argued that
the new spirit of capitalism is accurately what Eagleton suggests it
is, as it has given up much of its earlier attachment to centralization,
hierarchy, and homogeneity in exchange for a network-structure,
where the workers autonomy and the plurality of lifestyles now give
rise to new and more subtle forms of exploitation.51 This is close to
ieks suggestion that cynicism is the form that ideology takes today.
But where iek, as we shall see below, appeals to an empty place
inhabited through a traumatic loss for the possibility of a critique of
ideology, Eagletons appeal is to a continuous if still rather anony-
mous resistance through our very embodiment. This reveals quite
substantial philosophical as well as theological differences between
the two, as will be evident in due course.
Above, I have suggested that the embodied nature of human exis-
tence is the clue to understanding Eagletons idea of the moderately
rational nature of human beings. The galley slave who thinks his
rowing is a hell of a job utters something that is not only of subjec-
tive concern but also articulates an opinion that could be universal-
ized, which means that it would be a hell of a job for anyone, not
just for him.52 Of course, this is not a conclusion that follows with
necessitythe galley slave could be deluded for various reasonsbut
still his release could plausibly be something that he would recognize
as good, even if in retrospect. Because of this, Eagleton is unwill-
ing to accept the total mystification of a human being. Even in the

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Ideology as Idolatry or Vice Versa 41

discourses over ways of life that might seem most unconvincing to us,
such as different mythological or religious doctrines, we still should
expect something that would make sense even to us, even if we do
not share a belief in these doctrines and even if we would explain this
sense in other ways. If not most of our beliefs about how the world
works were true, the world would simply would fall apart to us, as an
effect of it becoming totally unintelligible. This is also the reason that
understanding between different cultures or ways of living actually
is possible.
However, our moderately rational nature does seem to be of a more
practical than theoretical kind to Eagleton, as it does not exclude
some delusional ideas about our existence, such as a poll referred to
in passing saying that one in three Britons believe that the sun moves
around the earth.53 But the idea that the sun moves around the earth
is of so little practical importance to most everyday routines that we
still can keep up a functioning, practical exchange with these Britons.
Ideology, for Eagleton, does not necessarily refer to the occasional
delusional belief but rather to a systematic distortion of knowledge and
action. Still, to be workable, an ideology needs to consist of actions
and beliefs that do make sense to the people suffering from it. It could
not just be an out-and-out mistake about, say, the nature of society.
Even if we, like the French Marxist and structuralist Louis Althusser
did, think that ideology is more a matter of lived relations than cog-
nitive utterances about reality, this distinction does not make sense,
according to Eagleton, if we take it to mean a thorough bifurcation
of life and thought. Life and thought can be distinguished from each
other but are hardly entirely separate, as a certain lived relation
does imply some kind of belief or some assumptions about reality.54
To mention two of Eagletons examples of ideology: a racist is usually
a person who has strong feelings about people from other races, not
just someone who has certain dispassionate intellectual views about
other races. Feeling and intellectual judgment are most often inter-
twined, rather than entirely separate. And the second example would
be someone who utters an imperative Rule, Britannia!, where such
an utterance is not just an emotive interjection but to some extent
dependent upon questionable views about British superiority. In both
these examples, intellectual views and existential position go hand in
hand and could not be separated.
To Eagleton, his discussion about the emotive and cognitive dimen-
sions of ideology serves the purpose both of saying that an ideology
could be false and of saying that this does not imply that an ideological

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42 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

subject needs to be duped about everything. To Eagleton, ideology

often could be quite true in its description of the current society but
nevertheless be mistaken as it takes this description to rule out any
alternative to the current state of affairs. The reason that this is so is,
as I have mentioned, that people . . . invest in their own unhappiness,
and one reason for this, in turn, is that few people wish to live in an
unjust society and therefore, in an act of wishful thinking, take this
society for a reasonably just society.55 Ideology, in other words, serves
the purpose of hiding that an alternative to the present conditionthe
way to a more just societymight involve a radical transformation
of this present condition rather than piece-by-piece reform. Ideology,
thus, is inherent in a certain social structure rather than in language or
discourse as such. It is the way our way of life come to look natural or
if not natural then at least without any plausible alternative. Ideology
is not simply a mistake but is operative rather on the level of a
social imaginary to use Charles Taylors term, which means that
to turn someone out of ideology does not only or primarily consist
in correcting the facts but more importantly to change the material
conditions of society as well.56
Eagletons commitment to the moderately rational nature of
human beings does, consequently, not mean that he believes that
ideology is primarily a question about cognitive beliefs. Quite the
contrary, he has argued against a Marxist Idealism and has, in
line with ieks characterization of late modern capitalism as cynic,
stated: Capitalist society no longer cares whether we believe in it
or not; it is not consciousness or ideology which welds it together,
but its own complex systemic operations.57 Ideology lies inherent
in everyday life, not in a certain doctrine. Compare, for instance,
Eagletons article from The Guardian in June 2010 about soccer as
the opium of the people: Modern societies deny men and women
the experience of solidarity, which football provides to the point of
collective delirium.58 The ideological subject in todays capitalistic
world is not mislead about what he is doing, but still he keeps on
doing it. Eagleton does not follow iek all the way through on the
cynicism of late modern capitalism, however. People today are not
always aware in an ironic way of the discrepancies between what they
say and what they do; I might object to private schooling but to avoid
my daughter being bullied I place her in one. This is called ratio-
nalization, and rationalizations are still possible, which counts as an
argument against any all-out cynicism. More importantly, Eagleton
counts as a case in point that not all people behave cynically; they

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Ideology as Idolatry or Vice Versa 43

still flock to church, wrangle over politics in the pubs, care about
what their children are being taught in school or loose sleep over
the steady erosion of the social services.59 To not acknowledge this
would to be to go along with this cynicism of late capitalist society,
even when it is done from a leftist perspective. Even if it is social
institutions rather than individual consciousness that generates ide-
ology, this does not mean that our contemporary society lacks all
social institutions that present an alternative to the institutions most
central for late capitalism. For instance, Eagleton has, more and more
recently, come to regard religious institutions as a possible site of resis-
tance (does this mean that even soccer is not beyond redemption?).
Again, we can here detect Eagletons refusal of any complete alien-
ation on behalf of the ideological subjects, which would reduce them
to mere passive recipients of an objective social structure (a tendency
that he notes even in Marxs concept of ideology).60 The question
is always what people do with the possibilities offered by a society;
Social classes do not manifest ideologies in the way that individu-
als display a particular style of walking.61 Social reality, whether in
its aspect as consisting of classes, institutions or worldviews, do not
directly determine the thought of an individual. To use a criticism of
some kinds of deterministic Marxisms from the French cultural theo-
rist Michel de Certeau, people can make do with the most drudg-
ingly nave works of popular culture in ways that are expressive of an
active human agency rather than a dulling of the mind.62 Even if the
material conditions for this making do varies in ways that certainly
influence its execution, it always comes down to a question what you
actually do with in the circumstances you find yourself in. Ideology
for Eagleton, in other words, is neither inherent in consciousness nor
in social structures and things, but exists in between the two, and this
is something that he argues for all through Ideology.63
Speaking of Althussers notion of ideology, Eagleton repeats his
refusal of complete alienation with an argument that is similar to
one that iek delivers.64 According to Althusser, subjects come into
existence (as subjects) through being interpellated by societal institu-
tions and do not preexist these institutions. Thus, subjects are always
already in ideology. But what Althusser has to say about the interpel-
lation of the subject is much too monistic, according to Eagleton, as
it tends to identify the necessity that we are always interpellated as
some kind of subject (without which it would not make much sense to
speak of any human subjectivity at all) with the contingent fact that
we are interpellated as this or that subject. But the contingency of our

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44 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

actual interpellation also means that there is always the possibility of

not replying to the interpellation, especially as there is no single way
we are interpellated by social institutions; actual interpellations are
plural, often conflictual and also, sometimes, partial. On the side of
the subjectat least if we follow Jacques Lacan who also influenced
Althusserthere is always the nagging suspicion that I have misun-
derstood the demand of Other, so that interpellation carries with it
some dimension of necessary misrecognition that accounts for the
fact that we never wholly identify with the Others interpellation of
us. Besides, the institutions that do transmit the ruling ideology of the
society according to Althusser, such as schools, churches, families,
and the media, are, in Eagletons view, hardly just ideological struc-
tures, with no other purpose than to buttress the dominant power.65
Even if, to mention one of Eagletons examples, a school teaches its
students to hail the flag, it also might teach them to read and write
and tie their shoelaces, skills that might be handy even in a socialist
order. Even if Althussers concept of ideology has some important
contributions to make to a contemporary concept of ideology, such as
its materialist emphasis that ideology is inherent in social structures
rather than in consciousness, it is not sufficient to Eagleton. To take
such a view is surely to have too bleak a view of society with a cor-
responding pessimistic view of politics (actually a similar critique that
Eagleton directs against Sigmund Freud).66 It turns ideology to an
ubiquitous phenomenon and consequently robs much of its analytical
and political power; If loving God is ideological, then so, presum-
ably, is loving Gorgonzola.67 But being able to distinguish between
the significance of the two usually is part of the analytical power of
the concept of ideology.
Finally, in his foreword to the 2007 edition of Ideology, Eagleton
calls for the renewed applicability of a critical concept of ideology.
In a vitriolic critique of British author Martin Amis for being dis-
criminatory toward Muslims, seeing them as inherently antithetical
toward the Western concepts of freedom and justice without reflect-
ing about how also Western liberalism does not always live up to its
ideals, Eagleton suggests that ideology has made a comeback. Today,
ideology is alive and well, perhaps more so than on the occasion of
the 1991 edition of the book. Not only Islamic radicalism, but more
importantly the right-wing US politics as well, has seen to it that it
is now hardly very plausible that we live in a post-ideological world.
Against the alternatives of either putting Western values against the
rest of the world, and so taking the risk of a nave and self-oblivious

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Ideology as Idolatry or Vice Versa 45

ideology of Western supremacy, or saying with the postmodernists

that every culture is as good as any other culture, and thus getting
rid of the possibility of critique altogether (with lethal effects), what
we could do is return to the critique of ideology that is not in the
business of putting a set of values against another; [I]t has sought to
expose the material pre-conditions of such values and ideas, and thus
to defeat the most deadly brands of them by transforming the condi-
tions which give rise to them.68 Thus, even if the theoretical critique
of ideology has been put out of business many times since 1991, today
it is needed more than ever. According to Eagleton, to summarize, we
do not live in any post-ideological world and have not reached the
end of history. The claim that we live in a post-ideological age is
the form that ideology takes today. As long as human beings invest in
their own misery, there is a continuing need for the critique of ideol-
ogy. This is also one of the reasons for ieks continuing interest in
the critique of ideology, to which I will now turn.

Looking Awry
For ieks concept of ideology, we could begin by establishing that his
entire philosophical project can be described as a kind of critique of ideol-
ogy. As an example, his introduction to Jacques Lacan from 1991 carries
the title Looking Awry. Looking awrya quote from Shakespeares
Richard IIis not about, according to iek, illustrating Lacans
theory with the help of examples from popular culture. It concerns,
rather, to make such things visible as would easily be passed over in
silence. Another example: Hegels strategy in The Phenomenology of
Spirit is, according to iek, to interpret a theoretical position (e.g., the
beautiful soul) as an existential subjective attitude and thereby to
expose its hidden inconsistencies.69 This is ieks project in book after
book, and therefore he asserts that precisely by looking awry, i.e. at
an angle [we see] the thing in its clear and distinct form, in opposition to
the straightforward view that sees only an indistinct confusion.70 The
strategy of looking awry at a given phenomenon to perceive its clear
and distinct form is likened by iek to an anamorphosis, that is, an
image that only could be seen in its proper form through an unconven-
tional perspective, for example, through a mirror shaped like a cylinder.
This practice of looking awry also describes, according to iek, the
objet petit a, the object-cause of psychoanalysis, in a precise way: since
the objet petit a is an object that is postulated by desire itself, it cannot
be perceived by an objective gaze since it, for this gaze, does not exist

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46 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

at all; it only becomes visible through the distorted gaze of desire; it

is an unfathomable something that makes an ordinary object sublime.
An example: the Kinder egg, where a small, plastic toy is covered by
a chocolate shell; more than the chocolate cover, the child desires the
ridiculous but alluring toy within the egg.71 This toy, this promise of
something more, says iek, compensates for the inevitable disap-
pointment in eating the chocolate egg as something that never lives up
to its promise, the void around which the chocolate cover is wrapped.
This is how the commodity in general functions in the contemporary
consumer society, as a promise of something more that hides the cen-
tral void, but this is only visible if you take human desire into account.
To iek, thus, the strategy of looking awry is closely linked to the
objet petit a and to the critique of ideology.
In a certain regard, it goes without saying that the concern of iek
in book after book is precisely the critique of ideology. Even when he
does not use this concept explicitly, but instead talks about looking
awry or something similar, this has to do with the critique of ideol-
ogy. But this does not prevent iek from also explicitly coming back
to the concept of ideology in several places. One of these, where he
also in an unusually clear and pedagogical manner systematizes his
understanding of the concept, is in his introduction The Spectre of
Ideology to the anthology Mapping Ideology, which he edited and
published in 1994. Initially, he remarks here that apocalyptic con-
ceptions of the end of the world in popular culture seem to be more
plausible than the view that there might exist political alternatives to
a liberal capitalism such as a modest change of the means of produc-
tion. This shows, iek claims, that forces are active that regulate the
relation between what is possible to envision and what is not possible
to envision, and therefore the question of the critique of ideology is
But what about the objection that a critique of ideology presup-
poses such a privileged place as mentioned before, a place from where
it is possible to find the hidden mechanism that regulates the rela-
tionship between the visible and the invisible? Is not the concept of
ideology too ambiguous to be useful in any critical sense? iek men-
tions this objection, but declares au contraire that if a certain action
is denounced as ideology par excellence, one could be certain that
also its inversion is as ideological if not more. The point is that the
denunciation of the critical concept of ideology on behalf of contem-
porary theory is precisely the shape that ideology takes in our time:
[T]he stepping out of (what we experience as) ideology is the very

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Ideology as Idolatry or Vice Versa 47

form of our enslavement to it.72 What ideology is about here is how-

ever not the enslavement of human beings to an illusion, which it is
the task of the critique of ideology to expose. The critique of ideology,
rather, consists in disclosing the elements in the social system that
allows its antagonistic nature to be seen and thereby to bring about an
estrangement in relation to its established identity. iek writes:

An ideology is . . . not necessarily false: as to its positive content, it can

be true, quite accurate, since what really matters is not the asserted
content as such, but the way this content is related to the subjective
position implied by its own process of enunciation.73

Ideology is then found on a performative rather than on an episte-

mological plane. It does not only concern what I say but also how
I say it. In other words, ideology hides a relation of power, and it
is quite easy to lie with the help of the truth. ieks examples in
this context come first from a Western intervention in a third world
country because of crimes against human rights. Even if this could
be completely true that there has been such crimes in the country in
question, and that an intervention really could lead to an increased
respect for human rights, an intervention could still be ideological in
the sense that it hides the real motives behind the intervention such
as economic interests, et cetera. However, a second example from the
very same context brings us even closer to ieks understanding of
the critique of ideology, namely, contemporary cynicism: that one is
well acquainted with ones own low motives for an action does not
mean that one abstains from performing it. From the they do not
know it, but they are doing it of classical Marxism (actually a quote
from Marxs Capital) to todays they do very well know what they
are doing, but they are doing it ideology in our times has modulated
so as to appear in a different key. This change is vital for ieks use
of the concept of ideology.
iek structures his exposition of the concept of ideology with the
help of three axes that he obtains from Hegels conceptualization of the
three moments of religion: doctrine, belief, and ritual. Ideology is not only
a complex of ideas (theories, convictions, and opinions) but also mate-
rial institutions and spontaneous experiences. This also corresponds
to Hegels triad In-itselfFor-itselfIn-and-For-itself. One of ieks
essential ideas in his discussion of the concept of ideology is that ideol-
ogy, the concealment of the true relations of power, changes over time.
One is therefore justified in ones impression regarding the choice of

9780230340114_03_ch2.indd 47 3/1/2012 11:15:36 AM

48 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

a Hegelian terminology that a dialectical evolution of the concept

is central to ieks understanding of ideology. I will also let my own
account of ieks concept of ideology be structured through these
three moments, but I will not restrict myself to his introduction to
the anthology. If one reads the collected works of iek, one real-
izes almost immediately that there always are more than one way of
approaching a certain issue. The reason for choosing this account over
others is that it gives me the possibility to structure in a pedagogical
way what iek would like to say regarding the concept of ideology.
But I would also suggest that this way of structuring it forms a certain
deep structure in ieks philosophy.

Ideology as Doctrine, Ritual, and Belief

Let us thus begin with ideology as doctrine or as false conscious-
ness, the In-itself of ideology according to the Hegelian terminology.
For iek, the concern here is an understanding of ideology as a doc-
trine, a composite of ideas, beliefs, concepts, and so on, destined to
convince us of its truth, yet actually serving some unavowed particu-
lar power interest.74 The kind of critique of ideology that corresponds
to such a concept is a symptomal reading that strives to find the
ruptures, blanks and slips in the official text so as to expose its
hidden prejudices. iek mentions Jrgen Habermass theory about
ideal speech situations as an example of an ideology critique of this
kind. According to Habermas, there is a notion of ideal speech situ-
ations implicit in all human communication, which could serve as a
regulative ideal with the help of which it is possible to expose forms of
systematic distortion of communicative acts.
This very concept of ideology has, however, been inverted by dis-
course analysis, which means that what the Enlightenment tradition
of which Habermas is a part has regarded as a distortion of normal
communication is rather a positive condition of possibility for com-
munication in the first place; without this distortion, no communica-
tion will take place. What discourse analysis claims is, according
to iek, that no access to reality free from prejudices exists
which means that there is no neutral way of distinguishing between
appearance and reality. It is the very claim to have such an access that
is ideological. As examples of thinkers influenced by discourse analy-
sis, iek mentions Roland Barthes, Paul de Man, Michel Pcheux
(a follower of Althusser), and Ernesto Laclau. In different ways they
criticize the notion that there are facts that within our epistemological

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Ideology as Idolatry or Vice Versa 49

reach that are independent of the discourse that we always already

are a part of. Such facts do not exist, but are instead notions within
a particular discourse. Here, we can note the influence of Lacan on
iek, the Lacan who claimed that the very distinction between truth
and falsehood only can take place within language.75 One example of
ideology in this regard is the statement that we can let facts speak
for themselves: it hides the insight that facts never speak for them-
selves but only comes to speech within a particular discourse. We do
not possess any uninterpreted access to reality, and to refer to such
an access is only a way of rhetorically privileging ones own perspec-
tive. In a more Lacanian way of putting it, to which I will return in
the next chapter, it is a version of the discourse of the university;
such a perspective actually stands in service of an unacknowledged
and unquestioned master signifier and hides the position of truth,
from where this discourse receive its authority. The kind of critique of
ideology that comes from discourse analysis in other words suggests,
as iek presents it, that the task of a critique of ideology is not to dis-
tinguish between appearance and reality but instead to expose every
such attempt as a way of rhetorically privileging a certain perspective
on existence. Ideology should not be understood as a skewed under-
standing of reality or a false consciousness, but it is in fact reality, as
discursively construed, that is skewed.
This leads us to the second step, which for iek is to understand
ideology as ritual, in other words the step from In-itself of ideology to
its For-itself. Here ieks prime example of such a view is the French
Marxist and structuralist Althusser, by now somewhat familiar to
us. Althusser has in a renowned article about ideological state appa-
ratuses (ISA) asserted that ideology is not to be found in a certain
doctrine but in certain practices, rituals, and institutions. A certain
convictiona certain form of subjectivityis generated through us
becoming part of (interpellated by) those institutions that both pro-
duces and maintains the means of production.76 But Althussers concept
of ideological state apparatuses was already anticipated by the French
seventeenth-century philosopher Blaise Pascal who in his Penses
asserts that what is outer must follow upon what is inner if we are to
receive anything from God. If a person prays, kneels, et cetera, that
is, carries through the outer actions that are prescribed by the liturgy,
the inner faith will also be given to her.77 According to iek, it is the
very external ritual that generate the internal faith. For Althusser
as well the emphasis lies on the institutions producing the conviction
rather than the other way around. This certainly has not only to do

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50 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

with religious rituals or institutions but all other institutions in society

also. Ideology is not to be found in our convictions as such but take
existence in an embodied form in the material institutions. What is
most intimate is also what is most external, as it exists embodied
in the external, material institutions.
The advantage of understanding ideology as a ritual is, according
to iek, that such a concept of ideology does not need to presup-
pose that there is a more or less coherent conviction that somebody
finds true. iek mentions fascism as an example and suggests that it
is not enough to claim that the fascists themselves did not believe in its
message. The very external coercionmass meetings and parades as
well as sport events and cultural activities for workersperformatively
creates the community between people that they presuppose. This com-
munity does not exist before these meetings but emerges through
them. People are interpellated by the mass meetings and parades into
forming a community. This is indeed a central form of ideology even
in our contemporary, cynical society, where there are a lot of things
we do not believe, but where things, that is, our relation to things,
believe in our stead.
Something is still missing in this understanding of ideology as rit-
ual. iek is, to be sure, not just a kind of behaviorist. He wants to
go one more step forward and try to understand what it is that makes
ideology as ritual believable for the individual person. The next step
is hence, according to iek, when this externalization of ideology is
folded in itself in what is called In-itself-For-itself. This step occurs in
late capitalism when neither convictions nor material institutions, that
is, neither doctrine nor ritual, seem to be necessary for the reproduc-
tion of society. Ideology here is to be found in the elusive network of
implicit, quasi-spontaneous presuppositions and attitudes that form an
irreducible moment of the reproduction of non-ideological (economic,
legal, political, sexual . . . ) practices.78 In other words, today the indi-
vidual is free to believe or think whatever he or she wishes and could
remain skeptical toward all attempts to justify a certain way of life
for other reasons than purely utilitarian or hedonistic. He or she is no
longer coerced by some institution interpellating his or her existence.
The existing social relations are instead reproduced by the market in
tandem with the media that weaves a fabric of conceptions of what
is regarded as desirable or importantwhich in principle makes it
impossible to distinguish between reality and our aestheticizing
image of it. Marx has described this form of ideology through the
concept of commodity fetishism. Instead of the state having to order

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Ideology as Idolatry or Vice Versa 51

society from above, society becomes self-regulating from below

through the market. One example is when we choose a certain brand
of jeans, or pick a name for our newborn child, just to discover that
many others also share these expressions of our own, spontaneous
individuality. Suddenly, we all carry the same brand of jeans or give
the same name to our children. We need not be coerced into consum-
ing a certain brand of jeans or giving our child a particular, popular
name, we do it just the same and with a glad heart.
This is the form of ideology that, above all, characterizes the late
capitalist society that we live in today. The form of ideology here is
cynicism, according to iek, and it is well put in the expression that
I already quoted above: [T]hey do very well know what they are
doing, but they are doing it. In todays society, the cynic subject is
very well aware of the distance between the cynical mask and social
reality, but still it clings to this mask. To expose the ideological
mask as a mask, in an act of ideological criticism, is completely inef-
fective. Citizens in late capitalistic societies are not duped by some
false or illusory knowledge. To take one example: people today are
completely aware that there is nothing magic about money, and that
money is just an expression of a social relation. The problem is only
that they still act as if money really had a value in itself; people are
fetishists in practice, not in theory.79 Or we are, to be sure, very
well aware of how the media and the commercials tune our desire into
buying a certain brand of jeans, but we do it just the same. The cyni-
cal distance from the commercial exchange of goods thereby becomes
a form of ideology that precisely through this distance makes us blind
to how we always already are involved in ideological practices. With
another phrase from iek we could say that late capitalist subjects
no longer believe, but the things themselves believe for them.80
Examples of this abound, and iek mentions everything from
Tibetan prayer wheels, professional weepers, to canned laughter
in television shows. What is common to all these quite disparate phe-
nomena is that belief in the sense of conviction is materialized
in social practices and is not in the first hand a mental state. Belief,
mediated through social practices supports the fantasy which regu-
lates social reality.81 Belief, to iek, is not primarily about religious
faith but characterizes to the same extent every secular conviction.
Belief is in a way constitutive to human beings as such, a theme that I
will return to in the next chapter.
This means that in this third form of ideology, it is not only that
social institutions produce a certain kind of belief, like in Althusser,

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52 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

but further that, in late capitalist societies, fantasy is the condition

of possibility for the social institutions. At the very moment when
I loose faith the social institutions will disintegrate. Here we can
trace how iek endeavors to go beyond Althusser, since he thinks
that Althusser did not sufficiently show how the connection works
between the ideological state apparatuses and the ideological interpel-
lation through which a subject emerge. The difference is, according
to iek, that Althusser did not see how the state apparatuses are
dependent on a force that they receive through the experience of them
in the unconscious economy of the subject, as a traumatic, senseless
injunction.82 Or, in other words, the Law is not Law because it is
good, wise, prudent, or something similar but because it is the Law.
We obey it, in a certain sense, just because it is senseless; authority
does not come from truth but is experienced as necessary. We perceive
ourselves as addressees of a call from the Law, as if we were chosen,
but in actual fact it is we who constitute the feeling of being chosen, as
it offers us a symbolic identification. At the same time, the traumatic
senselessness of the Law entails that its internalization never wholly
succeeds. We can never truly find out what the Law wants from us. It
is this failure, this leftover, that is the condition for ideology. The
subject is caught up by the objet petit a, the object-cause of desire,
before it is subjectivized within the frames of the ideological state
apparatuses. There is a belief before belief, just like the possibil-
ity of falling in love before one is quite aware of it. In another text,
iek describes this as a predestination in the theological sense, as a
decision on behalf of the subject that comes before all other decisions
(I will return to this image in chapter 4).83 In The Sublime Object
of Ideology, iek formulates it in terms of love: The paradox of
love is that it is a free choice, but a choice which never arrives in the
presentit is always already made.84 Loves decision is a decision
that has not taken place in time but that still needs to be presup-
posed to explain how reality appears to us now. The reason that we
let ourselves be caught up by the interpellation of the social institu-
tions is that it hides from us the inconsistencies of the symbolic order.
The symbolic order sweeps away the traces of its own impossibility,
so to say. This means that fantasy also comprises the reason for its
own failure: society would be a nonantagonistic whole if it only was
not for a certain, unfathomable X. That we fail to wholly identify
ourselves with the Law is accordingly given a reason within the frame
of fantasy, which in so doing hides the fact that the very failure of
identification is the condition for human subjectivity.

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Ideology as Idolatry or Vice Versa 53

Fantasy hides the senselessness of the demand of the Law through

providing us with an answer to the question what the big Other
that is, the symbolic system as a consistent totality or the objective
Spirit to speak with Hegelreally wants, and so at the same time
creates the coordinates for our own desire. It is this fantasy that both
provides the social institutions with their eligibility for existence
and at the same time hides to us the raw senselessness of the object-
cause of desire. iek describes in a paradoxical phrase the desire
structured by fantasy as a defence against desire, in that it avoids
the immediate exposure to the void of pure desire (or drive, as the
pure desire also is called).85 In the promise of something more, the
Kinder egg hides the central void in human existence, that my desire
is not after this or that plastic toy (or whatever) but the very void or
lack of desire as such. This means that ideology works like a screen
that defends us against the senselessness of pure desire or drive: The
function of ideology is not to offer us a point of escape from our
reality but to offer us the social reality itself as an escape from some
traumatic, real kernel.86 But there is a chance of escape: when ideol-
ogy is demystified as ideology what we call reality will rend, since it
no longer will have any support in our fantasy. In other words, the
encounter with the Real is a traumatic encounter that will undermine
the very coordinates of the existence of the subject, through which
we will discover that the symbolic system has, all along, been float-
ing in air. The work of the psychoanalyst is to force the analysand to
confront the fact that it is he or she who presupposes the big Other
and so pull away the possibility of symbolic identification.87 In other
words, even today a critique of the ideology that sustains our fanta-
sies is possible.

Ideology and the Real

After he has gone through this logico-historical process of development
for the different forms of ideology, iek asks if it is at all possible to
imagine an outside of ideology. When even the critique of ideology
could be a case of ideology, the concept seems to be vacuous and
useless. There is, if this is correct, no possible way of distinguish-
ing between appearance and reality, which means that the concept
of ideology is dissolved. But even this, iek points out, is a case of
ideology: when we are at our most busy declaring that we never can
reach reality in itself but that different discursive universes is all we
have; when we seem to state that the only nonideological position

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54 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

is to reject the notion of a reality beyond ideology, then we have,

once again, fallen victim to ideology par excellence. iek therefore
insists on what seems to be an impossibility, namely, to simultane-
ously acknowledge that there is no clear line of demarcation between
(ideological) appearance and (nonideological) reality and persist in
keeping the tension between appearance and reality that makes a cri-
tique of ideology possible. This becomes what iek after Kant calls
the antinomy of the critico-ideological reason and he defines this
antinomy as follows:

[I]deology is not all; it is possible to assume a place that enables us

to maintain a distance from it, but this place from which one can
denounce ideology must remain empty, it cannot be occupied by any
positively determined reality.88

This empty place goes like a red thread through the entire recon-
struction of the concept of ideology in ieks work. At the heart of
the concept of ideology there is a dividing line through which every
ideology delineates itself against another ideology. An ideology can-
not catch sight of itself as ideology without differing from something
other in comparison to which it could stand out as ideology. When
iek again and again defends universality against its detractors, it is
precisely the universality of this difference that he defends and which
he claims we cannot loose or get rid of. Thus, there is no positive
universal content or a certain position or some fact that we can point
at that is nonideological but rather this dialectical movement that has
no final closure.
Here it becomes clear how iek supplements his explanation of
the critique of ideology with psychoanalysis as an attempt to expli-
cate this universality. According to Lacan, realitythat is, what we
experience as realityis never itself but always already sym-
bolized, constituted, structured by languageor by symbolic
mechanisms.89 But at the same time language always fails to com-
pletely symbolize reality, which means that there remains a nonsym-
bolized part of reality, the Real, as a kind of symbolic debt or as
the gap that occur between reality and the Real. Here, we meet one of
the most prominent concepts in ieks theory. The Real is a register
in Lacans triad of the imaginary, the symbolic and the Real. Given
the significance of the Real for iek, it would be entirely appropri-
ate to devote an entire book to the concept, not least with regard
to his ever-changing and ever-deepening discussions of it, but here

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Ideology as Idolatry or Vice Versa 55

some of its most basic aspects has to suffice, anticipating also further
discussions in the course of my book. As we have already seen, the
Real is not identical with reality but rather exists at the limits of
it. The Real is not a thing or an entity, however, but rather a gap
in existence or reality that undermines any attempt to regard them
as a complete whole. The Real is, by iek, often presented in ter-
minology that describe it as something monstrous, thus pointing us
to its association with the drive as something that lies outside the
symbolic order. But, again, the Real is not something, but exists as
a lack that structures our perception of reality without being part of
it, rather as the hole in a doughnut makes the doughnut a doughnut
without itself being a doughnut.90 Thus also its power to undermine
our perception of reality.
The gap, then, between reality and the Real (which itself is the
Real) haunts human existence in the form of a spectral apparition,
and it is this apparition that is the pre-ideological kernel of ide-
ology, according to iek. It is this spectral apparition that hides
the fact that reality per definition never could be whole: What
the spectre conceals is not reality but its primordially repressed, the
irrepresentable X on whose repression reality itself is founded.91 An
unmatched example of such a reality, writes iek, is the Marxist
concept of class struggle. Class struggle is not the name for a
struggle that takes place in reality but signifies the antagonism
that characterizes reality as such and that prohibits it from becoming
whole. In other words, class struggle never appears as such, as a posi-
tive entity, but only as a hook upon which hangs different forms of
attempts to hide its existence. What psychoanalysis contributes to the
critique of ideology is thus not to supplement a theory that without it
would be incomplete. Quite the contrary, psychoanalysis shows why
the critique of ideology never could be complete or exhaustive; its
origin lies in an antagonism that is constitutive for reality as such and
also is the reason why reality never could be whole. Class struggle
becomessomewhat surprisingly perhapsa kind of example of the
inherent ontological antagonism of existence as such, an intrinsic
alienation that for iek seems to have not only anthropological but
also cosmological proportions. [C]lass struggle doesnt exist in the
sense that there is nothing that is not a part of it, which means that
we never can apprehend it as such; class struggle is real in the strict
Lacanian sense and is therefore an ahistorical concept.92 History is
nothing else than a series of failed attempts to symbolize the Real
that eludes every positive determination. iek here establishes a

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56 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

distinction toward any form of Marxismhe mentions Stalin but we

could as well point to Friedrich Engels or Karl Kautskys versions of a
scientific Marxismthat asserts that language as well as technology
are neutral means that could be used by class struggle, which means
that class struggle here, in contrast to ieks position, can appear as
One way of explaining what it is that iek would like to express
through his qualification of the critique of ideology as an empty
place or class struggle as a hook or a quilting point (another
Lacanian concept) that hides its own existence is to have a brief look
at his suggestion that there is no metalanguage.93 This Lacanian
insight iek puts forward in his polemics against post-structural-
ist philosophy, but in this context it might be more interesting to
turn to a more directly political phrasing of this position. A certain
understanding of multiculturalismthat iek is highly polemical
towardenvisions the different cultures as more or less homogenous
and equivalent attempts to articulate a way of life that needs to be
given equal opportunities in society. What such a multiculturalism
does not see is the very perspective from which a societal modus
vivendi is imagined, its position of enunciation; it holds itself to be
a gaze outside of these cultures, as it were not itself a part of the
interaction and conflict between cultures, somehow hovering beyond
them in a kind of neutral perspective of arbitration. But if there is
no metalanguage, such a multiculturalism is an expression of a per-
spective that tries to obtain cultural and political hegemony and not
at all some kind of politically innocent and neutral perspective. In
other words, there is no perspective that could assume the role of
a referee that could decide between two competing teams but who
would not itself be part of the game. One way iek articulates this
is through suggesting that even if science in no way is independent of
the inherent antagonism, this does not mean that there are many dif-
ferent sciences. There is only one science, but there is also a struggle
between conflicting perspectives about which will win hegemony
over this single science.94 There is no neutral, third medium in which
this struggle about science can be fought but instead science consists
precisely in this struggle for hegemony over the single meaning of
This also explains why the critique of ideology is not dependent on
or presupposes any divine perspective upon existence, according to
iek, because what makes us capable of recognizing the difference
between ideology and nonideology and so obtain a critical perspective

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Ideology as Idolatry or Vice Versa 57

upon ideology is not reality but the repressed Real of the funda-
mental antagonism. The very constitution of social reality amounts to
no less than an original repression of this antagonism. iek can use
theological language to express this original repression in implic-
itly saying that the fall is necessaryI shall return to this in the next
chapterfor structural reasons, because without it, free choice would
never be possible.95 Unlike traditional Marxism, psychoanalysis does
not think that there is any final solution to social antagonism. Social
conflict could not be brought back to a set of historical oppressive
circumstances that gives rise to social alienation and that could be
put right, since antagonism defines la condition humaine as such.
Antagonism is not a condition that could be solved, but one has to
learn to live with it. All culture is, in a way, an attempt to culti-
vate this imbalance, this traumatic kernel, this radical antagonism
through which human kind cuts its umbilical cord to nature. The
aspiration to abolish antagonism through hiding it is the source of the
totalitarian temptation.
A propos this iek writes in The Sublime Object of Ideology that
the greatest mass murders and holocausts have always been perpe-
trated in the name of man as harmonious being, of a New Man without
antagonistic tension.96 Ideology, to iek in this book, is not a false
consciousness or an illusion, but rather the social reality itself as
far as it presupposes for the sake of its existence that its members are
unaware of its fundamentally antagonistic character.97 This antago-
nism, however, continually claims itself through different symptoms
that, paradoxically enough, both are a presupposition for the sys-
tem and at the same time undermines it. The task of the critique of
ideology is to uncover and expose this antagonism. One of ieks
examples of such a symptom is freedom in the liberal society: on the
one hand, there exist a number of freedoms such as the freedom of
speech, the freedom of consciousness, the freedom of trade, political
freedom, et cetera, but on the other hand, these freedoms are under-
mined by a particular freedom, namely, the freedom of the worker to
sell his labor on the marketwhich means that he or she looses his or
her freedom through being enslaved by capital.98 In other words, free-
dom here undermines its own existence, which is a symptom of the
fundamental antagonism. The illusion that the critique of ideology
exposes is not a liberation where we once again or finally can enter
a nonalienated condition but what iek with Hegel call the loss of
a loss: the insight that any nonalienated condition, some original or
future harmony, simply is not possible.99

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58 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

What then is the achievement of the critique of ideology, if it is

not to switch appearance for reality? The purpose of the critique of
ideology is the same as with psychoanalysis, namely, to lay bare the
lack that accompanies our symbolic system without covering it up.
Such an exposure aims at undermining the support for the big Other
in our fantasy, a subversion that also have as its consequence that
the state apparatus that supports our ideological belief will loose its
plausibility. When we traverse our fantasy it becomes clear how
the object-cause of desire, objet petit a, only materializes the void of
our desire.100 The object-cause of desire (the little plastic toy in the
middle of a Kinder egg) hides through its presence that the place that
it occupies in point of fact is empty, and so objectifies emptiness itself,
an emptiness that stands for the fundamental antagonism of existence
(and this is also why iek can write about the object-cause of desire
as a sublime object). To traverse the fantasy consequentially does
not mean, for iek, some return to any Edenic harmony or the estab-
lishment of a new harmony. The disclosure that the critique of ideology
accomplishes is rather a kind of revolution, a subjective destitution.
Certainly it seems like Lacan thought that the goal of psychoanalysis
was that the analysand should identify with the symptom, as the only
thing that could give some kind of consistency to his or her being.101
But to not give way on ones desire does not mean to hold on to the
fantasies that protects us from the pure drive but to hold on to the
desire for the Other beyond fantasy and so renounces filling out
the void, the lack in the Other.102 What remains is not, nonetheless,
emptiness in general but a certain, specific emptiness that consists in
the very act of exposure: [B]eyond the phenomena, there is nothing
but this nothing itself, nothing which is the subject.103 Traversing
the fantasy is, then, the very act of subjectivization.
iek describes this process through quite radical formulations
and in several different ways (often alluding to theology), by talking
of the modern subject as out of joint, as excluded from the order
of things, as the sickness unto death, the night of the world,
or as an excrement.104 He can also compare the subjects position
to the Christs deserted cry on the cross just before he gives up his
breath: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mt 27:46).
The purpose of this subjective destitution is to create conditions for
new kind of actions without support from the big Other, but the cri-
tique of ideology in itself appears to be a basically negative gesture.
It does not establish a new order but is concerned, rather, to wipe
the slate clean to be able to begin from the beginning.105 Given that

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Ideology as Idolatry or Vice Versa 59

the critique of ideology does not lead to any particular condition or

position, it lays closest to hand to regard it as an intervention rather
than a position. This means, in turn, that the need for a critique of
ideology never will disappear; as a negative gesture it is a form of
permanent revolution that seemingly has little to do with any posi-
tive political vision about how a just society could be fashioned. iek
certainly gives this impression in his earlier works, whereas his later
works have been more constructive in giving some suggestions about
what might come after the revolution. This is a question that I will
pursue more substantially in the final chapter of this book.
iek has acknowledged that it is possible to interpret The Sublime
Object of Ideology as a kind of heroic attempt to accept failure as such.106
What is the problem here is that he has not sufficiently explained how
the Real is not a pre-reflexive reality but instead that which gets lost
when the subject is immersed in the life-world but which will haunt
the subject in the form of spectral apparitions.107 In other words, he
tries to get at the impression that the Real would be a positive entity
when the Real must be expressed in more negative terms such as a
grimace inscribed in reality or an anamorphic stain. The Real
has no objective existence but is accordingly something, the reality
of which could only be expressed as a kind of inconsistency or antago-
nism between two different perspectives. This failure on ieks own
behalf expresses itself that he has not been able to be critical toward
the notion of democracy, a failure that he has tried to resolve in later
books. The problem with democracy, according to iek, is possibly
not the democratic as such but what is excluded in a fundamental,
nondemocratic decision. A social revolution with peaceful means only
is impossible, as it disregards the actual relations of power in a spe-
cific society, or in other words, its fundamental antagonism. iek in
2002 (as well as later) seems to be keener on suggesting that when we
traverse the fantasy this is not an end but a beginning.108 What this
beginning will lead to is, however, far from self-evident. This will be a
matter of continuing inquiry all through my book, but now it is time
to draw this chapter to a close by summarizing the reasons for the
continuing need for a critique of ideology.

The Continuing Need for a Critique of Ideology

As we have seen, there are substantial differences between Eagleton
and iek concerning not only the concept of ideology as well as the
implied human subjectivity but also in regard to the consequences of

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60 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

a critique of ideology. Especially, these differences are noticeable in

the divergence between Eagletons advocacy of a moderately rational
nature of human beings and ieks Lacanian idea of an intervention
of the Real, as the basis for a critique of ideology. As these differences
will be explored and analyzed in detail in the chapters to come, I shall
postpone the discussion of them and instead conclude this chapter
through stating some of the reasons that Eagleton and iek give for
the need of a critique of ideology against the background of their, on
the whole, quite critical assessment of contemporary liberal democ-
racy as an ally to late capitalism.
For Eagleton, a critique of ideology is necessary, as long as people
invest in their own misery. It is obvious from the world today that
there are massive oppressions and sufferings and that liberal democ-
racy is not in the least innocent of this present condition. The critique
of ideology will be a way of exposing the complicity of our contem-
porary society with this oppression and suffering as well as showing
that another world is, in fact, possible. An important mission for the
critique of ideology today will be to counter the impression, as one
of the most important forms that ideology takes today, that we have
reached the end of history where liberal democracy is the only game
in town. In other words, the outcome of a critique of ideology will,
among other things, consist in showing that change to something new
and better is actually possible. Human emancipation implies, as we
shall see in the coming chapters, a critique of all forms of determin-
ism that tell us that change is not possible. In very general terms,
what both Eagleton and iek wish to achieve with their theories is
to explain how newness and, per implication, hope, although maybe
improbable, still is achievable.
Another way of putting it, more ieks than Eagletons, is that a
critique of ideology consists in an intervention with the purpose of
shattering the coordinates for the prevailing symbolic system and thus
overthrowing it. What the critique of ideology aims at is to undermine
the systemthe big Otherthrough showing that it is free floating
so that it will collapse from its own sheer weight. The crisis of liberal
democracy could be an occasion for thinking about new political alter-
natives, but this is not a necessary outcome of the crisis, as everything
depends upon how such crises are symbolized, which narrative they
become a part of. When the normal run of things is traumatically
interrupted, the field is then opened up for a discursive ideological
competition.109 The political and social problems we face today have
to a large extent been caused by capitalismthe question of private

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Ideology as Idolatry or Vice Versa 61

property, the ecological crisis, the techno-biological possibilities, and

the increasing poverty in large parts of the worlds, as the four horse-
men of the apocalypse.110 These problems are of a kind whose solu-
tion only can be collective. The mystification of liberalism consists,
among other things, in that it makes us believe that it really has a
solution to these problems and that is the only viable political possi-
bility. iek points out that he might well sound apocalyptic, but that
we live in apocalyptic times.111 Communism, he insists, is, in actual
fact, not the name of a solution but rather the name of a problem,
namely, how we shall be able to break out of the confines of the
market-and-state framework, a task for which no quick formula is
at hand.112 This is ieks account, but despite distinct differences
between iek and Eagleton, I suppose that Eagleton would agree
with most of this analysis as a background for the continuing need
for a critique of ideology.
The critical task that both Eagleton and iek wish to pursue con-
sists in, if I would summarize it very shortly, the refusal to recognize
contemporary liberal capitalism as de facto inevitable. The critique
of ideology that they advocate is perhaps more the act of opening up
the possibility to enquire about alternatives than the presentation of
alternatives as such. Any plausible new political alternative has to
acknowledge the extent to which humanity is in a desperate situation
of alienation and that the remedy must be radical. In regard to this
task, Eagleton writes about tragic humanism that its insight consists
the knowledge that only by a process of self-dispossession and radi-
cal remaking can humanity come into its own.113 I have only, this
far, alluded to the kinship between idolatry and ideology, but it is
this insight into the fundamental alienation of humankind that is, to
Eagleton and iek, common to Christianity, socialism, and psycho-
analysis and distinguishes these discourses from other discourses that
deny this insight. But the consequences of the denial of this insight
about the violence at [our] own core is costly, as a civilization that
builds upon such a repression runs the risk of becoming a victim of
its own hubris and thus to endanger its own existence.114 The critique
of ideology has thusaccording to Eagletonmuch in common with
Greek tragedy, the function of which consists in warning against the
consequences of hubris as an antidote to make one dare to confront
ones own darkness. iek, on his side, refers to Marxism and psy-
choanalysis as two theories that have not given up the hope of an
engaged truth and thus capitulated to the limits of political relevance
that are being put up by the contemporary political horizon. He would

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62 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

probably object to the designation humanism, to the contrary of

Eagleton, but what concerns the insight of warning against hubris, we
could see a parallel. In the shadow of contemporary religious funda-
mentalisms, the so-called war against terror, technocratic fantasies,
and dogmatic liberalisms, the critique of ideology and its insight into
human estrangement or alienation looks like a quite pressing task to
both of them. This is the background against which we shall see their
use of theology, the task to which I now turn.

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The Need for Faith

It almost goes without saying that faith is important, not only to reli-
gious belief but also to human beings in general. Even today, some
kind of faithnot necessarily a religious faithis necessary to human
interaction, which is clear as the term has connotations that stretch
far beyond any particular religious affiliation. The semantic field of
faith is neighbor with the semantic fields of other terms such as belief,
courage, hope, or trust. In fact, to both Eagleton and iek, faith is
of vital political importance, even in its more religious connotations.
This chapter will explore why and how that is. But what is faith? A
preliminary answer to that question, a kind of conceptual definition,
would be helpful to try to understand what Eagleton and iek mean by
faith and how their respective understanding differif they dofrom a
traditional theological understanding.
Understandably, given its concern with faith, in the Christian
tradition there is a vast literature about faith, both in regard to its
theoretical definitions and to its experiential content. Faith has in
general not been understood as a contrast to reasonthis is a quite
recent use of the termand neither has it been reduced to a wholly
internal and private relation of God and soul but as a certain qual-
ity of the whole persons relationship to God. The first distinction
that I already have alluded to here is the distinction between fides
qua creditur and fides quae creditur: the act of faith and the content
of faith. One thing is the faith one might believe (for instance, the
Christian faith as it is expressed in the Apostless Creed) and another
thing is the very act of belief (i.e., ones personal faith in God). This
is a distinction between different dimensions of faith that is implied
in, for instance, Thomas Aquinass division between different aspects
of faith in Summa Theologiae when he suggests (referring us back to

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64 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

Augustine but in fact summarizing the whole tradition) that we could

distinguish between the assent we may give to God, believing what
God reveals is true (credere Deo), the belief that God exists (credere
Deum), and the act of trust in God (credere in Deum).1 These three
aspects are aspects of one and the same faith, according to Aquinas,
but all the same it is possible to distinguish between them. For exam-
ple, we could, referring to the first and the last distinctions, believe a
human being, taking what she tells us as true, without thereby com-
mitting us to a belief in this human being in the sense of trusting her
as a person. In other words, some aspects of faith are indeed quite
commonsensical and easily translatable into a nonreligious use.
If Aquinas in Summa Theologiae stresses the cognitive aspects of
faith (assent to and belief in) and how they are connected to the expe-
riential aspects of faith (trust in), other theologians in history have put
a stronger emphasis on one or the other. A case in point is the reformer
Martin Luther. Even if his differences to Aquinass understanding of
faith should not be overestimated, Luther regards it as important, in
his time, to call attention to its experiential aspects (faith as fiducia or
trust rather than as notitia or knowledge or assensus or assent), and
he writes in The Large Cathecism that [a] god is the term for that to
which we are to look for all good and in which we are to find refuge
in all need . . . it is the trust and faith of the heart alone that make both
God and an idol.2 In other words, speaking from the perspective
of the subjective act of faith rather than the objective content,
Luther suggests that the meaning of the term god is decided by this
subjective act. Even an idol could be the object of faith up to the point
that it is, in fact, the subjective faith that turns the idol into an idol.
The short definition of an idol is something that does not deserve the
trust I put in it. For example, it is a good thing to trust another human
being, but if I, in line with Luthers experiential definition, look for
all good and find refuge in all need in my fellow human being,
chances are that I will be disappointed at some point. This may be of
no fault of the human being I trust, but it is a fault of my exaggerated
expectation of her or himmy faith has turned my fellow human
being into an idol where, in the end, it is only God that could be the
reasonable object of such a faith that expects everything from it.
This does not mean that Luther falls flat for the Feuerbachian-
Freudian objection that God is just an object of wishful thinking, a
projection of God as the big Other who will solve all our problems.
Faith does not make God in a radical way (faith, for Luther, also
has the character of a fides quae) and, indeed, the road to a mature

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The Need for Faith 65

faith includes the realization that the living God that is the true object
of faith does not cater to our narcissistic needs but, on the contrary,
shatters our orbit around our own ego. In his Lectures on Romans,
Luther writes: [O]ur nature has been so deeply curved in upon itself
because of the viciousness of original sin that it not only turns the fin-
est gifts of God in upon itself and enjoys them . . . , indeed, it even uses
God Himself to achieve these aims, but it also seems to be ignorant
of this very fact, that in acting so iniquitously, so perversely, and in
such a depraved way, it is even seeking God for its own sake.3 Here,
Luther leaves us with no doubt about the narcissism of human nature,
and left to itself, it would, according to this account, prefer to keep its
idols and minor deities rather than exchanging them for the true God.
Typical objects of such a misguided faith in Luthers time might not
be another human being, but rather more abstract entities as money
or power. Today, it might be pertinent to point out how capitalism
and its monetary system is a system that is highly dependent upon
faith in a sense that is nothing if not theological: money as a means of
payment is a promise that must be received in faith, a faith that some-
one somewhere is ready to redeem the purchasing power they stand
for.4 Without this faith, money is worth nothing, and a loss of faith
in the credit ration of banks leads to economic crisis, as in September
2008. But to Luther, this faith would be an example of idolatry, in
that money never will deliver all that we hope from it. True faith,
to Luther, is a shattering experience that throws the believer off the
rails, leaving her or him with no illusions about the lack of authentic-
ity of her or his own wishes. Faith, to Luther, actually comes quite
close, at least formally, to the act of ideology critique as described
in the previous chapter, in that it does not only regard sinor
ideologyas a matter of cognitive false belief, which it also is,
but, more prominently, as the investment of our desire in fantasies
that cover the lack in our being. Emancipation becomes possible not
through the mere exposure of the illusory character of our idolatry,
but a deeper transformation is needed.
In Luthers definition, further, the act of faith comes extremely
close to hopeeven in a contemporary secular sense of hope for
our futurein that it accentuates the dimension of expectation in
faith; if I look for all good or try to find refuge in all need, this
signifies that something is lacking, a something that is not within
my own power to own or to realize but which I can only hope for as
a gift; hope is created in times of testing.5 The only way to have
true hope, for Luther, is to go through the shattering experience of

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66 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

faith, which deprives me of my presumptuousness or illusory opti-

mism. As noted by many commentators, faith and optimism are
not synonymous terms. Faith in the sense of hope goes deeper than
optimism, even in everyday parlance, and is certainly no stranger
to despair, a peculiarity of its constitution that was well known to
Luther himself.
I shall return to the question of hope in more detail in the final
chapter; until then, we shall, in this chapter, take a closer look at the
concept of faith. As we shall see, the dimensions of faith as explained
through Aquinas and Luther, the fides qua and the fides quae as
well as the experiential dimension of faith, find deep resonances in
the works of Eagleton and iek. Indeed, as we shall see, even when
Eagleton and iek broaden the experience of faith so as to accommo-
date instances of faith outside of any religious sense or tradition, faith
still keeps a recognizably theological character. First, I will describe
the content of faith according to Eagleton and then his views on the
act of faith, subsequently I will do the same thing with iekbut in
a less straightforward manner as I need to show ieks dialectical
construal of faith in some detailand then, finally, I will offer some
reflections upon their respective discussions of faith in both of its

The Creed According to Eagleton

As we have seen in the introduction, one reason for Eagletons return
to theology is that he thinks that it is more and not less radical than
much current leftist thought. One central task in this book, thus,
becomes to establish what kind of theology Eagleton believes could
have this radical function. This means, according to the distinction
introduced in this chapter, that we need to look at both fides qua
creditur and fides quae creditur, that is, both the act of faith and the
content of faith, and also at the relationship between the two. This
section will deal with the fides quae in Eagleton, the next with the
fides qua.
So, if we begin to look at Eagletons conception of what would seem
to be a fairly reasonable content of faith, we could immediately recog-
nize that this looks like a quite Catholic theology. I do not mean to say
that it is exclusively so, or that Eagleton is not ecumenical in his dis-
cussion of theology, but the continuing influence of Herbert McCabe
that was discussed in the introduction and that will be elaborated in
the next chapter means that Eagleton early on was put on the track of

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The Need for Faith 67

a certain version of Catholic theology that still remains important in

most of his work. Whereas iek self-consciously advocates a form of
heterodox theology that he finds as the true successor of Christianity,
McCabes theologyand per implication Eagletonsstays true to a
certain version of Thomistic theology that has deep resonances within
the tradition of Christian theology. Nevertheless, there are of course dif-
ferent accents that could be made even in the most orthodox theology,
and so Eagletons theology is still distinctively his own.
A horizon for his explanation of the content of Christian faith in
Eagletons later work is his refutation of what he believes are two
distorted interpretations of the Christian faith, found among the
new atheists as well as among Christian fundamentalists. These
interpretations are, in effect, mirror images of each other, but neither
is very theologically informed, according to Eagleton, and the real
challenge therefore is to construct a version of religion that is actu-
ally worth rejecting.6 In accordance with the principle of charity,
Eagleton believes that one has to start with presenting ones opponent
at his best rather than his worst. Incidentally, Eagleton often wavers
between presenting Christian theology as a worldview that we need
to take seriously but that, in the end, is open to doubt (even in its
best version) and where Eagleton is neutral regarding the outcome,
and something that he himself seems to be interested in advocating.
Without loosing this tension, we would do wisely not to immediately
identify Eagletons presentation of this theology with his own faith
but take it as an informed exposition of a Thomistic theology.
Eagletons account of Christian theology, then, is traditionally cen-
tered on God, Jesus, and the church. One central feature of it is that he
emphatically rejects any idea that Christian theology is about another
higher realm than the ordinary everyday life. Instead, it remains
resolutely mundane in its insistence on practical charity. Another cen-
tral feature that follows from this one is its radical insistence on justice,
which is where Eagleton finds the primary similarity between theol-
ogy and Marxism. In the Old Testament, for instance, there is a real
connection between the non-god Yahweh and the non-being of the
poorwhere the negation signifies a social justice which has not yet
arrived.7 This is a kind of negative theology in that God cannot
even be named for fear that he will be turned into just another fetish
by his compulsively idolatrous devotees.8 I shall return to Eagletons
understanding of the doctrine of God in more detail in the next chap-
ter, but suffice it to say here that Eagleton here certainly is at one
with the Thomistic tradition in that he refuses to identify God with

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68 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

a being. Aquinas would want to distinguish God from any beings

by saying that God is not a being but being itself. Such a concept
of God, for Eagleton, is, however, not just a concern for theology in
the narrow sense, but is intimately connected to the critique of ideol-
ogy, thus his mention of idolatry in the quote above. An idolatrous
concept of God would identify God with the pragmatic needs and
interests of the status quo.9 Anyin the eyes of radical politics
plausible concept of God has to be wrestled free from what we could
call a utilitarian concept of God. Eagleton repeatedly emphasizes
how God not only creates without any utilitarian purpose (instead
creating the world just for the hell of it10) but in fact also exists with-
out any particular reason for doing so. This means, as I shall explain
in more detail in the next chapter, that the creation of the world by
God does not mean any obstacle to human freedom, but rather the
opposite, its very foundation. Creation means contingency, as it exists
gratuitously, a result of [Gods] unmotivated generosity.11
Another feature of the theology that Eagleton presents is his notion
of the poor, the wretched of the earth (from Frantz Fanons book as
well as a quote from the opening line of the Internationale anthem), or,
with a Hebrew term from the Old Testament, the anawim. Especially
the theme of the anawim has been with Eagleton since his early
workin The Body as Language from 1970, for instance, oppressed
and exploited human beings are identified with the anawim: These
menthe anawim of the old testament whom Christ speaks of in the
beatitudesare the dirt which falls outside the carefully wrought
political structures of society, those whom society cannot accom-
modate; as such, they stand as a living challenge to its institutions,
a potent and sacred revolutionary force.12 As such, they challenge
every status quo. Similar ways of speaking could also be found in
his books from this century. In Reason, Faith, and Revolution, for
example, Eagleton explains that the anawim, in Pauline phrase, are
the shit of the earththe scum and refuse of society who constitute
the cornerstone of the new form of human life known as the king-
dom of God.13 If we return to Eagletons concept of God and the
essentially negative way that it is presented, we see how the theme
of the anawim links to such a doctrine in that the full disclosure
of the being of God is not possible in a society that is as unjust as
this. Negative theology does not (only) have to do with the concept
of God in itself nor, for that matter, with any epistemology of faith,
but with the present sinful conditions known as capitalism. Not
only in his own exposition of a reasonable theology but also in his

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The Need for Faith 69

critique of deficient theologiessuch as the ones that are implicit

in, for instance, Richard Dawkins refutation of Godthe concept of
God is for Eagleton linked to a certain view of society. So theology,
finding its inspiration in the two testaments of the Bible, is a brutal
destroyer of human illusions, especially when it comes to the state of
the current world order, in its refusal to hide the actual conflicts that
tarnishes it.14
Another way of talking about the same theme is Eagletons use of the
theological concept of sin. Sin is also a mundane affair for Eagleton. In
his early theological work, sin is identified with the act of objectify-
ing others or using others as objects for our own self-advancement.15
Interestingly enough, Eagleton identifies what the christian calls sin
and the socialist calls capitalism with each other16 the process of
reification is both a significant trait of capitalist society and a struc-
tural possibility inherent in the human condition as such, identified by
Christianity as original sin. There is pessimism in Christianity, or
perhaps a grim realism about the recalcitrance of the human condi-
tion that shows itself in all sorts of ways, from idolatry to injustice,
and that hardly will wither away through either enlightenment or
political reform.17 As in the discussion of ideology in the last chapter,
Eagleton thinks that [o]riginal sin means that we are built for truth
and happiness but have no spontaneous access to what they mean or
how to attain them.18 Now, the Christian doctrine of original sin
is, as the British philosopher Stephen Mulhall has pointed out, the
subject of multiple interpretations, disputations, and reformulations
across two millennia but nevertheless, there is a common core in
many of its formulations that human nature as such is tragically
flawed, perverse in its very structure or constitution.19 This idea is
what rightly joins Eagletons tragic vision of human nature with this
Christian doctrine. In a sense, then, the theological notions of origi-
nal sin as well as the fall are ways of speaking about why we as human
beings are at odds with ourselves, alienated from our environment,
suffering from an unhappy consciousness (Hegel), or being dis-
content with civilization (Freud), and it is this general view of human
existence that is exploited by Eagleton. 20
Eagletons particular interpretation of original sin is similar to his
advocacy of a moderately rational nature of human beings in regard
to the critique of ideology as well as his definition of ideology as an
investment in ones own misery, both in its insistence that human
beings actually are built for truth and happiness, and in that this
human essence is occluded but not totally lost under oppressive

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70 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

and ideological circumstances. This means in political terms that

Eagleton suggests that our alienation is not complete, but also, in
theological terms, that human beings do not suffer total deprav-
ity as a consequence of sin. In this, both as a political philosopher
and theologically, Eagleton shows his Catholic inheritance in that
the Protestant tradition, more than the Catholic, emphasizes the dis-
continuity between the fallen human being and saved humanity. The
attribute of being created in the image of God was something that,
according to some of the reformers (at least in their more extreme
pronouncements), was lost through the fall and could only be restored
through Gods grace.21 In contrast to this, Catholic theology (as well
as later Protestant theologians such as Friedrich Schleiermacher) usu-
ally maintains that reason was not completely lost, even if the human
condition is serious. 22 Human desire, even in the fallen state, is a
desire given by God, and as such it is the obscure signifier of [the
supreme good] in actuality, according to Eagleton. 23
In his doctrine of sin, Eagleton advocates a quite classic, Western
conception, something like the Augustinian incurvatus in se. 24 Central
to Augustines understanding of sin is that human beings curve in on
themselves: instead of turning to God, the source and telos of human
existence, human beings turn to their own selves. This narcissism of
sin is devastating, not only in a religious sense, in that the relation-
ship to God becomes thwarted, but also to relationality in general
because even relations to other human beings (but also toward cre-
ation, history, and to ones own self) take on an instrumental role
in the fulfilling of our egocentric desires (amor sui). This curving in
on the part of human beings is manifested empirically primarily as
pride (superbia), but also as falsehood (mendacium), disorder (inordi-
natio), and isolation. At the same time, as human beings are created
good and not as evil, sin is in a certain sense something unnatural,
which means that even in fallen humanity, there is still a tension
between what human beings actually are and what they are meant
to be. Sin is in other words an obstacle against the full realization of
human flourishing, a kind of contradiction or even a disintegration of
self. To Augustine, sin is a severe form of human alienation and the
remedy of alienation would result in an opening of the self in all its
The question of sin overlaps with Eagletons concern about the
subject as the foundation of reason in modernity. In one of his dis-
cussions of the quest for epistemological foundations that could take
the place of God (who, he says, really never worked very good as

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The Need for Faith 71

a foundation, since God in contrast to all idols were beyond repre-

sentation), he explains this centeredness around the self as the effect
of sin, as when [a]ll dialogue became self-dialogue. It was like try-
ing to play hockey with oneself.25 This self-centeredness was the
result of humankind trying to become the foundation for itselfin
effect, Eagleton is retelling the advent of modern human autarchy
but this had detrimental effects, like being stuck with ourselves for
all eternity, which Eagleton compares to being trapped with an
intolerable bore at a sherry party.26 Hell is not, as Jean-Paul Sartre
suggested, other people but rather to be left with oneself forever.27 But
Nietzsche and postmodernism overthrew this idea of the subject as
just another bourgeois illusion. In the wake of this decentering of the
subject, the French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy points out how the
question of subjectivity has been one of the most pressing questions of
contemporary philosophy bearing upon the critique or deconstruc-
tion of interiority, of self presence, of consciousness, of mastery, of
the individual or collective property of an essence.28 This critique
or deconstruction of the subject is what Eagleton, in a quite general
way, refers to, and even though he is critical toward the full dissolu-
tion of the subject, he also recognizes the affinity of this philosophical
gesture with traditional Christian theology. Neither in postmodern
philosophy nor in Christian theology is the subject the master of his
own house, in the latter case due to sin but also further to the status of
being created, and so could not serve as the foundation of itself. The
answer to both modern and postmodern philosophy of the subject,
as well as the question of sin, is an affirmation of the fundamental
relationality of the subject that, for Eagleton, goes hand in hand with
his emphasis on the embodied nature of humanity, as discussed in the
previous chapter.
This brings us to Eagletons Christology as the clarification of the
conditions for human emancipation and escape from sin. What he has
to say about Christ actually is very much in accordance with tradi-
tional theology but explained by Eagleton in a theoretical idiom that
he thinks makes more sense to a contemporary reader. For instance,
the meaning of the proposition that Jesus is the Son of God is that he
is the authentic rather than ideological image of the Father, reveal-
ing him as comrade, lover, and counsel for the defence rather than
has patriarch, judge, and accuser.29 Or, in another formulation,
[t]o say that Jesus is the Son . . . is to claim that what he is for the
Other known as God is also what he is for himself. The source of
love, and the source of his personal existence, are identical.30 Jesus

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72 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

is the embodiment of a law that is not to be understood as a contrast

to love (in parallel to McCabe). 31 If love is a disruptive force, it has
the same qualities as law, but the law in Christianity means the law
of justice and so is an act of solidarity; [T]he Real which the tor-
tured body of Jesus shows up the divine law to be is not the obscene
of sadistic power, but an obscenity of a different kindthe frightful
image of God himself as vulnerable animal and bloody scapegoat,
the flayed and butchered pharmakos of Cavalry.32 So the point of
the law, in Judaism as well as in Christianity, is not legalism but soli-
darity, and as the law is there to protect justice, Jesus has not come
to abolish it but to emphasize the radicality of the law. In essence,
therefore, there is continuity between Judaism and Christianity or
between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. 33 Again, here we
also find a basic continuity with Eagletons emphasis on embodiment
in that he regards the relation between the letter and the spirit of the
law not as an antithesis but as a dependence upon each other. 34 There
could be no spiritual meaning without the materiality of the letter,
as it is this materiality that gives rise to the spirit. This means, in
other words, that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law, not its abolition.
The real scandal is thus not that Jesus wants to do away with the
law, which he indeed does not according to Eagleton, but that he
seems to regard himself as the meaning of the law, and that his life
and death signifies what the law is all about.
I have already touched upon the doctrine of the incarnation, that
God took human form in Christ, and it is indeed a recurring theme
in Eagletons writings that transcendence and immanence are not
incommensurable. This becomes particularly obvious in his critique
of, for instance, Emmanuel Lvinass and Jacques Derridas ethics of
the other. According to Eagleton, the Levinasian Other . . . is more
sublime than beautiful, which means that [s]uch an ethics is far
from the Christian notion that men and women have been invited
through the humanity of Christ to share in Gods friendship, not
simply to feel his numinous presence in the Other like an agonis-
ing wound or guilty start from slumber.35 To Lvinas and Derrida,
Eagleton suggests, divine otherness turns into a contrast to everything
that smacks of sameness, which unfortunately transforms God into
a very capricious existence and puts faith at odds with reason. Even
if this infinity, to Lvinas, is alive in persons, he does not manage to
integrate this infinity into everyday life, which means that it hovers
aloof from history, politics, Nature, biology or run-of-the-mill moral
issues; Transcendence must not be compromised by immanence: it

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The Need for Faith 73

is irreducible to presence, and is therefore, except in the unpresentable

face of the Other, disincarnate.36 This is a contrast to what Eagleton
himself has to say about the incarnation and the relationship between
transcendence and immanence: The fact that God and humanity
are not ultimately at cross-purposes is known to Christian faith as
the doctrine of the Incarnation. If God is indeed in one sense utterly
other, he is also made manifest in the tortured body of a reviled politi-
cal criminal.37 Even if these passages are fetched from a discussion of
ethics, and not of the doctrine of the incarnation as such, it becomes
clear how Eagleton actually uses a formulation of incarnation as a
critical instrument with the help of which he assesses some of the
more prominent philosophers of today. The main point of this criti-
cism, for Eagleton, is that a wholly disincarnate version of ethics in
the end will be politically impotent, as any manifestation of the other-
ness in real politics would be equal to its betrayal. A propos Derrida,
he writes that the ethical is a form of spiritual vanguardism which
breaks disruptively into the self-satisfied inertia of everyday life.38
But what about traditions that actually are not oppressive but rather
creative and empowering? The absolute singularity of the other is an
irruption of politics, but hardly a transformation of it. To Eagleton,
the ethics of the other too easily makes a virtue of difference and a
vice of sameness, when the actual situation is much more complex
than that. The everyday and the extraordinary should not be under-
stood as contrasts but rather stand in a dialectical relationship to each
other, and this is as true for politics as for theology; this means also
that the true service of God is executed in a quite quotidian way rather
than in grand gestures of renouncement: [T]he Christian gospel sees
in such humdrum activity as clothing the naked the foretaste of a
transfiguration of the earth, one which is folly to the French; With
Christianity . . . there emerges a new esteem for the ordinary.39 This
is what makes Christianity akin to socialism, as both are concerned
with the common life and actually existing human beings, not any
other life, but at the same time they both nourish the hope of a trans-
formation of the very same lives. This matter is also, as I will show in
chapter 5, where Eagleton is most explicitly critical of iek.
So what does Eagleton make of the atonement? One could say that
in essence Eagletons understanding of the atonement is similar to
the French anthropologist Ren Girardseven if he only mentions
Girard in passing in his book on tragedy Sweet Violence and here
not Girards more explicitly theological work.40 According to Girard,
the work of Christ is not that he sacrificed himself to propitiate a

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74 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

wrathful God on behalf of human beings but, quite the contrary, the
radical demythologizing of any such understanding of the need for
atonement; what the Gospels tell us is that Christ was innocent and
that his innocence was acknowledged by God through the resurrec-
tion.41 In other words, the crucifixion and resurrection is a form of
ideology criticism. Like Girard, Eagleton is quite critical of a tradi-
tional reading of the juridical conception of the atonement, where
God is a terrorist who demands the blood of his own son as the price
for having been immortally offended (which is how he characterizes
John Miltons view of the atonement).42 What the atonement is about,
then, is, for Eagleton, the rather mundane business of destroying some
idolatrous images of God, or of the law, or of injustice. Through the
act of laying down his life, Jesus reveals a God that is infinite love
and whose law is on the side of the oppressed, rather than the states
instrument for oppression. Jesuss identification with this true law
of his Father that is also love is the reason for his execution, and the
resurrection is the Fathers vindication of this act of love; In this
narrative, it is the Father who rebels against injustice, angrily defying
the powers of this world by raising up his murdered child.43 But this
child is not, momentarily at least, entirely sure about the status of his
Fathers wish: when Jesus on the cross cries out in agony, this is inter-
preted by Eagleton as God the Father having become inscrutable
and Satanic to Jesus.44 In this moment, God is experienced by Jesus
as the Real whose impenetrable wishes only can be met by neurotic
interrogation. This divine inscrutability becomes terrifying. But in the
end, Jesuss death on the cross and his subsequent resurrection do
mean that the image of the Father as august metaphysical principle
is . . . dethroned; the death of Jesus overthrows the Satanic image of
God as Nobodaddy, superego, or bloodthirsty despot.45
This overthrowing of the Satanic image of God does not happen by
mere chance or just out of the blue, but the moment of terror should
rather be understood as signifying the very depth of Christs identifi-
cation with the outcasts, the anawim. It is Christs descent into hell,
sign of his solidarity with torment and despair.46 He is, in the words
of the apostle Paul, made sin (2 Cor 5:21), and it is because of his
identification with the very depth of the tragic condition of human-
kindthe refusal of any easy passage from cross to resurrection so to
speakthat something like a hope is possible. Only if you can gaze
on this frightful image without being turned to stone, accepting it as
absolutely the last word, is there a slim chance that it might not be.
This chance is known to Christian faith as the resurrection.47 Not

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The Need for Faith 75

to live through the impoverished condition of humanity to the very

limit would be cheating; it would not be taking it seriously but just
patching it up. The crucifixion is a kind of tragedy, but not the kind
of tragedy that ends in destruction but in the sense that one must
learn how to really die to be able to live.48 It has, to Eagleton, the
same structure as the struggle for democracy and justice: the struggle
must be affirmed even when we acknowledge that this struggle has
led to its own kind of bloodshed and destructionin other words, it
does not give us any reason for a triumphalist teleology.49 Further,
Eagleton is quite resolute in his opinion that the suffering and death
of Christ on the cross in not portrayed by the New Testament as a
heroic act; suffering, even in this particular case, is unequivocally
evil.50 If Jesus finally submits willingly to death, it is only because he
seems to see it as unavoidable.51 Any suggestion of a sadomasochistic
exchange where suffering or illness is regarded as somehow glorious
or pleasing to God is out of the picture. So the suffering and death of
Christ on the cross does not have any redemptive value as such; it is
thus fitting that Christ was portrayed by the Gospels as reluctant to
die (cf. Mt 26:3646).
One way of characterizing Christs atoning work is to talk about
it as a form of sacrifice or as a scapegoat or pharmakon. Eagleton is
well aware of the ideological danger with every such notionThe
idea of sacrifice is not in the least glamorous these days52 but
nevertheless he insists on using such terminology as it could help to
draw our attention to how very desperate the situation is that sacri-
fice could be the possible response to. And so even the radical could
profit from this ideal. A fundamental distinction between two dif-
ferent kinds of sacrifice is needed, however, so as not to confuse the
tragic with the morbid; the death of the martyr is not the giving up
of something worthless, on the contrary, it is only the precious that is
worth to die for. So the martyr would prefer to stay alive, but given
the circumstances in question, this is not an optionthus martyrdom
differs from suicide. The act of martyrdom signifies a hope for the
future, bearing witness to a truth and justice beyond the present.53
In other words, the martyr is not some kind of nihilist but on the
contrary, someone who is willing to give up his or her life on behalf
of something that is more valuable than life itself: There is a kind of
asceticism which is in the cause of abundance.54 Christ is not ascetic
in the sense that he would give up central things in everyday life such
as bread, wine and fellowship, quite the contrary, but still he had
to lay down his life for the coming of Gods kingdom, which meant

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76 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

sacrificing some of the things that would characterize this kingdom.55

Sacrifice could be a name for the process of going through death and
dissolution for the sake of a better future, and need not be in love
with destruction as such. Eagleton, once again, here tries to balance
between the Scylla of nihilism and the Charybdis of a humanism that
does not recognize the depth of the alienation and the injustice that
characterizes the human condition. If society was just and humanity
not alienated, sacrifice would not be needed. If Christ is a sacrifice, he
is it in the sense that he brings this condition (what St John calls the
sin of the world, as opposed to this or that individual transgression)
into the most intense focus, since it is its most vulnerable victim.56
Again, Christs atoning work does not consist in any metaphysical
transaction but rather in this exposure of a certain earthly condition.
The atoning act of Christ is an act of solidarity with the outcasts and
the poor, and the radicality of this idea is to be found in the idea that
someone who identifies himself with the anawim and dies a criminals
death on the cross actually through this very act also reveals who God
is. In this, the New Testament offers an inverted image of ancient
sacrifice, as it is, in a sense, God self that becomes the victimand
so the very notion of sacrifice is reimagined by Christianity.57 As
mentioned, Christs sacrifice is not heroic in the classic sense but
instead he is a sick joke of a savior and this is also the reason,
implicitly, for Eagletons affirmation of a relatively traditional account
of Christs death on the cross.58
As already suggested, the resurrection does not, to Eagleton,
mean any easy passage from crucifixion to resurrected life, as this
had been equal to a denial of the seriousness of the human condi-
tion. Resurrection is, instead, a hope against all hope, an unexpected
victory when everything surely was lost; Reclamation is necessary
exactly where it seems least possible. Anywhere less drastic would
not be in need of it.59 In other words, Eagleton advocates what the
British philosopher Jonathan Lear would describe as a crucial distinc-
tion between radical hope and mere optimism.60 Mere optimism,
to Lears psychoanalytically informed discussion, is a kind of wish
fulfillment, whereas radical hope is founded in a courageous and
imaginative response to reality. Eagletons understanding of the res-
urrection always draws a parallel to successful political emancipation
(without actually conflating the two) as both involve the healing of
this life, this body, or this world and, moreover, as both seem as likely
(or rather unlikely) to occur. In one sense, therefore, Eagleton comes
out as politically pessimistic, but in accordance with his own view,

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The Need for Faith 77

this does not mean that he is without hope.61 At the same time, resur-
rection in Eagletons understanding of it is eminently embodiedand
this goes along with his understanding of the Christian tradition as
essentially a materialist tradition. Christianity places its faith in the
resurrection of the body, not in the immortality of the soul; and this is
just a way of saying that if heaven does not involve my body, it doesnt
involve me.62 In effect, this is for Eagleton an affirmation of the fun-
damentally embodied nature of human beings as well as their social-
ity. The immortality of the soul, a notion that has been more popular
in modern Christianity than in the antique or medieval traditions, as
Eagleton rightly suggests, is too much in debt to a particular kind of
bourgeois subjectivity, with its focus upon moral independence and
disembodied rationality.
Even if Eagleton thus presents a quite traditional Christian theol-
ogy, he also has some things to say as a critique of Christian theol-
ogy, especially against any fundamentalist aberration from what he
regards as a traditional theology. For instance, he is quite critical of
the notion of a sacred text in Christianity (and Islam) as he thinks
thisat least in the fundamentalist version of itis self-contradictory.
No text can be sacred if this is taken to mean free from all contradic-
tions, ambiguity, and metaphoricity, and any written text is as such
open to many interpretations; [E]very piece of writing is profaned
by a plurality of meanings, and the urge to put a stop to this tex-
tual promiscuity is just another neurotic search for absolute founda-
tions.63 But in actual fact, this urge is akin to necrophilia, as it is in
love with the dead letter of a text and tries to freeze the unavoidable
flow of meanings.64 It is, even, a paradoxical desire for nonbeing; the
escape from the flux of linguistic meaning and so from contingency
also means the destruction of meaning, narrative, and matter as all
these are the stuff of a contingent creation; the fundamentalist has
a hidden death-wish in that only nonbeing could be a safe harbor
from the messiness of the world.65 In a sense, therefore, the Christian
fundamentalist is denying a central feature of Christian faith, accord-
ing to Eagleton, namely creation, as creation really equals contin-
gency, and so to deny contingency is to deny creation as the lot that
has befallen us. Another way of putting it is that the fundamentalist
implicitly identifies the act of creation with the fall, since ambiguity
is identified with the fallen state of human reason, but in reality there
can be no creation without ambiguity. But this also reveals the fun-
damentalists secret affinity with nihilism, according to Eagleton.66
The best antidote to fundamentalist Christianity, then, seems to be a

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78 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

return to a more traditional, Thomistic theology. As this section has

shown, the kind of theology that Eagleton is informed by, in his own
theory, is indeed a fairly traditional theology in regard to its content,
the fides quae. In other words, Eagletons writings do respond to an
exposition along the lines of the traditional Christian creed.

Faith, Reason, and Engagement

Turning to the other aspect of faith, the fides qua, Eagletons expanded
discussion of the act of faith could be found not only in Reason,
Faith, and Revolution, but also dispersed among his other writings.
To begin with, Eagleton follows this traditional distinction between
the act and the content of faith, arguing that faith in a religious
sense not on the first hand has to do with a kind of cognitive assent to
a certain proposition to the effect that there exists something of such
and such nature, but rather with the kind of commitment that we
would find in a human being who has no other way out, foundering
in darkness, pain, and bewilderment, who nevertheless remains faith-
ful to the promise of a transformative love.67 In the very same breath,
Eagleton points out that a religious faith also implies certain assump-
tions about the nature of reality. Faith is not noncognitive, but at the
same time, it is more than just a cognitive act of assent, and to be true
to a traditional account of faith, one needs to understand these plural
dimensions. For Eagleton, to begin with, it is a question about putting
forward a more multidimensional concept of faith as well as saying
something about the internal order of these dimensions, in contrast
to posing faith against reason. Significant for Eagletons understand-
ing of faith is both trust and the situation that Luther in my quote
above describes as in all distress. Marx has famously described reli-
gion as the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless
world, and the soul of soulless conditions, and faith, according to
Eagleton, is precisely what makes a hope abide even in a hopeless situ-
ation.68 This means, among other things, in one of Eagletons similes,
that the contention that religious faith is a failed explanation of the
world equals seeing ballet as a botched attempt to run for a bus.69
Religious faith is, first, a kind of trust and then, second, a belief in a
certain view of the way things are.
When Eagleton turns to the question about the relation between faith
and reasonfaith now in the sense of cognitive beliefhe both wants
to distinguish between the two and to hold them together: Without

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The Need for Faith 79

reason, we perish: but reason does not go all the way down.70 Christian
faith, according to Eagleton, is a faith that is reasonable but which
cannot be proven to be true. This means, among other things, that it
should not be confused with, for example, the aspirations of science to
explain the world. The reasons that could be given for faith are of the
same kind as the reasons that could be given for why I love somebody.
If I did not have any reasons, then my love would seem unintelligible.
But at the same time, these reasons could be understood by someone
without evoking the same love. Faith is concerned, as is love, with a
particular perspective on the world. But this is hardly anything unique
for religious faith, according to Eagleton, as all human beings have some
kind of faith in this regard. Human communication presupposes a kind
of faith, not a religious faith but related to it: faith as a sufficient trust
that communication will succeed, that they who collect evidence for
a certain fact are sufficiently reliable. According to Eagleton, [F]aith
articulates a loving commitment before it counts as a description of the
way things are.71 This commitment serves as a basis for our reason-
able discussions about, for example, justice; if we had not been com-
mitted to the cause of justice, we would have no reason to try to argue
about it in a reasonable way. Knowledge is gleaned through active
engagement, and active engagement implies faith.72 Therefore faith
becomes, especially if it is expressed in love, a condition for under-
standing how a situation is to be understood, beyond our fantasies and
our wishful thinking. Such an engagement must not be in Christianity
or in any particular religion, according to Eagletons view, but could
also be expressed in an engagement for socialism or liberalism or some-
thing that yet has no name. No such active engagement is self-evident
but neither can it be proven through a logical deductionbut this does
not mean that no reasons could be offered at all. We offer reasons all
the time, but no such reasons will ever be finalthe quest for absolute
certainty is quite neurotic, as is the man in Wittgensteins Philosophical
Investigations who buys a second copy of the newspaper just to make
sure that what was written in the first copy was true. At some point,
our reasons for something come to a halt, and it is this endpoint that
we might call faith. Faith is most of the time not a conscious choice but
rather a consequence of the kind of engagement we find ourselves being
committed to, which still does not mean that faith is written in stone
and never can change. Our engagements and convictions constitute who
we are, and to exchange one faith against another thus is more similar to
what theology calls conversion than just a mere change of views.

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80 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

In a discussion of cultural relativism, Eagleton explicitly mentions

fideism as a kind of medieval heresy. Fideism, for Eagleton, means
a radical distinction between faith and reason: Your life is based on
certain beliefs which are immune to rational scrutiny . . . You did not
choose your beliefs on any rational grounds; instead, like chicken-pox,
they chose you.73 This is a position that Eagleton is determined to
reject, but not in favor of some kind of rationalism, which is merely the
other side of fideism. Even if the notion of fideism comes from a theo-
logical context, Eagleton finds it prudent to argue against fideism in
whatever context it makes itself heard. So, in Eagletons understanding,
postmodernism is a variety of fideism, and therefore Jacques Derrida
is crowned a fideist with a Protestant suspicion of rationality.74 But
fideism as such is only the flip side of a certain excessive rationalism,
so even Kant is a fideist, for whom the noumenal quality of moral free-
dom means that he only can affirm it in faith. This resistance against
making a dichotomy out of faith and knowledge should be credited to
Eagletons defense of a moderate rational nature of human beings.
The polemical front in this context, as well as in other, is against the
excessive but in the end reductive and instrumental notion of a ratio-
nality that is independent of all circumstances and values but as well as
the kind of faith that makes itself independent of all facts and reasons.
Rationalism and fideism are each others mirror image. The other
side of a two-dimensional reason is faith-based reality.75
The dichotomization of faith and rationality is not just a theoreti-
cal concern, as their unacknowledged dialectical dependence upon
each other gives rise to a certain kind of blindness that Eagleton calls
fanaticism. Fanaticism is the result where your beliefs are inscruta-
ble to reason, existing as it were in a sphere independent of everything
else. But in a more phenomenological account of faith and reason, one
should acknowledge that faith, even if it is not a matter of choice but
rather like being gripped by a commitment from which one finds
oneself unable to walk away, is nevertheless not sealed off from ratio-
nal deliberation but rather informs this deliberation both through its
basic commitments and through the direction of its ongoing inquiry.76
The search for truth is constitutive for the kind of embodied beings
that we as humans are, and should therefore not be understood as
a contrast to desire, embodiment and interest. It is only when it is
contrasted to such commitments that the end result is a dichotomy
between faith and reason, and that faith, consequently, becomes
immune to all kinds or reason and rationality turns into a blood-
less instrumentality and political dominion. Faith and reason could
not, then, be understood from the material processes they are a part

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The Need for Faith 81

of and is thus, again, a question of politics. Eagleton argues for the

place of faith in much the same way that he argues for the possibility
of reason in the light of postmodern challenges to the possibility of a
genuine critique of ideology, by appealing to the embodied nature of
human beings and to our moderately rational nature.
This might be a place for a preliminary assessment of Eagletons
concept of faith that he in his line of argument finds support in both
philosophers such as Heidegger and Wittgenstein and theologians such
as Aquinas. What they all have in common is a view of human beings
as embodied beings whose reason serves the attempt to account for
the practical endeavors that we always already find ourselves engaged
in. Reason, thus, is more akin to a tool than a kind of view from
nowhere, using the philosopher Thomas Nagels expression. Eagleton
is not only concerned with the concept of faith as such, but also uses it
as a tool to explore how it is possible to understand humankind. It is
possible, Eagleton states, that what Christianity claims is not true, but
it is at least not absurd. Something similar, some kind of notion of a
politics motivated by love, also lies behind socialist movements, since
they do not reduce human beings to the lonely and independent sub-
ject of liberalism. In the conclusion to his book Trouble with Strangers
from 2009, Eagleton maintains that if human beings now live in an
alienated state but Christianity is not true, then it becomes a ques-
tion whether some kind of permanent redemption is at all possible,
since it is doubtful that political change in itself is entirely capable of
resolving the tragic condition of human existence that, for instance,
Freud and Lacan portray.77 The kind of theology that Eagleton relates
to strives to bring together the impossible and the everyday, transcen-
dence and immanence, the Event and its historical aftermath, in what
one might call the sublunary sublime.78 Alienation, to Christianity,
is a contingent and not a necessary condition. This is a kind of tragic
humanism that avoids a sadomasochistic fixation with the tragic as
such and therefore potentially more emancipatory than a lot of the
kind of radical philosophy that implicitly or explicitly denies the pos-
sibility of redemption, according to Eagleton. We shall see, as I return
to Eagletons use of theology in coming chapters, that such an under-
standing informs all of his discussions of theology.

The Adventures of Spirit

As I stated in the introductory chapter, what is of concern to iek is
not to advocate any Christian theology as such, at least as it is gener-
ally understood, but nevertheless he deplores the lack of faith today.

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82 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

What does he mean by that? To be able to understand ieks use

of theology, we need to take into account the Hegelian lens through
which not only Christian theology is interpreted in his works but also
his explicitly political aims, especially his injunction that to become
a true dialectical materialist, one should go through the Christian
experience. Therefore, I shall start with a presentation of ieks
fides quae, his dialectical appropriation of the theological heritage,
and end in the next section with a discussion of ieks understand-
ing of the act of faith, the fides qua.
According to iek, the message of Christianity is that there is no
objective meaning of history, no other who stands as a guarantee
of the happy conclusion of our lives and actions. Christs death is
here similar to Jobs stance in refusing to be covered up by some
deeper meaning. Thus, Christs deserted cry on the cross becomes
central to ieks understanding of the essence of the Christian
Gospel: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mt 27:46).
This essence, which is the central message of Christianity, accord-
ing to iek, is that the hope of finding such a comforting God of
absolute meaning is gone for good. The big Other does not exist.
Christs cry is interpreted by iek, not as a resigned cry, accepting
the suffering as his lot, but as a cry of defiance and of rebellion, even
as an accusatory: Why?79 Thus, the message of Christianity is, in
essence, the same as the goal of psychoanalysis that the treatment is
over when the patient acknowledges the nonexistence of all guaran-
tees of success, whether individual or historical.80 The Holy Spirit
is the community formed without support of such a cosmic guar-
antor. ieks own attitude on this matter is, in a nutshell, that in
comparison to most humanisms and Marxism it is just Christianity
that is radical enough to be able to remain genuinely atheistic and
materialistic. Only Christianity can liberate humanity from all hid-
den religion, since here Gods impotence is revealed in full view on
the cross. Salvation is now only up to ourselves. In light of the so-
called return of religion, a social phenomenon that iek addresses
in the beginning of The Fragile Absolute as a deplorable aspect of
the contemporary era, it is actually Christianity that is critical not
only toward religious fundamentalisms and New Age spiritualisms,
but also can help Marxism to renounce any vestige of an unacknowl-
edged belief in the big Otheras in Stalinism that regards history
as a process working toward an inevitable outcome in the form of
the communist society.81 And this is precisely the reason why the
Christian legacy is worth fighting for or why a true dialectical

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The Need for Faith 83

materialist . . . should go through the Christian experience, namely

that Christianity exposes, through the death of Christ on the cross,
the impotence of the big Other.82 But this transformative insight into
the nonexistence of the big Other is not only a cognitive insight but
also, as in Luthers understanding of faith or ieks own understand-
ing of the critique of ideology, in need of a more radical therapy. To
traverse the fantasy, there is a work that needs to be undertaken,
and this work is paradigmatically described in the dialectic dialecti-
cal relation between Judaism and Christianity, in particular their
understanding of the relationship between Law and love.83
So, another important clue to what constitutes ieks materi-
alist theology is his view of the relationship between Judaism and
Christianity. This is a theme that is constantly recurring in ieks
publications, and not only in those that are more explicitly theologi-
cal. One reason for this repetition is that this very relationship, to
iek, stands for the dialectic of an unfolding universalism, and as
he is a staunch defender of universalism against particularism, this
becomes his Hegelian way of conceiving this universality. Hegel
offers, to iek, the only philosophy that really has thought through the
question of incarnation, that God became a human being in Christ, and
so dialectics is closely associated with a certain kind of theology.84 We
shall here look closer on the adventures of Spirit according to iek,
but before we do, an important reminder is needed: iek does not
suggest that this dialectic unfolds with necessity; there is no teleol-
ogy hidden in his account that denies the contingency of history.85
Rather, the progression is understood as such only retroactively, from
our standpoint after the event (more about this in the last chapter).
To point out the complexity of history in relation to the abstract
Hegelian scheme would thus not be an immediate counterargument
that iek needs to recognize as such. Even if I eventually do have
some comments to offer on ieks dialectics here, the primary aim
of this section is nevertheless to present it as it stands.
The background or the first moment of this dialectical unfolding
in ieks rudimentary history of religions starts with the pagan uni-
verse that is characterized by a cosmic Justice and Balance and the
circular death and rebirth of the Divinity.86 This universe produces,
in regard to the organization of society, the image of a congruent
edifice in which each member has its own place . . . With regard to
the social body, an individual is good when he acts in accordance
with his special place in the social edifice . . . and Evil occurs when
some particular strata or individuals are no longer satisfied with this

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84 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

place.87 The individual approaches the divine sphere through an act

of purification, often conceived as a kind of metaphysical dualism, as
a movement from the lowly and embodied sphere to the higher and
the spiritual.88 The fall, in this pagan cosmology, is a fall from the
spiritual dimension to the material dimension, which is what the act
of purification is set to undo.89 This is, at the same time, a movement
that consists in a (re)discovery of ones true Selfthe return to it, the
realization of its potentials or whatsoeverin other words, a circular
movement where the end is at the same place as the beginning, only
at a higher level.90 The spiritual purification through which the indi-
vidual (re)discovers her or his own true self is a kind of homecoming
to the natural place of human beings.
To iek, this pagan cosmos is not only a thing of the historically
past times but also very much of a contemporary return of religion in
the form of Western Buddhism, Gnosticism, New Age spirituality,
and so on. The main criticism that iek delivers against these phe-
nomena, including the Star Wars movies, is that they are, in essence, a
kind of fetishistic religion that covers up the alienation that is a result
of the capitalist system, thus giving the impression of us being able
to be ourselves somewhere else than in our place in the economy
through some kind of fantasy: [T]he Western Buddhist meditative
stance is arguably the most efficient way, for us, to fully participate
in the capitalist dynamic while retaining the appearance of mental
sanity.91 On the whole, however, iek does not give a very precise
view of either historic or contemporary paganism. To be sure, this
is not his intention, and all his discussions of traditional religions,
including Judaism and Christianity as well as (increasingly, but not
very exhaustively) Islam, give the impression of establishing certain
types of religion that exemplify his dialectical scheme.92 But never-
theless, his understanding of Christianity is more nuanced and, if
also somewhat one-sided (due to the Hegelian dialectics), often pro-
found, in contrast to his account of such diverse religious traditions as
Western Buddhism, Gnosticism, and so on.
Judaism is the second moment in ieks dialectic of the unfolding
universalism. It is, in essence, a clear break with the pagan universe.
Judaism is, as in the mature Hegel, the religion of sublimation (as it
is for Kant, Schiller, and Freud, to name some other possible influ-
ences on ieks account).93 It unplugs the believer from the pagan
cosmos, prohibiting any image of the divine. God becomes a tran-
scendent irrepresentable Other, a God of the beyond rather than
an aspect of the pagan cosmos.94 Through this iconoclasm, that is,

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The Need for Faith 85

the prohibition against making an image of God or comparing God

to anything created, the created domain looses its divine status, and
becomes, in a way, secularized in the sense of being deprived of
its allegedly inherent sacredness. The aim of the believer is no lon-
ger to find her or his place in the sacred cosmos, being at one with
it through living in profound harmony with its sacred hierarchies,
but on the contrary, to resist the identification with or the diviniza-
tion of the cosmos. The divine Law prohibits, in an act of ideological
criticism, the making of any graven image and so makes the believer
homeless. An illustration of this (which iek does not mention)
would be Gods call to Abraham in Genesis 11 to leave his country
and kin for another land that does not (yet) exist as an object for his
sight, but only for his trust in Gods promise. This transposition of
his trust from country and kin (which, in that culture, would have
been equivalent to a symbolic death) to the promise of Gods word
is an act of unplugging, as such paradigmatic for Judaism in ieks
understanding of it.
iek is very careful to emphasize, however, that the break of
Judaism with paganism is not a break with anthropomorphism as
such; on the contrary, it is Judaism itself that generates anthropo-
morphism. The ban on creating any image of God just does not make
sense in a pagan cosmos; It is the JEWISH God who is the FIRST
fully personalized God, a God who says, I am who I am.95 What
the prohibition against images actually tells us about Judaism is that
it is in this very personalization of Godas an agent who, in his
wrath, revengefulness, jealousy, etc., is very much like a human
beingthat God becomes anthropomorphized, a fact that needs to
be kept hidden through the ban on idolatry.96 It is through Judaism
that God is first understood as an agent rather than an impersonal
force, inherent in the universe. This anthropomorphic understanding
of God is necessary for the unplugging to take place, as it places the
believer in front of a God who addresses her or him as such, and so is
a station on the way to subjectivization.
What this unplugging amounts to in terms of spirituality is a break
with the pagan (re)discovery of ones true self. Instead, the human voca-
tion is triggered by an external traumatic encounter, by the encounter
of the Others desire in its impenetrability.97 This also means a gen-
eral unplugging in social terms; according to iek, the Jewish Law
makes Judaism disinclined to identify with any state power, and so
this position of the part of no-part of every organic nation-state
community, not the abstract-universal nature of their monotheism,

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86 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

makes them the immediate embodiment of universality.98 In other

words, Judaism gives rise to subjectivity as such, which for iek
is defined as negativity. One explanation that iek gives for the
persistence of anti-Semitism is that Jews here are associated with
shapelessness rather than some positive feature, and so anti-Semitism
is an ideological feature in that it strives to cover up this negativity.99
The Jewish embodiment of universality, however, has to do precisely
with this unplugging, homelessness, or out-of-joint-ness. This
also means that history in its proper sense begins here; history is no
longer understood as the simple repetition of a cyclical time where
everything finally returns to the same but as the response to a trau-
matic eventthe Exodus, the coming of the Messiahthat forever
eludes its grasp.100
The fidelity to this originary traumasomething that iek
claims has the character of a violent founding gesture that haunts
the public legal order as its spectral supplement101is what has kept
Judaism intact through the centuries. It has literally refused to give
up [its] ghost.102 But what does iek mean by a violent founding
gesture? Is it Gods call to Abraham or Gods promise to Moses
that he will lead his people in their Exodus from Egypt? It is not very
clear. In this context, he suggests that the uniqueness of Judaism has
to do with its passionate attachment to the stain of particularity
that serves as its unacknowledged foundation.103 This is a way of
understanding how universality relates to particularity: in a common
philosophical understanding of universality, universality is universal
only if it gets rid of any particular content and retains its universal
form, like Kants categorical imperative. A standard Marxist criti-
cism of such a formal universalism, however, is that its abstract form
only hides its actual particularity, as when (to use ieks example)
universal human rights actually are a defense of the rights of white
male property owners. But Judaism is different in that it inverts
this relationship: it is only through sticking to its actual, particular
roots that universality remains vital. In other words, it is Judaisms
passionate attachment to its arbitrary particular prescriptions
the Jewish Law, ha-Torah that its universality is asserted.104 I can
relate to the Universal as such only on so far as my particular identity
is thwarted, dislocated, and as the Jewish fidelity to the Torah also
means that Judaism stays true to its homelessness, this is also how it
embodies universalism, as the instantiation of something that is con-
stitutively missing.105 Universality is only possible as a fundamental
uncertainty of ones place in the social fabric and so as the experience

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The Need for Faith 87

of how ones own identity is inadequate to itself; universality is not

independent of context but instead inscribed within the context as its
constitutive lack.
But again, what is this unacknowledged foundation or violent
founding gesture that iek refers to? A clue is perhaps that iek here
mentions Sigmund Freuds last major work Moses and Monotheism.106
In this book, Freud tells his own psychoanalytic version of the bibli-
cal story of Moses, suggesting that the origin of Judaism is a kind
of patricide, namely, the murder of Moses the Egyptian by his own
followers. After the killing of Moses, the rebels regretted their mur-
derous act, thus forming the hope of a return of Moses in the form
of the Messiah, a Semitic Moses. This primal murder is Freuds way
of mythically describing how symbolization never fully succeeds but
always runs aground on some nonsymbolizable remainder. Jewish
religion, then, is produced through the guilt that this disavowed kill-
ing caused among his murderers; a guilt that is transferred through
the generations but that is constantly disavowed and never confessed
as such. The primal murder as described by Freud should be under-
stood as one of a chain of traumatic cuts that define Judaism: the
denial of divine representation and of pagan rituals, the Exodus from
Egypt, and so on.107 This is the ultimate meaning of the Exodus: the
withdrawal from the hierarchized (Egyptian) Order under the impact
of the direct divine call.108 Nota bene that this a fortunate dialectic
in ieks interpretation of Freuds booka felix culpaas it is the
cut or violent founding gesture that uproots the subject from its
immediate belonging to a certain homeland; that makes negativity
into the condition of possibility for a universal subjectivity.
There is something missing in Judaism, however, according to
ieks Hegelian schema. What is it? If Judaism is the religion of sub-
limation, Christianity is the religion of desublimation. According to
iek, Christianity stands for a further dialectical inflection in com-
parison to Judaism in that it also, purportedly, renounces the God of
the beyond: [I]t acknowledges that there is NOTHING beyond the
appearancenothing BUT the imperceptible X that changes Christ,
this ordinary man, into God.109 iek emphasizes that this is not to
be understood as just a denial of transcendence or atheism, pure and
simple, where God is reduced to humanity, as in Ludwig Feuerbach,
but more complexly as the descent of the sublime beyond to the level
of everyday existence. There is still transcendence, but of an imma-
nent kind, in that this imperceptible X, the pure Schein of another
dimension, shines through Christ and constitutes divinity as such.

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88 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

iek does not suggest that God equals human beings, but rather
that human beings equals human beings, where God intervenes
as the X that hinders this sentence from becoming an uninteresting
tautologyin other words, that X that hinders human beings from
attaining self-identity. This X, however, should not be interpreted as
something other than the human being, but is rather a kind of obsta-
cle, of a bone in the throat that makes it impossible for a human
being to become identical with himself.110 Christ is thus not man
PLUS God: what becomes visible in him is simply the divine dimen-
sion in man as such.111 This also brings out the true meaning of the
Jewish iconoclasm: the true iconoclasm is the realization, not that the
God of the beyond is irrepresentable by any created image, but that
there really is nothing behind the image but this imperceptible X. If
God in Judaism is the Real Thing as Beyond, to Christianity, Christ
is elevated to the Thing itself (or the objet petit a), not as the icon
of God where the being of Christ signals toward a radically Other
Godcompare 2 Cor 4:4 and Col 1:15, two Pauline letters where
Christ is described as the image of the invisible Godbut as the
negative gesture of crossing out of the idol, thus limiting its identity
with itself.112
In other words, Christianity is the negation of the Jewish negation
and does not result in a new synthesis but consequently in a double nega-
tion. According to iek, it is a misreading of Hegel to understand his
dialectics as something that results in a deeper synthesis between the
thesis and the antithesis and so in a new identity.113 On the contrary,
the result of the dialectical process is difference as such, absence
embodied. The difference between Judaism and Christianity, there-
fore, is just a formal difference: [I]n Jewish religion God dwells
in a Beyond unattainable through representations, separated from
us by an unbridgeable gap, whereas the Christian God is this gap
itself.114 And this is also, incidentally, the difference between Kant
and Hegel, according to iek, where Kant is stuck with the Thing
in itself as somehow existing beyond representation whereas for
Hegel it becomes the little piece of the Real, which means that it is
nothing but the embodiment of a radical negativity.115 The sublime,
for Hegel, is not any longer the difference between an empirical object
and the transcendent idea, but the manifestation of this lack on the
plane of representations in some miserable abject thing: the Spirit is a
bone, God is Christ. It is obvious here that ieks understanding
of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity is determined
by a Hegelian dialectic; the formal distinction between Judaism

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The Need for Faith 89

and Christianity means that they relatein Hegeleseas In-itself

and For-itself: Judaism is Christianity In-itself, seen against the
horizon of its radical break with the pagan cosmos, and Christianity
is merely Judaism For-itself, that is, coming to consciousness of its
own nature.116 Judaism is the break with paganism that keeps the
old religious form, whereas Christianity is the second stage where
Judaism breaks free also from this form; a shift from purification
to subtraction.117 iek takes this line of reasoning even further,
in saying that if God in Judaism is an enigma to human beings, in
Christianity, God becomes an enigma even to himself; God himself is
not self-identical but divided. This is a theme that iek develops at
length in his discussions of Schellings philosophythe subject of my
next chapter. Summing up this paragraph, we could say that the dou-
ble negationthat is, the negation of pagan immediacy in Judaism
and the negation of the God of the beyond in Christianityto iek
is a double kenosis, the alienation of human beings in the cosmos
as well as the self-alienation of God.118 And the two aspects of this
double kenosis overlap, so that I am in God in my very distance
from him.119
To return to ieks understanding of Christianity as such: in a for
iek common turn of phrase, it is not the devil that resides in the details
but God. God is not to be discerned in the overall harmony of the cre-
ation, but rather in almost insignificant details: [I]n the overall drab-
ness and indifference of the universe, we discern the divine dimension
in barely perceptible detailsa kind smile here, an unexpected helpful
gesture there.120 This is also the reason why God is to be discerned in
Christ, as Christ is the embodiment of this excessive or undead
dimension of human existence that only could be perceived as such as
a kind of emergent predicate of human life; human life is never just
biological life but also this more, a surplus over bare life.121 This
means, in fact, that iek seems to identify the divine with the death
drive, the drive that exceeds the biological life and really makes us
alive, and Christ with the manifestation of this drive on the symboli-
cal level. A quote from the Gospel of John (10:10)I came that they
may have life, and have it abundantlybecomes the Christological
exemplification of this drive. The redemption worked out by Christ
consists in assuming this excesssin!in person, thus opening
up the possibility of other human beings also assuming this excess.
Such an assumption does not mean that we will be returned to a
paradisiacal condition where sin is no more, but rather that we
recognize this excess as our own, thereby ending the projection of

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90 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

this excess onto others[I]n imitatio Christi, we REPEAT Christs

gesture of freely assuming the excess of Life, instead of projecting/
displacing it onto some figure of the Other.122 Christ, in ieks view
of the atonement, is the example rather than the sacrament of human
redemption (any substitutional version of the atonement would only
serve to strengthen the bond between the believer and God as the
superego in an irremunerable debt on behalf of the believer).123 Here
iek, through his interpretation of Christianity, is polemical against
todays reduction of human life to the bare fact of biological life in
its effort to preserve life at all costs. But, according to iek, such a
preservation backfires, according to the proper Nietzschean para-
dox that the greatest loser in this apparent assertion of Life against
all transcendent Causes is actual life itself. What makes life worth
living is the very excess of life.124 And this how Paul understands
the contrast between death and life, according to iek; not as two
objective biological facts about human existence but as two exis-
tential positions where bare life equals death and new life in Christ
equals the excess of life over itself. The death of Christ is thus the
event through which resistance becomes possible.
Further, in comparison to Judaism, which refuses to acknowledge
the violent founding gesture, Christianity is the religion of con-
fession: [A]s Freud himself emphasized in Moses and Monotheism,
the Christians are ready to confess the primordial crime (in the dis-
placed form of murdering not the Father but Christ, the son of God),
and thereby betray its traumatic impact/weight, pretending that it is
possible to come to terms with it.125 Christianity brings out to full
view what was only implicitly acknowledged by Judaism, namely, the
identity between God and human beings in Christ. The personalized,
anthropomorphic divinity generated by Judaism but kept hidden by
the ban against idolatry is now acknowledged as such[I]nstead
of prohibiting the image of God, why not, precisely, allow it, and
thus render him JUST ANOTHER HUMAN BEING, as a miser-
able man indiscernible from other humans with regard to his intrinsic
properties?126 In essence, Christianity means the death of God, as it
turns out that its innermost revelation is that God is just a name for
the excess of life over itself.
The spirituality of Christianity follows from its character of being
an act of desublimation. In contrast to paganism, it is not an eleva-
tion of the self to a higher sphere, and in (the much less) contrast
to Judaism, it is not a fidelity to the Law. Christian spirituality is
defined as love agape, in the Pauline Greek (cf. 1 Cor 13), or, with
Eagleton, political love; [I]n love, one singles out, focuses on, a

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The Need for Faith 91

finite temporal object which means more than anything else.127 As

an aspect of the incarnation, this means that the way to eternity goes
through the temporal (compare Eagletons sublunary sublime), not
through a withdrawal from the created sphere. ieks understanding
of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity is, as is Hegels,
characterized by supersessionism, and nowhere is this clearer than
in his affirmation that love somehow is to be found beyond the Law.
In the psychoanalytic interpretation of the Law, the traumatic and
external character of the Law (experienced as a divine imperative
or in other words as an ideological interpellation) is bound to give
rise to an anxiety on behalf of the subject under the Law. Through
its demarcation between what is allowed and what is not allowed,
the Law also produces a transgressive desire. The anxiety evokes an
unconscious will to transgress the Law and so the subject becomes
split between its active will to uphold the Law and this unconscious
wish. This unconscious will is what iek calls an obscene libidinal
investment in the Law, that is, the excessive pleasure (surplus enjoy-
ment; the objet petit a) we get from renouncing our own will (and
immediate pleasure) in obeying the Law.128 This is, to be sure, the
interpellation of ideology that causes us to externalize the obstacle
to our own enjoyment on to some other (the Jews, the Muslims, the
beneficiaries of welfare, and so on). In other words, anxiety produces
guilt that also produces resentment toward some social group that
supposedly bears the blame for our failure to identify completely with
the ideological interpellation and for the failure of society to achieve
a harmonious and organic wholeness.
Although, in psychoanalysis, the Law does not mean any particu-
lar law, Lacan, as well as iek, has noted a particular similarity of
this understanding of the Law and (which needs to be pointed out,
a certain interpretation of) the apostle Pauls meditations on the law
(for Paul in all likelihood understood as the Jewish Torah) in, espe-
cially, the letter to the Romans, as in 7:7f:129

What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it
had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have
known what it is to covet if the law had not said, You shall not covet.
But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me
all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead.

This dialectics of law has played an important part in Christian theol-

ogy, being interpreted in various ways, especially after the immediate
connection with the Jewish law was lost and this law was interpreted

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92 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

as law in general (not least by Martin Luther).130 This checkered

history of Christian interpretation of law in Paul will not be retold
here, but suffice to say that it is by no means self-evident that Pauls
understanding of the law can be appropriated, without remainder, of
a more general philosophical, psychoanalytical, or theological dis-
course on the Law. Nevertheless, iek delivers a quite neo-Lutheran
interpretation of the Law, when he suggests that Paul is advocating a
love beyond the Law.131 Through Christ, we die to the Law, and so the
mutual implication of commandment and transgression that causes
our anxiety is left behind. The beyond of the Law that is love is not
a sphere of a heightened sense of the superego but of spontaneous
goodness (here, iek is a good Lutheran).132 To love someone
with agapeic love is to love them in the Real, that is, not as a mirror
image of our own selves (in the imaginary realm) or as the bearer of
certain universal rights (in the symbolic realm) but as the Other in
the very abyss of its Real, the Other as a properly inhuman partner,
irrational, radically evil, capricious, revolting, disgusting . . . in short,
beyond the Good.133 Love as the beyond of Law does not, further,
mean so much the suspension of the Law in terms of its function as
a source of moral norms as the suspension of the obscene libidinal
investment in the Law on behalf of the subject.134 Such a Law without
any obscene supplement means, among other things, a society with-
out any common roots.135 It is a society of strangers, not a society
established on the ground of any ethnic, religious, or other common
heritage. The suspension of this obscene dimension is what the critique
of ideology is all about, according to iek, as it is this dimensionthe
unwritten rules with which one shall identify to become a real member
of a societythat upholds the symbolic edifice, not the explicit laws
of a certain society.
Love is, in essence, what throws the universe off its rails, what
unplugs the believer from the social edifice, as Paul insists in the
well-known quote from his letter to the Galatians (3:28): There is
no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no
longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.136
It is not that these social roles disappear in favor of the unique
human being behind all these masksthat would be equivalent to
the romantic humanist idealization of the other as a mirror image
of what I believe is the essence of humanity. It is the enemy-Other
who is the true neighbor, and true love loves the neighbor as he or
she is, in all his or her monstrosity, without making itself blind to the
weaknesses of the other. This relation to the neighbor is the obverse

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The Need for Faith 93

of the prohibition against idolatry, in that the prohibition directs the

believer not to a divinity beyond the image but to the fellow human
being as the only instance of the presence of the divine. This neigh-
bor is experienced as the other with whom no reciprocal exchange
is possible and who, in love, refuses to be domesticated through the
symbolic order. Further, if the lowest outcast is loved by an agapeic
love because he is the lowest outcast, the unplugging from the hierar-
chical social order has not really taken place, because then we secretly
wish that the lowest outcast will remain so.137 This is the reason why
conversion in Christianity must be understood as a symbolic death;
the believer must die to the symbolic to be able to escape the grip of
the Law. Agapeic love, according to iek, follows Lacans feminine
formula of sexuation in that it does not regard the other as a part
of the whole, the all, but rather as an instance of the non-all.
The non-all is not an exception to the all but what makes the
all incomplete.138 Or with the words of Paul from his hymn to love
in First Corinthians 13, even if I had all knowledge and all faith, I
would be nothing if I did not have love. This means, in ieks words,
that only a lacking, vulnerable being is capable of love: the ultimate
mystery of love is therefore that incompleteness is in a way higher
than completion . . . Perhaps the true achievement of Christianity is
to elevate a loving (imperfect) Being to the place of Godthat is, of
ultimate perfection.139 Again, it is the unplugging from the social
edifice, seeing the unity in Christ as of overarching importance, that
is the key to universality according to iek. I will return to the ques-
tion of neighborly love in chapter 5.
The very same figure is effective in ieks understanding of the
fall. If the fall in pagan mythology is a fall from the spiritual into the
material, to Christianity, the fall is really a felix culpa.140 The fall, to
an enlightened Christianity, is its own healing, in that it actually is
the emergence of human freedom. The fall is identical to the unplug-
ging from the social edifice and to turn the tragedy into a victory, all
that is needed is to recognize it as such. In other words, to understand
the fall as a tragic event is to misrecognize it, and the road to redemp-
tion lies in a change of subjective position rather than some objec-
tive undoing of the consequences of the fall. This means that there is
a speculative identity between Adam and ChristAdam is Christ in
himself, and Christ is Adam for himselfas well as between fall
and redemptionthe fall is redemption In-itself, whereas redemption
is the fall For-itself. The fall is a fall upwards in the direction of
spirit, that is, toward human freedom and subjectivity, rather than

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94 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

downwards in the direction of matter, and so the working out of

redemption will be, for Christianity, the transformation of our lives in
this world, not in any other.
Before I close these paragraphs about the relationship between
Judaism and Christianity or between Law and love, one more thing
needs to be said that modifies ieks supersessionism. Even in the
radical disjunction between Law and love, the distinction between
Judaism and Christianity should still be understood as a formal dis-
tinction, and iek explicitly claims that we should not be forced to
choose between the two. The reason for this is that Law, for Judaism,
is a Law without a spectral obscene supplement.141 Through sticking
to the letter of the Law, the obedience to the Law does not get stained
by pathological desire. The experience of Judaism regarding the Law
was thus hardly the kind of inner, revolutionary turmoil typical of
Western, introspective consciousness, as exemplified by Augustine
and Lutherand as loathed by Nietzschebut of a quite robust
consciousness. To the extent that Paul saw Judaism as an instance
of such a consciousness of anxiety and guilt, he was plainly wrong,
according to iek.142 In other words, Judaism is also free from the
dialectic between obedience and transgression; their obedience to the
Law is not mediated by guilt. The horizon of the libidal investment
in the Lawthe cause for the introspective consciousness later found
in Western Christianityis rather the vanishing mediator between
Judaism and Christianity as described by Paul; Judaism is not yet
there, whereas Christianity is no longer there. Instead of leaving
Judaism behind, Paul did something within and to Judaism.143 In the
same spirit, iek claims that the accomplishment of Christianity vis-
-vis the Law is not to supplement it with love, but actually to realize
the Law in a more genuine way.144 Thus, Christian love without the
Jewish Law is always in the danger of reverting to a pagan cosmic
feeling of oneness with the universe, which means an undoing of
the unplugging from the social; love without the mediation of Law
then loses its distinctive quality.145 It is, of course, entirely correct to
state that there is a quite clear teleology at work in this vanishing
mediator for iek; there is no question of the dialectic moving in the
other directionand in that sense, iek really is a supersessionist.
Nevertheless, as his point is not a point regarding the two religious
traditions per se, but rather a point regarding our own possible experi-
ence, both Judaism and Christianity are so to speak live options
that could not be left behind as long as this experiential movement
between the two is relevant to our situation today. So, in one of his

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The Need for Faith 95

long essays discussing, among other things, the neighbor and the
relationship between Law and love, iek concludes that, in a spec-
ulative identity, Christianity is Judaismbut that is, to be sure,
a supersessionism of sorts.146 I shall return to this question at the end
of the chapter.
However, the adventures of the Spirit does not end here, with
Christianity as the For-itself of Judaism. Even within Christianity,
we find a similar triad in the succession of Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and
Protestantism, where Orthodoxy stands for an organic unity between
the body of believers and the sacred text, Catholicism for a radical alien-
ation, since the believers only have access to the sacred text through the
mediation of the church, and Protestantism, finally, for the direct access
of every believer to the word of God.147 In other words, Protestantism,
although only the For-itself of Catholicisms In-itself, represents
a necessary dialectical development of earlier stages. Orthodoxy, per
implicationmainly discussed by iek through Vladimir Lossky
thus stands for a pagan version of Christianity through its endorsement
of a reversal: not only God becoming a human being in Christ but also
the possibility of deification where human beings could become (like)
God. This misses the point of the incarnation, namely, that the God of
beyond is dead, as God emptied himself in Christ. Even Catholicism
still subscribes to a pagan, enchanted universe however, despite its
introduction of the legalistic mediation between the believer and the
cosmos; only the Protestant takes the further and final step into a thor-
oughly disenchanted universe and the affirmation of the crucifixion as
the most central revelation of and about God.148 In a final, dialectical
twist, iek maintains that it is only the atheist who actually stays
true to the Christian message, and that monotheism, in its gesture of
unplugging from the pagan cosmos, thus prefigures atheism in the
sphere of the religions.149 Not surprisingly, atheism also has the form of
a triadic dialectic: the negation of belief in the sentence I dont believe
in God is in its turn negated in the form of a belief that is without
any particular contentand this is why atheism cannot or should not
be just the denial of belief, as it would be negatively determined by
what it denies. The only true atheist is the one for whom the question
of theism or atheism (but not of faith) is irrelevantthat is, there is no
big Other.150
To iek, this interpretation of Christianity means, most point-
edly, that there could be no place for the idea of an afterlife. There is
a complaint sometimes heard against Judaism that it does not affirm
eternal life. But in effect, Judaism is correct and a Christianity that

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96 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

affirms such an individual afterlife would be a regression to an earlier

stage of religious development. To posit an afterlife as the resurrec-
tion of the dead would mean to reduce Christianity to what iek
with Kant calls another religion of moral accountancy.151 The same
thing goes for the resurrection of Christ: if Christ knew that he would
be resurrected after his crucifixion and death, then it would all be
a perverse game, a supreme divine comedy, or a spectacle, and
his cry of dereliction on the cross would just be a fake.152 Indeed,
iek here displays a very Protestant sensibility toward any notion
of debt and return in matters concerning the atoning work of Christ.
To understand the resurrection as actually taking place would mean
to compromise the purity of Christs sacrifice on the cross, as if a res-
urrected Christ already at the crucifixion had to have his eye on his
future vindication by God thus turning the whole act into a human-
divine transaction. So the reference to Hegel in matters concerning
the resurrection is hardly surprising: This is the key Hegelian point
of Christianity: the resurrection of the dead is not a real event which
will take place sometime in the future, but something that is already
herewe merely have to shift our subjective position.153
The positive sense of the resurrection, for iek, is as the
formation of the Christian community of believers with, ideally,
authentic psychoanalytic and revolutionary political collectives as its
two main forms.154 Although this communal aspect of the resurrec-
tion has been lying dormant in most modern theology that has laid
a claim for being traditional, it has its roots in the earliest accounts
of Christianity as well as among the church fathers.155 But iek is
more radical than most traditional theology, in that he identifies the
community of believers with the Holy Spirit as the spirit of Christ
remaining after his crucifixion and death. Again, the presence of the
Spirit among the community of believers as the Spirit of Christ is a
common theme among traditional theology as well as the earliest tex-
tual records of Christianity, but this presence was understood against
the background of an undeniable qualitative difference between God
and the creation, and never as a speculative identity as in ieks
Hegelian dialectical scheme. To iek, however, death and resurrec-
tion are contemporaneous, two aspects of the very same event, not
two separate events, and in this he indeed is a true follower of Hegel,
according to whom death becomes transfigured from its immediate
meaning, viz. the non-being of this particular individual [the divine
man], into the universality of the Spirit who dwells in His community,
dies in it every day, and is daily resurrected.156 To iek, the spirit is

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The Need for Faith 97

nothing else than the human beings who make up the community and
transcends them in no way at all.
It is important to see that ieks avowedly heterodox interpreta-
tion of the resurrection plays an important role in his philosophy.157 As
the resurrection is the resurrection of the dead, and as iek maintains
that the outcome of the critique of ideology, of our traversing of the
fantasy, is a kind of symbolic death, what comes after this subjec-
tive destitution is the community of believers, not as the Christian
church that is only a remnant of a mythological form of Christianity
but as radical political groups. The community of believers form a
revolutionary avant-garde, and examples of such communities today
iek finds among those who are the outcasts of modern society, from
the poor in the favelas of the world to the freaks in TV series or movies
such as Heroes or X-Men.158 They form a new collective, not based on
a belief in the big Other but on a freedom that goes beyond the Law;
those who have nothing more to lose, nothing more than the drive
that keeps them moving and only their own freedom to rely on. This
is the resurrection of the dead and the Holy Spirit in the form of the
community of believers, according to iek, and it is a thoroughly mate-
rialist conception of the Spirit as it consists of nothing else than just the
community of believers. A materialist does not deny miracles, he just
reminds us that they live behind disturbing material leftovers.159 An
example of such a material leftover is Jesuss corpse, as, according to
iek, Jesus stayed dead, and only thus could the Spirit as the commu-
nity of believers be established. What constitutes this community, even
in its materialistic form, is the act of faith, but precisely as the act of
faith, as a moment of collective organization before any institutional-
izing movement (and the establishment of a new big Other). To ieks
rendering of this act we now turn.

The Importance of Being Born Again

The break with totality that is expressed in the Christian narrative is
a part of the critique of ideology to iek. This rupture is namely a
rupture with the notion that there are neutral, non-ideological, natu-
ral, commonsensical traits in our human existence.160 Such a notion
of a neutral, common sphere is ideology par excellence, ideology at
its most effective. Only through looking awry at a certain phenom-
enon do we perceive its clear and distinct form, and Christianity, for
iek, is precisely such a perspective from a skewed angle. It is here
that you can find the emancipatory potential in religion: In a curious

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98 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

inversion, religion is one of the possible places from which one can
deploy critical doubts about todays society. It has become one of the
sites of resistance.161 The truth is in other words always partial, and
it is only from an engaged perspective that we are capable of perceiv-
ing how existence is structured. This engaged perspective, however, is
not immediately available as just another set of discursive knowledge
among several alternatives, but is experienced more dramatically as a
conversion resulting in a new birth. iek now and again uses the
Christian terminology of being born again to describe this experi-
ence; in psychoanalytical terms it is a traversing of the fantasy.162
In other words, it is the experience of taking leave of the framethe
fundamental fantasythat has structured ones life up until the
conversion, a frame that one has been born into and grown up with
and that has given some coherence to ones life. This is, to be sure, a
traumatic event in ones psychic life, as it means a giving up of some
of ones psychic defenses and desires, effecting an alteration of ones
entire psychic structure. Ideology is not something that you get rid of
just through enlightenment about its oppressive structure but rather
something that needs to be exorcised, since it in a fundamental way
has shaped our innermost fantasies and desires. To escape ideology,
the subject needs to renounce the devil and all his works and be born
This also means that the concept of faith is important to iek.
Faith is not belief in ieks vocabulary (at least not when he
treats this distinction as such), and the difference between belief
and faith could be said to be the difference between conviction
and trust. As iek points out a propos Old Testament Judaism, it
was different from other contemporary beliefs in that it insisted on
trust in the Lord rather than through the conviction that there exists
only one instead of a number of gods.164 Here we find a similar way
of reasoning as in Eagleton, also in line with established theologi-
cal distinction between different dimensions of religious faith. But if
Eagleton keeps these different dimensions together in one act of faith,
iek, in the spirit of radical Protestantism, wants to hold them apart.
As mentioned, iek recurrently refers to Sren Kierkegaard and thus
the Protestant genealogy seems to be markedly present for the concept
of faith that we find in iek. But at the same time, we must not for-
get that this concept is, above all, based on Lacan. Knowledge, in
ieks Lacanian vocabulary, here stands for language deprived of its
performative dimension, desubjectivized language whereas faith
means precisely a subjective, engaged rupture of this supposedly

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The Need for Faith 99

neutral language.165 As a philosopher, iek regards it as vital to

understand how the philosopher as such does not stand outside of the
process he seeks to articulate, so as to avoid idealism. This materialist
objection against idealism is, for iek, most clearly articulated by
One of the central themes in psychoanalysis that serves as a basis
of this claim is Lacans famous discussion of the four discourses in his
seventeenth seminar, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, from which
iek repeatedly draws.166 Knowledge, in ieks discussion here,
is an example of the discourse of the university that is characterized
by a malignant neutrality as it is posited by a notion of objective
knowledge but does not recognize how it actually stands in service
of an unacknowledged and unquestioned master signifier. Objective
knowledge takes the place of agency in the discourse of the university,
thus objectifying the individual and hiding the position of truth, from
where this discourse receive its authority. In other words, knowledge,
understood as an example of the discourse of the university is not limited
to the university as suchits main examples in ieks works is
Stalinism, consumerism, and fundamentalismbut characterizes any
discourse that does not acknowledge the subjective position from where
it is enunciated; it is the expert rule of bureaucracy that culminates
in contemporary biopolitics, which ends up reducing the population
to a collection of Homo sacer.167 As such, this discourse cannot but
be a form of ideology or alienation and thus a heteronomous form of
knowledge. Faith, on the other hand, would be an example of the
discourse of the analyst, a discourse that does not disavow the posi-
tion of enunciation but instead tries to remain in it and acknowledge
the subjective, engaged stance as the key to a true, autonomous politics
without any support in any big Other or master signifier that sustains
the field of knowledge. The discourse of the analyst is where truth
as opposed to knowledge is possible; truth, in ieks vocabulary,
has the structure of an Event that unleashes a change in the subject,
not a set of propositions that may or may not correspond to a certain
structure of what we take as reality. To return to a more theological
vocabulary, still taken from iek, it is a state in which the end
of time is near, in which we have only the time that remains, and
are [ . . . ] obliged to suspend our full commitment to earthly links.168
The notion of a time that remains is an allusion to Pauls first let-
ter to the Corinthians (7:29) where the apostle speaks of a time that
is nearing its end, contracting itself (ho kairos sunestalmenos estin;
the time is drawn together, shortened, or limited).169 Psychoanalysis is

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100 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

not, according to iek, just a momentous insight into the abyss of the
Real from which we return to our usual social roles, but the establish-
ment of a psychoanalytic collective upon the insight that the subject
is unavoidably split (as we saw in the previous chapter).170 It is a new
beginning, and thus the experience of being born again.
Why does iek endorse the heteronomic claim of the mono-
theistic religions, the claim that truth is an act of revelation and
comes from outside of the believing subject? The reason for this is not
some supposed irrational trait in his philosophy, but should rather
be understood as a part of his psychoanalytic account of the psyches
structural economy, namely that the psyche is fundamentally out
of joint, alienated, or decentered because of its internal and social
conflicts and so has no immediate access to what is to be understood
as truth in practical matters. The philosopher Jonathan Lear writes,
a propos the central place of conversation in (clinical) psychoanaly-
sis: I am unable truly to speak for myself; and my deliberations,
thoughts, emotions, decisions and actions will be powerfully influ-
enced by psychic forces over which I will have little understanding or
control.171 This is true also for ieks version of the psychoanalytic
psyche; it is too alienated to be able to speak the truth for, and to,
itself. Just by something from the outside of the psyches internal
economy can this neurotic failure be challenged. This external
challenge is not, to be sure, literally understood as a divine inter-
vention by iek; ieks account of the traumatic challenge of
the psyche is construed as a naturalistic account of the actions of
other people as well as of natural and social disasters. The parallel
to revelation is, in accordance with his Hegelian understanding of
theology, a way of speaking of the truth that monotheistic religion
have unearthed without being able to understand it as such. But then
again, an account such as ieks need not be understood in contrast
to an account given by a traditional theology divine revelation, as
long as we do not fall for the modern prejudice of contrasting natu-
ralistic and supernaturalistic realms.
The very contrast between nature and supernature is genealogi-
cally founded upon a late medieval theological discussion of the
relationship between nature and grace; to most genuine accounts of
divine actionpremodern as well as moderndivine revelation is
nothing that takes place in an immediate way breaking through and
going against the grain of every created person, institution, or natural
fact but is usually understood as mediated through creation. In other
words, divine action is not a denial of created activity, according to

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The Need for Faith 101

this account, but rather its affirmation; any theology that denies this
would be in jeopardy of also denying the doctrine of the incarnation
to the extent that this doctrine is an expression of a divine sanction
of mediation and representation.172 It is in, with and underto use
Luthers words about the Eucharist from The Small Catechism all
of creation that God works, and so any divine revelation will be
experienced by the believing subject within her or his frame of expe-
rience, even when it shatters this very frame. To put it yet another
way, transcendence makes itself known within immanence, and so
transcendence and immanence should not be understood, in theology,
as contrastive termswhich, actually, both Eagleton and iek have
pointed out. In this sense, ieks appeal to revelation should not be
understood as supernaturalistic. Revelation, in psychoanalysis as
well as in theology, is a way of taking into account the alienation as
well as the narcissism of the human subject.
For this reason, iek can deplore the lack of faith in our society
and proclaims, in a paradoxical phrase, that it is rather among the
secular humanists (as himself) where we find faith today, whereas
among religious fundamentalists, we only find knowledge. These
so-called Christian or Muslim fundamentalists are a disgrace to true
fundamentalism.173 [T]he Christian notion of being reborn in
faith is, according to iek, an unconditional subjective engage-
ment on account of which we are ready to suspend the very ethi-
cal substance of our being.174 The contrast between faith as trust
and belief as conviction means that faith, for iek, does not concern
believing the content of the Christian faiththe fides quae creditur
but only the very act of subjective engagement as such (the fides qua):
[T]he only true belief is belief without any support in the authority
of some presupposed figure of the big Otherwhich means, again,
that only atheists have true faith.175 Faith is, in other words, a trans-
formative act that restructures the very coordinates of the situation
of the believer and that consequently implies the ability to perceive
existence in another way than the prevailing doxa the closeness to
Luthers account of the act of faith is obvious. Faith is, for iek,
a revolutionary act, in psychoanalytic vocabulary a trauma and in
theological terms a miracle.176 At times, iek sounds even quite fide-
istic in his affirmation of the primacy of faith (sola fide), like when he
claims that it is with religious faith as it is with love: you do not love a
person because you find her or his features lovable, but you find them
lovable because you are in love.177 This means, for ieks part, that
he claims, only half mockingly, to be the one who truly carries on the

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102 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

Protestant theological tradition in an authentic way: This theologi-

cal legacy survives in radical emancipatory thought, from Marxism
to psychoanalysis.178 Today, atheists are the only true believers, since
only atheistsand, for sure, only ieks kind of atheistsdispense
with the belief in the big Other.179 Therefore iek declares, with
his usual humility, in asort ofdebate with the theologian John
Milbank that it is he, iek the atheist, who is the true Christian and
not the Anglo-Catholic Milbank.

Catholic Thomism and Hegelian Protestantism

As suggested above, there are both similarities and differences
between iek and Eagleton in regard to their respective concepts of
faith. The subjective engagement that for iek is the essence of faith,
we find no less in Eagleton, but in his concept there is also an emphasis
on the correspondence between the performative dimension of faith
engagement and trustand the cognitive dimensionconviction. Even
if any conclusive arguments about whether the one or the other faith
is true hardly are possible, according to Eagleton, there still exists a
possibility to give reasons that shows why a faith, or a certain vari-
ety of a faith, can be more or less reasonable. Faith is, to be sure,
revolutionary, but the engagement is not independent of an interpre-
tation of our condition that is also communicable to other people
who do not share this faith but still can understand the reasons for
interpreting our existence in a certain way. Ultimately, the differ-
ences between Eagleton and iek on this aspect of faith can be
understood through a certain theological distinction, already men-
tioned in the last chapter, between nature and grace. In Thomistic
theology, nature is perfected by grace, in contrast to the more radi-
cal strands of Protestantism where they are understood in conflict
with each other. Here, we can conclude that Eagletons theology
also is important to his theory of culture, and the same significance
of a certain theological deep structure could be exemplified through
other periods of his authorship, even the less explicitly theological.
The differences between Eagleton and iek, however, are not
limited to different emphases on the relationship between faith and
reason or grace and nature, that is, their understanding of fides qua,
the act of faith, where Eagleton is more Catholic and iek more
Protestant. One of the most important differences comes out in how
they look upon faiths self-representation: is their respective under-
standing of faith (now primarily as fides quae, the content of faith)

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The Need for Faith 103

continuous with faiths self-understanding or not? It is, perhaps, easy

to spot that for Eagleton it is a matter of more continuity than for
iek, but it is interesting to ask why, and from what perspective they
understand faith. Here, it is most convenient to begin with iek and
then to contrast Eagletons understanding with his. That iek is a
Hegelian should be more than clear by now, but we also need to ask
what kind of Hegelian he is. There could, of course, be written vol-
umes of the different varieties of Hegelianism today, but I think some
relatively simple distinctions will do for my purposes here. To begin
with, ieks Hegel is not the totalizing Hegel of absolute idealism,
where being is comprehended as an all-encompassing whole, but nei-
ther is he the more pragmatic kind of Hegel without any substantial
metaphysical commitments.180 Neither the totalitarian nor the prag-
matist, in iek we find a radical Hegel that did not believe in any
final reconciliatory synthesis between thesis and antithesis; synthesis,
the sublation of the difference between thesis and antithesis should
rather be understood as the negation of negation, difference as
such, or absence embodied. This means that Hegel becomes a phi-
losopher who tries to think infinite freedom and who teaches us to go
beyond the static alternatives of thesis and antithesis; what emerges
out of the dialectical process is the free subject.181
To ieks Hegelianism, then, the history of religions as well as the
Christian drama of creation, fall, death, and resurrection becomes a
purely inward drama, notional renderings of the journey to selfhood.
To quote Stephen Crites: The Christian mythos of the fall has in
fact been interpreted through the supreme negative moment in Hegels
own myth of the self182 and if we exchange Hegel for iek in
this quote as well substitute the fall with the other stations of the
Christian drama, we do get a very apt image of ieks understanding
of Christianity and religion; they are, to be sure, necessary moments
of the drama of selfhood, but only inauthentically understood by
traditional Christian theology. According to Crites, [W]e find in
Hegel the crucial historical point at which the dogmatic structure
of Christianity, the abstract rendering of its Gospel, pulls away from
the churchs characteristic forms of spirituality as such, and, indeed,
iek stands in this tradition in that his version of Christianity have
no, and is not very interested in having, any explicit relation to rec-
ognized forms of Christianity.183
One of Hegels self-proclaimed philosophical aims was to present
in philosophical conceptuality what religion understood in a merely
representational mode of discourse. A question throughout the history

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104 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

of the reception of Hegel has been whether there is some kind of con-
tinuity between religious self-representation and the rendering of reli-
gious symbols and narratives, so that religion would recognize itself
in its conceptual sublation, or if this relation is a matter of discontinu-
ity, in case of which philosophy understands religions in another way
than religion understands itself.184 It is quite clear, from the above,
that iek opts for the second alternative; philosophy, for iek, is a
matter of understanding faith (as fides quae) better than faith under-
stands itself. This does not mean that the self-understanding of faith
is unimportant for iek or his Hegel, quite the contrary, but then as
a step toward emancipation, a step that is, so to speak, left behind as
soon as one has put ones foot on it.
ieks Hegelianism besides, at least for the moment, is there not
also a distinctive psychoanalytical aspect of his interpretation of the
history of religions and the specific character of each of the religions
that he considers? Much like Freud in Moses and Monotheism, then,
iek could be understood as giving a psychoanalytic account of the
unconscious dimension of religious traditions, something that the
religions themselves have been more or less unable to think as such. If
this is the case, then we might expect psychoanalysis to illuminate the
work that the Jewish law, for instance, or the crucifixion and death
of Christ in Christianity, in actual fact do in their respective tradi-
tions as unconscious as much as conscious (not seeing these two as
polar opposites but as entangled in each other).185 Such an illumina-
tion can perhaps look very much like supersessionism but might not
be motivated by some idea of superiority but by a genuine ambition
for enlightenment. This is not an implausible interpretation of iek,
and I would not deny that there is some value in such an approach.
But nevertheless, the account of religions given by iek is notably
monocausal in its explanation of their distinctive characters, as if the
essential aspects of their historical form were exhausted by ieks
account. Could any fuller description of any of themor the pointing
out of flaws in ieks characterizationbe counted as an exception
to this account, causing its modification? If not, is it possible to avoid
the conclusion that their empirical existence matters little to ieks
theory, whether in its philosophical, Hegelian form or in its more
psychoanalytical register?
This is a most definitive difference with regard to Eagleton, whose
understanding of traditional theology is not Hegelian, and for whom
its representations are not sublated and thereby left behind, even
though he also, admittedly not as persistent as iek, makes use of

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The Need for Faith 105

psychoanalysis in his understanding of theology. For Eagleton, theol-

ogy has a voice of its own, and even if there is always a possibility
but also a necessity of interpreting what it has to say with the help of
other, nontheological discourses, these do not have any epistemologi-
cal preeminence in the same way as ieks Hegelian conceptuality do.
In this sense, Eagletons mode of understanding the content of thought
could perhaps be termed hermeneutical in Paul Ricoeurs sense, where
religious discourse (which for Ricoeur primarily consists in its imag-
ery and narrative, not in its doctrine) is untranslatable into philo-
sophical conceptuality in the sense that this metaphorical or symbolic
discourse could never be exhausted in it.186 This does not mean that
religious discourse, including the fides quae, could not or should not
be interpreted by philosophy, quite the contrary, only that it is not so
easy to, once and for all, surpass, go beyond, or even leave behind this
discourse. Eagletons is not only a hermeneutic of suspicion but also a
hermeneutic of trust. In other words, this allows for more continuity
between the self-understanding of theological reflection on doctrine
and the philosophical understanding of it in Eagleton than for ieks
Hegelian perspective. It also allows for a more active role of the
fides quae and the religious imagery in Eagleton than for iek: it is
not only that which should be interpreted but also that from the per-
spective of which something else could be interpreted.
This difference concerning continuity and discontinuity also plays
a role in Eagletons and ieks understanding of the relationship
between the religions or the question of supersessionism. When iek
presents his typology of religious formsrather than a history of
religions properhe follows, loosely, Hegels own account of the
relationships between religions. This account gives the impression,
at the very least, that a later stage of religion surpasses an earlier
stage, leaving it behind as merely the stepping stone for the next stage.
Even though this earlier stage still lives on, in actual fact, it is in princi-
ple dead as it has fulfilled its role in history, and thus it has no real his-
tory of its own but continues to exist merely as a petrified remnant of
its former self. As we have seen, this is especially problematic regard-
ing ieks view on Judaism. Although I would suggest that it is not
fair to charge iek with anti-Semitism as such, given his very clear
dissociation from it, there is in Hegels own account a very problem-
atic casting of Judaism as a particular religious type. In the words of
Yirmiyahu Yovel, Hegel characterizes Judaism as both the religion of
sublimity and of self-alienation, and in his dialectics, Jewish history
has not only been aufgehoben (sublated) by Christianity; it has also

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106 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

dried out and become frozen and drained of all spiritual content.187
ieks typology of religions, to be sure, adds some nuances and is
thus Hegelian rather than just a blueprint of Hegels, but the prob-
lem persists all the same: after their moment in the dialectics is over,
the different religions as such have no other but a fossilized histori-
cal existence, to the extent that they do not sacrifice their historical
form to keep their spirit in the way that he calls on the Christian
church to do.188 Let me be precise: the trouble with the typology of
religions that we find in iek is not so much that it is teleological
his interpretation of history is, as I have said, rather retrospectiveor
that it advocates some kind of progress. Rather, my critique is that,
since all religions including Christianity should fit into the dialecti-
cal scheme, this account tends to give a truncated version of each
of them, with some (Western Buddhism, Orthodoxy) becoming
outright parodic. The lack of a fuller account obscures the inherent
conflict within particular religions at the same timeand because of
whichas it does not allow them any genuine, historical future. iek
has repeatedly argued against the virtue of tolerance, mostly because he
thinks it is a sham that only covers a more fundamental intolerance.189
But it is hard to avoid the impression that he, because of this, is, in
theological terms, an exclusivist who does not think that any genuine
and meaningful conversation is possible with other perspectives than
his own. One way of expressing this is through the question whether
any self-doubt is really possible within ieks system, despite his dis-
tinction between zealotry and fidelity.
It seems, from what I have said above, that Eagleton would come
easier off the hook in regard to supersessionism, and in a sense
this is true, but maybe only because he really has no discussion
of the question of religious pluralism. He does emphasize, to be
sure, the continuity, with an occasional lapse, between Judaism
and Christianity in regard to the law, but beside this there is no
discussion of religious pluralism, except for his confession of his
own ignorance and his (legitimate, in my view) preference of being
provincial rather than presumptuous.190 As I have no intention
of playing the silly academic game of suggesting what the author
in question should have written instead of what he or she actually
has written, I will have to leave it at that, merely pointing out the
lack of any relevant material from which to judge Eagletons views
on the question of religious pluralism. If I still would dare a con-
jecture, however, I would suggest that there is indeed more room
for religious pluralism in Eagleton, and this conjecture, I base upon

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The Need for Faith 107

hisin comparison to ieksmore pluralistic view on political

action, which I will discuss in chapter 6.
In conclusion, I would say that there exists a real theological dif-
ference between Eagleton and iek in regard to the act of faith that
could be described as a Catholic and a Protestant theology respec-
tively. In the light of what they say about the content of faith, this
interpretation should immediately be supplemented by the designator
Hegelian in the case of iek and, which shall be clearer in the next
chapter, Thomist in the case of Eagleton. As we would expect, this
difference does not only concern their theology in a narrow sense, as
this divergence concerns their more comprehensive theory of culture
and society. In Eagleton, we find an aspiration to both distinguish
and hold together faith and reason. For iek, however, the emphasis
lies on faith as a trauma, a chock that changes the coordinates for our
perception of reality. This difference can be described psychoanalyti-
cally as a difference between an ethics of the symbolic or an ethics
of the Real, philosophically as an Aristotelian or a Kantian ethics,
and theologically as a Catholic or a Protestant theology. What distin-
guishes them from each other will be even more obvious when I now
turn to their respective views on God, evil, and freedom in the next

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9780230340114_04_ch3.indd 108 3/1/2012 11:53:07 AM
God, Evil, and Freedom

It is now time to turn to Eagletons and ieks discussions of God,

evil, and freedom or, in other words, their respective views on
human subjectivity. For both of them, as we shall see, the concern
for theology is inseparable from a concern about how to understand
human existence rather than, say, a speculative interest in God in
and for itself (and in this, they are quite in agreement with most of
the Christian theological tradition). The differences noted in the last
chapter between Eagleton the Catholic and iek the Protestant
play, not surprisingly, an important role also in this chapter, espe-
cially in their understanding of God. Whereas Eagleton advocates
a distinctive Thomistic account of divinity, ieks main influence
is the German idealist philosopher Friedrich Schelling. But whereas
iek has devoted a book and some major articles on Schelling, there
is no parallel account of Thomas Aquinass theology by Eagleton.
His remarks on God are scattered in several of his writings and has
to be gathered from them to give a more systematic picture of his the-
ology. Thus, I shall rely on the philosopher and theologian Herbert
McCabes work to give a fuller background to Eagletons theology
McCabe being, as mentioned in the first chapter, a major intellectual
influence on Eagleton.
In this chapter, I will try to spell out, as clearly as possible,
Eagletons and ieks views on God, evil, and freedom and what
kind of subjectivity these views imply. As a background, I shall begin
each section with an introduction of Aquinass and Schellings phi-
losophies/theologies. It goes without saying, especially regarding
such important (and controversial) figures in the history of ideas as
Aquinas and Schelling, that there are interpretations of them that
would disagree, wholly or partially, with the presentation I give of

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110 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

them here. Suffice it to say that my exposition has no claim of being a

general introduction of neither, just of being appropriate for this par-
ticular context, and so a lot of the discussion going on in the secondary
literature will be left out with a good conscience. Finally, I will con-
clude with a preliminary critical comparison between Eagleton and
iek, where I will show that they do not constitute binary opposites
in their view on God, evil, and freedom.

Aquinas and the Void of God

As already mentioned in the previous chapter, a central point in
Eagletons understanding of God, especially in his polemic against the
new atheism of Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, is expressed
in his concern for not identifying God with a being. In Dawkins
book The God Illusion, for example, it is clear that its author identi-
fies God with a being, and so he resolutely refutes not a particular
version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and
everything supernatural.1 To Dawkins, God is a delusion, and a
dangerous delusion. What is theologically interesting about Dawkins
conception of God is that it portrays God as a being (a bully).
Dawkins conception exemplifies a quite common (mis)understanding
that God, as understood by the Christian but also by the Jewish and
Muslim tradition, is a supernatural being. But this is precisely what
Eagleton disputes, and his refutation of this view on God is informed
by Aquinas, a theologian who, whatever we make of his theology,
surely belongs to the center of the Christian tradition. Aquinas is,
among other things, known for wanting to distinguish God from any
beings by saying that God is not a being but being itself; God is ipsum
esse subsistens, subsistent being itself, and accordingly does not fit
into any category but transcends all categorizations of every kind.2
From this follows a number of interesting features that I will come to
shortly, but before we deal with Eagletons use of Aquinas in any more
detail, we need to establish what kind of Thomism that Eagleton in the
wake of McCabe advocates.
It is clear that the Aquinas we deal with here is not the Aquinas of
the neoscholastic Thomism popular in the Roman Catholic seminaries
around the previous turn of the century. McCabeand Eagleton by
proxywas part of a major philosophical and theological departure
from this kind of Thomism. A huge revival of studies in Aquinass
philosophy and theology was initiated by Pope Leo XIIIs endorse-
ment of Aquinas in 1879. Originally created as a movement that was

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God, Evil, and Freedom 111

to counter the influence of modern philosophy in the Catholic church,

this renewed interest in Aquinas gave rise to a number of conflict-
ing schools of interpretation and, perhaps ironically, also to a num-
ber of different inquiries in how to relate Aquinas to various modern
philosophers from Kant through Heidegger to Wittgenstein.3 Even if
neoscholastic Thomism has existed ever since the Leonine endorsement,
mostly made known through the French philosophers tienne Gilson
and Jacques Maritain, it has been one school among many, and often
challenged to its formalism and its centeredness on questions on epis-
temology by other schools of interpretation who were fuelled by the
return to Aquinass own texts. It is indeed true to say that the study of
Aquinas has flourished as never before during the twentieth and the
beginning of the twenty-first century, and the proof of that lies, among
other things, in the proliferation of differing interpretations.
In Britain, Herbert McCabe was a recognized part of this renewal
of Thomism, being a fellow Dominican to Aquinas, but also having
Aquinas as a focus for much of his thinking throughout his life.4 His
thesis, written to obtain a Licence in Sacred Theology and defended
in 1957, was entitled God and Evil in the Theology of St Thomas
Aquinas, and although this thesis, as much else of his writings, was
not published until after his death, all through his life he kept writing,
lecturing, and even preaching on Aquinas.5 McCabes influence on
other thinkers, for example, Eagleton, was for the most part through
lecturing or personal discussions rather than through his written
work, but as McCabe hardly lectured or preached without a writ-
ten manuscript, through his posthumously writings, we get a good
glimpse of what kind of Thomism he supported. If McCabe should be
identified with a particular school of interpretationagainst his own
wish so to be labeledit is within the camp of analytical Thomism.6
Analytical Thomism, especially in its Wittgensteinian version, deliv-
ers a sustained critique of subjectivist Cartesian epistemology in favor
of a view of the self as always already objectively entangled in a
discursive and experiential lifeworld.7 With the help of Wittgenstein,
McCabes Aquinas take on a linguistic flavor in an emphasis on
Aquinass pursuit of resolving dilemmas of communication in human
God-talk. McCabe is no mere expositor of Aquinass thought but
is a philosopher in his own right, thinking with Aquinasas well
as Wittgenstein and Marxrather than just on Aquinas. To him,
Aquinas was not the philosopher of the ready-made answer but more
importantly, one who learned the method of how to ask questions in
a proper way, and especially the question about God.8 In an explicit

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112 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

critique of the received version of Catholic Thomism as the inven-

tion of the conservative Roman Catholic Church of the nineteenth
century, McCabe suggests that the renewed study of Thomas turned
out to be more corrosive of the Catholic establishment than even
the Enlightenment had been, challenging it from within.9 McCabe
himself was part of that challenge from within.
If the center of Aquinass theology was the question of God, this is
also true of McCabes theology. In his writings on the God-question,
McCabe repeatedly stressed that God should not be confused with
a being as this would amount to idolatry. If God is a being,
although infinitely superior to human beings, then, as both Marx
and Nietzscheaccording to McCabe rightlysuggested, Gods
freedom becomes a threat to the freedom of human beings, since they
compete about the same territory.10 In some versions of philosophical
or theological theism, God is perceived as an arbitrary despot, jeal-
ously guarding his own privileges. To McCabe, there is no wonder
that such a God is denied in the name of human freedom, but what
the critique of this particular conception, whether it is atheistic or
something else, does not see is that such a conception of God is being
criticized by traditional theology too. This is how he puts it on one

Very frequently the man who sees himself as an atheist . . . thinks he

has been told that religious people, especially Christians, claim to have
discovered . . . that there is some grand architect of the universe who
designed it, just like Basil Spence [a famous Scottish architect] only
bigger and less visible, that there is a Top Person in the universe who
issues arbitrary decrees for the rest of the persons and enforces them
because he is the most powerful being around. Now if denying this
claim makes you an atheist, then I and Thomas Aquinas and a whole
Christian tradition are atheistic too.11

McCabe thus strongly suggests understanding God not as a being but

as being itself. But what does that mean?
The reason for avoiding any talk of God as a being is to avoid
making God into an object in our universe so that God and universe
makes two. This would amount to understanding God as an item of
this world and together with this world making up a larger totality.
Therefore, neither is God something alongside the universe. This also
means that God is not one of the gods, one instance (among many
or the only one) in the category of gods, as this still would turn God
into something that is immanent within the universe. To speak of

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God, Evil, and Freedom 113

God as creator, as Aquinas as well as the whole of Christian tradi-

tion do, is actually a way of insisting upon this utter transcendence
of God in relation to the world. Creating the world is not like causing
something to happen within the world, and so one should beware
of anthropomorphic representations of this creation. God is not an
explanation of something within the universe, why something is like
this and not like that, but a kind of explanation why there is a uni-
verse rather than nothing. A consequence of this is that you cannot
point to something within the universe that has a particular God-
shape. McCabe is quite insistent upon that the explanation that is
sought for in natural science is of another register than the question
that is put forward by theology; if someone thinks that the concept of
God also tells us something about the character of the universe, this
is only because he would have smuggled in some idolatrous notion of
what he himself would have done if he was God.12 Creation, then,
does not make any difference to things, just because it makes all
the difference.13 Recognition of Gods action does not remove any
mystery from the world.14 God, to the Christian (as well as the Jewish
and Muslim) tradition, is emphatically not a part of the universe, and to
worship somethingthe godsthat is a part of the universe is, to these
traditions, dehumanizing, and so the worship of the creator God implies
a critique against all idolatry.15
In other words, God is whatever answers the question why there
is nothing rather than something. But that God is the answer to
this question does not mean that we thereby achieve a definition of
God that reduces the mystery of God; We use the word God to point
us towards a darkness, a mystery that is revealed by our question,
revealed by our inability to answer the question; When we speak of
God we do not clear up a puzzle; we draw attention to a mystery.16
The attempt of McCabe to really understand God as other instead
of incorporating God into the circle of the same gives rise to some
peculiar linguistic strategies that, in short, seek to avoid a predicative
language that turns God into an object that could be controlled. The
pretense of having defined God with the help of a concept reduces God
to a being and commits what could be called conceptual idolatry.
Accordingly, McCabe interprets Aquinass famous Five Ways not
as proofs of God in the ordinary sense of the word, but as sketches
of five arguments to show that a certain kind of question about our
world and ourselves is valid: Why the world, instead of nothing at
all?17 To show that this question is valid, that there might be a sense
of this world and not only in this world, is to say that Godthe

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114 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

incomprehensible mystery that is an answer to this question only in

never being the possession of human beingsexists.
If God is not an object in our universe, not a being, any utterance
about God must be a talk with borrowed words. Aquinass views on
analogical languageaccording to McCabe, contra neo-scholasticism,
not a teaching of analogymeans that Aquinas thinks that words
can be used to mean more than they mean to us.18 As all words
used to talk about God comes from the created realm, there are no
words that are especially fitting, except perhaps for the kind of words
that are so obviously unfitting that they could not be taken for liter-
al.19 Nevertheless, analogical words such as goodness or the like,
although not sufficient, cannot be denied of God in the same way as
could metaphorical words such as rock, fortress, or anger. To
summarize McCabes constructive interpretation of Aquinas, then,
we could say that it is a form of negative theology in its insistence
upon the unknowability of God. Aquinass philosophy is a matter
of conceptual clarificationin line with his analytical Thomism
rather than a speculative attempt to know the essence of God. 20
Certainly there are more things to be said about Aquinas on God, as
well as McCabes interpretation of it, but let me now turn to Eagleton
on God to show how very Thomistic his own notion of God is. To
begin with, we can take notice that Eagleton never really presents
his understanding of God as particularly Thomistic, but that it rep-
resents the Christian view on God as such, a mainstream Christian
theology.21 Nevertheless, he repeatedly mentions Aquinas as well as
McCabe. In his critique of the New Atheists, it is in words reminis-
cent of McCabes that he talks about God. God is not some kind of
mega-manufacturer or cosmic chief executive office, according to
Eagleton, and with approval he quotes McCabe, saying that such a
notion of God as a very large and powerful creature is idolatrous. 22
As a contrast to this idolatrous view on God, for Aquinas, God the
Creator is not a hypothesis about how the world originated, which
means that it does not compete with scientific explanations of the
world. 23 To see the theological doctrine of creation as a competitor
with explanations of the origin of the world from natural science
would be a categorical mistake; It is rather like saying that thanks to
the electric toaster we can now forget about Chekhov.24 Rather than
a mega-manufacturer, God is what sustains all things in being by
his love, and as such he is no thing himself, no entity but rather
the reason why there is something rather than nothing.25 In another
context, Eagleton compares such a God to a void, a sublime abyss of

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God, Evil, and Freedom 115

pure nothingness.26 And this nothingness that God is does not add
up with the universe to make two. 27 This should be sufficient to show
how Thomistic Eagletons account of God is, in the sense that I have
showed via McCabe above. As some of Eagletons sentences almost
verbatim repeats McCabes style, there is evidence for the influence on
Eagleton from McCabes thinking (which hardly is an extraordinary
disclosure, given their long friendship).
Eagleton labors the point of disassociating God from any notion of
the divine as a being, and as this will become important for understand-
ing Eagletons views on evil and freedom, let me linger a bit around this
theme. If God is not a mega-manufacturer or a celestial engineer,
creation of the world is creation in quite another sense than being a
part of an intramundane chain of causality and effect.28 That God cre-
ates out of nothing is not testimony to how devilishly clever God
is, dispensing as he can with even the most rudimentary raw materi-
als, but to the fact that the world is not the inevitable culmination
of some prior process.29 This means, among other things, that one
cannot, from the notion of Gods creativity, deduce anything about
how the world actually works. To understand how the world works,
one needs to look at its actual working as an immanent process. God
does not unlike George Bush intervene in creation. 30 Thus, God is
not a factor in any kind of scientific investigation, but the reason that
there might be something to investigateand also someone to do the
investigationrather than nothing.
God, as being a void rather than an entity, could be described as
a perpetual critique of instrumental reason.31 His creations are not
for anything and was created with no functional end in view but
simply for the love and delight of it or, as one might say in more
theological language, for the hell of it.32 Gods creation is, in one
sense, as pointless as God self. This means, among other things, that
creation does not answer to a need in God; There was nothing in it
for him.33 As such, God is free of neurotic need, and needs us no
more than one needs a pet mongoose or a tattoo, which is why God
should not be confused with the desirous Lacanian big Other to whom
we repeatedly address the question of what the other really wants.34
What God demands from us, according to Eagleton, is not that one
should refrain from theft or adultery, but that we should allow him
to love us, so that by the power of this grace we may be able to love
him in return.35 So this means that the world is not necessary, but
contingent, and is shot through with non-being from end to end.36
In other words, it might, like any work of art, also not have existed.

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116 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

Freedom after Nihilism

I have already begun to touch upon the topic of freedom above, and
indeed Eagleton does not think that God is an obstacle to freedom,
quite the contrary. The dependence on God is correlated to human
freedom in the same way that our dependence on language is the
condition of possibility for our free expression. God, in the premod-
ern period, was the ground of our freedom, not the obstacle to it.
Being a creature of the Almighty meant being dependent on his
life for our own, and the life of God was nothing but freedom.37
In other words, to a theological account such as this, freedom and
dependence are not the opposites of each other. This is precisely how
McCabe explicates Aquinas: God is not an alternative to freedom,
he is the direct cause of freedom. We are not free in spite of God,
but because of God.38 The reason why we have such a hard time to
imagine God and freedom not as opposites but as correlative is that
our language betrays us into talking of God as a being, which means
that any notion of divine action is portrayed as an external force that
is bound to clash with our own actions. But if we try to stay true to
Aquinass notion of God as creator, which means that God is not a
cause among many, we may become aware that Gods action is not
an external cause, an alternative to me, but the creative causal
power . . . that makes me me.39 And so, when Eagleton writes that
God for Thomas Aquinas is the power that allows us to be our-
selves, rather as the love of our parents allows us to be ourselves,
this comparison does not ring entirely true to Aquinas or McCabe.40
McCabe actually contrasts the love of our parents with the creative
power of God: that we become free when our parents let us go is
because we distance ourselves from our parents, but with God it is
the other way around in that it is the presence of God that heighten
our independence, not Gods withdrawal.41 It is not as something
utterly remote from human beings that God become the source of
human freedom, to Aquinas, but as an unfathomable mystery. As
long as we are caught by the image of God as an individual person
in charge of the universe, this correlation between God and human
freedom will not be understood, however.42 But this is the image
of God that both McCabe and Eagleton wish to refute. God is, in
another of Eagletons phrases, the bottomless abyss of being and
so is nothing but the very condition of human freedom.43
Now, Eagletons comparison of God with parents withdrawing to let
their children achieve independence was, to be sure, partly conceived

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God, Evil, and Freedom 117

to explicate his understanding of freedom. Freedom, to Eagleton, does

not mean autarchy or self-authorship, as this would mean an adolescent
or Faustian understanding of freedom. Such a freedom is the bour-
geois fantasy par excellence as well as one of the driving forces of
Western neo-imperialism todayand I might here remind the reader
of Eagletons understanding of sin as self-centeredness as explicated
in the last chapter.44 On a level that we could call phenomenological,
Eagletons understanding of freedom is not only compatible with the
recognition of human dependence and interdependence as a funda-
mental fact of human existence, but indebted to such an understand-
ing as well. In one of his most expressive images of such a freedom,
and thus of human flourishing, Eagleton compares it to a jazz group:

A jazz group which is improvising obviously differs from a symphony

orchestra, since to a large extent each member is free to express herself
as she likes. But she does so with a receptive sensitivity to the self-
expressive performances of the other musicians.45

Other people is a precondition for our own flourishing, not (in princi-
ple) a hinder to it, which is in line with Eagletons emphasis of human
life as an embodied lifeembodied in both an individual and a social
sense. Ones freedom is shaped from inside by the demands of those
through whom alone it can be realized.46 Only through breaking
through the illusion of absolute freedom from dependency can a genu-
ine freedom be achieved.
What is absolute freedom according to Eagleton, and why does he
think it is such a bad idea? Absolute freedom, to Eagleton, is freedom
from all limits, and as the limits are what makes us into the kind of
embodied human beings that we are, absolute freedom is a denial of
humanity. In his discussion of absolute freedom, Eagleton refers to
and agrees with Hegels account of absolute freedom and terror
in the Phenomenology of Spirit.47 The absolute freedom, according
to Hegel, is the death that is without meaning, the sheer terror of
the negative that contains nothing positive, nothing that fills it with
content.48 If it would have a content, this would mean that it also had
a limit that would restrict it, and so it would not be absolute. Thus, all
possible limits have to be overcome, even self-limitation, in the name
of freedom. The outcome of this negativity is a fury of destruction
that feeds upon resistance to itself but in the end cannot find any sat-
isfaction other than the coldest and meanest of all deaths, with no
more significance than cutting off a head of cabbage or swallowing

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118 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

a mouthful of water.49 This kind of freedom, says Eagleton, is ter-

roristic, since it cannot stand otherness, as this would mean a limit to
its own, unbound aspiration. Such a freedom can never be complete
except in pure solitude; It is so allergic to bounds that it cannot even
abide itself, and thus ends up disappearing down the black hole of its
own negativity.50 If this has, so far, been a quite abstract explanation
of abstract freedom, Eagleton maintains that it has obvious connec-
tions to our own, political world. The self-destruction of the French
revolutionaries might be one example, as would the contemporary
Western quest of defending its own liberty at such length in its war
on terrorism that it sacrifices this very liberty itself. But as the only
true end of absolute freedom would be the abyss of sheer nothingness,
absolute freedom wants nothing in particular and so is no guidance
for acting in one way rather than another. And as such an absolute
freedom is a purely formal concept . . . the freedom which modern
civilization prizes as its spiritual essence is also a kind of vacancy at
its heart.51 In other words, absolute freedom is a terroristic notion
of freedom.
Is not such an absolute freedom in its abyssal negativity peculiarly
similar to the Thomistic understanding of Goda sublime abyss of
pure nothingnessthat we came across just some paragraphs before?
Yes and no, according to Eagleton.52 Yes, in that it is as impossible to
ask where this freedom comes from as it is impossible to ask where
God comes from. Neither God nor absolute freedom has any origin
other than itself. Both God and absolute freedom are independent.
But still no, since absolute freedom is also a kind of absolute loneli-
nessany company would necessarily amount to a limit to absolute
freedomwhereas God is conceived as dynamic love even in Gods
own self. Further, God has limits in the sense that God cannot act
in ways that goes against Gods own nature. If God is love, then it
is not possible for God to be unloving, even if that would count as a
constraint on Gods freedom.
But let us return for a moment to Eagletons discussion of absolute
freedom as the essence of liberty in the contemporary West. Is this
really true? What about the liberal understanding of freedom, not as
the abyss but in the rather more benignly mundane version as the free-
dom, in the words of John Stuart Mill, of pursuing our own good in
our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs,
or impede their efforts to obtain it?53 This is, to be sure, a kind of
negative freedom in that it does not specify any particular goal for
human striving, which is given by some kind of human nature or

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God, Evil, and Freedom 119

essence, but does it really amount to being terroristic? According to

Eagleton, not really. Eagleton is actually in favor of liberal freedoms
and considers them to be an incalculably precious heritageone
without which any socialism is sunk from the outset.54 A socialist, in
Eagletons definition, is someone who takes the liberal freedoms very
seriously, perhaps even more seriously than the liberals themselves.
Even a liberal capitalist, thus, recognizes that freedom in actual prac-
tice never can be absolute or limitless.
Nevertheless, there is a discrepancy between this actual doctrine
of freedom and its metaphysics, such as that it harbours a certain
licence at its heart, which it can neither eradicate nor endorse.55 In
other words, Eagleton understands absolute freedom as the repressed
desire of contemporary liberal freedom; it is the secret fantasy of the
capitalist of a market without competitors. In Holy Terror, Eagleton
delivers an account of the inherent contradiction of a capitalistic
concept of freedom, which is a densely written story that resonates
with Hegels dialectic of master and slave, a psychoanalytic ver-
sion of desire, and an interpretation of works from antique as well
as Shakespearian tragedy. But instead of trying to disentangle the
different threads of Eagletons argument, I will here limit myself
to a presentation of what I consider to be the essence of Eagletons
Absolute freedom is the capitalistic sublime in that it is ineffable,
beyond any positive representation or embodiment. But as it in actual
life always needs to accommodate all kinds of extrinsic limits, it can
feed on these limits in a potentially infinite transgression of them.
In this way, it empties the world of its meaning, seeing in it nothing
other than just the raw material for the exercise of its power. The
incessant appetite of the transgressive desire of absolute freedom,
however, gives rise to a particular kind of melancholy, because it
needs to define itself in opposition to the world as so many obsta-
cles to overcome at the same time as it doubts if the effort really is
worth it, given that these obstacles really are devoid of any intrinsic
meaning; Freedom is condemned to exercise its powers on a real-
ity which it has itself degraded.56 It is like winning over oneself in
tic-tac-toe; no real sense of conquest or triumph appears. The trouble
with liberal freedom, then, is not really its efficiency or lack of it on
a political level, but that the capitalistic sublime of absolute freedom
constantly threatens to disturb the fragile equilibrium of civil soci-
ety. As there are no given, intrinsic restraints to freedom but only
extrinsic and thus, to absolute freedom itself, arbitrary, there is a

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120 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

permanent conflict between its form and its content in capitalistic

society. 57 Consequently, the fury of destruction could be let loose
at any moment. To summarize, we could say that Eagletons account
of freedom in capitalistic society is of a melancholic sadomasochism:
sadomasochistic in that its desire oscillates between the dependence
upon there being obstacles to transgress and the annihilation of this
very condition of possibility of itself; melancholic in that there is no
way out of this deadlock between desire and defeat under the condi-
tion of absolute freedom.
But what, if anything, does God have to do with this absolute free-
dom? And is Eagleton advocating a return to a religious society as
a way out of capitalism? The answer to the last question is no, the
reason that God turns up in his argument is rather that it helps him
to formulate what would be an alternative to the illusion of abso-
lute freedom and the desire it produces. We have already seen, in the
chapter on ideology, that Eagleton argues for an anthropology of
embodiment and of human beings as moderately rational creatures,
and in line with this, he also suggests that it is possible to conceive of
a freedom that is not the opposite of dependence. Absolute freedom is
the result more of a Protestant than a Catholic theology, as a certain
variety of Protestantism emptied the world of any intrinsic meaning
and value, referring these to the arbitrary will of a voluntaristically
conceived God.58 I think it is possible to dispute the historical accu-
racy of Eagletons account of this dichotomy, as the origins of such a
possibility could be found in late medieval nominalistic philosophy as
much as in the Protestant reformation, but be that as it may for now,
the general idea of Eagletons argument here is that this conception
of freedom is historically produced, and so could be refuted philo-
sophically as well as relativized culturally and socially with the help
of another conception. Today, it is not primarily religion that tries to
reconcile law and love and so to conceive of a freedom whose limits
are internal to itself rather than arbitrarily imposed from outside, but
art; [T]he work of art can gather the unruly materials of everyday
life into a shapely whole without losing anything of their vitality. If
it is a riposte to political absolutism, it is also an argument against
anarchy.59 What is so special about the artwork is that it can present
an inner necessity without sacrificing its freedom, like God once did.
In such a conception, freedom is redeemed from utter arbitrariness, in
reconciliation with dependence that, of course, is not free from inner
tension but at least does not posit them in an antagonistic embrace
whose only possible child is nihilism.

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God, Evil, and Freedom 121

Autonomy, then, as a political ideal, is something that Eagleton

wishes to defend, but that he, for political as well as philosophical
reasons, finds impossible to do on the conditions of liberal capitalism,
since it does not take into proper account the extent to which both its
theoretical conceptions and its practical instantiations of it are prone
to ideology. In history, this liberation of humankind from any self-
inflicted heteronomy needed to take the form of a critique of religion
that we find in Marx or Nietzsche, as a protest against the kind of
idolatry where God is understood as a being and so someone whose
power, by necessity, stood in conflict with human power. As McCabe,
for whom the heart of Marxist atheism is to be found in the rejec-
tion of the master-slave relationship in the name of human freedom,
Eagleton is convinced on the one hand that Marx is correct, but on the
other hand that Judaism and Christianity has quite another conception
of God, one that is actually as critical of infantile dependency as it is
of false autonomy.60 But today, it is not, primarily, (traditional) reli-
gion we need to be liberated from, but rather the dominant ideology
of our own times, liberal capitalism, and its myth of progress. Indeed,
Eagleton shares the liberal humanisms vision of the free flourishing
of humanity; but . . . holds that this is possible only by confronting the
very worst.61 To appreciate the full sense of Eagletons theologyas
a way of speaking of the human predicament todaywe accordingly
need to turn to his views on evil.

The Reason for Evil

Why evil? Has not the notion of evil been discarded as hopelessly
metaphysical and therefore also politically dangerous, in that it seems
to suggest a category that both is used as a way of demonizing the
other as well as introducing a transcendent explanation that, precisely
therefore, is really a substitute for a genuine analysis? To judge from
the proliferation of theoretical books from Immanuel Kant through
Hannah Arendt and onward, the epoch of evil as a fecund category
for critical theory seems far from over.62 Even Eagleton has joined
the ranks of authors that have devoted a book to the question of evil
with the succinct and pertinent title On Evil. This book opens, how-
ever, through immediately recognizing the problem with the notion
of evil that I just alluded to; Eagleton warns against the ideological
use of evil as a way of bringing arguments to an end, like a fist in
solar plexus.63 But such an ideological use of the notion of evil usu-
ally presuppose that the characterization of a human act as evil is a

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122 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

way of saying that the person acting is responsible for his or her act
instead of being conditioned by social circumstances. As evil, an act
is free of social conditioning, and therefore the perpetrator can be
morally accountable. Eagletons book is an attempt to refute precisely
these presuppositionsin continuity with his view that freedom and
dependence should not be seen as contrasts. Another way of putting
it is that Eagleton, in his account of evil, wishes to go beyond the
typically modern duality between, on the one hand, progress, reason,
and civility and, on the other hand, its repression of evil, pain, and
madness, as a way of dealing with the actual presence of evil, not just
avoiding it.
Eagletons book on evil is a further example of the influence of
Thomistic thought and especially McCabe upon his own thinking.
The very same year when On Evil was publicized, 2010, also saw
the long overdue publication of McCabes thesis on Aquinas and evil
with a foreword by Eagleton. For his own book on evil, Eagleton
claims Freuds thought, especially about the death drive, as a major
influence, but at the same time he expresses the belief that a psycho-
analytical account of evil is indeed faithful to a traditional theological
account of the same thing.64 To understand how Eagleton treats evil,
we need to take a short look at his polemical front.
In the first part of Kants late work Religion within the Boundaries
of Mere Reason from 1793, its author introduces a concept that will
be decisive for the modern discussion of the nature of evil, namely,
radical evil.65 Generally speaking, all classic and medieval philoso-
phy and theology had understood evil as a privation, as a lack of real-
ity (more about this soon), but from Kant and onward the notion of
evil as an entity in its own right started to assert itself. Even if the bids
on the root of evil were many also in antiquitymatter, sensuality,
and the human willfew wanted to claim that it was a reality at the
same level as the good. Evil, one could say, led a parasitic existence
on being as such, which was considered by, among others, Thomas
Aquinas to be something good in itself.66 Evil was not something that
could be chosen for its own sake, as Satan does in the famous quote
from John Milton, Evil be thou my Good, but only as a mistaken
version of the good.67 But Eagleton is critical of the concept of radi-
cal evil, among other reasons, because it despises the everyday for
the extreme. Many have remarked that Satan is really the interesting
figure in Miltons Paradise Lost, whereas God seems a bit dull, but
Eagleton claims that in principle, it is evil which is boring and brit-
tle, not good, which is humorous and high-spirited.68 The notion of

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God, Evil, and Freedom 123

evil as an end in itself is a seductive, deeply dangerous mythology.69

In On Evil, Eagletons polemics is directed against the whole idea, in
the wake of Kant, that evil is something mysterious, an alternative to
rational explanations of or reasons for an action.
Why, then, do we need to speak of evil and what is the reason
for writing yet another book about it, especially as Marxists, in gen-
eral, usually have no belief in evil and no need for the concept?70 The
absence of the category of evil in contemporary Marxism has to do,
according to Eagleton, with confusing the moral with the moral-
istic, but such a confusion is yet another example of how freedom
and dependency are seen as antithetical. Morality does not exist in a
sphere of its own, hovering independent of its material base, and so
is not a manner of looking away from the more serious business of
history and politics. So, for Eagleton, evil need not, and should not,
be associated with some mythological, supernatural creature, but nei-
ther should it be deprived of all reason, so as to constitute something
thoroughly inexplicable. Indeed, as a good Thomist, Eagleton, like
his mentor McCabe, regards evil not as something existent, but as
a kind of deficiency of being . . . a kind of malfunctioning, a flaw at
the heart of being.71 The course that Eagleton tries to steer, between
Scylla and Charybdis, is a course that neither looks away from its
enduring presence in human existence in a facile optimism nor pre-
sumes, concluding from its ubiquitous presence, that nothing could
be done about it.
What is the nature of evil according to Eagleton? One way of
answering that question is to say that evil, in reality, is un-nature; it is
a freedom gone mad, as in the discussion of absolute freedom above.
To Eagleton, evil is intimately connected to the question of freedom,
as [p]ure autonomy is a dream of evil; the fundamental desire of
evil is the annihilation of being, which tells that it is another name for
absolute freedom or, in Freuds vocabulary, the death drive.72 Some
of its main features are its uncanniness, its appalling unreality, its
surprisingly superficial nature, its assault on meaning, the fact that it
lacks some vital dimension, the way it is trapped in the mind-numbing
monotony of an eternal recurrence.73 The final end of evil is hell,
not because God sentenced someone to hell but because this is the
inevitable consequence of its fury of destruction; hell is not, like we
heard a propos Sartre in the previous chapter, other people, but the
opposite: [B]eing stuck with the most dreary, unspeakably monoto-
nous company of all: oneself.74 It might not be entirely inappropriate
to illustrate Eagletons view on the nature of evil with some lines from

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124 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh, who says about the devil that you
have to be careful about his inferiority-complex/ For he was con-
scious of being uncreative.75 And this is likewise how Eagleton sees
it: evil is, after all, not creative, and so it despises Gods creation and
would actually prefer that there was nothing at all, since it does not
see the point of created things. It loathes them because, as Thomas
Aquinas claims, being is itself a kind of good.76 Evil is in a way a kind
of eternal sulking, deploring the fact that it cannot undo creation, and
so preferring to annihilate as much of it as it can, in a grisly parody
of the Book of Genesis.77 Kavanagh once again, on the devil: He
looked like an artist (my emphasis).78 This brings up a host of by
now well-known themes in Eagleton, such as embodiment, where the
Faustian drive for the infinite, as the transgressing of all limits, ends
in a distaste of our wretchedly disabling bodies and of the inter-
wovenness of our lives as the source of solidarity.79 Or in regard to
the question of reason, where evil always posits either too much or
too little meaning, oscillating between abstract, instrumental reason
and the nihilistic dissolution of meaning, and so has no truck with the
contingency and ambiguity of creation.80
We have seen, here and above in the section on freedom, that
Eagleton touches upon the theme of evil in connection with precisely
the idea of freedom. Instead of wanting to discard the idea of free-
dom or autonomy, what he wishes to achieve is to point out a certain
malaise in modern freedom; that the strive for an absolute freedom
or a pure autonomy is an illusion, given the constitution of human
beings, and a dangerous illusion. Evil, then, in Eagletons Freudian
vocabulary, has to do with the death drive. The death drive is what we
came across in iek in the last chapter, an excess of life over itself.81
To Eagleton, this drive is a reaction to the discovery of a non-being
at the core of ones identity that gives rise to an obscene enjoy-
ment and an urge to fend of mortality through destroying whatever
reminds one of this precariousness.82 Human beings always exist at
the border of nonbeing. Experienced as anxiety, rather than as grati-
tude for being, we seek to relieve ourselves of this lack of being at the
center of our existence through an act of destruction. This is what
Freud calls the death drive, according to Eagleton, as the unconscious
desire for the destruction, not only of everything else, but finally also
ourselves, as this, perversely, gives a sense of liberation. The death
drive is a deliriously orgiastic revolt against interest, value, meaning,
and rationality. It is an insane urge to shatter the lot of them in the
name of nothing whatsoever.83 Eagleton illustrates this death drive

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God, Evil, and Freedom 125

through alcoholism: even though it is certain that the bottle will kill
the alcoholic in the end, he still holds on to it to the last drop, as it
is this, and only this, that gives a kind of coherence or continuity
to his life. What gives him coherence is then the same thing that, in
the end, also will destroy him. The death drive, then, is, to return to
the chapter on ideology, a psychoanalytic attempt to understand why
people . . . invest in their own unhappiness and is, as such, a parallel
to a theological notion of evil.
To Freud, this death drive at the center of our existence is thor-
oughly impersonal and objective. It has no regard at all for us as
persons whatsoever, and this is where psychoanalysis differs at the
most from theology, for which it is God that is at the center of exis-
tence.84 I shall return to the notion of the death drive in due course,
but let it this far be said that Eagleton describes the impersonal per-
sistence of the drive as a kind of undead existence; the death drive
represents a kind of eternity within time, or a form of death in life, a
Hegelian bad infinite or a Kierkegaardian sickness unto death.85
This is not, of course, Eagleton saying that alcoholics are evil, but just
an attempt to illustrate the senseless repetitivity of the death drive.
And this psychoanalytical account of the death drive throws some
light on a theological understanding of evil, according to Eagleton, as
it makes it comprehensible how evil, being a privation and therefore
a lack of being, still can have such power of human life.86 To be sure,
evil needs not to take dramatic form to earn its title. Most often we
encounter it in a garden variety such as envy or in the banality of
the bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann. But in the end, Eagletons turn to a
theological doctrine of evil is not to be understood as primarily theo-
logical. To him, as he repeatedly has stated, the existence of evil is
the strongest of arguments against the existence of God.87 As psycho-
analysis, theology in Eagletons reasoning stand in service of a viable
radical politics, and for such a politics to be realistic, thinks Eagleton,
it has to look the world in the eye and acknowledge the presence of
evil without succumbing to it. The reason for a book on evil is not to
defend God or solve the problem of evil, which, in any case, traditional
theology never sought to do, but to come to an understanding of evil
that would promote the abolition of it.88 Too sanguine a reading of
history leads to the belief that no thoroughgoing change is necessary,
while too gloomy a view of it suggests that such change is impossible
to come by.89 Human history is a tragedy, but if the evil that makes
it so is not something mysterious or free of social conditioning; if
humanity is indeed alienated rather than just simply mad, then there

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126 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

might be something to do about it. The name for what is needed for
such a change is not mere optimism, however, but hope, a hope for
radical transformation. But what such a hope would look like is the
topic for the last chapter. Now we shall turn to Schelling, iek, and
their views on God, evil, and freedom.

Schelling, God, and Evil

As we already have seen, that iek claims that he is an atheist does not
mean that he has nothing to say about God, quite the contrary. What
is interesting, furthermore, is the important role in his philosophy
that the concept of God plays, and the aim of this section is precisely
to show what that role is. I also have suggested that there is a dis-
tinct Protestant flavor to ieks philosophy in contrast to Eagletons
Catholicism. This contrast is also evident in his views on God, and
especially as this is something that is developed out of his engagement
with German idealism. If Aquinasdespite being doctor angelicus
and doctor communis in the Roman Catholic Church belongs to the
common heritage of both Catholicism and Protestantism, philosophers
such as Hegel and Schelling, no matter how heterodox they might
have been, are unambiguously a part of the Lutheran tradition
(among other things, they studied theology together at the Tbingen
University in Germany). And for ieks views on God, Schelling
might be the most important influence, especially what is referred to
(Schelling being a philosopher with many distinctive breaks) as his
middle period. That Schelling and German idealism is important
to ieks own philosophy is emphasized by himself continuously, for
example, in a comment where he not only claims that his work relies
on the full acceptance of the notion of modern subjectivity elaborated
by the great German Idealists from Kant to Hegel but also suggests
that Lacan, for him, is really a tool for understanding and actualizing
this philosophical heritage.90
When we now turn from a Thomistic account of God to one that
is inspired by German idealism, there is a conspicuous difference in
the mode of philosophizing. Even if McCabe was not, Aquinas is a
theologian/philosopher who lived before the turn to the subject by
Western philosophy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Even
if Aquinas along with most of the Christian tradition would have
found it unthinkable to imagine a God-talk that was abstracted from
the relationship between God and human beings, the emphasis of
his philosophy was nevertheless on God rather than human beings.

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God, Evil, and Freedom 127

To put it schematically, if the transcendence of God was the horizon

for any talk of human beings for Aquinas, to the modern tradition,
it is human existence that is the horizon for any talk of God. This is
indeed the case with Schelling who is a philosopher who, in the wake
of Kant, deals with the question of human freedom. His question is
how human freedom is possible to think together with the causal laws
of nature in a way that avoids Kants dualism between the noume-
nal and the phenomenal. In what is probably his most famous work,
Philosophical Investigation into the Essence of Human Freedom
from 1809, Schellings answer is, in short, that the foundation of
human freedom is not to be found in human beings themselves, but in
the absolute. Human freedom, to Schelling, is the capacity for good
and evil, and the condition of possibility for such a freedom must
be found in existence itself and not just in the noumenal sphere, if it
is going to be a real freedom in contrast to a mere semblance.91 This
book on freedom along with the unpublished and fragmentary The
Ages of the World, more specifically the second draft from 1813, are
the writings that are of the most concern to iek. The Ages of the
World, which is published in an English translation together with a
long essay on Schelling by iek, is a peculiar text, a philosophical
discourse but more in the form of a literary exposition.92 According
to Wolfram Hogrebe, it is expressly written as popular philosophy
(which one may note with some surprise).93
How come iek is interested in Schellings mythopoetic and highly
speculative metaphysics to begin with? Is not, in ieks own words,
Schellings obscure ruminations about the Absolute prior to the cre-
ation of the world simply out of touch with our post-Enlightened
pragmatic universe?94 To iek, the answer is emphatically and simply
no; quite the contrary, Schelling is essential to a materialistic critique
of ideology as a metapsychological (in Freuds sense) study of how
order is born out of chaos and how order subsequently covers its own
genesis.95 Such a study, then, is essential to any attempt to break out
of the ideological edifice and to expose the fundamentally antagonistic
character of existence. Even if it comes in a mythical formas also
Freuds myth of the primordial father and Lacans myth of the lamella
this should not be held against it, as this mythical form seems to be
necessary for conveying the truth; as the quote from Lacan that iek
is fond of repeating, [T]ruth has the structure of fiction.96 ieks
use of Schelling, then, tells us something significant about his interest
in theology in general. With these preliminary words, let us now turn
to Schelling.

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128 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

According to Schelling, human freedom consists of a capacity for

good and evil. Further, he maintains that evil is something real and
not just a semblance. This has consequences for his understanding
of God or the absolute. As Schelling also wanted to overcome the
Kantian dualism between nature and freedom, he could not avoid
the question about how evil should be understood in relation to
God. A genuine concept of freedom needed to be founded meta-
physically, not only morally, and neither Kants notion of radical
evil nor the old idea of evil as a privation (as in Aquinas) had
come up with a satisfactory answer to this question, according to
Schelling. The solution that Schelling pleads in his writings is to
think the reality of evil as something that has its origin outside of
God, but at the same time also hold on to the thought that God is
the source of everything that is. This means, according to Schelling,
that the root of evil that is independent of God also exists in God,
but as something in God that is not God, in other words, that
which in God himself is not He Himself.97 To accomplish this
thought, Schelling distinguishes between two different aspects of
Gods being, Gods ground and Gods existence. Both belong to
the essence of God, since God as the source of everything hardly
could have the foundation for his own existence outside of himself.
The ground of Gods existence is, accordingly, within God himself,
but it would not be the ground if God did not also exist. In an
analogy, Schelling suggests that Gods ground relates to Gods exis-
tence in the same way as [g]ravity precedes light as its ever dark
ground . . . and flees into the night as the light (that which exists)
dawns.98 Thus it is impossible to maintain that either ground or
existence would be primary in relation to the other; rather, their
relationship is dialectical.
This is not a static dialectic, however. The world as it now appears
for us is, says Schelling, characterized by rule, order and form but
underneath this order, in the ground, there is always an anarchy as the
indivisible remainder, which always threatens to break loose. The
beginning of eternitys movement toward time, the very start of it all,
Schelling designates as a spark that could not be foreseen.99 In ieks
words: [T]he true Beginning is the passage from the closed rotary
motion to open progress, from drive to desireor, in Lacanian terms,
from the Real to the Symbolic.100 And this beginning takes place as
a decision founded upon the abyss that precedes even Gods ground
and existence: the nonground of pure indifference, the eternal being as
unconscious will. This abyss is the source of human freedom, and this

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God, Evil, and Freedom 129

human freedom, then, is so to speak the manifestation of the absolute

in history.
Now, returning to evil, we saw above that Eagleton is quite criti-
cal of the modern idea of radical evil, preferring instead to go back
to Aquinas with the help of Freud for his own account. Critical, since
radical evil seems to despise the everyday for the extreme, elevat-
ing evil to a kind of heroic rebellion, but especially since evil in this
tradition becomes something mysterious, according to Eagleton, just
the kind of alternative to explanation that has given the notion of evil
a bad name. Schelling, on the other hand, has nothing other than
contempt for the traditional theological account of evil as a privation,
and in this he is a true follower of Kant.101 To Schelling, the tradi-
tional account of evil as a privation seems to say that evil has no real
existence, but then the possibility of an authentic concept of freedom
disappears, since human beings have no genuine possibility to choose
evil. If the essence of freedom is, as we have seen, the capacity for
good and evil, then Schelling suggests that evil must be a possibility
on the same level of existence as good. It could be disputed whether
Schelling really captures the real meaning of the traditional teaching
on evil, but we have to postpone any such discussion. Let us instead
return to Schelling on radical evil as well as ieks comments on this,
before we move on to ieks more general use of his philosophy.
Schellings philosophy in the treatise on freedom is, however much
he talks about God, radically anthropocentric. Human beings are
relatively independent of God, since our origin is the ground, which is
that in God that is not God himself. In human beings, like in God, the
two principles becomes a unity, but in distinction to God, this unity
is always possible to break up; thus, it is first here, not in God, that
we find the possibility of both good and evil. In the will of a human
being, a distinction between his or her spiritual self and the principle
of light can arise. In the spirits relative autonomy from what is eter-
nal, the spiritual self of human beings, which transcends the being
of a creature of nature, can choose to put the principle of darkness
before light. It is first here that the principle of darkness becomes
something evil. In God, this choice is just a potential, its realization
takes place only in human beings. The human choice of putting the
principle of darkness before light is a conscious choice.
Martin Heidegger comments upon the possibility of evil in
Schelling in the following way: Evil attains its true essential real-
ity only in Spirit, in the Spirit of the creature which as selfhood can
place itself furthest away from God and against God and can claim

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130 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

the whole of beings for itself.102 This means that Schelling radical-
izes Kants concept of radical evil: human beings have the possibility
of a free and conscious choice of evil for its own sake, a possibility
that Kant denied was open. To Kant, evil is radical in the etymo-
logical sense of the word (the Latin radix means root); radical
evil is radical, since it concerns the very root of human beingsin
Religion, Kant writes that human beings can be called evil if our
disposition is corrupted at its root, even if particular actions could
be good.103 Evil is never devilish to Kant, it can never be chosen as an
end in itself, but is a certain perversity . . . of the human heart that
consists merely in giving priority to nonmoral incentives over moral
law.104 To Schelling, however, evil is a power that always threatens to
assert itself, which means that his concept of evil understands evil as a
much more active force than Kant did. As iek has pointed out, evil
for Schelling has to do with human existence as a spiritual existence:
This is the true perversion of Evil: in it, normal animal egotism is
spiritualized, it expresses itself in the medium of Wordwe are no
longer dealing with an obscure drive but with a will which, finally,
found itself.105 The created nature of human beings as a medium
for the revelation of spirit also becomes a medium for raising blind
desire to a consciously chosen aspiration: [I]t becomes a Person
aware of itself, so that we are now dealing with an Evil which, in
full awareness of itself, wills itself as Evil which is not merely
indifference towards the Good but an active striving for Evil.106
Through her conscious choice of putting the principle of darkness
before the principle of light, the human being becomes a rival to
God that parodies the harmonic balance between ground and exis-
tence through choosing her narcissistic aspiration as the expression
of the whole of her being. Evil is not a consequence of human lowli-
ness but of human highness; it is a higher aspect of Gods ground,
that is, what in God is not God himself, but an aspect that is only
realized through human beings. The possibility of human choice
freedomwhich includes the possibility of choosing evil is anchored
in the very structure of existence, in that which in God himself is
not He Himselfwhich was where we began above.
iek would not be iek, however, if he did not take the dia-
lectics of Schellings understanding of evil one step further. This
step is taken in saying that [e]vil is the concrete existence of the
Good.107 What does that mean? To understand this, we have to
return to Schellings claim that freedom is the capacity for good and
evil and especially to the and in this quote. This and could not,

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God, Evil, and Freedom 131

according to iek, denote just the neutral possibility of choosing

one and the other; this would amount to an interpretation of ground
and existence as complementary rather than contradictory. And
is not a third medium in which good and evil could be encountered,
but is strictly tautological so that one or the other of the terms has to
serve both as the encompassing unity of itself and its Otherness.108
If and would have been this third, neutral medium, then we would
be back to a cosmic Justice and Balance characteristic of the,
according to iek, pagan or even ideological cosmology that
we have met in the previous chapters. Such a new age reading of
Schelling, iek regards as the constant temptation, but it needs to
be rejected in favor of a materialist and more Hegelian interpretation
where good only can exist in the form of evil, if it is not to be a form
of ideological misrecognition. The good, that is, the creation of order
out of chaos, can only appear as the radical disruption of any uni-
fied whole, and as such as an act of radical evil. In this sense, even
Christ is put forward by iek as someone who chooses evil, as he
came to divide, not to unite (cf. Mt. 10:34) and consequently was
experienced by his contemporary Hebrew community as someone
who was disruptive of the traditional way of life.109 The act of radi-
cal evil is without regard for the well-being of the perpetrator, it is
without all pathological motives (greed, ambition, and benefits),
and to choose evil for its own sake is as such a true ethical act in
Kants sense. This act, then, is a kind of repetition of the divine act of
creation, and it is only through such an act that a person can become
a subject in the true sense. And since iek claimsin line with
his interpretation of Schellingthat God only can become actual
through the decisions of human beings, since only there freedom is
realized as such, evil seems to be a necessary stage in the dialectical
realization of subjectivity.110
This is, indeed, not an advocacy on ieks part for what we may
call evil in a more pedestrian sensemurder, mayhem, betrayal, et
ceterabut for radical evil, that is, evil as an act that establishes
the very possibility of both good and evil in this more normal sense,
but also as an act that as an essentially negative gesture breaks with
the ideological edifice.111 In line with ieks reasoning, we could
differ between the bad person and the evil person: whereas the bad
person is concerned with himself, causing others to fare ill, the truly
evil person is not concerned with himself at all but only with that in
himself that is more than himself. As we now have moved on from an
introduction of Schellings understanding of God, evil, and freedom

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132 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

to ieks particular account of this, it is time to finally inquire more

fully about how Schelling is put to use in ieks own philosophy.

The Abandonment of God

So, again, why Schelling? If we return to ieks account of the
Christian experience from the previous chapter, in the stories about
the sufferings and the death of Christ, we meet in a paradigmatic
way, according to iek, humanity deprived of all positive attri-
butes but at the same time and precisely because of this elevated to
a universal status (when the Father identifies with the crucified Son):
[T]he crucifixion, the death of the son of God, is a happy eventin
it, the very structure of sacrifice, as it were, sublates itself, giving birth
to a new subject no longer rooted in a particular substance, redeemed
of all particular links (the Holy Spirit).112 This becomes, psycho-
analytically speaking, a parallel to the traumatic encounter with the
Real that has a subversive effect upon the symbolic structure. The
possibility of political change hangs together with the possibility of
a political intervention that does not only correct this or that social
injustice but also changes the very roots of political action. That this
is a possibility follows from ieks political ontologythere is a crack
in reality, subjectivity, that prevents it from closing in a deterministic
totality. Reality is non-all. Such an account of human subjectivity, iek
finds in a paradigmatic way in Schelling, and this is the reason for his
use of Schellings philosophy.
ieks interpretation of the Christian experience as fundamen-
tally antagonistic rather than harmonic should, in other words, be
brought back to some recurrent philosophical themes in ieks writ-
ings, such as Schellings exposition of human subjectivity as an abyss.
Subjectivity as an abyss means, among other things, that the ideas
of human reason are, simply put, necessary but unconscious strate-
gies to hide from ourselves that our conscious and rational selves are
ultimately dependent upon a nightmarish freedom. Unlike more ratio-
nalistic versions of Enlightenment thought, to German idealism, the
core of subjectivity is described, more aptly, as the night rather
than the light of reason.113 The evolution of human subjectivity
cannot be described as a processual development from an instinctive
animal existence to a reflective self-conscious existence. Subjectivity is
a break, a revolution, since the origin of freedom is found in an inex-
plicable choice, in a constitutive madness or a night of reason.114 The
human essence consists, not in this or that attribute but in this radical

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God, Evil, and Freedom 133

negativity; it has its ground in, to repeat the quote from Schelling once
again, that which in God himself is not He Himselfin other words
something unattainable. In contrast to everything from postmodern
notions of the subjects radical contextuality to New Age notions of
humanity as a part of the great chain of being, iek sides with a
decontextual subject, a subject that is out of joint in relation to his
or her lifeworld. This is the crack in reality, which is the cause that
it never can be a cosmic totalitythe crack through which darkness
seeps through. This crack is the subject and herein lies the condition
of its freedom, where negation comes before affirmation, darkness
before light, fury before grace. In a way reminiscent of Schelling,
for iek, human freedom consists in a choice that always already
has been made. Without this darkness, there would be no progress.
Behind every order there lurks a more original irrational disorder.
ieks references to the Christian experience are aboutin the spirit
of Hegel and Schellinga speculative interpretation of Christianity as
a way of understanding the modern experience of freedom; a freedom
that in its pure form consists on the very act of decision as such, beyond
every positive content. Or, explained in a more popular way, it is the
experience of staking everything of ones own existence on some
seemingly meaningless detail: I want this, even if the whole world
goes down.115
Thus, it is no surprise that when iek refers with approval to
theologians or philosophers or scholars of law, it is to those who have
emphasized the significance of the decision, such as Paul, Schelling,
Kierkegaard, Nicolas Malebranche, Carl Schmitt, and Johnny Cash.
This decision is impossible to reason about or calculate toward; its
symbolic importance is only possible to establish retrospectively. The
decisive choice thus attains the character of a theological notion of
predestinationGods eternal decision about human salvationof a
choice that is conceived before time but nevertheless a choice.116 As
we have seen in chapter 2 , iek compares this choice to love: love
can neither be a forced choice nor an active choice, because then either
its freedom or its necessity would come to nothing. The paradox of
love is that it is a free choice, but a choice which never arrives in
the presentit is always already made.117 Love is experienced, if it
is experienced as love at all, as something that I both assent to and
that I am forced to. In other words, it is never a matter, in politics or
in love, to liberate oneself from the circumstances that characterizes
ones own particular situation, but in spite of this to see that history
is always open. The decisive action as such takes place, in theological

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134 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

language, out of grace, a grace that both recognizes and makes use of
what specific circumstances it finds itself in, but does not, at the same
time, allot to them any final significance.
This makes it clear that when iek talks about freedom, it is
not freedom in the sense of freedom of choice that is the focus of his
attention. In a Leninist distinction between formal and actual
freedom, iek maintains that formal freedom just is an option
within the pre-given coordinates of a particular symbolic system,
whereas actual freedom is the very freedom to change the coordi-
nates themselves and so to break with the symbolic system in ques-
tion.118 To iek, liberal freedom or individual autonomy is only
freedom in the formal sense. This version of freedom is both con-
trasted to and secretly dependent upon the fantasy of a complete
subjection to manipulation, as in the Wachowski brothers movie
Matrix.119 Contrasted, in that it is the exclusion of this possibility
that conditions the idea of autonomy; autonomy would not be pos-
sible if human beings were just completely determined by natural or
social laws. Secretly dependent, in that such a fantasy of complete
surrender to external laws would relieve the subject of the pressure
of its responsibility; I am but the victim of a certain cultural, social,
or natural conditioning. In other words, iek seems to be as critical
as Eagleton toward the idea that freedom and dependence should be
understood as each others opposites, but unlike Eagleton, his own
view on freedom is not that freedom and dependence go together
phenomenologically or theologically. Instead, he is actually advocat-
ing an absolute freedom in the Hegelian (and Schellingian) sense,
freedom as the moment of eternity in time, the point of groundless
decision by means of which a free creature (man) breaks up, suspends,
the temporal chain of reasons and, as it were, directly connects with
the Ungrund of the Absolute.120 Freedom is thus rather subjectivity
in itself than the predicate of a subjecta free human being able to
choose. As such, it has no reasons and is determined neither by our (cul-
tural, social, and natural) environment nor by ourselves. It is instead a
kind of madness (as also suggested by Eagleton), a destructive vortex
which devours every determinate content, a fire which dissolves every
fixed shape.121 Only through such a radical act of freedomwhat
iek calls subjective destitutionthe subject escapes any symbolic
representation (autonomy) and its adjoining fantasy (complete subjec-
tion). But as this radical act cannot be symbolized, it is in a way uncon-
scious and experienced as a kind of predestination, as a choice always
already made.

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God, Evil, and Freedom 135

But why God? The unconscious is, to psychoanalysis, as irrepresent-

able as God ever was, and therefore iek needs to find a language that
could present its profound effects upon our lives, without succumbing
to the temptation of taking this language literally. In an apt similitude,
Eagleton has described the attempt to describe the effects the Real
according to iek has upon us, as astronomy identifying a heavenly
body only because of its warping effect on the space around it.122 As
the Real, which among other things denote the abyss of the primordial
choice or the X that from achieving self-identity, never can be symbol-
ized as such, it can (like God in Thomistic philosophy) only be known
through its effects. Thus, it is as a kind of transcendental fiction of
an absolute beginning that Schellings mythopoetic philosophy is put to
work in ieks philosophy. To iek, this moment of a divine origin
of human subjectivity is indispensable, even though he regards it as a
fiction, because there must be a moment of thinking that it is not we
who are acting, but a higher force that is acting through us.123 It is
something of a paradoxical condition of possibility that needs to be
thrown away as soon as it has filled its function; the irrefutable trace of
a God that nevertheless has not ever existed. God is a necessary but fic-
tional horizon for the actualization of freedom by the human subject.
God, to iek, is a vanishing mediator, the objet petit a, something
that is both needed and must disappear when its work is done or, to be
more precise, the structure of an element which, although nowhere
actually present and as such inaccessible to our experience, nonetheless
has to be retroactively construed, presupposed, if all other elements are
to retain their consistency.124
This does not mean, as was shown already in my previous chapter,
that talk of God could or should be equated with talk of human beings,
in a direct, Feuerbachian mode. God, in his discussion of Schellings
philosophy, is not the big Other but a name, to iek, for the Real,
of what in human beings is more than human beings themselves, the
X that hinders human beings from attaining self-identity. Schellings
reference to God is thus not interpreted by iek as a reference to
God in the theistic sense, that is, as something (we shall not for-
get all the lessons of negative theology) different to humanity but
rather as an excess in humanity itself; [O]nly with Kant and German
Idealism the excess to be fought became absolutely immanent, the
very core of subjectivity itself.125 This is also one of the reasons why
iek insists on the term theology as a discourse on this excess
of humanity over itself. In Eric Santners words, God is above all a
name for the pressure to be alive to the world, to open to the too much

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136 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

of pressure generated in large measure by the uncanny presence of my

neighbor.126 In other words, God is love, if love means, as we saw
in the last chapter, the pressure to meet the neighbor in the Real,
namely, as something monstrous, alien, even inhuman and not as the
mirror image of oneself.
One further step needs to be taken in regard to ieks understand-
ing of God. A thread that I promised in the last chapter to pick up
is how, for iek, it is not only human beings that are alienated but
also God who is self-alienated or dividedthe double kenosis. In
Schellings philosophy, God in a certain sense needs human beings to
realize himself, as freedom would not be actualized as such except
through humanity. The creative word that creates order out of chaos
and thus liberates God from the pulsating madness of contraction
and expansion reaches its fulfillment and resolution in human beings
only. But if the word resolves the deadlock in God, it also alienates
God from Gods own self in that a gap opens up between ground
and existence. His yearning for himself can never be fulfilled, as the
very act that claims the object of this yearning, alienates God from it.
God becomes, as iek often repeats, not only an enigma to us, but
also an enigma to himself, in the same way that we human beings are
enigmas to ourselves. In a paradoxical-sounding turn of words, we
could say that, according to iek, the Perfect (God) needs what
is Imperfect (human beings) to become itself, as if the Imperfect
somehow were higher and more perfect than the Perfect itself (com-
pare the logic of the non-all from the previous chapter).127 In other
words, God is actualized through human beings, and Schelling thus is
a part of a broader theosophical legacy where God is born through
human beings and not just the other way around. The mystical body
of God, that is, the actualization of God, consists in the community of
believers and nothing else. Again, this does not imply an identification
of God and humanity in any direct sense, as for Feuerbach. To ieks
Hegelian philosophy, a transitionthe crucifixion of Christbetween
God and humanity is needed to recognize the fundamental difference
subjectivity means for the understanding of the world. As Christ is an
anamorphosis of God, it is only through Christ that we will be able to
look awry on the world, discovering our own freedom in it.128
The decisive reason for iek to appeal to such a legacy is that this
is a way of explaining how history could be an open process, that its
outcome is not predetermined through God or nature or any other
entity. If human beings are creatures of freedom, then they need to be
beings of the center of the universe, in the sense that universe itself is

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God, Evil, and Freedom 137

incomplete, not ontologically closed; Man stands for the point at

which, in a kind of direct short circuit, the created universe regains
the abyss of primordial Freedom.129 This human freedom would
mean, then, that change is possible in the struggle for freedomit
is possible to be born again and start anew through a repetition of
the primordial choice, which is a break with the prevailing symbolic
order. This negative gesture of abandonment is, to iek, what God
ultimately is. ieks doctrine of God, in other words, is intimately
connected to his eschatology.
As a way of drawing this section to a close, and then moving on to a
discussion of Eagletons and ieks views on God, evil, and freedom
in terms of each other, we could perhaps sum up by saying that this
God that iek ends up witha God that is no Godis anything but
the big Other, that is, someone who guarantees the meaning of the
universe; quite the contrary, ieks God reveals the utter sense-
lessness of existence, thus confronting us human beings with our own
radical freedom through exposing us to the abyssal contingency and
irreducible dividedness of our own existence. We are truly homeless,
abandoned by God. Our salvation lies in our subjective destitution, as
only this can liberate us from all ideological attempts to cover up this
lack constitutive of not only our human existence but also of existence
as such. The whole endeavor of ieks theology is in a certain sense
not theological at all, in the sense of being interested in God, how-
ever conceived. The need to talk about God as something other than
the big Other comes up, however, as a means to give a philosophical
account of the paradoxical self-constitution of subjectivity.

Against Idolatry: On Not

Quite Being Opposites
Reading Eagleton and iek on God, freedom and evil makes you
wonder whether they ever have read each other. Actually they have,
and this reciprocal reading will be the topic of next chapter, but as
far as the Thomistic tradition and the tradition of German idealism
in their respective work, there is not much of mutual engagement.
Consider, for instance, the question whether God is a being. For iek,
in his engagement with the question of God in Schelling, the answer is
emphatically no, and the result is that iek denies, for the sake of
human freedom, the legitimacy of the Catholic theological tradition,
in contrast to his own resolutely Protestant but nevertheless atheistic

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138 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

Christian tradition. But the same denial of God as a being is, indeed,
found in the Thomistic legacy that Eagleton refers to. So in one aspect
at least they have a common front: against an idolatrous concept of
God. My point here is not that if they only would have engaged with
each others tradition, they would have been persuaded by this other
tradition. What matters more is what we make of this difference and
how it is played out in other positions they take on matters regarding
culture, politics, religion, and so forth. Let me therefore linger for a
while around their traditions to see if I can tease out some important
features in their differences in a bit more detail.
iek very seldom mentions the Thomist legacy or engages with
it. When mentioned, it stands as a symbol of a medieval harmoni-
ous unity between faith and reason or God and the cosmos that is
broken apart by Protestantism and the Enlightenment.130 This unity
is replaced by a godless universe on the one hand and an impenetra-
ble divinity on the other hand, without any possibility of mediation
between the two. Reason becomes instrumental reason and faith an
inner feeling. And from there he moves on to Hegel, who sublates this
tension, not by a return to reconciliation but through a redoubling
of the alienation: not only human beings are alienated, but also God
himself; The distance of man from God is thus the distance of God
from himself.131 The transcendent God of Thomism dies on the cross
and what is maintained is instead the Holy Spirit as the presupposi-
tion of the act of the community of believers. To iek, Thomism
seems to equal an enchanted universe, not yet thrown of its rails by
this disenchantment and the double alienation. In Catholicism, which
we might take here as parallel to Thomism, the divine Incarnation
loses its traumatic character of a radical antagonism at the very heart
of divinity.132
But the question has been asked whether there is not a certain prox-
imity between ieks Lacanianism and Thomism. As Julia Kristeva
once famously asked, Lacan a Thomist?133 A Thomist without
God, to be sure, but still a Thomist not only when it comes to devel-
oping his theory about the structure of desire but also regarding his
belief (motivated by a Thomistic balance between faith and reason)
in the existence of the unconscious. As has been suggested above, the
Real in iek borrows some of the traits from the Thomistic concept
of God, in that both of them can only be known through their effects.
As Erin Felicia Labbie suggests in her account of Lacans medieval-
ism, the creative causality of God in Aquinas is not, because of its
transcendent character, very far from ieks (and Lacans) absent

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God, Evil, and Freedom 139

causality of desireexcept, of course, that the latter is without

God.134 Absent causality is not a terminology that I have discussed
above as such, but indirectly it has been thematized as the Real or
the trauma that destabilizes the symbolic from within. Related is
Eagletons Thomist and ieks Lacanian understanding of creatio
ex nihilo, creation out of nothing: to a Thomist (as for most of the
Christian tradition) this is a way of talking of God as something else
than a cause within the world whereas for a psychoanalyst as iek,
it is a way of talking about the rupture of the symbolic system by
subjectivity.135 The difference between these two versions is obvious,
at least on the surface, as one is with God and the other without. But
despite this, some similarities are also quite obvious, especially the
refusal to close the symbolic system into a harmonious, self-sufficient
whole. There is always a rupture from without, in the form of God
or the Real, of something (or nothing) that cannot ever be domes-
ticated as a part of the symbolic system but neither be posited as a
something (a being) that exists over against the world. Because of
this, miracles do happen in the sense that change is possible, some-
thing new can always occur.
If we would ask, with Kristeva, iek a Thomist? I would hesi-
tate to answer yes to that question, however. For sure, there are a lot
of common traits between iek and Aquinas, seldom recognized as
such but probably identifiable to a more thorough study.136 But before
we start to talk of ieks medievalism in any stronger sense, we
need to recognize that iek, both as a matter of self-designation
and substantially, belongs to a Protestant tradition, not only in his
advocacy of German idealism but also in his emphasis on the contrast
between faith and reason. What the question Lacan a Thomist?
and consequently also iek a Thomist? should alert us to, how-
ever, is that the couple Aquinas and Schelling or Eagleton and iek
should not be understood as binary opposites, but that their relation-
ship is much more entangled.
Let me substantiate this proposal a bit further though a brief look
at the parallel question Eagleton a German idealist? That this is
not an empty question should be obvious by the fact that Eagletons
understanding of subjectivity could not be understood as a return to a
supposedly medieval ideal, as his Thomism might suggest, but surely
is as much of a post-Enlightenment and post-Romantic subjectivity as
ieks. In the quote given above of self-expression within the impro-
vising jazz group, there is a distinctly post-Romantic emphasis on self-
realization. Charles Taylor, who repeatedly has given voice to the idea

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140 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

of self-expression or self-realization as constitutive of modern subjec-

tivity, explains it as follows: [W]hat he defines himself in relation to
is not an ideal order beyond, but rather something which unfolds from
himself, is his own realization, and is first made determinate in that
realization.137 This is not necessarily a concept of human subjectivity
and freedom that has to clash with Aquinass understanding of human
freedom but it is, to be sure, not found in Aquinas himself even if there
is in his theology an embryo of a more modern emphasis on individual
subjectivity. In Eagletons political philosophy, however, this is surely
more developed, and it is not entirely unreasonable that this Romantic
streak in Eagletons anthropology might be derived from his reading
of Karl Marx (another German idealist).138 Even if I would hesitate
to nominate Eagleton a German idealist, not least given his extended
critique of its concept of absolute freedom and his emphasis on the
conjunction between faith and reason, there is, as in the case of iek,
reason to suggest that the distinctions between Aquinas and Schelling
or Eagleton and iek are not so neatly drawn.
Where does that leave us? Am I suggesting that the differences
between Eagleton and iek are just superficial, just a matter of
vocabulary and theoretical idiom; a case of differing theological
flourish, of remote interest to the more pressing concerns of contem-
porary political philosophy? Not at all. There is indeed, in Thomism,
a rupture of the symbolic system akin to the role that iek allows for
the Real or the death drive in that God could never be made a part of
the symbolic system without remainder; any such direct identification
of God with something within the symbolic system (a being, the big
Other) would amount to an act of idolatry, the system covering up its
own contingency so as to (falsely) appear as necessary. In other words,
it is not surprising that Eagleton talks about God in similar terms as
iek talks about the Real, that is, as an abyss that is the foundation
of human freedom. But how, then, shall we describe the difference
between ieks Real and Eagletons God? One way of approaching
this question is to look at how the abyss is experienced in these two
different approaches.
Following a suggestion by Eberhard Jngel, we can say that it
amounts to a different experience of the human possibility of non-
existence or contingency. This is an ambiguous experience, as it can
simultaneously be experienced as affirmation and as vertigo. Such
an experience should not be understood as a distinct experience in
the continuum of all possible human experiences, but rather as, in
Jngels terms, an experience with experience, suggesting that this

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God, Evil, and Freedom 141

experience of contingency colors all other experiences.139 The expe-

rience of God is an experience of being withdrawn from the abyss
by an unconditional affirmation of human existencea miracle.
The experience of God (in the Thomistic sense) as the one who saves
human beings from nothingness is not the experience of a neces-
sary ground of existence, but rather of God as, in Jngels words,
more than necessaryor, with a more Thomistic vocabulary, God
as being itself. The human response to this unconditional affirma-
tion is gratitude. The experience of the Real, in contrast to this, is
the experience of human contingency as a boundless vertigo, which
is thematized by iek as subjective destitution or madness. The
human response to this is anxiety. Anxiety and gratitude are two
fundamental modalities of human response to the experience of the
abyss and common to them both is that they see human existence as
always on the verge of falling down into nonexistence. It is not so
much a question of either-or (as if, for example, the experience of
affirmation is unambiguous) but rather of which experience is expe-
rienced in terms of which (there being no neutral, third ground):
affirmation in terms of vertigo or vertigo in terms of affirmation.
The difference between the respective theologies of Eagleton and
iek, then, is not so much in the account of the abyss as such
despite ieks dependence upon Schellings mythopoetic philosophy
as a speculative rendering of the possibilities of human freedombut
rather the different contexts in which this abyss is interpreted and the
differing responses this gives rise to.
A further difference is Eagletons phenomenological or analogi-
cal emphasis on freedom as compatible with dependence and ieks
dialectical emphasis on actual or absolute freedom. To iek, it is
more interesting to develop a concept of freedom that explains how it
is possible to break with the symbolic system as such, and his emphasis
is thus of a more radical kindit is a version of the absolute freedom
that Eagleton spends some time to analyze and criticize. Eagletons
main interest lies more with the working out a concept of freedom
where the human subject is seen as responding to the circumstances
that he or she always already finds himself or herself living in; freedom
is freedom from dominance rather than from dependence. Consistent
with the theme of embodiment in Eagletons writings, then, freedom
to Eagleton must be understood as contextual, that is, the freedom
to respond by assent or dissent to prior acts, rather than as posit-
ing subjectivity as such. This does not commit Eagletons Thomism,
however, to any organic lifeworld, as the subject is not defined by

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142 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

a preordained nature that cannot be transcended; novelty lies, as

we have seen, always within the horizon of possibilities since the sta-
tus of the world as created equals its contingency and therefore its
substantial, if not endless, changeability. To iek on the other hand,
the essence of freedom lies in the power to act ex nihilo, as it were.
This is where iek is at his most remote from Eagleton, actually sug-
gesting that we indeed create our world, but as it nevertheless always
overwhelms us, we tend to set aside the subjects act, seeking refuge
in human finitude.140 True freedom means overcoming finitude, sus-
pending the lifeworld, and accepting the burden of our own infin-
ity as the presupposition of the lifeworld. Thus iek comes out as
more voluntaristic and Eagleton as more intellectualistic in the
medieval senses, where voluntarism emphasizes the will as preceding
reason whereas in intellectualism the recognition of the good by rea-
son precedes willwholly in line with their choice of Schelling and
Aquinas, respectively. The risk that ieks concept of freedom runs is,
of course, that freedom here becomes something wholly external to the
world, in a parody of Gods creative act, and so has very little to say
regarding the more mundane freedoms that might be of importance
to many concrete struggles for liberation around the worldfreedom
as liberty or the absence of dominance. The risk that a concept of
freedom of Eagletons type runs, for its part, is almost the opposite,
namely, that it might not be sufficient to escape the present coordi-
nates for the exercise of freedom, which might then reduce the scope
of possible action. To put it in a formula (that might, however, present
the alternatives as a little too contrastive): if iek is strong on the
question how to make a beginning to start something new, he is more
weak regarding the question what to make of the continuation of this
new start; Eagleton, then, is weaker on the beginning of freedom but
more interesting for the continuation of it.
As this is a question that is of central importance for the emanci-
patory project that they both share, I will have to come back to this
question in more detail in the two final chapters. Let me just end by
saying that their views on evil follows very much upon their respective
views on freedom: to iek, good comes in the form of evil, that is to
say, evil is portrayed as a romantic, even heroic, and satanic rebellion,
whereas for Eagleton, evil needs to be demythologized so as to appear
in its dull, repetitive, and superficial reality and not as a romantic
rebellion, which he regards as a seductive, and therefore dangerous,
mythology. It comes down to, as suggested by Kavanagh, whether we
regard Satan as an artist or someone who just tries to look like an

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God, Evil, and Freedom 143

artist. Again, we do not find the symmetry of a binary opposition, as

if iek would affirm the kind of evil Eagleton denies or vice versa,
but rather they present a sideway glance of each others projects, look-
ing awry from different perspectives. Everything changes, including
the view of God, evil, and freedom, if we choose to regard Satan as an
artist rather than an imposter.
Just some final words on Eagletons and ieks historical contex-
tualization of their views on God, evil, and freedom before we move
on to the next chapter. Especially ieks Hegelianism do introduce,
as mentioned at the end of the last chapter, a certain inevitabilityat
least rhetoricallyin his description of the historical process, even if
it is granted that historical necessity, to iek, only can be posited ret-
rospectively. In other words, it should be possible to construe another
(hi)story than the one that either Eagleton or iek advocates, even if
there is no neutral history to be told that encompasses both the story
of iek and Eagleton without remainder or dispute; ieks story
re-narrates and integrates Eagletons story into his own as much as
vice versa. Thus, the epochal cuts between ancient, medieval,
or modern are never as self-evident as they are presented. But the
question that I will pursue in the next chapter is whether they actu-
ally have attempted to out-narrate each others perspectives. Given
that they agree on so muchhuman emancipation, the critique of
ideology, the importance of theology for a Marxist political philoso-
phybut also disagree on so muchespecially what kind of theology
they think is instructive for human emancipationany such attempts
would be both enlightening and constructive.

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9780230340114_05_ch4.indd 144 3/2/2012 12:27:17 PM
An Arrested Dialogue:
Eagleton and iek

No such thing as authentic dialogue is possible, according to iek.

In any debate, there are presuppositions held by the debaters that
are nonnegotiable. When we reach these, the debate as such is over.
What we have, then, is at most an interaction of two monologues
or perhapsfor the Hegelianthe denial that the other debaters
position is a position at all.1 This position on debate is invigorating,
at least when debate often is attributed a heavier load than it can
bear in resolving disputes and reaching consensus. It is also consistent
with ieks Protestant emphasis on faith as a subjective, engaged
and ultimately groundless decision. To Eagletons more Catholic per-
spective, faith and reason are not as diametrically opposed as iek
occasionally has it, but rather more integrated in each other: faith is
not unreasonable, and even if reason does not go all the way down, a
faith without reason altogether would be blind. This position would
consequently imply a different, less decisionistic view on the possibil-
ity of dialogue; dialogue as negotiation, where not everything is put
to question at once, but where we, in time, are able to be persuaded
by anothers arguments. iek would probably fault Eagleton for
allowing too much common ground between differing perspectives,
thus effectively denying the struggle for universality in presupposing
a third, neutral sphere. But Eagleton may then return the favor in
suggesting that iek does not appreciate how such a middle, how-
ever broken, is always already presupposed by our engagement with
the other, making any claims for radical incommensurability between
perspectives hyperbolic. This chapter is going to be a chapter on the
arrested dialogue between Eagleton and iek and it is interesting,
to begin with, how the very possibility of such a dialogue explicitly

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146 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

or implicitly is thematized by their philosophies. Their theories here

illustrate their praxis, as the answer to the question whether such a
dialogue really takes place must be both yes and no. This will be
clear, I hope, when we now turn to their mutual criticisms as well
as their interpretation of neighborly love, as a way of deepening our
understanding of their differences.

Against the Real: Eagleton on iek

The place where Eagleton comes close to a critical dialogue with
iek is in his book on ethics Trouble with Strangers. This book is
structured in three parts after Lacans three registers, the imaginary,
the symbolic, and the Real, as a way of sorting and evaluating dif-
ferent kinds of ethics. The scale for evaluating their relative merits
and shortcomings is the richer ethics of socialism and the Judeo-
Christian tradition.2 Whereas he is highly critical of the ethics of the
Real, which is where he locates iek, Eagletons own preference, the
ethics where he locates socialism and the Judeo-Christian tradition,
is an ultimately noncontrastive relation between the symbolic and the
Real. We shall see, then, both what he has to say about the ethics of
the Real and about iek per se.
iek is described by Eagleton as Lacans representative on earth,
and he is put forward as one of the main reasons that the ethics of
the Real has come into focus in recent debates about ethics and poli-
tics.3 Despite the flamboyant, faintly manic versatility of ieks
writings, they keep returning in self-parodic, compulsively repetitive
fashion to this elusive entity, circling constantly around an absence to
which they hope but fail to lend a tongue. Referring to ieks stem-
ming from the former Communist world as a partial explanation
for hisand his fellow Ljubljana Lacaniansinterest in the Real, this
explains how his interest in subverting any master signifier and in the
obscurity of the human subject and its longings would have a politi-
cal resonance. In such a situation as the former Yugoslavia, Lacanian
thought gains a contextual political relevance it might not otherwise
have had. Eagleton compares iek to the fellow east European Milan
Kundera, whose novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being shows a
similar appreciation of the demonic as a cynical cackle which
revolts against the tidy schemas of tyranny and revels in the obscene
meaninglessness of things.4 It is the angelic that characterizes a
totalitarianism that fears anything hidden and obscure and that wants
a total transparency of human existence. Psychoanalysis has a cure that

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An Arrested Dialogue 147

is remarkably similar to the struggle for political autonomya subject

that will never be content, but has its sole aim to stay true to its own
desire, a desire that nevertheless has no support in the big Other but
is absolute in itself and is the sole responsibility of the subject. Of this
Real, iek is as fine an expositor as there is, not only in the lucidity
of his many interpretations but also in the nuance of the many layers
of the Real (by Eagleton compared to analogy in Aquinass sense) that
corresponds to its elusive and enigmatic character.
So what does Eagleton make of the Real in (the later) Lacan him-
self? As befitting of a concept that tries to delimit an experience of
something fundamentally impenetrable and inscrutable, there are a
number of ways in which Eagleton tries to describe it: it is a drive,
not a desire; alternatively, it equals that irreducible morbidity of
desire which is peculiar to each human subject; it is a subjects
point of failure and impasse; the primordial wound we incurred by
our expulsion from the pre-Oedipal Eden; an originary trauma
that persists as a kind of horrific hard core within the subject;
the symbolic orders point of inner fracture; a kind of foreign
body lodged inside us; finally, it is that in the subject which is
more than the subject, a lethal virus which invades our flesh yet
which, as Aquinas says of the Almighty, is closer to us than we are to
ourselves.5 Among this plethora of paraphrases (and there is more
where they came from), let me single out two of them that I find par-
ticularly interesting for my purposes here. First, the Real is likened
with a foreign body lodged inside us or, in other words, an alien
(like in Ridley Scotts horror movie Alien from 1979) that is both
within us as a part of ourselves and foreign to us, and thus experi-
enced as something other than ourselves. This particular image of
the Real describes the Real as an active force, hiding itself within us,
most often anonymously, but nevertheless determining our actions.
This force, as in the alien movie, is simultaneously something liv-
ing, since it is active, and something dead, since it monotonously
only wants one thing and does not change. Second, the Real is also
likened by Eagleton to God. In the final quote above, we both hear
an echo of Schellings turn of phrase that which in God himself is
not He Himself and of a phrase from book three of Augustines
Confessions (mistakenly attributed to Aquinas), interior intimo
meo or God is closer to me than myself.6 Even if Eagleton does
not equate God with the Real, which surely would be a mistake as the
Real comes out as more demonic than the Thomistic God, the Real
does play a similar role, structurally, in Lacanian psychoanalysis (as

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148 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

I suggested in the previous chapter) as God in Thomism. The Real,

as God, can only be known through its effects and so has to be con-
structed backwards from the failures and fissures of human discourse
and subjectivity. In sum, Eagleton has a very graphic description of
the Real, stylistically more dependent upon pun than ieks more
flamboyantand detaileddescriptions. In essence, however, it
seems to me that Eagletons renderings of the Real is very much in
consonance with ieks, although iek is not explicitly quoted or
referred to.
Eagletons explicit criticisms of ieks are scattered in Trouble
with Strangers, as when he suggests that iek is mistaken when he
thinks that the mundane, earthly reality is of secondary importance
for Christianssalvation, in Christianity, is of this world, not another;
it is a salvation of the body and not from the body; and finally the
kingdom of God is traditionally a transfigured earth, not a city in
the stars.7 He also, in a similar tone, attributes to iek a depreca-
tion of the everyday when iek describes a symbolic morality as
the smooth running of affairs in the domain of Being. To Eagleton,
this is an Olympian perspective on everyday morality, aristocratic
in comparison to petty bourgeois, and elitist in comparison to
suburban.8 There is also mention of ieks notion of subjective
destitution as the outcome of the successful analysis, a possibility of
going beyond humanity.9 Eagleton describes this as a kind of negative
theology, but a negative theology without a hint of a God that is also
love or of a Messiah who returns, but rather a heroic embrace of fail-
ure as such. All in all, however, Eagletons explicit engagement with
iek, including his criticism of his ethics of the Real, is limited. This
does not mean, first, that there is no subtextual presence of iek
in Eagletons books; on the contrary, there is reason to think, as in
Eagletons interpretation of the Real, that there is such an influence.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, his criticism of ieks ethics
of the Real is formulated in more general terms by Eagleton, and does
not target iek as such.
What is so bad about the ethics of Real, then? There is no denial
from Eagleton that it is sensible to talk about or recognizing the
effective presence of the Realand, as Trouble with Stranger as such
shows, psychoanalysis has indeed a vital contribution to make for
the understanding of the human condition. What Eagleton is criti-
cal toward is the extremism of the ethics and politics of the Real, its
advocacy of the solitary modernist hero who exists on some far-
flung frontier of the spirit.10 This is, in the end, a patrician, elitist

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An Arrested Dialogue 149

perspective, far removed from the more mundane concerns of a poli-

tics that is eager to change the very concrete oppression experienced,
in various forms, by many or most people around the earth. Eagleton
finds the ethics of the Real wanting in its lack of sense for the ordi-
nary, everyday reality. Some of his points we have already met in
another form, in my account of his critique of radical evil above. Its
hyperbolic rhetoric gives the impression of being able to make a clean
break with the everyday, but this diastasis (rather than dialectics)
between the everyday and the radical is, in a sense, the best way to
conserve the status quo; To break with the past is among other things
to break with the chance to transcend it.11 Eagleton does not suggest
the opposite, however, that to remain in the past is to transcend it, but
argues for a less hyperbolic separation between the two, a redemption
not from the everyday but a redemption of it. Transgression of norms,
although sometimes sorely needed, is not in itself a politically radical
act. This is a perspective that is as seductive as it is dangerous, as it
comes very close to regarding alienation as inevitable rather than
As his own alternative to the ethics of the Real, Eagleton does not
advocate a return to an ethics of the symbolic or deny the insights
of the ethics of the Real. Instead, he argues for a more dialectical
relationship between the everyday and the extraordinary that is
not heroicand this is what he finds in the richer traditions of
socialism and Judeo-Christianity. This is a trait of Eagletons thinking
that we have seen all through this book, in his insistence that ideology
does not mean the absolute mystification of the human subject and his
emphasis on our moderately rational nature; in his assertion that faith
and knowledge or love and law should not be regarded as opposites; in
his contention that freedom and dependence presuppose one another
and that the relationship between transcendence and immanence is not
one of contrast. This is what I have called the Catholic or Thomistic
spirit of Eagletons thinking, and it is also obvious in his refusal of the
contrast between the everyday and the extraordinary, as in the ethics
of the Real. The Real is not denied or abandoned by Eagleton then, but
partially reinterpreted (which, to be sure, he recognizes is a folly to the
hard-core Lacanians) so as not to constitute a contrast to the symbolic.
How is the Real and the symbolic construed as noncontrastive
by Eagleton? An ethics of the symbolic, to Eagleton, is an ethic that
emphasizes altruism, charity, equality, public good, human rights,
and so on. It is Eagletons contention that these need not be under-
stood as just mystifying cover-ups for a more basic self-interest or

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150 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

narcissism, as he criticizes the advocates of the ethics of the Real

for suggesting. Of course, such instances are not unheard of, but
that a search for power and ambiguous motives might be behind our
neighborly loving acts does not disqualify them as such. The person
in need of urgent help might appreciate some philanthropic activ-
ity, as in one of Eagletons examples, and in more general terms, we
could say that the existence of some welfare in a particular society is
not just a sham covering up the absence of the perfectly just society
and the presence of very real oppression. At the same time, through
the encounter with the Real, the symbolic is never allowed to close in
upon itself in a self-sufficient complacency. For Christians, emancipa-
tion comes through the symbolic identification with the crucifixion
and death of Christ in the Eucharist and in neighborly love, as the self-
abandonment of the narcissistic subject. But this presupposes the value
of ordinary life in itself and not only as a means to some higher goal.
Eagletons argument is that the Real and the symbolic go together;
[C]risis and conversion are to be seen as in the service of common
This is also the main reason why Eagleton thinks he is justified
in bringing together socialism and the Judeo-Christian tradition:
both of them are materialistic rather than otherworldly in the sense
that it is the redemption of this world that is of importance to them;
the coming kingdom of God or just society is not only a thing of
the future but also needs to be prefigured in the here and now.14
But at the same time, they are otherworldly in a more benign sense:
they look forward to and hope for a transformed humanitywhich
means that they think that change is possible and that the future
need not to be just more of the same, unlike conservatives and lib-
erals. This transformed humanity, however, is still this humanity,
and so Eagleton tries to keep a balance between continuity and dis-
continuity. The future socialist society that Eagleton hopes for
rather than calculates will come into existenceis not wholly
other, discontinuous without remainder with everything we know
or experience of love and justice today. This is not to say, however,
that the transformation need not be radical, given the state of the
world today. For a leftist politics that is tempted by defeatism or
reformism, it is imperative today to keep its faith in the possibility
of change.
The genealogy of his own kind of ethics, Eagleton finds histori-
cally exemplified in the virtue ethics of Aristotle as well as Thomas
Aquinas. It has been developed in modern terms by Hegel and Marx.15

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An Arrested Dialogue 151

It is interesting to note that Eagletons (mostly implicit) interpreta-

tion of Hegel, as the great inheritor of Aristotle, is developed in quite
another way than iek, for whom Hegel stands for a radicalization
of Kant rather than as an alternative. To Eagleton, however, Kant
hovers in the background of the ethics of the Real, as a purist who
drastically has reduced the scope of ethics to just a question of prin-
ciples rather than a concern for how to live well. As shown above,
Eagleton also regards iek as a representative of the ethics of the
Real, even if there are passages in Eagleton when iek seems to
escape the contrastive logic of the ethics of the Real and its contempt
for the everyday. This is, for example, when Eagleton suggests that he
is, like the Irish authors Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, or Oscar Wilde
(and even Edmund Burke), both cerebral and scabrous and so has
a sense for the mundane not usually found among the advocates of
the Real.16 Again, this contextualizes ieks oeuvre as representative
of someone from a small nation, gleefully deconstructing the pomp-
ousness of more metropolitan countries. More than a deprecating
remark, this really tells us, if only in passing, how highly iek the
jester is regarded by Eagleton despite his critical remarks on the ethics
of the Real.17

Against the Return to the Symbolic:

iek on Eagleton
ieks comments on Eagleton are similar to Eagletons on iek:
scant, appreciative, and critical. In his 2008 book In Defense of Lost
Causes, Eagletons book Holy Terror is referred to as otherwise
admirable before iek launches a critique of Eagleton for coming
too close to a conservative form of wisdom.18 The specific target for
ieks accusation is Eagletons discussion of freedom (accounted for in
the previous chapter) and his conclusion that freedom needs to be bound
so as not to run amok. To iek, this is a result of Eagletons admonition
to keep a distance from the Real. Against the Real, Eagleton endorses
tradition and myth, as a defense against its destructive potential. This
is an ironic position, given Eagletons perspicuous critique of
postmodernism, since this distance to the Real is a quintessentially
postmodern motif. The consequence is that there is a conservative
trait in Eagletons thinking: a sympathy for Edmund Burke and a
critique of the French Revolution. To go too far in the confidence
in reason ends in unreason, according to ieks interpretation of
Eagleton, so this exposure to the Real must be avoided at all costs.

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152 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

A slightly more expanded criticism of Eagleton is found in ieks

reply to John Milbank in The Monstrosity of Christ, from 2009. Here
it is both Holy Terror and Trouble with Strangers that is taken to
task. Also Eagletons introduction to the publisher Versos edition of
the Gospels is referred to extensively, curiously enough without any
bibliographical reference. As expected, iek here deepens his pre-
vious criticism of Eagleton, suggesting that he is far from the more
radical tradition of Marx and Freud in his endorsement of Aristotelian
moderation. The essential difference between Eagleton and this more
radical tradition is whether the Real should be interpreted in terms of
the symbolic or vice versa: [F]or Aristotelians, the normal provides
the key to (understanding) the pathological, while for Marx as well
as for Freud, the pathological provides the key to the normal.19 So
when Marx tries to understand the normal workings of capitalism, he
does it through economic crises, and when Freud wants to understand
the workings of the psyche, he does it through its psychopathological
These criticisms are occasioned by a discussion of the literary fig-
ure Michael Kohlhaas from the German author Heinrich von Kleists
novella with the same name. In this story, the decent horse dealer
Kohlhaas comes to pursue his quest for justice without any regard
for his own (or his familys) welfare: the arrogant Junker von Tronka
has mistreated two of his horses and so Kohlhaas first seeks justice
in court, and in the absence of this (the court being manipulated
by the Junker), he gathers an army, demolishes the Junkers castle,
destroys Wittenberg, and eventually succeeds in bringing all of east-
ern Germany into civil warin his quest for justice. The story ends
with the execution of Kohlhaas himself, but not before the Junker
also has to answer for his misdemeanors in court, and so Kohlhaas
can die satisfied. There is no wish for revenge in Kohlhaas at all, and
no sense of malice in is ravaging and burning of villages, just a relent-
less striving for justice. Both Eagleton and iek agree that this is an
instance of the ethics of the Real, as Kohlhaas does not give up on his
desirea desire that is something more in Kohlhaas than he himself,
which is shown in his disregard for his own well-being on account of
the horses. The question, however, is whether Kohlhaas should be
understood as, in ieks terms, a progressive figure fighting feu-
dal corruption, or a proto-Fascist madman.20 Eagleton has a quite
detailed discussion of von Kleists novella in Trouble with Strangers,
showing how Kohlhaas [i]n the name of universal justice . . . is prepared
to become the living incarnation of its exact opposite.21 The trouble

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An Arrested Dialogue 153

with Eagletons interpretation, according to iek, is that Eagleton

seems to think that the excess of the Real (Kohlhaass desire for jus-
tice) stands in contrast to an appreciation of (symbolic) civil justice,
whereas on ieks account the Real is really the presupposition of
the symbolic: [W]hat makes [Kohlhaas] monstrous is precisely the
way he sticks to his sense of civil virtue and justice to the end, what-
ever the cost.22 To strengthen his claim, iek offers some parallel
accounts to von Kleists novella, among them Rosa Parks, an Afro-
American lady who famously on December 1, 1955, refused to give up
her seat on the bus for a white passenger, subsequently was arrested,
and eventually sparked a boycott and became a symbol for the civil
rights movement. Implicitly, iek is asking whether it would not have
been wiser for Parks, on Eagletons account, to just give up her seat?
Every emancipatory act, according to iek, needs such an exces-
sive starting point in which a vast cause of injustice gets embodied in
a trifling demand to get going. 23 The very discrepancy between the
trifling demand and the vast cause shows how such an act is not
just about a cause as such but in the end over our human freedom.
This is, then, why it is the pathological (or the Real) that is the key
to the normal (or symbolic) and not the other way around.
After this, more principled, criticism of Eagleton, iek continues
to show how the consequences of Eagletons fundamental position
also plays out in his use of theology, where he, according to iek,
does not appreciate the radicality of the (proper) Christian dialec-
tics. For instance, his noncontrastive understanding of the relation
between law and love is insufficient to understand that the law surely
is transgressive of the existing order but only as its obscene supple-
ment, and so not really transgressive at all; to really transgress the
existing order, a suspension of judgment is needed. Eagletons law of
lovethe injunction to love my neighborthus gives rise to a desire
to hate and hurt ones neighbors.24 Further, Eagleton has suggested,
in his introduction to the Gospels, that it is only with the advent of the
church as an institution, in the wake of the failed, imminent return
of Christ, that human agency was recognized; to the early Christian
apocalypticism, human beings were passive spectators of Gods trans-
formative action, the objects rather than the subjects of change.25
iek, however, wishes to maintain a third position between these
two: the Holy Spirit.26 Christs disciples realized that they were mis-
taken in waiting for his return. He had already returned, but in the
form of the Holy Spirit, which means that redemption now was up to
themselves and only themselves. As we saw in the chapter on faith,

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154 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

to iek there is an emphasis on the discontinuity between the death

of Christ on the cross and his resurrection in the form of the Holy
Spirit. This means, in regard to apocalypticism, that there is no need
to choose between what Eagleton calls the ethical extravagance of
the early Jesus movement (as in the injunction to turn the other cheek
or in the parable on the Good Samaritan) and political organiza-
tion and thus human action; the Holy Spirit means to live life in
a state of emergency (Agamben) where the political organization
is the practice of an apocalyptic ethical extravaganza. The coming
of the church betrayed the original apocalyptic movement, since it
domesticated the radicality of its message: [T]he apocalyptic com-
munity of believers which lives in the emergency state of a permanent
revolution is changed into an ideological apparatus legitimizing the
normal run of things.27 In other words, the Real of its originary,
disruptive message about salvation is subordinated to the symbolic
register of the ethico-religious.
Thus, in terms of the title of the book where these criticisms of
Eagleton by iek is to be found, Eagleton does not fully appreciate
the monstrosity of Christ that never can result in the complementar-
ity of law and love or the institution of the church. To iek, as we
have seen in previous chapters, it is madness that is the foundation
of order, and to hide this fact is to fall prey to ideology. In ieks
own interpretation, love is beyond the law and it is the very moment
of mobilization before it settles into a new institution that is of
remaining importance. The difference that iek perceives between
his own and Eagletons theology also concernsconsequentlytheir
understanding of God, where, for Eagleton, God is ultimately on the
side of humanity whereas for iek God is the ultimate monster.28
The monstrosity of both Christ and God is a way, for iek, of say-
ing with Hegel that rather than achieving the direct reconciliation
between law and love or humanity and God, Christ stands for the
necessary inappropriateness as such of any such reconciliation. 29
To achieve human emancipation, something has to be sacrificed,
as when Christs death becomes the condition of possibility of the
Holy Spirit. Christ is resurrected in us, the collective of believers,
and his tortured body remains forever as its material remainder.30
Crucifixion is, in a speculative way, identical with resurrection. The
trouble with Eagleton, iek seems to suggest, is, in short, that he
denies the necessity of real loss.
To summarize this far: if Eagleton tries to keep a balance between
continuity and discontinuity in the relationship between law and love

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An Arrested Dialogue 155

as well as faith and reason, iek emphasizes discontinuity. His accu-

sation is that Eagleton does not at all succeed to uphold a balance
between the Real and the symbolic, as his position in effect amounts
to a subordination of the Real to the symbolic. ieks own position
is the opposite, namely, that the Real is the presupposition of the sym-
bolic, and that any attempt to invert this relationship is ideological in
that it covers up the fundamental antagonism of reality.

On Neighborly Love
To take yet another turn on the differences between Eagleton and
iek and how their respective takes on the symbolic and the Real
plays out in their theory, we could do a lot worse than to return,
once again, to their conceptions of love, especially in relationship to
a Christian tradition of love, the so-called neighborly love. We have
already seen in previous chapters how Eagleton and iek disagree on
love: to the one, law and love are in continuity with each other, but to
the other, this relationship is more of a discontinuity. On one thing,
however, they seem to agree, namely (as we have seen in chapter 3)
that the Pauline term for love, agape, could be translated political
love.31 Love, in other words, is not private, as it involves our neigh-
bor. But beyond this very minimal agreement, their differences also
regard their conceptions of love. Let me begin with iek.
In regard to neighborly love, we find several conflicting estimations
in iek, both negative and positive. On the one hand, iek harbors
along with his interlocutors Freud and Lacana psychoanalytic suspicion
of neighborly lovebut on the other hand, he also endorses a Pauline
emphasis on agapeic love along with its concomitant notion of neigh-
borly love.32 Any outright contradiction is resolved, however, if we
look closer on what constitutes neighborly love in a good and in a bad
sense. To iek, as we have seen, true neighborly love is a question
not of loving someone in the symbolic registeras someone who is
the bearer of the same human rights as myselfor in the imaginary
registeras someone who is like mebut in the Real. Much of
what goes for love in the Christian tradition as well as elsewhere is
just a form of narcissism. Only the kind of love that is exposed to the
monstrosity of the neighbor is true love in the agapeic sense. This
love is a love beyond the good in the sense that we do not share,
with the neighbor, a symbolic real in which we can identify with each
other, a common good to which I can invite my neighbor to share in
it alongside with me. The neighbor is someone with whom I cannot

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156 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

enter into any kind of symmetrical relationship, as any such inter-

subjective relationship presupposes a symbolic register and thus
gentrifies the relationship to the other.33 The neighbor, in ieks
Lacanian account, is no person at all, but rather a thing; it is an
encounter with the Real as such.
This is why iek is radically opposed to a Levinasian ethics of
the face: the face is the ultimate gentrification of our neighbor as
someone we could have a relationship with; the face presents the illu-
sion of familiarity. Even though this relationship with the others face
is asymmetrical, according to Lvinas, it nevertheless presupposes the
symbolic register and hides the sheer abysmal quality of the others
subjectivity. What is missing in Lvinas, according to iek, is this
inhuman otherness at the center of human existence. It is not in the
face as such that we encounter the neighbor, but rather in a disgust-
ing tic or grimace.34 In other words, the true neighbor is someone
with whom I cannot enter any empathic relationship but who con-
fronts me in all her alien monstrosity and inhuman excess. The ways
in which iek talks about the neighbor could be extended almost
ad infinitum: the lamella, the partial object, the undead, the drive,
and so on. And ieks examples of the embodiment of this inhuman
excess also proliferate: Christ, the psychoanalyst, Kafkas Odradek,
et cetera. But we need to stop here and ask, what does this mean for
ieks understanding of love?
Authentic love is, as we have seen in the above paragraphs, not the
same thing as empathy, rather the opposite. Empathy is something
that hides true love, because true love is violent. ieks psychoana-
lytic suspicion of neighborly love is precisely that it often can be
just a pretext for paternalism and even a way of avoiding the actual
neighbor. Thus iek dismisses what he calls universal loveI
love you allas this love, according to the logic of the constitutive
exception, always presupposes that there is one I do hate.35 iek
here refers to the empirical fact that universal love of humankind
always ends up with a hate for what is perceived as the enemies
of humanity. In the name of love, I can commit atrocious acts of
violence for my own country/ethnic group/religion through exclud-
ing what I consider is my enemy, deemed to be outside of the human
community. For true love to get off the ground we need, instead, to
start with indifference. True love is love for a particular neighbor
against the background of a universal indifference; it is love for the
non-all rather than the all. As such, love is not a benevolent feeling
for all but a violent act that unplugs the lover as well as the beloved

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An Arrested Dialogue 157

from the symbolic register, singling out the beloved for his or her
idiosyncratic features, and only so can a more general love start, a
love that bypasses or suspends the symbolic, linking people in their
singularity rather than in a shared symbolic substance.
This means, for iek, that love is not the opposite of cruelty or
even hatred, since true love is emancipatory and intolerant; it is an
expression of divine violence, that is, of a justice beyond law.36
This should not be read as just an indiscriminate endorsement of any
kind of revolutionary (or other) violence, but rather as a stress on the
radicality of agape that stands for a love that is beyond the symbolic.
True love is a love for the ungentrified other, even the enemy, that
confronts me not only with the monstrosity in him or her but the
monstrosity in myself as well. To love someone in the Real means
that, to the ordinary functioning of society, this love is experienced
as a violent intrusion or even as cruelty. It is hatred on behalf of love:
Agape as political love means that an unconditional egalitarian love
for the Neighbor can serve as the foundation for a new Order.37 Love
is no longer particular actions within a certain ethico-symbolic system,
but the institution of a new collective. This new collective is not founded
around some idealistic idea on the dignity of human beings but rather
around subjective destitution or the monstrosity of our human existence.
Again, this is not identification with the lowest outcast, as we have
seen in chapter 3, since this would be just a repetition of a paternalistic
form of love (in a secret wish that the outcast shall remain just that).
Benevolence, charity, intimacy, or anything that smacks of narcissistic
satisfaction is far from agapeic love, which, rather, is a form of fidelity to
a cause that, just because it transcends the symbolic, looks a lot like cru-
elty or coldness. In a step where iek seems to equate agapeic love with
justice, he explains that justice is only possible as a decisive step away
from empathyfrom the relationship to the neighbor as the epiphany of
the facetoward a justice that cannot but be blind, doing what is right
toward the neighbor, regardless of her or him as a person.38
Despite being in agreement with iek on agape as political love,
Eagletons concept of love differs from ieks in a way that follows
their general disagreement on the relationship between the symbolic
and the Real. Thus, against ieks privileging of justice before love
justice being blind as opposed to the face-to-face of loveEagleton
objects that love is as blind as justice to the extent that love actually does
not single out some persons before others, but treats all as equals. On
the other hand, neither justice nor love is blind, according to Eagleton,
as it is with real people of flesh and blood that both are concerned, and

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158 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

so both have to be alert of the particular. So, summing up, Eagleton

claims that [j]ustice is not the opposite of love, but a dimension of it. It
is that subset of our relations with others which concerns giving them
their due so that they can flourish.39 Unlike iek then, we can draw
the conclusion that for Eagleton love, even if it is not primarily a mat-
ter of feeling, is not cold and cruel, since it always is directed toward
concrete persons.
How can Eagleton assert that love does not single out some specific
person? He does it through an argument that is surprisingly similar to
ieks, in saying that genuine love follows the Lacanian logic of the
non-all.40 Universal love, to be sure, is a mythical phenomenon if
it is taken literal, that is, in the sense that I must love everybody. But
if we turn it around la Lacan, that is, There is nobody that I must
not love it makes more sense. Then it is not, according to Eagleton,
a question of a cosmic feeling of benevolence but rather a question of
politics. And this is also how he interprets neighborly love. A neighbor,
to Eagleton, isin line with the Gospels of Mark and Matthewthe
first you encounter who is in distress, whether friend or enemy.41
The neighbor, accordingly, could be anyone, but there is a preferential
option for the poor in the Jewish wisdom and prophets, and later it is
universalized to concern all human beings as such. The narcissism that
we saw that iek along with the psychoanalytical tradition found
in neighborly love is not denied by Eagleton, then, but is contrasted
to his notion of political love as the essence of neighborly love. The
reason that Freud and others had second thoughts on neighborly love
is explained by Eagleton as a consequence of a historical confusion
in the Western history of ideas: ideas of erotic love or affection has
been mixed together with agape and universal charity. It is indeed, in
Eagletons illustrative example, more natural to love my children than
my bank manager (and so there is no question of an equal, universal
love here) but this is a question of affective love rather than neighborly
love. Indeed, I must treat my bank manager as myself, but this is love
in another sense, and so there is no obligation to break out in hot
flushes whenever I see him on the streetand neither do my neigh-
borly love for my bank manager restrain me from wanting to transfer
his bank into common ownership. To love someone in the terms of
neighborly love is, in fact, also for Eagleton to love someone in the
Real; love here has nothing to do with compassionate feelings, just
because it is not a feeling at all. Ultimately, neighborly love has to do
with recognising at the core of ones being an implacable demand
which is ultimately inscrutable, and which is the true ground, beyond

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An Arrested Dialogue 159

the mirror, on which human subjects can effect an encounter.42 In

psychoanalysis, this demand is known as the Real, for Hegel, it is
Geist, and for the Judeo-Christian tradition, it is the love of God. We
find a similar emphasis in, for example, Augustine, for whom to love
someone in God, according to Eric Gregory, aims to morally pro-
tect the neighbor from the selfs prideful distortion that the neighbor
exists only in terms of ones own ends.43 To love someone in God,
then, seems not to be too far removed, according to Eagleton, from
loving someone in the Real.
So far, so good, but if this is Eagletons version of neighborly love,
is there any particular difference from ieks other than clearing up
a historical misunderstanding? There is, and this difference comes
out clearest in Eagletons endorsement of a much less of a tensional
relation between the symbolic and the Real. Against a pure ethics of
the imaginary or the symbolic, Eagleton insists on the recklessness of
love in the agapeic sense: this love can never be a matter of just finding
yourself in the other through feelings of benevolence, as for Francis
Hutcheson or David Hume, or of sacrificing yourself to the universal
law, as for Kant. Here Eagleton finds it prudent to emphasize how
agapeic love is indeed closer to the Real in its stress on nonrecip-
rocality: To love ones enemies is an affront to exchange value.44
Neighborly love is not only love for our friends but for our enemies
as well, and this makes it more radical than love understood in the
imaginary or the symbolic register. Only the Real comes to terms
with the strangeness within ourselves, and so there is no neighborly
love proper without acknowledging the Real.
This does not mean that the symbolic as such is of no interest to
neighborly love. For instance, love must not be understood as a con-
trast to law; even if love never can be equated to juridical rules and
norms, such regulations can indeed be a form of love if they serve
the protection of the poor against the mighty. And in a society where
justice rules, including the virtues of mutuality and equality, political
love must not be understood as something opposed to or at least irrel-
evant to the personal love for another human being. In theological
terms, what Eagleton claims is that one should try to hold together
the order of creation and the order of redemption; sacrifice, in the
Judeo-Christian tradition, is never a sacrifice of created goods as such
on behalf of something other but always a sacrifice for the sake of
the goodness of creationChrist relinquished the world out of love
for it.45 We have already seen above that Eagletons main critique
of an ethics of the Real is that it amounts to a redemption from the

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160 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

everyday rather than a redemption of it, and it is the same pattern we

find in his concept of agapeic love. Accordingly, there is an emphasis
not only on discontinuity between love in the symbolic register and
love in the Real, but also on continuity. The experience of the Real,
as in the crucifixion of Christ or the Eucharist, means a purification
of love, not its abolition. A similar emphasis Eagleton finds also out-
side of or at the fringe of Christian theology, in Aristotle, Hegel, and
Marx. All of them, each in their own way, regard freedom, autonomy,
and equality as conditions for the flourishing of human lives. Love is,
for Eagleton, how freedom and dependency go together: on the one
hand, I cannot even begin to be myself, a free human being, without
being dependent on others and this should be acknowledged; on the
other hand, this dependency, when it works as it should, creates space
for realizing my own nature and does not inhibit it. Such love, which
creates the condition of possibility of mutual flourishing, is not only
interpersonal but also social and therefore political. Thus, there is
no hard-and-fast distinction here between the ethical-Real and the
political-symbolic.46 To come to the point where the symbolic can
stand in service of human freedom and flourishing, however, you
have to go through the Real.
The difference between iek and Eagleton on neighborly love is
thus the same as the difference between their respective ways of relat-
ing the symbolic to the Real. But given that their understandings of
love are hardly at loggerheads with each other in any absolute way,
as both want to affirm that true neighborly love cannot be narcis-
sistic but must be a love in the Real or in God, how should we
understand the difference between Eagleton and iek on this mat-
ter? Perhaps it can be illuminated if we turn to the Swedish, Lutheran
theologian Anders Nygrens famous book Agape and Eros that has
had a profound influence on theoretical inquiries on love in general
and not just in theologyfor instance on Lacansince its translation
in the late 1930s.47 According to Nygrens typology, agape is a form
of love with which God loves human beings without regard to any
inherent value on their part whereas eros stands for the human beings
own desire for God. This difference results in two separate ways of
bringing about a fellowship with God, by human ascent to the divine
or by divine condescension to the human. In the more historical sec-
tion of his work, it becomes clear that Nygren associates eros with a
tradition of human desire mainly stemming from Platos Symposium,
whereas agape is associated with the apostle Pauls emphasis on faith
as the appropriate response to Gods loving presence in Christa

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An Arrested Dialogue 161

distinction that to Nygren as a Lutheran is similar to the confes-

sional distinction between works and faith. If iek plays the part
of the Lutheran in Nygrens scenario, Eagleton plays the part, not of
a pure Platonic eros, but rather of caritas, that is, the Augustinian
and medieval synthesis of eros and agape. In caritas, Gods love for
human beings is a kind of pedagogy mediated through the revela-
tion in Christ for the right ordering of human love. Through Gods
descent, the ascent of human beings is made possible. As probably
will be clear already, these different concepts of love entails different
anthropologies. Where agape in Nygrens understanding is a form
of unilateral love that is not in need of any reciprocality, caritas is a
form of love that aims toward a fuller reciprocality between God and
human beings as well as between human beings. Moreover, caritas is
not as suspicious of eros as Nygrens pure form of agape, allowing for
it to play a part in the divine pedagogy. In other words, the difference
between iek and Eagleton on love could be described as a differ-
ence between a concept of love that is suspicious of all reciprocality
and a concept of love that allows for a reciprocality beyond narcis-
sism. That this is a difference that also has practical consequences
will be made clear in the next, final chapter on hope.

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9780230340114_06_ch5.indd 162 3/1/2012 11:56:32 AM
An Anatomy of Hope

The difference between Eagleton and iek that came out in the previ-
ous chapter could be understood as a version of the perennial Christian
problem of how to live in the world but not of it (cf. Jn 17)the
world here, in Johannine fashion, denoting not the entire created
world, the universe, but rather the fallen, human world character-
ized by pride and greed. Christianity through the ages has, for most
of the time and to various extent of success, tried to keep a balance
between the understanding of the world as the good creation of God
and of the world as alienated from God, neither denying the one nor
the other. To live in the world but not of it is a life lived accord-
ing to the original intention of the creation rather than according to
its current, fallen state. It is easy to see that a similar structure
especially between authentic freedom and alienationis to be found
in any political philosophy that has an idea of a radically transformed
world somehow being possible. As the history of Christianity has
shown, it is not always easy to find an appropriate balance between
contemptus mundithe disdain for the world understood as the vain
attempt of humanity to hide from Godand amor mundithe love
of the world, including humanity, as the good creation of Godgiven
that both need to get their due. This dilemma is also repeated in
Eagleton and iek, on a political level, in the question of the rela-
tionship between the symbolic and the Real or between the world of
oppression and the emancipated world. This will be the predicament
to be discussed in this final chapter on the anatomy of hope.
To an apocalyptic Christianity, the temptation has always been to
emphasize the alienation of this world on behalf of another, com-
ing world; the disadvantage of this strategy has been the goodness of

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164 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

creation here and now runs the risk of being denied in the name of this
other world. The limit case is Gnostic Christianity, where this world
is understood as created by a malign and willful creator. In this case,
redemption equals salvation or liberation from this created world as a
world of oppression both in terms of materiality and of institutional
conformity. Despite his general criticisms of Gnosticism (see chapter
3), in some of his more extreme statements, iek sails perilously
close to this alternative. To the opposite Christian strategy, the world
is indeed affirmed as the good creation of God. Here the temptation
is to diminish the impact of sin on the current state of affairs. In this
version, there is more of continuity between the world as it is and as it
should be. Redemption is redemption of this world. The trouble with
this strategy, historically and today, is that there is a constant threat
of concealing the very real oppression and suffering of the world (in
other words, falling prey to ideology). What iek accuses Eagleton
of, accordingly, is to deny how fallen the world is, and consequently
to conceal the need for radical change.
In this final chapter, I wish to do five things, the first four of them
all connected to the question of hope. First, I shall take a look at
Eagletons and ieks eschatology, that is, their view of the final end
of things, in a more general sense. In this first section, I am especially
interested in how Eagleton and iek avoid the temptation of a his-
torical determinism, an accusation that historically has been directed
toward both Christianity and Marxism. Second, I will move on to the
question of what kind of revolution Eagleton and iek envisage and
how it is related to reform. Is it a question of continuity, discontinu-
ity, or both? Third, I will ask what the outcome is of this revolution
or, in other words, what Eagleton and iek mean by the idea of
communism. Both have lately insisted on the positive use of this
idea, despite its historical baggage, and their ideas of communism
can show us, I think, what kind of community they hope for the
future. Fourth, I wish to evaluate their eschatologies in regard to the
question of hope. In this section, I take the concept of radical hope
as a starting point for a both critical and constructive discussion of
hope, suggesting that both Eagletons and ieks philosophies ulti-
mately could be seen as contributions to the question of hope today.
Fifth, I will end this book by returning to my discussion of historical,
actual, and structural reasons for the presence of theology in contempo-
rary political philosophy, raising the question once again regarding the
legitimacy of a theological reading of Eagleton and iek. But first, as
promised, four sections on the question of eschatology that together

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An Anatomy of Hope 165

comprise an anatomy of the hope that is to be found in Eagleton and


In Christian theology, eschatology (from the Greek eskhatos, last
things) has been concerned with the final end of things. Its topics
have ranged from heaven and hell over death and resurrection to final
judgment and history. Eschatology has not necessarily been concerned
exclusively or even primarily with foretelling the end of history, or
talking about the end in a chronological sense, but more often than
not with the question of the end as the purpose or aim of things. Any
theory that engages with the questions of how ends order societies,
then, is a form of eschatology.1 This is why there need not be any con-
tradiction in terms of applying the concept to, for instance, Marxism
(or liberalism for that matter) as Marxism also has a distinct view
about the end to which human beings, at least as social beings, are
Bernard McGinn, one of the worlds foremost experts on historical
apocalypticism, defines the Christian view of history as eschatological
in the sense that the course of ages was believed to make sense only
in terms of its beginning and its end.2 Apocalypticism (coming from
the Greek word apokalypsis, revelation, disclosure), understood
as a subspecies of eschatology, is characterized by a sense of the
imminence, or nearness, of that end or goal, either psychologically
or chronologically.3 Given Christs warning to his disciples that they
would not know the times or periods that the Father has set by his
own authority (Acts 1:7), traditional Christianity has been reticent on
suggesting any particular chronological time as the end time, empha-
sizing instead a psychological wakefulness. Not all eschatology would
be apocalyptic, however, as is shown by the example of Augustine,
a deeply eschatological theologian who also was anti-apocalyptic in
the sense that he was agnostic about and even indifferent to the how
or when of the end.4 Even though the difference between eschatology
and apocalypticism might be more of degree than of kind, there is, as
McGinn points out, a vast difference between viewing the events of
ones own time in the light of the End of history and seeing them as
the last events themselves.5 The literalness of some interpretations
of the biblical literature about the end times is, at least relatively, more
of a modern phenomenon, as is the notion that it is possible to actively
conjure up the end through political action.6

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166 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

Comparing a Marxist view of history to eschatology or apocalypti-

cism is almost a locus classicus in the history of ideaswhich does
not mean that this thesis is not gainsaid, as we shall see below. The
Jewish philosopher Jacob Taubes, in his book Occidental Eschatology,
regards apocalypticism as a revolutionary force that has been trans-
mitted from the exilic writings of the book of Exodus and Daniel
through Joachim of Fiore to Hegel and Marx.7 In other words, his
thesis is that there is an eschatological undercurrent in radical ver-
sions of the project of modernity. He regards apocalypticism as one of
the main driving forces for human emancipation; The essence of his-
tory is freedom as it delivers humankind from the cycle of nature.8
Apocalypticism, in Taubes understanding, negates this world as a
whole, but in the name of another world that will start anew, and in
this sense it is revolutionary. No doubt that Taubes also recognizes
vast differences between a religious apocalypticism and, for example,
Marxs thought, given that for the latter emancipation is thoroughly
immanent in the world and that his prose is written in an entirely
different mode than most apocalyptic thought. But despite this, it
seems like both Eagleton and iek advocate a kind of demystified
Marxism, in the sense that they both criticize ideological versions of
Marxism tainted by a belief in the big Other that somehow deter-
mines the outcome of history. If a Marxist knows where history
must go, as Cornelius Castoriadis suggests, then Eagleton and iek
are surely not Marxists in this sense.9 For both of them, history is an
open process, and its development is not independent of contingent
human decisions and actions. Even when iek speaks of historical
necessities in a Hegelian way, what he means by that notion is that a
happening can appear necessary only retrospectively, and there is no
sense in which he tries to get rid of the everyday and the concrete by
invoking tomorrow as it is assured by the direction of history or call
upon the cunning of reason as a shortcut to the end of history.10 Let
us take a look on what Eagleton and iek have to say on the matter,
this time beginning with iek.
ieks most explicit apocalyptic book so far is Living in the End
Times from 2010. Besides using imagery from Revelation, the last
book of the New Testament, suggesting that the four riders of the
apocalypse today are the ecological crisis, the biogenetic revolution,
the access to intellectual property as well as basic material goods,
and finally growing social and economic divisions, iek also equates
apocalyptic millenarianism and the Idea of Communism to the
extent that both share the urge to realize an egalitarian social order

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An Anatomy of Hope 167

of solidarity.11 We are, according to iek, living on the brink of a

global catastrophe, even if we more often than not choose to disavow
this fact, and the urgent question is what we do when the opportunity
for change comes. ieks suggestion is that this will be the time for
radical emancipation and the realization of a new kind of community.
It is better to stay true to this Event, even if it ends in disaster, than to
merely vegetate in the hedonistic expectation of just more of the same.
So how does iek employ apocalypticism in his philosophy and how
do this theme connect to the question of the openness of history and
the possibility of newness?
iek lists three versions of contemporary apocalypticism: Christian
fundamentalism, New Age, and techno-digital-post- human apoc-
alypticism.12 All these share the idea that humanity stands before a
radical change of the conditions for our existence, but differ in their
understanding of reality. Even if the Christian fundamentalist version
with its mythical imagery appears to iek as the most ridiculous,
it is at the same time the one that he considers closest to a radical
millenarian emancipatory logicmillenarianism refers to the
apocalyptic belief in a thousand-year period of blessedness either
before or after a major transformation of society.13 Both technologi-
cal apocalypticism with its ideal of a post-human transformation
of human potentials and the New Age version share a kind of tech-
gnosis that, in the end, presupposes a modern, autonomous subject
that freely decides on his or her acts. They exclude from the reality,
as that which is supposed to change, the subject that accomplishes the
change. In other words, these versions of apocalypticism are not radi-
cal enough, since they presuppose that the subject somehow remains
intact in all these biogenetic and technological changes that they fore-
see, which in effect means that reality eventually will regress to the
very same order of existence as before.
The more genuine apocalypticism is instead ieks own version
of Christian materialism that retains the absolute commitment and
passionate political struggle found in Christian apocalypticism, but
rejects any notion of divine transcendence in favor of radical con-
tingency. What characterizes Christian apocalypticism, according to
iek, is its belief that a new social order is, in fact, possible. Unlike
historical and contemporary wisdomeverything from Gnosis
to New Age and liberalism in ieks rather sweeping account
Christianity believes that change is possible and that the future
does not necessarily need to imply just more of the same. Politics
does then not need to be the avoidance of the chaos and disorder of

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168 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

the Real at any price. Instead, [a]t the very core of Christianity there
is a radically different project: that of a destructive negativity which
ends not in a chaotic Void but reverts (organizes itself) into a new
Order, imposing itself on reality.14 This is a new order that does not
only mean change within the present coordinates of an existing poli-
tics but a change of these very coordinates themselves. That such a
new order is at all possible is, it seems to me, a change in ieks later
works, in comparison to the earlier, toward a more positive vision
and not only a negative critique of the current conditions.
As we are familiar by now, iek does not advocate a return to
Christian religion as such. On the contrary, it is only in Christian
materialism, the true dialectical successor of Christianity, that this
emancipatory potential is realized today, as it has inherited the zeal
for a transcendent goal but exchanged this goal for an immanent real-
ization of a new order. It is here we find the theologico-political
suspension of the ethico-legal that is what we need today to get
out of the deadlock of ideological post-politics.15 The subjective
destitution creates conditions for a new kind of actions without
support from the big Other. In other words, faith still remains,
although a faith in herself or himself for which the believer takes
full responsibility, without any guarantee from a transcendent
authority. Revolution is the outcome of the actual freedom, the free-
dom to change the coordinates for my own existence in a radical act
of abandonment that realizes subjectivity as such. Revolution is an
act, consequently, that is so radical that we do not know what we are
doing while we are doing it. ieks is an apocalypticism, then, with
its sense of imminence of the end but without the foretelling of the
day and hour. In its blindness, it shares some of the most troubling
aspects of its predecessors.
Eagletons eschatology is far from some of the apocalyptic rheto-
ric of iek, but does this mean that he also is far from the content?
Indeed, even for Eagleton, the current rampage of capitalism takes on
an apocalyptic quality: For the first time in history, our prevailing
form of life has the power not simply to breed racism and spread cul-
tural cretinism, drive us into war or herd us into labour camps, but to
wipe us from the planet.16 Eagleton interprets especially the ecologi-
cal crisis as a result of capitalism, one that threatens the existence of
our entire human life form. So there is a similar sense of urgency in
Eagleton. But what of his understanding of Marxisms eschatological
legacy? Interesting for us here, in Why Marx Was Right, Eagleton
straight on confronts the question whether Marxism is a form of

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An Anatomy of Hope 169

historical determinism. This is, as we have seen, a common criticism

of Marxs emphasis on the primacy of economics as well as his idea
about how different modes of production follow each other through-
out history and how history is a history of class struggle. There is,
according to Eagleton, suggestions that sounds like Marx was indeed
thinking of a teleological ordering of history toward a determined
end, as when he suggests in the Communist Manifesto that all history
is a history of class struggle. But this should not be taken literally, says
Eagleton, as there surely are, in a very trivial sense, happenings that
are not examples of class struggle, as, for example, brushing ones
teeth, a pub brawl, or the Great Fire of London.
More interesting, perhaps, is Eagletons claim that the history of the
oppression of women is not identical to, even if it is closely connected,
the history of class struggle. As we have already seen in chapter 1, for
Eagleton Marxism is not a Theory of Everything, and so there are
many histories that cannot be reduced to the history of class struggle.
This history is rather, according to Marx, the most fundamental aspect
of history, in two senses: it affects a lot of historical events, even if it
is not suspected that it does so by people who live these events, and it
plays a decisive role in historical transitions. But this does not rule out
or replace the importance of other histories and developments that
are indeed connected to it but not identical to it, such as the history
of science, or religion, or sexuality. Eagleton sees some problems with
Marxs theory of history, however. First, Marx has not explained why
or if there really is genuine progress in the modes of production or if
this development is specific to capitalism. Second, it is not clear why
certain classes play the role in promoting the productive forces they
are supposed to do in the history of class struggle.
The major question regarding Marxs theory of history from our
perspective here is whether it is determinist or not. And according to
Eagleton, it is indeed: There is a single subject of history (the con-
stantly growing productive forces) which stretches all the way through
it, throwing up different political setups as it rolls along.17 This ten-
dency to determinism is something that Eagleton is highly critical of,
however, as it implies a metaphysical vision with a vengeance. But
before dealing with the actual critique of this determinism, he reminds
us that it does not imply any simpleminded scenario of Progress.18
Quite the contrary, the development of history is an ambiguous story
of both progress and demise, and contains the most horrific events
as well as truly emancipatory occurrences. Marxs theory of history
is compared by Eagleton with the interplay in Christian theology

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170 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

between divine providence and human freedom in that it contains

both human freedom and inevitability; Just as for the Christian
human action is free yet part of a preordained plan, so for Marx the
disintegration of capitalism will unavoidably lead men and women to
sweep it away of their own free will.19 So Marxs theory of history
does not amount to a quietism that lets you stay in bed while capital-
ism is overthrown. Instead, we find in Marx a genuine urge for taking
action, in the light of the inherent contradictions of capitalism that
inevitable will lead to its downfall. But here Eagleton finds a flaw in
Marxs reasoning: you cannot both be bound to do something and
still be free. Even if capitalism would be collapsing of itself, this does
not mean that it will be replaced by socialism. Today, more than in
the nineteenth century, any appeal to what seems to be inevitable
sounds implausible, and so we can, for instance, foresee a future that
Marx could not, namely, no future at all.20
All the same, Eagleton also finds another strand in Marxs thought
about history, a strand where it is human beings who shape their own
history. In this version, it is not the productive forces as such but the
social relations of production that is the motor behind history. In this
strand of his thought, Marx is more like the biblical prophets, in the
sense of denouncing injustice, not in the sense of peering in a crystal
ball.21 Even if he still believed in the inevitability of socialism, he
had no idea of its day or hour. We could here, perhaps, liken him to
Augustines dismissal of apocalypticism, refusing to speculate in the
how and when of the end. For this strand in Marx, the one that
Eagleton obviously prefers, history was much more of an open ques-
tion, containing both tendencies and countertendencies, and without
any speculation about the time of the end. Eagleton does not use the
language of hope here, but given his own distinction between hope
and optimism, such a terminology would hardly be unsuitable. If
hope, as we shall see, differs from mere wishful thinking in that it
faces up to the bleakness of reality and also tries to spell out reasons
for hope that seem at least plausible of not inevitable, is this not what
Eagleton tries to express?
As Eagleton moves on in his commentary on Marx, he distinguishes
between some different senses of inevitability. First, there are certain
courses of events that are inevitable but do not imply determinism,
as, for instance, death or simple facts of physics. The inevitability
of alienation or of commodity fetishism in Marx seems to be of
this kind, according to Eagleton: human beings are not historically
determined to alienation, but given the state of society, alienation is

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An Anatomy of Hope 171

inevitable. Second, some events could be said to be inevitable even if

they do not need to happen; this might be a way of expressing that the
alternative would be morally unthinkable. The inevitability of justice
in Zimbabwe, in Eagletons example, is not historically determined,
but the alternative is unbearable. These two senses of inevitability lead
Eagleton to a distinction between historical and natural laws. Even
if Marx was more than willing to lend credibility to his own theory
through borrowing a language from the natural sciences, given their
authority in the nineteenth century, Eagleton still finds it implausible
that he believed that historical development follows similar law-like
patterns as do, for instance, the law of gravity. To speak of historical
laws might be a way of discussing plausible scenarios of future hap-
penings, given a certain configuration of power today, without thereby
precluding the role of historical contingency. Unlike the Enlightenment
view of history, then, that according to Eagleton regards progress as a
more or less linear story (with occasional detours), for Marxists history
is marked by violence, disruption, conflict and discontinuityin
other words, theirs is a tragic sense of history.22 Even though this in
itself is not an argument against historical determinism, it is at least
a moral imperative against any nave belief in historical progress.
Whatever determinism there is in Marxs theory of history, it is not
teleological in the sense that each phase of history arises inexorably
from what went before.23 Such a teleological view of history would
imply a legitimization of atrocious historical happenings as necessary
stages toward fulfillment. Even if Marx holds that there are certain
aspects of capitalism that socialism could build upon, capitalism does
not exist for the sake of a coming socialism. In this sense, that capital-
ism had to come into existence for the sake of socialism, there is no
inevitability of history and neither in the sense that history is moving
in a particular direction. In Eagletons own version of Marxism, then,
Marxism does not know where history must go, contrary to what
Castoriadis suggested in the quote above.
Rather than being optimistic, then, Marxism should be considered
to have a tragic sense of history. Again, this does not necessarily mean
that history will end badly but rather that whatever end there will be,
this is achieved through an excruciatingly high cost for humanity;
Even if men and women find some fulfillment in the end, it is tragic
that their ancestors had to be hauled through hell in order for them
to do so.24 History is tragic, then, in the sense that this immense
suffering cannot be justified[s]hort of some literal resurrection
however successful or humanly fulfilling the end still might be.25

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172 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

Resurrection to Eagleton is, as we have seen, a hope against hope,

and it is used as an argument against any triumphalist teleology and
for a tragic understanding of history. And even in his book on Marx,
Eagleton connects tragedy with hope: hope is held in fear and trem-
bling, with a horror-stricken countenance.26 As Walter Benjamin,
another prominent anti-teleological Marxist, suggests, there is no
document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of
barbarism but still we might find some kind of hope in the present:
[E]very second of time [is] the strait gate through which the Messiah
might enter.27 Or, as Eagleton himself phrases it, Hope and history
travel in different directions, as the former is thrown into relief by the
bleakness of the latter.28 Again, this does not necessarily imply that
Eagletons own thought is messianic, although he occasionally flirts
with the idea. 29
To sum up this section, then, we have seen that Eagleton ener-
getically argues against Marxism as historical determinism, and
consequently against certain forms of apocalypticism. iek, on his
part, explicitly links himself to the apocalyptic legacy, especially
its emphasis on the imminence of the end, but also seems to deny
its more deterministic streaks. Although more differences between
Eagleton and iek could be mustered, my conclusion is, at least
this far, that these differences reminds us of a distinction between
an Augustinian agnosticism about the end and an apocalyptic
belief that the end is coming here and now. Eagleton argues against
despair, so to say, through stating that history, despite our precari-
ous situation, still is open and that Marxism can help us with a
less blue-eyed analysis of possible change than the nave belief in
inevitable progress. iek is more keen on stressing that we are fac-
ing a turning point in history where something new, whether good
or bad, is happening, and that the coming future now is in our own
hands. In their rejection of fatalism they both agree in principle, but
still iek is closer to it in his insistence on the imminence of the
end. Both, however, would follow an Augustinian insistence that
[h]uman life is a journey whose end is not yet known.30 Their dif-
ferences will be seen even more clearly when we now turn to their
views on revolution.

Whatever else it might mean, apocalypticism is surely a vision of the
end as the result of a turning point, not as the outcome of a historical

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An Anatomy of Hope 173

process, and is thus a way of taking genuine newness as possible. As

we have seen, negation of the present conditions figures prominently
in its imagery. In this aspect at least, Marx and Marxism might be
counted among the apocalyptic-minded ways of thought in moder-
nity. But besides this more general dismissal of any nondialectical,
teleological view of history, there might be many different ways of
thinking about the relationship between the present and the future
even within apocalyptic thought. If it is a question of an outright
discontinuity, then we face the problem of denying this world for
the sake of the next, but if it is more of continuity, then we face the
problem of how radical this overturning actually might be. When I
now continue my interpretation of the eschatology of revolution in
Eagleton and iek, it is this question about the discontinuity or con-
tinuity between now and then that will be my focus. But before I
embark on this interpretation, something needs to be said about the
concept of revolution; as Kenneth Surin has pointed out, revolution
should not be confused with something similar in the popular con-
sciousness, namely, the stereotyped characterization of insurrection
or rebellion.31 Revolution may or may not contain such elements,
but what is meant by the concept by Eagleton and iek, I would
propose, is most of all a thoroughgoing and lasting transformation
of economic and social relations. This might be important to keep
in mind when we now turn to what Eagleton and iek have to say
about the concept.
To begin with, it is imperative to see that Eagleton can talk about
revolution in a literary, psychoanalytical, or theological mode and
not only a political, and most of the time these different theoretical
registers are intertwined with each other. Revolution is a confronta-
tion with the Real, an encounter with the disfigured Oedipus at the
threshold of Colonus or with the tortured Christ, and in them seeing
that humanity itself is disfigured to the core. The moment of recog-
nition of this more-and-less-than-human in ourselves is the moment
traditionally known as repentance.32 Oedipus and Christ, as well
as the proletariat for Marxism, is the part of society that is excluded
from society, and which thus have the power to undermine society
from within, due to its peripheral existence. All three confront us
with the choice of either ideologically repressing how our own and
our societys identity is founded upon violence and oppression (expel-
ling Oedipus from the city, crucifying Christ, or impoverishing the
working class) or acknowledging that this darkness is our own, not
just somebody elses. The second alternative means a change in the

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174 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

way we conceive of ourselves and of sacrifice; in the second alter-

native, our pity and fear are transposed from the imaginary order
through the Real to a genuine and positive sacrifice where death no
longer means annihilation but the act of self-giving.
The only remedy for our situation is neighborlynot narcissistic
love, a love in the Real that does not shy away from the depravity
in and deformity of us all as well as our societies. Only through such
a radical, transformative experience is redemption possible, because
only thus is the direness of the human condition acknowledged: [O]
nly humanity at its nadir can be redeemed, since if what is redeemed
is not the worst then it would not be a question of redemption.33
We have already seen how Eagleton links the biblical themes of the
anawim and Christ as well as the outcasts of society to a critique of
ideology, and it should be emphasized how he follows through with
this theme even in his discussion of revolution. Narcissism equals
ideology in the same way as neighborly love equals revolution. The
need for revolution has, for Eagleton, to do with the bleakness of
the situation and is never a value in itself. Revolution, like socialism,
sacrifice, tragedy, or Marxism, is something that we would be better
to do without, in the sense that it would have been better if the world
had not been as oppressive and troubled as it is. Oedipus, Christ, and
the dispossessed are all images of utopia, but only and strictly in the
negative, as the very lack of fullness.
Despite the urgent need for a radical transformation, Eagleton
does not consider revolution as a contrast to reform. For one thing,
there are examples of reforms that have been anything but peaceful
such as the American civil rights movement and attempts at liberal
civil reform in Latin America.34 For another, there are examples of
relatively peaceful revolutions, such as the Dublin Uprising in 1916
and the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 (which was, however, followed
by a civil war). Marxism does not as such advocate violent revolu-
tion, according to Eagleton, nor should revolution be understood as
a total upheaval or as wholly discontinuous with what has come
before; most revolutions have a long time in coming. 35 Indeed, some
of the current opposition to revolution from the side of conservatism
might have to do with the fact that the modern, liberal society is
itself a product of a revolutionthe British or the Americanthat
has been so successful that it has erased all traces of itself. Reform and
revolution are not contrasts, then, nor does Marxism oppose reforms
(only ultraleftism do that). Where Marxism differs from reformism
is that Marxism believes that there is a point where mere reform is

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An Anatomy of Hope 175

impossible, since to achieve full democratic participation, there will

at some time be resistance from the class in power toward sharing
this power with the dispossessed. Many of the things we take for
granted in contemporary democratic societies, such as universal vot-
ing rights or freedom of press, were fought for against a class that
resisted change.
Here, Eagletons version of Marxism seems to be fairly compatible
with some traits of contemporary liberal democracy, but still, where
parliamentary democracy fails is that it is not democratic enough.
This deficit has to do with the fact that the electorate hands over its
power to the parliament, which, as it seems, historically has been on
the side of capital than on the side of the empowerment of the people.
Real democracy means precisely the empowerment of the people, and
this is achieved not only through voting but also more importantly
through popular councils and assemblies. There is in Eagleton a plea
for self-government of the people, against handing over government
to a political elite, and this self-government defines democracy,
even if parliamentary democracy is not necessarily a bad thing as
such.36 Eagleton consistently refutes the idea that democracy is com-
patible with someone ruling over someone else, and supports radical
political autonomy for each and everyone. This is also the reason for
his mistrust in the ability of parliamentary democracy to go all the
way (which one, of course, may wonder whether self-government of
the people really would do either).
There is indeed a horrendous history of revolutions, but not only
of the Marxist but also of the liberal that led to capitalism; Eagleton
condemns both Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung on behalf of the violence
they caused, but in the same breath he reminds us of the Great Irish
Famine of the 1840s and the First World War, which are part of the
history of capitalism. His point in mentioning them is hardly to say
which was the worst crime but to suggest that capitalism has as little
as socialism been any sure road to peace. And peace is indeed the
end of socialism, even if revolution might be the means. Eagleton
believes that it is capitalism which is out of control, driven as it is
by the anarchy of the market forces and so revolution is, in Walter
Benjamins formulation that Eagleton adapts, not a runaway train;
it is the application of the emergency brake.37 A true revolution, in
Eagletons sense, is not a coup, then, but rather the necessary means to
achieve peace and justice for all. In some interesting pages, Eagleton
emphasizes that it is impossible for someone to make a revolution in
somebody elses behalf, and so revolutions cannot be vicarious. True

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176 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

revolution is about empowerment and so [s]ocialist revolutions can

only be democratic ones, not just the replacement of one elitist rule
for another. 38 Further, Eagletons revolution seems not to be very
violent by its own nature; it is indeed compatible with some condi-
tions of democracy as we know it today, but at the same time tries to
improve upon them; and it is dependent upon popular participation
and not adverse to this. Most surprising, perhaps, revolution is not
necessary for the overthrowing of capitalism, as capitalisms contra-
dictions looks perfectly able to undermine capitalism by themselves.
The question is rather what we make of this eventual collapse of
This means, in other words, that such a revolution does not at all
equal a total discontinuity with the present for Eagleton. Hope for
the future, if it should avoid being just wishful thinking, must be
oriented in the present: If it is to be more than an idle fantasy, a radi-
cally different future must be not only desirable but feasible; and to
be feasible, it has to be anchored in the realities of the present.39 Any
thoughts or hopes about the future must be prefigured by forces in
the present that point beyond themselves such as feminism (Eagletons
example) or the working class (Marxs own suggestion). They forge
a link between the present and the future, since they exist now and
thus could be agents of political change. As we have seen from the
last chapter, someone like iek might object that radical change
is unlikely to come from the present, as it most likely would mean
change within the coordinates of the symbolic order, but Eagleton is
aware of such objections: on the one hand, he retorts that the present
is all that we have and on the other he replies that an ultraleftism
(what Lenin calls an infantile disorder) that will have no dealings
with the present is doomed to impotence.40 To be plausible at all,
there must be some prefiguration of the future in the present, even if
these particular tendencies never come about, as there are many dif-
ferent futures implicit in any present order. But this does not mean
that the future only will be more of the same and that radical change
is impossible.
So socialism is not just more of the same but in one sense a deci-
sive break with the present.41 The reason for this is the depravity
of the present, the depth of the sickness that has to be cured.42
Eagleton thus tries to achieve a balance between a hope for a
future that would be wholly different from and totally unrelated
to the present and a future that just is a continuation of the pres-
ent and does not involve any genuine transformation of our social

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An Anatomy of Hope 177

conditions. Or as he formulates it:

A genuinely different future would be neither a mere extension of the

present nor an absolute break with it. If it were an absolute break,
how could we recognize it at all? Yet if we could describe it fairly eas-
ily in the language of the present, in what sense would it be genuinely

This is very much in line with Eagletons more general thinking:

Eagleton tries to keep a balance between continuity and discontinuity
in the relationship between law and love as well as faith and reason.
As in the critique of ideology, there is a glum view of the conditions of
our contemporary society, but at the same time, there is also a hope
of radical emancipation from the present conditions. Contemporary
human beings are alienated, but not totally alienated. In the theo-
logical terms that I began this chapter with, Eagleton is concerned
to hold together creation and redemption, while not denying the dis-
tance between them; redemption is the redemption of this world and
not redemption from it.
iek is, as I have shown above, more eager to emphasize the dis-
continuity than Eagleton. To begin with, revolution is described by
him as a kind of miracle, a moment of grace, that does not have any
motivation outside of itself but which generates its own actualiza-
tion by way of motivating people to struggle for it.44 This means
that a true revolutionary act cannot wait until all the conditions are
ripe for ita revolution ne sautorise que delle-mmebut has to
retrospectively create these conditions itself and take responsibility
for them.45 If Eagletons balance between continuity and discontinu-
ity means that the future is in some way prefigured in the present,
iek puts more emphasis on the discontinuity, not saying that there
is no figuration of the future in the present, but that this figuration is
only recognizable as such retrospectively, from the standpoint of the
future. How does this work?
According to iek, not only the present but also the past is open
to many different futures; our history as we have it now is a realized
alternative history where other possibilities continue to haunt us
and can be reactivated if we chose to act on them. In reimagining the
past, we can find the momentum to act in the present and seize the
opportunity for change that was lost in the past. iek is fond of allud-
ing to Marxs quip from his Eighteenth Brumaire on Hegels idea that
history always repeats itself: indeed it does, but first as tragedy, then

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178 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

as farce.46 This means that it is the first, failed event that creates the
possibilities of a second, perhaps more successful, chance. The second
chance will not build, however, upon the first, as the conditions now
are thoroughly dissimilar; we have to begin from the beginning once
again. This also gives us a clue to why iek regularly invokes Lenin:
it is not a question of literally following Lenin today, but to bring out
the unrealized potentials of the emancipatory event that he served as
a quilting point for.47 Only in the same way as Paul betrayed Christ to
keep the essence of the original Gospel message and Lacan displaced
Freud and Lenin Marx, can we reinvent the revolution for today.48 It
needs to be decontextualized and recontextualized for its universality
to emerge. iek thus talks about the idea that the emergence of the
radically New retroactively changes the past.49 Of course, we cannot
manipulate what has actually happened, but our understanding of the
past, its virtual dimension, changes when something new happens,
as this new perspective allows us to see how the potentiality of what
newly has emerged already existed but in a way that earlier was hid-
den from us. As an illustration, iek mentions love and how falling
in love changes the past: in a sense, I have always loved you, as I see
signs in my past that point forward to our first meeting; My present
love causes the past which gave birth to it.50 The same goes for the
legality of a rebellion: if it succeeds, it will retroactively establish its
own legality, if it fails, it remains a crime. In other words, it is as a
kind of retrospective act of interpretation that the status of the past
changes. This means that contingency and fate are not opposites.
Further, in iek, there is not only an emphasis on revolution ret-
roactively creating its own conditions, but also on revolution as an
event as well as the need for its constant repetition. Indeed revolu-
tions fail. But according to iek, the communist idea persists, as a
ghost that haunts any true emancipative action. The repetition that
ensures its return is not described by iek as, finally, a success; as
well as revolutions, alienation is in a way eternal, a part of human
nature of there ever was one, and therefore, we will never arrive at a
final reconciliation. This is not a cause for pessimism, however. The
enduring hope of communism is captured, says iek, in a quote
from Samuel Becketts Worstward Ho: Try again. Fail again. Fail
better.51 So, for iek, there is no final judgment; this particular
feature of apocalypticism has to be given up, as it would amount to
a reinstatement of the big Other. 52 History is not necessarily on the
side of revolution, which means that there is no teleology that with
necessity leads up to it. We should rather accept that history is not

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An Anatomy of Hope 179

on our side and thus bravely interrupt history in an attempt to cre-

ate our own destiny. In the current political constellation, the big
Other is against us and our historical destiny tends, rather, toward
the catastrophe that apocalypticism warns against. 53 Revolution
becomes an event against all odds, as the bleakness of our situation
may force us to it.
According to iek, the transition from a prerevolutionary to a
revolutionary situation should be understood as, precisely, a subjec-
tive destitution. This does not mean a literal death but rather a radi-
cal transformation where the subject returns to itself, but as another
subject; [T]he subject is as such the survivor of its own death, a shell
which remains after it is deprived of its substance.54 In other words,
this subject is a formal survivor of trauma, not a substantial sur-
vivor, and as such it is a response to and of the Realthe historical
realization of the Cartesian cogito as a pure form of subjectivity. Thus,
it is no longer the neighbor, as it is deprived the enigmatic depth
of the neighbors abyssal desire.55 The revolutionary or post-traumatic
subject is flat, lacking all depth. Today, it is the proletarian that embod-
ies this Cartesian subject.56 The proletarian is described in words that
remind us of the undead, that is, zombies, where only the inhuman
drive remains while all human desire is gone. The trouble with a lot of
what has gone under the name of revolution historically is that it has
not been radical enough, radical in the sense that it has also questioned
its own presuppositions or coordinates. In the Philosophy of Mind of
his Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, Hegel wrote that [i]
t is nothing but a modern folly to try to alter a corrupt moral organi-
sation by altering its political constitution and code of laws without
changing the religionto make a revolution without having made a
reformation.57 iek is fond of this quote, and repeats it often, as he
believes that both Robespierre and Mao had understood this need for
what Mao called a cultural revolution as the presupposition of a true
revolution; without changing the very subjective core of human beings,
revolution cannot be accomplished.58 Revolution must be total to be a
revolution at all. Like in the Augustinian tradition, evil, as Charles T.
Mathewes writes, is deeper in us than any program of reformation or
reconstruction can reach, because it infects the instrument by which
any such reconstruction would proceed.59 Unlike it, however, iek
does not expect any revolution coming from God, but suggests that our
fate is entirely in our own hands.
While it might be too early, and maybe also exaggerated to claim
that iek regards redemption as a redemption from rather than of

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180 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

this world, it is clear that he stresses discontinuity in quite another

way than Eagleton does. If Eagleton persists in trying to achieve
a balance between continuity and discontinuity, even with regard
to revolution, such a balance, to iek, would hardly be radical
enough. One way of stating the difference between Eagleton and
iek on revolution would be to say that the former highlights the
prefiguration of the future in the present whereas the latter sees the
future figured in the past and the present only retrospectively, from
the perspective of the future, so to speak. This would suggest that
the relation between continuity and discontinuity in Eagleton and
iek is not a question of either-or, but rather of perspective; iek
might then be understood as indeed talking about a redemption of
this world, but of this world only in its aspect of creation, not as
alienation, and the distinction between the two as something that
can be perceived only from the standpoint of faith. But if this is so, a
prominent question when we now turn to the idea of communism as
a final part of these eschatological investigations will be: What will
the future look like? What kind of community should we expect or
aim for? Does it have anything to do with the present? How will it
be achieved?

Communism, or the idea of communism, has in recent years
returned as a topic of radical philosophy. After 1989, it seemed like
the specter of communism had disappeared forever, but any such
judgment has to be esteemed, in light of the recent discussions of the
topic, as premature. In the foreword to their collection The Idea of
Communism from 2010, the editors Costas Douzinas and iek begin
with the claim that [t]he long night of the left is drawing to a close,
suggesting that the current worldwide crisiseconomic, political, and
socialtells us that a new start is badly needed.60 There is a need, in
other words, for both a de-demonizing of the term and a reactiva-
tion of the practical political legacy of radical philosophy; even if
scholars do not agree on the meaning of communism, the term still
stands for radical emancipatory projects.61 My task in this section is
not to survey this debate or its plausibility, however, just the views on
communism that we find in Eagleton and iek, and bring them in
dialogue with eschatology, especially with regard the questions that
I just posed at the end of the last section. As Taubes has remarked,
regarding apocalyptic thinking, There is a clear connection between

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An Anatomy of Hope 181

enthusiasm for the Kingdom and communism, and my question here

is if there is such a connection in Eagleton and iek.62
Let me begin with asking whether communism to Eagleton is a
kind of utopia and, if so, what kind of utopia it is. His answers to
these questions we get, as before, mostly through his interpretation
of Marx. Eagleton is very clear that Marx could be understood as
a utopian thinker only in a very specific sense of the word, namely,
that he regards another society as possible, a society that is more just
than the present. But he is not a utopian thinker in the sense that he
thinks that a perfect society where all human misery is gone is pos-
sible. It is, on the contrary, the free-market thinkers who stand for
a virulent form of utopianism today, according to Eagleton, as they
think that a uniform economic system both will fit all different soci-
eties and also remedy all maladies. Unlike what is usually believed,
then, Marx has not much to say about what kind of society lies ahead
and what it will look like. Even if he believes, as we have seen, that
socialism is inevitable in some sense, this does not mean that he has
any information to share about its configuration. Eagleton likens this
reticence to the Jewish iconoclastic ban on images, and he also pro-
poses several reasons for this silence.63 First, to tell what is going to
be in the future is pointless, as the future does not yet exist. Second,
it can also be destructive to try to foretell the future, as this could lull
us into a false sense of security. Third, there were a lot of attempts of
predicting the future around in Marxs time, most of them hopelessly
idealistic. Even if Marx believes in progress, he does not share the
optimistic Enlightenment belief in a straight road to future perfec-
tion but is more aware of the ambiguity of this development. Thus he
had reason to be silent about the future. For Marx, then, the question
of utopia is at best a distraction from the more important tasks of
resolving what is wrong with the present social configuration, hin-
drances that will have to be resolved if a better future would come
about at all.64 This gives his thought a more present-oriented tone
than most progressive utopian thinkers.
To counter the critical claim that the communist society, even if it
never will be perfect, still is a form of wishful thinking, or the claim
that Marxisms vision of a radical transformation is highly implausi-
ble, Eagleton asserts that it is, in fact, those who criticize Marxism in
such a way that are the true dreamers. Not only is it a kind of wishful
thinking to believe that a more just society will come about without
any radical ruptures of the present development of capitalism, but
also if you think that piecemeal change is all that is going to come.

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182 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

History is as it is always full of ruptures. And further, Marxs vision

of the future is not based on a particularly benign view of human
nature. On the contrary, it is the actual conflicts of society that will
drive history forward and so [t]he true image of the future is the
failure of the present.65 As we have seen, this does not necessarily
mean that the future will be for the better, compared to the present,
but neither must it imply that it will be worse: much has to do with
what we do now. The image of a better future is already among us,
however; and if it were not, we would have no idea of what it would
mean to live under oppression, since we could not imagine the alter-
native. The trouble with liberal capitalism, for Eagleton, is that it does
not recognize the darkness at its own core, and consequently degener-
ates to wishful thinking: If ever there was a pious myth and piece
of credulous superstition, it is the liberal-rationalist belief that, a few
hiccups apart, we are all steadily en route to a finer world.66 To the
extent that liberal, capitalistic society cannot by itself resolve the con-
flicts that abound in it, there will always be a force for change, a force
that is inherent not primarily in ideas but in the material conditions
for human living. According to Eagleton, Marx has hope in the future
because he is a materialist, that is, because he believes that human
beings are formed by the institutions and practices they are a part of.
The transformation of institutions would contribute to another way
of seeing, as our ideas are dependent upon, if not determined by, insti-
tutions. And if [i]nstitutions shape our inner experience as Marx
suggests, then human misery is not (only) a consequence of human
wickedness and with the transformation of institutions, as instru-
ments of reeducation, another world might be possible.67
The communist society that Eagleton hopes for is, however, not just
discontinuous with liberal society. Eagleton emphasizes, for instance,
that it is compatible with liberal societys stress on individual free-
dom, but at the same time he wishes to add that this freedom here is
understood as being realized not in competition with other persons
self-realization. In the words, from Marxs and Engels Communist
Manifesto that Eagleton quotes: [T]he free development of each is
the condition for the free development of all.68 On a personal level,
this ethics is known as love. A communist society would not be a
society where everyone would be cast in the same form. Equality,
for Marx, does not mean treating everyone the same, but attending
equally to everyones different needs.69 Uniformity, then, is not an
ideal for Marx but rather a consequence of consumer society, accord-
ing to Eagleton.

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An Anatomy of Hope 183

Even if we do not believe that such a society will ever be accom-

plished once and for all, this is no reason for giving up the vision of it,
says Eagleton. Then again, most of all it is a matter of organization,
of organizing society in a way that enhances rather than diminishes
the chance of achieving such a vision of equality; neither Marx nor
Eagleton think that such a society is achieved through altruistic indi-
viduals. In their way of thinking, institutions come before individuals
in the sense that they give the conditions for actions. Even, then, if
there still were people in a communist society that were vicious, which
Eagleton presumes there will be, they could not as easily employ insti-
tutions as a way of acting out their viciousness. Communist society is
no perfect society where viciousness and strife no longer would exist,
but it would be a society where the effects of such human imperfec-
tion would not have as vast consequences as in capitalism.
Further, Marxism does not just believe in an all-powerful state
but quite the contrary, hopes for its disappearancenot in its
administrative function but as a source of violent oppression. The
liberal state as we now experience it is not neutral in this sense; or
rather it is neutral between capitalism and its critics until the critics
look like theyre winning.70 The belief in the neutrality of the state is
ideological, according to Eagleton, but this does not mean that every-
thing that the state does today is a protection of capitalism. Indeed,
if the police force protects an Asian refugee from being beaten by
racists, this is not necessarily a defense for capitalism. In other words,
that the state is not neutral does not mean that everything about it is
bad. The Marxist critique of the state is that it is not, in the present
age, a force of harmony and peace but rather a source of division in its
protection of capitalist exploitation. This means, then, that the state
needs to be challenged because of its tension with civil society and in
the name of a more popular participation in democracy. What will
remain of the state after the successful revolution is its administra-
tive function, which means that it will be almost unrecognizable by
contemporary standards.
In the end, then, communism for Eagleton is not about the kind
of society that could be found in Stalinist Soviet, for instance, which
he regards as an aberration, but is rather entirely compatible with
democracy, liberty, and a market that is free even if it is under political
control. His most arresting image of communism might be his com-
parison of it to the sublime: as a release of the excess of humanitys
creative powers, but not in a destructive sense, which turns into the
war of all against all, as in capitalism, but as an unending exploration

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184 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

and enjoyment of the world for its own sake.71 Communism is a way
of coming to terms with human finitude, seeing that our embodied
nature is not a hindrance but rather a necessary material base for
our flourishing. In other words, Eagleton repeats, once again, his
very Thomist stress on the relationship between nature and grace;
to quote the sentence from Aquinas once more: [G]race does not
destroy nature but perfects it. Communism follows a logic of super-
abundance, and Eagleton even suggests that the transition from
socialism to communism follows the same pattern as the Pauline
transition from the realm of the Law to the domain of grace.72 All
the themes that we have seen through the chapterson embodiment,
rationality and the critique of absolute freedom as well as instrumen-
tal reason, a balance between continuity and discontinuity, as well
as the Thomist substructure of his argumentreturn in his views on
communism. Communism is a condition, maybe more of a utopia for
Eagleton than for Marx, that is both continuous and discontinuous
with contemporary society.
Compared to Eagleton, ieks vision of communism is more radi-
cal, at least in tone. For one thing, he sees more of a contrast between
socialism and communism, and democracy and communism, than
Eagleton does. Communism, to iek, can never mean the return
to any pre-substantial social unity, as he thinks socialism very well
could.73 Only in communism is the growing inequality between rich
and poor and between included and excluded given its due (as the
fourth rider of the apocalypse). Communism aims not primarily at
survival, but at justice. A communist society must be an egalitarian
society, and thus this struggle for justice must include but also exceed
the struggle for survival. Only in the excluded are the true, singular
universality of the part of no-part embodied as such. In contrast to
Eagletons emphasis on communism as a way of coming to terms with
human finitude, for iek communism is about the infinite, about
that which in human beings is more than humanity itself. This means,
among other things, that iek is critical of the tendency of Marx,
highlighted by Eagleton, to see some kind of continuity between capi-
talism and communism.74
iek occasionally gives us a glimpse of what a communist culture
would look like.75 First, a total form of immersion into the social
body in a way that would be shocking to all good liberals (and not
only them perhaps) would characterize it. This is a form of collectiv-
ity that abandons all forms of critical distance and individuality in
exchange for a passionate identification with a disciplined collectivity.

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An Anatomy of Hope 185

Then, however, what is given up is not the rational self but rather
the instinct for individual survival. This collective is, further, not
characterized by uniformity but opens up for authentic idiosyncra-
sies. Finally, the predominant component would be the cold uni-
versal space of rational thought. These traits of character balance
each other. This is, in other words, where ethnic identities or national
roots or religious persuasion does not play any particular role (they
are not a form of truth or a form for the public use of reason). This
community is the Holy Spirit, the space of a collective of believers
subtracted from the field of organic communities, or of particular
life-worlds.76 The exclusion from a particular lifeworld on behalf of
the proletariat under the alienated conditions of capitalism is, thus,
a blessing in disguise, as this creates the precondition for forming a
new kind of society.
Communism knows, further, that it is unlikely to retain popular
support after the revolution but is nevertheless obliged, at least in
the Jacobin-Leninist tradition that iek endorses, to maintain its
hegemony through centralized dictatorial poweranother political
idea with a bad track record that iek tries to salvage.77 From Plato
over millenarian revolts up until Jacobinism and Leninism, there have
been four fundamental concepts that have defined the communist
idea: [S]trict egalitarian justice, disciplinary terror, political volun-
tarism, and trust in the people.78 Capitalism has integrated in itself
a continuous revolt (which then predictably returns to normal) and
to be able to build a new order, such a politics is needed to break
out of this vicious circle. The dictatorship of the proletariat does
not mean, at least if it is going to have any meaning today, that a
certain class now rules the state instead of another, but must mean
the radical transformation of the functioning of the state as well as
the market. The proletariat is the part of no-part, those who
are out of joint in a society and so have no other interest than to
abolish themselves as a class. Only so can we avoid merely reverting
back to what came beforewith one class just taking on the role of
the older ruling classand instead create a new society. This is the
ultimate goal of revolution, not to take over the state as such, but to
change its mode of functioning. The aim is, according to iek, true
popular participation, but to achieve it, the coordinates of political
participation need to be changed from the roots.
Despite some of his more hyperbolic statements about the poverty
of democracy, ieks real criticism, essentially, amounts to the doubt
that parliamentary democracy of the kind we have in most Western

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186 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

societies today really can withstand the temptation of plutocracy and

oligarchy.79 Parliamentary democracy makes the people passive, as
they transfer their own will onto an agent which re-presents the
people and wills on its account.80Against this, he advocates a kind
of popular democracy, where people stop trusting the elites, those
who are supposed to know for them and provide the guidelines, when
they experience the anxiety accompanying the recognition that the
(true) throne is empty, that the decision is now really theirs.81 Thus,
rather than any outright abhorrence of democracy, iek identifies
a democratic deficit in the heart of contemporary democracy, which
means that it is really post-democracy. Elections to the parliament are
not inevitably bad, it is just that they do not necessarily indicate some
kind of truth, but at the same time, they also confer to the people a
certain vision of the society and the individual that is counter produc-
tive in the relation to the full emancipation of human beings. The
trouble with contemporary democracy, in ieks terms, seems to be
that it is not radical enough, it is never able to question the legitimacy
of capitalism, and as long as it cannot do that, it becomessince
neutrality is never possiblejust another ideology or fantasy that
tries to cover up the antagonism at the heart of every society. It starts
from the possibility of a peaceful dialogue, and does not see that this
very possibility has to be fought for, not just be taken for granted;
[T]he very space of unity has to be won through struggle.82 So the
presupposition of freedomanother, more genuine freedom, that
is, not just the formal freedom of choice of contemporary capitalist
societyis not always already there, quite the contrary. It needs to
be established, and the way to establish it must necessarily go against
the grain of todays existing societies. For iek, true democracy is
the irruption of the Real within the symbolic order, a violent egali-
tarian impulse, and what is usually called democracy, that is, parlia-
mentary democracy belongs to the order of the symbolic. The risk
with any democratic irruption is that it immediately, the morning
after, returns to the symbolic. From within the symbolic order, revo-
lution must seem terroristic, as it does not merely wish to renegotiate
the coordinates of this order but exchange them for others. In other
words, the means for creating a just society are not there in the con-
temporary configuration of politics.
Here we might take a pause in the examination of how iek
understands communism to ask the related question whether there
really is any hope for a coming community at all in his view. One
possible interpretation is that ieks upbeat style really hides that

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An Anatomy of Hope 187

his message is a message of despair rather than hope, as no posi-

tion outside of ideology is possible. His use of theology, a kind of
Lutheran theology of the cross if there ever was one, takes him
very close to abandon, despair, and nihilism, as alienation almost
turn out to become destiny. And in The Parallax View, he refers to
Herman Melvilles character Bartleby from the authors short story
Bartleby the Scrivener, whose I would prefer not to for iek
becomes a refusal to participate in the political game as it is being
played today, whether it is for a good cause or not, as any such par-
ticipation could become a legitimization of the powers that be and
status quo.83 Is this ieks politics, merely a negative act of refusal
rather than some positive vision? Is there something that comes after
the subjective destitution as the outcome of the analysis? If this were
his final account, there would be little to offer as an alternative to
the cynicism that he so emphatically criticizes. Is hope anything but
the other side of despair in a speculative identity? If no such alter-
native were to be imagined, ieks continuing appeal to a radical
break with the present could, with some fairness, be criticized for
being just an irresponsible hubris of negation. There is, to be sure,
a pervading mentioning of the Holy Spirit as the community that
finds no support in the big Other that speaks another language, and
it is as if iek lately has recognized such a critique of his political
philosophy as legitimate, as he has made the question of what comes
after the revolution a more prominent theme of his writings, relatively
speaking. The name for this coming order is communism.
How will communism be achieved, then? In ieks philosophy,
we find a discussion of how communism is to come about. There is
a constant appeal to the Left in iek, as a kind of revolutionary
subject, and to understand what he means by communism, we need
to take a look at this agent. On the one hand, we often find a very
unspecified appeal to this Left. Indeed, iek recognizes that the
lack of any identifiable agent of revolution has been a problem for
leftist thought through the ages. The working class did not fulfill the
role that Marx once assigned to it, and the turn to psychoanalysis in
Western Marxism is, at least in part, explained by this failure.84 Thus,
we need a new conception of the proletariat, not one that builds upon
the working class as a particular social agent, but one that unites
forces in between different, disenfranchised groups.85 If the historical
proletariat had nothing to loose but their chains, today, in light of the
formidable threats to human existence on earth (the four apocalyptic
riders), all of us run the risk of loosing everything and so are reduced

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188 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

to potentially being homo sacer. That the Left in ieks should be

only a future eschatological entity is, however, belied, at least in part,
by examples in his writings of a more or less successful emancipatory
action today. One of these is an event in the West Bank village of Bilin,
where Jewish lesbians and conservative Palestinian women came to
respect each other through their mutual resistance toward the divi-
sion and demolition of the village. iek regards this, not as a version
of a multicultural tolerance and understanding, but as a shared
struggle on behalf of a universality which cuts diagonally across both
communities . . . uniting the marginalized in both camps.86 This is a
telling example as it both grounds ieks hope for emancipation in
the here and now, as well as clothes the bare bones of the struggle for
universality with some contextual flesh. The follow-up question must
be, nonetheless, whether this flesh, that is, the particularity, including
their ideas of reality of Jewish lesbians and Palestinian women, is not
constitutive for the experience of oppression as well as the struggle
for universality. If we presume that iek would answer yes to this
question, we do have a case of collaboration where it is hard to see
how ieks sharp distinction between the emancipatory form of reli-
gion/popular consciousness and its obsolete content can be uphold. Is
the miracle of universality totally unrelated to the material condi-
tions of the particular lifeworlds of the Jewish lesbians and Palestinian
women, or is there something in these lifeworlds that is more or less
conducive to such a miracle? iek, in some places, tries to uphold an
eschatological tension between already and not yet in suggesting
that [t]he least we can do is to look for traces of the new commu-
nist collective in already existing social or even artistic movements.87
These traces are signs coming from the future. But unlike Eagleton,
the emphasis is more on the not yet, at least in terms of the discon-
tinuity of the present with the future.
A further light on their respective understanding of communism
could hopefully be shed by turning to Cornel Wests helpful typol-
ogy of Marxisms. One the one hand, all types of the Marxist tradi-
tion use the dialectical method to understand social reality and view
class struggle as central for understanding the dynamics of history; all
regard socialism (which here equals what iek calls communism) as a
desirable social arrangement. On the other hand, they differ in regard
to their view on the relationship between the possibility of political
arrangement in the current, prerevolutionary situation and the future,
coming socialist society. Two types are of particular interest to us here.
Leninist politics puts a stress on the discontinuity between the current

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An Anatomy of Hope 189

possibilities and the coming socialist society in maintaining that it is

only an elitist avant-garde than can lead the way forward. Councilist
Marxism, in contrast, is more insistent on continuity, suggesting that
the political organization in the current society should prefigure the
coming society. It puts more emphasis on popular democracy than
Leninist elitism. Both Leninist and councilist Marxism is compared,
by West, with movements within Christianity, where the Leninist
stream is more like conservative evangelicalisman orthodox
outlook which give self-serving lip service to truncated versions of
the major normswhereas the counciliar stream is more like a lib-
eration theologya promotion and practice of the moral core of the
perspective against overwhelming odds for success.88 None of them
are reformist, but councilist Marxism is still described as more left-
wing than Leninist right-wing Marxism, as Leninism, together
with Trotskyism, reek of the rigidity, dogmatism, and elitism char-
acteristic of the very ruling class they oppose and thus sacrifices the
very democracy that it pretends to defend.89 It comes as little surprise,
from such a description, that West prefers a counciliar Marxism (as
would I) that upholds the values of individuality and democracy here
and now, in all their fragility, and not just in some future socialist
society. Such a Marxism, according to West, is more positive toward
already existing popular, radical movements and organizations, such
as feminism, black liberation, ecological movements, and many more,
which already share the vision of a free and democratic society.
There is, in iek, surely a troubling trace of what West names
Leninist right-wing Marxism, especially in ieks call for a certain
amount of disciplinary terror. iek is suspicious of the radicality of
popular politics, and maintains that the only way to stay true to the
original revolutionary impulse is through revolutionary-democratic
terror.90 Even if there might be an emancipatory dimension of popu-
list politics, it does not rise up to the challenge of changing the system
as such, and will thus eventually regress. This means that populism
is never truly emancipatory in itself, but has to be taken up into a
genuine emancipatory revolution. In lack of any conceivable conti-
nuity today with what is supposed to come, iek sometimes slips,
inevitably, as it were, into a kind of retrogressive radical gesturing.
There is indeed something to be said for the inexpressibility of any
eschatological horizon within the present conditions, but if this is not
supposed to end in an agnostic silence that in actuality gives way to
a resigned politics of piecemeal engineering, this silence has to be
conditioned by some sort of community here and now, able to live

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190 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

out at least a glimpse of a hope. Eagleton, on the other hand, could

have come closer to Wests councilist Marxism, as he often refers to
popular movements and parts of the liberal inheritance that is actu-
ally worth saving. But more often than not, Eagleton is even more
unclear about the agent of revolution than iek is. Even if he repeat-
edly refers to emancipatory movements around the world today, there
is little of explicit engagement with them on a more concrete level (in
his texts), and so his appeal to communism suffers from similar defi-
ciencies as ieks in establishing the locus of emancipation. Even if
Eagletons remarks about the remaining value of individual freedom
is less worrisome than ieks references to disciplinary terror, none
of them really do sufficient work of explaining the possibility of an
alternative politics. This is not to say that it cannot be done, only that
there is little guidance how to proceed in their respective writings.
The love of ideassurely not to be belittled as suchregularly gains
the upper hand, rather than an analysis of contemporary praxis.
From a perspective of popular democracy in the civil rights move-
mentstyle, Wests Princeton colleague Jeffrey Stout has raised the
question whether what he calls antidemocratic leftism (which
explicitly includes iek) could find an institutional form that pro-
vides security against domination by elites after modern democracy
supposedly collapses and found it wanting.91 Stout believes that it is
possible to think that contemporary society is affected in every part
by domination and still find some value in the current political con-
figuration. It is, according to Stout, not a question of stark discontinu-
ity or either-or between the pre- and the postrevolutionary situation.
In fact, such an exaggerated perspective could actually make things
worse, as it might hinder the organization of a grassroots democracy
that finds some strength to resist the oligarchies and plutocracies of
today. It is organization that has to save the day, as lifestyle liberalism
only evaporates into subjectivity92and here Stout actually comes
quite close to the Marxist perspectives of both Eagleton and iek in
his critique. But, following Stouts and Wests argument, I would like
to suggest that this organization has to reflect some of the values of its
vision so as not to be caught in a performative contradiction between
its ideals and its means. It is significant that, of all the examples that
iek gives in his discussion of populism, none of them really con-
cerns populist organizations but only movements or even reactions.93
If it is like Stout has suggested, that only a populist organization
can express the constancy over time to really challenge and hold the
political power to account, this is a serious lack. My criticism here of

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An Anatomy of Hope 191

not only iek but also Eagleton is not a way of trying to drive them
back to a more explicitly Christian herd; I am merely asking where
we can see, if anywhere, the slightest of traces of emancipation today
and how to achieve it, which saves their often intriguing analyses of
contemporary society of becoming just empty, radical gesturing when
it comes to our political reality.
One more thing in their respective discussions of the coming com-
munity should be highlighted before I move on to the next section,
namely, their reticence of speaking of how this community will turn
out to be. Marx, as we have seen, is relatively nonutopian, and so is
also Eagleton and iek, at least concerning the specific configura-
tion of the coming society.94 This is surely as it should be, as any more
specific view on the nature on communism would be counterproduc-
tive to the aim of bringing about human emancipation: to specify the
nature of communism would equal sneaking a peek at Gods or histo-
rys cards. There is, in most eschatologies, a moment of surprise, and
to a dialectical view on historical development as Marxs, the future
is anything but just a linear extension of the now. As iek reminds
us, Communism is today not the name of a solution but the name
of a problem: the problem of the commons in all its dimensions.95
At the same time, if the future is going to be our future in any sense
of the word, we need to be able to recognize it as such in some way;
as Robert W. Jenson writes, speaking about the relation between love
and hope: If I hope to love and be loved by someone, and this hope
is fulfilled, I will know that it is.96 The same argument, which we
somehow will recognize it when we see it, is valid for any political
hope for justice and in no way legitimizes just a passive waiting. Even
if all of this chapter up to now has concerned the anatomy of hope,
I shall now turn to the question of hope more properly, as a further,
and final, part of my discussion of eschatology, precisely to deal with
the question what kind of subjective stance hoping implies.

As we approach the end of this book, I will now take a step back
from the more specific exegesis of Eagletons and ieks texts to
a more general discussion of the question of hope today. We have
indeed heard a lot about hope already, although under a differ-
ent name. Both Eagleton and iek offer some version of reasons
for hope, the one through a hope that is held in fear and trem-
bling, with a horror-stricken countenance and the other through

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192 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

an admonition to read the signs coming from the future from

an engaged perspective.97 This means that hoping, for them, is an
existentialrather than merely theoreticalquestion that has to
do with our subjective stance; to borrow a phrase from Alasdair
MacIntyre, It is only those who are engaged in changing the world
who can hope to see the world rightly.98 Reasons for hope, then,
have to do not only with an assessment of the present conditions, but
also with empowerment and mobilization as well as organization
and even faith as engagement, in the sense discussed previously. In
this section, I will look closer at hope as an existential stance, hop-
ing to show how it differs from mere wishful thinking. I will do this
through a perspective that resonates with Eagletons and ieks,
that is, a perspective that is informed by theology as well as philoso-
phy and psychoanalysis.
What is hope, then? Or, as Kant famously asked, for what may we
hope? Generally, one usually makes a distinction between optimism
and hope: optimism is something (presumably) calculable, a future
that is a vector of coordinates already in place in the present, whereas
hope is associated with a certain newness of circumstances, a future
that is not more of the same but qualitatively different. The disas-
sociation of optimism and hope means that hope is compatible with
pessimism: even if our present circumstances look bleak with no or
little sign of improvement, hope may still abound. Pessimism is not the
opposite of hope, then, but despair is. This means that hope often can
take the form of hope against all odds. In a locus classicus of hope,
the letter to the Hebrews talks about faith as the assurance of things
hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (11:1); here, equivalence
between hope and things not seen is introduced together with a
tension in regard to assurance and convictionhow can you be sure
of things that you cannot see?
Even if this is a religious example, it is important to see that hope
can and do have a similar structure even in regard to more mundane
or secular examples. Stanley Fish, in his analysis of the American
TV show The Fugitive from the 1960s, gives an example of how the
relationship between knowledge that comes from faith and knowl-
edge that comes from empirical inspections is negotiated in a work of
fiction; the people that doctor Kimble meet on the run from the law
believe (correctly, as we as all-knowing viewers know) in his inno-
cence despite the evidence that convicted him for murder of his wife.
His own steadfastness in his pursuit of justice is reciprocated by the
faith of those people with a similar inner steadfastness that refuses

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An Anatomy of Hope 193

to see in him just a fugitive. Hope, for Kimble, is that he will be

cleared of all suspicion and so be able to stop running; that the truth
somehow will come to light, despite that there is not much that sug-
gests so. One moral of the TV show, according to Fish, is that the
line between faith and empirical evidence is not as clear as usually is
presumed.99 Even the empirically minded doctor Kimble has to rely
on faith, although a thoroughly secular, liberal faith. Nevertheless, its
structure is the same as the one I have outlined above.
The Fugitive is a work of fiction, however. Is it possible to avoid
the conclusion that hope is just a nicer word for wishful thinking?
In other words, might there be something that we may call reasons
for hope? Further, even if I may hope that the ballot will fall on my
lottery ticket so that I can live in grand style and fly business class
wherever I travel, is this really hope in the sense we have been talk-
ing about here? To get some hold on these questions, let us now turn
to the philosopher and psychoanalyst Jonathan Lears philosophical
account of hope in the face of cultural devastation, as the subtitle of
his book Radical Hope reads. In this book, Lear retells the real story
of Plenty Coups (18481932), a chief of the Crow nation who had
to handle the very likely collapse of the traditional way of life in his
Indian tribe. The story of Coups becomes the occasion of a profound
meditation on hope, where Lear deals with the question what it could
mean to maintain hope in the most dire of situations.
To a traditional Crow Indian, the tribe equaled a spectrum of
possibilities to live a Crow life. These possibilities included both
the principles for how to flourish as an Indian and the prospect of
destruction by another tribe. But even if the worst happened, that
the Sioux defeated the Crow, the Crow way of life would still be
intelligible. The blow that struck the Crow Indians at the end of the
nineteenth century was more radical: it was the destruction of this
culture as such, of the very possibilities of making sense of flour-
ishing as well as defeat; in Lears words: This is a real loss, not
just one that is described from a certain point of view. It is the real
loss of a point of view.100 In other words, the coordinates with the
help of which it is possible to interpret something as a meaningful
event or actionwhether as a success or a failuredisappeared as
an effect of this kind of defeat of the Crow nation. Time itself took
on another meaning for the Crow or, rather, became just a measure
of how one thing come to pass after the other in the absence of mean-
ing. It became impossible to give an account of what it could mean to

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194 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

liveor fail to livea characteristic Crow life. Courage, happiness,

even cooking, all lost their significance.
This is a bleak picture of cultural devastation for the Crow, and
Lear is eager to emphasize that this is just his interpretation of what
happened. But his picture is not painted to deny hope for the Crow
but rather as an inquiry into what hope could mean in the face of
such a desperate situation. On Plenty Coups fell the role of having to
reinvent what it could mean to be going on as a Crow in a meaningful
way, and the precondition of this reinvention is hope, hope that this
is, against all odds, possible at all. It is interesting to note that Lear
uses the terminology of death and life to describe this reinven-
tion; this draws our associations to a theological account of death and
resurrection, but we could also associate to ieks account of sub-
jective destitution, a death that is not biological but symbolic. The
both practical and theoretical question for Plenty Coups, then, was if
there was a certain plasticity in the Crow notions of courage, happi-
ness, et cetera that would allow them to be defined anew in another
context, without losing all continuity with their old meaning. A full
continuity was, of course, out of the question because of the cultural
devastation, but a complete discontinuity would not do either, since
then it would not be a question of a Crow life in any sense but a purely
biological continuation (at the most). Some kind of transformation is
needed that involves both continuity and discontinuity.
Such a transformation demands courage, as it paradoxically
involves a thoroughgoing change of what it means to experience an
act as courageous, as the context for what counts as courage has dis-
appeared. In other words, courage must somehow transcend itself.
Plenty Coupss hope thus stretches out to things not seen without
trying to ascertain beforehand how these things will turn out to be.
His hope is the hope for revival: for coming back to life in a form
that is not yet intelligible.101 We see here clearly how hope, for him,
is something radically different from optimism: optimism is not only
ruled out by what has happened to the tribe but also the very coordi-
nates for making optimism intelligible are lost, as he has no account
on which to make intelligible what to expect. It is not merely wishful
thinking either, however, as this revival, even if it is presaged in a
dream of his, is not a fantasy of a return to an original condition but
involves the hard work of psychological and practical reconstitution
of the chief and his nation. The hope is held in the face of the rec-
ognition that, given the abyss, one cannot really know what survival
means.102 As mentioned, the survival of the Crow was presaged in a

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An Anatomy of Hope 195

dream, but even if this was so, this divine omen did not secure either
the nature of the divine source or the terms of the survival. What it
did do was to provide some kind of legitimacy (for the Crows) to the
hope that there was ways forward at all, not any information of the
nature of this way or its completion. Even in a completely secular
account, Lear maintains, Plenty Coupss dream could be regarded as
a courageous use of his imaginative capacity, not just an evasion of
reality. It gave him and his tribe the possibility of hope in an extreme
situation, as a response to a collective anxiety, without predicting
how this hope would be consummated, and thus reducing the Crow
to passive spectators of an inevitable course of history.
Plenty Coupss hope is a radical hope in Lears terminology, as
it is the hope for something that transcends even the present coor-
dinates for making sense of this hope. This hope is radical in that
it is aiming for a subjectivity that is at once Crow and does not yet
existin other words, there is both continuity and discontinuity.103
Thus, it differs from a dream of winning the lottery in a qualitative
sense. But how can such a hope be legitimate and differ from wishful
thinking? One of Lears answers to this objection is the one I men-
tioned, namely, that even if it, of course, would be Plenty Coupss
wish that the Crow would be able to continue somehow, his dream
responded to the tribes anxiety, and thus faced up to reality rather
than avoided it, and at the same time it gave rise to a courageous
and imaginative response. Plenty Coups did not dream that he was
an omnipotent superman who could put everything right. His dream
included a recognition both of anxiety and of real, radical loss, and
its mode was more of a prophecy than of a prediction, as it included
the imaginative response of Plenty Coups and the Crow as a condition
for the actual outcome of what was hoped for. One trait that distin-
guishes hope from escapist wishful thinking or ideological fantasy
is its ability not to avoid or explain away the traumatic experience
of the Real; its healing power can never mean a simple return to the
pre-traumatic stage but has to go through the shattering experience to
a post-nave stage that will forever stay wounded by darkness. Even
if both Eagleton and iek at times sail very close to despair, such a
voyage seems unavoidable so as not to exchange hope for fantasy and
consequently immediately return to ideology.
The minimal presupposition of the legitimacy of such a hope,
however, is that we believe that there somehow is a goodnessof
God, or of the worldthat transcends our finite powers to grasp
it.104 Lear is intentionally vague about this goodness, as he wishes

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196 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

to avoid, for the sake of his argument, committing himself to any

particular metaphysics. This transcendence could be, on his account,
purely worldly and his emphasis is rather on the finite powers of
human conceptual resources. Lear suggests that we as human beings
are erotic creatures, characterized by a yearning and a desire for what
transcends us, but his Platonic terminology here could easily be sub-
stituted by a psychoanalytical or a theological concept of love; what
matters is that our hope could not be understood as such without a
reference to what we love, to the self-transcending desire that make
us what we are. In Eagleton, it is easy to find an account that cor-
responds to Lears argument, ultimately in his use of theology even if
he also has a more philosophical account of human transcendence in
relation to our embodied nature. Also in iek there is an account of
transcendence, although a thoroughly immanent one. It is ultimately
to be found in his account of the death drive or what in us is more
than our selves (for which he insists on the continuing relevance of
the term theology),105 even if it is harder to construe this version of
transcendence in terms of goodness for reasons that by now should
be evident.
Plenty Coupss dream, however, and the presupposition that there
still is a goodness that transcends his finite conceptual powers, was,
according to Lear, instrumental in cultivating the hope that eventu-
ally led to some kind of return of the Crow way of life, although
under radically different circumstances. Lear offers several theoretical
vocabularies to understand what Plenty Coups did: in psychoanalytic
terminology, he formulated the ego-ideal of radical hope; in the ter-
minology of Kierkegaard, he was able to transform the destruction
of a telos into a teleological suspension of the ethical.106 A similar
spirit of hope, as Walter Brueggemann has shown, is found in the bib-
lical tradition of the prophets (especially Jeremiah and Second Isaiah)
and of Jesus, and it should be contrasted with optimism; whereas
optimism has no conception of anything else being possible than more
of the same (and therefore is a form of despair), hope is a conviction
that genuine newness is possible in human history. For hope to be
hope, however, and not only wishful thinking, it is imperative that
the discontinuity with what has come before is acknowledged or, in
other words, that the darkness and despair of our current situation is
acknowledged. The prophetic imagination is not (at least not primar-
ily) a form of future-telling, but rather a form of critique that aims to
effect a change through energizing people into thinking and acting
out of an alternative. So, the promissory, prophetic words concerns

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An Anatomy of Hope 197

a radical turn, a break with the old rationality, and a discontinuity

between what has been and what will be.107 The fundamental mis-
sion of the prophetic literature, then, is not to speculatively inquire
into future events, but rather to infuse a sense of trust in the future
that a change for the good is actually possible.
If I should summarize my inquiry into the nature of hope this far,
it would be appropriate to say that hope is the only possible antidote
and realistic alternative to despair; it differs from optimism in that it
cannot be a projection of present circumstances upon the future as
the result of a prognosis or of plain wishful thinking, the first because
of lack of intelligible coordinates, the second because of its lack of
facing up to reality; it consequently involves the subject in conditions
of consummation, not reducing her or him to a passive spectator; its
vindication is neither a question of more of the same nor something
wholly other but a combination of continuity and discontinuity or
sight and blindness; it presupposes some minimal notion of transcen-
dence, that is, of goodness and the possibility of newness in the world,
however conceivedand thus we return to the understanding of hope
as the antidote to despair and in proximity to both faith and love.
This is the subjective stance implied by hoping I would suggest, not
only in religious but also in more secular terms.
I have called this book a conspiracy of hope, as I believe that
this is, ultimately, what connects theology and Marxism in Eagleton
and iek. It is a conspiracy, since, as OED suggests, it entails
a combination of persons for an evil or unlawful purpose
unlawful in the psychoanalytic sense of going beyond the law
and evil in the sense of breaking free of the current symbolic
order. But it is also a hope, as it seems like every call for peace,
justice, and solidarity gestures toward an eschatological horizon.
We need an image, however provisional, of what we are hoping for,
to avoid a blind hope that may not be able to distinguish between
indifference and hunger for righteousness. At the very least, such an
image may have the negative function of showing not the fullness
of things hopefully to come, but the lack of justice in the present
condition. We need, so to speak, an image of the New Jerusalem
to come to understand how very old this existing version of it is.
Whatever else Marxism might be, it is at least a powerful instrument
of social analysis through which a way forward may be assessed.108
And, indeed, it is also as well a continuing critique of fatalism,
religious or secular, that continually opens up history as a space
of at least a relative human freedom. The actualization of hope

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198 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

is a collective endeavor, and thus, a conspiracy of hope is also

needed as a bulwark against despair, the continual temptation of
both religious and secular hoping. This is not to suggest, however,
that hope for Christianity and Marxism is or should be one and
the same thingif we are not willing to implode Christianity into
the Marxist movement, as iek sometimes seems willing to do,
we need to recognize, as Eagleton, that in as much as Christianity
by itself not necessarily is an emancipatory movement, Marxism
is not a theory of everything. The difference between a Marxist
and a Christian hope might be explained as the difference between
ieks account of the resurrection as an apocalyptic identification
of it with the community of the Holy Spirit and Eagletons more
eschatological reserve in equating historical emancipation with res-
urrection, as it, to him would mean, if true, also a victory over
death as such.

The (Re)turn to Theology Revisited

I shall now, finally, return to the question of historical, actual, and
structural reasons for the presence of theology in contemporary polit-
ical philosophy, especially Eagleton and iek. Might it be that I have
suggested, through these pages, too pious a reading of these two con-
temporary Marxists? Maybe theology is just a flourish, an ornament
on what essentially are two thoroughly secular accounts of politi-
cal philosophy? Or is it correct to suggest that both of them offer a
political philosophy that also, in some ways, could be understood as a
political theology? If the chapters of this book have not yet convinced
the reader of the legitimacy or fruitfulness of a theological reading
of Eagleton and iek, there is, perhaps, not much I can add to the
argument by now, but let me state once again what I have, hopefully,
achieved and what I do not claim to have achieved, so as to make the
general idea of my argument clearer.
That there are historical reasons for the presence of theology in the
political philosophies of Eagleton and iek is, perhaps, my least con-
troversial assertion, and one that I think would be hard to gainsay. This
means only that the way that political philosophy is conceived today
is unimaginable without the history that went before it, a history
in which Christian theology has played an important role in forg-
ing the concepts and arguments, the echo of which we still hear a
faint reverberation of today. Even this historical connection between
Marxism and theology may not be entirely trivial, however. To begin

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An Anatomy of Hope 199

with, to acknowledge such a historical connection, which I insist that

both Eagleton and iek do, is to recognize the presence of a his-
torical element in thinking, such that our continuing arguments and
images of political society are dependent, in some way, on their his-
tory. Said otherwise, the acknowledgment of the historical sources
of our political conceptuality and imagery might protect us from all
too nave ideas of politico-philosophical independence, which might
be of importance when engaging with politico-philosophical concep-
tions other than those of Western modernity. Further, for someone
who wishes to endorse or disclaim the theological element in political
philosophy, for various reasons, the presence of such an element is
not trivial.
My argument in this book has, of course, gone further than just
to state the historical dependence of Marxist thought on theology. I
have also tried to show the actual connections between theology and
Marxism in Eagleton and iek. An actual connection would mean
that their Marxist political philosophies could not work the way they
do without theology. This is a stronger claim and less trivial than just
suggesting a historical connection, but it is weaker than suggesting
that there would be a structural connection between Marxism and
theology. An actual presence could be motivated by convenience or
strategy or just for contingent reasons. So the question here, to distin-
guish between the two, would be, given the recognition of not only
the historical connection but also the actual presence of theology in
Eagletons and ieks arguments (which I believe I have shown suf-
ficiently above), if you could take away theology from their political
philosophies and that these still would remain more or less intact.
It seems like this is possible. Eagleton, to begin with, has hardly
suggested that theology is inevitable for establishing a political phi-
losophy such as Marxism. To be sure, he often refers to Aquinas in his
arguments, but more often than not, Aquinas is substituted or sup-
plemented by Aristotle and Marx, as examples of philosophers that
Eagleton thinks say much of the same thing as Aquinas. In his books
on Marx, further, there is little of explicit discussion of theology, even
in his book on Marx after his theological (re)turn, which seems to
imply that you can, if you wish, have the Marxism without the theol-
ogy, even if Eagleton himself rather seems to prefer to keep both. And
iek appears, all his theological imagery and examples besides, to
be a decidedly nontheological political thinker. His use of theology is
self-avowedly heterodox; when you look closer at it, his philosophy
is an update of especially Hegel and Schelling, read through Lacan

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200 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

(and vice versa), and understood as radically secular philosophers;

he regards the contemporary politically radical movements as succes-
sors of, not a continuation of, the Christian community, which means
that any religious movement is anachronistic and needs to sacrifice its
institutional husk to keep its emancipatory kernel for the wider cause.
After all, iek is an atheist, although a Protestant atheist. Maybe,
then, the connection between theology and Marxism in Eagleton and
iek is actual, but not structural?
I would suggest that it is not so. It is indeed true that, for Eagleton,
political philosophy is not dependent upon theology, except, in a
historical sense that, to be sure, needs to be acknowledged. But
the reason for the autonomy of political philosophy from theology
could be understood as a consequence of his Thomist theology as
well as an effect of the contingency of theology of his argument.
To Eagletons version of Thomist theology, creation has a relative
autonomy in relation to its creator, which means, among other
things, that whatever moral standards there are, those are evident
in creation as such, apart from its relation to God, from the mere
embodiment of creaturely life. It is up to humanity, then, to figure
out how best to live together, and this is why Aristotle or Marx or
any other thinker could well be as good a guide to human social-
ity as any theologian. What theology deals with, in the Thomistic
understanding, is the superabundance of life called grace, but as
grace is in continuity with nature rather than opposed to it, there
is no necessary competition between a theological and a non-, pre-,
or a-theological account of human living as such. Neighborly love is
to be found all over the world and in all manners of living together,
not only in the Jewish or Christian spheres of influence. Of course,
one could object that there still are a lot of theological traces in
Eagletons understanding of human pre-theological autonomy and
in his political philosophyin line with the argument that there is a
presence of some kind of theology in Western thought as such, given
that it is concerned with meaning, harmony, et cetera (Friedrich
Nietzsche here comes to mind). For instance, Eagletons under-
standing of nature and culture or of ideology seems to carry a
Thomistic trait. But this would be to dispute Eagletons thinking as
such, including his political philosophy, not just his use of theology.
In a Thomistic understanding, theology could illuminate the already
established philosophical interpretations without undermining their
philosophical autonomy, due to the created nature of all there is,

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An Anatomy of Hope 201

and this, I believe, is what is going on in Eagleton. I would suggest

therefore that in Eagletons own terms, theology has a continuing
and structural presence in his thought, but only to the extent that
allows for the relative autonomy of political reasoning.
Also with regard to iek, theology has a structural connection
with his variety of Marxism. It is of course true that this theology is
self-avowedly heterodox, but the question here is not whether he has
an orthodox theology or not. It becomes not less of a theologynor
more heterodox for that matterbecause iek himself says that he
is an atheist, as the status of theology qua theoretical undertaking is
not dependent upon the subjective attitude of its author. It is also true,
obviously, that ieks reading of Hegel, Schelling, and Lacan poses
them as secular thinkers, and that he thinks that religious communi-
ties have had their day. But at the same time, I believe that we should
regard it as authentic when iek keeps on insisting that the Christian
legacy is worth fighting for. As we have seen, he insists on Marxism
being the successor of Christianity and what, indeed, saves its essence.
What keeps ieks political philosophy structurally theological is, I
would suggest, his persistent assertion that to become a true dia-
lectical materialist, one should go through the Christian experience.
This actually makes the connection between theology and Marxism
more direct than for Eagleton, and this is also in line with ieks
Protestantism. For iek, namely, there is a need of a moment of put-
ting ones resolve on something externalfaithto go through the
experience of subjective destitution and return to oneself, although
as thoroughly other. Political naturalism is not enough, as there is no
road to emancipation except through (and not alongside) alienation;
as in the quote by Lacan that iek is so fond of: [T]ruth has the
structure of fiction. Without any form of externality, some objet petit
a, there is simply no trigger for the enthusiasm for a cause. I need not
remind the reader, perhaps, that the conceptuality of theology as such
is not what this all about, despite ieks insistence, as theology for
him is another way of talking about the death drive, and so we could
substitute it for the need of a political myth or some similar termi-
nology.109 After all, theology is just a term, and one that has been
dispensable even to some of the most prominent theologians in history.
Nevertheless, it is my contention that, for iek, the Christian story is
indispensable for his political philosophy and that his Protestant use
of theology makes this a more exclusivist or supersessionist indis-
pensability than Eagletons Thomistic distinction between the order of

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202 Theology and Marxism in Eagleton and iek

creation (politics) and the order of redemption (theology). For iek,

to paraphrase Cyprian of Carthages extra ecclesiam nulla salus, there
is no emancipation outside the revolutionary avant-garde.
Put differently, there is, although in diverse ways conditioned by
their confessional differences, a strong connection between theol-
ogy and Marxism in both Eagleton and iek. Do we find here, then,
a corroboration of the argument, put forward by Karl Lwith, Jacob
Taubes, and others, that Marxs notion of a proletarian revolution and
a classless society is a secularized version of a Judeo-Christian redemp-
tion; in Lwiths words, a pseudo-morphosis of Judeo-Christian
messianism?110 And Graham Ward, in a similar spirit, suggests that
Christian hoping is the paradigm for Western hoping, secularised
from the twilight of Christendom onwards, in various utopian and
socialist dreams.111 Such a thesis has been powerfully argued against
by, among others, Bernard Yack, who claims that Marxs ideas
about capitalism and communism, even the most visionary among
them, are quite intelligible without reference to religious visions of
redemption.112 This might still be true as regard of Marx himselfI
have not made any independent claims regarding how to interpret
his thoughtbut it is surely not correct to say the same about the
kind of Marxism that Eagleton or iek advocates. To Eagleton and
iek, Marxism is or should be a modulation of or a transformation
of Judeo-Christian theology in a revolutionary key and they both seem
eager, each in their own distinctive way, to embrace Lwiths thesis not
only as a historical but most importantly as a constructive thesis as
well. As already stated, Eagleton has a strong argument for the philo-
sophical similarity and compatibility between Thomistic Christianity
and Marxism, despite all their differences, and iek argues that his
own radical philosophy is the true heir of the Judeo-Christian legacy,
especially in its more apocalyptic versions.
The very first sentence of John Grays book Black Mass claims that
[m]odern politics is a chapter in the history of religion, and this
contention seems to be confirmed by Eagletons and ieks political
philosophies.113 Philosophy and theology were, at least up until mod-
ern times, not only or primarily about ideas but also about piety, that
is, about what to hope for and how to live in light of that hope. The
same goes for much of contemporary philosophy and theology, at least
for the varietiesincluding Eagletons and ieksthat contains the
goal of human emancipation, however that goal is conceived. The ulti-
mate reason, however, for theology being brought into play in their
respective political reasoning, I would suggest is as a way of denying

9780230340114_07_ch6.indd 202 3/1/2012 12:00:18 PM

An Anatomy of Hope 203

that the end of history has been reached in capitalist liberalism

and so to open up the possibility of historical change. In this case,
theology becomes a site of resistance, potentially both in a cultural
and social way, with the continuing existence of religious communi-
ties and institutions, but also as a theoretical resource, if God is not
objectified as an alien power that supposedly will fix all our problems
but the ultimate ground of human freedom as well as hope. It is as a
union for the end or purpose of human emancipation that theology
and Marxism have found each other, for instance, in the political
philosophies of Eagleton and iek. It is, in other words, a conspiracy
of hope.

9780230340114_07_ch6.indd 203 3/1/2012 12:00:18 PM

9780230340114_07_ch6.indd 204 3/1/2012 12:00:18 PM

1 Introduction
1. Gran Therborn, From Marxism to Post-Marxism? (London/New York:
Verso, 2008), 130.
2 . Ibid., 131.
3. Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free
Press, 1992).
4. Karl Lwith, Meaning in History: The Theological Implications of the
Philosophy of History (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1949), 46.
5. Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History, in Illuminations,
trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken Books,
1969), 253.
6. Carl Schmitt, Political Theology, trans. George Schwab (Cambridge/
London: The MIT Press, 1985), 36.
7. Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 2nd
ed. (London: Duckworth, 1985), 222.
8. Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction, 2nd ed. (Malden,
Mass./Oxford: Blackwells, 1996), 183. Cf. Eagleton, Criticism & Ideology:
A Study in Marxist Literary Theory, new ed. (London/New York: Verso,
2006), and Eagleton, How to Read a Poem (Malden, Mass.: Blackwells,
9. Eagleton, Literary Theory, 179.
10. Slavoj iek, Living in the End Times (London/New York: Verso, 2010),
11. Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, in Selected Works, eds. Karl Marx and
Frederick Engels (New York: International Publishers, 1974), 30.
12 . Cornel West, The Ethical Dimension of Marxist Thought (New York:
Monthly Review Press, 1995), 65.
13. Cf. Jonathan Lear, Freud (New York/London: Routledge, 2005), 188f.
14. iek, Living, xiv.
15. Sren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical
Crumbs, ed. and trans. Alastair Hannay (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge
University Press, 2009), 174.

9780230340114_08_not.indd 205 3/5/2012 7:18:30 PM

206 Notes

16. iek, Living, xiv, n. 9.

17. Cyril ORegan, iek and Milbank and the Hegelian Death of God, in
Modern Theology, 26:2 (2010), 278f.
18. Sarah Kay, iek: A Critical Introduction (Cambridge/Malden: Polity,
2003), 16.
19. Eagleton has not only written about, among others, William Shakespeare,
Samuel Richardson, and Emily Bront, but also a major study of the
English novel, comprising a number of authors from the literary canon. See,
above all, The English Novel: An Introduction (Malden, Mass./Oxford:
Blackwells, 2005).
20. See here, above all, Slavoj iek, The Indivisible Remainder: An Essay on
Schelling and Related Matters (London/New York: Verso, 1996), 189231;
iek, The Parallax View (Cambridge/London: The MIT Press, 2006),
21. Roland Boer, Criticism of Heaven: On Marxism and Theology (Chicago:
Haymarket Books, 2009), 275390; Clayton Crockett, Interstices of the
Sublime: Theology and Psychoanalytic Theory (New York: Fordham
University Press, 2007); Frederiek Depoortere, Christ in Postmodern
Philosophy: Gianni Vattimo, Ren Girard and Slavoj iek (London/New
York: T&T Clark, 2008), 92143; Adam Kotsko, iek and Theology
(London/New York: T&T Clark, 2008); John Milbank, Materialism and
Transcendence, in Theology and the Political: The New Debate, eds. Creston
Davis, John Milbank, and Slavoj iek (Durham/London: Duke University
Press, 2005), 393426; Milbank, The Double Glory, or Paradox versus
Dialectics: On Not Quite Agreeing with Slavoj iek, in The Monstrosity
of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic?, ed. Creston Davis (Cambridge/London:
The MIT Press, 2009), 110233; Marcus Pound, iek: A (Very) Critical
Introduction (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2008); see also Pound,
Theology, Psychoanalysis, Trauma (London: SCM, 2007); James Smith,
Terry Eagleton: A Critical Introduction (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2008),
931, 140167; Matthew Sharpe and Geoff Boucher, iek and Politics: A
Critical Introduction (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010), 205;
Jayne Svenungsson, Wrestling with Angels: Or How to Avoid Decisionist
Messianic Romances, in International Journal of iek Studies, 4:4
(2010), accessed March 30, 2011, URL:
22 . Terry Eagleton, The Gatekeeper: A Memoir (London: Penguin, 2003).
23. Terry Eagleton and Matthew Beaumont, The Task of the Critic: Terry
Eagleton in Dialogue (London/New York: Verso, 2009), 12.
24. Terry Eagleton, After Theory (London: Penguin, 2004), ix.
25. Private conversation with Denys Turner in Cambridge, March 12, 2003.
26. Smith, Eagleton, 30.
27. Eagleton and Beaumont, Task, 113.
28. Ibid., 187, 277.
29. Therborn, Marxism, 133; Eagleton and Beaumont, Task, 306.
30. Cf. Eagleton and Beaumont, Task, 16, 50.

9780230340114_08_not.indd 206 3/5/2012 7:18:30 PM

Notes 207

31. Terry Eagleton, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God
Debate (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), xif.
32 . Terry Eagleton, Holy Terror (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press,
2005), vi.
33. Terry Eagleton, Reason, xii. Cf. Eagleton, After Theory, 33.
34. Eagleton and Beaumont, Task, 86.
35. Ibid., 306f.
36. Eagleton, Holy Terror, 42.
37. Eagleton, Reason, xi.
38. Ibid.
39. Eagleton and Beaumont, Task, 233.
40. Terry Eagleton, Ideology: An Introduction, 2nd ed. (London/New York:
Verso, 2007), xiif.
41. Eagleton and Beaumont, Task, 270.
42 . Eagleton, Reason, 57.
43. Ibid., 7, 8.
44. Ibid., 169.
45. Eagleton, After Theory, 80.
46. Ibid.
47. Ibid., 81.
48. Ibid., 83.
49. Eagleton, Reason, 167.
50. Some biographical information can be gained from Slavoj iek and Glyn
Daly, Conversations with iek (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004), 2351.
51. For ieks most recent thoughts about democracy, see From Democracy
to Divine Violence, in Democracy in What State?, trans. William McCuaig
(New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), 100120.
52 . Ernesto Laclau, Structure, History, and the Political, in Contingency,
Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left, eds.
Judith Butler, Ernesto Laclau, and Slavoj iek (London/New York: Verso,
2000), 204.
53. See here Adam Kirsch, The Deadly Jester, The New Republic, December
2 (2008); Kirsch, Disputations: Still The Most Dangerous Philosopher In
The West: A Reply to Slavoj iek, The New Republic, January 7 (2009);
Alan Johnson, Ein bisschen Terror darf dabeisein: Zum Denken von Slavoj
iek, Merkur, no. 4 (2010): 299307. ieks answer to Kirschs first
article is published as Disputations: Who Are You Calling Anti-Semitic?,
The New Republic, January 7 (2009). It is not my intention of defending
iek in this book, but let me here only state that my own view is that some
of this critique seems to be misguided, as it does not try to understand, for
example, his pronouncements about violence against the background of his
philosophy. At the same time, some of ieks pronouncements are trou-
bling, to say the least.
54. Such a turn is suggested by Sharpe and Boucher, iek and Politics, 196.
55. iek and Daly, Conversations, 162. Cf. Slavoj iek, Violence: Six
Sideways Reflections (London: Profile Books, 2008), 112118.

9780230340114_08_not.indd 207 3/5/2012 7:18:30 PM

208 Notes

56. iek, Violence, 113.

57. Slavoj iek, The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity
(Cambridge/London: The MIT Press, 2003), 171.
58. Cf. G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers,
59. iek, Puppet, 6.
60. Slavoj iek, On Belief: Thinking in Action (London/New York: Routledge,
2001), 1.
61. iek, Living, x.
62 . iek, On Belief, 13.
63. Slavoj iek, Did Somebody Say Totalitiarianism? Five Interventions in
the (Mis)Use of a Notion (London/New York: Verso, 2001), 181f.
64. Marx, Feuerbach, 29.
65. Slavoj iek, The Fragile Absolute or, Why is the Christian Legacy Worth
Fighting For? (London/New York: Verso, 2000), 2.

2 Ideology as Idolatry or Vice Versa

1. Terry Eagleton, Ideology: An Introduction (London/New York: Verso,
1991), xiii.
2 . Denys Turner, Marxism and Christianity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1983), 112.
3. Turner, Marxism, 227.
4. Nicholas Lash, A Matter of Hope: A Theologians Reflections on the
Thought of Karl Marx (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press,
1982), 132.
5. Cf. Ernesto Laclau, On the Names of God, in Political Theologies: Public
Religions in a Post-Secular World, ed. Hent de Vries and Lawrence Sullivan
(New York: Fordham University Press, 2006).
6. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party,
in Selected Works, eds. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels (New York:
International Publishers, 1974), 38.
7. Eagleton, Ideology, 106.
8. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology: Parts I & III,
ed. R. Pascal (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1938), 14, 30. Cf. Karl
Marx, Critique of Hegels Philosophy of Right, ed. Joseph OMalley
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 131 and Theses on
Feuerbach, in Selected Works, eds. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels (New
York: International Publishers, 1974), 29.
9. Slavoj iek, The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity
(London: The MIT Press, 2003), 125.
10. Eagleton, Ideology, xii.
11. Ibid., 1017.
12 . Ibid., xiv.
13. Terry Eagleton, Ideology: An Introduction, 2nd ed. (London/New York:
Verso, 2007), xi.

9780230340114_08_not.indd 208 3/5/2012 7:18:30 PM

Notes 209

14. Ibid., xxi.

15. Ibid., xxiii.
16. Ibid.
17. Ibid., 64.
18. Ibid., 8f.
19. Ibid., 10.
20. Terry Eagleton, The Body as Language: Outline of a New Left Theology
(London/Sydney: Sheed and Ward, 1970); Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right
(New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 2011), 128159.
21. Richard J. Bernstein, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science,
Hermeneutics, and Praxis (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,
22 . Terry Eagleton, After Theory (London: Penguin, 2004), 55.
23. Ibid., 57.
24. Bernstein, Beyond, 18, cf. 1625.
25. Eagleton, After Theory, 60.
26. Ibid., 59.
27. Terry Eagleton, The Idea of Culture (Oxford/Malden, Mass.: Blackwells,
2000), 6.
28. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Vol. 1, trans. Fathers of the English
Dominican Province (Allen: Christian Classics, 1981), I. 1.8.
29. Eagleton, Culture, 5.
30. Ibid., 2.
31. Terry Eagleton, The Illusion of Postmodernism (Malden, Mass./Oxford:
Blackwells, 1996), vii.
32 . Eagleton, After Theory, 109.
33. Ibid., 109.
34. Ibid., 120.
35. Ibid., 122.
36. Ibid., 155, 166.
37. Cf. Eagleton, Postmodernism, 89.
38. Ibid., 6992.
39. Eagleton, After Theory, 163; Eagleton, Culture, 87.
40. Eagleton, After Theory, 193.
41. Ibid., 159.
42 . Ibid., 136.
43. Ibid., 160.
44. Eagleton, Ideology, 2nd ed., 5658.
45. Compare After Theory, 32, where Eagleton writes that [o]ne of the fin-
est books ever written on the body, The Phenomenology of Perception,
was the work of the French leftist Maurice Merleau-Ponty. But that is
about it.
46. Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Oxford/Cambridge, Mass.:
Blackwell, 1990), 7f.
47. Eagleton, After Theory, 164.
48. Ibid., 118.

9780230340114_08_not.indd 209 3/5/2012 7:18:31 PM

210 Notes

49. Ibid., 165.

50. Ibid., 190.
51. Cf., for example, Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, The New Spirit of
Capitalism, trans. Gregory Elliot (London/New York: Verso, 2005).
52 . Eagleton, Ideology, 2nd ed., 207.
53. Ibid., 13.
54. Ibid., 21.
55. Ibid., 27f.
56. Charles Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries (Durham/London: Duke
University Press, 2004), 2330.
57. Eagleton, Ideology, 2nd ed., 37.
58. Terry Eagleton, Football: A Dear Friend to Capitalism, The Guardian,
June 15 (2010). Cf. Eagleton, The Meaning of Life (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2007), 47: It is sport, not religion, which is now the
opium of the masses.
59. Eagleton, Ideology, 2nd ed., 42.
60. Ibid., 88.
61. Ibid., 101.
62 . Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall
(Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: University of California Press, 1984),
63. Eagleton, Ideology, 2nd ed., 194.
64. Ibid., 144153.
65. Ibid., 147.
66. Ibid., 176f.
67. Ibid., 149.
68. Ibid., xix.
69. Slavoj iek, Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through
Popular Culture (Cambridge/London: The MIT Press, 1991), 3.
70. Ibid., 11. The original partly in italics.
71. iek, Puppet, 145147.
72 . Slavoj iek, The Spectre of Ideology, in Mapping Ideology, ed. Slavoj
iek (London/New York: Verso, 1994), 6.
73. Ibid., 8.
74. Ibid., 10.
75. Jacques Lacan, crits, trans. Bruce Fink (New York/London: W. W. Norton,
2006), 436.
76. Louis Althusser, Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, in Lenin
and Philosophy and Other Essays (New York/London: Monthly Review
Press, 1971), 127186.
77. Blaise Pascal, Penses (Paris: Gallimard, 1954), 469f.
78. iek, The Spectre of Ideology, 15.
79. Slavoj iek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London/New York: Verso,
1989), 31.
80. Ibid., 34.
81. Ibid., 36.
82 . Ibid., 43.

9780230340114_08_not.indd 210 3/5/2012 7:18:31 PM

Notes 211

83. Slavoj iek, The Parallax View (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006),
84. iek, Sublime, 166.
85. Ibid., 118.
86. Ibid., 45.
87. Slavoj iek, For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political
Factor, 2nd ed. (London/New York: Verso, 2002), 108f.
88. iek, The Spectre of Ideology, 17. The original partly in italics.
89. Ibid., 21.
90. The example of the doughnut is borrowed from Sarah Kay, iek: A Critical
Introduction (Cambridge/Malden: Polity, 2003), 4.
91. iek, The Spectre of Ideology, 21. Original in italics.
92 . Slavoj iek, The Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Woman and
Causality (London/New York: Verso, 1994), 156; iek, For They, 100.
93. iek, Sublime, 153155; iek, For They, 125.
94. iek, The Spectre of Ideology, 23.
95. Slavoj iek, The Plague of Fantasies (London/New York: Verso, 1997),
96. iek, Sublime, 5.
97. Ibid., 21.
98. Ibid., 21f.
99. iek, For They, 168f.
100. iek, Sublime, 65.
101. Ibid., 78.
102 . Ibid., 118.
103. Ibid., 195.
104. Slavoj iek, The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology
(London/New York: Verso, 2000), 157, 292f.; iek, Sublime, 181.
105. iek, Ticklish, 153.
106. iek, For They, xii.
107. Ibid., xvii.
108. Ibid., lxxxvi.
109. Slavoj iek, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (London/Brooklyn: Verso,
2009), 17.
110. Ibid., 91.
111. Ibid., 92.
112 . Ibid., 129.
113. Terry Eagleton, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God
Debate (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 2009), 169.
114. Eagleton, Ideology, 2nd ed., xii.

3 The Need for Faith

1. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, trans. Fathers of the English
Dominican Province (Allen: Christian Classics, 1981), II-II. 2.2.

9780230340114_08_not.indd 211 3/5/2012 7:18:31 PM

212 Notes

2 . Martin Luther, The Large Catechism, in The Book of Concord,

eds. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis: Fortress Press,
2000), 386.
3. Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans, Luthers Works, Vol. 25, ed. Hilton
C. Oswald (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1972), 291 (WA
4. Cf. Philip Goodchild, Theology of Money (London: SCM, 2007). This was,
of course, already realized by Karl Marx in his (in)famous On the Jewish
Question, in Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society,
trans. and eds. Lloyd D. Easton and Kurt H. Guddat (New York: Anchor
Books, 1967), 243f.
5. Luther, Romans, 292 (WA 56: 306).
6. Terry Eagleton, After Theory (London: Penguin, 2004), 177.
7. Ibid., 175.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid., 195; Terry Eagleton, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on
the God Debate (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 8.
11. Terry Eagleton, Holy Terror (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press,
2005), 33.
12 . Terry Eagleton, The Body as Language: Outline of a New Left Theology
(London/Sydney: Sheed and Ward, 1970), 67.
13. Eagleton, Reason, 23.
14. Ibid., 27.
15. Eagleton, Body, 23.
16. Ibid., 52.
17. Terry Eagleton, Introduction in Jesus Christ: The Gospels, ed. Giles
Fraser (London/New York: Verso, 2007), xxviii.
18. Eagleton, Holy Terror, 101.
19. Stephen Mulhall, Philosophical Myths of the Fall (Princeton/Oxford:
Princeton University Press, 2005), 6.
20. Cf. Stephen Crites, Dialectic and Gospel in the Development of Hegels
Thinking (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998),
21. Cf. Jean Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, The Library of
Christian Classics, Vol. XX, ed. John T. McNeill (Louisville/London
/Leiden: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), book 1, ch. 15 and book 2,
ch. 13, and Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 15, Luthers
Works, Vol. 1, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing
House, 1958), 6164 (I:26).
22 . Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, eds. H. R. Mackintosh and
J. S. Stewart (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1976), 89, 72.
23. Terry Eagleton, Trouble with Strangers: A Study of Ethics (Chichester:
Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 150.
24. Cf. Augustine, The City of God against the Pagans, trans. R. W. Dyson
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), book xiv. For a fuller

9780230340114_08_not.indd 212 3/5/2012 7:18:31 PM

Notes 213

account of Augustines understanding of original sin, which my summary

draws upon, see Matt Jenson, The Gravity of Sin: Augustine, Luther and
Barth on homo incurvatus in se (London/New York: T&T Clark, 2006),
25. Eagleton, After Theory, 197.
26. Ibid., 197.
27. Terry Eagleton, Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic (Malden, Mass.
/Oxford: Blackwells, 2003), 256.
28. Jean-Luc Nancy, Introduction, in Who Comes after the Subject?,
eds. Eduardo Cadava, Peter Connor, and Jean-Luc Nancy (New York
/London, 1991), 4.
29. Eagleton, Holy Terror, 29.
30. Eagleton, Sweet Violence, 288.
31. Herbert McCabe, Law, Love & Language (London/New York: Continuum
Books, 2009).
32 . Eagleton, Sweet Violence, 29.
33. However, Eagleton also accuses Pharisees of every age to believe that
God is indeed a terrorist interested in a sedulous observance of vari-
ous esoteric rites (Eagleton, Sweet Violence, 41, cf. 33). This is, indeed,
a misunderstanding of traditional Phariseeism that unfortunately has
been transmitted by Christian anti-Semitism, and Eagleton explicitly says
so himself in his introduction to the Verso edition of the four Gospels
(Introduction, viii).
34. Eagleton, Holy Terror, 38.
35. Eagleton, Trouble, 240.
36. Ibid., 239, 240.
37. Ibid., 255f.
38. Ibid., 247.
39. Ibid., 287, 293, 300.
40. Eagleton, Sweet Violence, 279.
41. Ren Girard together with Jean-Michel Oughourlian and Guy Lefort,
Des choses caches depuis la fondation du monde (Paris: Grasset, 1978),
165246, 415453.
42 . Eagleton, Holy Terror, 40.
43. Ibid., 40.
44. Ibid., 44.
45. Ibid., 71, 40.
46. Eagleton, Sweet Violence, 283, cf. 37.
47. Eagleton, Introduction, xxvii.
48. Eagleton, Sweet Violence, 57.
49. Ibid., 58.
50. Eagleton, Trouble, 287f.
51. Eagleton, Sweet Violence, 35.
52 . Eagleton, Holy Terror, 128.
53. Ibid., 99.
54. Ibid., 129.

9780230340114_08_not.indd 213 3/5/2012 7:18:31 PM

214 Notes

55. Eagleton, Introduction, xxiii.

56. Eagleton, Holy Terror, 134.
57. Eagleton, Sweet Violence, 276.
58. Eagleton, Reason, 19. Cf. Eagleton, Introduction, xvi, xx.
59. Eagleton, Sweet Violence, 40.
60. Jonathan Lear, Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation
(Cambridge, Mass./London: Harvard University Press, 2006), 113117.
61. Eagleton, Trouble, 253.
62 . Terry Eagleton, The Illusion of Postmodernism (Malden, Mass./Oxford:
Blackwells, 1996), 71.
63. Eagleton, After Theory, 203.
64. Ibid., 207.
65. Ibid., 213215; Eagleton, Holy Terror, 12, 26.
66. Ibid., 119.
67. Eagleton, Reason, 37.
68. Karl Marx, Critique of Hegels Philosophy of Right, ed. Joseph OMalley
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 131; Eagleton, Reason,
41. But, to Marx, religion is still the opium of the people, as the quote
69. Ibid., 50.
70. Ibid., 109.
71. Ibid., 119.
72 . Ibid., 121.
73. Eagleton, After Theory, 55.
74. Eagleton, Trouble, 248.
75. Eagleton, Reason, 148.
76. Ibid., 137.
77. Eagleton, Trouble, 324.
78. Ibid., 300.
79. See Slavoj iek, Dialectical Clarity versus the Misty Conceit of
Paradox, in The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic , ed.
Creston Davis (Cambridge/London: The MIT Press, 2009), 278, and
A Meditation on Michelangelos Christ on the Cross, in Pauls New
Moment: Continental Philosophy and the Future of Christian Theology,
eds. John Milbank, Slavoj iek, and Creston Davis (Grand Rapids:
Brazos Press, 2010), 171f.
80. Slavoj iek, The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity
(Cambridge/London: The MIT Press, 2003), 170.
81. Slavoj iek, The Fragile Absolute or, Why is the Christian Legacy Worth
Fighting For? (London/New York: Verso, 2000), 1.
82 . iek, Puppet, 6.
83. According to Adam Kotsko, iek and Theology (London/New York:
T&T Clark, 2008), 77100, iek progressively nuances his view on the
relationship between Judaism and Christianity in The Ticklish Subject: The
Absent Centre of Political Ontology (London/New York: Verso, 2000),
The Fragile Absolute, On Belief, and The Puppet and the Dwarf. The dif-
ference between Badious reading of Paul and Lacan is captured nicely by

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Notes 215

Kotsko on p. 81: [I]n sharp contrast with Badiou the theologian of glory,
Lacan is a good Lutheran theologian of the cross.
84. Slavoj iek, The Fear of Four Words: A Modest Plea for the Hegelian
Reading of Christianity, in The Monstrosity of Christ, ed. Creston
Davis, 25f.
85. Cf. iek, Dialectical Clarity, 24ff., and Thinking Backward:
Predestination and Apocalypse, in Pauls New Moment: Continental
Philosophy and the Future of Christian Theology, eds. John Milbank,
Slavoj iek, and Creston Davis (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2010),
86. iek, Fragile, 118f.
87. Ibid., 119.
88. Slavoj iek, On Belief: Thinking in Action (London/New York: Routledge,
2001), 146.
89. iek, Puppet, 86.
90. iek, On Belief, 148.
91. Ibid., 13. Cf. iek, Puppet, 1333.
92 . For some comments on Islam, see Slavoj iek, In Defense of Lost Causes
(London/New York: Verso, 2008), 114f.
93. Cf. Richard J. Bernstein, Freud and the Legacy of Moses, Cambridge Studies
in Religion and Critical Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1998), 3135.
94. iek, On Belief, 89.
95. Ibid., 130.
96. Ibid.
97. Ibid., 47.
98. iek, Lost Causes, 6.
99. Cf., for example, Slavoj iek, The Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays
on Woman and Causality (London/New York: Verso, 1994), 146.
100. iek, Lost Causes, 111; iek, Fragile, 95f.
101. Slavoj iek, For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political
Factor, 2nd ed. (London/New York: Verso, 2002), lv.
102 . iek, Fragile, 97.
103. Ibid., 99.
104. Ibid., 99.
105. iek, Enjoyment, 147.
106. iek, Fragile, 97f. Cf. Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism, trans.
Katherine Jones (London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute for
Psychoanalysis, 1939). For an argument that this work is really central to
iek, see Eric L. Santner, Freud, iek, and the Joys of Monotheism, in
American Imago, 54:2 (1997), 197207.
107. Cf. Santner, Freud, iek, 200. Cf. also Eric L. Santner, Freuds Moses
and the Ethics of Nomothropic Desire, October, 88 (1999), 17.
108. iek, On Belief, 127.
109. Ibid., 89.
110. Ibid., 90.
111. Ibid.

9780230340114_08_not.indd 215 3/5/2012 7:18:32 PM

216 Notes

112 . iek, Puppet, 81; cf. Jean-Luc Marion, Idol and Icon, in God with-
out Being, trans. Thomas A. Carlson (Chicago/London: The University of
Chicago Press, 1991), 724.
113. Cf., for example, Slavoj iek, Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel,
and the Critique of Ideology (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993),
114. Ibid., 51.
115. Slavoj iek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London/New York: Verso,
1989), 205207.
116. iek, On Belief, 129.
117. iek, Puppet, 81.
118. iek, The Fear of Four Words, 5761.
119. Ibid., 58.
120. iek, On Belief, 98.
121. Ibid., 104.
122 . Ibid., 105.
123. See, for instance, Slavoj iek, Violence: Six Sideways Reflections (London:
Profile Books, 2008), 162.
124. iek, Puppet, 95.
125. iek, Fragile, 97f.
126. iek, On Belief, 131.
127. iek, Fragile, 96; ieks agreement with Eagleton can be found in
Dialectical Clarity, 246.
128. iek, Sublime, 7984.
129. For Jacques Lacans interpretation of Paul, see The Ethics of Psychoanalysis
19591960: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, book vii, ed. Jacques-Alain
Miller (New York: Norton, 1997), as well as his discussions of love in
Lacan, On Feminine Sexuality: The Limits of Love and Knowledge,
The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, book xx, trans. Bruce Fink (New York
/London: W. W. Norton, 1999), and for ieks version of this, see Ticklish,
130. For a discussion of the interpretation of the Jewish Law in terms of Christian
theology in iek, see my article Reading iek Reading Paul: Pauline
Interventions in Radical Philosophy, in Reading Romans with Contemporary
Philosophers and Theologians, ed. David W. Odell-Scott, Romans through
History and Cultures Series, Vol. 6 (London: T&T Clark, 2007), 213246.
For a more general discussion of the same thing, see Krister Stendahl, Paul
Among Jews and Gentiles and Other Essays (London: SCM, 1977).
131. iek also sides with Badious interpretation of Paul against Agamben, in
that he understands Agamben to reduce faith to a negative suspension of
the Law, whereas Badiou, more positively, advocates love as the beyond of
Law. See Puppet, 107113. His positive reference to the Jewish philoso-
pher Jacob Taubess book on the political Paulwhich inspired Agambens
reading of Paulnow seem to be all but forgotten.
132 . Slavoj iek, Fragile, 100. Cf. Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian,
in Career of the Reformer: I, Luthers Works, Vol. 31, ed. Harold J. Grimm

9780230340114_08_not.indd 216 3/5/2012 7:18:32 PM

Notes 217

(Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1957), 327377. iek strengthens his

Lutheran credentials through invoking the neo-Lutheran biblical scholar
Rudolf Bultmann in Puppet, 118.
133. iek, Fragile, 112.
134. iek, Puppet, 113, 127.
135. Slavoj iek, Neighbors and Other Monsters: A Plea for Ethical Violence,
in The Neighbor: Three Inquires in Political Theology, eds. Slavoj iek,
Eric L. Santner, and Kenneth Reinhard (Chicago/London: The University
of Chicago Press, 2005), 151157.
136. Cf. ibid., 121.
137. iek, Fragile, 125.
138. Ibid., 146.
139. Ibid., 147.
140. iek, Puppet, 8688.
141. In The Ticklish Subject, published 1999, just a year before The Fragile
Absolute, iek sounds more like a supersessionist, claiming on page 151
that if Judaism introduces one split in the subject, that between the subject
of the Law and the unconscious desire to transgress the Law, Christianity
introduces another one, a split between the domain of Law and desire and
the domain of love.
142 . iek, Neighbors, 151.
143. iek, Puppet, 10.
144. Ibid., 117.
145. Ibid., 119f.
146. iek, Neighbors, 190.
147. iek, The Fear of Four Words, 2833.
148. iek, Dialectical Clarity, 249, 263.
149. iek, The Fear of Four Words, 96, 101.
150. Slavoj iek, The Parallax View (Cambridge/London: The MIT Press,
2006), 97.
151. iek, On Belief, 91.
152 . iek, Puppet, 101.
153. Ibid., 86f.
154. iek, Fragile, 160.
155. See Rowan Williams, Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel
(Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing, 1994).
156. G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1977), 475.
157. In The Ticklish Subject, 153f., iek, in effect, denies this connection,
suggesting that Lacan implicitly changes the balance between Death and
Resurrection in favour of Death. What I suggest here, nevertheless, is that
iek himself, at least after this book from 1999 at least implicitly, has put
more emphasis on resurrection (without denying death) in an attempt to
avoid political quietism.
158. Slavoj iek, Living in the End Times (London/New York: Verso, 2010),

9780230340114_08_not.indd 217 3/5/2012 7:18:32 PM

218 Notes

159. iek, Dialectical Clarity, 287.

160. iek, Violence, 31.
161. Ibid., 70
162 . iek, On Belief, 148.
163. It should be noted that iek, as far as I can see, does not himself use the
imagery of exorcism, but nevertheless comes fairly close.
164. iek, On Belief, 109.
165. iek, Lost Causes, 32.
166. Jacques Lacan, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, The Seminar of Jacques
Lacan, book xvii, trans. Russell Grigg (New York/London: W. W. Norton,
167. iek, Parallax, 298.
168. Ibid., 306.
169. It is also the title of Agambens commentary on Pauls letter to the Romans,
The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans,
trans. Patricia Daley (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), which
iek is acquainted with, although he does not refer to it in this context.
170. iek, Parallax, 305f.
171. Jonathan Lear, Freud (New York/London: Routledge, 2005), 221.
172 . Cf. Graham Ward, Transcendence and Representation, in Transcendence:
Philosophy, Literature, and Theology Approach the beyond, ed. Regina
Schwartz (New York/London: Routledge, 2004), 142.
173. iek, Violence, 73.
174. iek, On Belief, 151.
175. iek, A Modest Plea, 101.
176. iek, On Belief, 86.
177. iek, Afterword, 216.
178. iek, Dialectic Clarity, 236.
179. iek, The Fear of Four Words, 101.
180. Some helpful directions on how to read iek is found in his own
Preface: Hegels Century, as well as Clayton Crockett and Creston
Davis, Introduction: Reading Hegel: A New Reading for the Twenty-First
Century, both in Hegel & the Infinite: Religion, Politics, and Dialectic,
eds. Slavoj iek, Clayton Crockett, and Creston Davis (New York:
Columbia University Press, 2011), ixxi, 116.
181. See here Slavoj iek, Hegel and Shitting: The Ideas Constipation, in
Hegel & the Infinite, 221232.
182 . Crites, Dialectic, 504.
183. Ibid., 245.
184. Cf. Martin J. De Nys, Hegel and Theology (London/New York: T&T
Clark, 2009), 7981.
185. Cf. Bernstein, Freud, 63f.
186. Cf. Paul Ricoeur, Interpretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus of
Meaning (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1976), 4569.
187. Yirmiyahu Yovel, Dark Riddle: Hegel, Nietzsche, and the Jews (University
Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998), 55.

9780230340114_08_not.indd 218 3/5/2012 7:18:32 PM

Notes 219

188. iek, Puppet, 171.

189. Most distinctly in Slavoj iek, Ein Pldoyer fr die Intoleranz, 3rd ed.
(Wien: Passagen Verlag, 2003).
190. Eagleton, Reason, 3.

4 God, Evil, and Freedom

1. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston/New York: Houghton
Mifflin Company, 2006), 36.
2 . Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Vol. 1, trans. Fathers of the
English Dominican Province (Allen: Christian Classics, 1981), I. 3.4 and
I. 44.1.
3. See Fergus Kerr, After Aquinas: Versions of Thomism (Malden, Mass.
/Oxford: Blackwells, 2002).
4. Fergus Kerr calls him in his Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians
(Malden, Mass./Oxford: Blackwells, 2008), 211, one of the finest recent
Catholic theologians.
5. Herbert McCabe, God and Evil in the Theology of St Thomas Aquinas,
ed. Brian Davies (London/New York: Continuum, 2010).
6. Anthony Kenny, Foreword, in On Aquinas, ed. Herbert McCabe
(London/New York: Continuum, 2008), viif.
7. Cf. Kerr, After Aquinas, 2130.
8. Cf., for instance, Herbert McCabe, A Sermon for St Thomas, God
Matters (London/New York: Continuum, 2005), 235237.
9. McCabe, On Aquinas, 4.
10. Herbert McCabe, God Still Matters, ed. Brian Davies (London/New York:
Continuum, 2002), 6, 180.
11. McCabe, God Matters, 7.
12 . Ibid., 8.
13. McCabe, God Still Matters, 11.
14. McCabe, God and Evil, 102.
15. McCabe, God Still Matters, 56.
16. Ibid., 55; McCabe, God and Evil, 128.
17. McCabe, God Matters, 40.
18. Herbert McCabe, Analogy, in Summa Theologiae, Vol. 3, ed, Thomas
Aquinas (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1964), appendix 4.
19. McCabe, God Still Matters, 3.
20. For a recent account of Aquinas that amounts to a critical modification of
such a Thomism, see Rudi te Velde, Aquinas on God: The Divine Science
of the Summa Theologiae, Ashgate Studies in the History of Philosophical
Theology (Aldershot/Burlington: Ashgate, 2006), 95ff.
21. Terry Eagleton, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God
Debate (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 2009), 33.
22 . Ibid., 6; Eagleton here quotes Herbert McCabe, Faith within Reason
(London: Continuum, 2007), 76.

9780230340114_08_not.indd 219 3/5/2012 7:18:33 PM

220 Notes

23. Eagleton, Reason, 6.

24. Ibid., 7.
25. Ibid., 7.
26. Terry Eagleton, Trouble with Strangers: A Study of Ethics (Chichester:
Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 81.
27. Eagleton, Reason, 8.
28. Ibid., 8.
29. Ibid., 8f.
30. Ibid., 9.
31. Ibid., 10.
32 . Ibid., 8.
33. Ibid.
34. Eagleton, Trouble, 116; Eagleton, Reason, 15.
35. Eagleton, Trouble, 115.
36. Ibid., 81.
37. Terry Eagleton, Holy Terror (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press,
2005), 69.
38. McCabe, God Matters, 15.
39. Ibid., 13.
40. Eagleton, Reason, 17.
41. McCabe, God Matters, 15.
42 . Ibid., 15.
43. Eagleton, Holy Terror, 69.
44. Eagleton, Reason, 16.
45. Terry Eagleton, The Meaning of Life (Oxford/New York: Oxford University
Press, 2007), 171.
46. Eagleton, Holy Terror, 80.
47. G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1977), 355363; Eagleton, Holy Terror, 7188.
48. Hegel, Phenomenology, 362.
49. Ibid., 359, 360.
50. Eagleton, Holy Terror, 72.
51. Ibid., 75.
52 . Ibid., 78f.
53. John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 2nd ed. (London: John W. Parker and Son,
1859), 27.
54. Eagleton, Holy Terror, 79.
55. Ibid., 80.
56. Ibid., 83.
57. Ibid., 86.
58. Ibid., 83.
59. Ibid., 87.
60. McCabe, God Still Matters, 6; Eagleton, Trouble, 184.
61. Eagleton, Reason, 169.
62 . For an overview, see especially Richard J. Bernstein, Radical Evil: A
Philosophical Interrogation (Cambridge: Polity, 2002); Adam Morton, On

9780230340114_08_not.indd 220 3/5/2012 7:18:33 PM

Notes 221

Evil (London/New York: Routledge, 2004); Charles T. Mathewes, Evil

and the Augustinian Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
63. Terry Eagleton, On Evil (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 8.
64. Eagleton, On Evil, 17f.
65. Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason and Other
Writings, eds. Allen Wood and George di Giovanni (Cambridge/New York:
Cambridge University Press, 2003), 4573.
66. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I. 6.4.
67. John Milton, Paradise Lost, ed. Christopher Ricks (London: Penguin,
1989), 81.
68. Eagleton, Trouble, 283.
69. Ibid., 282.
70. Eagleton, On Evil, 1214.
71. Ibid., 125.
72 . Ibid., 12, 16.
73. Ibid., 49.
74. Ibid., 22.
75. Patrick Kavanagh, A View of God and the Devil, The Complete Poems,
ed. Peter Kavanagh (Newbridge: Goldsmith Press, 1984), 208f.
76. Eagleton, On Evil, 60f.
77. Ibid., 61, cf. 62.
78. Kavanagh, A View, 208f.
79. Eagleton, On Evil, 31, 33.
80. Ibid., 75.
81. For a critical account of the Freudian death drive, see Jonathan Lear,
Happiness, Death, and the Remainder of Life (Cambridge, Mass./London:
Harvard University Press, 2000), 61105.
82 . Eagleton, On Evil, 100.
83. Ibid., 109.
84. Ibid., 113.
85. Ibid., 114.
86. Ibid., 127.
87. Terry Eagleton, Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic (Malden, Mass.
/Oxford: Blackwells, 2003), 133; cf. Eagleton, Trouble, 286, and On Evil,
88. On traditional theology and evil, see Terry Eagleton, Foreword in God
and Evil, ed. Herbert McCabe, viixi, and Kenneth Surin, Theology and
the Problem of Evil (Oxford: Blackwells, 1986).
89. Eagleton, On Evil, 149.
90. Slavoj iek, Preface: Burning the Bridges, in The iek Reader,
eds. Elizabeth Wright and Edmond Wright (Malden/Oxford: Blackwells,
1999), ix.
91. F. W. J. Schelling, Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human
Freedom, trans. Jeff Love and Johannes Schmidt (Albany: State University
of New York Press, 2006), 23.

9780230340114_08_not.indd 221 3/5/2012 7:18:33 PM

222 Notes

92 . Slavoj iek and F. W. J. Schelling, The Abyss of Freedom/Ages of the

World, trans. Judith Norman (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press,
93. Wolfram Hogrebe, Prdikation und Genesis: Metaphysik als
Fundamentalheuristik im Ausgang von Schellings Die Weltalter
(Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1989), 33.
94. Slavoj iek, The Indivisible Remainder: An Essay on Schelling and
Related Matters (London/New York: Verso, 1996), 4f.
95. Ibid., 9.
96. The quote by Lacan could be found in Jacques Lacan, The Ethics of
Psychoanalysis 19591960: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, book vii,
ed. Jacques-Alain Miller (New York: Norton, 1997), 12. ieks use of it
is ubiquitous, often without referring to its source, but see, for instance,
Slavoj iek, The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology
(London/New York: Verso, 1999), 167.
97. Schelling, Freedom, 28.
98. Ibid., 27.
99. Schelling, Ages, 176.
100. iek, Indivisible Remainder, 13.
101. Schelling, Freedom, 23f.
102 . Martin Heidegger, Schellings Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom,
trans. Joan Stambaugh (Athens/London: Ohio University Press, 1985), 177.
103. Kant, Religion, 54.
104. Ibid., 54; Bernstein, Radical Evil, 18.
105. iek, Indivisible Remainder, 63.
106. Ibid., 64.
107. Ibid., 105. Original in italics.
108. Ibid., 103.
109. Slavoj iek, Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel, and the Critique
of Ideology (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993), 97; cf., more fully,
110. Slavoj iek, The Abyss of Freedom, in The Abyss of Freedom/Ages
of the World, trans. Judith Norman (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan
Press, 1997), 7.
111. iek, Indivisible Remainder, 92.
112 . Slavoj iek, The Fragile Absolute or, Why Is the Christian Legacy Worth
Fighting For? (London/New York: Verso, 2000), 158.
113. Slavoj iek, Fichtes Laughter, in Mythology, Madness and Laughter:
Subjectivity in German Idealism, eds. Markus Gabriel and Slavoj iek
(London/New York: Continuum, 2009), 162.
114. iek, The Abyss of Freedom, 810.
115. Ibid., 12.
116. Cf. Slavoj iek, The Parallax View (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006),
117. Slavoj iek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London/New York: Verso,
1989), 166.

9780230340114_08_not.indd 222 3/5/2012 7:18:33 PM

Notes 223

118. Slavoj iek, On Belief: Thinking in Action (London/New York: Routledge,

2001), 121f.
119. Slavoj iek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real: Five Essays on September
11 and Related Dates (London/New York: Verso 2002), 96f.
120. iek, Indivisible Remainder, 31.
121. Ibid., 70.
122 . Terry Eagleton, Figures of Dissent: Critical Essays on Fish, Spivak, iek
and Others (London: Verso, 2003), 198.
123. Slavoj iek, A Meditation on Michelangelos Christ on the Cross, in
Pauls New Moment: Continental Philosophy and the Future of Christian
Theology, eds. John Milbank, Slavoj iek, and Creston Davis (Grand
Rapids: Brazos Press, 2010), 180.
124. iek, Tarrying, 33.
125. iek, Fichtes Laughter, 162.
126. Eric L. Santner, On the Psychotheology of Everyday Life: Reflections on
Freud and Rosenzweig (Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press,
2001), 9.
127. iek, Indivisible Remainder, 62.
128. iek, The Fear of Four Words, 82.
129. iek, Indivisible Remainder, 231.
130. iek, The Fear of Four Words, 57f.
131. Ibid., 59.
132 . Slavoj iek, Dialectical Clarity versus the Misty Conceit of Paradox,
in The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic, ed. Creston Davis
(Cambridge/London: The MIT Press, 2009), 253.
133. Julia Kristeva, Ratio Diligendi, or the Triumph of Ones Own, in Tales
of Love, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press,
1987), 183.
134. Erin Felicia Labbie, Lacans Medievalism (Minneapolis/London: University
of Minnesota Press, 2006), 18. ieks discussion of absent causality
is found in The Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Woman and
Causality (London/New York: Verso, 1994), 2933.
135. Cf. my book Det postsekulra tillstndet: Religion, modernitet, politik
(Gteborg: Glnta, 2009), 139143. For ieks account, see, for instance,
For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor, 2nd
ed. (London/New York: Verso, 2002), 261.
136. See here Marcus Pound, iek: A (Very) Critical Introduction (Grand
Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2008), 8591.
137. Charles Taylor, Hegel (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press,
1975), 17f.
138. See, for instance, Terry Eagleton, Marx and Freedom (London: Phoenix,
1997), 18f., 27.
139. Eberhard Jngel, God as the Mystery of the World: On the Foundation
of the Theology of the Crucified One in the Dispute between Theism and
Atheism, trans. Darrell L. Guder (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 32.
140. iek, Dialectical Clarity, 244.

9780230340114_08_not.indd 223 3/5/2012 7:18:33 PM

224 Notes

5 An Arrested Dialogue:
Eagleton and iek
1. Slavoj iek, Dialectical Clarity versus the Misty Conceit of Paradox,
in The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic, ed. Creston Davis
(Cambridge/London: The MIT Press, 2009), 235.
2 . Terry Eagleton, Trouble with Strangers: A Study of Ethics (Malden, Mass./
Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), vi.
3. Ibid., 139.
4. Ibid., 141.
5. Ibid., 142144.
6. Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick, Oxford Worlds Classics
(Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 3.6.
7. Eagleton, Trouble, 310; cf. Slavoj iek, Neighbors and Other Monsters:
A Plea for Ethical Violence, in The Neighbor: Three Inquires in Political
Theology, eds. Slavoj iek, Eric L. Santner, and Kenneth Reinhard
(Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press, 2005), 310.
8. Eagleton, Trouble, 296; cf. Slavoj iek, The Ticklish Subject: The Absent
Centre of Political Ontology (London/New York: Verso, 2000), 143.
9. Eagleton, Trouble, 181; cf. iek, The Ticklish Subject, 156.
10. Eagleton, Trouble, 280.
11. Ibid., 276.
12 . Ibid., 287.
13. Ibid., 301.
14. Ibid., 292f.
15. Ibid., 301316.
16. Ibid., 279.
17. Cf. Terry Eagleton, The Truth about the Irish (Dublin: New Island Books,
18. Slavoj iek, In Defense of Lost Causes (London/New York, 2008), 99.
19. iek, Dialectical Clarity, 280.
20. Ibid., 278.
21. Eagleton, Trouble, 188.
22 . iek, Dialectical Clarity, 279.
23. Ibid., 280.
24. Ibid., 282.
25. Terry Eagleton, Introduction in Jesus Christ: The Gospels, ed. Giles
Fraser (London/New York: Verso, 2007), xxif.
26. iek, Dialectical Clarity, 282f.
27. Ibid., 283.
28. Ibid., 281.
29. Slavoj iek, The Fear of Four Words: A Modest Plea for the Hegelian
Reading of Christianity, in The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic,
ed. Creston Davis (Cambridge/London: The MIT Press, 2009), 74.
30. iek, Dialectical Clarity, 287.

9780230340114_08_not.indd 224 3/5/2012 7:18:34 PM

Notes 225

31. Ibid., 246; Terry Eagleton, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on
the God Debate (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 32.
32 . On psychoanalysis and neighborly love, see, for instance, Slavoj iek,
Enjoy Your Symptom! Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and out, 2nd ed. (New
York/London: Routledge, 2001), 7f.
33. iek, Neighbors, 143f.
34. Ibid., 162.
35. iek, Neighbors, 182f.
36. Slavoj iek, Violence (London: Profile Books, 2008), 151.
37. Slavoj iek, Living in the End Times (London/New York: Verso, 2010),
38. iek, Neighbors, 183f.
39. Eagleton, Trouble, 307.
40. Ibid., 58.
41. Ibid., 59.
42 . Ibid., 60. Cf. Eagleton, Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic (Malden,
Mass./Oxford: Blackwells, 2003), 167.
43. Eric Gregory, Politics and the Order of Love: An Augustinian Ethic of
Democratic Citizenship (Chicago/London: The University of Chicago
Press, 2010), 42.
44. Eagleton, Trouble, 120.
45. Ibid., 291.
46. Ibid., 321.
47. Anders Nygren, Agape and Eros, trans. Philip S. Watson (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1982). For a more contemporary, and in my
view more balanced, theological approach to love, see Werner G. Jeanrond,
Theology of Love (London/New York: T&T Clark, 2010).

6 An Anatomy of Hope
1. Cf. Anthony E. Mansueto, The Death of Secular Messianism: Religion and
Politics in an Age of Civilizational Crisis (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2010),
22. Cf. Stphane Moss, The Angel of History: Rosenzweig, Benjamin,
Scholem, trans. Barbara Harshav (Stanford: Stanford University Press,
2009), 114.
2 . Bernard McGinn, Visions of the End: Apocalyptic Traditions in the Middle
Ages (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), xvi.
3. Ibid., xvi.
4. Ibid., 4; cf. Charles Mathewes, A Theology of Public Life (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2007), 3742.
5. McGinn, Visions, 4.
6. Ibid., 148.
7. Jacob Taubes, Occidental Eschatology, trans. David Ratmoko (Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 2009).
8. Ibid., 5.

9780230340114_08_not.indd 225 3/5/2012 7:18:34 PM

226 Notes

9. Cornelius Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society, trans.

Kathleen Blamey (Cambridge/Malden, Mass.: Polity Press, 2005), 31.
10. Ibid., 67.
11. Slavoj iek, Living in the End Times (London/New York: Verso, 2010),
12 . Ibid., 336.
13. Ibid., 337.
14. Ibid., 116.
15. Ibid., 119. Originally partly italicized.
16. Terry Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right (New Haven/London: Yale University
Press, 2011), 8.
17. Ibid., 44.
18. Ibid.
19. Ibid., 47.
20. Ibid., 48.
21. Ibid., 50, cf. 66f.
22 . Ibid., 56.
23. Ibid., 59f.
24. Ibid., 61.
25. Ibid.
26. Ibid., 62.
27. Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History, in Illuminations,
trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken Books,
1969), 256, 264.
28. Terry Eagleton, Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic (Malden, Mass./
Oxford: Blackwells, 2003), 291.
29. Ibid., 61.
30. Charles T. Mathewes, Evil and the Augustinian Tradition (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2001), 235.
31. Kenneth Surin, Freedom Not Yet: Liberation and the Next World Order
(Durham/London: Duke University Press, 2009), 16.
32 . Terry Eagleton, Tragedy and Revolution, in Theology and the Political:
The New Debate, eds. Creston Davis, John Milbank, and Slavoj iek
(Durham/London: Duke University Press, 2005), 8.
33. Ibid., 12.
34. Eagleton, Why Marx, 179.
35. Ibid., 180.
36. Ibid., 201.
37. Ibid., 187.
38. Ibid., 189.
39. Ibid., 69.
40. Ibid., 71.
41. Ibid., 73.
42 . Ibid.
43. Ibid., 76.
44. iek, Living, 231.
45. Ibid., 33.

9780230340114_08_not.indd 226 3/5/2012 7:18:34 PM

Notes 227

46. See, especially, Slavoj iek, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (London/
Brooklyn: Verso, 2009), 1, 87.
47. Slavoj iek, In Defense of Lost Causes (London/New York, 2008), 141.
48. Ibid., 176.
49. iek, First, 150.
50. iek, Living, 28. Cf. iek, Causes, chapter 9.
51. iek, First, 125.
52 . Ibid., 148f.
53. Ibid., 154.
54. iek, Living, 307.
55. Ibid., 312.
56. Ibid., 313.
57. G. W. F. Hegel, Philosophy of Mind: Translated from the Encyclopedia
of the Philosophical Sciences, trans. William Wallace (New York: Cosimo
Books, 2008), 161.
58. See, for instance, Slavoj iek, The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse
Core of Christianity (Cambridge/London: The MIT Press, 2003), 5; iek,
Causes, 195, but also ieks introductions to Robespierre and Mao:
iek, Introduction: Mao Tse-Tung, the Marxist Lord of Misrule, in
On Practice and Contradiction, Mao Tse-Tung (London/New York: Verso,
2007); iek, Introduction: Robespierre, or, the Divine Violence of
Terror, in Virtue and Terror, Maximilien Robespierre, trans. John Howe
(London/New York: Verso, 2007).
59. Mathewes, Evil, 145.
60. Costas Douzinas and Slavoj iek, Introduction: The Idea of Communism,
in The Idea of Communism, eds. Costas Douzinas and Slavoj iek
(London/New York: Verso, 2010), vii.
61. Ibid., ix, viii.
62 . Taubes, Eschatology, 67.
63. Eagleton, Why Marx, 6567.
64. Cf. Terry Eagleton, Marx and Freedom (London: Phoenix, 1997), 34.
65. Eagleton, Why Marx, 79.
66. Terry Eagleton, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God
Debate (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 2009), 70.
67. Eagleton, Why Marx, 95.
68. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party,
in Selected Works, eds. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels (New York:
International Publishers, 1974), 53. Cf. Eagleton, Why Marx, 86.
69. Ibid., 104.
70. Ibid., 197.
71. Terry Eagleton, Communism: Lear or Gonzalo?, in The Idea of
Communism, eds. Costas Douzinas and Slavoj iek (London/New York:
Verso, 2010), 107.
72 . Eagleton, Communism, 106.
73. iek, First, 96.
74. Cf. Slavoj iek, Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel, and the Critique
of Ideology (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993), 25f.

9780230340114_08_not.indd 227 3/5/2012 7:18:34 PM

228 Notes

75. iek, Living, 371375.

76. iek, First, 105.
77. Ibid., 125.
78. Ibid.
79. Ibid., 133.
80. Ibid.
81. Ibid., 135.
82 . iek, Cause, 185.
83. Slavoj iek, The Parallax View (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006),
84. iek, First, 88f.
85. Ibid., 92.
86. Ibid., 138.
87. iek, Living, 363.
88. Cornel West, Prophesy Deliverance! An Afro-American Revolutionary
Christianity (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 137. Original
in italics.
89. West, Prophesy, 136.
90. iek, Causes, 266.
91. Jeffrey Stout, Blessed Are the Organized: Grassroots Democracy in
America (Princeton/Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2010), 251.
92 . Ibid., 222.
93. iek, Causes, 264333.
94. For an extended discussion of utopia in Marx but also in theology, and the
way that Marxism and Christianity relates, regarding hope, see Nicholas
Lash, A Matter of Hope: A Theologians Reflections on the Thought of Karl
Marx (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982), 231280.
95. Slavoj iek, Afterword to the paperback edition, in Living in the End
Times, paperback ed. (London/Brooklyn: Verso, 2011), 481.
96. Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology, vol. 2: The Works of God (Oxford
/New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 321.
97. Eagleton, Why Marx, 62; iek, Living, 363.
98. Alasdair MacIntyre, Marxism & Christianity, 2nd ed. (London: Duckworth,
2001), 59.
99. Stanley Fish, The Fugitive in Flight: Faith, Liberalism, and Law in a Classic
TV Show (Philadelphia/Oxford: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011),
11, 1618, 84, 95f., 139.
100. Jonathan Lear, Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation
(Cambridge, Mass./London: Harvard University Press, 2008), 32.
101. Ibid., 95.
102 . Ibid., 97.
103. Ibid., 104.
104. Ibid., 121.
105. Slavoj iek, Dialectical Clarity versus the Misty Conceit of Paradox,
in The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic, ed. Creston Davis
(Cambridge/London: The MIT Press, 2009), 290.
106. Lear, Hope, 141, 146. Italics originally in the first quote.

9780230340114_08_not.indd 228 3/5/2012 7:18:34 PM

Notes 229

107. Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis:

Fortress Press, 2001), 111.
108. Cf. Cornel West, The Ethical Dimension of Marxist Thought (New York:
Monthly Review Press, 1995), 35f.
109. Cf. Roland Boer, Political Myth: On the Use and Abuse of Biblical Themes
(Durham/London: Duke University Press, 2009).
110. Karl Lwith, Meaning in History: The Theological Implications of the
Philosophy of History (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1949),
46. Cf. Taubes, Eschatology.
111. Graham Ward, Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2005), 170f.
112 . Bernard Yack, The Longing for Total Revolution: Philosophical Sources
of Social Discontent from Rousseau to Marx and Nietzsche (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1986), 282.
113. John Gray, Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia
(London: Allen Lane, 2007), 1.

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Index of Names

Abraham, patriarch 85f Chiapello, Eve 210

Agamben, Giorgio 15, 154, 207, Crites, Stephen 103, 212 , 218
216, 218 Crockett, Clayton 206, 218
Althusser, Louis 41, 43f, 4852 , 210 Cyprian of Carthage 202
Amis, Martin 44
Arendt, Hannah 121 Dalai Lama 25
Aristotle 150f, 160, 199f Daly, Glyn 207f
Augustine 63f, 70, 94, 147, 159, Davis, Creston 206, 218
165, 170, 212f, 224 Dawkins, Richard 16, 18, 23,
69, 110, 219
Badiou, Alain 15, 20, 22 , 214216 De Nys, Martin J. 218
Barthes, Roland 48 Deleuze, Gilles 20
Beckett, Samuel 151, 178 Dennett, Daniel 16, 23, 110
Benjamin, Walter 7, 16, 172 , Depoortere, Frederiek 206
175, 205 Derrida, Jacques 24, 72f, 80
Bernstein, Richard J. 35, 209, Descartes, Ren 35, 111, 179
215, 218, 220f Douzinas, Costas 180, 227
Boer, Roland 206, 229
Boltanski, Luc 51 Eastwood, Clint 18
Boucher, Geoff 206f Eichmann, Adolf 125
Bront, Emily 206 Engels, Friedrich 28, 30, 56,
Brueggemann, Walter 196, 229 182 , 208, 227
Burke, Edmund 151
Bush, George 115 Fanon, Frantz 68
Feuerbach, Ludwig 64, 87, 135f
Calvin, Jean 212 Fish, Stanley 35, 192f, 228
Cameron, James 9 Foucault, Michel 19f
Cash, Johnny 9, 133 Freud, Sigmund 13, 44, 64, 69,
Castoriadis, Cornelius 166, 81, 84, 87, 90, 104, 122125,
171, 226 127, 129, 152 , 155, 158,
Certeau, Michel de 43, 210 178, 215, 221
Chesterton, G. K. 23f, 208 Fukuyama, Francis 6, 16, 205

9780230340114_10_ind.indd 241 3/7/2012 1:55:30 PM

242 Index of Names

Gilson, tienne 111 Kirsch, Adam 207

Girard, Ren 73f, 213 Kleist, Heinrich von 152f
Goodchild, Philip 212 Kotsko, Adam 206, 214f
Gray, John 202 , 229 Kristeva, Julia 19, 138f, 223
Gregory, Eric 159, 225
Labbie, Erin Felicia 138, 223
Habermas, Jrgen 19, 48 Lacan, Jacques 9, 13, 20, 44f, 49,
Hegel, G. W. F. 3f, 13, 23f, 33, 39, 5458, 60, 81, 91, 93, 98f,
45, 47f, 53, 57, 69, 8284, 115, 126128, 138f, 146149,
8789, 91, 96, 100, 103107, 155f, 158, 160, 178, 199,
117, 119, 125f, 131, 133f, 136, 201, 210, 214218, 222
138, 143, 145, 150f, 154, 159f, Laclau, Ernesto 21f, 48f, 207f
166, 177179, 199, 201, 217f, Lash, Nicholas 30, 208, 228
220, 227 Lear, Jonathan 76, 100,
Heidegger, Martin 20, 81, 111, 193197, 205, 214,
129f, 222 218, 221, 228
Hitchens, Christopher 16, 18, 23 Lenin, Vladimir 21, 26,
Hogrebe, Wolfram 127, 222 134, 176, 178, 185, 188f
Leo XIII 110f
Isaiah, prophet 28f, 196 Lvinas, Emmanuel 24, 72 , 156
Locke, John 34
Jeanrond, Werner G. 225 Lossky, Vladimir 95
Jenson, Matt 212f Lwith, Karl 6, 202 , 205, 229
Jenson, Robert W. 191, 228 Luther, Martin 6466, 78,
Jesus Christ 18, 29, 67, 71f, 83, 92 , 94, 101, 126,
74f, 92 , 97, 196 160f, 187, 212 , 215, 216f
Joachim of Fiore 166
John Paul II 25 MacIntyre, Alasdair 8, 192 ,
Johnson, Alan 207 205, 228
Joyce, James 151 Malebranche, Nicolas 133
Jngel, Eberhard 140f, 223 Man, Paul de 48
Mann, Thomas 9
Kant, Immanuel 4, 54, 80, 84, 86, Mansueto, Anthony E. 225
88, 96, 107, 111, 121123, Mao, Tse-Tung 21, 175, 179, 227
126131, 135, 151, 159, Marion, Jean-Luc 216
192 , 221f Maritain, Jacques 111
Kautsky, Karl 56 Marx, Karl 17, 1113, 1518,
Kavanagh, Patrick 124, 142 , 221 2028, 3034, 39, 4143, 47,
Kay, Sarah 13, 206, 211 49, 50f, 5557, 61, 67, 78, 82 ,
Kenny, Anthony 219 86, 102 , 111f, 121, 123, 140,
Kerr, Fergus 219 143, 150, 152 , 160, 164166,
Kierkegaard, Sren 12 , 98, 125, 168178, 181184, 187191,
133, 196, 205 197203, 205, 208, 212 ,
King, Larry 24 214, 227f

9780230340114_10_ind.indd 242 3/7/2012 1:55:30 PM

Index of Names 243

Mathewes, Charles. T. 179, Schelling, F. W. J. 4, 13, 22 , 24, 89,

221, 225f, 227 109, 126137, 139142 ,
McCabe, Herbert 14f, 19, 24, 66f, 147, 199201, 221f
72 , 109116, 121123, 126, Schiller, Friedrich 84
213, 219221 Schleiermacher, Friedrich 70, 212
McGinn, Bernard 165, 225 Schmitt, Carl 7, 133, 205
Melville, Herman 187 Scott, Ridley 147
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice 38f, 209 Shakespeare, William 9, 45, 206
Milbank, John 21f, 102 , 152 , 206 Sharpe, Matthew 206f
Mill, John Stuart 118, 220 Smith, James 14, 206
Miller, Jacques-Alain 20 Sontag, Susan 19
Milton, John 74, 122 , 221 Spence, Basil 112
Morton, Adam 220221 Stalin, Josef 3133, 56, 82 , 99,
Moses 86f 175, 183
Moss, Stphane 225 Stendahl, Krister 216
Mulhall, Stephen 69, 212 Stout, Jeffrey 190, 228
Surin, Kenneth 173, 221, 226
Nancy, Jean Luc 71, 213 Svenungsson, Jayne 206
Nietzsche, Friedrich 71, 90,
94, 112 , 121, 200 Taubes, Jacob 166, 180f, 202 ,
Nygren, Anders 160f, 225 216, 225, 227, 229
Taylor, Charles 42 , 139f, 210, 223
ORegan, Cyril 12 , 206 Therborn, Gran 1, 15, 205f
Osama bin Ladin 18 Thomas Aquinas 4, 1315, 19, 24,
3638, 63f, 67f, 78, 81, 102 ,
Parks, Rosa 153 107, 109116, 118, 122124,
Pascal, Blaise 49, 210 126129, 135, 137142 ,
Paul, apostle 22 , 26, 68, 74, 88, 147150, 184, 199202 , 209,
9094, 99, 133, 155, 160f, 211, 219, 221
178, 184, 214f, 216, 218 Turner, Denys 28, 30, 206, 208
Pcheux, Michel 48
Plato 160f, 185, 196 Velde, Rudi te 219
Plenty Coups 193196
Pol Pot 31f Wachowski, Larry and Andy 134
Pound, Marcus 206, 223 Ward, Graham 202 , 218, 229
West, Cornel 11, 188190,
Richardson, Samuel 206 205, 228f
Ricoeur, Paul 105, 218 Wilde, Oscar 151
Robespierre, Maximilien de 21, Williams, Raymond 19
179, 227 Williams, Rowan 217
Rorty, Richard 35 Wittgenstein, Ludwig 14, 79, 81, 111

Santner, Eric L. 135f, 215, 223 Yack, Bernard 202 , 229

Sartre, Jean-Paul 71, 123 Yovel, Yirmiyahu 105f, 218

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