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A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Department of German New York University
© William Rauscher All Rights Reserved, 2011
This work is dedicated to my parents, for all their love and support.
I would first like to express my deepest gratitude to my advisor, Avital Ronell, whose influence on my philosophical development has been inestimable, and whose endless support, generosity and wisdom have made this work possible. My thanks and appreciation go also to my teachers and mentors: Ulrich Baer, Paul Fleming, Eckart Goebel, Werner Hamacher, Laurence A. Rickels, Friedrich Ulfers and Hent de Vries. I owe special thanks to Eckart Goebel and Paul Fleming for their unwavering guidance. I would also like to thank Lindsay O’Connor and Harriet Asase for all of their invaluable help with departmental matters. Lastly I would like to thank my wonderful family for their love, strength and encouragement.
I would like to take this opportunity to briefly comment on where I would situate myself in Germanistik and in the field of current scholarly engagements with the theological-political, and to provide some reflections on the dissertation I have submitted that will address how I have come to understand the stakes of this work, what I believe I have accomplished, and as well where I now believe my analysis has fallen short and what I did not manage to articulate. The recent surge of scholarly interest in theological-political discourse has quite often adopted a German accent, and focused on two dominant strains of this discourse in the German twentieth-century: the largely leftist-Jewish-messianic strain and the largely right-wing-conservative-Catholic strain. The German-Jewish encounter with messianism during the interwar period is embodied in works by Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, Gershom Scholem and Walter Benjamin, and traffics closely with texts by Ernst Bloch and Karl Barth. The conservative strain is dominated by Carl Schmitt and by Martin Heidegger, two lapsed Catholics whose engagements with politics and theology placed them each in scandalous, deeply unsettling proximity to the motives of National Socialism. I should add here that the inclusion of Heidegger in a discussion of theological-political themes and alongside Schmitt is indebted to the work of Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe who offers the insight that Heidegger’s political efforts, ranging from the Rektoratsrede to the lectures on
Hölderlin, should fall under the sign of a theological-political project. Today, a host of intermingling scholarly strains cut through the study of German literature, intersecting with studies of Jacob Taubes’ work, renewed engagements with Schmitt’s writings, readings of the political implications of the Pauline epistles, and deconstructive approaches to monotheistic religion undertaken by Jacques Derrida, Jean-Luc Nancy, Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-Luc Marion and others. In my research, the aforementioned deconstructive approaches to monotheism, above all that of Derrida, have made evident to me a profound difficulty in the methodology of my undertaking, namely the difficulty of theoretically isolating what is meant by the names of different religions: what exactly are we referring to when we say “Judaism,” “Christianity,” or “Islam?” What variants and multiple disseminations of such a name must we turn a blind eye towards in order to draw certain theoretical conclusions? While I have intended to restrict the scope of my inquiry towards a mostly messianic strain of Judaism and the complex matrix which its structures and themes form with a largely Catholic brand of Christianity, I must allow for the possibility that these demarcations can be disturbed, called into question, or invalidated. In its location of Pauline messianism as something like the “extimate kernel” (to invoke Lacan) of the Jewish tradition, for example, Jacob Taubes’ work begins to unsettle the particular demarcation between Judaism and Christianity. One expedient way to provide a sense of my itinerary would be to name my debts. I am indebted to Avital Ronell's work on Hannah Arendt's reading of authority,
which inspired in me the particular line of questioning that I have deployed in order to more precisely traverse theological-political issues. This line of questioning, which took me to Jacques Derrida’s “Force of Law” essay, among other destinations, has aided me in avoiding losing theoretical traction in a morass of possible angles to explore in the relations between theology and politics. After encountering Ronell’s reading of the disappearance of authority in Arendt, suddenly theological-political discourse seemed like a maelstrom that whirled around the void of authority at its core: authority was suddenly the central problem, all along, and it was suddenly possible and desirable to catalog some of the according to their respective responses to Arendt’s diagnosis. While a thinking of authority has aided me in evaluating what today, following Claude Lefort, is debated as the permanence of the theological-political, I must admit that I am incapable of delivering something like a final verdict on this permanence (and I recall that the title itself of Lefort’s essay ends in a question mark), and that the task of this dissertation has been to mark where an urgent need to respond to the absence or invalidation of political authority becomes transmuted into an invocation of theological registers, either, to put it in the most schematic way possible, to resurrect this authority (as reflected in Schmitt’s figure of the sovereign), abandon it (as Taubes’ figure of the Messiah), replace it (as in Heidegger’s figure of the poet), or transplant it (as in Arendt’s concept of natality). I regret that in the course of my dissertation work I all-too-quickly opened and shut a dossier on the theological-
political mourning of authority, one that could have read these varying responses to traditional authority’s disappearance together with Freudian and post-Freudian notions of mourning and the multiplicity of its aberrations. Another way of stating the task of this dissertation is the reading of figures in a diverse array of twentieth-century German theoretical texts that arise at instances when the question of authority is at stake, and I want to stress that this question often arises when addressing the finitude of the state: its origin and its foundation, its possible destruction, or its destinal annihilation. Here I already have to interrupt and supplement myself, however, as this excludes of course Hannah Arendt’s concept of natality, which tellingly lies outside of figuration—which as Phillipe LacoueLabarthe’s work often emphasizes, traffics in mythic and thus theological intensities. And the figure of the Messiah can only be included here if we scrupulously consider the type of political foundation offered by the apostle Paul in the early days of Christianity. If we follow Arendt, then the messianic framework of Paul’s theology discounts it from politics altogether, because messianism does not concern itself with the perpetuation of humankind in history. If we follow Taubes, I argue, then the dialectical sublation of law into love requires us to think the movement of Paul’s politics into ethics. Here I wish to mark that the decision to link the question of authority to questions of foundation and legitimacy in politics has necessitated that I part company with a number of authority’s other provocative aspects. Above all it is regrettable that
in order to formulate this dissertation into reasonable size that the work of Max Weber was largely sidelined, particularly his incisive cataloging of the forms of authority. In order to focus on authority in its role of foundation and legitimacy in political orders I decided it was necessary to largely quarantine questions of authority's auratic power. A discussion of Weber’s forms of authority would lead to the question of compelling obedience, which in Plato’s conception, as Arendt reminds us, must be done so that one obeying “retains his freedom,” and this in turn would have lead to research into the contributions made by psychoanalysis to an understanding of authority’s efficacy and the claims made upon the psychoanalytic subject by authority in its various guises: as phallus, big Other, or superego. In reading various German political theories of authority’s role in producing or upholding legitimacy, I chose a comparative practice that at times might appear to produce disjunctive juxtapositions and abrupt transitions. It might appear curious that here the work of Hannah Arendt is placed alongside that of Carl Schmitt, when the two have what appear to be radically different conceptions of authority. For Arendt, authority understood in its original Roman incarnation is always in contradistinction to power, while Schmitt’s concept of the sovereign relies on an intertwining of the two terms. This disjunction can be accounted for by a historical differential, however: these two models of the relation between authority and power can be understood as congruent if we regard Schmitt’s sovereign as a response to the very disappearance of the Roman form of authority as Arendt diagnoses it.
In the texts I am reading, the figure of the sovereign, like the figures of the Messiah and the poet, unfolds in a historical void where an authority separate from power no longer holds sway in the sphere of politics. In light of Arendt’s work, I argue that the historical withdrawal of this form of authority means that these figures of authority are at the same time its disfigurations, insofar as each figure will be shown, in its own way, to occlude or rest on a gap between itself and the place that produces it. Here I am indebted to Claude Lefort for the insight that the invisibility of this gap between figure and place defines the condition of the pre-modern “religious,” and that the ability for this gap to be perceived and reckoned with defines our modern experience of democratic politics. Following from Lefort’s insight, this dissertation reads the instances in which authority figures become disfigured, as the gap between figure and place appears and the historical function of each figure as a traumatic response to the withdrawal of traditional authority becomes legible as a theoretical symptom. I am additionally indebted to the work of Hent de Vries and hope that this dissertation can be viewed as a "companion species" to his critical encounters with theology and the still-vital motifs and themes that link and sever it to politics. This dissertation was conducted in part to further the claim that religion and theology could not be simply discarded even or especially in the twenty-first century, that they bore certain ineluctable elements, that their traditions still had something to tell us, perhaps something only legible from the perch of a Minervan owl, and that it remains
necessary, in the wake of the emphasis placed by Derrida and others on the sheer stubbornness of metaphysics, to call into question the common theoretical assumption that theology can and should be extracted like a rotten tooth from our ideas and worldviews. I am additionally indebted to several thinkers whose theoretical and philosophical trajectories offered me insights that functioned as critical passports, permitting traffic across boundaries and borders that demarcate disciplines. I first came to theological-political discourse through the radically interdisciplinary work of Walter Benjamin, and if his name remains perhaps under-invoked in these pages, that is in part due to my vested interest in broadening scholarship on theological-political issues to include thinkers such as Arendt and Heidegger whose works perhaps do not immediately seem relevant. This dissertation is as well indebted in this light to the work of Jacob Taubes, who was one of the first to update a thinking of Saint Paul's theology so that it resonated with the works of Walter Benjamin, Sigmund Freud and Friedrich Nietzsche. Additionally, it is from Taubes that I am indebted for the notion of the hour of the theological, which perhaps could ultimately have been its "real" object of study, as I found this notion repeatedly applicable throughout my research. Taubes writes: “Wenn die [religiöse] Symbole, die geprägt wurden, um die Begegnung des Menschen mit dem Göttlichen in einem einzigarten Augenblick seiner Geschichte auszudrücken, nicht mehr mit seiner Erfahrung zur Deckung kommen, versucht die Theologie die
ursprünglichen Symbole so zu interpreterien, dass sie sich einer neuen Lage anpassen." Theology, then, has an "hour" specific to it: a time of crisis when religious symbols and historical experience no longer coincide. Theology thus follows religion as an interpretation which repeatedly sutures and re-sutures religion’s mythic content to material events. As examples of this “hour” one thinks of Christianity’s need to develop a theology of conscience after the non-arrival of the Messiah, as well as Scholem’s well-known account of the development of the Lurianic Kabbalah after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, as well as the image, offered by Taubes, of Franz Rosenzweig composing Der Stern der Erlösung during the First World War in the trenches of Macedonia, on military postcards he mailed home to his mother, a work that saw Rosenzweig’s early idealism convert into a form of proto-existentialism. Taubes’ observation on “hour” of theology is in part a poignant attempt to wrest the possibility of meaning out of catastrophe. The crises that Taubes speaks of, however, are not limited to cataclysm or disaster, they can occur on lower and less traumatic registers as well, so that reading Arendt and Taubes together we can locate even in the presumably joyous occasion of founding a new nation the mark of a crisis. Furthermore, Taubes’s controversial, at times scandalous Auseinandersetzung with Schmitt has been highly instructive both for its content and for the dialectical polemics that undergirded their exchange. While the two agree on the impossibility of an immanently-founded political order, each draws an opposite conclusion: Schmitt
derives from this impossibility the necessity for a theological support mechanism in order to keep afloat his particular figure of earthly authority, the sovereign, and Taubes finds in the figure of the Messiah a reflection of the illegitimacy of earthly authority as a whole. This is the schema that Jan Assmann, the noted Egyptian scholar and student of Taubes, offers in his efforts to delineate the discourse of political theology: a dualism between Schmitt’s "'vertikale' Dimension der Herrschaft" and Taubes' "horizontale' Dimension der Gemeinschaft." Yet I ultimately I regard the grudge match that results from this duality, fought between the Messiah who annihilates earthly authority and the sovereign who embodies it absolutely, to be as claustrophobic as it is illuminating, and thus I offer my chapters on Arendt and Heidegger in order to let some fresh air into the theological-political arena and to register how theology traverses both thinker’s engagement with politics. Yet the task of letting in some fresh air was at the same time an exercise in hermeneutic frustration. While I benefited from the abundance of insight and direction from the works that became my reading list and scholarly menu, I soon came to recognize that the field in which I presumed to contribute my own reflections was and remains inexhaustible. It was very difficult and virtually a challenge of mental labor to edit out and unload some of the compelling works that inform this field, which is not a field, because it is impossible to completely demarcate or cordone off. The impossibility of constituting a clear notion of a field is reflected in the thinking of
intensity put forth by Schmitt and adopted by Taubes. In Schmitt's Begriff des Politischen which politics appears not as a field among other fields (social, cultural, economic) but as an occurrence: the political asserts itself in a particular field when killing arises as a "real possibility" among opponents. Clearly influenced by Schmitt, Taubes adopts a similar regard for the theological, writing to Armin Mohler: "Was ist heute nicht 'Theologie' (ausser dem theologischen Geschwätz)? Ist E. Jünger weniger 'Theologie' denn Bultmann oder Brunner? Kafka weniger als Karl Barth?" Schmitt concurs in his own letter to Mohler: "Taubes hat recht: Heute ist alles Theologie, mit Ausnahme dessen, was die Theologen von sich geben . . ." On reflection this dissertation should have perhaps been titled Trouble With Authority, because that is what I encountered time and again: troubles, disjunctions, aporias, breakdowns. I would like to briefly circuit through the chief troubles my analysis faced, the instances when there no way forward. In On Revolution, Arendt reads the American and French Revolutions as exemplary cases of a political natality which can replace the lost form of traditional authority, based on an unbroken tie with the past, with an auto-generative form of authority that grounds itself. In Arendt’s reading, I found that her theological rhetoric split into two, reflecting two implicit and intertwined notions of the sacred. The first belongs to the act of foundation, concerning natality's encounter with the "mystical" dimension of authority that Derrida locates, and the second belongs to the practice of revering what has been founded, thus bestowing it with religious sanction. In her text Arendt appears deeply ambivalent about this reverence, which clearly reflects the form of traditional
authority she wants to replace with natality: at times she laments it, in those who worship the American Constitution, elsewhere she insists that it is “genius” that in American political consciousness such a recently-composed text could have the auratic, authoritative weight of something ancient. The crises and aporias faced by the founders of the American Revolution as Arendt views them, manifest in the founders’ sudden urges to reach out to the authority of a God and of the past in a moment of radical political novelty, now remind me that the problem or problems of historical mimesis seems to thoroughly haunt this dissertation, they lurk in every chapter. This circuits through the great German cultural and political obsessions with ancient Greece, which precipitates in the works of Friedrich Hölderlin and Martin Heidegger (an obsession with repeating or being unable to repeat ancient Rome is similar theme that cuts through the works of Arendt, Schmitt and Benjamin). These obsessions yield the demands and impossibilities of historical mimesis, the politics of mimesis, the double bind of a past which must be repeated but cannot be repeated, the extended rhetoric of models, examples, precursors, substitutions and versions. As a Germanist working on the discourse of the theological-political, Winckelmann's paradigmatic and paradoxical announcement: “Der einzige Weg für uns, groß, ja, wenn es möglich ist, unnachahmlich zu werden, ist die Nachahmung der Alten.” The challenge it presents haunted me, and in interrogating a series of radically disparate philosophies and theories I at times felt, if I may indulge in hyperbole for a moment, the historical
drama of the Neuzeit, obsessed with securing its own legitimacy, now fending off the claims of the past, now desperately reaching for slivers of life that can be resuscitated. In reading Taubes I feel that I encountered an aporia in his reading of messianism as a political force. While Taubes rejects his mentor Scholem’s notion that messianism produces in Judaism a “Leben im Aufschub” decoupled from political action, I sincerely question the possibility of neatly separating this “Leben im Aufschub” from the “Verwandlung” that Taubes claims is necessary for any messianic enthusiasm to undergo if it wants to have political effect without apocalyptic destruction. If, as Joshua Robert Gold says, Taubes claims that “apocalypse must guard against own destructive impulses without relinquishing its antagonism towards profane authority,” what efficacy does this antagonism still retain over and against the restraining force of messianic anticipation? It is a problem that surfaces in a slightly diffierent context in Taubes’ reading of Romans 13, where he must find a way to suture Paul’s characteristically anti-authoritative polemics with a sudden invocation to obey earthly authority. Taubes’ agreement with Paul here is troubling: his statement that if in fact the Messiah is to arrive anyway than any revolutionary movement is fairly pointless would seem to directly support the “Leben im Aufschub” that he discredits in Scholem’s work. Ultimately it seems that the temporality of the Messiah’s return interrupts in any attempt to fully schematize this arrival as a political tool: while the arrival would signal the invalidation of earthly authority, its simultaneous urgency and radical unpredictability prevent us, within the framework of
Paul's theology, from truly knowing whom to obey or what is to be done. The "as if" speech that Paul gives in Corinthians, and which has been read by Taubes, Agamben, Vivian Liska and others, is an attempt to reckon with this undecideable character of the messianic return. In reading Schmitt I encountered a puzzling question concerning the status of technology in his thought. This particular problem was partly sidelined from my work but it sticks like a thorn in my dissertation’s unconscious: what is the status of technology in Schmitt’s attempt to resuscitate authority in the figure of the sovereign? Throughout his work Schmitt is resolutely anti-technological, yet the argument can be made that his deployment of theological structures, such as the miracle, which becomes the framework for the Ausnahmezustand, is in fact a kind of technological use of theology, that theology has become a technological apparatus to Schmitt. Unlike his disciples like Heinrich Meier, Schmitt does not invoke theology on moral grounds, or on grounds of faith or belief: instead he argues again and again that theological structures must undergird political authority because that is the only way this authority can do its job of protecting the state from harm. Only a theologicallyinflected sovereign is equipped enough to handle the unpredictability of disasters and war. In conducting research for my final chapter, I encountered an issue that thoroughly puzzled me: the noticeable absence of theology in Lacoue-Labarthe's interpretation of Walter Benjamin's thought, an absence that appears the result of
Lacoue-Labarthe's theoretical equation of theology with myth. Incorporated into his reading of Heidegger on Hölderlin (while I am very indebted to this reading and to Lacoue-Labarthe’s work in general), Lacoue-Labarthe's interpretation of Benjamin demonstrates to me the hermeneutic dangers of this equation. For Lacoue-Labarthe the propagation of myth in the political sphere is inevitably tied to right-wing projects, including especially National Socialism. In contrast to what he views as Heidegger’s highly problematic embrace of myth in the form of Hölderlin’s poetic testimony, Lacoue-Labarthe offers Benjamin’s deconstructive approach to myth: the “mythic connections” that Benjamin locates in Hölderlin’s work represent a decomposition of myth into the “mythic." Yet I remain perplexed as to how the theological register subsequently disappears altogether from Lacoue-Labarthe’s reading of Benjamin, when one of Benjamin’s most radical thoughts, inspired by the kabbalistic notion of “broken vessels,” was the possibility of linking up theology with the efforts of a literary criticism that resembles deconstruction in many ways. Lastly, I wish to add that I do not think that the full implications of Arendt’s concept of natality have been identified for political theory, in part because the theological rhetoric that undergirds this concept remains to be unpacked with the care it deserves. By describing natality as the "divinity of birth as such" Arendt conceives of a divinity which occurs, that is, which lacks an attribute of eternity, whose takingplace is not a manifestation of a pre-given metaphysical essence, whose being is event. I believe that Arendt’s concept is a forerunner to more recent attempts in philosophy
to think the “event” in a theological-political register, and that natality represents an important contribution to a materialist thinking of the miracle in theology, because natality is as much an existential as a political category, and because, as such, its appropriation of a miraculous structure functions as a necessary counterpoint to Schmitt’s absorption of the miracle into the sovereign exception, to the finality of the Messiah’s arrival, and to the priestly proclamations of Heidegger’s poet.
My dissertation, “Powering Down: Disfigurations of Authority in the Modern Era,” reads figures in key texts in the twentieth-century German theological-political discourse as responses to the withdrawal of traditional authority from the political sphere. I first investigate the historical rise of several disparate efforts in German writing after the First World War to re-think the relations between political and theological concepts: what they share is the presupposition that an immanent political foundation cannot function, and which achieves historical significance if one adopts Arendt’s claim that the traditional mode of authority has withdrawn from politics. Then I evaluate a number of significant attempts to label these efforts as “political theology” and suggest, following Claude Lefort, that this term instead be replaced by the “theological-political” instead. I then read three figures that emerge in German theological-political discourse after WWI as attempting to reckon with the void of traditional authority in politics through varying engagements with theological concepts: the sovereign, the Messiah and the poet. Following Lefort, I read each of these figures of authority as being each in its own way also a disfiguration. Carl Schmitt’s theory of the sovereign and his adoption of the figure of the katechon reflect a desire to resurrect a political authority undergirded by theology. The figure of the Messiah in Jacob Taubes’ reading of the apostle Paul represents an inverse theological-political relation: the divine invalidation
of earthly authority. Martin Heidegger’s readings of Friedrich Hölderlin produce the figure of the poet as exceptional witness to the founding of a new theological-political assemblage. Finally, Arendt is unique in the field of thinkers here in that she does not rely on a figure. Natality, which retains a theological mark in Arendt’s definition as reflecting “the divinity of birth as such,” is not embodied by a particular individual, instead its ontological nature, the fact that any human is capable of instituting a process of radical re-birth, contributes to the radically egalitarian core of her thought on political action.
TABLE OF CONTENTS DEDICATION ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS PREFACE ABSTRACT INTRODUCTION: From Political Theology to the Theological-Political iii iv v xx 1
CHAPTER 1: The Divinity of Birth as Such: Natality and the Theological- 43 Political in Hannah Arendt CHAPTER 2: Problems with Authority in Carl Schmitt’s reading of the 83 Katechon CHAPTER 3: Authority and Messianism in Jacob Taubes’ Reading of 124 Saint Paul CHAPTER 4: Heidegger, Hölderlin and the Authority of the Poet BIBLIOGRAPHY 166 201
INTRODUCTION: From Political Theology to the Theological-Political
Composed in the decade that saw National Socialism's rise to power in Germany, Thomas Mann's philosophical novel Joseph und seine Brüder, a sprawling re-telling of the origins of ancient Judaism, bears a pithy formulation of the belief in an originary intertwining of religion and politics that proliferated in German thought after the First World War. Mann writes: "Es heisst die Einheit der Welt verkennen wenn man Religion und Politik für grundverschiedene Dinge hält, die nichts mit einander zu schaffen hätten noch haben dürfen. . . . In Wahrheit tauschen sie das Gewand . . . und das Weltganze ist es, wenn eines des anderen Sprache spricht."1 Mann's conception of a "unity" of the world reflected in a deep affinity between religion and politics can be traced back to the first "wave" (as Jean-Claude Monod has called it) of political theology in the twentieth-century, which emerged in German thought as an attempt to reckon with the historical trauma of the war: this "wave" reflects radically diverse attempts to establish conduits between theology and politics and spans the political spectrum, ranging from Ernst Bloch and Walter Benjamin’s approaches to messianism to the Nazi-sympathizing legal theorems of Carl Schmitt.
Thomas Mann, Joseph und seine Brüder (Frankfurt: S. Fischer, 1952), 1023. Cited in Jan Assmann, Herrschaft und Heil: Politische Theologie in Altägypten, Israel and Europa (München: Carl Hanser Verlag, 2000), 15.
Jacob Taubes, whose postwar writings represent a key contribution to the study of political theology, argues that the cataclysm of WWI left the Wilhelmine-era belief system of German cultural Protestantism in ruins—above all its notions of historical progress: "Das harmonistische Verständnis von Welt, Gott und Mensch, die lange wilhelmische Periode des Wachstums, die Gründerzeit, wo ja alles grösser und besser wurde, all das hat in den Schützengräben Frankreichs, Mazedoniens und Russlands sein abruptes Endes gefunden."2 In the years of the Weimar era that followed, political and theological discourses each saw the emergence of critiques against the theories thought to have been invalidated by the horrors of war, theories of founding political orders and theological systems that promoted an image of humankind sheltered by a benevolent God.3 Over time, the newly critical dispositions of each discourse began to reflect an underlying assumption that the problems of each should be addressed by speaking "die andere Sprache." The collapse of German cultural Protestantism acted as a catalyst that ignited multiple theological engagements with the tradition of Jewish messianism: these include Karl Barth's second edition of his commentary on the Romans and Franz Rosenzweig's Der Stern der Erlösung, both of which paved the way for key readings of messianism by Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem. These engagements took place against the backdrop of a shared experience of the catastrophe of war in terms of eschatological symbols, above all the symbol of the Messiah, capable of signifying the illegitimacy of modern political orders. When the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt published
Jacob Taubes, Die Politische Theologie des Paulus (München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2003), 86. See Benjamin Lazier, "On the Origins of 'Political Theology': Judaism and Heresy between the World Wars" in New German Critique Number 105 (Fall 2008): 143-164.
his landmark Politische Theologie in 1922, he adopted an inverse strategy, speaking the Sprache of theology in order to shore up a theory of sovereignty polemically oriented against the perceived flaws of the Weimar Republic. Schmitt refers to the swapping of the Gewand between religion and politics as secularization, a lengthy one-way historical process in which the concepts of religion adopt the garb of political discourse, so that under the robes of the earthly sovereign one finds his divine counterpart. According to Jean-Claude Monod, the Weimar-era discourse is in fact the first of three waves of "political theology" in the twentieth-century, the others being the general democratic reorientation of French intellectuals in the 1980s toward theological-political issues, and Latin American liberation theology of the 1960s and 1970s.4 I find it necessary to amend Monod's observation by asserting that writings of the Weimar-era should be understood not as entirely encapsulating the German discourse on political theology in the twentieth-century, but as contributing the central framework to an extensive series of conflicts in German thought on the relations between religion and politics. The historical traumas of genocide and totalitarian oppression in Germany make its "wave" of political theology particularly indicative of the still-unresolved crises of the twentieth-century. The defining crisis that fuels the German wave of political theology, I argue, is a crisis in political authority. As I will demonstrate in greater detail in my first chapter,
Cited in Warren Breckman, "Democracy Between Disenchantment and Political Theology: French Post-Marxism and the Return of Religion," New German Critique 94, 1 (Winter 2005): 74, and Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins, "Claude Lefort and the Illegitimacy of Modernity," Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory 10.1 (Winter 2009): 102.
the withdrawal of the traditional form of authority as Hannah Arendt diagnoses it, and of which the First World War represents a formidable nail in the coffin, as it were, functions in the German twentieth-century as the primary catalyst for a discourse that sought to re-conceive the ways in which religion and politics might speak the "language of the other." Each subsequent chapter reads a particular figure that has emerged within theological-political discourse as means of reckoning with authority's withdrawal: the sovereign, the messiah, and the poet. Arendt's own theory of natality will be read in a similar theological-political context as a response to this withdrawal, but one that crucially differs from the others in its diversion away from the production of a particular figure. Prior to these readings it will be necessary to first critically reflect on the conventional use of the term "political theology" to refer to the series of debates on religion and politics that form the background for my inquiry. One of the few things agreed upon by the host of critical engagements with the field of "political theology" in the past century is the impossibility of clearly defining the term. It is not uncommon for commentators to resort to the composition of lists to account for the possible variations behind the term's meaning.5 The difficulty in assigning a distinct meaning to "political theology" is curious given the brevity of its historical legacy prior to twentieth-century: one might assume that only a few historical instances of the term would simplify the task of evaluating its possible definitions. Having originated sometime around 100 B.C. in the writings of Roman
See for example Assmann, 28, as well as Jacqueline Lagrée, Spinoza et la débat religieux (Presses de Rennes: 2004) 11, cited in Political Theologies: Public Religions in a Post-Secular World, eds. Hent de Vries and Lawrence E. Sullivan (Fordham University Press: New York, 2006), 26, and Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde, "Politische Theorie und politische Theologie: Bemerkungen zu ihrem gegenseitigen Verhältnis," in Religionstheorie und politische Theologie, ed. Jacob Taubes, vol. 1, Der Fürst dieser Welt: Carl Schmitt und die Folgen (Paderborn: Schöningh, 1983), 20-21.
scholar Marcus Varro as "theologia civilis," part of a "theologia tripartita" that also included "theologia fabulosa" and "theologia naturalis," "political theology" goes underground for centuries, while still maintaining a subterranean influence throughout a long history of political thinking.6 In 1662 the term experiences a comparative renaissance, occurring in the titles of two treatises (Daniel Georg Morhof's Theologaie gentium politicae dissertatio prima de Divinitate Principium and Simon van Heenvliedt's Theologico-political Dissertatio) and then makes its major pre-modern appearance in 1670 in Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, although as Hent de Vries notes, in Spinoza's oeuvre "the term is a hapax legomenon . . . and his unfinished Tractatus Politicus avoids the term."7 "Political theology" enjoys a re-emergence in the twentieth-century thanks to Schmitt's Politische Theologie, which has since become a controversial touchstone for a sequence of debates, Auseinandersetzungen, philosophical and critical investigations into the intersections between religion and politics in a modern context. It is somewhat ironic, then, to note that Schmitt's text does not itself espouse a theory that could rightly be called a "political theology." As scholars have pointed out, the term "political theology" inaccurately describes Schmitt's own project: Politische Theologie does not promote a theology inflected by politics, as the term might superficially imply, but rather a theologized politics, encapsulated in its oft-cited salvo, "Alle
Varro's work in which the three forms of theology are posited, Antiquitates rerum humanarum et divinarum libri, has been lost -- our knowledge of Varro's argument comes primarily through Augustine's criticism in City of God. See also Hent de Vries' introduction in Political Theologies, 26, and Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966). 7 de Vries, Political Theologies, 26.
prägnanten Begriffe der modernen Staatslehre sind säkularisierte Begriffe."8 A scene of semantic disjunction in which "political theology" comes to signify its own inversion thus exacerbates the chronic instability of meaning that plagues the term in its discursive trajectory through the modern era. György Geréby notes that the term is "systematically ambiguous, since it can mean the political pretensions of theology, a 'politics from theology,' or a politics analogical to theology."9 As one of the listmakers for understanding "political theology" Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde notes at least three variants. The first is "de[r] Vorgang der Übertragung theologischer Begriffe auf den staatlichen-juristischen Bereich," which reflects the nature of Carl Schmitt's work. The second, "der Inbegriff der Aussagen eines Gottesglaubens (einer inhaltlich näher bestimmten göttlichen Offenbarung) über den Status, die Legitimation, Aufgabe und evtl. Struktur der politischen Ordnung, einschliesslich des Verhältnisses der politischen Ordnung zur Religion," touches on one of this dissertation's central concerns, mainly the role that religion and theology play in assigning authority to a political order.10 One should refrain, however, from regarding either revelation or belief as ineluctable components of a legitimation grounded in a political theology: they should be taken instead as examples of structural appeals to transcendental support in the realm of politics, and one could ask along with de Vries whether any
Carl Schmitt, Politische Theologie: Vier Kapitel zur Lehre von der Souveränität (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1922), 43. See also György Geréby, "Political Theology versus Theological Politics: Erik Peterson and Carl Schmitt," New German Critique Number 105 (Fall 2008): 7-34. 9 Geréby, "Political Theology versus Theological Politics," 10. 10 Böckenförde, "Politische Theorie und politische Theologie," 19.
transcendental in politics, any "absolute performative, or conditionless condition" is not in fact already a theological mark.11 The third variant Böckenförde notes consists of "die interpretation der christlichen Offenbarung im Hinblick auf das von ihr geforderte Engagement der Christen und der Kirche für die politisch-soziale Ordnung (und deren Veränderung) als Verwirklung christlicher Existenz,"12 a formulation which raises the key problem of worldliness in Christianity. Böckenförde presupposes a Christianity already engaged with the world and in so doing sideswipes the anti-world worldview inherent in Christianity since Paul. Karl Löwith depicts the anti-worldliness of Christianity at its most radical when he writes that “a World which calls itself Christian is a contradiction in terms, and Christian understanding of history can be based only on the fundamental antagonism between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of man."13 As will be shown in the chapters that follow, Christian anti-worldliness can still link up or de-couple with worldly politics according to a variety of ways: what this view informs is an essential dissatisfaction with the world as Christianity conceives it. The basic tenets of Eastern religions such as Buddhism, which espouse the benefits of spiritual acquiescence to the state of world, are largely anathema to a Christian thought taught to regard the world as fallen, sinful, or headed for imminent oblivion: in Paul’s epistles, for example, Christian contempt for the world originates as part of a
de Vries, Political Theologies, 28. Böckenförde, "Politische Theorie und politische Theologie," 20-21. 13 Karl Löwith, Meaning in History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949), 144.
messianic view that sees the political realm as illegitimate and destined for destruction. Following the decline of the Roman Empire, however, anti-worldliness allows Christianity to undergird political sovereignty, as its self-determined distance from the world allows it to function as the world’s necessary supplement, and the solution for the impossibility of any wholly-immanent political foundation. The presupposition that political order requires some degree of divine authority, a thought encoded at the heart of any “political theology,”14 was most certainly buoyed by the non-return of Paul’s messiah: this presupposition simply benefited from the world’s stubborn refusal to end and the pressing theological need to reconfigure the role of religion in a world that not only would not end but was no longer oriented according to the politicalhistorical horizon of the Roman Empire. I will address in greater detail in Chapter One how, for Hannah Arendt, it is only after Christianity has undergone a transmutation from world-destroying to world-supporting that it truly becomes political, since for Arendt politics necessitates the perpetuation of a people through history. Böckenförde's distinctions, however, do not exhaust the possibilities of defining "political theology." Jan Assmann, the noted scholar on Egyptian theology and student of Jacob Taubes, traces the possible variants of "political theology" according to the schema that undergirds Taubes' extended Auseinandersetzung with Carl Schmitt on the subject:
See the Nachwort by Wolf-Daniel Hartwich, Aleida and Jan Assmann in Taubes' Politische Theologie des Paulus, 143-181.
Politische Theologie hat es mit den wechselvollen Beziehungen zwischen politischer Gemeinschaft und religöser Ordnung, kurz: zwischen Herrschaft und Heil zu tun. Politische Theologie entsteht dort, wo solche Probleme in Formen verhandelt werden, die die Götter bzw. Gott einbeziehen. Dabei lassen sich zwei Aspekte Politischer Theologie unterscheiden. Die eine fragt nach den theologischen Implikationen des Politischen (worunter in dieser Studie grundsätzlich sowohl die 'vertikale' Dimension der Herrschaft also auch die 'horizontale' Dimension der Gemeinschaft verstanden wird), die andere nach den politischen Implikationen des Theologischen. Zur Politischen Theologie gehören also sowohl Diskurse über Herrschaft und/oder Gemeinschaft, die nicht ohne (explizite oder implizite) Bezugnahmen auf Gott oder die Götter auskommen, als auch diskurse über Gott oder die Götter, die die Sphäre der vertikalen bzw. horizontalen Strukturen der Menschenwelt einbeziehen. Es geht bei den Fragestellungen der Politischen Theologie also um die implizite Theologie des Politischen (das ist z.B. der Fall bei Carl Schmitt) sowie um die implizite Politologie, Soziologie und auch Anthropologie theologischer oder allgemein religöser Diskurse (das entspricht z.B. der Position von Jacob Taubes).15
With the semantic spectrum divided here neatly in two, one can see that on the surface the term "political theology" would seem more accurately to reflect the position put forth by Jacob Taubes, which concerns itself with locating the political "implications" of theology, specifically the particular brand of Jewish messianism promulgated by the Apostle Paul. Considering that Taubes employs a political reading of Paul's letters as part of his case against his interlocutor Carl Schmitt, it is somewhat ironic to note once again that term largely popularized by Schmitt more accurately reflects the position embodied by his philosophical opponent.
Assmann, Herrschaft und Heil, 15-16.
Yet why should the field of meaning invoked by the term "political theology" be divided into the polemical pair that Assmann offers? As de Vries asks, can an inquiry into political theology not look "beyond the literal and implicit invocations of gods or God, that is to say, of the divine, salvation, and the sacred? Should we entertain the possibility that its significance reveals itself with even more consequence under the reign of the secular, where it works its wonders in more oblique—and hence intractable—ways?"16 De Vries' questioning implies that the study of political theology suffers if its scope is reduced merely to a dualist grudge match between the messiah and the sovereign. The inclusion in this dissertation of an engagement with Arendt's theory of natality of politics and with Heidegger's exegesis of Hölderlin's poetry are intended precisely to combat the possibility of regarding "political theology" from this dualist perspective. Schmitt's own use of the term, according to his disciple Heinreich Meier, comes not from Marcus Varro or Benedict Spinoza but from Mikhail Bakunin: the Russian anarchist had used it in a polemic against Giuseppe Mazzini, referring to "la theologie politique de Mazzini,"17 and Schmitt retaliated by reversing the vector of the term into a positive concept. Meier observes that "whereas Bakunin used the term 'political theology' to brand and mortally wound the opponent against whom the anarchist is waging his war, Schmitt makes the polemical concept his own so as to answer with the decisive affirmation what seems to him in 1922 to be the most
de Vries, Political Theologies, 28. Mikhail Bakunin, La Théologie politique de Mazzini et l'Internationale (1871), in Oeuvres complétes I (Paris: Champ Libre, 1982), 173. Cited in Heinrich Meier, Leo Strauss and the Theologico-Political Problem (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 79.
extreme assault on theology and politics."18 Schmitt's use of the term "political theology" reflects his tendency to re-appropriate, re-invest and re-deploy the concepts of others, which in turn parallels his theory of secularization and its underlying assertion that theological concepts from pre-modernity can and should be transferred from their original contexts into the sphere of modern politics. According to Meier, Schmitt's versatility in thinking "political theology" extends to his engagements with his own critical interlocutors: "Schmitt doesn't use the term only for theories like his own. He knows "how to detect 'political theologies' even where all theology is expressly repudiated, where the political is negated, and where all political theology is declared to have been 'disposed of.' Either the adversaries' positions are based on 'transfers' and 'recastings,' or they are passed off as metaphysics malgré lui."19 The possibility of locating a political theology "even where all theology is expressly repudiated" contributes to the instability of the term by allowing it to assume subterranean, unacknowledged forms, and this thinking of political theology as a form of critical decryption is reflected in a thinking of "intensity" that Schmitt proposes in his Begriff des Politischen, in which politics appears not as a field among other fields (social, cultural, economic) but as an occurrence: the political asserts itself, according to Schmitt, in a particular field when killing arises as a "real possibility" among opponents.20 Clearly influenced by Schmitt, Taubes adopts a similar regard for the theological, writing to Armin Mohler: "Was ist heute nicht 'Theologie' (ausser dem theologischen Geschwätz)? Ist E. Jünger weniger 'Theologie' denn Bultmann oder
Meier, Leo Strauss, 80. While as Meier notes Schmitt does not directly invoke Bakunin's polemic against Mazzini, he does make Bakunin into his primary political enemy, referring to him in Politische Theologie as the "theologian of the anti-theological" and the "dictator of an anti-dictatorship." 19 Meier, Leo Strauss, 82. 20 See Carl Schmitt, Der Begriff des Politischen (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1932), 35.
Brunner? Kafka weniger als Karl Barth?"21 Schmitt concurs in his own letter to Mohler: "Taubes hat recht: Heute ist alles Theologie, mit Ausnahme dessen, was die Theologen von sich geben . . ."22 Yet in his own essay "What is Political Theology?" Meier defines the term as referring simply to "a political theory, political doctrine or a political position for which, on the self-understanding of the political theologian, divine revelation is the supreme authority and the ultimate ground."23 Such a naive formulation, the byproduct of Meier's intense readings of Schmitt and Leo Strauss, negatively reflects the complexity of Schmitt's enterprise and the philosophical challenge of political theology in the modern era that it instantiates. By espousing the restitution of divine authority at the heart of political doctrine, Meier's definition of "political theology" sideswipes the entire problematic of secularization at work in Schmitt's work, which contains no reference anywhere to an individual's "self-understanding" of the divine and instead derives its understanding of "political theology" from the assertion that theological concepts from pre-modernity survive embedded in a modern political context. Schmitt's assertion of secularization challenges us to question the "legitimacy of the modern age" as well as the possibility of maintaining any immanent foundation of politics. Given the ambiguities and veritable ocean of possible connotations of the term "political theology," its use serves only to further complicate matters. For this reason, this dissertation makes use instead of the term "theological-political," a term which has often been rendered interchangeable with "political theology." This decision is largely
Jacob Taubes, Ad Carl Schmitt: Gegenstrebige Fügung (Berlin: Merve Verlag, 1987), 31. Ibid., 37. 23 Meier, Leo Strauss, 84.
indebted to French philosopher Claude Lefort's crucial essay "The Permanence of the Theological-Political,"24 which has since its publication remained a key influence in contemporary debates on the affinities between religion and politics. To arrive at the term "theological-political," Lefort, following Maurice Merleau-Ponty's division between the visible and the invisible, first divides politics into politics [la politique] and the political [le politique]. For Lefort, the political refers "to the principles that generate society, or, more accurately, different forms of society," i.e. the particulars which comprise politics.25 The political functions as the invisible ground or condition of possibility for politics—it is that which gives politics its form, and "if we fail to grasp this primordial reference to the mode of institution of the social, to generative principles, or to an overall schema governing both the temporal and spatial configuration of society, we lapse into a positivist fiction."26 The non-identity of politics and the political means that society remains permanently disjointed and cannot close around itself in a purely immanent fashion. Religion, Lefort argues, embodies the disjunction between the political and politics because it attests to the non-identity of society with itself: "every religion states in its own way that human society can only open on to itself by being held in an opening it did not create."27 It would require more space to adequately read the theological and epistemological implications of Lefort’s definition here, which scales down the transcendental knowledge of God in monotheistic religion to an experience
Claude Lefort, "Permanence du théologico-politique?," in Essais sur le politique: XIXe-XXe siècles (Paris: Seuil, 1986) / "The Permanence of the Theologico-Political?" in Political Theologies: Public Religions in a Post-Secular World, eds. Hent de Vries and Lawrence E. Sullivan (New York: Fordham University Press, 2006),148-187. 25 Lefort, "The Permanence of the Theologico-Political?," 152. 26 Ibid. 27 Ibid., 157.
of “being held,” and reduces a unified deity or divine substance to an “opening.” In his book on Lefort's thought, noted scholar Bernard Flynn comments that in Lefort's thought, “religion testifies to a relationship between humanity and the Other; it is a protest against the attempt to close humanity and human history in on itself."28 Yet if the political mirrors the structure of non-identity inaugurated by the religious, how then can the political and the religious be distinguished from one another? An answer lies in Lefort's efforts (which broadly parallel Hans Blumenberg's) to theorize the legitimacy and genesis of the modern age. According to Lefort, religion arises from the pre-modern need for a stable social identity, which it fulfills by intertwining imagination with humanity's fundamental non-coincidence with itself—religion is the "imagined" form of this noncoincidence, because it renders humankind as a "split subject" in a system of symbolic images.29 Once Christianity became the established religion of Europe, a need in the Church presented itself to establish a mediation between the visible and the invisible in order to legitimate political order. Following Kantorowicz, Lefort asserts that in the era of medieval Christianity, the body of the king is the means by which society institutes itself.30 The symbolic decapitation of the king as an allegorical act in history signifies for Lefort the abrupt arrival of the modern era, which no longer can represent the nonidentity of society with itself in the same way: in Democracy and Political Theory Lefort writes that today "power appears as an empty place and those who exercise it as
Bernard Flynn, The Philosophy of Claude Lefort: Interpreting the Political (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2005),126. 29 Lefort, "The Permanence of the Theologico-Political?," 157. 30 Ibid., 185. See also Kantorowicz, The King's Two Bodies.
mere mortals who occupy it only temporarily or who could install themselves in it only by force or cunning. There is no law that can be fixed, whose articles cannot be contested, and whose foundations are not susceptible of being called into question. Lastly there is not representation of a centre and of the contours of society; unity cannot now efface social division."31 In modernity no figure can embody society's unity and symbolically link it with a supersensible world, because no figure can assume an uncontested authority in the field of politics.32 The field in which the stakes of this crisis are carried out is democracy, which "inaugurates the experience of an ungraspable, uncontrollable society in which the people will be said to be sovereign, of course, but whose identity will constantly be open to question, whose identity will remain latent."33 The permanent deferral of a constitutive or founding political identity, that is, not the identity of a particular individual or entity but the "sovereign" people as a whole, arises from a crisis of legitimacy that prohibits any figure of the suprasensible world from remaining intact, and this crisis marks the nature of a democratic modernity. 34 Each chapter of this dissertation will read a particular theological-political engagement with the gap between the figure and place of the Other as Lefort understands it. Each reading of an engagement—in Arendt, Schmitt, Taubes and Heidegger—proceeds from two assumptions. The first, derived from Lefort's essay, is
Lefort, Democracy and Political Theory, trans. David Macey (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press), 304. 32 See Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins, "Claude Lefort and the Illegitimacy of Modernity," Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory 10.1 (Winter 2009): 110. 33 Lefort, Democracy, 304. 34 As Flynn writes of Lefort, "modernity is the condition in which the figure, but not the place of the Other, is effaced." Lefort, 126.
that as long as the "place of the Other" remains in effect, any theoretical effort aimed at marking, obscuring, bridging or exploding the gap between place and figure in modernity is capable of being read according to theological-political discourse. The second assumption is that a broad congruence between Arendt's analysis of the withdrawal of authority and Lefort's account of the origin of democratic modernity can be used to understand theological-political discourse as circuiting around the problem of authority, insofar as figures of authority in both ancient and modern politics stand at the point where a particular society cannot close in around itself. Let me now address the diacritical mark that connects and severs my bifurcated theme. Given the ill fit that any substantive term like "political theology" can offer when encapsulating the field of possible relations between politics and theology, I consider the linguistic ambiguity of a hyphenated collision between the two adjectives theological and political to be a boon. Furthermore, the "theological-political" can refer to an original intermingling of the two domains, most notably in the notion of a "founding myth" in politics, which (as Arendt notes) begins with Plato and stretches to the twentieth-century in the thought of Schmitt, where it appears in his theory on myth, as well as in Ernst Cassirer's book The Myth of the State.35 In addition to marking an original indistinction, the hyphen between "theological" and "political" can also refer to the transfer of concepts from one domain to the other, often called "secularization," as in the work of Löwith or Schmitt, or to the process of "reoccupation" proposed by Blumenberg, in which modern concepts are not inherited
See Carl Schmitt, Die geistesgeschichtliche Lage des heutigen Parliamentarismus (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1923), and Ernst Cassirer, The Myth of the State (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1946).
from a religious past but instead arise from an immanent need to reckon with the positions that previous religious structures have vacated. In order to grasp the stakes of the term "theological-political" in Lefort's essay and subsequently deploy it to support this dissertation, it is necessary to note two instances where Lefort's analysis requires critical attention. First, considering Lefort's extensive theorization of "the political," one cannot ignore the comparatively brief attention he pays "the religious." At one point Lefort writes that
We can define the religious in broader or narrower terms, and the threshold beyond which the word loses all pertinence is a matter for debate; it would, however, seem that we can readily agree that certain beliefs, attitudes and representations reveal a religious sensibility. . . . the expression 'religious sensibility' retains a fairly precise content if we relate it to historically and culturally determined phenomena: in other words, not to religion in general but to the Christian religion, whose various manifestations we can identify without any risk of error.36
But can we be so certain that we can locate without "any risk of error" the manifestations of Christianity? This certainty becomes dubious given Lefort's earlier question: "can we not admit that, despite all the changes that have occurred, the religious survives in the guise of new beliefs and new representations, and that it can therefore return to the surface, in either traditional or novel forms, when conflicts
Lefort, "The Permanence of the Theologico-Political?," 151.
become so acute as to produce cracks in the edifice of the state?"37 Lefort assumes that religion will be locatable “without any risk of error” regardless of which guise or Gewand it temporarily adopts. Later in this introduction I will address the debate between Carl Schmitt and Hans Blumenberg on the issue of secularization, which centers around the very question of identifying the guises of Christianity in the modern era. Second, we should note that the title of Lefort's essay bears the mark of a substitution: the adjective "theological" appears where one would expect a derivation of the word "religion." This substitution reflects a terminological ambiguity in theological-political discourse, where the terms often appear as interchangeable with one anotherr. I do not wish to assert here that terminological clarity in this matter is either possible or desirable, since it is quite possible that the demarcation where religion ends and theology begins cannot be firmly established. "Theology" derives from Greek and "religion" from Latin. While the etymology of theology, theologia, is fairly straightforward, first appearing in Plato's Republic where it indicates a "discourse on the divine," the etymology of "religion" is far more complex and contested, which makes Lefort's assumption about the legibility of religion, in which we effectively 'know it when we see it,' all the more problematic. In his crucial text "Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of 'Religion' at the Limits of Reason Alone," Jacques Derrida, citing Emile Benveniste's observation that there is no common Indo-European term for what we call religion, observes that "there has not always been, therefore, nor is there always and everywhere, nor will there always and
everywhere . . . be something, a thing that is one and identifiable, identical with itself, which, whether religious or irreligious, all agree to call 'religion.'"38 The impossibility of arriving at a self-identical concept of religion, according to Derrida, can be traced back to the word's doubled origin, where religion's closest Latinate equivalent, religio, splits into relegere and religare:
Within the Latin sphere, the origin of religio was the theme of challenges that in truth were interminable. Between two readings or two lessons, therefore, two provenances: on the one hand, supported by texts of Cicero, relegere, what would seem to be the avowed and formal and semantic filiation: bringing together in order to return and begin again; whence religio, scrupulous attention, respect, patience, even modesty, shame or piety--and, on the other hand (Lactantius and Tertullian) religare, etymology 'invented by Christians,' as Benveniste says, and linking religion to the link, precisely, to obligation, ligament, and hence to obligation, to debt, etc., between men or between man and God.39
For Derrida these two sources of religion share the thinking of "a persistent bond that bonds itself first and foremost to itself. What is at issue is indeed a reunion a reassembling, a re-collecting. A resistance or a reaction to dis-junction. To ab-solute alterity."40 One can locate in Derrida's description of this bonding an echo of Lefort's thesis establishing both a structural and historical bond between the religious and the political. The need not only to bind but to bind again (re-ligare) underscores a common conception of religion as a praxis defined by repeated collective acts—
Jacques Derrida, Acts of Religion (New York: Routledge, 2002), 73. Italics in original. Ibid., 73-74. 40 Ibid., 74.
rituals, ceremonies and sermons that, to follow Lefort, attempt to support a system of symbols that figure society's non-coincidence with itself and address its need to be "held in an opening it did not create."41 Jacob Taubes, whose work represents a sustained effort to rehabilitate theology and redefine its unique relevance in modernity, offers a radical interpretation of the relation between theology and religion, in which the character of religion as a "resistance or a reaction to dis-junction" becomes the definitive attribute of theology:
Der Ausdruck 'Theologie' erscheint zum ersten Mal in Platos Kritik an der homerischen Religion, und seit Platos Kritik signalisiert Theologie immer eine Krise der Religion. Die Stunde der Theologie is gekommen, wenn eine mythische Konfiguration zusammenbricht und ihre in einem Kanon erstarrten Symbole in Konflict mit einer neuen Stufe des menschlichen Bewusstseins geraten. Wenn die Symbole, die geprägt wurden, um die Begegnung des Menschen mit dem Göttlichen in einem einzigarten Augenblick seiner Geschichte auszudrücken, nicht mehr mit seiner Erfahrung zur Deckung kommen, versucht die Theologie die ursprünglichen Symbole so zu interpreterien, dass sie sich einer neuen Lage anpassen: was in Mythos gegenwärtig war, wird in der theologischen Interpretation nur noch 'repräsentiert,' nacherzählend vergegenwärtigt.42
Theology, then, has an "hour" specific to it: a time of crisis when religious symbols and historical experience no longer coincide. Theology thus follows religion
Lefort, "The Permanence of the Theologico-Political?," 157. Jacob Taubes, “Über die Eigenart der theologischen Methode: Überlegungen zu den methodischen Prinzipen der Theologie Paul Tillichs," in Vom Kult zu Kultur (München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2007), 230.
as an interpretation which repeatedly sutures and re-sutures religion’s mythic content to material events. The term “theology” appears in The Republic as part of the extensive philosophical war waged by Plato against art in general and the medium of poetry in particular. 43 In dialogue with Socrates, Adeimantus refers to the Homeric religions as theologies: “What are these forms of theology which you mean?”44 In this case theology appears not as a separate field but as the content of a religion as viewed from a certain perspective, namely philosophy as practiced by Plato, specifically a philosophy vested in the foundation of a state. For Plato, Homeric religion’s depictions of the gods according to mythic forms of representation render it unwelcome in the state conceived by philosophy. For Taubes, Plato’s sudden shift to the term theologia "ist ein Zeichen für die Erschütterung der Grundlagen, denn er impliziert, dass auch die Erzählung, sogar der Mythos, der Natur des Göttlichen enthüllt, vor dem Gericht der Vernunft Rechenschaft ablegen muss."45 From this perspective theology appears as a conduit between the symbols and ritual practice of religion and a philosophy ordained by the court of reason. Yet this reading of Plato seems to double back on, or at the very least complicate, Taubes’ own concept of the "hour of theology": in The Republic the term theology does not appear in reference to a hermeneutic process that salvages religious symbols; instead it is used by philosophy to quarantine the effects of poetic myth by
See Avital Ronell, "On the Misery of Theory without Poetry: Heidegger's Reading of Hölderlin's 'Andenken'", PMLA Volume 120, Number 1 (January 2005):16-32. 44 Book II, line 384 (Benjamin Jowett translation). 45 Jacob Taubes, "Theologie und politische Theorie" in Vom Kult zu Kultur, 257.
judging them according to the standard of rational discourse. In Taubes' own words, this judgment reflects rather than alleviates a historical crisis: the hour of theology in The Republic would thus indicate the need for theology to arrive and heal the wound it had opened in the experience of religious symbols. The ambiguity of visual and linguistic signifiers in religious contexts, coupled with the unidirectional flow of historical time, insures that the "hour of theology" remains a permanent possibility. The striking of this hour can be heard, for example, in the development of Christian conscience by Paul, which according to Taubes occurs as a response to a power failure in the symbolism of Paul’s fundamentally Jewish eschatology: the Christ has not come back. Paul’s theological balm for this messianic trauma consists in an act of displacement that shifts the site of revolutionary change promised by messianic faith from the stage of world history to the interior site of the individual soul. If in Paul’s time, the event or non-event of Christ’s non-return causes the human world to appear essentially as unredeemed, the withdrawal of the Roman Empire from the position of world-historical in Augustine’s time caused the world to appear anew as an object of religious care. The practical need for a successor to the Roman Empire shaved off the messianic edge of the anti-worldly interpretation of Christian symbols perpetuated since Paul, turning revolution into reform, worldnegation into world-preservation. The reoccurrence of these "hours" parallels the historical trajectory of Christianity's increasing investment in the world. Taubes writes that "Säkularisierung ist der Preis, den die christliche Gemeinde für ihre Entwicklung von einer
adventistischen Sekte zu einer Universalkirche zahlen musste, und die Geschichte der Theologie ist die geistige Buchhaltung dieser Unkosten."46 In light of Derrida's thinking of the dis-junction behind religion we might say that this "geistige Buchhaltung" is at the same time a record-book of historical trauma: as Taubes' work demonstrates, the dis-junction to which religion responds can be historical as well as ontological. Taubes' theory of the hour of theology as a "religious" (in the sense of religare, re-binding or gathering) response to historical dis-junction reflects an influence by his onetime mentor Gershom Scholem. The development of the Lurianic Kabbalah according to Scholem exemplifies Taubes' model of theology: Scholem considers the Lurianic Kabbalah to be a response to a historical trauma of expulsion felt by the Jews exiled from Spain in 1492, in which the "horrors of Exile" felt by Isaac Luria and his followers "were mirrored in the Kabbalistic doctrine of metempsychosis, which now won immense popularity by stressing the various stages of the soul's exile."47 As I will discuss in Chapter Three, the notion of theology as a response to historical disjunction subsequently surfaces as a key element in Taubes' late polemic against Scholem, "Der Messianismus und sein Preis": against Scholem's criticism of messianism as producing a "Leben im Aufschub," Taubes argues that the development of messianic theology as a response to historical injustice remains itself a decisive historical agent, providing the impetus for revolutionary change.48
Taubes, Vom Kult zu Kultur, 231. Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (Jerusalem: Schocken, 1941), 249-250. See also Scholem, Ursprünge und Anfänge der Kabala (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2001), and Moshe Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998). 48 See Taubes, "Der Messianismus und sein Preis," in Vom Kult zur Kultur, 43-49.
The resurgence of messianic elements in German-Jewish theology after the First World War represents a final twist in the history of theological "hours" within Taubes' work. At this moment, according to Taubes, "plötzlich sprachen die apokalyptischen Symbole des Neuen Testaments, Symbole, die während der ganzen Geschichte der christlichen Kirche für die Theologie ein Stein des Antosses gewesen waren, mit einer Unmittelbarkeit und Selbtverständlichkeit, die keiner weiteren Interpretation bedurften. Eine allegorische Übersetzung schien nicht nötig, denn einzig apokalyptische Symbole konnten die aktuelle Situation zum Ausdruck bringen."49 Insofar as Taubes considers theological interpretation to be closely akin to "allegorical translation,"50 one cannot help but wonder whether the "immediate" legibility of eschatological symbols renders the collision between these symbols and historical experience an inverse to the previous examples of theological "hours," a kind of nonhour of theology, marked by the sudden legibility of previously obscure religious elements. Taubes' description bears a markedly Benjaminian echo in its image of a temporary constellation of past and present that casts a revelatory light onto both: following Benjamin, one might also call this non-hour the messianic hour of theology, in which theology as allegorical interpretation becomes temporarily superfluous. The term "authority" resists semantic clarity no less than "theology" or "politics." Within theological-political discourse, authority often forms a terminologically ambiguous constellation together with power and legitimacy, and in some instances, such as the extended Auseinandersetzung between Schmitt and Blumenberg, one has the suspicion that authority be exchanged for either term without
Taubes, Vom Kult zu Kultur, 232-233. See Taubes' description of "pneumatic reading" in Paul's letters: Die Politische Theologie des Paulus, 56-76.
much harm being done to an argument. One task of this dissertation will be to address how authority intertwines with and de-couples from its terminological doubles within theological-political discourse.51 Furthermore, a specific difficulty of addressing authority in German texts lies in the multiplicity of terms to which the English term can correspond: these include Authorität, Obrigkeit, Befugnis, and Herrschaft, the last of which is particularly thorny, as it can be translated as authority, power, or dominion. Herrschaft appears in the subtitle to a volume of essays on theologicalpolitical issues influenced by Taubes' work, Torah-Nomos-Ius: Abendländischer Antinomismus und der Traum vom herrschaftsfreien Raum, in which the term is used as a close synonym for sovereignty, together with the latter’s connotations of absolute authority and political rule over others.52 Like the difference between religion and theology, the difference between authority and power can often be a matter of emphasis rather than conceptual distinction. However, we must also, from a historical perspective, reckon with the long tradition of the division of these two terms in the political sphere. When Hannah Arendt locates the origin of authority as auctoritas in the ancient Rome, she notes that it was assigned to the Roman Senate while potestas (power) was granted to the magistrates. Arendt quotes Cicero, "Cum potestas in populo auctoritas in senatu sit" ("While power resides in the people, authority rests with the Senate"), and Theodor
In order to pursue this line of inquiry it is necessary to bypass other issues and modalities of authority, such as the production and perpetuation of obedience, and the issues of cultic aura of authority that appear in Max Weber's influential analysis of charismatic authority. 52 Gesine Palmer, Christiane Nasse, Renate Haffke, Dorothee C. von Tippelskirch, eds., Torah-NomosIus : abendländischer Antinomismus und der Traum vom herrschaftsfreien Raum (Berlin: Vorwerk 8: 1999).
Mommsen, who describes auctoritas as being "more advice and less than command, an advice which one may not safely ignore."53 It is beyond the scope of this inquiry to properly consider the advice “which one may not safely ignore” as one of the means by which authority compels obedience—in fact, as Avital Ronell’s reading of Arendt indicates, the question of compelling obedience through authority is perhaps this subject’s most compelling question, one that would necessitate the tracing of a separate critical trajectory through politics, theology as well as psychoanalysis. This dissertation’s focus on figures of authority at scenes of political foundation intends to function in part as a modest backdrop to future developments in the understanding of obedience in theological-political terms. The Roman conception that the particular agent or bearer of political authority is without power continues through the Middle Ages in the Holy Roman Empire and in the predominantly English conception of the divine right of kings, and is currently reflected in both the separation of church and state and the democratic division of a legislative body from a judiciary body: according to Arendt, the American Supreme Court has been the inheritor of the Roman Senate's authoritative position.54 The longstanding assumption underlying the division between an authoritative judiciary and a legislative power connects authority with interpretation and power with action: authority can only read meanings, contemplate, reflect, and stands outside of the sphere of law-making as its source of sanction or guarantee. Yet in the realm of twentieth-century political theory, authority and power often fail to maintain a discernible distinction: take, for example, the extended debate
See Hannah Arendt, “What is Authority?,” in Between Past and Future (New York: Penguin, 1968), 122-123. 54 Ibid.
between Hans Blumenberg and Carl Schmitt, with their mutual references to "divine" authority and "absolute" authority when addressing the question of secularization and the historical origins of the concepts of sovereignty. In the context of this debate, "power" becomes "authority" and "authority" becomes "legitimacy": authority refers not to a power-less institution like the Supreme Court or Christian Church but to the figure of the sovereign, and legitimacy takes over as the concept of ground, sanction or guarantee needed to undergird a political order. In general we can say that if we inquire after the authority of a particular act of political foundation, in which we might equally inquire after what ground, guarantee or sanction undergirds it, then we are addressing authority as a close synonym for legitimacy. Arendt argues that the crisis of authority which afflicted both American and French Revolutions in their respective attempts at re-formulating a political foundation induced respective recourses to theological rhetoric and religious sanction, a sentiment later echoed by Lefort: in a time when the event of the French Revolution was still fresh, there arose "a feeling that a break has occurred, but that it did not occur within time, that it establishes a relationship between human beings and time itself, that it makes history a mystery; that it cannot be circumscribed within the field of what are termed political, social or economic institutions; that it establishes a relation between human beings and institution itself; that it makes society a mystery. The religious meaning of this break haunts the minds of the men of the period."55 While Lefort takes the "religious meaning" of the revolutionary event as a structurally religious effect, a by-product of a profoundly direct experience with the nature of "the political," Arendt, as I will show in Chapter One, adopts a more judgmental attitude: invocations of
Lefort, "The Permanence of the Theologico-Political?," 148.
divine sanction by the Founding Fathers appear regressive to her because they obscure the potential for the performative, self-generative capacity for political authority that Arendt calls natality, though her concept of natality remains, despite her secular intentions to the contrary, imbued with a theological character epitomized by her description of natality as reflecting the "divinity of birth as such."56 Schmitt develops his theory of sovereignty in an era in which the authority of the Christian Church no longer bestows legitimacy on the seat of political power, as it did in the Middle Ages. Schmitt's proposal that only a political authority structured after divine authority is capable of protecting the nation-state reflects a theoretical tension, between a historical claim of secularization, which asserts the origin of political concepts in theology, and a normative claim, that these political concepts, above all the concept of sovereignty, must retain an analogical foothold in theological territory in order to function. My second chapter approaches Schmitt's theory of sovereignty through the apocalyptic figure of the katechon which he adopts from 2 Thessalonians: this approach broadens a reading of sovereignty beyond the debate on secularization into questions of traditional authority and Schmitt's rhetoric of "concrete orientation," and allows as well a more detailed consideration of sovereignty's mythic dimensions: in Schmitt's universe, the sovereign is more than a political agent operating in space occupied by other mortals, he/she/it is the protagonist of a cosmic battle, constantly fending off the arrival of the Anti-Christ.
See Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Garden City: Doubleday, 1959), 204.
From a theological-political perspective, the figure of the sovereign finds its antipode in the figure of the messiah.57 Drawing a set of convincing parallels between Benjamin's "political theology" and that of Paul the Apostle, Taubes makes the case that Paul's letters are intended as a polemic against the Roman Empire, and derive their political intensity from a critique of the authority of the law based its messianic invalidation. If the figure of the sovereign represents an earthly authority undergirded by a theological framework, the figure of the messiah, as the incarnation of divine authority, represents the invalidation of earthly authority as such. A critique of the law's authority thus belongs both to the figure of the Schmittian sovereign, who stands above the law, and the Pauline messiah, who declares it invalid and sublates it into the ethics of Christian love. Paul's "political theology," following Taubes, signifies a theology of the end of politics, which for Arendt will mean in fact that this theology has no political significance. Taubes shares with Schmitt the presumption, in contrast to Arendt, that the end of politics remains essentially a political matter, whether conceived in accordance with messianic theology or by a series of metaphorical relays which identify the sovereign with the figure of the katechon, tasked with staving off the end of the world. Martin Heidegger's reading of Friedrich Hölderlin complicates our itinerary by foregrounding the problem of philosophically locating the authority of the author, the auctor already installed in auctoritas, a problem which forces us to consider the intersection of the theological-political with poetic speech as well as the performative dimension of poetic testimony. The work of Avital Ronell, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe
See Giorgio Agamben, "The Messiah and the Sovereign: The Problem of Law in Walter Benjamin," in Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy (Stanford: Stanford University Press: 1999).
and Paul de Man on Heidegger's readings inspect the testimonial dimension of authority evident in Heidegger's presentation of Hölderlin as the one who has authority to testify in poetry to a historically novel theological-political conjunction. For Heidegger, Hölderlin's testimony has a performative effect: the thematic of Dichtung as Sage that underscores Heidegger's reading means that the poet is capable not only of speaking about the gods, but of speaking the gods, in an onto-linguistic act which establishes a new relation between the human and divine realms. Lacoue-Labarthe locates the "theological-political" dimension of Heidegger's readings of Hölderlin in an espousal of the need for an installation of myth in political foundation and identity. Chapter Four will follow Lacoue-Labarthe's critical trajectory, which ultimately counterposes Heidegger's reading of Hölderlin against Benjamin's in order to mark both the installation of myth in to the realm of the theological-political as well as its deconstruction into "mythic connections," as Benjamin formulates it. The status of the "theological-political" in Lacoue-Labarthe's reading is perplexing, however, as the stakes of his reading seem to necessitate the avoidance of the term in Benjamin's work. Furthermore, if we recall Taubes' commentary on Plato, we might ask whether the advocation of myth in politics might better be considered under the sign of the religio-political, and following Taubes, we might consider the "poetic myths about the Gods" such as those Heidegger finds in Hölderlin as belonging to the domain of religion, and theology as referring to the logos of reason and to allegorical interpretation. The problem of myth in theological-political discourse is closely tied to the problem of authority: the proponents of myth in politics, for the most part coming from the right-wing end of the political spectrum, including Schmitt and Heidegger,
argue that myth must undergird political authority because its auratic effects are necessary for the production of collective obedience. This perspective understands obedience as essentially irrational, induced through an appeal to affect, to the instincts, emotions and beliefs that can be stimulated through mythic figuration. In Sovereign Nations, Carnal States, Kam Shapiro traces the origin of Schmitt's support for myth in politics to Georges Sorel, who incorporates a thinking of myth into his theory of the proletarian general strike: "Reading Sorel against himself, Schmitt argues that the irrational power of myth can become the principle not of anarchy but of authority ('based on the new feeling for order, discipline and hierarchy')."58 Whether Sorel’s notion of the “social myth” should be interpreted both as the principle of anarchy and as de-coupled from any notion of political authority, however remains an open question. Taking cues from Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-LucNancy, Shapiro further remarks that a conception of myth as the principle for authority goes hand in hand with a support for a nationalistic forging or "fictionalizing" of identity endemic to fascist politics.59 As I intend to show in Chapter Four, however, it is not clear to me that an understanding of the "theological-political" should be reduced to a parallelism between the "theological" and the "mythic," and that one should then subsequently deduce that a deconstruction of myth (as in Benjamin's reading of Hölderlin) should signify something like a secularized or atheological politics.
Kam Shapiro, Sovereign Nations, Carnal States (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003), 109. See also Schmitt, Die geistegeschichtliche Lage des heutigen Parlamentarismus (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1923). 59 See Shapiro, Sovereign Nations, 109-111. See also Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Heidegger, Art and Politics (Cambridge: Basil Blackwell, 1990), and Jean-Luc Nancy, The Inoperative Community (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991).
The modern problem of myth in politics emerges in Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan, where Hobbes conceives of the necessity of a strong central authority in politics to defend against the discord of nature: the absolute sovereign, who embodies both authority and power. Yet at this historical moment, during the English Civil War, when Hobbes seemingly wants to untie the bind of modern state sovereignty from divinity, religion and theology, he places Leviathan's "mythic image"60 on its frontispiece, and borrows the name of his creation from a sea monster described in the Book of Job. In this light Taubes writes that Hobbes "ist Lehrmeister für das Problem einer jeden politischen Theologie heute,"61 as the traces of religion in his political theory prove instructive for reading the "Streit zwischen Aufklärung und theokratischen Kirchenregiment," which is "keineswegs erledigt."62 Leviathan thus functions as a crucial precursor to theological-political issues in the modern era, particularly in its inspiration for Carl Schmitt, who adopts Hobbes' adage, Auctoritas non veritas facit legem ("Authority, not truth, makes the law)."63 Hobbes' epithet of Leviathan as "mortal God" (which Taubes takes as a secularization of the figure of Christ) as well prefigures Schmitt's identification of the sovereign with the katechon. The katechon is also a mortal power, one whose finitude comes inscribed in its core: according to Thessalonians, the katechon is meant to stave off the anti-Christ until the right time, the appointed eschatological hour, at which point the katechon loses and allows the anti-Christ to reign, until it is in turn slain by the triumphant Christ. For Schmitt only a theologically-inflected sovereignty can be regarded as mortal, because
Taubes, "Statt einer Einleitung: Leviathan als sterblicher Gott" in Der Fürst dieser Welt, 10. Ibid., 9. 62 Ibid. 63 See Geréby, "Political Theology versus Theological Politics," 10.
it displays a consciousness of its finitude and the constant need to protect its national borders against annihilation. Noting the traditional reception of Hobbes as the theorist of a modern secular sovereignty, Derrida identifies two ways in which Hobbes' nation-state maintains a theological-political tie: through the imitation and the representation of God. "Hobbes' Leviathan inscribes human art in the logic an imitation of divine art."64 This imitation is limited, however: being unable to create, the human art "fabricates, and being unable to engender a natural animal, fabricates an artificial animal," namely the Leviathan.65 Derrida's reading of Hobbes imagines the Leviathan as a political counterpart to Frankenstein's monster, fabricated in imitation of divine creation. A separate undertaking would want to consider the relation between the "fabrication" of this mythic image of the sovereign and the "fictionalizing" of national identity that Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy regard as endemic to the political consciousness of National Socialism. In addition to imitating God, man must in Hobbes' world also take his place. Referring to Hobbes' discussion of "representation" in chapter 16 of Leviathan, Derrida asserts that the logic of the lieu-tenance of God "clearly marks the fact that the proper place of the sovereign, the appropriate topos of the topolitics of this human sovereignty, is indeed that of an authority that is subject, subjected to, submitted to, and underlying divine sovereignty."66 The presupposedly absolute sovereign displays the quality of “being-subject” or “being-subjected-to” in the act of taking the place of
Jacques Derrida, The Beast and The Sovereign, Volume 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 26. 65 Ibid. 66 Ibid., 53.
God. The sovereign "takes places as place-taking [lieu-tenant], he takes place, the place standing in for the absolute sovereign: God. The absoluteness of the human sovereign, his required and declared immortality, remains essentially divine, whatever the substitution, representation or lieutenance which institutes it statutorily in this place."67 One must consider from a historical perspective the possibility and presumed necessity in Hobbes for the human sovereign to "take the place" of God: does this taking-place re-place or re-model the sanction of the medieval "divine right of kings?" The model of taking-place or lieu-tenance operates according to a different logic than the conferment of authority upon the head of state by either God himself or the Church. Furthermore, lieu-tenance can imply an ontological as well as a historical condition, both of which point towards the historical withdrawal of the Gods and the rise of a modernity conceivable as atheistic or a-theistic, secular or post-secular, that is, in addition to inviting questions of representation as Derrida approaches it, lieutenance points the way towards the debate on secularization and the "taking-place" over time of theological concepts by political concepts. Wielded polemically against a theory of secularization popularized by Karl Löwith and embraced by Carl Schmitt, Hans Blumenberg's theory of "re-occupation" might be conceived as a form of historical lieu-tenance: rather than following the theological concepts of medieval Christianity in an unbroken historical chain, as the theory of secularization would have it, modern political concepts stand in for these concepts by "re-occupying" or perhaps "taking the place" they have vacated. The problem with this "re-occupation," according to Schmitt, is that it de-legitimizes (or de-authorizes, I want to say) the modern era, because legitimacy in the field of politics
depends on a historical continuity between the terminology of Christian theology and that of the modern state. From Schmitt's point of view, Blumenberg's position leaves the authority figure of the sovereign without authority, which according to the scheme of secularization must be inherited from the past. This inheritance appears to Blumenberg as a quasi-cultural "debt" of the new historical age to its predecessor which undermines modernity's self-understanding as truly a "new" era. Blumenberg contends that the historical transition to the modern era consisted of the evisceration of old content and then the appropriation of the vacated framework on the part of new elements. What we moderns have inherited from our religious past consists not of concepts but of questions, whose answers have been effaced by historical change: the question of the direction of history as a whole, for example, first emerged in the Jewish thinking of messianism, and persists across epochs before inspiring the philosophies of history evaluated by Karl Löwith in Weltgeschichte und Heilsgeschehen. In his final work, Politische Theologie II: Die Legende von der Erledigung jeder Politischen Theologie, Schmitt confronts Blumenberg’s criticism by claiming that his opponent has confused the categories of legitimacy and legality. Schmitt writes:
Im heutigen Sprachgebrauch bedeutet Legitimität rechtmässig, Legalität gesetzmässig. Legalität ist ein Funktionsmodus der staatlichen oder einer sonstigen,
berechenbar funktionierenden Bürokratie. Aus dem gesetzmässigen Funktionieren eines Verfahrensablaufs könnte nur Legalität als die kompatible Art der Rechtfertigung der Neuzeit in Betracht kommen. Legitimität würde eine ganze Konterbande alter Begriffe und Umbesetzungen mit sich führen und könnte Tradition, Erbe, Vaterschaft und die Nekromantik des Alten decken. Freilich gehen solche Unterscheidungen schliesslich auf die Soziologie Max Webers züruck, der in Blumenbergs Buch nicht vorkommt.68
For Schmitt, legitimacy derives from historical continuity and cannot be substituted by legality. Blumenberg's theory of "re-occupation," according to Schmitt, scrambles legitimacy and legality, and his justification of modernity that works according to a "betont rationale und 'gesetzmässige' Erkenntnis" should be called legality not legitimacy: "nämlich im Hinblick auf ihre strenge, Ausnahmen oder Durchbrechungen nicht zulassende Unverbrüchlichkeit des 'Gesetzes.'"69 The upshot is that legality cannot reckon with exceptions: "Wenn es streng gesetzmässig zugeht, Ausnahmen perhorresziert, Mutationen verdächtig, Wunder geradezu Sabotageakte sind, dann liegt die Frage nahe, woher denn bei solcher Gesetzmässigkeit das
Carl Schmitt, Politische Theologie II: Die Legende von der Erledigung jeder Politischen Theologie (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1970), 87-88. 69 Ibid., 87. In a rebuttal to Schmitt's criticism composed for the second edition of Die Legitimität der Neuzeit, Blumenberg accepts Schmitt's distinction between legitimacy and legality, but asserts that "the legitimacy of the modern age that I intended is a historical category," adding, "it must seem paradoxical to Carl Schmitt that the legitimacy of an epoch is supposed to consist in its discontinuity in relation to its pre-history, and this paradox prevents him from thinking that anything else could be at issue but mere legality vis-à-vis a hypostatized reason that decrees positive laws." The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, trans. Robert M. Wallace (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1983), 97.
ununterbrochen Neue kommen soll."70 This no-so veiled reference to Schmitt's own theories of sovereign decisionism and the "Ausnahmezustand" underscores Schmitt's distaste for law as either a force of political order or means of justification, and his instance on an absolute authority in politics, the sovereign, who imitates the divine sovereign's ability to create miracles with his own ability to suspend the legal order in exceptional circumstances. As I will detail in Chapter Two, Schmitt’s sovereign must imitate God not out of a religiously moral belief or value of righteousness, but because only this imitation allows sovereign authority the flexibility of governing in a hostile, unpredictable universe. Given the analysis of Arendt's reading of authority that I will provide in Chapter One, it is possible to read Schmitt's conceptions of legitimacy and secularization, as well as his theory of sovereignty to which these conceptions repeatedly point, as disavowing the trauma of historical discontinuity that for Arendt frames the modern era. The double valence of Schmitt's theoretical claims in Politische Theologie, in which modern state concepts simultaneously are derived and must be derived from theology gives the impression of a kind of Freudian kettle logic, designed to avoid confronting the irreparable break with the past that Arendt describes. The Blumenberg-Schmitt debate provides reason for the thinking of mimesis and substitution in the relation between the modern political era and the historical past. Strategies that arise once the continuity of tradition has been ruptured: is the task of the present to mimetically repeat the past, or to find substitutes or stand-ins—how
does substitution work? As I will show in Chapter One, the political problem of substitution emerges as a central concern in Hannah Arendt's reading of the American Revolution. The need for the Founding Fathers to regard the political order of ancient Rome as a "model" according to Arendt, results from both their anxious confrontation with the "mystical foundation" of authority and an awareness that they cannot simply derive an authority based on the preservation of an unbroken link with the past, as Rome had done. Another project would focus the question of imitation in political theory and its theological implications, specifically in historical instances of crises in authority: in addition to the matter of humans imitating God, there is the matter of the present imitating the past. The recourse or re-imagining of ancient Rome in the time of the French Revolution as well becomes a pressing concern for Blumenberg and Benjamin in their respective attempts to reckon with the fate of authority in the modern era.
The Divinity of Birth as Such: Natality and the Theological-Political in Hannah Arendt
The central thesis of this inquiry involves three theological-political figures in the German twentieth-century—the sovereign, the Messiah and the poet. Each symptomatically reflects the disappearance of traditional authority in politics, as Hannah Arendt diagnoses it, and embodies a particular effort to reckon with this disappearance. Arendt’s essay “What is Authority?,” a key text for research into twentieth-century discourse on the theological-political, raises the problem of authority’s disappearance. This dissertation sees the crisis of authority's withdrawal as functioning as the condition of possibility for contemporary discourse on the theological-political. In a way that follows Jacob Taubes’ description of the "hour of the theological,71 this crisis produced new efforts to circuit between the domain of the political and the domain of the theological in hopes of locating a resolution. I intend to critically situate Arendt's thinking of authority within the topos of the theological-political in order to read these three figures. At the same time, I recognize that religion ceases to be an overt concern for Arendt after her dissertation on Augustine, and the fact that Arendt’s work has not often surfaced in recent discussions on the theological-political. In fact, it is not uncommon for scholars to overlook the role of religion in Arendt’s thought. As one example it is worth noting
See Jacob Taubes, "Uberlegungen zur Theologie des Paul Tillichs," in Vom Kult zu Kultur.
that neither the terms "religion" nor "theology" appear in the index to Seyla Benhabib’s influential book, The Reluctant Modernism of Hannah Arendt. Samuel Moyn’s recent essay, “Hannah Arendt on the Secular,”72 does much to emphasize the oversight responsible for leaving out religion when discussing Arendt, as her response to the problem of secularization epitomizes her “reluctance” when confronting the challenges of modernity. The felicity of Benhabib’s use of the term "reluctance," however, is that it reflects the deeply ambiguous moments when Arendt’s thought becomes entangled between two positions—between that of past and future, for example, or in the case of religion and secularization, between philosophical ideality and the pragmatics of realpolitik, particularly when it comes to the case of authority, whose encroaching absence Arendt seems to lament and celebrate alternately. What sort of position or attitude does reluctance imply? Perhaps we can view it as the affective dimension of ambivalence. As an affect, reluctance names a struggle that places one between two loci, the locus of demand and the locus of desire. Perhaps I am reluctant because what is in front of me, or what is asked of me, is not what I want. Perhaps I know that what I want is elsewhere, or that it cannot be found anywhere. Or perhaps I cannot schematize my desire yet refuse to forsake my ability to exercise it. One manifestation of Arendt's "reluctance" can be located in the observation that as much as her writing
Samuel Moyn, "Hannah Arendt and the Secular," New German Critique 105, Vol. 35, No. 3 (Fall 2008): 71-96.
so often yearns for the ‘truly’ secular, it again and again becomes, on rhetorical and conceptual levels, drawn into the sway of religious considerations and rhetoric. In noting the rhetorical markings of religion in her discussion of natality, which Arendt offers as the modern counterpart to traditional authority, I hope to demonstrate that a deep ambiguity lies between the possibility that a rhetorical limit contributes to constricting Arendt from constructing natality as a truly secular foundation for political authority and the possibility that the absence of a non-religious vocabulary for a foundation of non-political authority derives from the structurally religious character of this foundation is structurally religious.73 Arendt’s writings on authority (and I include here "What is Authority?" along with The Human Condition and On Revolution) reflect the fact that no matter how much we moderns may have earned the right to call our epoch secular, we must still confront what appears as the inertia of the theological, and to ask, to invoke Lefort's essay, whether the coupling "theological-political" is permanent, ineluctable, or the last and greatest hindrance to a secular, enlightened modern era emancipated from the dogmas and oppressive institutional structures of the past.74 We thus find ourselves at a crossroads, unable to turn back to the safety of a traditional world that continues to recede into the darkness of the historical past, yet "reluctant" to press onwards where no clear path reveals itself to us. Our course of action at this crossroads depends in
See Jacques Derrida, "Force of Law: The 'Mystical Foundation of Authority'," in Acts of Religion. See Claude Lefort, "The Permanence of the Theologico-Political."
part on how we conceive of the process of secularization; Moyn describes secularization in Arendt as "precisely the attempt not to escape from the authority and the sanction with which the absolute provides politics but to find nonreligious versions of them."75 How Arendt approaches the task of locating nonreligious versions of absolute authority and sanction, however, is complex enough to warrant close scrutiny; it will be necessary, specifically, to read every element of the phrase “nonreligious versions,” and in doing so to raise questions about Arendt's thought that reflect central concerns of this dissertation: how exactly should we understand “nonreligious” elements in Arendt’s thought, given the recurrence of religious elements in her more or less secular concepts? Furthermore, what do we mean by the term "version," which raises questions of substitutability and iterability? In her reading of Arendt’s essay on authority, Avital Ronell offers a series of questions that reflect the difficulty in reckoning with authority at the crossroads of modernity: “how do we score authority in what looks to be a post-political world, where we are faced with the essential finitude of the political? Do we need it, or can authority be disposed of by the purposeful anarchy of questioning? Is it the case that the exercise of authority can stave off tyranny or does its peculiar stamina, on the contrary, prep the tyrannical stranglehold?”76 Ronell’s questioning hits on the complex relation between authority and political violence. As much as authority produces the
Moyn, "Hannah Arendt and the Secular," 75. Avital Ronell, Loser Sons: Politics and Authority After Kafka (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2011), 48.
capacity for violence, abuse of power and hierarchical oppression, Arendt fears the “even worse” alternatives which authority fends off. As Ronell notes, in Arendt’s work “the fear induced by the loss of authority appears to follow a Schmittian pattern: the loss of something often considered pernicious—in his work, the loss of the enemy —opens up abysses to a radical disfiguration of relations as it unravels threads and impairs boundaries that have kept the world recognizable, even in its grim particulars.”77 The concern for a "radical disfiguration" of relations marks a subterranean point of contact between Arendt and Carl Schmitt, who both place significant emphasis on the need for a means of orientation in the modern political sphere: anchors, compasses, cartographical projects that preserve roots, demarcations and historical trajectories.78 The withdrawal of authority as one such means of orientation has, according to Arendt, produced a space of possibility for the rise of totalitarianism in the twentiethcentury.79 Totalitarianism represents a break with “traditional” authoritarianism, according to Arendt, in part because it discounts the permanence and stability associated with tradition as necessary values for political order. The "tie back to foundation" which for Arendt is exemplified in the political order of ancient Rome and perpetuated by authoritarian regimes becomes severed in totalitarianism, which seeks to “cut society loose from its traditional moorings so that it may flow with the
Ibid., 56. Moyn, "Hannah Arendt and the Secular," 72. 79 See Hannah Arendt, "What is Authority?"
inexorable forces of history or nature.”80 In the place of law as “the stabilizing source of authority for the actions of mortal men,” totalitarian regimes substitute the laws of nature or history, which are “laws of movement.”81 Thus the higher law no longer serves to anchor the body politic but makes all permanence and stability impossible, and thereby prepares the way for “the transformation of human nature itself” in accordance with an ideology.82 Yet it is perhaps too quick to read the rise of totalitarianism as the final nail in the coffin, as it were, of authority. Ronell remarks that “for her part, Arendt opens the discussion on authority as if she were in the company of a specter, opening a political crypt.”83 The presence or non-presence of a specter would indicate that in the case of authority, gone never means gone, as its withdrawal can still bears traces of an afterlife: does reckoning with authority, then, require ghost-busting, or perhaps a
Robert Mayer, "Hannah Arendt, National Socialism and the Project of Foundation," The Review of Politics Vol. 53, No. 3 (Summer, 1991): 470. 81 Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, (San Diego: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1973), 463. 82 Robert Mayer notes how Arendt’s conception of totalitarianism remains at odds with the selfunderstandings of both Bolshevism and National Socialism. According to Mayer, Arendt has proclaimed authority’s passing in haste, when in fact it remains active, albeit in a transmuted form, within totalitarianism. While Marx was most certainly both anti-authoritarian and anti-foundationalist, in his radical repetition of Marxist thought Lenin effectively inscribes Marx as the authority and founder of the Communist Party— a necessary gesture within the framework of Lenin’s political theory, Mayer argues, to avoid a co-incision of law and power by anchoring the political order above the will of the people - see Mayer, "Hannah Arendt, Leninism, and the Disappearance of Authority," Polity 24 (1992): 399-416. Elsewhere Mayer critiques the dependency within Arendt’s analysis of National Socialism on the distinction between ‘foundation’ and movement, arguing that it was not, qua Arendt, the total mobilization of the party which ultimately was so destructive, but rather the opposite, its all-consuming drive towards a kind of absolutist foundation—Mayer quotes Hitler to this effect, who asserted that “our true object is to set up our rule for all time, and to anchor it firmly that it will stand firm for a thousand years.” See Mayer, "Hannah Arendt, National Socialism and the Project of Foundation," 470. 83 Ronell, Loser Sons, 53.
séance, so that authority might be contacted from beyond the grave? Ronell proposes that the disappearance of authority thus calls for “a speculative forensics . . . particularly since the presumed eclipse of authority is not complete but haunts and hounds human relations, holding things together by nothing more substantial than vague historical memory starts.”84 A “speculative” forensics would as well be “spectral,” reading the troubled itinerary of that which is supposedly gone but never fully gone, never fully absent nor present, at times leaving its mark as that which has already absconded. Thus we must ask, together with Arendt and Ronell, not only what is authority or what was authority, but what is to be done with authority if it persists in haunting the political sphere, even after its alleged disappearance? Before Arendt announces what authority is, or what it was or has been, she announces the profound effects of its disappearance: “authority, resting on a foundation in the past as its unshaken cornerstone, gave the world the permanence and durability which human beings need precisely because they are mortals. It is tantamount to the loss of the groundwork of the world—we now live in a Protean universe where everything at any moment can become almost everything else.”85 Readers of Arendt are no doubt familiar with the allergy she repeatedly manifests towards a "Protean" condition characterized by boundless mutability, particularly in language. One of the overt purposes of “What is Authority?” is to rally against the
Ibid. Arendt, "What is Authority?,” 95.
toxic instability of a political discourse whose emphasis on the right for everyone to “define his own terms” only signals that “we have ceased to live in a common world where the words we have in common possess an unquestionable meaningfulness.”86 Arendt thus takes sides with Plato, attempting to anchor the meanings of her terms against the currents of sophistic speech. Read together with her stated intention to cement a definition of authority, the equation Arendt subsequently makes between the loss of permanence and reliability with the loss of authority in politics87 indicates a reflexive performativity in her essay. We might say that here Arendt attempts to become the authority on authority, attempting to assign a permanence to the term over and against the instability in meaning that she equates to a loss of authority in politics. If the modern loss of authority in politics is for Arendt an irreparable event whose nature and effects we can trace only with difficulty, the corresponding loss of permanence in language can, in contrast, supposedly be counteracted through the sort of distinctions that Arendt makes when comparing tyrannical, authoritarian and totalitarian political systems. The making of distinctions, as Arendt herself notes, being one of authority’s “allpermeating principles.”88 Yet Arendt’s effort towards making distinctions must at the same time contend with authority’s spectrality. If authority today is difficult to access as an object of
Ibid. Ibid. 88 Ibid., 98.
understanding, this is not only because of the protean-nature of contemporary political discourse, unanchored from conceptual rigor, but because it has disappeared "almost to the vanishing point,"89 such that, as Ronell phrases it, “one can in any case no longer say what authority is. One can barely say what it is not.”90 Arendt begins her investigation into authority precisely with reference to what it is not: in its originary Platonic conception, authority is counterposed to violence on one hand, and reason on the other:
Authority precludes the use of external means of coercion; where force is used, authority itself has failed. Authority, on the other hand, is incompatible with persuasion, which presupposes equality and works through a process of argumentation. Where arguments are used, authority is left in abeyance. Authority is always hierarchical. If authority is to be defined at all it must be in contradistinction to coercion by force and persuasion through arguments. When Plato began to consider the introduction of authority into the handling of public affairs in the polis, he knew he was seeking an alternative to the common Greek way of handling domestic affairs, which was persuasion as well as the common way of handling foreign affairs, which was force and violence.91
As a third way of handling political affairs, authority for Plato is comparatively streamlined: it doesn’t have to use violence, and it doesn’t have to explain itself. The
"Ibid., 104. Ronell, Loser Sons, 53. 91 Arendt, "What is Authority?," 92.
efficacy of authority coincides with the way, in ordinary language, that a mother or father will back up the efficacy of a parental imperative with that infamous tautology, “because I said so.” The need to locate an alternative to violence in this case is self-evident to Arendt. The need for an alternative to rational persuasion, on the other hand, occurs to Plato only in the wake of Socrates' state murder. It was then "that Plato began to discount persuasion as insufficient for the guidance of men and to seek something liable to compel them without using external means of violence. The trouble with coercion through reason, however, is that only an elite few can be made subject to it, so that the problem arises of how to assure that the many, the people who in their very multitude compose the body politic, can be submitted to the same truth.”92 In The Republic Plato solves the problem of “submitting the multitude to the same truth” by inventing the myth of rewards and punishments in the hereafter, a myth that Plato himself obviously neither believed nor expected philosophers to believe—the myth is intended rather for the masses, i.e., those not ready to deal with philosophy.93 This myth represents for Arendt the "positively political element" of religion, and it is the absence of the absolutist structure of punishment and reward that for Arendt is the most pressing concern of secularization.94
Ibid., 107. Ibid., 111. 94 See Hannah Arendt, Denktagebuch, (Munich: Piper, 2002), "der Unsinn des Begriffes 'säkulare Religion' liegt darin, dass in ihm das eigentlich politische Element der Religion, nämlich Lohn und Strafe nach dem Tode, eliminiert ist," , and "Wirksam in den Religionen war die
Once Plato introduces this myth, the distinction between authority and violence begins to waver, haunting Arendt's efforts to "clean-up" the conceptual confusion around the term. Ronell observes that “going to hell or citing the law provided Plato with ways to locate coercion without violence (we will not engage in a critique of violence here or take measure of its overflowing borders, asking where violence begins and ends or whether the invention of hell is all that nonviolent: thanks, Plato).”95 Ronell’s parenthetical remark here opens up a difficulty in reading Arendt’s analysis of the birth of the idea of authority in Plato. If the threat of punishment in the afterlife can be said in fact to be a violent means of handling political affairs, then, despite Arendt’s efforts to preserve conceptual clarity, authority cannot be considered wholly distinct from coercion. To support Plato’s definition of authority (and with it Arendt's) we are forced to avoid asking: what is the difference between coercion and threat? Or, in ontological terms, what is the difference between actuality and possibility? Arendt’s reading rests on keeping actuality and possibility apart, demanding an implicit conception of the threat of violence as itself nonviolent. According to this reading, the very Being of violence (if we can speak of such a thing), would thus not include the possibility of its occurrence contained in the ominous “or else …” of Plato’s afterlife myth. Furthermore, it would seem that
Höllenvorstellung, die immer davon ausgeht, dass die Angst vor Schmerz grösser als die Angst vor dem Nichts. Entscheidend sind nicht die Säkularisierungen, sondern das Wegfallen der Höllenvorstellung in der Moderne," 371. 95 Ronell, Loser Sons, 8.
coercion, understood as violence as actuality, would as well necessarily traffic in threat—a lash from the master’s whip on the back of the slave is actual violence that contains a mark of further possible violence. Obey, says the whip upon the back, or this violence will continue. Against Arendt’s reading, we thus propose that threat is already a means of coercion, and coercion already contains threat—and in doing so aim to augment Ronell’s suggestion that Plato’s myth is not as nonviolent as it seems. It is likewise necessary in light of Plato’s myth to interrogate his effort to decouple authority from persuasion as a political means of compelling obedience. Without a doubt this myth belongs to the realm of illusions in Plato’s philosophy: it can be considered one the shadows cast on cave walls in his most famous allegory, fodder for those unprepared or unwilling to adopt the worldview of the philosopher. Yet, against Plato’s corresponding distinctions between myth and reason, authority and persuasion, we should ask whether the threat of punishment, in addition to bearing a mark of violence, does not also contain an element of persuasion. It’s up to you, Plato’s myth seems to say, you can choose to be obedient, or you can be punished in the afterlife. Plato’s mythic punishment functions by way of persuasion decoupled from reason: you don’t want to go to hell, do you? Perhaps authority as a religious myth deployed for political purposes is in fact a hybrid form that combines elements of both coercion and persuasion. In this light it is not certain that together with Arendt we have arrived at a distinct concept of what authority is or is not, or what it may have been.
Ronell's location of authority in Plato as a kind of mourning disorder responding to Socrates' death further complicates the task of identifying authority by drawing attention to its troubled birth. At the scene of Plato's traumatic incision we can, following Ronell, mark how authority as stratagem emerges out of the ruin of its opposite, the anti-authoritative thrust at the heart of the Socratic method. Ronell writes:
It is not only the case that authority has been lost to us, but it was called up in the first place as a mark of an irretrievable fadeout, to fill in for a loss. The verdict on Socrates is responsible for the birth of authority as a stratagem -- an outburst of philosophical insurgency -- and a recovery operation. Reading the history of authority -- the history of incessant forfeiture leading to the need for authority -- one has the sense that philosophy was shaken to its core by the state murder, by the terse sign of its own fragility for which evermore it had to compensate by inventing the prestige of authority. Authority in this bereaved light becomes the response to state-inflicted terror.96
The notion of authority as bereavement makes Plato’s afterlife myth appear as an odd tribute to the philosophical project of the one it would appear to memorialize. After all, what was Socrates’ mission in Greek philosophical life if not an attempt to stage a confrontation between reason and authority, in a time before authority was
named as such? Do we not conventionally take the Socratic dialogues to be a place of origin in the Western tradition for the sort of critical questioning figured by Arendt and Ronell as hostile to authority?97 If Plato’s invention can be tallied as a kind of betrayal of his master’s thought, perhaps this betrayal reflects a permanent disjunction between philosophy and politics: the philosopher enacts betrayal as the price of admission into the political sphere. The Platonic philosopher cannot be in two places at once: he cannot stay in the light of truth and at the same time act among the affairs of the public world, which take place in the cave of illusions left behind by the philosopher. We can locate a theological-political instance in Plato’s thought by considering his exile of philosophical truth from the political sphere and the concurrent necessity for myths that can and must be believed in. The philosopher will be the man “suicided by society” if he speaks the truth as Socrates had done. The myth of authority, authority as myth, thus acts simultaneously as Plato’s revenge and survival tactic. I wish to propose that Plato's stratagem of authority acts as a memorial to the man whose philosophical legacy was leveraged against authority before the concept had yet arisen. In this light we find Plato's myth of the afterlife, and thus authority's theological-political origin, to be haunted by a name-of-the-father which already
See, for example, Karl Popper, The Open Society and it Enemies (London: Routledge, 1945), Ken Goffman, Counterculture Through the Ages: From Abraham to Acid House (New York: Villard, 2004) and Martha Nussbaum, Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010).
attacks or turns against it. At the traumatic scene of its birth, authority is haunted by the ghost of Socrates' anti-authoritarian stance which preceded it. This haunted birth will accrue further significance in our examination of Arendt as birth becomes an increasingly central term for her in thinking through authority both in terms of the traditional past and in modern revolutions, where authority becomes tied to the birth inherent in political foundation, a birth, I will argue, marked by its own complex relation to theology. Authority in ancient Greece remained for Arendt a mere precursor of itself, experiencing a non-birth, or at best a pre-birth: “the grandiose attempts of Greek philosophy to find a concept of authority which would prevent deterioration of the polis and safeguard the life of the philosopher foundered on the fact that in the realm of Greek political life there was no awareness of authority based on immediate political experience.”98 Plato's philosophy was able to call ahead historically, emit a premonitory whisper, but the state of political affairs in ancient Greece foreclosed the possibility of a full manifestation of authority in the public realm. One can attribute Arendt’s reading to the register of Ronell’s speculative forensics as it marks a kind of ghostly manifestation of authority, an anticipatory specter which, following Ronell’s
Arendt, "What is Authority?," 120.
reading of Plato’s disturbed mourning, becomes intertwined with another ghost, that of Socrates.99 For Arendt, authority cannot be registered properly until the Roman era. In a historical shift that crucially binds it together with tradition and religion, authority becomes chained to the past: in ancient Rome “the authority of the living was always derivative, depending on the authority of the founders, who no longer were among the living. Authority in contradistinction to power had its roots in the past, but this past was no less present in the actual life of the city than the power and strength of the living.”100 Here authority exercises a spiritualist ability to incarnate the dead as present in the public sphere or “actual life” of the city. Key here is Arendt’s phrase “in contradistinction to power.” Unlike many twentieth-century political thinkers, including Taubes and Schmitt, who more often than not use the terms authority and power in an interchangeable manner, Arendt builds her historical analysis by way of giving attention to the series of connections and disjunctions that arise between the two terms: Arendt notes that Rome's citizens distinguished between auctoritas and potestas, authority and power, and that auctoritas was lodged in a specific institution, the Senate. Arendt remarks that auctoritas is rooted in augere [to augment], and that in Rome this meant augmenting the foundation: the bearer of authority embodied a tie stretching across a line of predecessors to the point of Rome’s origin, and augmented
see Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: the State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International (New York: Routledge, 1994). 100 Arendt, "What is Authority?," 122.
this origin by representing its auratic significance, perpetuating its unfolding in the sphere of political action.101 Arendt ascribes a religious dimension to the experience of foundation in Roman politics insofar as “religion” comes from the Latin “religare,” derived from “ligare,” to bind back,102 and the “sacredness” of foundation meant that it could serve as the anchor for a political authority that incarnated the past in the present:
At the heart of Roman politics stands the conviction of the sacredness of foundation, in the sense that once something has been founded it remains binding for all future generations. To be engaged in politics meant first and foremost to preserve the founding of the city of Rome. The foundation of a new body politic—to the Greeks an almost commonplace experience—became to the Romans the central, decisive, unrepeatable beginning of their whole history, a unique event.103
Bhiku Paresh observes that "for Arendt, then, authority, power and force are different types of relationship and have distinct 'phenomenal' features. They have 'different origins, different legitimations, and different spheres of application.' Each is autonomous and cannot be derived from either of the other two. Arendt argues that although it is in principle possible for a community to be based on any one of them alone, it is unlikely to last long unless supported by all three. So far as a political community, that is, a politically constituted community is concerned, power is its 'life blood'; authority exists to lend formal legitimacy to power, and force to enforce its decisions on recalcitrant individuals." Bhiku Parekh, Hannah Arendt and the Search for a New Political Philosophy (London: Macmillan, 1981), 162. 102 It should be noted that with “ligare” meaning “to bind back,” the presence of the prefix re should thus signify a kind of “binding back again.” What does this “again” mean here? Perhaps that an original bond in place has been broken -- that what we call religion contains in itself the awareness of a tear or rip that must always be sutured anew. This understanding of religion would dovetail with the wellknown formulation of religious ritual offered by Mircea Eliade in The Myth of the Eternal Return, in which sacred time is not merely marked but constituted anew by each ritual act. 103 Arendt, "What is Authority?," 120.
Arendt’s designation of the “sacredness” of the foundational event in ancient Rome adds another valence to our understanding of the theological-political. We can mark Arendt’s reading of this proper first historical manifestation of authority under the sign of the theological-political insofar as the public recognition of authority in Rome participates in the preservation of a sacred foundation. Arendt goes so far as to hypostasize the religious dimension in Roman politics by tying it directly into political action: “to be engaged in politics” already means “first and foremost” to perform a religious practice in the observance of foundation. The theological mark in Arendt's description of the foundational act appears again a year later in The Human Condition, in which Arendt characterizes natality, the principle in which the faculty of action is "ontologically rooted," as "miraculous." While in this case Arendt's concern lies with thinking action as such, her philosophical interest lies in conceiving those instances of action charged with unpredictability and radical newness, such as the revolutionary foundation of a new state, which in On Revolution comes to exemplify the deployment of natality's capacity for beginning anew. Before reading the theological marks in that text's presentation of natality as a source for a secular and modern political authority, it is first necessary to address natality in The Human Condition, where it appears in an abstract and philosophical context, as a general and egalitarian quality belonging to all human beings. Published in 1958, shortly after "What is Authority?," The Human Condition contains, in its description of natality, the initial blueprint of a remedy for the
withdrawal of traditional authority in politics that will fully manifest only five years later in On Revolution, where Arendt incorporates her concept of natality into an analysis of the problem of political foundation in the modern era. The Human Condition conceives of natality as the capacity to begin radically anew through action: Arendt defines "to act" as "to take an initiative, to begin (as in the Greek word archein, 'to begin', 'to lead', and eventually 'to rule', indicates), to set something into motion,"104 and then anchors this principle of acting-as-beginning ontologically in the figure of man: "with the creation of man, the principle of beginning came into the world itself, which of course, is only another way of saying that the principle of freedom was created when man was created but not before."105 As I will demonstrate, the political consequences for an identification of freedom with the capacity to begin are not entirely positive, as Arendt's own reading of the American Revolution shows: in attempting to historically stabilize their new nation, the founders, who according to Arendt likewise conceived freedom as bound up with beginning, faced the paradoxical position of either acknowledging that the new citizens of the United States would be denied the same freedom as their founders exercised, or of encouraging, as Jefferson had done, the practice of "recurring" revolutions which would preserve the nation's revolutionary "spirit."106
Arendt, The Human Condition, 177. Ibid. 106 David Ingram phrases this problem in the following way: "If the revolution succeeds, it will have violated its own principle of self-determination. For how can it be progressive to deny subsequent generations the opportunity to exercise real -- that is, revolutionary -- self-determination? To reiterate
For my purposes it is crucial to note that in Arendt's work, natality, the principle of beginning, is encased in theological rhetoric from its own beginning: in The Human Condition she asserts that the "fact of natality" is nothing less than "the miracle that saves the world, the realm of human affairs, from its normal, 'natural' ruin." 107 Arendt uses the term “miracle” throughout her writings to describe natality in general and the event of political foundation in particular as a secularized -- that is, non-absolutist—term, and while Arendt herself never draws attention to it, the thinking of a secular miracle belongs to her project of locating "non-religious" substitutes for political order. "Non-religious," however, remains a problematic designation. One wonders what, after all, is so nonreligious or secular about Arendt's conception of political foundation and the source of authority needed to support it: are we to say that Arendt has simply lopped off the head, the master signifier, the God-absolute, but retained a great deal of the rest of monotheism as an authoritative, hierarchical institution? In On Revolution Arendt applies the concept of natality to a reading of particular historical events, and uses the capacity for self-generative authority that she now locates in natality as means of remedying the historical withdrawal of the Roman concept of authority based on ties to the past. The notion of an authority derived from
Jefferson's concern, how can subsequent generations be legitimately bound by an act they could not have possibly authorized?" David Ingram, "Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Trial of (Post)Modernity or the Tale of Two Revolutions," in Hannah Arendt: Twenty Years Later, eds. Larry May and Jerome Kohn (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996), 240-241. 107 Ibid., 247.
natality remains, according to Arendt, only faintly or obliquely understood by the founders of modern nations, who through various means, including historical precedents and regressive invocations of the divine, attempt to cover over the abyss opened by the act of political foundation.108 Arendt's excavation of this authority from historical events is contiguous with her strategy of reading history in On Revolution, which prizes the location of philosophical material over factual precision. The accuracy Arendt displays when investigating the French and American revolutions has been called into question. Scholars contest her portrayal of the American Revolution as a nonviolent event, and question her silence on the Haitian Revolution.109 James Miller makes the unusual but compelling point, however, that Arendt's reading cannot be read as merely historically inaccurate, but rather reflects the methods of Walter Benjamin's historical theses, "brushing history against the grain" in order to grasp a major event which contains the "congealed essence of an entire era."110 This has stakes for Arendt's own understanding of the historical conditions of the twentieth-century: "At a juncture
"The elemental political problem to which authority is a response is what Arendt called 'the abyss of freedom': the mark of arbitrariness that the appearance of new things always bears because they do not fit causally into the temporal stream. They appear bizarre and without reason, and abyssal. They have, indeed, a frightening and sometimes miraculous quality." Kimberley Curtis, Our Sense of the Real: Aesthetic Experience and Arendtian Politics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999), 107. 109 Samuel Moyn writes that “It goes almost without saying that Arendt’s depiction of the egalitarian political content and the putative secular basis of covenants -- America’s incidentally religious colonists and its purely worldly founding – bears little relation to historical fact.” Moyn, "Hannah Arendt and the Secular," 88. See also James Miller, "The Pathos of Novelty: Hannah Arendt's Image of Freedom in the Modern World," in Hannah Arendt: The Recovery of the Public World, ed. Melvyn A. Hill (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979), and David Scott, Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2004), 217. 110 Miller, "The Pathos of Novelty,"182-184.
where political thought has irrevocably lost its original ground in religion, tradition, and authority, only a commemoration that marks out the major events and figures of our past remains feasible."111 The loss of this "original ground" according to Miller means that the past is no longer available to us according to an experience of continuity between past and present, thus we must "commemorate" the past rather than merely remember it, extracting the "congealed essence" of an era from the contours of its major events. In this light, criticism of Arendt’s historical inaccuracy misses the necessary contiguity between the object and means of her inquiry, in which an account of the reckoning with the loss of tradition in the field of political foundation must itself reckon with this loss and subsequently transfigure, rather than simply reflect, historical phenomena in the crucible of interpretation. The underlying argument of On Revolution is that although Roman traditional authority cannot be resuscitated, the legacy of modern political revolutions informs us how it might be re-founded by using Rome as a model. Arendt offers the authority which the act of foundation generates within itself, the domain of natality, as a modern replacement to traditional forms of authority, which include an appeal to a divine absolute or a threat of mythic punishment. Arendt regards this self-generative authority as a key component in the historical process of secularization.112 As Moyn
Ibid. See also Seyla Benhabib, "Hannah Arendt and the Redemptive Power of Narrative," in Hannah Arendt: Critical Essays, eds. Lewis P. Hinchman and Sandra K. Hinchman (Albany: SUNY, 1994). 112 "One is tempted to conclude that it was the authority which the act of foundation carried within itself, rather than the belief in an immortal Legislator, or the promises of reward and the threats of punishment in a 'future state,' or even the doubful self-evidence of the truths enumerated in the
writes, “Arendt does not think that secularization simply prepares for revolution or that revolution outlives the era of secularization as a permanent postreligious political possibility. Instead, secularization is possibly only as revolution; conversely, the signature modern event of politics is available only insofar as it substitutes for religion. This surprising implication of Arendt’s conceptualization of the secularizing move is explicitly drawn early in the work: ‘What we call revolution is precisely that transitory phase which brings about the birth of a new, secular realm.’ Revolution equals secularization, and vice versa.”113 Yet as I intend to show, building on Moyn's work, the authority of natality is riddled with theological traces. In reading Arendt I intend to address the possibility but also the desirability of recovering something like a non- or a-religious dimension within the theological for the sake of establishing political authority. When reading the influence of ancient Rome on the American Revolution Arendt encounters the double bind of historical repetition that has plagued the philosophical tradition since Winckelmann’s influential and enigmatic statement, pronounced at the dawn of the Enlightenment, "der einzige Weg für uns, groß, ja, wenn es möglich ist, unnachahmlich zu werden, ist die Nachahmung der Alten."114
preamble to the Declaration of Independence, that assured stability for the new republic. This authority, to be sure, is entirely different from the absolute which the men of revolutions so desperately sought to introduce as the source of validity of their laws and the fountain of legitimacy for the new government." Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (New York: Penguin, 2006), 191. 113 Moyn, "Hannah Arendt and the Secular," 78-79. 114 See Johann Winckelmann, "Gedanken über die Nachahmung der griechischen Werke in der Malerey und Bildhauerkunst” in Kunsttheoretische Schriften (Baden-Baden: Heitz Verlag, 1962). See also
The ancient-modern divide insures that the act of repeating the past must occur outside the bonds of tradition: “When [the founders] turned to the ancients….it was not tradition that bound them back to the beginnings of Western history but, on the contrary, their own experiences, for which they needed models and precedents. And the great model and precedent, all occasional rhetoric about the glory of Athens and Greece notwithstanding, was for them, as it had been for Machiavelli, the Roman republic and the grandeur of its history.”115 Rome for Arendt functions as the authority on authority, a status it achieves only when the divide between antiquity and modernity arises so as to make the repetition of the Romans first possible. The Romans become the authority once they can be repeated, and they can only be repeated as model or precedent once tradition has been broken. Repetition as a historical category is in this light distinctly modern because it requires first the distance offered by the rupture of tradition. Tradition does not repeat; it perpetuates, keeping the past alive as part of an unbroken chain. The arrival of repetition as a category for political theory means that tradition has been severed. The appearance of the past as a model that can be imitated means that an experience of the past by way of tradition is no longer possible. The passage from an experience of past-as-tradition to past-as-model is reflected in Arendt's description that
Eckart Goebel, Charis und Charisma: Grazie und Gewalt von Winckelmann bis Heidegger (Berlin: Kulturverlag Kadmos, 2006). 115 Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (New York: Penguin Books, 1965), 189.
the American task was not to "found Rome anew, but to found a new Rome."116 Yet repetition in Arendt’s reading still counts as being “bound back’ to the past”—if the fathers of the American revolution are, according to Arendt, “bound back” to Rome in a way distinct from tradition, the question remains, is this still a “religious” relation in the sense of religare? Arendt's answer is yes: if the American people's "attitude towards Revolution and Constitution can be called religious at all, then the word 'religion' must be understood in its original Roman sense, and their piety would then consist in religare, in binding themselves back to a beginning,"117 precisely as Roman pietas had done. Crucially, the effort toward establishing a religious bond with the past at the scene of political foundation is for Arendt not unique to the American Revolution—it arose in the very foundation of Rome, which already saw itself as the "reestablishment of Troy.”118 The act of foundation, of beginning anew, is thus tied to a series of displacements, each of which locates authority in a past foundation. The United States of America ties itself back to Rome, which ties itself back to Troy. In Arendt’s world, political founders in both ancient and modern eras overlook or recoil from the possibility of reading the act of foundation as sacred in itself and thus capable of generating its own authority; natality is always present in the act of foundation but the abyss that underscores its performative self-positing is obscured.
Ibid., 200. Ibid., 190. 118 Ibid., 206.
In addition to "binding back" and regarding the past either as part of a continuum of tradition or a model to be imitated, the American revolutionary founders as well look to a "divine principle" or "transcendental sanction" as a means of obscuring the self-generative capacity of natality and supporting their own authority to found a new political order:
The need for a divine principle, for some transcendent sanction in the political realm, as well as the curious fact that this need would be felt most strongly in case of a revolution, that is, when a new body politic had to be established, had been clearly anticipated by nearly all theoretical forerunners of the revolutions…Hence, in theory as in practice, we can hardly avoid the paradoxical fact that it was precisely the revolutions, their crisis and their emergency, which drove the very ‘enlightened’ men of the eighteenth century to plead for some religious sanction at the very moment when they were about to emancipate the secular realm fully from the influences of the churches and to separate politics and religion once and for all.119
The need for a religious sanction indicates that the time of revolutions is also the "hour of theology," to once again use Jacob Taubes’ phrase: in a crisis when religious symbols and historical experience no longer coincide, theology is summoned to reckon with their disjunction. As Arendt points out, the very attempt at an “emancipated” exodus by the political from the theological requires a theological stamp of approval.
Often in Arendt and in the historical milieus she investigates it becomes evident that religious sanction not only sometimes covers over the traumatic dimension of the foundational act, it can in some cases keep the “spirit” of the act alive, or it can snuff out the act’s vital energy. In reading the American and French Revolutions, Arendt seeks to locate the possibility of protecting the "spirit" of the revolution from the obscuring effects of religious sanction. The conundrum of this preservation hints that this spirit should be understood not only as Geist but as Gespenst: the spirit of the revolution as a phantasmic remnant of the foundational act that can become an object of public reverence. A tension thus appears in Arendt’s reading in which it becomes unclear whether she regards religious sanction as a necessity for political life, or a paradoxical betrayal of natality, or some degree of both. Arendt first describes the people's reverence for the Constitution as a kind of unintentional “genius” of the American people: "Woodrow Wilson, even without knowing it, called the American worship of the Constitution blind and undiscriminating because its origins were not shrouded in the halo of time; perhaps the political genius of the American people, or the great good fortune that smiled upon the American republic, consisted precisely in this blindness, or to put it another way, consisted in the extraordinary capacity to look upon yesterday with the eyes of
centuries to come."120 If the act of foundation occurs in the American Revolution in “broad daylight” for the first time in history, its preservation is now possible because the “blind,” futural-anterior perspective reinscribes the act in a shroud of myth. Later Arendt quotes Thomas Jefferson to advance the argument that this reverence betrays the revolutionary spirit. Jefferson's antagonism against those who "'look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched' was motivated by a feeling of outrage about the injustice that only his generation should have it in their power 'to begin the world over again'."121 While Jefferson's solution to the excessive reverence for the Constitution and the limitation of freedom to the founders was a desperately radical conception of recurring revolutions every “twenty years or so,” this would render the foundational act no longer exceptional but routine, and thus siphon away its authoritative aura. In this light, an aporia emerges around the authority of the United States’ evental foundation. Arendt proposes the auto-generative authority of natality as the secular alternative to the absolute, “transmundane” authority promoted by religion:
One is tempted to conclude that it was the authority which the act of foundation carried within itself, rather than the belief in an Immortal Legislator, or the promises of reward and the threats of punishment in a 'future state,' or even the doubtful self-
Ibid., 198. Ibid., 225. See also Patricia Bowen-Moore, Hannah Arendt's Philosophy of Natality (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989).
evidence of the truths enumerated in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, that assured stability for the new republic. This authority, to be sure, is entirely different from the absolute which the men of the revolutions so desperately sought to introduce as the source of validity of their laws and the fountain of legitimacy for the new government.122
Yet how does the authority of the revolutionary event work exactly, considering that it was in part predicated on a critique of traditional authority that emphasizes mutual consent in its place? Following Arendt’s thinking of authority, religion and tradition, it seems that one can neither revere nor betray the authority that underlies the founding the nation. First it is the “genius” of the American people to revere it religiously, yet at the same time this “reverence” is a betrayal of the revolutionary spirit. The “secular,” self-generative authority of revolution is for Arendt the paradigm of authority in the modern era. The modern political subject however is at an impasse when it comes to obeying this authority, because it is essentially selfcanceling, impossible to follow. A dialectical vicious cycle emerges, odd considering that Arendt proposes natality precisely as means of breaking through the impasse at the moment when the American revolutionaries faced the quandary of political foundation and its need for the religious absolute that it sought to escape. It is a question, at the same time, of the possibility of a “new” tradition. Although tradition
Arendt, On Revolution, 191, italics mine.
can no longer be used to access or reincarnate antiquity in the political sphere, can revolution’s act of foundation effectively produce another tradition? As long as the notion of freedom is bound to liberation, the conundrum of perpetuating the revolution haunts its fathers. The revolution can only remain in effect by suturing its own radical break with tradition to the possibility of a new tradition and a new “reverence”—in effect, by the conversion from a “mystic” to the “religious” sacred. This conversion gives life to the revolution by killing it: the revolution can only survive after it is dead. We are dealing in On Revolution with two sacreds which Arendt does not explicitly distinguish from each another. The first belongs to the act of foundation, and the second belongs to the practice of revering what has been founded, thus bestowing it with religious sanction. The first sacred concerns natality's encounter with the "mystical" dimension of authority that Derrida locates at the moment of discourse’s encounter with the limit of its performative power.123 Here one almost wishes to place the mystical and the religious in a pharmacological relation, in which the religious is the balm of the mystical. What Derrida’s "Force of Law" essay conveys is that one cannot put all of what constitutes the “theological” on the side of healing, disavowing or negating a traumatic crisis, for the theological already contains itself a subterranean and perhaps sometimes also unconscious register of this crisis: the mystical is one such register. The “mystical” dimension of foundation is its unsayable origin, and the
See Derrida, "Force of Law," 242.
religious as sanction converts this ineffability into something sayable, something guaranteed. The monotheistic God to whom Arendt’s Americans appeal in their foundational crisis offers an absolute guarantee, which covers over or assuages the mystical moment.124 When Arendt strives to formulate perhaps her most concise idea of natality as a non-absolutist and thus non-religious principle, she resorts again to religious language, through a reading of Virgil's Fourth Eclogue. A crucial mythological contribution to how Rome conceived its own political foundation, and an alleged inspiration to the American founding fathers, the poem is
a nativity hymn, a song of praise to the birth of a child and the announcement of a new generation, a nova progenies; but far from being the prediction of the arrival of a divine child and savior, it is, on the contrary, the affirmation of the divinity of birth as
In this light it is perhaps no surprise that American currency bears the inscription “In God We Trust,” for it is an appeal fairly similar in structure to the appeal of the country’s founders for transcendental sanction: we ask God to insure our money. American currency then bears the mark of a pronounced anxiety about the surety of the sign. To return to Taubes’ assertion: if the theological arrives in a moment of symbolic crisis in order to repair or redeem it, then the crisis of political foundation is but one grand historical example – a perceived symbolic crisis, like the invalidity of money, is enough to produce the drive towards theological recourse. According to a Lacanian interpretation, the theological domain of psychosis revolves around a ‘mystic’ crisis and its religious resolution. As Laurence Rickels notes, for Lacan the psychotic’s fantasy is not a symptom of a traumatic breakdown but the psychotic’s attempt at resolving it. These resolutions often adopt religious garb and concern the inauguration of new order, like Judge Schreber’s fantasy of a marital union with God and his own task as the cosmic mother of a humanity reborn. In the number of psychotic traits visible in the personality of Jared Lee Loughner, the man accused of shooting Representative Gifford, we find a overt theme, obsessively detailed and repeated, concerning the establishment of a new currency. See Laurence Rickels, I Think I Am: Philip K. Dick (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010).
such, that the world’s potential salvation lies in the very fact that the human species regenerates itself constantly and forever.125
What first might appear here as a rhetorical lapse or regression on Arendt’s part, in which she might seem to have failed to excise religious rhetoric from her modernist project, must instead be read as the implicit development of a kind of nonabsolutist political theology. Arendt’s assertion of the "divinity of birth as such" implies that divinity is something not only to be accessed or embodied, it can also be produced, insofar as a true ‘beginning’ is auto-generative, “carrying its own principle within itself.” Only an auto-generative divinity would be non-absolute because it occurs in a radically incomplete world. The "divinity of birth as such" makes sense only in an a-theistic cosmos which lacks a One that can complete it. A monotheistic cosmos has no room for a new taking-place of the divine because there is no leftover space for a new divinity to occupy. An inquiry into how Arendt reads the historical shift from ancient conceptions of law based on commandment to modern conceptions of law based on consent will allow us to draw the theological-political dimensions of Arendt's work into relation with the political implications of Jewish messianism as Taubes sees them. For Taubes, Jewish messianism's primary concern is the simultaneously anarchic and divinelysanctioned negation of law as a force of political order. For both Arendt and Taubes,
Arendt, On Revolution, 203.
the question of the law is always a question of the law's authority and the forms of obedience it depends on. While Arendt praises the production of obedience through a law established by consent, Taubes sides with the apostle Paul, whose protopsychoanalytic reading of the entanglement of law and guilt grounds his attempt to introduce love as law's replacement in the political field. Law as commandment, according to Arendt, comes not from the Greek and Roman political traditions, but as an inheritance from the authoritative role played in public affairs by the Christian church after the fall of the Roman Empire. Understood as a law “to which men owe obedience regardless of their consent and mutual agreements,” the commandment would appear, following Arendt’s own analysis, to represent a kind of lapse within authority, insofar as this obedience is to be produced independent of consent.126 During the long historical stretch between the fall of Rome and the era of modern political revolution, "the laws themselves were understood to be commandments, that they were construed in accordance with the voice of God, who tells men: thou shalt not. Such commandments obviously could not be binding without a higher, religious sanction. Only to the extent that we understand by a law a commandment to which men owe obedience regardless of their consent and mutual agreements, does the law require a transcendent source of authority for its validity,
See Arendt, "What is Authority?," 247.
that is, an origin which must be beyond human power.”127 Here Arendt implies that if divine commandments were replaced by laws founded on mutual consent, the need for a ‘transcendental source’ would cease. The shift from commandment to consent produces a parallel shift in the notion of authority as the force capable of preserving a political body in perpetuity. Laws based on mutual consent can be negotiated, redrawn, revised, in accordance with the experimental nature of democratic politics. Commandments do not change, there is no parliamentary assembly which can amend them, or judiciary entity which can repeal them. A political body such as the United States of America organized around laws of consent endures no longer thanks to an immobile bedrock which persists in spite of historical flux, but rather thanks to its capacity to adjust to the demands of the moment. We recall that it is the need for flexible response to the unpredictability of historical change that compels Carl Schmitt to argue for precisely the sort of dictatorial presence that Arendt is hoping to combat with a thinking of a secular democratic politics. As Moyn notes, Arendt appears to be direct dialogue with Schmitt in moments when she issues pronouncements like “the very notion of divine legislation implies that the legislator must be outside of and above his own laws, but in antiquity it was not the sign of a god but the characteristic of the tyrant to impose on
Arendt, On Revolution, 189.
the people laws by which he himself would not be bound.”128 In the following chapter I will approach the possibility of schematizing Schmitt’s conception of sovereignty within Arendt’s analysis of authority and power: is the figure of the sovereign an attempt to re-install a transcendental authority or does this figure rather index its ineluctable withdrawal? The incorporation of Taubes’ reading of Pauline messianism in this dissertation is in part meant to recall that Arendt’s view effectively ignores another possibility of configuring the political and theological insofar as it discredits messianism as a political perspective. Following Taubes, for Paul a transcendental sanction means not the support of earthly authority but rather its invalidation— theology is deployed not to preserve politics but to eradicate it: Paul’s "political theology" is at the same time a conception of those two terms as hostile to one another. Nonetheless Moyn makes the assertion that compared to Taubes' messianism, "Arendt’s attempt to move beyond Schmitt is much more radical, since Taubes still agrees with Schmitt that the autonomy of human politics is impossible and thus that a political theology of some sort is still necessary.”129 The lines of inquiry opened by Hent de Vries and Jean-Luc Nancy into the contemporary significance of the
Arendt, On Revolution, 178. See also Moyn, "Hannah Arendt and the Secular," 71. Ronell also notes the affinity between Arendt and Schmitt when she writes that in Arendt's work "“the fear induced by the loss of authority appears to follow a Schmittian pattern: the loss of something often considered pernicious – in his work, the loss of the enemy – opens up abysses to a radical disfiguration of relations as it unravels threads and impairs boundaries that have kept the world recognizable, even in its grim particulars.” Ronell, Loser Sons, 56. 129 Moyn, "Hannah Arendt and the Secular," 91.
theological-political facilitate a critical questioning of the presumption Moyn reflects here, that the position which most fully decouples the political from the theological is the most radical—such a position undercuts, to take but one arguably major example, the radicality of the tradition of Jewish messianism in the twentieth-century as proliferated by Rosenzweig, Barth, Scholem and Benjamin. For Arendt, early Christianity, which most certainly could be called Pauline (although Arendt does not mention the apostle by name), is first and foremost to be characterized by its anti-political thrust. This is not to say that Arendt should be positioned in polemical contrast to Taubes and others who read Paul as the political theologian par excellence. In this case a Pauline anti-politics, as Arendt sees it, might be understood as itself another form of politics, perhaps politics’ ultimate manifestation insofar as Paul’s theology sees itself as tasked with the sublation of the political tout court. Whether or not one reads Paul as political depends on how one situates messianism, either as a force that intervenes externally to worldly politics or as one that erupts from within. Christian theology only becomes political according to Arendt once it abandons its messianic thrust, because one can never align the political with a force bent upon world destruction: politics necessarily means the perpetuation of a human world through history. The “radical anti-political attitude of early Christianity” was only able to survive thanks to the Roman Empire, which “provided a stable body
politic for all nations and all religions.”130 Arendt argues that messianism is so worlddestroying that it cannot perpetuate itself, it will snuff itself out in apocalyptic fire if not for a non-messianic, world-preserving force like the Roman Empire to buttress it with a markedly katechonic thrust, yet not by merely holding the end of the world at bay, but rather by allowing the messianic idea of the end of the world to grow and develop until such time that the Empire’s greatest historical nemesis paradoxically becomes its successor. Thus the genuine political theologian of Christianity for Arendt is not Paul but Augustine, who pulled off a conversion of the messianic Christ-event into a “new mundane beginning to which the world was bound back once more in a curious mixture of new and old religious awe.”131 By converting the event of Christ into a worldly beginning Augustine outfits the Catholic Church with the authoritative foundation it will need in the wake of the Roman Empire, a foundation further strengthened by the Church's resurrection of Plato's afterlife myth as a means of producing obedience.132
Hannah Arendt, “The Concept of History” in Between Past and Future, 72. Ibid., 126. See also 72-73, “The Concept of History”: “That this transformation of Christianity and its earlier anti-political impulses into a great and stable political institution was possible at all without complete perversion of the Gospel is almost wholly due to Augustine.” To call Arendt's Augustine a political theologian, however, one must acknowledge Augustine's own distaste for the term 'political theology': in The City of God Augustine criticizes Varro's use of the term, for the gods of the earthly city are according to Augustine not capable of dispensing immortality. Thus Augustine interrupts the historical trajectory inaugurated by Plato and continued through the Stoics and Varro, in which 'political' theology is precisely the theology that concerns a 'personal' God that rewards and punishes. See also Assmann, Herrschaft und Heil. 132 See Curtis, Our Sense of the Real, 106.
Such an interpretation of Augustine however involves reading him against the grain, locating the theological-political moment in Augustine's establishment of worldly authority for the Church despite his own criticisms of Varro's political theology as being concerned with inferior gods, that is, gods who unlike the Christian god cannot truly redeem the soul. We recall that Varro's theological schema, adopted from the Stoics, triangulates political or “civil” theology, represented by the priest, with “mythic,” represented by the poet, and “natural” theology, represented by the philosopher. Insofar as it centers around the substitution of natality for an “absolute” authority, secularization in Arendt can be seen less as the discarding or overcoming of theology than the infusion of “natural” theology into the domain of “political” theology. In commentary on Varro, including that of Augustine, “political theology” is often regarded as theology's inferior form, because it promotes the lies necessary for the maintenance of social bonds and "lebensorientierende Normativität."133 Insofar as natality in Arendt is, as Bowen-Moore asserts, a "philosophical concept," we might consider Arendt's philosophical reading of natality to be akin to a “natural” or “cosmic” theology. The theological-political aspect of Arendt's thought rests in the capacity for something divine to have political efficacy,134 where a mark of the
Assmann, Herrschaft und Heil, 17. Ibid.,16.
theological remains after the oppression of a punishing deity and religious dogma have become historically illegitimate.135 The question remains how we can conceive the “secular miracle” of natality as a sort of non-absolutist theological-political concept. It should be pointed out that unlike the other alternatives to traditionally "absolute" authority explored in this dissertation, natality is not a figure. That is to say, the fact that Arendt does not propose the philosopher as the figure of her natural theology of natality (in contrast to Heidegger, whose reading of Hölderlin, as I intend to show, establishes the poet as more or less a figure of Varro's mythic theology) reminds us that for Arendt the position of authority in modernity is radically open: the act of a new beginning, and of establishing authority from the act itself, is accessible to “every man.” One cannot however say that the new locus of Arendt for authority is thus the human individual, because this authority, founded on the “miraculous,” unpredictable character of the act, comes into being only through this act. When Arendt claims in The Human Condition that man's essence lies the in the capacity to begin anew, she renders this essence as unfinished, as dependent on existence, and as lying both inside and outside man simultaneously, insofar as “beginning anew” is defined by its circumstances. We can subsequently conclude that the theological mark of natality, found in Arendt's assertion of the “divinity of birth as such,” lies always-already within the individual,
The father of this form of secularization would be Spinoza, who lays out a reading of "political" theology in his Tractatus so that he can propose a 'natural' or philosophical theology in his Ethics seven years later.
and that authority is something that occurs when the spark of the divine within man is act-ivated in act-ion. When Arendt refers to the divine however she means always something other than the manifestation of a transcendent deity—the secular miracle of natality means that the divine within man is aligned with the unpredictable rupture of the act and the performative decision that announces it. Arendt's decidedly materialist transcription of the miracle into natality belongs to her understanding of secularization as the process of finding "substitutions" or "versions" for religious phenomena, and provides reason for considering her as kind of founding mother to the work of Alain Badiou, Jacob Taubes and Eric Santner, who regard the category of the miracle as central for understanding politics in the modern era.136
See Alain Badiou, Saint Paul: The Foundations of Universalism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), Jacob Taubes, Die politische Theologie des Paulus, and Eric Santner, "Miracles Happen: Benjamin, Rosenzweig, Freud and the Matter of the Neighbor," in Kenneth Reinhard, Eric Santner and Slavoj Zizek, The Neighbor: Three Inquiries in Political Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006).
CHAPTER 2: Problems with Authority in Carl Schmitt’s Reading of the Katechon
In Nomos der Erde, published in 1950, almost thirty years after Politische Theologie, Carl Schmitt once again turns to theology in an effort to conceive a political order capable of reckoning with its own finitude. The deployment of theology in Nomos der Erde, however, takes place on a much broader scale than previously in Schmitt’s work. In Politische Theologie Schmitt developed the concept of the Ausnahmezustand in order to allow a political order to contend with significant threats as exceptional events, and with it the possibility of the order’s own demise. The concept of the katechon in Nomos der Erde, in contrast, operates within the framework of an eschatology, allowing a political order to recognize its demise as a certainty. Central for the scope of this dissertation’s inquiry into three figures of the theological-political is another insight gained from setting Nomos der Erde in relation to Politische Theologie, namely that the katechon is at all times in Schmitt’s work another name for the sovereign. In this context, part of Nomos der Erde’s theoretical mission can be described as the draping of the concept of sovereignty in the figural intensity of the katechon, a move which further inscribes Schmitt’s political concept within the Christian theological tradition, providing a figural basis for the concept of the sovereign as first and foremost a fighter of threats by adopting the katechon’s apocalyptic dimensions. This is all to say that within the context of this inquiry,
alongside the figure of the messiah and the figure of the poet the figure of the sovereign is the katechon. The aim of this chapter is to read Schmitt’s appropriation of the katechon for his project of a new nomos as an index of the withdrawal of traditional authority described by Hannah Arendt. This aim is complicated in part by the difficulty of disentangling the terms of authority, power and force in twentieth-century German political thought, particularly in the case of Schmitt, who often uses the terms interchangeably. The word that Schmitt uses to identify the katechon as Roman Empire is Macht, meaning power or force.137 As Schmitt details at length, this Macht was originally each time a temporary power bestowed by the auctoritas of the church, representing a historically unparalleled “unity” of church and empire. Once Schmitt turns from a historical reading to formulate a new nomos based on the “concrete orientation” embodied by the katechon, however, he will have to reckon with a certain withdrawal of authority.138 The new nomos could be read as part of a campaign to resuscitate political order in the vacuum left by authority’s disappearance, by providing theoretical bolsters for Macht in its place. An alternate
While the difference between power and force is crucial for Anglo-American critical debate, a theoretical understanding of the two terms is impeded in German, which collapses both in the single term Gewalt. See for example Judith Butler, "Critique, Coercion and Sacred Life in Benjamin's 'Critique of Violence,'" in Political Theologies: Public Religions in a Post-Secular World: 201-219. 138 Arendt herself seems to turn from authority to power when, ten years after “What is Authority?” she writes On Violence, in which power appears to eclipse authority as the guarantor of political order. While the earlier authority essay diagnoses the rise in twentieth-century political movements as a response to traditional authority’s decline, by the time On Violence is written, it appears as if authority has in Arendt’s world perhaps undergone such a historical effacement that it no longer deserves mentioning. See Hannah Arendt, On Violence (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1970).
reading, however, could locate within Schmitt’s use of the katechon for his new nomos a mark of the authority that Arendt has reported missing. Whether we understand Schmitt’s project in Nomos der Erde as acknowledging the decline of authority as irreparable and strategically shifting the focus to questions of Macht, or as an attempt to resuscitate the efficacy of authority by a philosophical appropriation of theological concepts and figures for political ends depends on how we read the role of “concrete orientation” within the text. Before approaching Schmitt’s appropriation of the katechon and its attendant commentaries, however, let us first outline the problems with authority that the katechon produces in Paul’s letters. The katechon originally appears as a figure in Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians, wherein Paul (or the writer standing in for Paul: the authenticity of second Thessalonians remains dubious) describes it as the entity tasked with restraining chaos until the proper arrival of the Last Judgment. In this context, the katechon is one solution to the problem of earthly authority in messianic time: in light of the Thessalonians’ premature apocalyptic enthusiasm, Paul needs a way to justify obedience to the existing order. Paul says, in effect, that yes, earthly authority will be invalidated when the world ends, but don’t go around disobeying this authority just yet, because for now the katechon is prohibiting this event from taking place:
Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? And you know what is now restraining him, so that he may be revealed when his time comes. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. [Second Thessalonians, 2:3-2:8]139
Paul makes two cryptic references here, to the “one who restrains,” the katechon (Aufhalter in Luther’s translation), and to the “lawless one” who will appear only after the restrainer has been removed. The restrainer and the lawless one share a relationship of constant antagonism. The lawless one cannot be defeated by the restrainer; instead the restrainer keeps him at bay, repeatedly warding him off, until “his time comes,” at which point the restrainer “is removed” so that the lawless one may be allowed to assume power fully and thus usher in the Last Judgment. While the katechon vigilantly protects earthly orders against chaos, his position is in essence temporary, with termination and failure built into the job description.
All biblical citations from The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Bernhard W. Anderson, Bruce Manning Metzger and Roland Edmund Murphy, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press: 1991).
The hedonistic behavior of the Thessalonians prior to Paul’s arrival140 signals the danger of allowing “lawlessness” to operate without the invocation of a restraining force. After all, why should Christians continue to obey the ruling order if the end of the world is imminent, and with it, the invalidation of all earthly authority? This question strikes at a core concern for Christianity, namely the difficulty for a Christian subject to negotiate between the demands of this world and those of the next. The discourse around the meaning of the term “political theology” in the twentieth-century indexes the a priori impossibility of ever finally bridging the gap between these two worlds, between the politics of the terrestrial realm and the demands of the divine. Instead, the relation named “political theology” is, to use Blanchot’s phrase, a kind of rapport sans rapport, forever in need of being re-negotiated, re-sutured, and resymbolized. This difficulty reaches its most intense expression in contexts when the messianic arrival of the next world in this world threatens to invalidate its figures of authority. Paul deploys the figure of the katechon precisely in order preserve earthly authority in light of messianic fervor.141 Here Paul’s katechon can be grasped as an example of traditional authority as Arendt understands it, that is, as the form of authority that Arendt claims is on the wane in the twentieth-century. Paul must re-instill a sense of obedience in the messianic-minded Thessalonians, and he attempts this not by brute force or rational
See James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 298-304. 141 Ibid., 301.
persuasion, but through the construction of a theological framework, which derives its efficacy through belief. In this way Paul follows the model for authority as originally developed by Plato. As Arendt notes, Plato first constructs a theological premise, namely the scheme of punishment and reward in the afterlife, as means of inducing obedience without recourse to force or persuasion.142 The most significant difference in Paul’s model, however, is that the katechon comes with a deadline. As such it is not intended to validate authority directly, as in Plato, but rather to postpone authority’s de-validation. Thus the katechon is a key element in Paul’s attempt to buttress the temporal, finite nature of earthly authority theologically, a crucial stopgap that keeps the end of the world in mind but out of sight. It is not certain, however, that Paul’s invocation of the katechon as a means of propping up earthly authority maintains a consistency with the rest of his theology. The eschatology that supports the katechon in Second Thessalonians seems to clash with that of the First, and the discrepancy is partly the cause of the long-standing scholarly dispute concerning the authenticity of the Second. Compared with the Paul of the second letter, the Paul of the first is much more concerned with the imminence of the Lord’s arrival, saying, “you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!” [1. Th. 5 2-4] Here the two images of a thief and of labor
See Arendt, “What is Authority?,” 108.
pains allow Paul to figure the arrival of the Messiah as an event of terrifying unpredictability. Within Thessalonians, then, the Messiah acts as a kind of home intruder (a “thief in the night”), and the katechon as a security guard. The katechon is said to restrain this event until the “right time,” but prior to Second Thessalonians there is no right time for the event of the Messiah, for Paul understands this time only as unpredictable, incalculable, and unforeseeable. Only one thing is known about the arrival of the Messiah: the proximity of its occurrence to the present. In First Thessalonians it is considered “an imminent hope on the horizon, which offered comfort for those in sorrow and motivation for right living for those in a pagan world.”143 This imminence is reflected in a number of formulations throughout Paul’s letters, mostly explicitly in his announcement in Corinthians that “the time is short” [1 Cor. 7:29]. The particular conflict between the first and second letters concerning eschatology is directly bound to a larger conflict within Paul’s letters concerning the validity of earthly authority. As I demonstrate in Chapter Three, the authority of the Messiah’s arrival is founded upon both the vagueness and the urgency of its arrival, which will most certainly be soon, but when exactly cannot be pinpointed. This apocalyptic urgency seems to dissipate, however, in the figure of a restraining force that holds off the End until the appointed time, and with it, a particular justification for
Phil Ware, “The Coming of the Lord: Eschatology and 1 Thessalonians,” Restoration Quarterly Vol. 22 no. 2 (1979), 120.
obeying Christian moral edicts. With the katechon Paul shifts his moral agenda from promoting the duty of living a good life in preparation for the End to theologically justifying the non-arrival of the Messiah and the perpetuation of the world as it is. Along these lines, the question for Christians that runs throughout Paul’s letters is, ‘with an awareness of the world’s end, whom should we obey?’ Should we obey religious authority at the expense of the political, or is political authority legitimated by the religious as long as the Messiah continues to not arrive? This ambiguity produces a split within the Christian subject, who is supposed to live within the world yet remain aware of its end at the same time. The uncertain status of earthly authority in Paul’s letters provides the possibility for a wide variety of political interpretations, which read his thought as providing the foundation for projects ranging from anarchy to imperialism. 144 An equally broad spectrum of interpretations attempts to reckon with the identities of the katechon and the lawless one. In the Christian tradition the lawless one is usually taken to indicate the Antichrist described in John, who may assume power in the form of a false prophet or emperor. The katechon has provoked more hermeneutic uncertainty: who or what is it that can restrain, but not defeat, the forces of chaos? Felix Grossheutschi’s exhaustive work follows the trajectory of katechon interpretations from the figure’s inception in Paul to the numerous invocations
See subsequent chapter on authority and messianism. There is a seemingly conservative, but ultimately ambiguous anomaly: that of Romans 13, which, over and against the rest of Paul’s letters seems to offer theological capitulation to the Roman state.
throughout Schmitt’s writings.145 The traditionally dominant interpretation, beginning with Tertullian in the second century and perpetuated by Schmitt in the twentieth, reads the katechon as the Roman Empire. The justification that Tertullian needed for divine legitimacy of the Empire was fairly straightforward: it sufficed enough to ask, if God did not give the Roman Empire dominion, then who did? As Grossheutschi puts it, “Die Vorstellung, ein Mensch oder rein Volk könnte in dieser Welt etwas erreichen, gross werden, ohne göttlichen Beistand, war dem antiken wie auch noch dem mittelalterlichen Denken fremd. Von nichts kommt nichts, und ohne verleihende Macht keine verliehene Macht. Also nochmals: Wer oder was hat Rom gross gemacht?”146 This argument functions as a kind of precursor to the modern political platitude that “might makes right”: here Tertullian’s argument is that “might was made right,” that the Imperium is right because it sheer size indicates a divine influence. According to Tertullian, the great obligation to pray for the emperor’s prosperity comes from our realization that “the tremendous force which is hanging over the whole world, and the very end of the world with its threat of dreadful afflictions, is arrested for a time by the continuance of the Roman Empire. This event we have no desire to experience, and in praying that it may be deferred, we favor the continuance of Rome.”147 With his emphasis on the “dreaded afflictions” that we
Felix Grossheutschi, Carl Schmitt und die Lehre vom Katechon (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1996). Grossheutschi, Katechon, 45. 147 Ch. 32, Sec. 1 in Tertullian, Apologetic Works, trans. Joseph Daly and Edwin A. Quain (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1997), 88.
“have no desire to experience,” Tertullian ramps up a negative sense of anticipation for the end of days and thus places the katechon in a positive light. As Grossheutschi points out, however, the championing of the katechon is not historically universal: “Die Gleichsetzung Roms mit dem Aufhaltenden findet sich bei Irenäus und Hippolyt, wobei allerdings—zumindest bei Hippolyt—damit eine negative Wertung verbunden wird; bei Aristides und Justin wird aus dem Katechon ein positiver Wert; Melito macht aus dem antichristlichen Rom eine heilsgeschichtliche Grösse. Schliesslich wird aus alledem das bergende Rom als wünschwertes Katechon.”148 The figure of the katechon gains meaning depending on which particular end of the world is being envisioned: the end that brings dreaded afflictions, or the one which instantiates universal redemption. A number of counter-interpretations locate the katechon outside the precincts of imperial authority. The most radical of these is perhaps the one put forth by the Frankish monk Walafried Strabo in the ninth century. Strabo places the eschatological force of restraint within the faith practiced by the individual subjects who together comprise the Christian community. As long as the general faith is strong, evil has no possibility of establishing its dominion. Only first when faith weakens, does the Antichrist arrive. While a key contribution to anti-imperial readings of the katechon, Strabo’s interpretation suffers from theological imprecision. If we follow the narrative thread that undergirds Paul’s understanding of divine providence, then we must see the
Grossheutschi, Katechon, 51.
arrival of the Antichrist as a necessary way-station on the path towards the end of days. Within Strabo’s reading, then, a weakening of faith in the community would ultimately set in motion the events leading to the Messiah’s return! We should not read this rather quizzical causality as being unique to Strabo, however, as it is endemic to the problem of evil in monotheism. The impossibility for monotheism to resolve the role of evil in the universe would certainly appear, from the standpoint of reason, to provide excellent grounds for discrediting its theology as a means of human understanding on a rational basis. What better condemnation of monotheistic theology could there be than its inability to explain the role of evil in a universe ruled by a single, omnipotent and supposedly benevolent force? Against this claim, a number of twentieth-century encounters with theology, such as those by Taubes, Scholem and others, have attempted to show that it is precisely the impossibilities of theology, its aporias, breakdowns and deadlocks which contribute to its historical life. Taubes goes so far as to say that the hour of theology strikes during historical instances in which religious symbols no longer correspond to human experience.149 We might say along these lines that the history of theology is a history of attempts to reckon with such impossibilities, that the impossibilities of theology are at the same time the conditions of its possibility, as they offer the possibility for theology to forever reconstitute itself in the flux of historical experience.
Taubes, Vom Kult zur Kultur, 230.
Following Taubes, we can say that it is a mistake to hold theology accountable on a rational basis for the same reason that one cannot judge art in this way: the constitutive incompleteness of the icon, the sign, the symbol, the image, contribute to the inexhaustibility of its meaning. The katechon is an exemplary case of this sort of inexhaustible significance, with the alluring mystery of Paul’s apocalyptic showdown between the restrainer and the lawless one provoking a wide field of hypotheses. Schmitt, by all accounts the prime instigator of discourse on the katechon in the twentieth-century, was by no means immune to the katechon's provocative mystery: his work bears numerous revisions, inversions and re-evaluations of the figure, both during the time of his eager collaboration with National Socialism and in the aftermath of the Second World War. Before it obtains a paradigmatic status in Nomos der Erde the katechon makes a series of brief appearances in several of Schmitt’s texts. While in Nomos der Erde Schmitt will refer to the katechon as a Begriff, his earlier encounters with the katechon are so diverse from one another as to foreclose on the prospect of subsuming these encounters under a conceptual rubric. Tracing these earlier encounters can contribute to a broader understanding of the stakes of this figure in Schmitt’s work by marking certain theoretical revisions and deviations, and these markings in turn can further our discussion of the problem of authority in the discourse on the theological-political in twentieth-century Germany.
Schmitt mentions the katechon some ten times in the course of his Glossarium journals, written between 1947 and 1951. Of these ten, the entry from December 19th, 1947 provides perhaps the most direct explication of Schmitt’s interest in the Biblical figure: “Ich glaube an den Katechon; er ist für mich die einzige Möglichkeit, als Christ Geschichte zu verstehen und sinnvoll zu finden. Die paulinische Geheimlehre ist nicht mehr und ebenso viel geheim wie jede christliche Existenz. Wer nicht selber in concreto etwas vom katechon weiss, kann die Stelle nicht deuten.”150 This entry provides us with several significant insights into the varying roles of the katechon in Schmitt’s thinking. First, the katechon here is presented as a matter of belief. As Grossheutschi puts it, “Als ‘Glaubenssatz’ ist der Aufhalter aber nicht nur eine theoretische Angelegenheit, sondern ebenso eine Frage der Erfahrung, der ‘christlichen’ Existenz.”151 Second, it should not be lost on us that a mere two years after the destruction of Nazi Germany, the movement’s chief legal architect now asserts that only a figure of the apocalypse can offer up the right perspective on history. By “right” what is meant of course is a Christian, specifically Roman Catholic perspective. In the postwar era, when German writing largely turned its gaze away from the sight of its own catastrophic ruins, of buildings, lives, ideals and history, Schmitt remained resolutely attuned towards destruction under the presumption that the end of the world does not only mean the end of history, it grants shape to history’s
Carl Schmitt, Glossarium, Aufzeichnungen der Jahre 1947-1951 (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1991), 63. 151 Grossheutschi, Katechon, 78.
own unfolding. This attunement is roughly congruent with the sense of dread that Gershom Scholem characterizes as one of the two predominant religious attitudes towards the arrival of the Messiah, the other being hope.152 Elsewhere in the Glossarium Schmitt indicates that the possibility of reading history stems from locating the katechon within each particular era. “Man muss für jede Epoche der letzten 1948 Jahre den Katechon nennen können. Der Platz war niemals unbesetzt, sonst wären wir nicht mehr vorhanden.”153 In this context, the katechon becomes pluralized, a role capable of being adopted by various historical agents, and the very fact that there has been history serves as proof that the role of the katechon has indeed been taken on each time. Schmitt’s statement invokes a kind of political-theoretical parlor game: call it name that katechon. But how does one apply the figure of the katechon as means for understanding historical change, as Schmitt wants to do? In answering this question one cannot ignore the fact that a positive understanding of the katechon in Schmitt’s work can only be found in texts written after the conclusion of Second World War: “in den Schriften aus der Zeit nach dem Krieg ist die Bezeichnung Katechon für Schmitt gleichsam eine Art Ehrentitel.”154 Prior to the defeat of Nazi Germany, the only entities which Schmitt calls katechons are the various enemies of National Socialism,
See Gershom Scholem, “Zum Verständnis der messianischen Idee im Judentum,” in Judaica 3: Studien zur jüdischen Mystik. (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1970). 153 Schmitt, Glossarium, 63. 154 Grossheutschi, Katechon, 105.
those empires whose power and influence act to restrain or retard the historical destiny carried out by National Socialism. In the 1942 essay “Beschleuniger wider Willen,” the katechonic effect of delaying world history is considered the law of all “aging empires.”155 Great Britain’s political existence had been ruled by this katechonic law governing aging empires since the late nineteenth century, and in the twentieth century the United States was now subject to the same logic, functioning first as “Aufhalter und Verzögerer,”156 only to then turn into the paradox of the “accelerator despite itself.”157 In contrast, Schmitt celebrates the Nazis’ imperial project as an “accelerator” or “grosser Beweger.” In this context, the katechon appears as a negative concept, not restraining the end of the world, but the arrival of a new eon, specifically the thousand-year Reich. The valuation of the concept of the katechon depends entirely on how Schmitt conceives the movement of history. Grossheutschi observes that, viewed on the whole, Schmitt’s katechons can be divided into local and universal types, each caught up in restraining a respective historical process.158 Local katechons are negative, they are merely in the way of history, and function within a determined, narrow historical space: these include Masayrk, Pilsudsky, Kaiser Franz Joseph, Rudolf II, Byzanz,
Carl Schmitt, “Beschleuniger wider Willen ” in Staat, Grossraum, Nomos: Arbeiten aus den Jahren 1916-1969 (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1995), 436. 156 Ibid. 157 Ibid. 158 See Grossheutschi, Katechon, 103-107.
who restrain through their action or, in the case of the Kaiser, by virtue of their mere existence. Grossheutschi further differentiates the universal into the historically immanent and the historically transcendental. Universal immanent types of the katechon include the British Empire, Savigny, as well as Hegel, who restrain a general course of history. The only positive form of the katechon is the kind which Grossheutschi identifies as the universal-transcendental—for example, Donoso Cortes, the Roman church and the medieval Roman Empire, who, according to Grossheutschi, restrain nothing less than the end of the world, and thus signify the only form of the katechon which would for Schmitt carry a historical-theological necessity. The problem with this claim lies in a confusion concerning the ambiguity of Schmitt’s use of the katechon, a confusion that Grossheutschi himself notes when he states that Schmitt combines "auf eigenartige Weise zwei Deutungen des Katechon miteinander: Zum einen der heilsgeschichtliche Aufhalter des realen, physischen Endes der Welt—veranschaulicht an den mittelalterlichen Kaisern—; zum anderen der Aufhalter als notwendige Kategorie echten historischen Denkens. Der Übergang ist fleissend, und es stellt sich die Frage, ob für Schmitt ‘grosse’ Geschichtsschreibung letztlich mit Theologie zusammenfässt oder zumindest die Rolle einer ‘ancilla theologiae’ einnimmt, ode res ihm hier nur um eine formale
Analogie zu tun ist."159 In identifying Cortes, the Roman Church and the Holy Roman Empire as the only form of “positive” katechons, Grossheutschi falls victim to the ambiguity he points out in Schmitt between the two forms of katechon. Properly speaking, the only katechon that protects against the “real” end of the world is the one which appears in Second Thessalonians. For Schmitt, the katechon of the Holy Roman Empire is already a category of real historical thinking, and whoever or whatever fulfills the role of the katechon during that time does so to protect one particular empire, not the world as such, a point to which we will shortly return in greater detail. The discussion of katechon in Nomos der Erde is most relevant to our interest in authority in twentieth-century German political theology because it is here, in Schmitt’s analysis of the Holy Roman Empire, that the figure becomes bound up with his concern for "concrete orientation":
In der konkreten Ortung auf Rom, nicht in Normen und allgemeinen Ideen, liegt die Kontinuität, die das mitteralterliche Völkerrecht mit dem Römischen Reich verbindet. Diesem christlichen Reich ist es wesentlich, dass es kein ewiges Reich ist, sondern sein eigenes Ende und das Ende des gegenwärtigen Aon im Auge behält und trotzdem einer geschichtlichen Macht fähig ist. Der entscheidende geschichtsmächtige Begriff seiner Kontinuität ist der des Aufhalters, des Katechon. ‘Reich’ bedeutet hier die geschichtliche Macht, die das Erscheinen des Antichrist und das Ende des
Grossheutschi, Katechon, 91.
gegenwärtigen Aon aufzuhalten vermag, eine Kraft, qui tenet, gemäss den Worten des Apostels Paulus im 2. Thessalonicherbrief, Kapitel 2.160
It should be noted, first of all, that here the figure of the katechon has become a concept [Begriff]. This is part of Schmitt’s political-theological translation work, or to put it another way, Schmitt’s understanding of political theology as translation, as the über-setzen of elements from the field of theology to the field of politics. The identification of katechon as Reich allows Schmitt to understand the empire as the power tasked with deferring the end of the world. This concept of the Reich gives the law, the Volkerrecht, its “concrete orientation,” providing it with a focus, a Weltanschauung that is as grandly encompassing as it is fatally urgent, established not through “norms or general ideas” but by being “concretely oriented” towards Rome. An understanding of the katechon as that which orients reflects Schmitt’s promotion of the term Nomos in its original Greek sense as meaning a “fixed orientation in terms of space and land.”161 As such, the katechon belongs to Schmitt’s general theoretical project of recuperating this privileged form of orientation through the excavation of the occluded theological characters behind political concepts. As Schmitt outlines in Politische Theologie, only a politics conscious of its limits, origins and ultimate fate
Carl Schmitt, Der Nomos der Erde im Völkerrecht des Jus Publicum Europaeum (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1950), 29. 161 Schmitt, Nomos, 64.
can properly secure and defend itself, and such a consciousness can only be provided by theological concepts such as the katechon.162 Schmitt turns to the katechon in a retrieval effort that initially nostalgizes the lost world of the medieval respublica Christiana twice-over. First, Schmitt privileges the unity of church authority and imperial power which allowed the church to mandate and thus "concretely orient" imperial actions according to a katechonic consciousness. This privileging reflects an elegiac note throughout Nomos der Erde struck for the subsequent withdrawal of church authority into the private sphere, thus depriving political power of its "proper" orientation. The katechon isn’t only a stamp of legitimacy issued by church authority for the sake of imperial power, however: crucially for Schmitt, it also acts as a bridge-concept which effectively guarantees the very perpetuation of this authority against the threats of eschatological paralysis and the efficacy of mystic prophecy:
Ich glaube nicht, daß für einen ursprünglich christlichen Glauben ein anderes Geschichtsbild als das des Katechon überhaupt möglich ist. Der Glaube, daß ein Aufhalter das Ende der Welt zurückhält, schlägt die einzige Brücke, die von der eschatologischen Lähmung alles menschlichen Geschehens zu einer so groß artigen Geschichtsmächtigkeit wie der des christlichen
Die Autorität von Kirchenvätern und Schriftstellern wie Tertullian, Hieronymus und Lactantius Firmianus, und die christliche Fortführung sibyllinischer
See in this context Karl Löwith’s introduction to his Meaning in History.
Weissagungen vereinigen sich in der Überzeugung, daß nur das Imperium Romanum und seine christliche Fortsetzung den Bestand des Aon erklären und ihn gegen die überwältigende Macht des Bösen erhalten. Das war bei den germanischen Mönchen ein lichtvoller, christlicher Glaube von stärkster, geschichtlicher Kraft, und wer die Sätze Haimos von Halberstadt oder Adsos nicht von den truüben Orakeln des Pseudomethodius oder der tiburtinischen Sibylle zu unterscheiden vermag, wird das Kaisertum des christlichen Mittelalters nur in fälschenden Verallgemeinerungen und Parallelen mit nicht-christlichen Machtphänomenen, aber nicht in seiner konkreten Geschichtlichkeit begreifen können.
Here Schmitt includes the church fathers among those representatives of earthly authority who enjoy katechonic protection from eschatological paralysis. In contrast, Paul’s letter, written before the establishment of the church institution, concerns itself only with imperial authority. The dread experienced by Tertullian and his ilk at the thought of the apocalypse, combined with their distaste for prophecy and endorsement of the katechon, can be attributed to their fear of losing of authority. In this light the endorsement of the katechon takes on a distinctly self-serving veneer, becoming a justification from those in charge as to why they should remain so. Schmitt, however, does not aim to invalidate the anti-authoritative claim of prophecy in the name of the Church, instead he uses the katechon as a bridge, allowing
Schmitt, Nomos, 29-30.
institutional authority to persevere over time despite anti-authoritative intrusions from hostile forces. The value of the katechon’s eschatological view lies in the political awareness of finitude that it produces. The production of this awareness belongs to a profoundly existential strain in Schmitt’s thinking, which effectively promotes a kind of political being-towards-death necessary for political identity and survival. Only an awareness of death, in its unpredictability and finality, can produce the urgency necessary for the perpetuation of political order. Schmitt’s theories are peopled with death’s many faces: emergency, threat, enemy and apocalypse, all which must be routinely, vigilantly confronted so that the political order can remain concretely oriented. The shadow cast by death discloses an order’s concrete contours, and gives shape to an order’s equally concrete “Aufgaben und Missionen.”164 In the context of the katechon as a concept during the Holy Roman Empire, the disclosive shadow of death is cast over the whole of history. Throughout the course of Nomos der Erde, however, Schmitt invokes the katechon less and less as a particular historical figure and more and more as a generalized concept of theologicallysupported political finitude. As a result of this rhetorical shift in Schmitt's use of the figure, death’s shadow gets scaled down. Paralleling the displacement from miracle to sovereign exception in Politische Theologie, as the katechon comes to embody a general political concept, it loses the universal applicability found in its original
theological context and gets retrofitted by Schmitt to each time accommodate a particular political milieu. Paul’s katechon postpones the entire world from ending, while Schmitt’s generalized katechon postpones the end for a particular empire. Julia Hell elaborates on the historical stakes of this displacement when she reads Schmitt’s katechon as a scopic “ruin-gazer” scenario, in which “the imperial sovereign—empire or emperor—who, with its or his eyes fixed on the end of time, prepares for a political battle to delay that very end.” Contending with Mehring’s claim that this scenario reflects a politicized theology of history which conceives of the end as “historically meaningful,”165 Hell argues that we understand Schmitt’s katechon as “a re-conceptualization of the trope of imperial decline, a reconceptualization that does not require the idea of a meaningful ending—merely the understanding that empires do eventually come to an end. . . . In sum, we are not dealing with a theological politics of empire that has eschatology as its very substance, but a form of imperial theology, that is, a politics of empire that feeds on the remnants of eschatological history and their abandoned meanings.”166 The foodstuff upon which Schmitt’s "politics of empire" feeds is thus the remnants of a certain ruin-gazer scenario. In effect, Schmitt’s politics feeds on the ruins of ruins, on an image of
See Reinhard Mehring, “Karl Löwith, Carl Schmitt, Jacob Taubes und das Ende der Geschichte,” Zeitschrift für Religions- und Geistesgeschichte 48.3 (1996): 234. 166 Julia Hell, “Katechon: Carl Schmitt’s Imperial Theology and the Ruins of the Future,” The Germanic Review Vol 84, Number 4 (Fall 2009): 311.
historical ruins itself eroded down to ruined form by the course of time.167 Without pausing to consider whether an "imperial theology" is really the same as a "politics of empire," we will affirm that Hell is right to stress, over and against Mehring, that Schmitt’s project does not require or affirm the full resurrection of a theological view of history, but rather moves among its hollowed-out structures looking for useful scraps. Mehring’s point of view lines up with Grossheutschi’s hermeneutic slip mentioned earlier, in which he assigns to Schmitt’s “positive” katechons the kind of theological view of history which Hell dismisses as unsuited for Schmitt’s thought. Before approaching the role of the katechon in Schmitt’s new nomos, let us outline in greater detail the relation between authority and power in the katechon’s medieval incarnation as Schmitt understands it. As previously stated, Schmitt understands the concept as originally referring to a political power whose legitimacy is granted by a religious authority: the pope legitimates the emperor, who then sets out on the sort of “concrete tasks and missions” designed to protect the empire, to stave off disorder, to effectively restrain the Antichrist from appearing. The church acts as guarantor or signator for the emperor’s actions, by signing off on the katechonic significance of these actions and thus effectively controlling their interpretations. One
In general, Schmitt tends to treat the remnants he finds among these ruins as plug-and-play tools, ready right out of the box to be inserted into political theory—anything else is most likely to be returned to the historical scrap heap of theology from when it came. We recall, for example, that while Schmitt famously asserts in Politische Theologie that “alle prägnanten Begriffe der modernen Staatslehre sind säkularisierte theologische Begriffe,” (Politische Theologie, 44), he contends only with the concept of sovereignty.
imagines that, sent off on his missions, the emperor bears a sort of letter signed and sealed by the church, with a stamp reading “Official Katechon.” Schmitt’s concern for the development of a theological consciousness in political practice is not only a matter of conceiving proper action, such as the defense of a nation or the acquisition of territory, it is also a matter of cultivating a consciousness for why these actions are taking place, a consciousness which can orient these actions within a framework. For Schmitt, the Holy Roman Empire maintained this consciousness through the legitimation of imperial praxis as katechonic by the authority of the church. This legitimation was possible, Schmitt argues, because of the profound unity of medieval Christendom and its "supreme power."168 This unity was confirmed by the kings’ use of imperial names—imperator and imperia—and their reception of mandates from the pope. These mandates used church authority to imperial praxis as katechonic. Schmitt underscores that the emperor’s office was “ein Auftrag, der aus einer völlig anderen Sphäre stammt als die Würde des Königtums . . . ”169 The emperor can “nach Vollendung eines Kreuzzuges seiner Kaiserkrone in aller Demut und Bescheidenheit niederlegen, ohne sich etwas zu vergeben. Er tritt dann aus der erhöhten Reichsstellung in seine natürliche Stellung
This unity, Schmitt argues, encompasses the seats of emperor and pope as ‘antitheses’: “The medieval West and Central European unity of imperium and sacerdotium was never a centralized accumulation of power in the hands of one person. From the beginning, it rested on the distinction between potestas and auctoritas as two distinct lines of order of the same encompassing unity. Thus, the antitheses of emperor and pope were not absolute, but rather diversi ordines in which the order of the respublica Christiana resided.” See Schmitt, Nomos, 30. 169 Schmitt, Nomos, 31.
zurück und ist dann nur noch König seines Landes.”170 The status of imperial power as a temporary entity designed to address particular cases in which the political order requires defense should recall the status of the sovereign dictator that Schmitt outlined some thirty years previously. Schmitt thus clandestinely swathes his own theories of the sovereign state of exception in historical legitimacy. Katechon, then, is another name for the sovereign, and we can find the modern sovereign of Politische Theologie already inscribed within the tradition of the katechon. Historically this tradition remains alive as long as auctoritas retains its political efficacy: “Selbst als die kaiserliche potestas in der Wirklichkeit zu einem machtlosen Namen geworden war, bestand die umfassende Gesamtordnung des mittelalterlichen europäischen Völkerrechts weiter, solange die auctoritas des Papstes ausreichte, Missionsaufträge und Kreuzzugsmandate zu erteilen und neue Missionsgebiete zu verleihen. 171 The Pope’s auctoritas suffices to preserve order because preservation is a matter of existential orientation, which the sacerdotium can offer as long as it is allowed to flourish in the public sphere. Following his celebration of the political-theological unity perfected by the Holy Roman Empire, Schmitt marks the various forces responsible for subsequently undermining this unity and occulting the katechonic orientation: “ein Zeichen der Auflösung des mittelalterlichen christlichen Reiches, daß sich (seit dem 13.
Ibid., 32. Ibid., 35.
Jahrhundert) politische Einheiten bilden, die sich nicht nur tatsächlich, sondern immer mehr auch rechtlich dem Imperium entziehen, während sie die Auctoritas des Sacerdotium auf rein geistige Dinge abzudrängen suchen.”172 Not only was the auctoritas slowly reined in over time, thus depriving imperial power of its katechonic orientation, but repetitions of pre-Christian influences also began to compete with the Christian church in the realm of politics: “mittelalterliche Renovationen, Reproduktionen und Repristinationen antik-heidnischer Begriffe”173 began to emerge which represented the “deepest antithesis” to the political-theological unity of the respublica Christiana. The revival of pre-Christian influence in the political sphere produced a new form of Caesarism that for Schmitt lost any authentic sense of orientation or history, obscuring the katechonic perspective, and with it the crucial awareness that political power was ineluctably mortal: the "Caesars" of the middle ages failed or refused to acknowledge their own finitude as political agents, and so abandoned the essential framework for effective political consciousness. One does not have to look hard to observe that Schmitt has set up these “renovations, reproductions, and revivals” of ancient heathen concepts to collectively form a disparaged double to his own efforts at retrieving elements of Christian theology. It is supposedly matter of nothing less than the "deepest antithesis" between the idealized unity of auctoritas and potestas that underwrites the katechon on the one
Ibid., 34. Ibid., 32.
hand and those heathen engagements on the other. These engagements are already figured in the sort of paranoiac language familiar to anyone versed in Schmitt’s writings on enmity. Within the contested territory of the theological-political, Schmitt effectively plays the katechon himself, protecting the unity of auctoritas and potestas against its multiple enemies, who are bent on disseminating inferior simulacra of Schmitt’s own invocation of ancient theology. What, finally, separates Schmitt’s invocations of Christian theology from these “renovations, reproductions and revivals”? Do they differ merely by object, or by method as well? Since for Schmitt the Christian framework is innately superior to its competitors because of its relation to concrete life, that is, to finitude. Other theological frameworks provide only abstract notions of eternity. Schmitt appropriates the Christian framework of history because it is conscious of a beginning and an end, of a finitude divinely-ordained, and thus purposeful.174 This appropriation marks a desire within right-wing twentieth-century German thought, embodied by Schmitt, Heidegger and Jünger, to mark finitude and then inscribe it within a heroic, destinal sense of purpose.175 Methodologically, Schmitt approaches Christian concepts from a perspective which disregards the divinity of their authority. It is not because these concepts are ordained or legislated by the Christian God, and thus one does not incorporate them
See Löwith’s introduction, Meaning in History. See Susan Buck-Morss, “Sovereign Right and the Global Left,” Cultural Critique No. 69 (Spring 2008): 145-171.
into political theory out of respect or fear of this God’s authority. One approaches these theological elements rather by acknowledging the superior efficacy of their structures: Schmitt privileges them not because they are divinely right, but because they work. Schmitt assumes the success of these structures because the conceptual antithesis, the bureaucratic form of the Weimar-era government, has clearly failed. Schmitt uses this theologically-guided "concrete orientation" to support the construction of a new nomos, which occurs at the end of a historical trajectory stretching from the Holy Roman Empire to the postwar twentieth-century. When following this trajectory one can observe Schmitt grapple with the progressive withdrawal of authority from the political sphere: from the idealized unity of authority and power in antiquity, through the pale attempts at legitimacy in the form of the Versailles Treaty, towards the new nomos, which he must devise a means to support. The question remains whether the means of support that Schmitt offers can be schematized according to the analytics of authority and power that Arendt establishes. Part of the force behind this support lies undoubtedly in the occasionally mythic, occasionally prophetic character of Schmitt’s discourse, in which he issues statements such as “I speak of a new nomos of the earth.”176 Such vague declarations can be read not only as resulting from their status as future-oriented predictions, but as implicit efforts to re-capture the lost force of religious auctoritas in encrypted form.
See Schmitt, Nomos, 187-209.
Schmitt’s effort to legitimate his new nomos in the absence of traditional authority also repeats his typically ambiguous form of analysis which simultaneously describes a situation as it purportedly is, but also how it should be, once various forces of occultation have been removed.177 But unlike earlier works such as Politische Theologie, in which such an analysis remained a latent source of ambiguity, Nomos der Erde foregrounds this double quality as belonging to a nomos grasped in its originary meaning: “Trotz jener, schon in der klassischen Zeit eintretende Veränderung der Denk- und Ausdrucksweise ist stets erkennbar geblieben, dal das Wort Nomos ursprünglich keineswegs eine blosse Setzung angibt, in de Sein und Sollen getrennt und die Raumstruktur einer konkreten Ordnunj auß er Acht gelassen werden könnte. Diese spätere Verwendung gehört vielmehr zum Sprachgebrauch einer absinkenden Zeit, die sich nicht mehr mit ihrem Ursprung und Anfang zu verbinden wußte . . .”178 In its restored unity of the is and the ought, which meet one another in the existential affirmation of the founding act, the nomos to come is always-already that which has been at work throughout history. Above all, however, the new nomos contends with the modern withdrawal of authority through its evental force. Its authority no longer stems from its continuity with the past, or from its embodiment of a tradition. As reactionary as Schmitt is, and
“So handelt es sich für uns um den für jede geschichtliche Epoche wesentlichen, raum-einteilenden Grundvorgang, um das Struktur-bestimmende Zusammentreffen von Ordnung und Ortung im Zusammenleben der Völker auf dem inzwischen wissenschaftlich vermessenen Planeten.” Schmitt, Nomos, 49. 178 Ibid., 38-39.
as nostalgia-tinged as his analysis might appear, he is only interested in promoting his conservatism from within the bounds of historical possibility: with the binds of church authority having been broken by its retreat into the private sphere, what remains is the possibility of constituting authority in evental form, through the self-foundation of the nomos. “Der Nomos im ursprünglichen Sinne aber ist grade die volle Unmittelbarkeit einer nicht durch Gesetze vermittelten Rechtskraft; er ist ein konstituierendes geschichtliches Ereignis, ein Akt der Legitimität, der die Legalität des bloßen Gesetzes überhaupt erst sinnvoll macht.”179 For Schmitt, legitimacy concerns the institution and control of meaning, it makes the legality of the law meaningful in the first place. In its evental self-foundation, the nomos grants legitimacy, in other words, authority, to the law. Schmitt’s conception of nomos as a foundational act betrays a revolutionary tendency that would appear to be at odds with conservatism and the katechonic conception of political order. A separate inquiry would be needed to mark the contaminations of revolutionary rhetoric within Schmitt’s avowed counterrevolutionary discourse, this would further mark certain affinities between far-left and far-right political theories.180 Suffice to say here that the thrust of decisionism behind the sovereign exception in Politische Theologie becomes identified in Nomos der Erde
Ibid., 42. Jacob Taubes details this at-times subterranean affinity extensively in Die Politische Theologie des Paulus. See also Jan-Werner Müller, A Dangerous Mind: Carl Schmitt in Post-War European Thought (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003) and Gopal Balakrishnan, The Enemy: An Intellectual Portrait of Carl Schmitt (London: Verso, 2000).
with the foundation of political order itself, substituting for the traditional form of authority founded on the past. The trace of the theological is not limited here to nomos’ evental status, it also concerns nomos’ ability to "concretely orient." To this effect Schmitt offers that nomos can “als eine Mauer bezeichnet werden, weil auch die Mauer auf sakralen Ortungen beruht.”181 Sacred for Schmitt always means concrete. Walls are sacred because they demarcate territories and peoples. “Concrete orientation” belongs to Schmitt’s repertoire of concepts, along with Ausnahmezustand and katechon itself, which aim to reckon with the fate of politics in an era of authority’s decline. “Orientation” in particular is a vocabulary word that Schmitt shares with Arendt, as both express philosophical interest in the modern need for a people to orient themselves in history once certain traditional supports or bolsters have withdrawn. Both Schmitt and Arendt take recourse to ancient Rome in their efforts to address this modern need. The Roman Empire becomes for Schmitt the paradigm of political order because of its "concrete orientation," in which everything in the Imperium Romanum is oriented towards Rome itself. In much the same way, Arendt privileges the Roman Empire as the exemplary locus of traditional authority, in which, according to a kind of centripetal politics, all is derived from Rome. Schmitt’s new nomos finds its model of impossible imitation in the concept of the katechon in the Holy Roman Empire: the deployment of this concept and its
Schmitt, Nomos, 40.
attendant "concrete orientation" acts a double-bind for the nomos because the katechon represents an idealized model whose imitation has been foreclosed upon by the course of history, in part due to the withdrawal of religious authority from the public sphere. Schmitt will have to find another way to guarantee or legitimate "concrete orientation." He attests that he’s not interested in "conjuring acts," or in breathing "artificial new life" into old concepts,182 thus rhetorically cordoning off his theoretical project from certain precincts of spectrality and technology. Considering the extent to which Schmitt compresses and regiments his rhetoric, it is difficult to imagine that the contrast which these paganisms pose to Schmitt’s political Catholicism is anything accidental. That is to say, the Catholicism of Schmitt’s politics extends as well to the maintenance of a border between the dead and living, specifically, between concepts that are dead and concepts that are still alive, and Schmitt, in typical form, seeks to police this border by disavowing its relation to conjurers of the dead and the Doctor Frankensteins of artificial life. In his political theology, the dead, Schmitt emphatically claims, will not come back to life: “no ghosts here!” he says, because a Catholic knows that only God can breathe life into dead concepts. Schmitt’s disavowal of the spectral and the technological in this case indexes a central concern for twentieth-century discourse on the theological-political: the status
Ibid., 38: “Wenn ich demgegenüber das Wort Nomos wieder in seinem ursprünglicher Sinne verwende, so geschieht das nicht, um toten Mythen ein künstliches neue: Leben einzuhauchen oder leere Schatten zu beschwören.”
and stakes of secularization.183 It is no coincidence that Schmitt is allergic to trafficking with conceptual ghosts. To deal with or produce phantoms would go against Schmitt’s political theory which, as we have said, is suffused with death, obsessed with identifying it, controlling it, naming it, in the face of threats, finitude, and the enemy. Schmitt's defense of his theoretical strategy against pagan enemies refers us again to the broader problem of tradition which, as detailed in the introduction, so consumes twentieth-century German political thought. This breakdown is what causes authority to become a problem for theological-political thought. Schmitt must rhetorically cordon off his nomos project from rivals who illegitimately trespass into the past, because he accepts an irrevocable breakdown in tradition as such and seeks to access an auctoritas that can survive without tradition’s continuity.184 Schmitt’s reading of the katechon offers an exemplary case for our inquiry into the question of authority in twentieth-century German political theology because it sets authority in relation to the problem of the end of the world. We refer to the end of the world as a problem because it is not certain, philosophically or theologically or any other way, what this end would be and how we should orient ourselves towards it, if
As Laurence Rickels notes, the secular era is marked by a proliferation of ghosts, of life unbounded from the demarcations enforced by religious authority. See Rickels, The Vampire Lectures (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 22: “There emerged, then, in our modern secular era, in the new cleaned-up place of death’s representation, an uncontrollable blending of boundaries between life and death. Death was growing uncanny, unburiable, unframeable, unrepresentable, unmournable.” 184 Arendt marks the essential dependency of authority on tradition in her essay, see Between Past and Future, 127.
such an orientation were even possible. Because it makes the end of the world a political concern, Schmitt’s reading of the katechon as a figure of authority should be evaluated along a concurrent political-theological thinking of messianism in twentiethcentury Germany. By adopting the katechon as the central figure for a theologically-motivated thinking of political order, Schmitt pulls off a significant sleight-of-hand, condensing the two destructive-redemptive poles of the apocalypse into one phenomenon: the messianic event. This condensation pumps up the theological feeling of dread associated with the destructive wrath of the Antichrist, expanding it into a more generalized fear of the Messiah’s return, and using this fear to legitimate the need to protect sovereign authority accordingly. This condensation ultimately allows Schmitt to read the messianic event as a metaphor for the onset of political revolution. In this context Taubes reads Schmitt’s apocalyptics as theological shorthand for his right-wing fear of revolution, hence his designation of Schmitt as the “apocalypticist for the counter-revolution.”185 Theology thus allows Schmitt to hypostasize political revolution into an event equivalent to the end of the world: in this way Schmitt’s politics function as the right-wing counterpart to left-wing revolutionary politics infused with messianic or utopic sensibilities.
See Jacob Taubes, “Carl Schmitt: ein Apokalyptiker der Gegenrevolution,” in Ad Carl Schmitt: Gegenstrebige Fügung (Berlin: Merve Verlag, 1987).
From Taubes’ perspective, not only Schmitt’s sovereign but institutional authority as a whole fears Paul’s revolutionary declaration separating earthly from divine authority: the Good News is bad news to those in charge, because the salvation of humankind means the necessary termination of their authority. For Taubes this holds just as true for rabbinical Judaism as it does for the sovereign. In this context Elettra Stimilli writes: “In Taubes’ Augen ist jene auch dem ‘Mysterium Judaicum’ wesentliche ‘katechontische Form der Existenz’ also dem jüdischen Rabbinismus zuzuschreiben, durch den sie zu einer retardierenden und gerade in diesem Sinne politischen Macht geworden ist, nicht unähnlich derjenigen, die Schmitt in der res publica Christiana verwirklicht sieht.”186 Taubes sees the institution of Jewish religion as being “essentially katechonic,” refusing the radicality of the messianic message: for Taubes rabbinical Judaism insists without fail on building “immer neue Zäune um die Thora,”187 in order to protect it against the threat of the messianic event. Taubes offers a schematic reading of Schmitt’s investment in the katechon in which he positions himself as Schmitt’s political-theological counterpart: “Das Interesse von Schmitt war nur eines: dass die Partei, dass das Chaos nicht nach oben kommt, dass der Staat bleibt. Um welchen Preis auch immer. Das ist für Theologen und Philosophen schwer nachzuvollziehen; für den Juristen aber gilt: solange auch nur eine juristiche Form gefunden werden kann, mit welcher Spitzfindigkeit auch immer,
Jacob Taubes, Der Preis des Messianismus, ed. Ellettra Stimilli (Würzberg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2006), 158. 187 Jacob Taubes, Abendländische Eschatologie (Berlin: A. Francke, 1947), 25.
ist es unbedingt zu tun, denn sonst regiert das Chaos. Das ist das, was er später das Katechon nennt: Der Aufhalter, der das Chaos, das von unten drängt, niederhält. Das ist nicht meine Weltanschauung, das ist nicht meine Erfahrung. Ich kann mir vorstellen als Apokalyptiker: soll sie zugrunde gehn. I have no spiritual investment in the world as it is.”188 Taubes here draws attention to the technicity of Schmitt’s katechonic framework, that the proper juristic form must be found that can keep a lid on apocalyptic pressure from below, regardless of its origin or moral context.189 In contrast to the theologian or the philosopher, the jurist is willing to spare no expense to locate this form. We might say that the jurist in a way the most modern of the three, because his disposition towards concepts resonates the most with scientific inquiry. While Taubes dismisses the katechon from his own side, saying “das ist nicht meine Weltanschaaung, das ist nicht meine Erfahrung,” it is clear that the katechon belongs to that range of concepts which Taubes believes he must establish himself against as part of his participation in Schmitt’s program of theoretical enmity. Throughout his Auseinanderzetzung with Schmitt, Taubes is more than happy to sign on to a philosophical polemics which effectively divides a spectrum of ideas into a dualist cosmology, organizing it around a meridian of complementary antagonism. To this effect Taubes’ essay on Schmitt builds a cosmo-theoretical schema in which “Carl Schmitt denkt apokalyptisch, aber von oben her, von den Gewalten; ich denke von
In English in the original. Taubes, Paulus, 139. Ibid.
unten her.”190 The katechon is in fact part of Taubes’ Weltanschaaung, because it is the exact opposite of his Weltanschaaung, belonging both to the territory of political sovereignty and to the restraining forces within Judaic religion. The katechon in Taubes thus stands for anti-messianic forces in general, and should be read as part of Taubes’ critique of Scholem’s reading of messianism: it is not, as Scholem claims, messianism which keeps Jews out of history, but the katechonic forces of organized religion that bulwark against the messianic event by institutionalizing the meaning of the Torah.191 Finally, it is necessary to address some contemporary critiques of Schmitt’s identification of katechon with Reich. Grossheutschi provides historical evidence of interpretations of the katechon that run counter to the imperial interpretation first promoted by Tertullian. In his extended analysis of the tricky position of Obrigkeit in Paul’s letters, Grossheutschi effectively supports these counter-interpretations, arguing that the fundamental indifference of the Christian believer towards earthly authority precludes the possibility of reading katechon as Reich: “Eigentlich betrifft die Obrigkeit die Christen nicht mehr, sie ist gleichgültig geworden für diejenigen, die frei geworden sind von der Sünde....Solange die Christen gegenüber der Obrigkeit eine pragmatische Haltung einnahmen, gleichweit entfernt von der Vergöttlichung wie von der Dämonisierung, bestand kein Grund, das Katechon auf Rom zu deuten. Erst als sie
Taubes, Gegenstrebige Fügung, 22. See Taubes, “Der Messianismus und sein Preis” in Vom Kult zu Kultur.
—gezwungen durch die Zeitumstände—ihre neutrale Haltung aufgaben und zu werten begannen, wurde die eschatologische ‘Aufladung’ Roms möglich.”192 Within Paul’s perspective, Christians maintain an indifferent or pragmatic Haltung in relation to earthly authority as long as the theological “shortness” of time, the nearness of the present to the messianic event, retains a real historical efficacy. Only after the messiah defaults on his arrival can the Roman Empire be inscribed within an eschatological framework.193 Given the previously mentioned rhetorical shift between First and Second Thessalonians concerning the status of earthly Obrigkeit, however, it is quite difficult to describe ultimately what sort of relation this "gleichgültigkeit" might be. The very space of hermeneutic openness that surrounds this ambiguous term has in part contributed over time to theological-political variants. We recall that for Schmitt an imperialized katechon is “die einzige Möglichkeit, als Christ Geschichte zu verstehen und sinnvoll zu finden.” In light of Grossheutschi’s reading, we can say that yes, the katechon does represent the possibility of understanding history from a Christian perspective, but this possibility only opens up in the wake of the Messiah’s nonarrival, in the failed terminus of Pauline eschatology and the persistent continuation of history.
Grossheutschi, Katechon, 25. See Taubes, Vom Kult zu Kultur, 230.
The most recent sustained critique of Schmitt’s interpretation of the katechon comes from Giorgio Agamben, who reads Second Thessalonians with a strong emphasis on katagerein, the “rendering inoperative” or de-legitimizing of every power in messianic time. Addressing Schmitt’s imperial reading, Agamben writes that “every theory of the State, including Hobbes’—which thinks of it as a power destined to block or delay catastrophe—can be taken as a secularization of this interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2. Yet the fact remains that despite its obscurity, this Pauline passage does not harbor any positive valuation of the katechon. To the contrary, it is what must be held back in order that the 'mystery of anomia' be revealed fully.'”194 "Anomia," Agamben stresses, should not be translated as iniquity or sin, but should mean only “absence of law.” Paul, in fact, presents himself to the Gentiles as the one “outside the law.” Anomia is the condition of the law in messianic time, its state of being "rendered inoperative." For Agamben, the "unveiling" of the mystery of anomia, which occurs when the katechon is "removed," is an act or event akin to the deconstruction of authority— if we take notice here of another example of rhetorical slippage between power, authority and force. “The katechon is therefore the force—the Roman Empire as well as every constituted authority—that clashes with and hides katargesis, the state of tendential lawlessness that characterizes the messianic, and in this sense delays
Giorgio Agamben, The Time That Remains: a commentary on the letter to the Romans (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), 110.
unveiling the mystery of lawlessness. The unveiling of this mystery entails bringing to light the inoperativity of the law and the substantial illegitimacy of each and every power in Messianic time. . . . It is therefore possible to conceive of katechon and anomos not as two separate figures, but as one single power before and after the final unveiling.” 195 The katechon is an authority such as the Roman Empire, which stands in the way of the unveiling of the illegitimacy of all earthly authority. In reading the katechon as an authority flipped over in messianic time to reveal its essential illegitimacy Agamben essentially ascribes a globalized deconstructive capacity to the messianic event. A small but crucial rhetorical shift here underscores, however, a broader critical tension concerning authority in Agamben’s thought. Agamben begins his closing argument against the imperialized katechon with the statement that it is “possible to conceive” that in fact the katechon and anomos are one and the same, and then finishes with the dramatic conclusion that as a result of this “possibility,” 2 Thessalonians 2 “may not be used to found a ‘Christian doctrine’ of power in any manner whatsoever.”196 What begins as a conjecture or hypothesis in Agamben’s reading gathers steam until at the end of the paragraph it becomes the ground for a categorical dismissal of the imperial reading of the katechon. This shift from open conjecture to certainty when critically dismantling an imperial ideology is indicative
Ibid., 111. Ibid.
of Agamben’s general systematic deconstruction of earthly authority which in turn subtly installs Agamben himself in the authoritative position—if for Derrida what is undeconstructible is called justice, for Agamben what is undeconstructible is called Agamben.197 Readers of Agamben will no doubt observe the central role that Walter Benjamin plays in the ontological contours specific here to Agamben’s reading of Saint Paul. Agamben’s emphasis on a messianic inoperativity of the law is culled from Benjamin’s political-theological writings, specifically from Benjamin’s understanding of splinters of messianic time that create discontinuous, crystalline Stillstands within the course of history.198 Furthermore, the view to a profound congruence between Benjamin and Paul that guides a great deal of The Time That Remains is, as Agamben attests from the outset, indebted to Taubes’ lectures on Paul. Agamben’s text functions as something like a philosophical supplement to Taubes’ comments on messianism as well as his identification of Schmitt as an "apocalyptician of the counter-revolution." In the context of the theological-political problem of authority, Taubes and Agamben both proclaim themselves as something like starting players for Team Benjamin, critically engaging the figure of the katechon in Schmitt from a Messianic perspective in order to offer a deconstructive reading of the Pauline regard for earthly authority.
Derrida reads similar cases of Agamben’s rhetorical slides in The Beast and the Sovereign, see 324332. 198 See “Walter Benjamin and the Demonic: Happiness and Historical Redemption,” and “The Messiah and the Sovereign: The Problem of Law in Walter Benjamin” in Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy.
Thus our reading of the katechon in Schmitt and his interlocutors can now function as a pivotal point upon which we can turn to discuss in greater detail the role of authority in twentieth-century writings on the political valences of the messianic.
CHAPTER 3: Authority and Messianism in Jacob Taubes’ reading of Saint Paul
Delivered shortly before his passing in 1987, Jacob Taubes’ lectures on Saint Paul addressed the question of the political dimension in Paul’s theology and in messianism in general, an issue last raised by a number of Jewish thinkers in interwar Germany.199 While the matrix of dialogues that Taubes raises with his predecessors and his intellectual opponent Carl Schmitt, as well as a host of other historical figures including Freud and Nietzsche, addresses a broad field of concerns, Taubes’ work repeatedly returns to what might be called the core political concern of Paul’s theology: the relation between divine and profane authority in light of messianism. This chapter intends to read critically alongside Taubes the stakes of Paul’s political199
See Hent de Vries, Religion and Violence: Philosophical Perspectives from Kant to Derrida (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), 248, and Philosophy and the Turn to Religion (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 187-188.
theological polemic against earthly authority while also interrogating the status and limits of the authority undergirding Paul’s message. The question of earthly authority in Paul’s messianism might be asked as follows: if the return of the Messiah is inevitable, what should be done, and whom should be obeyed? Are we to actively de-legitimize the bearers of earthly authority ourselves, or is this rather an eschatological inevitability? A critical reading of Paul via Taubes will also inquire after the authoritative supports of apostolic proclamation in Paul’s letters: what are the stakes behind this authority, that of the apostle or messenger, which legitimates a messianic relation between heaven and earth? Insofar as Paul’s political theology depends on a rereading of Judaic Scripture, his apostolic authority is as well bound up with an authority in reading: how is Paul’s reading authorized, and what actions does this reading authorize in turn? The authority of Paul’s theology, as Taubes makes clear, lies in the stamp of validity issued by pneuma, which functions as a hermeneutic guarantor permitting Paul to read the Old Testament against the grain for the sake of his messianic Heilsgeschichte.200 The political presupposition underlying this Heilsgeschichte, according to Taubes, is that the direct presence of divine authority in the form of Christ on earth signals the invalidation or "rendering inoperative" of earthly authority,201 specifically the authority of the law as perpetuated by both rabbinical
See Taubes, Paulus, 56-76. The term "rendering inoperative" is Giorgio Agamben’s: see The Time That Remains, 99.
Judaism and Roman imperialism. Taubes’ reading belongs to a broad leftist critique of theocracy propagated by readers of messianism during interwar Germany, specifically Ernst Bloch and Walter Benjamin: the manifestation of heaven on earth cannot legitimate earthly authority, it can only destroy, abrogate, fulfill, de-activate.202 I intend to analyze the stakes of this de-legitimation in Taubes’ work, giving an emphasis to certain aporias and disjunctions in his thought that point to an inability of messianism to become fully appropriated by political discourse. In particular, reading Taubes reading Romans 13 together with his critique of Scholem’s idea of messianism brings to light a particular resistance of Pauline messianism to any suture with political theory. These readings will subsequently show that within Taubes’ thought, the fate of earthly authority from a messianic perspective cannot be neatly squared away or hermeneutically accounted for. It is first necessary to reflect on an aporetic moment in the Old Testament in which divine authority seems to escape and to entrap God himself. In the course of an exchange with Moses, God’s own authority, absolute and undeconstructible, ceases to belong to Him in an instance when He has used it to underwrite His own oath. This aporia of divine authority will influence our inquiry into the stakes of authority in Taubes’ reading of Paul insofar as Taubes lays central importance on the typological relation between Moses and Paul.
See Ernst Bloch Geist der Utopie (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1964) and Benjamin's "Theologischpolitsches Fragment," as well as the Nachwort by Wolf-Daniel Hartwich, Aleida and Jan Assmann in Taubes’ Die Politische Theologie des Paulus.
In Exodus, God wants to annihilate the Jewish people because they have turned their back on Him. He tells Moses, “let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation” [Exodus 32:10]. Hoping to protect the Jews, Moses offers to take death upon himself: he wants to be the anathema, the scapegoat, asking God to blot him “out of the Book of Life" [Exodus 32:32)].203 By offering to accept punishment even though he himself is sinless, Moses attempts to intervene in a moral economy which punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous. Ultimately, however, only Moses’ prayer can secure the Jews against devastation, by releasing God from his own sworn oath to destroy them. “Aber wie kann man Gott von einem Schwur entbinden?” Taubes asks.204 Turning to the Berakhot tractate of the Talmud in order to consult the rabbinical commentaries, Taubes arrives at an answer: va-yehal in Hebrew can mean "to pray" and "to release."205 To be more specific, however, we can say that Moses releases God by trapping him, invoking in his prayer God’s previous oath to the Jews: “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever. And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people” [Exodus 32:13-14].
Taubes goes on to assert that the experience of this destruction is ritualized in Yom Kippur. See Paulus, 32-36. 204 Taubes, Paulus, 45. 205 Ibid.
Rabbi Eleazar adds, “Moses said before the Holy One, blessed be He: Sovereign of the Universe, hadst Thou sworn to them by the heaven and earth, I would have said, Just as the heaven and earth can pass away, so can Thy oath pass away. Now, however, Thou hast sworn to them by Thy great name: just as Thy great name endures for ever and ever, so Thy oath is established for ever and ever.”206 Moses thus binds God to his own law, to the oath which he swore "by thine own self." God’s oath to support and protect the Jews was offered by his "great name," and this oath cannot be broken, even by God himself. Here only the invocation of a previous oath can interrupt the oath of destruction. Moses argues that if God destroys the Jews, God will effectively perjure Himself. This puts God at an impasse: He cannot fulfill both promises, the promise of protection and the promise of destruction. The second promise is, however, the outcome of the first: because the Jews were first His chosen people, but have turned away from Him, God wishes to destroy them in anger, in an act of divine justice. But because in making the Jews his chosen people God promised to protect them, the act of justice would betray His oath and thus become an act of injustice. God thus cannot do justice to Himself, incapable as He is of following His own law.207
Ibid. See also Joseph Hillis Miller, For Derrida (New York: Fordham University Press, 2009), 201: "God's oath is a speech act. For mortals, a felicitous speech act must be in some way publicly attested, and it must be based on something outside itself, a sovereign authority, as when someone swears an oath with her or his hand on the Bible. A secret engagement to marry is no valid alliance. Perhaps only God, or a god, can felicitously swear an oath in secret or swear an oath 'by himself,' on his own, not
Moses protects the Jews by opening up God’s oath to its aporetic foundation, in which the condition of the oath’s possibility produces the impossibility of its fulfillment. The first oath of protection makes the second oath of destruction possible and impossible at the same time: the election of the Jews functions as the condition by which God can become angered, but because He elected them, He cannot destroy them. The Jews’ falling away from God demands punishment, but the ground of this falling, their divine election, precludes punishment, and thus protects them it. Recalling that Carl Schmitt asserts that all modern concepts of the state are secularized theological concepts, we can mark that Schmitt's theory of political sovereignty maintains a trace of Moses’ prayer for mercy and the aporia in the law that it points to. A look to Jacques Derrida’s reflections on forgiveness and the political can aid a further elucidation of this connection. For Derrida the sovereign’s right to pardon is
what interrupts, in the juridical-political itself, the order of the juridical-political. It is the exception to the juridical-political within the juridical-political, but a sovereign exception and a sovereign interruption that found the very thing from which they exclude or exempt themselves. As often, the foundation is excluded or exempted from the very structure it founds. It is the logic of the exception, of forgiveness as absolute
basing the oath on anything outside he who swears it." See also Jacques Derrida, "Oath, Conjuration, Fraternization, or the 'Armed' Question," in The Politics of Friendship (London: Verso, 1997).
exception, as the logic of infinite exception, that we would have to ponder over and over again.208
The encounter between Moses and God reflects this logic of "forgiveness as absolute exception" in a theological context. Protecting the Jews demands a miracle, that is, an exception to the law, an interruption in its functioning. The law’s suspension, which for Schmitt belongs solely to the power of the sovereign, is here produced by way of a dialogue, a litigation between God, the "Sovereign of the Universe," and Moses, his representative on earth, who produces this suspension by returning to the aporia underlying God’s oath. Following Moses, the limit point of God’s authority is that even He must obey His own oath, as it is sworn "by his own great name," as Rabbi Eleazar says. God’s second oath, the oath of destruction, at the same time falls away from the first as it fulfills it, nullifies the oath of protection even as it avenges this oath. Seen politically, Exodus thus includes a scene in which divine authority passes a law whose enforcement in punishment means that law’s own negation—this law cannot fulfill itself, protect itself, or secure itself. The impossibility of this law to defend itself without self-violation grants Moses the loophole by which he protects the Jews from divine retribution following their own violation of the law. The contract between Heaven and Earth stipulates that the Jews must be protected by God, even
“To Forgive” in Questioning God, eds. John D. Caputo, Mark Dooley and Michael J. Scanlon (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), 33.
from God, that ultimately God must secure them even against Himself. 209 If, following Arendt, we have today no shortage of examples of authority in withdrawal, or ruin, of an authority that has been evacuated from its bearer, the scene in Exodus evokes as well the escape of divine authority from its bearer, not by retreating, but by being too much to handle: its efficacy is in excess, it is over-present. In his reading of Exodus Taubes avoids discussing, however, an unsettling act on the part of Moses which has caused no small consternation among scholars, and which in fact is quite significant for my inquiry into the role of authority in theological-political discourse, because Moses’ act can be read as another modality of sovereign exception. While Taubes presents Moses’ prayer to God (the va-yehal by which he "releases" God from his oath), and Moses’ attempt at self-sacrifice as constituting a single encounter, they are actually two separate meetings—Taubes elides the scene which transpires between them. In Exodus, after first beseeching God not to destroy his people, Moses descends from the mountain and returns to camp: there he finds the people singing and dancing in celebration of their golden calf, perpetuating the same behavior that enraged God in the first place. Moses’ anger "waxes hot" [32:19], exactly as the Lord’s had done earlier [32:11]. Moses smashes
For these points I am indebted to Jacques Derrida’s thinking of the structure of the promise, see for example Memoires for Paul de Man (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), 119, and “How to Avoid Speaking” in Derrida and Negative Theology, eds. Toby Foshay and Harold G. Coward (Albany: SUNY Press, 1992), 84-85.
the tablets on which the covenant with God had been written, and then authorizes a purge:
Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD's side? Let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. And he said unto them, ‘Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.’ The sons of Levi did as Moses commanded, and about three thousand people fell on that day. Moses said, ‘Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord, each one at the cost of a son or a brother, and so have brought a blessing on yourselves to this day [32:26-29].
"Brothers, companions and neighbors" are slain as the price to be paid for the living to be "ordained" in the service of the lord—it is a servitude sealed in blood. This is not the first time that Moses has made recourse to violence as a vigilante tactic: when we first meet Moses at the opening of Exodus he is killing an Egyptian as retribution for the beating of a fellow Jew. In Exodus and Revolution, Michael Walzer reading Exodus as a paradigm for secular revolution, argues that here Moses deals with the same problematics that later affected Lenin’s politics.210 In the midst of his efforts to found the Jewish people, Moses initiates the question that will come to haunt revolutionary political action in
Walzer, Exodus and Revolution (New York: Basic Books, 1985), 59.
general: when is it legitimate to declare and pursue an enemy internal to the state, for the sake of the state? This question is perhaps only a secondary effect of a more fundamental concern, namely, the relation between revolution and violence. We will return to this concern when addressing Taubes’ reading of Scholem’s theories on messianism. Alongside the problem of revolutionary excess, the Moses of Exodus, founder of the Jews, also introduces the related problem of the sovereign suspension of the law. Moses’ purge repeats God’s wrath but contains its violence by converting divine annihilation into a surgical strike intended as a security measure, an eradication of those whose disobedience threaten the fate of the Hebrew people. Moses carries this out only after he has broken the original covenant tablets. In the context of the discourse of political theology, Moses’ purge, like God’s mercy, foreshadows Schmitt’s notion of the sovereign exception: the measure that Moses enacts in order to preserve his people necessitates a momentary suspension of the law. Moses’ purge takes place in an exceptional moment, after he has smashed the tablets of law and prior to the law's re-foundation. As a result, the law is no longer applicable to the extreme actions he undertakes. If God’s mercy in Exodus displays the exceptional quality of sovereign authority, Moses’ purge enacts this exception’s capacity for limitless violence, the kind rendered legitimate for the sake of preserving the people. For all his regard for Schmitt, it is a bit of a surprise that Taubes does not bring Moses’ purge into relation with Schmitt’s theories. Seen within the context of Taubes’
stated agenda in his Paul lectures, however, the grounds for omitting Moses’ purge become clearer. In his lectures Taubes gives himself the task of critically re-inscribing the apostle as a Jew, reading Paul’s theology in accordance with its debt to the Jewish tradition. A discussion of Moses’ purge would surely interrupt Taubes’ scholarly itinerary insofar as it is guided by a persistent referral to the Moses-Paul typological relation, which Taubes asserts is established by Paul himself. If we are to follow Taubes in developing a typological relation between Moses and Paul, however, it will be a typology that gains shape as much through an acknowledgment of the significant differences between the two. The greatest divergence, and thus that which most clearly announces the stakes of Paul’s repetition of Moses, can be found in the fate of the neighbor in Exodus as it contrasts with the figure of the neighbor in Pauline ethics. While the Judeo-Christian ethical injunction to love the neighbor begins in the Old Testament, neighbor-love arguably reaches an apotheosis in Paul’s theology unthinkable in the Mosaic universe precisely because of Paul’s proclamation of the law’s messianic abrogation.211 The fatal capture of the neighbor in Moses’ "sovereign" suspension of the law would be equally unthinkable to someone like Paul who seeks to convert the suspension of the law from a sovereign to a messianic modality.
See Kenneth Reinhard, Eric Santner and Slavoj Zizek, The Neighbor: Three Inquiries Into Political Theology.
For Taubes, Paul’s political theology arises from his desire to "outbid" Moses,
thus owing its contours from a kind of "Moses effect": his efforts to legitimate a
new people in light of the Messiah must in effect reckon with a debt to Moses, his symbolic father.213 Specifically, Taubes identifies the protection from God’s wrath, as a central problem for Paul in reckoning with the Mosaic legacy. Reading Romans bifocally together with Exodus, Taubes claims that “Paulus vor dem selben Problem stand wie Mose. Das Volk hat gesündigt. Es hat den Messias, der zu ihm gekommen ist, verworfen.”214 Both Moses and Paul must neutralize God’s anger in order to secure their people against destruction. In rejecting the Messiah, the Jews of Paul’s day have once again sinned and broken away. For both Moses and Paul, handling this crisis means recourse to God’s original promise, his election of the Jews. While Moses confronts God directly, catching Him in a double bind of promise and perjury, Paul must rely on interpretation. Deprived of a one-on-one with the Lord, Paul uses theology to reconcile heaven and earth, re-reading the Old Testament so that the Jewish rejection of the Messiah can be integrated into his Heilsgeschichte. Paul’s re-reading should be taken as an exemplary case of Taubes’ general notion that theology is essentially
Taubes, Paulus, 40: “Ich empfinde dieses polemische Verhältnis, wie Paulus sich an Mose misst, als absolut zentral.” 213 I use the term "effect" here with reference to the “Goethe effect” as Avital Ronell investigates it in her book Dictations: On Haunted Writing, as a name for the impossible debts and incalculable influence of historical legacy. See Avital Ronell, Dictations: On Haunted Writing (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986). 214 Taubes, Paulus, 54.
engaged with emergency hermeneutic interventions aimed at re-suturing religious symbols and historical experience.215 In the case of Taubes’ typological reading of Moses and Paul, we can also say that theological interpretation intervenes when God is radically absent, when during a time of devastation no direct appeal to him can be made. In Paul’s time, the one who had spoken the Word is gone, has retreated or withdrawn, and it is left up to an interpretation of the Word to stave off the destruction of the Jews. According to Taubes, Paul’s reading of the Old Testament theologically derives its authority from pneuma, the ancient Greek word for "breath." The term is a translation of the Hebrew word for spirit, ruakh. It is not until the need for a Greek term for this Hebrew concept arises that the word pneuma acquires its spiritual connotation—that is to say, Hebrew "spirit" becomes "breath" because the Greek language lacked a parallel term for ruakh. While Paul occasionally uses pneuma to refer to the human spirit, his most common use of the term is in the context of pneuma to theou, the spirit of God. Taubes demonstrates how pneuma functions as the theological stamp of authority on Paul’s interpretive passport by identifying Paul’s readings as a form of sensus allegoricus which him to maneuver within the claims of Jewish tradition and those of messianic Christianity. Before we turn to these readings, what is it that first of all grants Paul the authority to read the Old Testament from a pneumatic perspective? It is the event of
See Taubes, Vom Kult zu Kultur, 230.
Paul’s conversion to Christianity on the road to Damascus. In the opening to Romans Paul says that he has been “called” (kletos) to be an apostle. Paul’s ethical duty and thus in fact his identity as an apostle, has befallen him, invaded him, stolen upon him, and he is compelled to attest to it.216 As Albert Schweitzer and other scholars have noted, Paul’s apostolic conversion confers upon him a "mystical" authority insofar as it offers a way to God directly through inner experience without the mediation of reason or sacrament or ceremony.217 The authority of Paul’s pneumatics ultimately rests on this "mystic," that is, direct and unmediated, experience of God, granted to Paul in the form of an encounter which overtakes him—so that he attests in Galatians 1-11, for example, “the gospel that was proclaimed to me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”218 In his lectures Taubes stresses the dual capacity of pneuma in Paul: it is a “Kraft, die ein Volk verwandelt, und die den Text verwandelt.”219 Pneuma is "life experience" as well as "allegorical textual experience." Taubes argues that this
See Avital Ronell, The Telephone Book: Technology – Schizophrenia – Electric Speech (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press), 1-72. 217 See Albert Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle (New York: H. Holt and Company, 1931) and John Charles Cooper, Radical Christianity and Its Sources (Philadelphia: Westminister Press, 1968). 218 The notion of an ethical calling is not only a central concern to Ronell, Derrida and Levinas, but as well becomes a key element in the appropriation of Paul’s theology for contemporary political philosophy by Giorgio Agamben and Alain Badiou. Additionally it is worth considering whether the mystical character of Paul's authority might, following Derrida, be an index of the mystical foundation of all authority. Furthermore we should note the proximity between Paul’s apostolic authority, granted "without the mediation of reason" and "without sacrament or ceremony,” and Arendt's definition of authority as engineered by Plato, legitimated without reason or violence. 219 Taubes, Paulus, 64.
experience, which he refers to as sensus allegoricus, has been historically denigrated by modern Biblical criticism since Spinoza, and that it is Walter Benjamin’s Trauerspielbuch which first restores an understanding that this sensus is not only legitimate as a textual experience, it is a “Lebensform.”220 Taubes understands this textual experience as manifesting itself in Paul by way of citation, particularly in Romans: “es gibt keinen Text des Paulus, der so gepickt ist mit Zitaten wie Römer 911. Und zwar Thora-Zitaten und Propheten-Zitaten. Weil hier mit Thora und Propheten die Legitimation der Transfigurierung bewiesen werden soll.”221 Romans, which Taubes reads as the founding text for Paul’s political theology, derives its theological authority by quoting and interpreting the Old Testament. For Taubes a central instance of this citation occurs when Paul attempts to reconcile the Jew’s rejection of the Messiah with Christian Heilsgeschichte through a reading of Deuteronomy. Here, angered by their turn from him, God threatens to make the Jews jealous by adopting another people as his chosen. Paul lays out his reading of this threat in Romans 10:19 through Romans 11:
First Moses saith, I [that is, God] will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you. But E-sai-as is very bold, and saith, I was found of them, that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me. But to Israel he saith, all day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a
Ibid, 62. Ibid, 68.
disobedient and gainsaying people.” <Then in Romans 11:11> “I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.
Paul identifies this ‘no-people’ of Deuteronomy as the Gentiles. In this light, the salvation of the Gentiles is made possible by the Jews’ falling away, their violation of covenant law: this causes God to choose the Gentiles, in order to make Israel jealous.222 God’s provocation will cause the Jews to repent and to seek again God’s blessing, and in doing so they will become united with the Gentiles under God. Paul’s reading transforms the devastation of the Jews, their falling-away from God, into the absolutely necessary, divinely ordained pre-condition of universal redemption. Such is the theological securing force of pneuma: it allows Paul to play double defense, protecting both the Jews (to the extent that they must sacrifice part of their Jewishness) and the word of God as well. The Jews, Taubes, says, are afraid “dass das Wort Gottes Misserfolg haben kann, das seine Versprechungen sozusagen danebengegangen sind. Das Wort Gottes kann doch nicht schiefgehen! Das Wort Gottes ist doch treu und fest, wie das Gebet der Juden es täglich betont. Nein, es ist nicht schiefgelaufen. Denn nicht alle, die aus Israel stamen, sind Israel. Das ist der Schlüsselsatz. Das heisst: dieses ‘alle’ dem
See as well Bell, Richard: Provoked to Jealousy: The Origin and Purpose of the Jealousy Motif in Romans (J.C.B. Mohr, 1994).
Fleisch nach ist nicht identisch mit dem der Verheissung nach.”223 By decoupling flesh from promise and aiming for a spiritual community, Paul can protect Israel, but only by destroying it, by asserting repeatedly that the undoing of certain tenets of the Judaic tradition, namely divine election and the role of nomos, is legitimated and to a certain extent demanded by those same tenets. Thus Paul’s theological protection of the Jews is intertwined with their political transfiguration. Paul is playing a game of high-stakes hermeneutics. Nothing is in danger, he announces to the Jews: the Jewish tradition cannot be endangered by the messianic event, nor can the Jews be endangered by God’s wrath, because viewed pneumatically, this moment of utmost crisis, of absolute danger, actually functions as the turning point, the conversion point to absolute security. Pneumatic reading, undergirded by the mystical guarantee of Paul’s encounter with the Holy Spirit, converts crisis into salvation by interpreting Deuteronomy’s drama of jealousy as the possibility of opening up salvation to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews. Taubes asserts that a salvation open both to Gentiles and Jews requires “a universalism, but one that signifies the election of Israel. Only that Israel is now being transfigured, and then in the end it says pas Israel.”224 The question of pas Israel is central to thinking the political dimensions of Paul’s theology and their relevance for contemporary philosophy—this question can be addressed however only after first considering the
Taubes, Paulus, 67. Taubes, Paulus, 38.
role of authority in Taubes’ reflections on the political thrust of Paul’s letters as a whole. The ground for this consideration will be laid by critically reading Taubes’ essay on Scholem’s theory of Jewish messianism. Taubes' own theory will in turn provide the possibility for the reflections offered here on the authority of Paul’s theology to intersect with an understanding of authority in his politics. Taubes confronts Scholem’s theory of messianism in his essay “Der Messianismus und sein Preis.”225 For Scholem, the mystical dimension of messianism denies it historical consequence: messianism is responsible for das Leben im Aufschub, enticing Jews to retreat from the sphere of political action in order to await redemption indefinitely. Furthermore, Scholem distinguishes Jewish and Christian notions of redemption: Jewish redemption would come in public, on the stage of history and for the community, while Christian redemption retreats from the political sphere, finding its place in the individual soul. Contra Scholem, Taubes situates messianism as the index of a traumatic kernel within Judaism itself, and reads Paul’s messianism not as a break with Judaism but the latest in a string of infra-Judaic crises.226 A passage from Taubes’ essay schematizes the stakes of his critique:
See Taubes, Vom Kult zu Kultur, 43-50. It should as well be noted that Taubes’ critique of Scholem includes an implicit critique of the authority of expertise. Taubes introduces Scholem’s theory by describing it as being pronounced “mit grosser Autorität,” yet this authority does not arise from historical analysis or offer insight into “konkreten historischen Situation”, but rather appears as a “Relikt der klassischen jüdischenchristlichen Kontroverse des Mittelalters." Taubes, Der Preis des Messianismus, 34.
Im Gegensatz zu Scholem würde ich meinen, dass die Strategie des Paulus zur Aufhebung des Gesetzes nicht durch pragmatischen Gründe, nicht durch das Nachgeben gegenüber einem “Anstoss von aussen” bestimmt war, sondern dass sie unmittelbar aus seiner “immanenten Logik” hervorging, nachdem er einen in konsequenter Ausübung des Gesetzes zu Recht gekreutzigen Messias akzeptiert hatte. Tant pis für das Gesetz, meint Paulua und muss folgerichtig eine “völlig antinomistische” Form der messianischen Theologie entwickeln, die in der Behauptung gipfelt, der kreuzigte Messias sei ‘des Gesetzes Ende.’ Die Krise der Verinnerlichung zwingt Paulus auch dazu, zwischen Juden, die ‘aüsserlich,’ und solchen, die ‘inwendig’ Juden sind, zu unterscheiden -- die Bezeichnung ‘Christ’ existiert für ihn noch nicht. Die Krise ist eine innerjüdisches Ereignis. Die Krise der Eschatologie wird für Paulus zu einer Krise des Gewissens.227
In the context of a thinking of messianism there is a sense for Taubes in which Paul is more “more Jewish than any rabbi" because he grasps the disavowed core of Judaism—the matter of law, specifically, the relation between the law and the eschatological movement of history.228 Taubes reads Paul as affirming that the law
Ibid, 44-45. Taubes means “in Gegensatz” quite literally: his claims are direct polemical negations of those made by Scholem in “Die Krise der Tradition im jüdischen Messianismus,” Judaica 3, 155156. Elettra Stimilli comments in her essay “Der Messianismus als politisches Problem”: “Dies ist der Punkt, in dem Taubes und Scholem entschieden voneinander abweichen. In logischer Konsequenz seiner Analyse des Messianismus versteht Scholem Paulus als ein Moment des Bruchs, al seine ‘Krise der Tradition.’ Taubes hingegen sieht im paulinischen Gedankengut einen Wendepunkt, der jedoch -und das ist entscheidend -- ganz eng und consequent der genuinen Logik der jüdischen Idee des Messianismus verbunden bleibt.” Der Preis des Messianismus, 146. 228 Taubes consistently regards the law, Halacha, as the foundation of Jewish theology: see “Die Streitfrage zwischen Judentum und Christentum” in Vom Kult zu Kultur. In Abendländische Eschatologie the law becomes a synonym for world as the sum of the "things that are": “Mit Tod und
itself is the operator of the crucifixion, it is the law that puts Jesus on the cross, and thereby does nothing other than demonstrate its own invalidity. In his commentary on Paul’s reading of the crucifixion, the well-known theologian Theodor Jennings asserts that the legal validity of the crucifixion only underscores the law’s distance from divine justice:
Paul does not suppose that the law has been subjected to a mistake but that it has been exposed as deeply illegitimate, or at least as incapable of producing justice. For this to be so, it must be the case that the messiah was condemned and executed not through a miscarriage of law but through a fundamental opposition between law and justice. That is, the condemnation of Jesus was not wrong in terms of law, nor was his execution wrong in terms of legality. On the contrary, the condemnation and execution were right in terms of law. It is only then that it could follow that there is a problem with law as law. It was legal but unjust, in collision or fundamental opposition to justice. And this is so because the one legally condemned and executed is the justice of God, the messiah of God.229
The law seeks to use the execution of the Messiah to inscribe the end of law within its own jurisdiction, to effectively make the end of the law a legal matter (much as Schmitt’s sovereign aims to do), but from Paul’s perspective the law loses to the
Auferstehung Jesu ist die Wende eingetreten: das Wesen dieser Welt vergeht. Das Wesen dieser Welt aber ist das Gesetz.” Abendländische Eschatologie, 67. 229 Theodor Jennings, Reading Derrida, Thinking Paul (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), 6869.
loser: the resurrection proves the law’s authority has been frozen. In attempting to protect itself against a total threat, the law only paradoxically aids this threat, facilitating its own sublation or de-activation—or as Taubes says at one point, paraphrasing Hegel, tant pis, so much worse for the law. Furthermore, Taubes shifts the blame for a life "im Aufschub" from the messianic idea to the rabbinical institution:
Wenn die jüdische Geschichte im Exil ein ‘im Warten gelebtes Leben war,’ dann war für dieses Leben im Aufschub die rabbinische Hegemonie verantwortlich. Der Rückzug aus der Geschichte ist vielmehr die rabbinische Position, der Standpunkt, der sich gegen jede messianische Laienbewegung stellte, und jede messianische Entladung a priori mit dem Stigma des ‘Pseudo-Messianischen’ versah. Das rabbinische Judentum, das in den ‘vier Höfen der Halache’ lebte, hat in den Jahrhundereten des Exils eine ausserordentliche Stabilität entwickelt. Von der Mischna des Yehuda Hanassi bis zur Mischna Berura des Chafez Chajjim fuhr die Gemeinde des ‘Heiligen Volkes’ fort, in der Geschichte zu leben, ‘als ob nichts geschehen sei.’ Wir existieren praktisch ausserhalb der Geschichte. Allein jene, die religiös oder säkular zum Messianismus umschwenkten, gaben sich ganz ihrer Sache hin, verzehrten sich in der Übernahme des messianischen Risikos.230
As I will discuss later on, what Taubes’ messianism shares with Schmitt’s imperialism is an understanding of earthly authority as a bulwark against catastrophic occurrence:
Taubes, Vom Kult zu Kultur, 49.
the rabbinical hegemony has developed to such an extent that the Jewish people live "als ob nichts geschehen sei," and uses its hermeneutic monopoly to de-legitimize any messianic movement, quarantining every candidate for the role of Messiah with the stigma of the "pseudo-messianic": Elettra Stimilli writes that “In Taubes’ Augen ist jene auch dem ‘Mysterium Judaicum’ wesentliche ‘katechontische Form der Existenz’.”231 Taubes sees the institution of Jewish religion as being “essentially katechonic,” refusing to accommodate the radicality of the messianic message— rabbinical Judaism insists without fail on building “immer neue Zäune um die Thora,”232 in order to protect it against the threat of the messianic event. Protection against disaster represents only one problem for earthly authority when dealing with the messianic event. The other problem is this event’s nonoccurrence. According to Taubes, those who proclaim the arrival of the Messiah must find a way to retain their own authority when this end does not come about on the stage of history, when instead the law remains materially in force, and the empires and sovereigns it supports still hold sway. The end of the end of the law thus represents a double-bind for messianic theology: this end must come about, it has been divinely ordained and legitimated, but despite this, it does not come about. The failure of the Messiah to arrive and to put an end to law on the field of history produces precisely
Der Preis des Messianismus, 158. Taubes, Abendländische Eschatologie, 25.
the sort of disjunction between religious symbols and historical experience that for Taubes becomes the scene of theology’s intervention.233 Thus Taubes reads Paul’s theology not as representing a swerve away from the strength of Jewish messianism, as it does for Scholem, but rather Paul’s attempt to resolve this impasse of the law’s failure to end. The internalization of redemption, its movement from the external world of the community to the internal world of individual conscience, does not represent the outcome of Christianity’s depoliticization of messianism, but a necessary consequence of the failure of the Messiah to redeem the external world. When the messianic redemption of the external world does not take place, how else, says Taubes, should redemption be understood than through a turn to the internal world?234 Contra Scholem, Taubes see the Christian invention of conscience not as a failure on the part of Paul’s messianism, but instead as Paul’s theological resolution of a crisis in eschatology. The abrogation of the law now occurs within the heart of every Christian subject. With the invention of conscience and the concurrent promotion of the hos me [“as if"], the term which designates how Christians are intended to live in relation to the still-standing law, Paul theologically rescues the event of the Messiah’s arrival from inconsequence. To those who would ask: why does the Messiah not arrive
Taubes, Vom Kult zu Kultur, 230. “Die messianische Wendung zur Innerlichkeit wird von Scholem al seine Art “Flucht” bewert, als ein Versuch, sich ‘der Bewaehrung des messianischen Anspruchs” auf dem Schauplatz der Geschichte zu entziehen.” Taubes, Der Preis des Messianismus, 34.
(or return, in the Christian case)? Paul would seem to answer: he has arrived, not on the stage of the world, but that of the soul. Taubes marks this place of the soul as Innerlichkeit: “Nachdem der Messias die äussere Welt eben nicht erlöst hat, wie anders lässt sich sich Erlösung begreifen, als durch eine Wendung zur Innerlichkeit.”235 The effect of this "Wendung," says Taubes repeatedly in his essay, is that redemption finds itself mirrored in the soul: “Die Krise der Eschatologie wird für Paulus zu einer Krise des Gewissens. Eine messianische Erlösung, die “eben nicht öffentlich auf dem Schauplatz der Geschichte stattgefunden hat, sondern sich stattdessen in der Seele der Gemeinschaft der ‘Gläubigen’ wiederspiegelt.”236 It remains to be asked what the rhetorical stakes of this "spiegeln" or "wiederspiegeln" might be, as Taubes marks the soul not as place where redemption, strictly speaking, takes place or finds a home, but where it is mirrored, reflected, represented. Although Taubes sets himself up polemically against Scholem’s theory of Jewish messianism, it is difficult to ignore the amount of equivocation in his voice as he attempts to forge his own political reading of messianism. Taubes’ justification for the "Wendung zur Innerlichkeit," for example, splits into two. First this Wendung appears necessary because it resolves the apparent failure of messianism, then, second, Taubes offers the Wendung as a possible counterweight to the destructive forces of
Ibid. Ibid., 35.
"apocalyptic enthusiasm." Taubes vacillates on this second issue, at times embracing the revolutionary intensity of all messianic movements, elsewhere cautioning against the "abyss" into which such movements inevitably plunge.237 Ultimately Taubes appears to attempt a reconciliation by an obtuse reference to the need for a "Verwandlung der messianischen Idee": “Denn jeder Versuch, die Erlösung ohne Verwandlung der messianischen Idee auf der Ebene der Geschichte zustande zu bringen, führt direct in den Abgrund.”238 Verwandlung explains, for example, the success of the puritans in New England, who sought to create a new Zion and ended up with the United States of America. Furthermore, the term would seem to work as a broader umbrella term of which the Pauline move towards Innerlichkeit is but one modality. Left otherwise unexplained, however, Verwandlung functions here as little more than a theoretical balm, or a kind of hermeneutic band-aid covering over another Abgrund, the Abgrund that splits open between the messianic idea and the plane of history, haunting all eschatological movements from Pauline theology up to and including Marxism.239 Despite his polemics against Scholem’s theories, Taubes’ vacillations and last-minute plea bargain via Verwandlung only underscore a profound inability to engineer a rapport between history and messianism.
“Taubes argues that apocalypse must guard against own destructive impulses without relinquishing its antagonism towards profane authority.” Joshua Robert Gold, “Jacob Taubes, Apocalypse from Below,” Telos 134 (March 2006): 142. 238 Taubes, Vom Kult zur Kultur, 49. 239 See Karl Löwith, Meaning in History.
The absence of this rapport might in turn explain the rise of the Christian church after Paul. Following Foucault’s lectures on the origin of biopolitics, it is possible to see how Paul’s emphasis on the soul as the receptor site of messianic message has a side effect ultimately at odds with the antinomianism in his letters that Taubes focuses heavily on. The Pauline emphasis on redeeming individual souls can be read as providing the basis for the development of "pastoral power," which Foucault asserts begins with Christianity and which ultimately paves the way for the rise of security as a modern mode of political praxis:
In the Western world I think the real history of the pastorate as the source of a specific type of power over men, as a model and matrix of procedures for the government of men, really only begins with Christianity….the pastorate begins with a process that is absolutely unique in history and no other example of which is found in the history of any other civilization: the process by which a religion, a religious community, constitutes itself as a Church, that is to say, as an institution that claims to govern men in their daily life on the grounds of leading them to eternal life in the other world, and to do this not only on the scale of a definite group, of a city or a state, but of the whole of humanity.240
In light of Foucault’s analysis it would seem that Paul’s efforts to theologically secure the messianic revolution ultimately ensure that the revolution will instead legitimate a
Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France 1977-1978 (New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2007), 148.
new historical era of pastoral power, that of the Christian church. The Christian church understands itself as possessing the power to save those souls intended by Paul to serve as the bearers of a message that proclaims the very end of power. Thus in the wake of Paul’s theology, pastoral power inserts itself as an authority on the end of authority, dictating how a life can be led in accordance with the Messiah’s abrogation of the nomos. In his essay “Jacob Taubes: Apocalypse from Below,” Joshua Robert Gold addresses the problem of a “Verwandlung der messianischen Idee” through an extended reading of Taubes’ earliest text, the Abendländlische Eschatologie. Gold locates two "poles" within Taubes’ apocalypticism, one destructive and one passive, and argues that the latter exists to counteract the former. The passive pole, Gold claims, is in Taubes’ thought bound up with the interpretation of signs: “one example of the passive comportment that the apocalypticist must assume in order to avoid the self-immolating flames of eschatological intensity is the act of interpretation. 'All apocalypse tells of the triumph of eternity,” [Taubes] writes in the introduction. “This telling is an intercepting of the clues of eternity. What is complete is first glimpsed in the first sign, and what is glimpsed is put into words in order to gesture ahead of time towards that which is not yet fulfilled.' Taubes also suggest here that the end of time is only accessible to the apocalypticist through the mediating process of reading. Winke and Zeichen reveal the need for hermeneutic skill in addition to revolutionary fervor, and the expression ‘to put into words’ indicates that the ability to communicate
interpretations is equally indispensable. Taken together, this vocabulary shows how the apocalypticist must give himself over to a twofold process of reading and speaking. Not only does the gradual movement counteract the demonic side of apocalypse. . . . In short, this second, hermeneutic moment must accompany the revolutionary impulse of apocalypse in order to balance the blindness of enthusiasm with the lucidity of reflection.”241 In a footnote Gold rightly compares the anticipatory dimension of this reflection to the futural orientation found in Hölderlin’s later writings, a connection discussed at length in the essay “Taubes and Hölderlin” in Ad Jacob Taubes.242 While Gold offers a compelling reading, I argue that ultimately it cannot resolve the gap between heaven and earth in apocalyptic thought any more than can Taubes’ mystical Verwandlung. I want to ask: does the anticipatory "reading of signs" that Gold identifies as apocalypticism’s "passive" comportment not directly produce das Leben im Aufschub that Scholem warns against? If, as Gold says, Taubes claims that “apocalypse must guard against own destructive impulses without relinquishing its antagonism towards profane authority,”243 what efficacy does this antagonism still retain over and against the restraining force of messianic anticipation?244
Gold, "Apocalypse from Below,"148. See Abendländische Eschatologie: Ad Jacob Taubes, ed. Sebastian Leitner (Würzberg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2001). 243 Gold, "Apocalypse from Below," 142. 244 Furthermore, following Gold’s reading, could not the futural "reading of signs" in apocalypticism not ultimately be an unexpected incarnation of the katechon, the figure named by Paul as restraining the end of the world?
This problem surfaces in perhaps its most acute form in Taubes’ thought during his reading of Romans 13. At first, this passage appears to represent an exception to Paul’s polemics against the empire. Here Paul dictates “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” [Romans 13:1-2]. Taubes, however, argues that, when reading Romans 13, “Der Fehler, den man hier meiner Ansicht nach nur allzu leicht macht, besteht darin, dass man wie gebannt auf den ersten Teil starrt. Wenn man auf das Thema Obrigkeit starrt wie auf eine Schlange, dann ist schwer zu sehen, wie man da rauskommt.”245 The difficulty of this passage, says Taubes, can only be resolved by considering Romans 13 as a whole. Paul’s declaration to obey earthly authority must be understood in the nearness of the messianic event, signaled by the closing of Romans 13: “you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers. [Romans 13:11] With the time of the messiah so close for Paul and his followers, love must act as the fulfillment (pleroma) of the law. Yet at the same time, according to Taubes, the proximity of the end must be read into Paul’s declaration of obedience to earthly authority: “unter diesem Zeitdruck, wenn morgen das ganze Palaver, der ganze Schwindel vorbeit ist – da lohnt sich doch keine Revolution! Vollkommen richtig, würd’ ich auch raten. Der
Taubes, Paulus, 73.
staatlichen Gewalt Gehorsam erweisen, Steuern zahlen, nichts Böse tun, nicht in Konflikte geraten, denn sonst wird es ja verwechselt mit eine Revoluzzer-Bewegung, was ja auch geschehen ist.”246 The nearness of the messiah is such that the excesses attendant to any “Revoluzzer-Bewegung” can be avoided simply by living in faith that “das ganze Palaver” will in fact be over in the morning. Taubes regards the apocalyptic Frist of Paul’s letters as the fundamental background against which Paul’s ethical and political proclamations must be read. In the case of Romans 13, Paul promotes obedience to earthly authority, in this case the authority of the state, with one eye cocked towards the state’s messianic obliteration. Taubes reads this capitulation in light of the hos me of Corinthians, in which Paul reminds his followers once again that the "time is short" and subsequently instructs them to live in a state of "as if"—those who have wives are to live as "if they had none," those who mourn "as if" they were not mourning, and so on.247 But what does it mean to live in the "as if" exactly? By placing First Corinthians alongside Romans 13, Taubes allows this question to develop a political intensity, resonating with the question we have opened up in reading Taubes’ essay on Scholem: what becomes of earthly authority in Paul’s messianic time? Should it be obeyed, somehow ignored or destroyed? These concerns become more complex if we note that Taubes seems to insert a dimension of ambivalence into the obedience Paul
Ibid., 75. Ibid., see also I Corinthians 7:29.
proclaims in Romans 13. In order to further probe authority’s enigmatic status in Paul’s messianism it will be necessary first to follow Taubes in his reading of Karl Barth and Paul’s messianic "weakness," as it is in the affect of weakness which Paul develops in Corinthians that Taubes locates something like the possibility of a messianic deconstruction of authority, one that might open up a possible way of rethinking the gap that opens up between action and passivity in apocalyptic thinking. The First Letter to the Corinthians contains one of Paul’s most explicitly ontological formulations of his messianism: “And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are” (1 Corinthians: 1:28). Taubes understands Paul here polemically, reading the "things which are" as shorthand for the Roman Empire in particular and political order in general. Paul’s mission, as Taubes sees it, consists of legitimating a new people through the utilization of the excluded, the despised, the "things that are not" –the Pauline community's messianic, revolutionary thrust comes from the presumption that the community is not intended as a mere replacement for previous political orders, because it will not stand as one order among other orders, as a "thing that is" among other "things that are," but rather as the fulfillment of these orders, their telos. In this context Taubes invokes the second edition of Karl Barth’s Römerbriefe, in which Barth parses the last injunction of Romans 12: “Overcome evil with good. What can this mean but the end of the triumph of men, whether their triumph is
celebrated in the existing order or by revolution? And how can this end be represented, if it be not by some strange ‘not-doing’ precisely at the point where men feel themselves most powerfully called to action?”248 In the most radical sense, for Barth political action itself constitutes a danger to politics. The existing order cannot lay claim to the duty of protecting the nation, but neither can revolution achieve a rhetorical transvaluation that identifies it as an insurrective defense mechanism, protecting the nation from the threat of the existing order. The "triumph of men," the basis for political enterprise, is itself the greatest danger to man. Man's striving to secure himself, to take hold, to protect, in turn renders him insecure, exposed, and finally, a menace to himself. The threat of triumph is to be vanquished, overcome, only by good, manifest as a “strange not-doing.” Evil, which is action, will be overcome by good, which is non-action. The strangeness of this non-action lies in its ability to have an effect—to overcome evil—without in turn becoming action, and thus evil itself. The stakes of this strange non-action become clearer when one reads Barth's term as an appropriation of the term "weakness" which so dominates Paul's discourse in Corinthians. There Paul sets up the condition of weakness as the site for the reception of divine, or more specifically messianic, power: "And [God] said unto me, my grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon
Barth, Der Römerbrief (Munich: C. Kaiser, 1922), 481.
me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Here our understanding of weakness should not limit itself to Christian ideas of humility or modesty, rather, following Taubes and Barth, weakness is a polemical, political concept, wielded against earthly authority. Paul’s drive for destruction, framed by what Taubes calls his "worldly nihilism," aims to take down "the things that are" by way of weakness.249 For Paul, to understand the messianic effect on the world in terms of strength would be only to reinscribe its destructive labor on the side of the "things that are": weakness, in contrast, is the modality or condition that properly describes the capacity for "what is not" to affect "what is." As we will see, weakness for Paul represents a new political-theological model for action: Paul wants to fight, to conquer and to overcome, but "in weakness," he wants to turn inability, incapacity and privation into instruments of revolutionary consequence.250 The "confounding of mighty things" by weakness bears the same dialectical structure that governs Barth's interpretation of Paul's injunction in Romans 12, overcome evil with good. In both cases, it is not a matter of conquering, of literally overcoming or defeating the opposed term, which would only dialectically reinscribe
Taubes first addresses the theme of messianic destruction as a necessary precursor to revolutionary change in Abendländlische Eschatologie: “Fehlt das dämonisch zerstörende Element, so kann die erstarrte Ordnung, die jeweilige Positivität der Welt nicht überwunden werden.” Taubes, Abendländlische Eschatologie, 10. 250 In this context see Astrid Deuber-Mankowsky, “The Image of Happiness We Harbor”: The Messianic Power of Weakness in Cohen, Benjamin and Paul” in New German Critique Number 105 (Fall 2008): 57-70.
it, but of suspending it, or in Giorgio Agamben's words, "rendering it inoperative." In his writings on Saint Paul, Agamben describes the relation between messianic weakness and the law by arguing that
[j]ust as messianic power is realized and acts in the form of weakness, so too in this way does it have an effect on the sphere of law and its works, not simply by negating or annihilating them, but by de-activating them, rendering them inoperative, no longer at work. This is the meaning of the verb katargein: just as, in the nomos, the power of the promise was transposed onto works and mandatory precepts, so does the messianic now render these works inoperative; it gives potentiality back to them in the form of inoperativity and ineffectiveness. The messianic is not the destruction but the deactivation of the law, rendering the law inexecutable.251
Messianic weakness acts upon the mighty, what Agamben calls "the law and its works," not by dominating it or erasing it, but by making it weak in turn, that is, one could say, by infecting it. The word Paul uses for weakness is astheneia, which also means "sickness": messianism is a contagious illness, infecting the law, bringing it down, penetrating its immune system. But, following Barth and those—including Taubes, Derrida and Agamben—who succeed him in thinking through the structure of messianic non-action, we can say that the weakness of the law always-already stemmed from its supposed strength and might. The strength of the law, which kept it
Agamben, The Time That Remains, 97-98.
in force during the course of history as the theological security mechanism for the Jews as well as for the Roman Empire, is now what from an eschatological perspective makes it vulnerable, insecure, against infection by messianic weakness, because strength belongs to the world, to the things that are. Following Taubes, we can say that the upshot of the messianic message for Paul’s community is that obedience to the law is no longer the guarantor of salvation. Taubes comments that Paul polemically replaces the traditional phrase “obedience of laws” with “obedience of faith”: “It is laws that you obey, and he says: no, you obey faith.”252 Paul introduces ‘weakness’ as the key term in his anti-legalist polemic—the weakness of his salvation means that it cannot be outcome of works, of adherence to the law. The insight of Taubes’ lectures is to outline how Paul’s polemics against earthly authority, characterized at the time by an "apotheosis of nomos,"253 in fact share a key structural presupposition with Carl Schmitt’s political theology. In effect, Taubes shows that within the domain of political theology, the two opposing axes of antinomianism are figured by the messiah on one hand and the sovereign on the other.254 In his essay “Carl Schmitt—ein Apokalyptiker der Gegenrevolution” Taubes schematizes his Auseinandersetzung with his interlocutor by claiming that “Carl
Taubes, Paulus, 14. Ibid., 16. 254 See Giorgio Agamben, “The Messiah and the Sovereign."
Schmitt denkt apokalyptisch, aber von oben her, von den Gewalten; ich denke von unten her. Uns beiden gemeinsam aber ist jene Erfahrung von Zeit und Geschichte als Frist, als Galgenfrist. Das ist ürsprunglich auch eine christliche Erfahrung von Geschichte.”255 Thus an "apocalyptic thinking" links the work of a far-leftist Jew with a onetime Nazi legal theorist. This thinking deconstructs the law by assigning it an alpha and omega, and only such an assignation can seemingly rescue an understanding of the law from the hands of an institutional authority. For Taubes, this authority is rabbinical Judaism, for Schmitt, bureaucratic order. This assignation represents a polemical deployment of theology, a "post-Copernican" deployment, to use Taubes’ expression: rather than support the law’s absolute validity, this theology promotes the law’s material finitude, the fact that it has its end in the messianic event.256 Thought from above, the messianic event threatens political order, which must constantly secure itself against the possibility of the event. Taubes refers to Schmitt as “der Apokalyptiker der Gegenrevolution” insofar as Schmitt’s politics are fuelled by an obsessive effort to secure against this event. The capacity for this security constitutes for Schmitt nothing less than the essence of any effective political order, and it serves as the ground for his critique of legalism. Because of the law’s rigid inflexibility, any predominantly legalist or bureaucratic political order will be incapable of contending with the event in its extreme unpredictability: only a
Taubes, Gegenstrebige Fügung, 22. See Gold, “Apocalypse From Below.”
sovereign supported by a theologically-inflected concept of the state can contain the event by declaring a state of exception.257 Thought from below, the messianic event nullifies or completes the relation between politics and law by stripping the law of its political force. This event announces, “Nicht der Nomos, sondern der ans Kreuz Geschlagene durch den Nomos ist der Imperator.”258 While reading Paul Taubes accepts the same premise that Schmitt does, namely the impossibility of immanent political foundation, Taubes draws the opposite conclusion: from a Pauline perspective, this impossibility means that earthly legal orders are illegitimate tout court—they are invalidated in the messianic event because Paul views the law eschatologically and wants to prove that the force of nomos has only been intended as temporary, protecting and organizing humankind until the messianic promise can be fulfilled. Taubes wields Paul’s messianic end of law directly against Schmitt’s own end of law, that is, the law’s suspension by the sovereign. These two ends represent two competing models of cosmological power. Against Schmitt, who sees the continued survival of the political world as possible only by support from the spiritual, Taubes wants through reading Paul to show Schmitt “dass die Gewaltentrennung zwischen
Giorgio Agamben has dealt extensively with the paradoxes and aporias of the sovereign exception; see “The Logic of Sovereignty” in Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), 14-30, “The Messiah and the Sovereign,” in Potentialities, 160-174, and The State of Exception (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005). 258 Taubes, Paulus, 38.
weltlich und geistlich absolute notwendig ist.”259 For Taubes, Paul’s letters announce that the spiritual power arriving on earth means an end to earthly authority, because the Messiah is the telos of the law, as in Romans 10:4: “Christ is the end [telos] of the law as a means to righteousness for all who believe.” Paul’s division between heaven and earth reflects the division undergirding the parable of the Tower of Babel, which depicts a heaven unreachable by human effort. In this way, the division that Paul’s theology makes between heaven and earth finds itself reflected in a number of twentieth-century theological-political texts, most notably Walter Benjamin’s “Theologisch-politisches Fragment.” Picking up on affinities between Benjamin and Paul noted by Taubes, Agamben makes the claim that Benjamin's Theses on History derives its theological intensity from subterranean citations of Paul.260 In this light we can say that the key theological conflict for Taubes does not lie in pitting Judaism and Christianity against one another, as both Scholem and Schmitt do, but rather revolutionary/messianic forces against religious institutions: as Michael Jaeger comments, “die gesetzestreuen Kulturträger bauen Dämme auf, um sich die apokalyptische Unruhe vom Leib zu halten.”261 Thus German right-wing politics and Jewish rabbinical institutions are both as mutual builders of Zäune and
Ibid., 139. Agamben, The Time That Remains, 139-140. 261 Michael Jaeger “Jacob Taubes und Karl Löwith: Apologie und Kritik des heilsgeschichtlichten Denkens,” in Torah Nomos Jus: Abendländischer Antinomismus und der Traum von Herrschaftsfreien Raum, 128.
Dämme, assembling edifices to protect the status quo against the rupture of disaster, even or especially when that disaster theologically means the status quo’s redemption. Schmitt designs the sovereign suspension of law as the absolutely necessary means of erecting these Zäune and Dämme. The sovereign protects the law by suspending it, preserving the security of the state by momentarily allowing nothing to mediate between the state and the sovereign’s capacity to decide. The sovereign decision must necessarily be beholden to no other requirement: only an unbounded capacity to decide can possibly reckon with threats to political order in their complete unpredictability. In effect, then, Schmitt’s Ausnahmezustand protects the state but only by exposing it to the caprices of sovereign will. As commentators on Taubes have pointed out, the two opposing conceptions of political theology offered by Schmitt and Taubes can be summed up as ‘verticalcratological’ and ‘horizontal-sociological’ respectively,262 in which the primary difference between the two has been understood in the location of sovereignty ["Herrschaft"]: “Im einen Falle wird Gottesherrschaft durch den irdischen Herrscher verkörpert, im andere Falle durch das Volk.”263 Taubes’ horizontal conception of political theology is embodied by the Pauline community, a community with no need for external earthly rule. It remains to be considered whether, in the case of the Pauline
See Jan Assmann, “Einführung: ‘Politische Theologie’: Redefinition eines Begriffs,” in Herrschaft und Heil, 15-31. See also Wolf-Daniel Hartwich, Aleida Assmann, and Jan Assmann, Nachwort, in Taubes, Die Politische Theologie des Paulus. 263 Nachwort, Paulus, 178.
community, the notions of "Herrschaft" and "Obrigkeit" are synonymous, that is, whether a people that embodies "Gottesherrschaft" can at the same time be said to embody divine "Obrigkeit." Here we may return to the key term for thinking Taubes’ conception of the Pauline community—the pas Israel of Corinthians. According to Taubes, one must read this "pas" in order to comprehend the subject of Pauline salvation, that is, who is to be protected after the law’s protection has been de-activated. In his book on Paul, Agamben reads this "all" paradoxically as a "not-all," as in Paul’s statement, “Not all of those of Israel are Israel [Rom 9:6].” This not-all is Paul’s remnant, those that remain. Agamben philosophically elaborates the political implications of the Pauline remnant in ways that are consistent with Taubes’ reading of the messianic event, although Taubes himself upholds the conventional interpretation of the remnant as a particular subset of the Jews which has not abandoned God and which awaits redemption eschatologically. For Agamben the remnant cannot refer to a particular group, but instead to a unique form of political organization, or numeration, what Agamben, likely borrowing the term from Lacan’s formulas of sexuation, calls the "not-all": “At a decisive instant, the elected people, every people, will necessarily situate itself, as a remnant, as a not-all.”264 The remnant is strictly an eschatological phenomenon, and following Agamben’s argument involves confrontation of politics
Agamben, The Time That Remains, 55.
with its own condition of possibility, with the political capacity for order that precedes any particular order. Agamben’s conception of the Pauline remnant thus forecloses on the possibility of reading Paul as a universalist. Instead, the remnant “allows for a new perspective that dislodged our antiquated notions of a people and a democracy. The people is neither the all nor the part, neither the majority nor the minority. Instead, it is that which can never coincide with itself, as all or as part, that which infinitely remains or resists in each division.”265 This impossibility of self-coincision is what for Agamben governs the structure of messianic life lived according to the hos me of Corinthians: for Agamben, to live "as if" under the law, at the same time being not under the law, means to confront the impossibility of being oneself, that is, of identifying the subject as the mere sum of its determinate qualities.266 Both Taubes and Agamben leave open-ended a pressing yet puzzling question: is Pauline love, that which is intended to replace the law and forge a Volk, a political category? Or does it belong to the domain of the ethical? It would seem for Taubes to be something like the end of politics, as it is the end of the law. In a letter to Armin Mohler, Taubes writes, insofar as it is dependent on the law, “das Judentum ‘ist’ politische Theologie—das ist sein ‘Kreuz,’ weil Theologie eben doch nicht aufgeht in der Division durch: ‘politisch,’ weil das Gesetz eben doch nicht das Erste und Letzte
Ibid.,57. Agamben goes on to draw a parallel between the remnant in Pauline theology and “the part of no part” in the political theory of Jacques Ranciere, the disavowed or supernumerary group in any political field that ultimately stands for the impossibility of any political subject to fully coincide with its own identity. See Agamben, The Time That Remains, 57-58.
ist, weil es ‘sogar’ zwischen Mensch und Mensch Verhältnisse gibt, die das Gesetz ‘überschreiten,’ ‘übertreten’—Liebe, Erbarmen, Verzeihen.”267 Thus Paul’s messianism, in its sublation of the law, is either the end or final outcome of political theology itself, perhaps the point where the political becomes superseded by the ethical, or where an opening towards something like politics beyond or outside the law is produced.
Taubes, Gegenstrebige Fügung, 35.
CHAPTER 4: Heidegger, Hölderlin and the Authority of the Poet In Arendt's reading of the American Revolution we encountered a conflict between two forms of authority which indexes the constitutive problem for political foundation in modernity: a conflict between a traditional form of authority derived from the Roman model, in which authority binds the present to the past by "reincarnating" it, and the modern form located by Arendt in the concept of natality, in which authority self-authorizes in a performative act that reflects what Derrida refers to as authority's "mystical foundation." Arendt sees the event of American foundation as fraught with tension between the traditional and modern forms of authority. In their efforts to ground a new political order, the founding fathers touch on the "divine" auto-generative force of natality, but its abyssal nature causes them to recoil and to seek to shore up the nation through recourse to a more traditional authority which would anchor the present with the weight of the past. Following the reading laid out in Chapter One which traced the theological rhetoric at work in Arendt's conception of natality, I want to propose that Arendt's natality be understood as a kind of non-metaphysical theological-political concept. With natality Arendt effectively conceives of a divinity which occurs, that is, which lacks an attribute of eternity, whose taking-place is not the manifestation of a pregiven metaphysical essence, whose being is event. This eventness is summed up in
Arendt's description of natality as reflecting "the divinity of birth as such." As I previously noted, Arendt's natality should thus be considered as contributing to a twentieth-century thinking of the miracle which seeks to inscribe it in the contexts of political theory and philosophical materialism.268 This proposal admittedly runs against Arendt's own understanding of secularization as the key to a truly emancipated and modern politics, and against an understanding of the term "theological-political" that places it permanently on the side of a particular reactionary emphasis on foundation, as we will see at work in Lacoue-Labarthe's reading of Heidegger. I intend to show that Martin Heidegger's attempt to install the poet Hölderlin as a figure of authority at the scene of political foundation—a figure who in turn produces the figure-myth that grounds a people—also depends on a theologicalpolitical thinking of event. While in Arendt, this event, because it willed into being by political actors, assumes its own authority, in Heidegger's reading of Hölderlin, the event, which according to Heidegger is the disclosure of the gods' arrival, requires the authority of the poet to transmit it. This is to say that for Heidegger, poetic language grounds the political order, and that the poet's authority to testify to the event depends, as I will show, on the poet's "unquestionable purity."
See for example Franz Rosenzweig, Der Stern der Erlösung (Heidelberg: L. Schneider Verlag, 1954), Eric Santner, "Miracles Happen," in The Neighbor: Three Essays on Political Theology, and Hent de Vries, "Of Miracles: Kant's Political Theology," in Religion and Violence: Philosophical Perspectives from Kant to Derrida.
Thus this chapter intends to elaborate on the intimate role that event-ness can play within a particular figure of authority, and how a figure of authority is constituted by an understanding of a fundamental event that can either create or annihilate a political order. In addition to examining how for Arendt, the event of natality in politics carries a distinctly theological trace, this dissertation has examined how for Schmitt the figure of the sovereign as katechon is grounded in its ability to defend the political order against the occurrence of a catastrophic event by declaring an Ausnahmezustand, and how for Taubes the arrival of the Messiah is the event that announces the termination of earthly political authority. As this chapter will approach in detail, the authority of the poet in Heidegger consists in the poet's unique ability to testify to the event of the gods' arrival, an event which serves as the ground of political foundation.269 My critical emphasis lies in tracing Lacoue-Labarthe's reading of Heidegger's attempt to render the Hölderlin as the figure of authority for modern politics, and then in evaluating the stakes of this attempt within the discourse of the theological-political in twentieth-century Germany. In doing so we will encounter questions at the core of this dissertation's methodology, because the debates, confrontations and polemics that constitute this discourse must address the role that figuration—understood in this
One wonder whether Hannah Arendt's conception of natality in politics was not influenced by or intended as a response to Heidegger's thinking of beginning. One crucial difference between these two engagements with beginning would be found in the category of violence: for Heidegger the primacy of inception is that it is the 'most violent', whereas Arendt's project privileges the American Revolution for its supposed nonviolence.
context to be simultaneously something artistic, mythic, theological and ideological -plays in the formation of political identity. To examine the role of figuration in politics, one works from the assumption that, in addition to a legal apparatus, a political order requires as well the symbolic figuration of a people which functions in a manner akin to the mirror in Jacques Lacan’s “mirror stage”: a place for a constitutive (mis)-recognition that converts a multiplicitous, pre-subjective entity into a subject.270 This mis-recognition depends on the efficacy of authority, understood in contradistinction to power, as that which is capable of conferring legitimacy both on the seat of the political power and on a particular figure or set of figures that constitute a symbolic identity for the political order. Lacoue-Labarthe's work inspires us to ask whether figuration in politics is possible without recourse to the theological: whereas he reads the “theologicalpolitical” in Heidegger’s exegeses of Hölderlin as bound up with a "call to myth" and thus to figuration,271 Lacoue-Labarthe sees Benjamin's Hölderlin interpretations as instead promoting "mythic connections" that reflect a "de-mythologization"272 undergone by Hölderlin's poetic language as it unfolds into the realm of the prosaic, a "de-mythologization" which Lacoue-Labarthe intends to be understood as emblematic of a deconstruction of the theological-political. Yet does Benjaminian "de270
See Lacan, "The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience," in Écrits, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: W.W. Nortion & Co., 2006). 271 Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2007), 65. 272 Ibid., 50.
mythologization," which corresponds in Lacoue-Labarthe's reading to "disfiguration," represent a necessary de-coupling of the term, "theological-political"? Furthermore, are we to understand the deconstruction of the theological-political as identical to the process of secularization? How can we contextualize Lacoue-Labarthe's praise of Benjamin as the central contributor to a deconstruction of the theological-political, given the absence of attention paid by Lacoue-Labarthe to the role of theology in Benjamin's thought, exemplified in texts such as “Theologisch-politisches Fragment” and “Über den Begriff der Geschichte” The question as well remains how to understand the de-mythologization in prosaic language that Lacoue-Labarthe locates in Benjamin within the discourse of secularization. To begin addressing these questions it is first necessary to follow how LacoueLabarthe reads the central role that the figure of Hölderlin plays in the "theologicalpolitical" dimension of Heidegger's thought.273 It is on the authority of Hölderlin's words, that a new epoch for the Germans is founded through the poet's announcement of the god's arrival. Why has Heidegger chosen Hölderlin to play this role, and what exactly is the kind of authority that Heidegger ascribes to poetry? Lacoue-Labarthe argues that Heidegger's turn towards Hölderlin's poetry represents a continuation of his effort to think the political "in its essence," that is, beyond and prior to the
The relation to religion can in a broader sense be seen throughout Heidegger's intellectual life beginning with his 1921 course on the Phenomenology of Religious Life. Karl Löwith describes the implicit motto of Heidegger's existential ontology as having its origin in Luther's proclamation "Unus quisque robustus sit in existential sua ["Each may be strong in his own existence." See Löwith, Martin Heidegger and European Nihilism, trans. Gary Steiner (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 215.
calcification of the term "politics" as it has been deployed within the tradition of metaphysics.274 The trajectory of this thought will lead to Heidegger to assert muthos, rather than logos, at the origin of the political, a move which Lacoue-Labarthe reads as an inscription of the theological: "the Poem, for Heidegger, is a Mytheme, and will remain so up to the end, because it is essentially theological, even when it has nothing to say but the absenting of the divine or the de-divinization of the world."275 In Lacoue-Labarthe's reading, the mytheme becomes political for Heidegger insofar as a "founding myth" is necessary for a people to achieve a "politics in the highest and most authentic sense."276 Such a "most authentic sense" has little to do with bureaucracy, administration or parliamentary procedure: instead Heidegger's "archipolitics" concerns a people's (Volk) heroic assumption of a collective destiny. Poetry's authority, thus, lies its capacity to install a founding myth, to produce figuration in the event or as the event of political foundation. Lacoue-Labarthe argues that for Heidegger, "the poem is originary, both as language and as poetry, to the extent that it is, in a direct and immediate way, the myth by which a people is 'typed' in its historial existence. The origin is properly mythical, or if you prefer, the beginning requires the forceful emergence of a 'founding
Lacoue-Labarthe, Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry, 61. Ibid., 12. 276 Martin Heidegger, Hölderlins Hymnen Germanien und der Rhein, Gesamtausgabe, Bd. 39 (Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 2000), 213-14.
myth.'"277 "Typed" is Lacoue-Labarthe's way of simultaneously referring to inscription, "typing," and figuration, of "becoming a type." Lacoue-Labarthe subsequently claims that Heidegger is specifically interested not in poetry but in the poem's "mytheme," which is "the means by which a people is able to identify itself or appropriate itself as such, to see its world—and it particular its state—established or instituted, to receive and respect the gods, or even to entrust itself to them or let itself be ruled by them—having nonetheless previously imposed them: that is, figured or 'fictioned' them."278 Taken as mytheme, poetry is assigned a double theologicalpolitical task: first to "fiction" the gods, and then to allow them dominion over a people despite their fictional status. In Heidegger's thought, being 'fictioned' does not bar the gods from their rule over a people, because truth understood as unconcealment [aletheia] is not opposed to fiction. The figured gods are "true" because there is a poet who can "bring them forth," who can "unconceal" them. This unconcealment is possible through a poetry understood as a Sage which gives shape to the relation between men and Gods by tracing their proximities.279 In his essay "Die Ursprung des Kunstwerkes," Heidegger writes:
Das entwerfende Sagen ist Dichtung: die Sage der Welt und der Erde, die Sage vom Spielraum ihres Streites und damit von der Stätte aller Nähe und Ferne der Götter.
Lacoue-Labarthe, Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry, 14. See also Heidegger, Gesamtausgabe, Bd. 39, 14. 278 Lacoue-Labarthe, Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry, 11. 279 Miguel de Beistegui, Heidegger and the Political: Dystopias (New York: Routledge, 1998), 97.
Die Dichtung ist die Sage der Unverborgenheit des Seienden. Die jeweilige Sprache ist das Geschehnis jenes Sagens, in dem geschichtlich einem Volk seine Welt aufgeht und die Erde als das Verschlossene asubewahrt wird. Das entwerfende Sagen ist jenes, das in der Bereitung des Sagbaren zugleich das Unsagbare als ein solches zur Welt bring. In solchem Sagen werden einem geschichtlichen Volk die Begriffe seines Wesens, d.h. seiner Zugehörigkeit zur Welt-geschichte vorgeprägt.280
Poetry, as that which brings beings to light for the first time, demarcates a set of cosmological relations, between world and earth, between men and Gods, sayable and unsayable. It would perhaps be more accurate however not to say that poetry demarcates but that it "allows demarcation": the references to Spielraum and Stätte indicate that poetry grants space, Raum, where cosmological elements can enter into relation. For Heidegger in this way a people's belongingness to world-history is "vorgeprägt"—"pre-stamped" or "pre-figured." The political in Heidegger, according to Lacoue-Labarthe, must be understood in terms of this figuration or "mythification" of a people into their historical destiny. In Heidegger’s reading, poetry assumes its political role when spoken by an elect individual, the poet. That is to say that it is not enough for Heidegger to interpret Dichtung as Sage with the unique privilege of uttering the founding myth. Paul de Man, who reads argues Heidegger's exegesis of Hölderlin as depending on an intricate
Martin Heidegger, "Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes" in Holzwege, Gesamtausgabe Bd. 5 (Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 1977), 61-62.
substitution of "the gods" for "Being," argues that Heidegger also needs the testimony of someone whom he believes to have seen Being and to be capable of saying so. "The witness is Heidegger's solution to the problem that had tormented equally poets and thinkers, and even mystics: how to preserve the moment of truth . . . [Hölderlin] can speak of it, name it, and describe it; he has visited Being, and Being has told him some things that he has collected and that he is bringing back to mankind. . . . The experience of Being must be sayable; in fact, it is in language that it is preserved. There must be someone, then, of unquestionable purity, who can say that he has traveled this route and seen the flash of illumination. One such person is enough, but there must be one. For then, the truth, which is the presence of the present, has entered the work that is language."281 It is this attribute of "unquestionable purity," then, that permits the poet to both experience Being (understood by de Man, in Hölderlinian terms, as the immediate proximity of the gods before man) and to transmit this experience in a language that will found a people through its mythic "saying" [Sage]. The poet's authority, for Heidegger, thus depends on this "unquestionable purity." The figure of the poet is the guarantor of the theological-political in Heidegger because the poet alone is pure enough to access Being and to report it: the poet's "unquestionable purity" guarantees his success in mediating the immediate in language. As the following reading of the early hymn Wie wenn am Feiertage intends
Paul de Man, “Heidegger's Exegeses of Hölderlin," in Blindness and Insight (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1971), 253.
to show, however, the poet's purity can within Hölderlin's work appear only as that which cannot be guaranteed, secured, or even spoken about. It is well known that when Heidegger reads the Feiertag hymn he simply edits out the final stanza in which the poet is struck down by the gods and the new covenant-like assemblage of earth and heaven is dashed. The reason for this punishment, however, is missing from the final version of the hymn—there one finds only the blessed moment of grace in which the poet witnesses Being, and his cataclysmic downfall, which occurs without warning or explanation. It is the moment of the poem's caesura, where language falls mute, leaving only the cry, "Weh mir!" The only warning comes from the poet's song, sung after the fact, a warning issued ostensibly against the very drive towards fusion with the divine that grounds Heidegger's "political theology."282 Following a reading of the hymn, Peter Szondi's interpretation of the poet's downfall will be critically addressed, as he argues that the poem's early prose draft contains a conception of the poet's guilt as stemming from his own "impurity," which causes him to approach the gods not out of his theological-political duty but for the sake of his own individual redemption. By re-inscribing the ruptured poem within the matrix of guilt and expiation that undergirds speculative tragedy, Szondi's reading draws the figure of the poet away from its appropriation by Heidegger's thought, but at
Paul de Man writes that Feiertage "cautions against the belief that the kind of enthusiasm that animates a heroic act is identical with the predominant mood of a poetic consciousness.” Paul de Man, Romanticism and Contemporary Criticism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 67.
the same time Szondi predicates this reading on the very possibility of "filling in the blanks" of the Feiertag hymn, closing over the abyss that lies precisely where Heidegger wishes to erect his politics of historial destiny. In its depiction of an exceptional historical rupture, an event of great theological-political intensity because it signals a new organization of nature, gods and people, Wie wenn am Feiertage functions as an exemplary poem for Heidegger's political theology of the poet: "Hölderlins Wort sagt das Heilige und nennt so den einmaligen Zeit-Raum der anfänglichen Entscheidung für das Wesensgefüge der künftigen Geschichte der Götter und der Menschentümer."283 Heidegger's reading focuses on the conduit that the poem declares now momentarily opened between earth and heaven, and the exposure of the poets, or "Erdensöhne" to divine force takes place safely, because the poets act as current converters, transforming the blitz to give to the sons. The event of capturing the divine lightning is what the poem calls, by way of a serial displacement that I will read closely, a Feiertag. Hölderlin's metaphoric use of the term displaces it from its function as part of a calendar—the event which is like a holiday happens not according to a numbered and calculable sequence but ruptures the calendrical flow of time according to a hidden itinerary which is simultaneously predestined and incalculable. This appropriation of the holiday indexes of the poet's
Martin Heidegger, Erläuterungen zu Hölderlin's Dichtung (Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 1996), 77.
relation to authority: he stakes a claim on the holiday, which is traditionally the territory of both church and state, and legitimates it through poesies. Hölderlin’s poetry thus stages a theological-political intervention, making an insurgent claim, which can never, in accordance with what Lacoue-Labarthe calls the il faut [it is necessary], achieve self-legislating foundation, auto-nomy. Lacoue-Labarthe uses the locution ll faut to characterize the exigency to write, a necessity that is at the same time always in default. Placing Hölderlin's oeuvre under the sign of the il faut, Lacoue-Labarthe observes that "it is as if the il faut, the 'must' of the imperative, supposed and at the same time commanded a failure, a default or defection (Hölderlin speaks of infidelity), which are themselves the consequence of a fault, a transgression or a tragic excess."284 The movement of inauguration and collapse which governs the poem's gesture towards political foundation thus falls under an imperative bearing a tragic structure. Since, under the sign of the il faut, the poet must reach out for the gods and must fail, we can say that tragedy bears its own form of authority that dialecticizes obedience for the sake of poetic representation: the tragic figure must obey, and will be punished for doing so, because, according to Hölderlin, the downfall of the tragic figure is the only appropriate means of presenting the holy, that is, through the "destruction of the sign." The brief text "Die Bedeutung der Tragödien" formulates this sentiment by claiming: "stellt die Natur in ihrer schwächsten Gabe sich eigentlich dar, so ist das Zeichen wenn sie sich in ihrer stärksten Gabe darstellt =
Lacoue-Labarthe, Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry, 39.
O."285 In the case of tragedy, this sign is the hero, whose calamitous encounter with divine forces is the central motor for the production of the tragic Darstellung. In the case of the Feiertag hymn, the destruction of the poet adds a layer of trauma to the celebratory event of the holiday, in turn underscoring the cataclysmic dimension of political foundation. The hymn, however, places the holiday on shaky ground from the very beginning. The Wie which begins the poem opens up a thinking of event under the sign of holiday, but at the same time, bound by the associative disjunction ineluctably installed by the rhetorical nature of comparison, it disidentifies what it intends to link up by means of analogy. To say the event is like a holiday, or that it takes place as a holiday does, is already to indicate as well that the event is something other. This bond belongs to the poem's numerous other proximate disjunctions, two of which De Man deploys to shore up his criticism of Heidegger's exegesis: the unbridgeable gap between master and servant produced by the acknowledgement of Nature as the Erzieher of poets, and the crucial use of the
Friedrich Hölderlin, Stuttgarter Ausgabe Vol. 4, 274. See Peter Szondi, Versuch über das Tragische (Frankfurt: Insel-Verlag, 1961), 17: "In [die Kunst] erscheint die Natur nicht mehr as 'eigentlich,' sondern durch ein Zeichen vermittelt. Dieses Zeichen ist in der Tragödie der Held. Indem er gegen die Naturmacht nichts auszurichten vermag und von ihr vernichtet wird, ist er "unbedeutend" and "wirkungslos." Aber im Untergang des tragischen Helden, wenn das Zeichen = 0 ist, stellt zugleich die Natur als Siegerin 'in ihrer stärksten Gabe' sich dar, ist 'das Ursprüngliche gerade heraus.' So deutet Hoelderlin die Tragödie als Opfer, welches der Mensch der Natur darbringt, um ihr zur adäquaten Erscheinung zu verhelfen." See also Paul Fleming, "Das Gesetz: Hölderlin und die Not der Ruhe," in Hölderlin-Jahrbuch (2000/01): 273-92.
subjunctive sei which differentiates rather than subsumes language from the parousia of Being.286 The analogy that couples and de-couples event and holiday, however, does not act directly. Instead, it inaugurates a linked chain of correspondences that establishes the temporality of the poets' exposure: the farmer's visit to the field is rendered similar to a holiday, and this similarity inflects the image of those who stand "unter günster Witterung." An interpretation of this poem that proceeded from a concept of "holiday" as the only name for the theologico-political event, as Heidegger's does, would miss the serial displacement immanent to the poem's construction. The gesture of the Wie belongs to the host of other paratactical conjunctions in Hölderlin's vocabulary, such as the aber that Adorno attends to. 287 As the first link in a relay chain of analogical signification, the Wie shores up rhetorical support for a temporal safe zone allows the poets to function as priestly mediators between heaven and earth. The Dichter, standing "under favorable weather," are said to be like der Landmann, who goes out in the morning, in the aftermath of the previous night's storm. Böschenstein comments: "Entscheidend ist, dass der Feiertag nicht in seiner Ruhe, sondern in seiner allmählichen Beruhigung dargestellt wird. Der Glanz auf den Bäumen ist die Spiegelung der Sonne in den Regentropfen. Auf der Weinstock zeugt von diesem Übergang der Witterung. Wichtig
See Paul de Man, Blindness and Insight. See Theodor Adorno, Noten zur Literatur (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1981), 451.
ist dabei die nachträgliche Distanz zum Gewitter, der Rückblick, das Gewitter als Nachhall die umfassende Erneuerung."288 For Böschenstein the poets in the Feiertag hymn are human echo chambers: on more than one occasion he emphasizes the "Nachhall" and "Widerhall" of both nature and history audible to the poets alone. Hölderlin's engagement with the holiday is picked up in twentieth-century discourse of the theological-political by Walter Benjamin and Jacob Taubes. In his essay on Charles Baudelaire, Benjamin picks up and radicalizes the temporal rupture of holidays, writing that they contain "ungleichartige, ausgezeichnete Fragmente," which he will later call "Splitter der messianischen Zeit."289 In thinking the holiday, however, Benjamin does not suffer the same strain that Hölderlin does, because unlike the poet he is not caught in a double bind with regards to political foundation. Whereas Hölderlin's first encounter with the holiday in his early hymn displays the struggle and collapse of foundation as the poet receives the experience of the Gods but then is struck down, Benjamin's development of holiday time according to a thinking of messianism is polemically anti-foundational. In her essay on Benjamin's appropriation of the holiday, Rebecca Comay writes, "like a blank page inserted into the weighty annals of the conquerors, the holiday marks simultaneously the condition
Bernard Böschenstein, Frucht des Gewitters: Hölderlins Dionysos als Gott der Revolution (Frankfurt: Insel, 1989), 115. 289 Walter Benjamin, Illuminationen: Ausgewählte Schriften 1 (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1955), 219 and 261.
and the limits of legibility, commemorating what by definition cannot be recalled."290 To simultaneously mark conditions and limits is arguably the function of the messianic in relation to the law: following Taubes' reading of Paul, we can say that the event of the Messiah's arrival marks the conditions and limits of the law in its reflection of the condition of political foundation itself and in the declaration of the law's invalidity as a force of political order. The success of the foundational act in the Feiertag hymn hinges on the poet's ability to drink heavenly fire "ohne Gefahr." To describe the moment in which the poet directly encounters this fire, Hölderlin invokes the Greek myth of Semele as an analogy:
"Dass schnellbetroffen sie [the poet's soul], Unendlichem Bekannt seit langer Zeit, von Erinnerung Erbebt, und ihr, von heilgem Stral entzuendet, Die Frucht in Liebe geboren, der Goetter und Menschen Werk Der Gesang, damit er beiden zeuge, gluekt. So fiel, wie Dichter sagen, da sie sichtbar Denn Gott zu sehen begehrte, sein Blitz auf Semeles Haus Und die göttlichgetroffne gebahr
Rebecca Comay, "Benjamin's Endgame" in Walter Benjamin's Philosophy: Destruction & Experience, eds. Peter Osborne and Andrew E. Benjamin (Manchester: Clinamen Press, 2000), 263.
Die Frucht des Gewitters, den heligen Bacchus. Und daher trinken himmlisches Feuer jezt Die Erdensoehne ohne Gefahr."
Most myths of Bacchus identify Semele's incineration by divine lightning as the cause for his birth. Whenever Zeus visits Semele for an adulterous tryst, he does so only in disguise. Learning of the affair, Hera appears to Semele and plants seeds of doubt in her mind that her beloved is truly who he claims to be, knowing full well that any mortal will perish if exposed to Zeus directly. When his divine presence annihilates her, Zeus manages to rescue her fetal child and sew him into his own thigh until the pregnancy was completed—hence Bacchus' other name, Dionysus, meaning "the twice-born." The presence of Semele in the Feiertag hymn has caused much scholarly consternation, even for Szondi and Heidegger, because it is impossible to decide whether or not her fate is meant to mirror the poet's. Bernhard Böschenstein decouples the poet from Semele's fate. He does not allow for the burst of divine lightning to destroy the poet unmitigated, instead he aims to suture the shattering force of lightning to Hölderlin's later poetology of rhythm: "Der Dichter als Semele darf nicht, wie diese, ein Trümmerhaus mit rauchenden Überbleibseln als Mahnmal einer verfehlten Begegnung mit dem Gott hinterlassen. Er muss die Entladung, die der Blitz darstellt, schon im Geist vorwegnehmen: als der Natur, dem Gott inhärentes Übermass, das zu
sich selber in schroffen Gegensatz gerät, gleichsam als einen prägnanten Moment innerhalb eines mehrteiligen rhythmischen Verlaufs, der dem Einbruch weltgeschichtlichter Ausnahmemomente wie der Revolution in den Gang der Geschichte nur entspricht."291 Böschenstein however assumes that the elision of Semele's fate in the poem proves that the poet's duty to "anticipate" divine lightning will be enough to preserve him. Thomas Ryan, in contrast, stresses the violent discontinuity that the Feiertag hymn represents in Hölderlin's poetic trajectory, reading the truncation of the Semele myth within the poem as indicating the poet's growing self-awareness that he is in over his head. Hölderlin "appears to grow aware of the potential dangers even as he writes. From his recounting of the myth of Semele, intended as analogy to the destruction of Semele herself, he omits the disastrous conclusion, and concentrates on the fruit of her union with Zeus."292 Thus, ironically enough, Hölderlin shares with Heidegger a need to omit a scene of destruction: Heidegger's omission of the poet's destruction by the gods in fact repeats Hölderlin's omission of Semele's destruction. The crucial difference between the poet and the philosopher in this case lies, as de Man and others have pointed out, in the poet's insistent use of measure and temporality, especially when it concerns the proximity of men to the gods. Hölderlin omits Semele's destruction because, to put it simply, the time isn't right: as he will later develop in his
Böschenstein, Frucht des Gewitters, 130-131. Thomas Ryan, Hölderlin's Silence (New York: Peter Lang, 1988), 194-195.
Anmerkungen, the moment of destruction, what Hölderlin will call the caesura, depends entirely on proper measure in order to interrupt the flow of poetic representation. The hymn's distorted invocation of the Semele myth demonstrates the appropriate violence that Heidegger's interpretation deploys when equating Dichtung with Sage in the mythic sense, and as well thus reflects Benjamin's emphasis on the "de-mythologization" in Hölderlin's poetry. The question of myth in Hölderlin's poetry as well must contend with the problem of repeating the Greeks in general, which haunts Hölderlin and Heidegger both, as part of a larger haunting of German writing.293 In Hölderlin's reference to Semele, a myth of ruination becomes ruined itself, so that the hymn only captures a mythic fragment suitable for mimetic purposes —the poets will be "like" Semele when they safely drink heavenly fire. The Semele reference as well parallels Hölderlin's pressing concern around the time of the Feiertag hymn for the development of a modern poetics of tragedy, one that, as LacoueLabarthe points out, both reflects and deviates the thematics of tragedy as it appears in the thinking of speculative idealism through its ruinous repetition of elements inherent to tragedy's classical conception. Additionally, the myth of Semele itself bears a tragic structure: like Oedipus, Semele destroys herself in pursuit of what she wants, the fusional moment of human and god turns into annihilation, and then the birth of
See for example Dennis J. Schmidt, On Germans and Other Greeks: Tragedy and Ethical Life (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001).
Dionysus dialectically recuperates her destruction into a sacrifice. The omission in the Feiertag hymn of Semele's fate as well reflects the hymn's deviation from a sacrificial structure that would dialectize death into rebirth. While at the time of the Feiertag hymn Hölderlin privileges tragic representation as the means of poeticizing the divine, allowing the gods to appear only in the downfall of man, this downfall cannot be dialectically gathered up and re-affirmed as the basis for a new affirmation, the way that Semele's death leads to the birth of Dionysus. The final stanza of Wie wenn am Feiertage contains the well-known poetic caesura which represents the poet's downfall, as well as a final figure for poetry itself, one that inverts the performative dimension of Dichtung as Sage by announcing the danger of overproximity to the divine: the warning song [“das warnende Lied”]. The warning song is in fact the second song in the hymn. The first song, which appears throughout the hymn, has an explicitly theologico-political status: as another name for poetry itself, Gesang is the privileged conduit to mediate a historically novel connection between heaven and earth. It is to be passed from the Gods to the poet, and from the poet to the people, "ins Lied gehüllt." Prior to the final stanza there is every reason to believe that this handoff will meet its goal, in which "Der Gesang . . . glükt"—the final stanza depicts instead this handoff’s inexplicable rupture:
"Des Vaters Stral, der reine versengt es nicht Und tieferschüttert, die Leiden des Stärkeren
Mitleidend, bleibt in den hochherstürzenden Stürmen Des Gottes, wenn er nahet, das Herz doch fest. Doch weh mir! Wenn von
Und sah ich gleich, Ich sei genaht, die Himmlischen zu schauen, Sie selbst, sie werfen mich tief under die Lebenden Den falschen Priester, ins Dunkel, dass ich Das warnende Lied den Gelehrigen singe. Dort." The connotation of this warning song is ambiguous, its signification, unstable. On the most immediate level, the warning would seem to call out against the approach of the heavenly and its excessive proximity to the poet. Yet how seriously should this call be taken if over-exposure and the subsequent annihilation of the individual is in fact necessary for nature to show itself—if, as Hölderlin formulates it, the expression of the infinite demands the dissolution of the sign?294 If we assume that the content of the warning song contains an imperative to resist fusion with the divine, then to abide
See Friedrich Hölderlin, "Die Bedeutung der Tragödien," in Sämtliche Werke, ed. Friedrich Beissner (Stuttgarter Ausgabe, J.G. Cottasche Buchhandlung, 1943), Vol. 4, 274.
by the warning song would in a way seem thus render impossible the crash and burn of the hero necessitated by tragic presentation. While Heidegger accepts the authority of Hölderlin's word as "scripture" to be followed, the dialectics of the warning song ensure that it functions as a double bind, impossible to obey: failure is guaranteed whether one stays away from the gods or comes too close. While this double bind is arguably a key component to a speculative thinking of tragedy, the absence of the nature of the poet's transgression in the final stanza means that we cannot completely situate the Feiertag hymn under the sign of the tragic. As I will show, this absence effectively places the hymn at a kind of vanishing point in Hölderlin's oeuvre—it is no longer tragic, but not yet capable of the dialectical poetizing of nearness and distance that characterizes the later hymns. Without knowing why it is specifically that the poet is cast down, the danger of exposure to the divine becomes de-anchored. The scheme of crime, struggle and expiation that undergirds the speculative model of tragedy falters if it is put into play here.295 The warning song warns against a danger whose name has been erased, or which has never born a name, or perhaps which is no longer identifiable as an individual danger at all. By referring to the poem's original prose draft, Peter Szondi makes the case that what is missing in this caesura is an expression of the poet's impurity which
See Szondi, Versuch über das Tragische.
causes him to be struck down by the Gods.296 Because the poet is still bleeding from a "selbstgeschlagner Wunde," that is, because he approaches the divine in order to heal this personal suffering, he is cast down, and the power line to the heavens is cut:
"Denn sind wir reinen Herzens nur, den Kindern gleich sind schuldlos oder gereingt von Freveln unsere Hände, dan tödtet dann verzehret nicht das heilige und tieferschüttert, bleibt das innere Herz doch fest, mitleidend die Leiden des Lebens . . . aber wenn von selbstgeschlagener Wunde mir blutet, und tief verloren der Frieden ist..und das warnende ängstige Lied den Unerfahrenen singe . . . "297
The first sentence indicates why the poet is able to bear the divine unmediated: why and when he can pass the test. Szondi argues that the "pure hearts" and hands "purified from sacrilege" refer only to an openness, a sensitivity, that detach from an "I". The child is pure because it is not trapped in a frozen ego, not closed out of the cosmic-divine Zusammenhang. Such a disconnect however is the sacrilege of men: according to Szondi, the warning song is born from the ineluctable error made by the poet as he approaches the table of the Gods, that is, in his proximity to immediate Being. Suffering from inner turmoil and seeking redemption for his own soul, however, he is impure, unworthy of being the vessel, the mighty conduit: "nicht weil ihm der Mensch nicht gewachsen wäre, sondern weil er den Menschen, der am
Peter Szondi, "Der Andere Pfeil. Zur Entstehungsgeschichte des hymnischen Spätstils" in HölderlinStudien (Frankfurt: Insel Verlag, 1967), 42-43. 297 Hölderlin, Sämtlichen Werke, Vol. 2 / 669 f.
Eigenen nicht Genüge hat, in jene Begegnung hinauslockt, die er nur um der Götter willen, nicht des eigenen Mangels wegen suchen dürfte, als Dienender nur, nicht als Leidender."298 The poem's final metered version breaks off at the point where the prose draft motivates the poet's guilt, as if Hölderlin is no longer satisfied with the words of the draft, but is bereft of an alternative. Szondi looks to suture the gap by grafting on to it sentiments from the prose draft. O’Brien writes that "in assuming that the white spaces are emptinesses that must yield to the insertion of another text, Szondi eliminates the moment in which blanks are essential, present absences, or are white text."299 Both Szondi and Heidegger, O’Brien claims, "react to the disruption of versification as an eruption of incomprehensibility that demands suppression."300 This disruption means that the particular danger to which the poet is exposed remains unnamed: it is impossible within the hymn to set, for example, the danger of an over-exposure of men to Gods in relation to the danger to which the poet may be exposed if he approaches the gods "wegen des eigenen Mangels." After he is struck down, the poet sings his song of warning. The position of this song in relation to the earlier Gesang and to the caesura of "Weh mir!" prefigure Hölderlin's later poetology of the calculable law, which seeks to contain the dangers of
Szondi, Hölderlin-Studien, 20. William O’Brien: “Getting Blasted: Hölderlin's 'Wie wenn am Feiertage',” Modern Language Notes 94 (1979): 581. 300 Ibid., 572.
overproximity to the gods by way of a rhythmic principle of mediation. Yet one must be quite careful in connecting the Feiertag hymn to its successors. Hölderlin scholarship has routinely met with difficulty in attempting to situate the change in poetic thought that occurs with Hölderlin's development of the late hymns. Rainer Nägele, for example, writes that "what emerges from the tragic antagonisms and struggles is the structure of an otherness that does not allow for any victories or reconciliations other than local and momentary fragile arrangements. As this other structure emerges, the tragic scene is transformed and opens up to a sad play and a play of sadness in the Trauerspiel. The philosophy of the tragic must yield to the poetics of the caesura."301 Nägele's reading, following a familiar trajectory in Hölderlin scholarship in which the tragic structure "yields" to the caesura, would indicate the Feiertag hymn as the breaking point in this process of poetic yielding. Lacoue-Labarthe, on the other hand, complicates any reading that would understand the late hymns as overcoming the limitations of the poet's earlier speculative works. He writes: "it seems to me, in any case, that in the very difficult Hölderlin had in theorizing . . . [he] comes to touch upon something that dislocates from within the speculative. Something that immobilizes it and prohibits it—or rather, distends and suspends it. Something that constantly prevents it from completing itself and never ceases, by doubling itself, to divert it from itself, to dig into it in such a way as to
Rainer Nägele, "Ancient Sports and Modern Transports," in The Solid Letter: Readings of Friedrich Hölderlin, ed. Aris Fioretos (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), 250.
create a spiral, and to bring about its collapse. Or that interrupts it, from place to place, and provokes its 'spasm.'"302 This "spasm" of the speculative is not only visible in the poet's tireless and self-undermining theoretical labors, embodied by endless rewritings and crossing-out, resulting in a palimpsest-like state of several poems, the Feiertag hymn also stages it directly through the poet's inexplicable downfall. In the wake of the Feiertag hymn’s collapse, poetry for Hölderlin becomes tasked with the maintenance, in rhythm and measure, of the proximity between Gods and men. Rhythm arises as a resolution the hymn’s central crisis, namely, the discovery that a certain proximity between Gods and men has become impossible. The longed-for nearness to heaven, whose presence is the object of the holiday’s commemoration, cannot last: the conduit cannot hold, the vessel is shattered by the spirit. The subtraction of a reason, cause or ground for the poet’s downfall means that we cannot locate a right way back to the gods’ presence, and that this downfall is justifiable only as the key element in a particular poetology of tragic representation, one which Hölderlin will later replace over time with a poetology of rhythm, organized around a thinking of the "calculable law."303 In the extreme relationality that guides this thinking, neither man nor god is independent beings: a balance must be maintained as excessive contact with one
Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, "The Caesura of the Speculative," in Typography: Mimesis, Philosophy, Politics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), 227. See also 211-212. 303 See Jean-Luc Nancy, "The Calculation of the Poet," in The Solid Letter: Readings of Friedrich Hölderlin, 44-73.
another can obliterate the mortals as well as leave the gods without anyone to remember or celebrate them. Such is the case at the end of Mnemosyne, "Der auch, als / Ablegte den Mantel Gott, das abendliche nachher löste / Die Loken." The capacity for memory is killed when the god reveals himself, like Zeus before Semele. Only in his distance can the god be preserved, and there are various names or modes in Hölderlin's poetry for this non-appropriative preservation which takes places in language: mourning, the celebration, the granting of the holy name, or a greeting carried by a northeasterly wind. For example, when the holiday appears again in the late hymn Andenken, it no longer signifies an apocalyptic burnout that inverts fusion into destruction, but rather a scene of greeting which Avital Ronell situates in accordance with the thinking of necessary separation that in the course of Hölderlin's poetic trajectory gradually but firmly comes to reckon with the drive towards speculative reconciliation: here the holiday "is a wedding of the gods and mortals, of the present and its origin, in which the Differing must abide. But the entire relations and nonrelations depend on the Greeting, on its address."304 The Greeting, which sets gods and men into a longdistance relationship, permitting interplay of distance and proximity, reflects the need in the late Hölderlin to constantly trace and re-trace the relation between gods and men.305 As Benjamin notes on his essay on Hölderlin's poem "Blödigkeit," the
Avital Ronell, "On the Misery of Theory," 26. Ibid., 18.
possibility of serially demarcating this relation comes from a poetic position of passivity, an exposure to the world that marks what Benjamin calls 'courage': "Mut ist das Lebensgefühl des Menschen, der sich der Gefahr preisgibt, dadurch sie in seinem Tode zur Gefahr der Welt erweitert und überwindet zugleich."306 The poet overcomes this danger by giving himself over to it, dissolving himself into the world so that he recognizes what Benjamin describes as the extreme relationality of all things.307 For Lacoue-Labarthe, the poet's courage constitutes what Benjamin calls the dictamen of the poem. Lacoue-Labarthe identifies the dictamen as the poem's condition of possibility, or in other words, "what one could also what one could call its authorization (an authorization that is very much prior to the authority of the poet, and prior twice over, since by authorizing the poem, it makes the poet)."308 This authorization stands in stark contrast to the authority granted to the poet by Heidegger because it functions according to the logic Lacoue-Labarthe ascribes to the il faut of Hölderlin's poetry: an exigency that commands a failure. In Lacoue-Labarthe's reading of Benjamin on Hölderlin, this failure occurs because the poetic disclosure of the world depends on the erasure of the poet, the one who would speak its disclosure. In abandonment to the world, the poet becomes authorized to speak, but in turn his
Walter Benjamin, Illuminationen, 38-39. Writing on Benjamin's essay, Ronell radicalizes the difference in Haltung between Heidegger's poetpriest and Benjamin's endangered, exposed poet: "the gesture of traversing peril and running a risk – a risk that does not know and cannot tell where it's going – points in [Hölderlin's] poems not to a morph of the action hero, quick and present to the task, sure of aim, but to the depleted being, held back by fear or indifference (we are never sure which), a being from the start stupefied, nonpresent – 'not all there.'" Avital Ronell, Stupidity (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002), 9. 308 Lacoue-Labarthe, Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry, 71.
speech has been infected by his dissolution. The poet's dissolution in turn becomes, according to the movement of tragic representation, the basis for a poetic disclosure of the world that emphasizes the extreme relationality of all things over the fixed identities of individual elements. Is this Dichtermut at work in the Feiertag hymn, however? No. The Feiertag hymn captures the poet in a moment of horror that precedes the conception of poetic courage. The singer of the warning song knows only the horror that accompanies the reversal of a fusional experience of man and god into wrathful and senseless destruction. The courage to abandon oneself to the world is also the courage to forsake the drive towards fusion with the gods, the obsession with standing before their annihilating presence. Coupled with the unreadability of the poet's downfall, the warning song forecloses on the possibility of reading the Feiertag hymn as kind of foundational announcement that would accord with Heidegger's interpretation. As I have demonstrated, Heidegger’s interpretation of the hymn as foundational, that is, as capable of grounding a people by “saying” [“Sage”] the arrival of the gods, elides the hymn’s tragic structure by omitting the poet’s downfall. One should not conclude from this, however, that a tragic structure in itself is something anti-foundational. In fact, pointing out the tragic nature of political foundation is almost something of a banality: one would only have to turn to Hegel’s understanding of tragedy, or acknowledge the
tragic structure at the heart of Christianity, where the self-sacrifice of God becomes the basis for a political universalism. One should also not conclude here that Heidegger’s thought does not in its own way incorporate tragic elements: in fact we can say that a tragic understanding of time underlies Heidegger’s project to found the Germans anew through his exegeses of Hölderlin. As Howard Caygill notes, Walter Benjamin identifies Heidegger’s understanding of historical time as tragic, which Benjamin himself counters with an understanding of messianic time. In his essay, Benjamin writes that “this idea of fulfilled time is called in the Bible, where it is the dominant historical idea, Messianic time. The idea of a fulfilled historical time cannot be thought in the same way as the idea of an individual time. This determination, which naturally completely changes the meaning of redemption, is what distinguishes tragic from Messianic time. Tragic time is to the latter, as individually fulfilled is to divinely fulfilled time.”309 Caygill comments that “Heidegger keeps open the possibility that historical time may be a suitable vehicle for authenticity, an option which Benjamin utterly refuses to entertain. For him, an authentic, redeemed historical time is only possible at the end of history with the advent of the Messiah.”310 In this light, in its intent to inaugurate a new and “authentic” origin for the gathering of Germans in history grounded in the authority of
Walter Benjamin ,"Trauerspiel and Tragedy," in Selected Writings Vol. 1, 1913-1926, eds. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 55-56. 310 Howard Caygill, "Benjamin, Heidegger and the Destruction of Tradition," in Walter Benjamin: Philosophy, ed. Peter Osborne (New York: Routledge, 2004), 299.
the poet Hölderlin, Heidegger’s exegesis attempts to appropriate the messianic aspect of announcing the gods’ arrival for the sake of a particular political project. As both Benjamin and Taubes argue, however, the messianic event can only indicate the delegitimation of earthly political authority. It is here that we can once again observe that Lacoue-Labarthe’s understanding of the term “theological-political” rests on a presupposition of the theological as something only useful in politics insofar as it can provide some sort of support in the foundation of political order. So strongly does this presupposition pervade LacoueLabarthe’s reading that he elides the theological dimension of Benjamin’s thought altogether. This elision leaves the implication that only a secularized politics can liberate itself from certain inherent dangers that Lacoue-Labarthe locates in Heidegger's thinking of the mytheme and considers endemic to the “aestheticopolitical” strain in political thinking inherited from the Romantic era and carried through to National Socialism. Lacoue-Labarthe subsequently turns to the works of Benjamin and Adorno in order to offer the possibility of thinking a "demythologization" in Hölderlin's poetry: demythologization "is opposed, in an entirely explicit way, to the Heideggerian determination of Dichtung as Sage (in which it is difficult not to recognize the German translation of the Greek muthos). And the word is a manifest condensation of what Benjamin called, in 1915, the Verlagerung des Mythologischen (translated as the "setting down” or "deposing of the mythological"). The entire problematic of the
sacred in Heidegger is delimited here in advance, and consequently—in connection with the latter's conception of the essence of Dichtung—so is that of the vocation or mission of the poet."311 Lacoue-Labarthe’s deployment of the concept of “demythologization” against Heidegger’s determination of Dichtung as Sage, which underscores Heidegger’s “theological-political” project, depends on reading myth as synonymous with the theological, and on reading “demythologization” as a means of a deconstruction of the theological-political. To put it schematically, Benjamin’s thinking of messianism interrupts the foundationalist concept of the “theological-political” in two ways: by restricting the presence of authenticity as the “fulfillment of historical time” to an eschatological framework, and through the cabalistic conception of “splinters [Splitter] of messianic time.” The eschatological framework, which governs both Benjamin and Taubes’ thinking of messianism, provides a different matrix of relations to the foundationalist conception of the “theological-political” which I have explored in Chapter Two. Benjamin’s understanding of messianic “slivers” however is worth noting here because it allows us approach the event of the holiday in a manner which acknowledges the holiday’s theological-political contour without inscribing it within a foundationalist project as Heidegger has done. Commenting on Benjamin, Comay writes that the holiday, in its very repeatability, “announces the recurrence of what cannot in fact return, thus opening up
Lacoue-Labarthe, Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry, 50-51.
the space of the unforeseen. The calendar commemorates in negotiating a certain blank or emptiness: repetition marks just the possibility of the radically new. Eingedenken is thus the opposite of an imprinting of self-identical, enduring traces. Closer to Nietzsche’s active forgetfulness than to Platonic anamnesis, it leaves blank precisely what will have been commemorated. This is in fact the force of memory’s promise. If not exactly a blank cheque or tabula rasa, it reminds the reader that for now at least a page of history remains unwritten.”312 The “force of memory’s promise,” contained in the holiday’s acknowledgment of the discontinuity of history, achieves a theological-political intensity in Benjamin’s “Theses on History,” which identify the oppressed classes as the true depository of a historical knowledge, one which can never achieve complete legibility. Prior to the return of the messiah, the only redemption to be found in Benjamin’s world comes in the form of messianic slivers, such as the holiday, which disrupt illusions of continuous history promoted by the ruling ideology. In a manner parallel to Taubes’ delineation of a certain contiguity between the messianic thinking of Benjamin and Saint Paul, I would like to similarly suggest an affinity between Benjamin and Hölderlin, let us say, that places them both under the sign of a thinking of a non-foundational political theology. Such a thinking would thus include messianism but as well the later Hölderlin’s poetology of rhythm. If we recall that Hölderlin understands rhythm as the “calculable law,” we can recognize the
Comay, "Benjamin's Endgame," 268.
uniqueness of his poetry within the discourse on the theological-political as it has been approached here. Hölderlin’s thinking is alone in deploying a positive concept of “law” in a non-foundational manner—perhaps this marks the singular position of poetry in what we might call a field of four theological-positions on authority. We have examined two foundationalist positions on authority in Schmittian sovereignty and Arendtian natality: what Schmitt and Arendt (perhaps unexpectedly) share is an engagement with theological structures or rhetoric for the sake of guaranteeing the authority of a political order. Like the messianic position, the sovereign position is anti-law, invested in conceptualizing the law’s suspension, but for the sake of preserving order. What I will call the “natalic” position, embodied by Arendt’s thought, favors both law as a means of political order and a theologicallyinflected concept of foundation. The messianic position is resolutely both anti-law and anti-foundation, it essentially links the two together in its proclamation of an absolute split between divine and earthly authority. In the case of the poet, we have seen that Heidegger attempts to locate the authority of Hölderlin in his ability to mediate the divine -- a mediation which Heidegger regards as foundational in itself, insofar as "Das Wort ist das Ereignis des Heiligen."313 This authority, as I have shown, depends on the poet's survival of his encounter with the gods. Reading Benjamin's essay, Lacoue-Labarthe in contrast locates a different form of authority of the poet, one that should instead perhaps be
Heidegger, Erläuterungen, 76-77.
called an authority of poetry, in which the poem's condition of possibility "authorizes" the poet.314 This condition of possibility, what Benjamin calls the dictamen, consists of the poet's courage to abandon himself to the world and undergo a traumatic exposure which thwarts any foundational aspiration by erasing the possibility of identifying the "Word" with "das Ereignis des Heiligen." The poet’s position remains anti-foundational, but in favor of a law, the “calculable law,” which isn’t grounded in a theological structure, rather the law itself first allows the relation between gods and men to be traced and re-traced.
Lacoue-Labarthe, Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry, 71.
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