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In the early centuries of the Church, in order to reconcile monotheism with God's threefold nature, the doctrine of Trinity was introduced in the guise of an economy of divine life. It was as if the Trinity amounted to nothing more than a problem of managing and governing the heavenly house and the world. Agamben shows that, when combined with the idea of providence, this theological-economic paradigm unexpectedly lies at the origin of many of the most important categories of modern politics, from the democratic theory of the division of powers to the strategic doctrine of collateral damage, from the invisible hand of Smith's liberalism to ideas of order and security.
But the greatest novelty to emerge from The Kingdom and the Glory is that modern power is not only government but also glory, and that the ceremonial, liturgical, and acclamatory aspects that we have regarded as vestiges of the past actually constitute the basis of Western power. Through a fascinating analysis of liturgical acclamations and ceremonial symbols of power—the throne, the crown, purple cloth, the Fasces, and more—Agamben develops an original genealogy that illuminates the startling function of consent and of the media in modern democracies. With this book, the work begun with Homo Sacer reaches a decisive point, profoundly challenging and renewing our vision of politics.
1.1. Let us begin this investigation with an attempt to reconstruct the genealogy of a paradigm that has exercised a decisive influence on the development and the global arrangement of Western society, although it has rarely been thematized as such outside a strictly theological field. One of the theses that we shall try to demonstrate is that two broadly speaking political paradigms, antinomical but functionally related to one another, derive from Christian theology: political theology, which founds the transcendence of sovereign power on the single God, and economic theology, which replaces this transcendence with the idea of an oikonomia, conceived as an immanent ordering—domestic and not political in a strict sense—of both divine and human life. Political philosophy and the modern theory of sovereignty derive from the first paradigm; modern biopolitics up to the current triumph of economy and government over every other aspect of social life derive from the second paradigm.
For reasons that will become clear in the course of the research, the history of economic theology, which developed enormously between the second and fifth centuries AD, has been left in the shadows not only by historians of ideas but also by theologians, to the extent that even the precise meaning of the term has fallen into oblivion. In this way, both its evident genetic proximity to Aristotelian economy and its likely connection with the birth of the économie animale and of political economy in the eighteenth century have remained unquestioned. An archaeological study that investigates the reasons for this repression and attempts to go back to the events that produced it is all the more necessary.
* Although the problem of oikonomia is present in countless monographs on individual Church Fathers (Joseph Moingt's book on the Théologie trinitaire de Tertullien is in this sense exemplary: it contains a relatively comprehensive treatment of this question between the second and third centuries), until Gerhard Richter's recent work Oikonomia, published when the historical part of the present study had already been completed, we lacked a general study of this fundamental theological theme. Marie-José Mondzain's Image, icône, économie limits itself to analyzing the implications of this concept for the iconoclastic disputes that took place between the eighth and ninth centuries. Even after Richter's comprehensive study, whose orientation is-in spite of the title-theological and not linguistic-philological, we still lack an adequate lexical analysis that supplements Wilhelm Gass's useful but dated work "Das patristische Wort oikonomia" (1874) and Otto Lillge's dissertation Das patristische Wort "oikonomia." Seine Geschichte und seine Bedeutung (1955).
It is probable that, at least in the case of theologians, this peculiar silence is due to their embarrassment in the face of something that could only appear as a kind of pudenda origo of the Trinitarian dogma (indeed, it is surprising, to say the least, that the first formulation of the fundamental, in all senses, theologumenon of the Christian faith-the Trinity-presents itself initially as an "economic" apparatus). The eclipse of this concept that, as we shall see, is one with its penetration and diffusion in different fields, is testified to by the scanty attention that the Tridentine canons pay to it: just a few lines under the rubric De dispensatione (dispensatio is, with dispositio, the Latin translation of oikonomia) et mysterio adventus Christi. In modern Protestant theology, the problem of oikonomia reappeared, but only as an obscure and indeterminate precursor of the theme of Heilsgeschichte, while the opposite is true: the theology of the "history of salvation" is a partial and, all in all, reductive resumption of a much broader paradigm. The result of this is that in 1967 it was possible to publish a Festschrift commemorating the sixty-fifth anniversary of the publication of Oscar Cullmann's Oikonomia. Heilsgeschichte als Thema der Theologie in which the term oikonomia appeared in only one of the thirty-six contributions.
1.2. In 1922, Carl Schmitt encapsulated the theological-political paradigm in a lapidary thesis: "All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts" (Schmitt 2005, p. 36). If our hypothesis about the existence of a double paradigm is correct, this statement should be supplemented in a way that would extend its validity well beyond the boundaries of public law, extending up to the fundamental concepts of the economy and the very idea of the reproductive life of human societies. However, the thesis according to which the economy could be a secularized theological paradigm acts retroactively on theology itself, since it implies that from the beginning theology conceives divine life and the history of humanity as an oikonomia, that is, that theology is itself "economic" and did not simply become so at a later time through secularization. From this perspective, the fact that the living being who was created in the image of God in the end reveals himself to be capable only of economy, not politics, or, in other words, that history is ultimately not a political but an "administrative" and "governmental" problem, is nothing but a logical consequence of economic theology. Similarly, it is certainly more than a simple lexical fact that, with a peculiar reversal of the classical hierarchy, a zoe aio nios and not a bios lies at the center of the evangelical message. The eternal life to which Christians lay claim ultimately lies in the paradigm of the oikos, not in that of the polis. According to Taubes's ironic boutade, the theologia vitae is always in the course of converting itself into a "theozoology" (Taubes, p. 41).
* A preliminary clarification of the meaning and implications of the term "secularization" becomes all the more urgent. It is perfectly well known that this concept has performed a strategic function in modern culture-that it is, in this sense, a concept of the "politics of ideas," something that "in the realm of ideas has always already found an enemy with whom to fight for dominance" (Lübbe, p. 20). This is equally valid for secularization in a strictly juridical sense-which, recovering the term (saecularisatio) that designated the return of the religious man into the world, became in nineteenth-century Europe the rallying cry of the conflict between the State and the Church over the expropriation of ecclesiastic goods-and its metaphoric use in the history of ideas. When Max Weber formulates his famous thesis about the secularization of Puritan asceticism in the capitalist ethics of work, the apparent neutrality of his diagnosis cannot hide its function in the battle he was fighting against fanatics and false prophets for the disenchantment of the world. Similar considerations could be made for Troeltsch. What is the meaning of the Schmittian thesis in this context?
Schmitt's strategy is, in a certain sense, the opposite of Weber's. While, for Weber, secularization was an aspect of the growing process of disenchantment and detheologization of the modern world, for Schmitt it shows on the contrary that, in modernity, theology continues to be present and active in an eminent way. This does not necessarily imply an identity of substance between theology and modernity, or a perfect identity of meaning between theological and political concepts; rather, it concerns a particular strategic relation that marks political concepts and refers them back to their theological origin.
In other words, secularization is not a concept but a signature [segnatura] in the sense of Foucault and Melandri (Melandri, p. XXXII), that is, something that in a sign or concept marks and exceeds such a sign or concept referring it back to a determinate interpretation or field, without for this reason leaving the semiotic to constitute a new meaning or a new concept. Signatures move and displace concepts and signs from one field to another (in this case, from sacred to profane, and vice versa) without redefining them semantically. Many pseudoconcepts belonging to the philosophical tradition are, in this sense, signatures that, like the "secret indexes" of which Benjamin speaks, carry out a vital and determinate strategic function, giving a lasting orientation to the interpretation of signs. Insofar as they connect different times and fields, signatures operate, as it were, as pure historical elements. Foucault's archaeology and Nietzsche's genealogy (and, in a different sense, even Derrida's deconstruction and Benjamin's theory of dialectical images) are sciences of signatures, which run parallel to the history of ideas and concepts, and should not be confused with them. If we are not able to perceive signatures and follow the displacements and movements they operate in the tradition of ideas, the mere history of concepts can, at times, end up being entirely insufficient.
In this sense, secularization operates in the conceptual system of modernity as a signature that refers it back to theology. Just as, according to canon law, the secularized priest had to wear a sign of the religious order he had once belonged to, so does the secularized concept exhibit like a signature its past belonging to the theological sphere. The way in which the reference operated by the theological signature is understood is decisive at every turn. Thus, secularization can also be understood (as is the case with Gogarten) as a specific performance of Christian faith that, for the first time, opens the world to man in its worldliness and historicity. The theological signature operates here as a sort of trompe l'oeil in which the very secularization of the world becomes the mark that identifies it as belonging to a divine oikonomia.
1.3. In the second half of the 1960s, a debate on the problem of secularization involving, to different degrees, Hans Blumenberg, Karl Löwith, Odo Marquard, and Carl Schmitt, took place in Germany. The debate originated from the thesis enunciated by Löwith in his 1953 book Weltgeschichte und Heilsgeschehen according to which both German idealism's philosophy of history and the Enlightenment's idea of progress are nothing but the secularization of the theology of history and Christian eschatology. Although Blumenberg, who defended the "legitimacy of modernity," decisively affirmed the illegitimate character of the very category of secularization-as a consequence of which Löwith and Schmitt found themselves against their will on the same side—in point of fact, as has perceptively been noted by commentators (Carchia, p. 20), the dispute was more or less consciously instigated in order to hide what was really at stake, which was not secularization but the philosophy of history and the Christian theology that constituted its premise. All the apparent enemies joined forces against them. The eschatology of salvation, of which Löwith spoke and of which the philosophy of German idealism was a conscious resumption, was nothing but an aspect of a vaster theological paradigm, which is precisely the divine oikonomia that we intend to investigate, and the repression of which constituted the foundation of the debate. Hegel was still perfectly aware of this when he stated the equivalence of his thesis on the rational government of the world with the theological doctrine of the providential plan of God, and presented his philosophy of history as a theodicy ("that the history of the world [...] is the effective becoming of the spirit [...] this is the real theodicy, the justification of God in history"). In even more explicit terms, in the conclusion to his Philosophy of Revelation, Schelling summarized his philosophy with the theological figure of an oikonomia: "The ancient theologians distinguished between akratos theologia and oikonomia. The two belong together. It is toward this process of domestic economy (oikonomia) that we have wished to point" (Schelling, p. 325). The fact that such an engagement with economic theology has today become so improbable as to make the meaning of Schelling's statements entirely incomprehensible to us is a sign of the decline of philosophical culture. One of the aims of the present study is to make Schelling's statement, which has so far remained a dead letter, comprehensible again.
* The distinction between theologia and oikonomia, between the being of God and his activity, to which Schelling alludes is, as we shall see, of fundamental importance in Eastern theology, from Eusebius to the Chalcedonians. Schelling's immediate sources are to be found in the use of the concept of oikonomia made in pietistic circles, particularly in authors such as Bengel and Oetinger, whose influence on Schelling is now well documented. However, it is crucial that Schelling thinks his philosophy of revelation as a theory of divine economy, which introduces personality and action into the being of God, and thus renders him "Lord of being" (Schelling, p. 172). From this perspective, he quotes the passage from Paul (Ephesians 3:9) on the "mystery of economy," which lies at the origin of the doctrine of theological oikonomia:
Paul speaks of a Plan of God that has not been spoken of for eons but that has now become manifest in Christ: the mystery of God and Christ that has become manifest to the world through Christ's appearance. It is at this point that the ways of a philosophy of revelation become possible. It must not be understood, like mythology, as a necessary process, but in a way that is fully free, as the decision and action of a will that is most free. Through revelation a new, second creation is introduced; it is an entirely free act. (Schelling, p. 253)
In other words, Schelling understands his introduction of an absolute and an-archic freedom in ontology as a resumption and accomplishment of the theological doctrine of oikonomia.
1.4. Between 1935 and 1970, Erich Peterson and Carl Schmitt-two authors who, in different ways, could be defined as "Apocalyptics of the counterrevolution" (Taubes, p. 19)—had a singular dispute. Its singularity was not only due to the fact that the two adversaries, both Catholics, shared common theological presuppositions, but also to the fact that, as shown by the long silence that separates the two dates mentioned above, the jurist's answer was formulated ten years after the death of the theologian who had opened the debate. Moreover, this answer took its cue from the more recent debate on secularization, as shown by the Nachwort that concludes it. However, the "Parthian arrow" (Schmitt 2008a, p. 32) cast by Peterson must still have been stuck in Schmitt's flesh if, according to the latter's own words, Politische Theologie II, which contained the belated answer, aimed to "rip [it] from the wound" (ibid.). What was at stake in this controversy was political theology, which Peterson put resolutely in question. But it is possible that, as had happened with the secularization debate, this time the explicit stake hid another, exoteric, and more frightful one, which we need to bring to light.
Excerpted from THE KINGDOM AND THE GLORY by Giorgio Agamben Copyright © 2011 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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