I knew that my new book, Political Theology, would be controversial. It covers a lot of ground; it produces odd conjunctions; and its rhetoric can sound extreme. It pays little attention to academic conventions and often cuts against popular, political expectations. Some might think presumptuous its design and method of “rewriting” Schmitt’s classic. Many readers are startled to find that out of an engagement with Schmitt can come an exploration of freedom in its political, legal, and discursive dimensions. Others are surprised to find that a book about sovereignty and law—let alone a theological inquiry—puts the imagination at its center.Read the rest of A response to critics.
Paul W. Kahn
Paul W. Kahn is Robert W. Winner Professor of Law and the Humanities and Director of the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School. He is the author of Legitimacy and History: Self-Government in American Constitutional Theory (Yale University Press, 1993); The Reign of Law: Marbury v. Madison and the Construction of America (Yale University Press, 2007); The Cultural Study of Law: Reconstructing Legal Scholarship (University of Chicago Press, 1999); Law and Love: The Trials of King Lear (Yale University Press, 2000); Putting Liberalism in its Place (Princeton University Press, 2004); Out of Eden: Adam and Eve and the Problem of Evil (Princeton University Press, 2006); Sacred Violence: Torture, Terror, Sovereignty (University of Michigan Press, 2008); and Political Theology: Four New Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (Columbia University Press, 2011).
Posts by Paul W. Kahn:
I am delighted that my new book on political theology has provided the occasion for this conversation. The editors have suggested that I offer an “interim” intervention. This is a good idea, since already much has been said. I am going to try to advance the discussion rather than defend the book, which will have to fend for itself. That a creative work must stand on its own is, by the way, central to my book’s claim about the nature of the free act, as well as to the attitude I take toward Schmitt’s text.Read the rest of The integrity of theory.
When modern revolutionaries took up the task of translating the felt meaning of political revolution into a constitutional order of law, they thought of themselves as men of the Enlightenment using the language of reason to push religion out of the public sphere. This hardly means that they neither experienced nor relied upon the sacred. In Arendt’s classic analysis, they began by demanding legal rights but ended with an experience of the absolute character of public action. Rights as a means to private ends became a lesser theme to the experience of a kind of transcendent meaning in and through political engagement. In a crisis, it remains true today that the secular state does not hesitate to speak of sacrifice, patriotism, nationalism, and homeland in the language of the sacred. The state’s territory becomes consecrated ground, its history a sacred duty to maintain, its flag something to die for. None of this has much to do with the secular; these are matters of faith, not reason.Read the rest of Political theology and liberalism.