At a moment when some of the theoretical gestures being inspired by old, new, or futuristic political theologies have become ineffective, Paul Kahn’s Political Theology: Four New Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty is a book of extraordinary significance. Or, perhaps I should say that I think it might be a book of extraordinary significance, inasmuch as it bears a potential to do something which has remained impossible, not only for Carl Schmitt, but also for some important contemporary critics of neo-liberal political economy. I want to reflect specifically about the way this impossibility might become possible, strangely, by way of a new migration of Abraham into the territory of philosophies of freedom and difference.
Posts Tagged ‘Alain Badiou’
Paul W. Kahn’s Political Theology: Four New Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty is a compelling book, though compelling in a sense not unlike an intellectual bruise one is drawn to press on again and again. Ostensibly a re-purposing of Carl Schmitt’s 1922 Political Theology, Kahn’s book possesses a more ambitious armature than his title and the format of following Schmitt’s chapter scheme might suggest. Kahn is a legal scholar by training, and interested here in the problem of sovereignty, which takes him deep into questions of law, jurisprudence, constitutional reasoning, and forms of political organization. It is no less notable, however, that Kahn’s project weighs in on four classic philosophical and political problems . . . .
There is no doubt that anthropology needs new approaches for understanding dramatic change, a new way of figuring the relationship between structure and subjectivity (often abusively assimilated by anthropologists to consciousness or the individual person), which I take to be part of the gambit of the project of an anthropology of Christianity. There is also a real need for a renewal of critical thought on the problems of exploitation, oppression, injustice—on the devastating ravages of late neoliberal capitalism on the masses of the Global South, which are also the populations most engaged in the new wave of conversions. Nothing testifies to this more dramatically or poignantly than the recent wave of self-immolations that has swept across North Africa in the past weeks, nor, might I add, to the ongoing force of a sacrificial politics. But can we really claim that something called Global Christianity (a shorthand, here, for its Pentecostal or charismatic forms), if not able to provide a model for emancipatory action, might, in dialogue with the atheist, post-foundational left, give us something better to think with?
In the midst of the interdisciplinary enterprise that Global Christianity, Global Critique undertakes, I want to suggest that the challenge of interdisciplinarity—and, at the same time, the source of what value it may have—is the problem of locality, constraint, and limit. In other words, following Jean-François Lyotard (The Postmodern Condition), legitimation is local; it is a function of the language-game, which in the scholarly context means a function of the the discipline. Read with the themes of limit, border, and locality in mind, these treatments of global critique and global Christianity reveal the prominence of this problematic.
Whether this issue of South Atlantic Quarterly succeeds or fails, it will do so on the basis of its core gambit: that the post-Marxist explosion in Pauline literature, by authors such as Badiou and Žižek, and the post-cold war explosion in Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity have, if not some kind of commensurability, then at least enough intelligibly contrasting elements to serve as the crux of a discussion. This is already a dicey proposition, given the gulf between the abstract rigors of philosophy and the populist accessibility of most modes of contemporary religiosity. Perhaps the biggest challenge is not locating the identity and difference between these two conceptual objects, however, but instead agreeing preliminarily that they both have referents of some sort—that we can speak intelligibly of either a “Pauline Turn” or “Global Christianity” in the first place. We must start out then, it seems, with the question of categories, at least as a preliminary grid to be abandoned later.