Political Theology Today A Forum for inter-disciplinary and inter-religious dialogue among clergy, scholars, students, and activists

All posts tagged Carl Schmitt

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The Political Theology Syllabi Project: Martin Kavka

. . . As you can tell from the course description, I even started the course by asking, in effect, “Why are people using this term?” I’m still not sure that I know the answer to that question almost five years later. In teaching the course, the question of the academic worth of the material was at the forefront of discussions during the entire semester. “What was wrong with liberalism again?” was a question that, sometime around week six, took on full zombie status: it would just not die.

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03a Leviathan

The Political Theology Syllabi Project: György Geréby

. . . We begin with a first dip into the conceptual issues (the issues of political form, legitimacy, cosmic analogy, acclamations, secularization) by reading the third chapter of Schmitt’s Political Theology. Then we move on to show that grounding “political form” (Schmitt) by embedding it into a cosmic structure has been an issue at least from the Hellenistic period (if not before).

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Political Theology and Islamic Studies Symposium: What is Islamic Political Theology?

The revival of interest in political theology at the turn of the millennium began with Islam, then moved to Christianity. In the wake of September 11, 2001, it became clear that not all religion was fading away, nor was all religion confined to the private sphere. The evidence: radical Islam. But the obvious risk of Islamophobia that accompanied a focus on Islam as anomalously growing and anomalously public prompted some scholars to explore how Christianity itself was neither fading away nor thoroughly privatized. Instead of focusing on Islam as anomaly, political theology provided a framework for complicating the West’s story of itself, for probing the complex and continuing relations between religious and political ideas.

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Good and International Relations

God and International Relations: Christian Theology and World Politics

In this fresh and provocative study, Mika Luoma-aho is not content with merely contributing to skepticism concerning the secular narrative about the Westphalian order or with reconfiguring the dilemmas concerning the scientific versus political character of international relations. His program is far more ambitious. In fact he turns the recently developed discourse on […]

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Weimar Moment 2

A Review of “The Weimar Moment: Liberalism, Political Theology, and Law” (Part 2)

What brought Strauss into conversation with Schmitt was their mutual disillusionment not just with the political liberalism of the Weimar Republic but with post-Enlightenment liberalism in general. For theoretical solutions on how to ground political authority in something more substantial than Enlightenment rationalism, they both turned to aspects of pre-modern traditionalism – for Schmitt, an authoritarian Catholic political theology, for Strauss the recovery of ancient political philosophy and its medieval transmitters. On the practical plane, they both thought that parliamentary democracy was utterly unequipped to cope with the various crises afflicting postwar Europe. As a Jew, however, Strauss had no chance of signing on with the various authoritarian options on offer during the 1930s, since they invariably included anti-Semitism as part of their program and ideology. Both men shared ambivalent relations with their respective religious traditions and have even been suspected of covert atheism. In the end, Schmitt’s Catholicism, however episodic and selective, seems to have been more integral to his thinking than Strauss’ ancestral Judaism was to his.

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A Review of “The Weimar Moment: Liberalism, Political Theology, and Law” (Part 1)

The Weimar Moment: Liberalism, Political Theology, and Law, edited by Leonard V. Kaplan and Rudy Koshar, is a set of papers from a conference held at UW-Madison in the fall of 2008 (Lexington Books, 2012). Many of the papers will be of direct interest to readers, most notably perhaps the set dealing with Karl Barth. Here I want to point out some of the more important observations and analyses that surfaced during the discussions (full disclosure: I attended and have a paper in the proceedings).

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Political Theology: A Response (Part Two: The Autochthonous State)

In my prior posting, I was concerned with elaborating the disciplinary position from which I take up the project of political theology. It is a part of the secular study of our political practices and beliefs. Accepting these limits, I placed myself within the same modernist tradition as liberal political theory.

There is a deeper point to be made about the symmetry between theory and practice in the modern age. Liberal political theory is committed to the idea that an adequate account must be one that is fully transparent to reason. Theory is to be built through discrete, rational steps from common premises that purport to be universal. Accordingly, it is hostile to any privileged claims made on the basis of a particular faith, including claims for the existence of God or a natural order. In a parallel fashion, the modern, political order is to be autochthonous. It is to rest on nothing outside of itself. This is not a claim about history, which knows no beginnings; rather, it describes a secular understanding of the origin and ground of the state. This is an important idea, for example, in the decolonization movement: a post-colonial state can create itself through an original founding act. It need not express a pre-existing national or ethnic identity.

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Political Theology: A Response (Part One: The Disciplinary Divide)

It is certainly interesting to see a reflection of myself in the response of another discipline, even if I sometimes have trouble recognizing that image. Most useful will be for me to address the meaning of the gap between the two different political theological enterprises represented in this discussion. I will begin by making clear what the idea of a political theology contributes to my project. Following that, I will defend some of the contested theoretical premises of my work. Finally, I will take up the hardest question that emerges from this discussion: is it really the case that my political theological project is non-normative? If there is an implicit normative claim in my work, then the reviewers are right to ask not just whether I have got my description of American politics right, but whether the ethical direction of my work can be supported.

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Squaring the Exceptional and the Normative? A Realist Response to Kahn’s Political Theology

This book is a timely intervention within current debates about the role of religion, politics, philosophy and the public square. I was reading it as the Western World was once again reflecting (and in a not very coherent or analytical way) on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. As Kahn persuasively reminds us, international terrorism inextricably linked to religious imaginaries has forced liberal democracies and liberal intellectual disciplines to wake up to the real nature of politics: the themes of sovereign decision; the power of the exception rather than the bureaucratic norm; the lure of sacrifice and martyrdom; the will to act and choose authenticity rather than the use of reason or appeal to the norm. These are the seductive and destructive options that the international and religiously inspired terrorist offers us.

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Making the People Sovereign

Kahn’s book is intriguing and in many places insightful, conversant in theoretical literature ranging from that of Giorgio Agamben to that of Brian Leiter. I have two worries, one about Kahn’s similarity to Schmitt and another about Kahn’s difference from Schmitt. I worry that the richness of Schmitt’s treatment of theology is diminished in Kahn’s treatment, with theology being reduced to religion – religion that sounds quite liberal and quite Protestant. And I worry that Kahn, like Schmitt, may not provide sufficient space for difference (racial, gender, class, and even religious) in his constructive account. I will approach these worries indirectly, after first rehearsing some of Kahn’s discussion of sovereignty.

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