This chapter is the first of “Part I: Of Politics”, which begins with this parable:
Imagine – if one were only out of debt, owing nothing to anyone, free to do as one pleased, wishing this blessing upon all others, so that one could cancel all debts owing to oneself, so that one’s debtors could in turn cancel all debts owing to themselves, until all debts were cleared, nothing more was owed, all people were free, with no employment, no money, no society, no religion, no life. Just imagine.”
Goodchilld then begins “Power” with a discussion of the distinction in modern political theory between physical power (from muscles to military power to fossil fuels) and the purely human power of the will. There is thus a correlative relationship between these two kinds of power, as can be seen clearly in Carl Schmitt’s definition of the political as a distinction between friend and enemy. When one decides that one is an enemy then one can withhold the first kind of energy as long as there is sufficient will and resources to do so, even unto the point of killing. But this duality of power, where “the authority of will over will […] derives from no other foundation than the exercise of physical power (29)”, is really a kind of monism since human will is dependent unilaterally on physical energy and so this duality must be complicated by a third kind of energy. This third kind of power, an “intangible ‘energy’ of the political (30)”, is the authority that guides and authorizes the action of will on will. These are the customs, traditions, markets and other aspects external or supplementary to the human will as such and also not physical in the same sense as physical forms of power. The nature of this power is the focus of political theology.
This modern dualism is co-extensive with a certain humanism as can be seen in three related sense of the term.
- The human is constituted indepedent of the divine. There is no true power in those elements that are called sacred (places, objects, rituals, persons). The will (2nd form of power) must be liberated from these spectral illusions in order to will the good.
- This enlightenment or emancipation, which is the constitution of the human subjects. develops through a rationals self-reflection as a self-determining agent. The human distinguishes itself from the animal and primitive forms of human society and thereby uses its reason to represent the order of nature impose order upon it. The power of the will is exercised through representation.
- The human subject then demonstrates this mastery, where formerly it had only been represented, by imposing order on an external nature.
These three forms of humanism have found historical expression as mastery in the scientific revolution, technological-industrial revolution, and the capitalist and free-market revolutions. Yet, humanism has come against limits in all three realms, with science having to give up its claim to mastery as it develops the sciences of chaos and complexity, the technological revolution is dependent upon resources that are disappearing in the midst of the ecological crisis and is unable to develop further without them, and the economy is governed by autonomous processes of debt, profit, and the control of consumer desire rather than any human rationality.
The Philosophy of Representation
All three of these expressions of mastery are thought to be achieved through representation via the imagination. As images, reactions, and desires are presented to the mind, reason is able to represent ideas that reign them in and control them. Yet, this modern reason is only a hesitation, a membrane, between the the subjective sovereign (as reasonable man) and the world it imposes order upon. Yet, there is one thing that it must exclude from its representation – its impotence (even if it were to represent itself as impotent that would be an expression of the mind’s power to represent).” In practice, the mind may be subjected to both physical force and the force of authority (35).”
Power beyond Representation
The sovereignty or reason exists in the imagination alone and is therefore in need of a supplement of the will, which will show itself to be sovereign when it converts representation into reality. Yet, this act of will must appeal beyond sovereign representation, “to physical, human, and meta-human configurations of power (36).” This mediation of will, and its conversion of representation into reality, exposes the weakness of mastery as a model, goal, or ideal for power. In order to overcome this weakness, Goodchild proposes an alternative direction of thought. We can escape from the sovereignty of reason, from being trapped within the problematic of reason, by engaging with the immanent problems expressed in the varied mediations of human will (those physical, human, and meta-human configurations of power). We must then engage with a body, specifically a social body where this configuration of power is found. For, if reason is to go further than its own representations and break out from the imagination, it cannot content itself with claiming “that being is, that power is powerful, or that God is divine. One cannot discover what such concepts might mean without the mediation of a concrete, political body (38).”
Money as Political Body
The thesis that guides the rest of the book is thus given here when Goodchild writes, “In modernity, money is the political body par excellence.” For money is what expresses sovereignty in all its forms – individual, corporate, nation-state. “Money participates in and brings together the realms of the non-human, the human, and belief and desire (ibid).”
The sovereignty of money is different from the sovereignty that reason represents as the subject. Developing a reading of Marx’s Grundrisse, Goodchild shows that the sovereignty of money derives from the severing of relation, or more clearly, that the relation is one sided with money/capital:
- Money exercises a sovereign power.
- It does so as a historically created element that, nevertheless, organizes natural production.
- It can be understood without those elements that formed it historically. It can be understood without ground rent, but ground rent cannot be understood without it.
Goodchild thinks that this particular configuration of the contemporary age, the sovereignty of money as the severance of relation and that which brings together three forms of energy, means that the vital political problem is no longer that of political subjectivity. Instead, we must ask question this new sovereign and elucidate it if we are to understand what new political bodies can be created.
Reflections/Questions: I first read this chapter in a draft form in 2005, during a reading group on Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political at Long Sunday, and was struck by it very deeply. It has organized a lot of my political thinking since then, but I wonder if too little time is spent elucidating a mode of resistance to this sovereign. How are we to change the meta-human flows of belief and desire? Obviously the gamble of the book is that we haven’t yet thought and examined the structure and actuality of this new sovereign, so it is a preliminary step, but does Goodchild’s presentation give us a gilded cage or a weapon?