Paradigms in political theology

The discipline of political theology begins from the fundamental homology between the human and divine sovereign, but the historical experience of political theology begins from their disjuncture. The political theology of the Hebrew prophets was devised to explain the apparently unbridgable gap between the two. At the root of what Agamben calls the “economic paradigm” is not the problem of imperial administration — rather, it is the theodicy problem that the Hebrew prophets answered by positing God’s indirect management of world history using worldly rulers who were unaware of their role in God’s plan. In reality, both of Agamben’s paradigms include an element of management — it is, after all, impossible for a ruler to literally do everything within his realm — but management only becomes the dominant principle when it’s a question of reconciling the lived experience of injustice and oppression with trust in a benevolent and just God.

Agamben continually deflects this “moral” element in the development of the economic paradigm, for instance by downplaying the “evil” nature of the demiurge in certain Gnostic systems, and this omission goes back to his continual refusal to engage with the Hebrew scriptures in a serious way. He is fascinated by Judaism, but his Judaism is always-already a part of the Western tradition — which is why Paul’s epistles can count, for instance, as the most important messianic documents. This is where Taubes’s response to Schmitt is invaluable, in that it reminds us of the “special relationship” between political theology and apocalyptic — and shows us that that “special relationship” is still operative in Schmitt, who is working in the narrow corner of political theology that emerges when the Roman Empire converts to Christianity and is promoted from anti-Christ to katechon.

4 thoughts on “Paradigms in political theology

  1. Apocalyptic is a very late development if you’re talking about Israelite prophets, Mike. And they certainly did have political theology. Read 1 Samuel 8-10 for several different, and conflicting, political theologies that all managed to find a place next to each other in the text. I’ve always been amazed that the anti-monarchical voices didn’t get systematically edited out of the text during the monarchy — but they lasted until the monarchy had vanished during the Persian period, and then they made sense again… (Also try Psalm 89 for a whiplash-inducing take on the nature of kingship in the southern kingdom of Judah – it begins in favor of monarchy, and ends in spite.)

  2. You are correct regarding Israelite prophets Brennan, but I am talking about twentieth century/ twenty-first political theology. Of course of we go back to Marx and ‘ all that is solid melts…’ then modernity is a type of apocalyptic- as is the central ethos of creative destruction. My point is that is there a crucial and determinative difference between political theology and political theory and that is the focus upon apocalyptic

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