Posted by: rogermitchell | August 15, 2017

Back to Agamben

There are still three remaining chapters of Agamben’s The Kingdom and the Glory that I haven’t blogged on yet.  A variety of events and presentations intervened including: My paper for the Theology Society, https://www.academia.edu/32653186/Peace_postsecularity_and_political_activism_contemporary_resources_for_a_politics_of_lo                                                                             A blog on the lead up to the UK general election for Nomad, http://www.nomadpodcast.co.uk/church-empire-politics-love/, ongoing developments of the Richardson Institute Critical Thinking Group and its various initiatives towards a culture of positive peace for Morecambe Bay, exciting happenings at Ashburnham Place, engagement with the Business Connect Jersey Host event, the general election and holidays!

Despite the passage of three months I will attempt to complete my commentary on the three remaining chapters over the next week or so, beginning today. (Realistically this should now read “over the next few weeks,” given that preparing my new book outline for the publisher has already intervened since I first wrote this!).

Chapter Five brought us to an interim assessment of the paradigm of government through which the Western powers currently operate.  It is a political world in which the multitude are only apparently free and within which deep structural change is impossible. This is because the bipolar structure of sovereignty and executive which legitimates our contemporary Western states is disconnected from the immanent realm of praxis. Or to put it another way, our paradigm of government is the opposite of incarnational. The rich and the powerful establishment have a separate and permanent existence over against the multitude and its seemingly “democratic” freedoms. In the real world, individuals,  parties and corporations that progress into the existing established order simply enter the arena of a barren transcendence of government and are rendered inoperative. Nothing changes deeply or permanently. It follows that the only way to ontological, deep structural change is via an alternative, grounded, incarnational transcendence outside the established order and ultimately disregarding it. It is what the Johannine writer advocated and is often paraphrased as “being in the world but not of the world” (cf. John 17:14-15).

Chapter Six boasts the intriguing title “Angelology and Bureaucracy.” To understand what Agamben is doing at this point it is necessary to get hold of, or recollect, his application of katargēsis in Paul. You may remember from his commentary on Paul’s letter to the Romans The Time That Remains, or from my own writing on the subject, that Agamben uncovers Paul’s original use of this term not as a destruction but as a progression that pulls through or fulfills the thing subject to it. In this chapter it becomes clear that Agamben doesn’t only see this as applying to the Law, but the whole hierarchy of authority. So while law and authority have been permitted, even ordained by God, in a progressive way alongside the genealogy of human activity and our journey through history, the coming of the Messiah brings it to an end or fullness.  Agamben also describes this action of katargēsis as “rendering inoperative.” So the angelic authorities, “principalities and powers” who are at times indistinguishable in the gospels and Paul’s epistles from the human authorities and sometimes even the demons, are also brought to an end or katargēsis in Jesus. This being the case, Paul’s theology points the way to render the government of the West effectively inoperative and of living the radical life of the incarnate Messianic new humanity instead. So in the same way that Jesus and therefore the Messianic ecclesia bring through what is good in law into a whole new expression in the new commandment to love, so they also draw through what is good in the authorities and powers into an egalitarian oikonomia of love.

The chapter begins with what is, for me, a highly surprising exegesis of Erik Petersen’s short treatise on angels Das Buch von den Engeln. Stellen und Bedeutung der heiligen Engel im Kultus, 1935. This seems to be at odds with M J Hollerich’s helpful explanation (see post 6 in this series) that the reason Petersen is so ill at ease with the phrase “political theology” is because he aligns the idea entirely with Roman imperialism. But here Agamben’s exegesis of what seems to be Petersen’s original work and intent suggests that the reason Petersen is uneasy with the term “political theology” is because he regards the Church’s task wholly as a spiritual engagement with the heavenly order of things which the angels represent. Whether or not this is Petersen’s position or whether he set it up in order to reject it, is not clear to me yet, although if Hollerich is correct as I suggest in the earlier post, then it will be the latter. But in either case, for Agamben, it is enough to affirm that angelology generally has two functions: to assist in the divine worship and to administer the divine government of the world and these two aspects correlate with the contemporary bipolar operations of the governmental machine.

Agamben refers to, among others, Dante’s The Banquet (Book II, Chapter 4, p. 49) for evidence of this dual role for the angels. In this light they and the principalities and powers through or by which they are expressed are not eternal determinate forms of the heavenly sphere, but rather concepts and perceptions akin to the Hebrew prophetic configuration of the apocalyptic, where the transcendent vision of the future relates to the critique of the immanent political world. This latter is the world that Messiah is bringing to an end in the new humanity of the kingdom of God. This is borne out, as Agamben emphasises, by Paul’s famous statement  “then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when he has abolished all rule and all authority and power” (1Co 15:24). As with Walter Wink’s exposition of Paul’s understanding of the powers, I am minded from experience to grant them more substantial existence than Wink’s or Agamben’s perspective requires. Nevertheless, the encouragement to draw on the transcendent unity of being and doing that they represent as a resource to a new humanity that disregards the contemporary and increasingly inoperative Western machine of government is exciting.

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Posted by: rogermitchell | June 21, 2017

What a shift in the social imaginary!

The unexpected result of the General Election is, in my view, evidence of an exciting change in the spiritual climate of the UK. 

Despite and perhaps, redemptively, even because of the terrible terrorist atrocities including the murder of Jo Cox MP and the poverty and austerity related horrendous Grenfell Tower fire, something is shifting in the social imaginary.  After attending the Manchester vigil for the victims of the arena bomb, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party,  observed that what we need is love and solidarity. As a proponent of the politics of love I could not agree with him more and am super encouraged by the emphasis on love in the current political vocabulary.

This evening, once again, I have been facilitating the Richardson Institute Critical Thinking Group with its commitment to cultivating a culture of positive peace for Morecambe Bay. We heard reports of the start-up group of the local Poverty Truth Commission that it helped initiate, the developments around Infrastructures for Positive Peace that we have been focusing on since a successful conference last November and interacted with Dr Andy Knox’s recent blog post on his strategy for health as a social movement http://reimagininghealth.com/social-movements-and-the-future-of-healthcare/. All of this gave substance to the conclusion that not only is there a shift in the social imagination, these are signs of real traction on the ground.

Clearly we need all the resources we can find to articulate and practice the politics of love.

For which reason I’m glad to say that among these the Political Theology for Peace certificate of postgraduate achievement that I teach is available again in the coming academic year. This exciting postgraduate resource for those grappling with the challenges to peace and justice in and through their occupational spheres and localities is provided through the Richardson Institute for Peace Studies and located in the PPR Department here at Lancaster. The course runs from January to April 2018 and is taught via an intensive residential teaching weekend and five online webinars. Assessment is based on a 5,000 word mini-dissertation on a subject central to the main obstacles to peace within the personal work-life situation of the student concerned. The course is ideal for those seeking to discover and apply love-based contemporary theological resources to their field and in some exceptional circumstances evidence of parallel life experience may be accepted in place of a relevant first degree.

This is likely to be the last year I will be delivering this course, as my seven year research fellowship is coming to a conclusion, so this is a final opportunity to take on board a unique resource which past students have been very positive, even euphoric about! The course carries a postgraduate certificate of academic achievement and costs £805 (unfortunately £1720 for non-EU students). The initial residential weekend is scheduled for January 19th-21st 2018. The syllabus is attached as a separate blog page (see above) and the link to for enrollment is here: http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/study/postgraduate/postgraduate-courses/political-theology-for-peace-distance-pgcert-of-achievement/ Online registration is now open, and applicants are recommended to begin the process as soon as possible. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions about the course. If you commence the online process, please let me know too.

Posted by: rogermitchell | May 29, 2017

So what for the coming UK general election?

I was invited to be a guest blogger for @nomadpodcast in the run up to the general election. Here’s my take as a disciple of Jesus on where things are at: http://www.nomadpodcast.co.uk/church-empire-politics-love/

Posted by: rogermitchell | April 21, 2017

economic theology or political theology (7)

In Chapter Five of his book The Kingdom and the Glory “The Providential Machine,” Agamben adopts the word archaeology to describe the deep-structural task of exposing the genealogy of political concepts and institutions. As he puts it: “archaeology is a science of signatures (segnatur), and we need to be able to follow the signatures that displace the concepts and orient their interpretation towards different fields” (p. 112). This encapsulates what it is about Agamben’s methodology that I find so helpful. We inhabit a western world  system in which a seemingly opaque constructed imaginary presents itself as unchangeable reality. Unless we can expose the concepts and interpretations of past thought and practice that have brought us to this point there is little hope of finding faith to configure a more loving, kenarchic alternative.

Agamben begins this chapter by explaining why he thinks Foucault failed to follow the signatures properly and as a result inadequately exposed the providential machine of contemporary government. Quoting Foucault’s Security, Territory, Population. Lectures at the College de France 1977-1978 (pp. 234-5), Agamben shows that according to Foucault, the continuum from sovereignty to government was translated from God to men in a ‘political order’ rooted in the ecclesiastical pastorate that was broken for the first time in the sixteenth century. At this point a series of new paradigms, from Copernicus’s and Kepler’s astronomy to Galileo’s physics, from John Ray’s natural history to the Grammar of Port-Royal, demonstrated that God “only rules the world through general, immutable, universal, simple and intelligible laws” and so “does not govern it in the pastoral sense [but] reigns over the world in a sovereign manner through principles.” Agamben however has shown “that the first seed of the division between the Kingdom and the Government is to be found in the Trinitarian oikonomia, which introduces a fracture between being and praxis in the deity himself” back in the first centuries of church history (p. 111).

The current technique of government that Foucault terms biopower is summarised by Agamben on the first page of The Kingdom and the Glory (see Post 1 below) as “the current triumph of economy and government over every other aspect of social life.” This is the commodification of life itself that is the current fulness of capitalism and variously described by Agamben elsewhere as “bare life,” by Walter Benjamin as “mere life” and by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri as “naked life.” In my view this biopower is legitimated par excellence by all the offices, ceremonies, architectures, social symbols, monarchs, aristocrats, celebrities and massively differentiated wage structures that affirm the established western status quo where wealth and status reigns while all manner of so-called democratic government whether relatively good or bad continues. (Which is why, unfortunately, general elections don’t really change things). Agamben, as I read him, is arguing that this legitimation is rooted in the mystified notion of divine providence, itself rooted in the inversion of Paul’s mystery of the oikonomia. This is the bipolar providential machine that drives the western world, not the supposed separation of powers between religious and secular but rather the legitimated separation between the rich establishment and the multitude.

Agamben states: “If the Kingdom and the Government are separated in God by a clear opposition, then no government of the world is actually possible: we would have on the one hand an impotent sovereignty and, on the other, the infinite and chaotic series of particular (and violent) acts of providence” (p. 114). It is the notion of divine providence that attempts to hold together God’s rule as separate but not absolutely divided from his government. Agamben tracks this development of the theology of divine providence, with its differentiation of rule to legitimate the practice of government, via the 3rd century BCE Stoic philosopher Chrysippus’s Peri pronias (On Providence), the late 2nd century Alexander of Aphrodisias’s La Providenza, Plutarch’s treatise On Fate, the 5th century Questions on Providence attributed to Proclus, Boethius’s 6th century De consolatione philosophiae, back to the 5th century bishop Salvian of Marseille’s De gubernatione Dei and finally on to Thomas Aquinas’s De gubernatione mundi. He concludes that “the economic-governmental vocation of contemporary democracies is not something that has happened accidentally, but is a constitutive part of the theological legacy of which they are the depositaries” (p. (143).

In conclusion he sets out seven characteristics of “a kind of ontology of the acts of government.” Briefly put, these can be summarised as i) Government as we experience it in the west has developed from the attempt to reconcile a separation between divine being and behaviour (in my terms caused by assuming God had to be separate from or above incarnation as a result of the subsumption of transcendence by sovereignty); ii) This resulted in a paradoxical ‘Christian’ understanding of government which assumes “an imminent government of the world that is and needs to remain extraneous.” For Agamben this is exemplified in the “great western powers” and particularly the USA “where a country – and even the entire world – is being governed by remaining completely extraneous to it.” In this context the tourist “is the planetary figure of this irreducible extraneousness;” iii) The two separate elements of being and practice, rule and government legitimate each other; iv) In our western system this is all that acts of government are: collateral effect, mutual legitimation that doesn’t really change anything; v) The division of powers is necessary to this mutual legitimation; vi) The ontology of the acts of government is vicarious, each deputises for the other. So there is no substance to power, only an economy or an operation of it; vii) There is some freedom in this in as much as the separation of the first and second causes presupposes the freedom of the governed to act “through the works of the second causes” (pp. 140-141). However this is not a freedom to change the prevailing ontology.

In this way the contemporary western bipolar providential machine of government legitimates the status quo and precludes the good news of a trinitarian incarnational oikonomia and thereby the politics of love. We need an unsubsumed economic and political theology to dismantle this machine.

Posted by: rogermitchell | April 8, 2017

political theology or economic theology (6)

In my second post on this topic I pose the question “Does an unsubsumed oikos paradigm lend itself more to an egalitarian, incarnational approach to social relations than the polis paradigm, or is there an unsubsumed application of the polis paradigm that might be complementary to it?” My reading of Agamben up to this point leads me to conclude that an unsubsumed polis or city paradigm would simply apply a similarly unsubsumed oikos or household paradigm at a city, regional or national level.  This would look like the loving transcendent trinitarian oikos set out in the immanence of incarnation worked out in our homes and cities. Chapter Four of The Kingdom and the Glory, “The Kingdom and the Government,” helps explain why this has proved to be so problematic. The problem is rooted in the bifurcation that has occurred between “the kingdom” and “the government” at least in part as a result of the mystification of the oikonomia.

Agamben begins by introducing the figure of the wounded or mutilated king (roi mehaignié) from the legend of the Grail. He suggests that the figure “contains a kind of anticipation of the modern sovereign who ‘reigns but does not govern’” (p. 69). He then moves to examine the origins and implications of this formula in the early twentieth century discussion between Erik Petersen and Carl Schmitt. While Schmitt had located this separation of kingdom and government in the seventeenth century, Petersen found it in the dawn of Christian theology. Agamben suggests that despite their disagreements, an essential solidarity exists between them. “Both authors are, as a matter of fact, earnest enemies of the formula. Peterson, because it defines the Hellenistic-Judaic theological model that lies at the basis of the political theology he intends to criticise; Schmitt, because it provides a symbol and a key word to the liberal democracy against which he wages his battle” (p. 73). By the way, Hollerich brings clarification to Petersen’s apparent rejection of the polis paradigm when he points out that the kind of political theology which Petersen is against identifies political with monarchical, and is impossible within the context of an egalitarian trinity as revealed in the oikonomia mustērion “now made known” in incarnation. (http://www.politicaltheology.com/blog/michael-hollerich-on-erik-peterson-and-carl-schmitt/)

Agamben traces the genealogy of the separation of kingdom and government through a wide range of sources.  He starts with Numenius who had such an impact on Eusebius of Caesarea, before locating the philosophical paradigm of the separation in Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Quoting Aquinas’s commentary that “the separate good of the universe, which is the first mover, is a greater good than the good of order that is found in the universe,” he identifies the way that Aristotle defines transcendence in terms of separation and autonomy and immanence in terms of order, of the relation of everything with other things (p. 80). He then tracks back to Augustine to affirm that there is no simple separation but “immanent and transcendent order refer back to each other in a paradoxical coincidence which can nevertheless be understood only as a perpetual oikonomia, as a continuous activity of government in the world, one that implies a fracture between being and praxis and, at the same time, tries to heal it” (p.89).

What is important to notice here is that this fracture and paradox is necessary only if the oikonomia is inverted as mysterious but not if it embodies an incarnational plan revealed. So when Agamben returns to Aquinas and the way he develops a theory of providence in his commentary on the pseudepigraphic Liber Aristotelis de expositione bonitatis purae it is very important to keep this in mind. Agamben highlights the way that Aquinas’s theory of providence articulates the relationship between transcendence and immanence, general and particular, on which the machine of the divine government of the world is founded (p. 97). He then gives the historical example of Pope Innocent IV’s decretal Grandi which recognised King Sancho of Portugal’s brother the right to govern while his incapacitated brother held the kingship. “In other words the radical case of the rex inutilis lays bare the twofold structure that defines the governmental machine of the West. Sovereign power is structurally articulated according to two different levels, aspects or polarities. It is at the same time, dignitas and administratio, Kingdom and Government” (p. 99).

It is hard to overestimate the deeply subliminal impact of the separation of kingdom and government on all our thinking. It impacts our expectations of divine help in our personal wellbeing and security, and legitimates the democratic deficit between the promise and reality of good government. The distinction is so normative that it legitimates both totalitarianism and liberal democracy. What is important to remember here is that the theories of providence that set out to resolve such disjunctions and that underlie our contemporary democracies are in turn attempts to work out the separation between kingdom and government that is the consequence of the mystification of the oikonomia. This is the subject of the following chapter, “The Providential Machine” which we will consider in the next post.

Posted by: rogermitchell | March 20, 2017

political theology or economic theology (5)

In chapter three of The Kingdom and the Glory “Being and Acting,” Agamben sets about demonstrating where the inversion of Paul’s “economy of the mystery” into “the mystery of the economy” takes us. It results in a separation between being and doing, principle and behaviour. As Agamben puts it, “distinguishing the substance or the divine nature from its economy amounts to instituting within God a separation between being and acting, substance and praxis” (p. 53).  He rightly, in my view, points to the theological shibboleth of creation ex nihilo as a result of this separation (p.56). He also suggests that the Arian dispute is best understood as a manifestation of it, and not really about chronological precedence or a problem of rank between the Father and the Son but “rather a matter of deciding whether the Son – which is to say, the word and praxis of God – is founded in the Father or whether he is, like him, without principle, anarchos, that is, ungrounded” (p. 57).

Agamben goes on to show that “the fracture between being and praxis is marked in the language of the Fathers by the terminological opposition between theology and oikonomia” (p. 60).  He cites first Eusebius of Caesarea and then the Cappadocians, particularly Gregory of Nazianzus, as examples of two modes of oikonomia in relation to Christ. As I have pointed out in Church Gospel and Empire, for Eusebius this meant downplaying the gospel testimony to the point that he barely mentions it in preference to a Christology rooted in imperial sovereignty. For Gregory, theology refers to the application of “lofty names to the divinity, and to that nature in Him which is superior to passions and incorporeal” whereas economy means “all humble names to the composite condition of Him who for your sakes emptied Himself and was Incarnate” (p. 61).

Agamben concludes that this Patristic distinction continues to impact contemporary theology in terms of the opposition between an immanent and an economic trinity. On the one hand is the mysterious trinitarian Godhead, on the other is the loving relational trinity that extends egalitarian love and justice into the world through creation and redemption. A tension that Agamben tellingly suggests reduces God’s providential government of the world to a kind of bipolar machine (p. 62). Understanding this, I suggest, is highly relevant right now and lies behind the current so-called “post-truth” era where governmental will and authority are separated from personal and corporate ethics.  If knowledge is necessarily relational, then character and action are integral. If, however, the being of a person is separable from their actions, then truth is uncertain.

My thesis indicates that the empire assumption subsumed our theological understanding of divine being. Agamben traces the way in which oikonomia came to incorporate the same subsumption via the inversion of “the economics of the mystery” into “the mystery of economics.” So instead of the oikonomia revealing the nature of the God who acted well, a separation is introduced whereby a God beyond morality does good rather than is good. I emphasise again that one of the reasons that people find it hard to grasp the importance of this is that they have long assumed a mysterious sovereign God who does whatever he wants and whose ethics are secondary to his power. God, apparently by definition, does what he wants rather than necessarily acts out of love. It seems to me that resolving this disjunction is one of the most urgent tasks of contemporary theology. This is why I find Thomas Jay Oord’s work so attractive. His insistence on connecting God’s being and acting in terms of essential kenosis goes a long way towards accomplishing this.

Posted by: rogermitchell | March 18, 2017

political theology or economic theology (4)

Why am I once again immersed in Agamben before getting down to writing on the politics of love?

Before I go further with these posts and dig into the division between being and acting that Agamben traces in the story of the oikos and its oikonomia in the background to western thought and behaviour, I want to explain why I am doing this. Why is this important? It is because Agamben grasps the deep-structural concepts that underlie our language, understanding and actions and exposes their roots. I am convinced that love is basic to everything, and that a society based on it is not only possible, but essential for the overall wellbeing of the human race. However this is not obvious to most people, or if it is obvious it is nevertheless generally regarded as not possible. I believe that this is because we take for granted utterly basic assumptions about both social and political relationships. It is these assumptions that are the greatest obstacles to our communication. Paradoxically, we need a particular genre and vocabulary to uncover these assumptions. The combination of the covert assumptions and technical vocabulary make these most important of all realities quite difficult to get your head round. But we absolutely must attempt it if we are to recover and release the language and behaviour of love.

The core insight of my research is the recognition that the most significant building blocks of human life in our western world, what I call the deep structures, have been subsumed by unhelpful assumptions about the nature of authority and the shape of organisation. These assumptions suppose that self-orientated and hierarchical relationships on the basis of power, money and gender are necessary to the authority of government and the organisation of households. These assumptions displace and even exclude the possibility of love functioning as the fullness of authority and the proper shape of organisation. Two of the key words associated with authority and organisation are polis associated with city, and oikos associated with household.  So this is why Agamben’s work on their background and genealogy is so important. The aim of these posts is to arrive at a point where the city and the household are restored as a frame for outworking the way of love. So for those of you who are bothering to attempt to follow my exegesis of Agamben, thank you, and please engage as far as you are willing and able, because where we are heading is, I fully believe, where the zeitgeist, the future, the essential kenosis, the kenarchy at the heart of everything is taking us.

So your engagement, interaction and comments are very welcome.

Posted by: rogermitchell | March 15, 2017

political theology or economic theology(3)

Agamben argues that the concept of oikonomia in its basic pre-dogmatic, pre-theological formulation as “praxis ordered for a purpose” gradually disappeared in early church teaching (The Kingdom and the Glory p. 30).  He writes “It is the strategic operator that, before the elaboration of an appropriate philosophical vocabulary … allows a temporary reconciliation of the trinity within the divine unity”(p. 36). Temporary, because with what Agamben describes as “the Nicene-Constantinopolitan dogmatics” and I refer to as the fall of the church, “the oikonomia will gradually disappear from the Trinitarian vocabulary, and will be preserved only in that of the history of salvation” (p. 36).  My argument in Church, Gospel and Empire is that this ‘fall’ was the occasion when subsumption came to a head, and theology itself emerged as the carrier of an imperially compromised polis. What I understand from Agamben here is that this same subsumption was experienced by the concept of the oikonomia and from then theology mystified both politics and economics.

It is interesting to note that whereas the loss of the simplicity of incarnation in the inversion of ‘true’ and ‘mysterious’ in relation to the body of Christ happened a millennia after the fall of the church, the inversion of ‘the economy of the mystery’ and ‘the mystery of the economy’ paved the way for it. This Agamben shows in his careful exegesis of the second century writings of Tertullian and Hippolytus of Rome. As he summarises, “There is no economy of the mystery, that is, an activity aimed at fulfilling and revealing the divine mystery; it is the very ‘pragmateia,’ the very divine praxis, that is mysterious” (p. 39). This resulted in the mystification of the trinity. Instead of trinity being a simple outcome of the mystery hidden in God being made known, it is mystified in such a way that sovereignty can remain within it (p. 42). This is something that I draw on Beatrice to argue, also in Church, Gospel ad Empire (p. 51).

From Nicaea on, the trinity consists in a theological formulation mystified by sovereignty and oikonomia was no longer seen to refer to the pragmatics of how the loving divine household is shared with the body of humanity.  Agamben cites Clement to show how it came to refer instead to the mysterious machinations of divine providence in history (p. 44). Highlighting Clement’s conjunction of oikonomia and providence (pronoia) Agamben points out that Clement “initiates the process that will lead to the progressive constitution of the duality of theology and economy, the nature of God and his historical action” (p. 48). This he goes on to explore in chapter three “Being and Acting.”  Suffice it to say here, that this rupture is the result of mystifying the pragmatics of God’s love with the baggage of subsumed sovereignty and justified all manner of unloving acts in his name. Agamben quotes Photius to show that by the sixth and seventh centuries oikonomia is already beginning to take on the meaning of Agamben’s famous ‘exception,’ (p. 49) the hidden conditions in which law and history can be suspended in order for the covert principle of sovereign power to be upheld.

The relevance of all this for today, in our postsecular world, is to call for an unsubsumed paradigm of oikos to be aligned with an unsubsumed paradigm of polis. Both economics and politics need to be recovered from the centuries of empire and set free from the delusion that overall wellbeing comes through sovereignty.  Only a reconfigured, incarnational, economic and political theology can help us achieve this.

Posted by: rogermitchell | March 8, 2017

political theology or economic theology (2)

Mike Love’s comment on the previous post shows how prevailing the paradigms of oikos and polis are. He points out from his reading of Warren Magnusson’s Politics of Urbanism: Seeing Like a City that Magnusson suggests the oikos as the paradigm within which human relatedness can flourish peaceably, rather than the polis, which he sees as gendered and prone to war. But it sounds like Magnusson recognises that there is an unhelpful use of oikos as well as a positive one: “In turn the economy cannot be human centred and autonomous but must be seen within the wider ecology of the whole of creation.” This seems to be a recognition that there is a way of seeing the economy that is, in my terms, “subsumed by sovereignty,” and remains in tandem with the polis paradigm. I haven’t read Magnusson and hopefully Mike can give us some more insight into this from his own reading.

If there is an oikos paradigm or a set within it that carries the same peace through sovereignty assumption as the polis paradigm, then is not surprising that it can give rise to an imperial biopolitics. As I quoted in the previous post, Agamben describes this as “the current triumph of economy and government over every other aspect of social life.” Agamben would appear to underline this further in the initial paragraphs of “The Mystery of the Economy” (chapter two of The Kingdom and the Glory). Here he points out that both Aristotle and Xenophon recognise the distinction between the house and the city. Quoting both Aristotle’s Oeconomica and Politics, where the distinction is already obvious, and Xenophon’s Oeconomicus, he distinguishes between the polis which is the sphere of the politician and the king, and the oikos which are the sphere of the house and family.

However, Agamben emphasises that the oikos for Aristotle and Xenophon and their contemporaries is no modern single or extended family group, “but a complex organism.” Aristotle divides this into three groups: “‘despotic’ relations between masters and slaves (which usually include management of a farming business of substantial dimensions); ‘paternal’ relations between parents and children; ‘gamic’ relations between husband and wife.” While these relations are distinct from the legal governmental relations assigned to the polis, they have, as Xenophon clearly defines, an administrative nature that has to do “first and foremost, with their ordered arrangement” (Agamben, The Kingdom and the Glory, pp. 17-18). What is clear here is that the oikos paradigm, while distinct from the polis paradigm, carries the same hierarchical assumptions.

It follows that polis and oikos are part of the same wider subsumption of thinking about sociopolitical relationships by what I call “the peace through sovereignty” model. This makes Paul, when read through an incarnational lens, radically counterpolitical to what’s come before. An oikos mystified by assumptions about despotic relationships, hierarchy, paternalism, and the like is immanently de-mystified by the kenarchy of Jesus and Paul, the “oikonomia mustērion” now made known (Eph 3:9) where imperial relationships between slaves and masters, parents and children and husbands and wives are subverted by love.

So for further discussion, as we proceed, does an unsubsumed oikos paradigm lend itself more to an egalitarian, incarnational approach to social relations than the polis paradigm, or is there an unsubsumed application of the polis paradigm that might be complementary to it?

More on Agamben’s insights on this, particularly in relation to early theological formulations of the trinity, over the coming days…

Posted by: rogermitchell | March 7, 2017

political theology or economic theology (1)

Preparatory to writing on the politics of love, I’m currently immersed in Giorgio Agamben’s The Kingdom and the Glory. As is generally my experience with getting my heart and head around his writing, I keep finding the need to return to the beginning. This is decidedly easier with his shorter works, indeed it is an advantage for the reader that I have tried to follow with my own shorter books. Anyway, this to explain why I am back on page one. And Agamben himself can hardly complain about being exegeted on the basis of his first page when his The Time That Remains is proffered as an exposition of Paul’s epistle to the Romans and is likewise focused on Paul’s initial statements in Romans chapter one!

Agamben proposes two paradigms underlying “the global arrangement of Western society”. The first he characterises as political theology “which founds the transcendence of sovereign power on the single God” and the second as economic theology, “which replaces this transcendence with the idea of an oikonomia, conceived as an immanent ordering – domestic and not political in a strict sense – of both divine and human life.” He sees political philosophy and the sovereignty of modernity as deriving from the first paradigm and modern biopolitics (“the current triumph of economy and government over every other aspect of social life”) as deriving from the second (Agamben, The Kingdom and the Glory, p. 1.)

Thus far my work has regarded the second of these paradigms as continuous with the first, and the shift from the first to the second as the result of rejecting a subsumed transcendence without the sovereignty by which it was subsumed. I therefore regard biopower as the consequence of applying sovereignty to the immanent secular sphere while the cultural trappings that surrounded premodern transcendence continue to affirm sovereignty but without any counterpolitical transcendent authority. I can find no reason to backtrack on this. But, as ever, I continue to find Agamben a fertile source for insight into the genealogy of our contemporary crisis.

My question as I explore his thesis is what can we learn from his proposal of two paradigms in this way? For I also propose two historical paradigms, which I have characterised as “peace through sovereignty” and “peace through kenarchy.” So of particular interest to me is the possibility that economic theology can be aligned with what I have called the love stream, but that biopolitics regarded as the triumph of economy and government properly belongs with the first paradigm, because government is still viewed as the exercise of sovereign power.

However, I do think that Agamben is onto something in his exposure of the inversion of what Paul terms “the economics of the mystery” in Eph 3:9  into “the mystery of the economy.” My hunch is that this is similar in impact to the 12th century inversion of the corpus verum and corpus mysticum exposed by Henri de Lubacs. Just as the latter allowed for the mystification of transcendence away from the gospel testimony of Jesus and his body, so this earlier inversion paved the way for the mystification of the loving this-worldly transcendence encapsulated in Jesus’ prayer “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” As a result the practical outworking of Jesus’ economic theology has been mystified by all manner of ceremonial and imperial glory to the exclusion of the glory of love.

More to follow….

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