The following section of my book The Fall of the Church (Wipf & Stock 2013) summarizes the conclusions of my research set out in more detail in my book Church, Gospel and Empire: How the Politics of Sovereignty Impregnated the West (Wipf & Stock 2011). I make five points which are all playing out in front of our eyes. Given that the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation coincides with Brexit and Donald Trump, the failure of the Reformation to truly change things and reverse the Constantinian sovereignty delusion is written large. The inability of the nation state to safeguard the poor and marginalized is exposed for all to see and the fact that fascism and so-called liberal representative democracy are on the same political spectrum is exemplified by the extremes of Brexit and Donald Trump’s America. Neither state communism nor global capitalism can help us now and the real hope for future peace is neither a partnership in sovereignty nor the misguided secular attempt to separate sovereignty from transcendence but the rediscovery of a politics based on a radical transcendence free from sovereign power. This is what I wrote in 2013:
“The simple narrative of the subsumption, or colonization, of transcendence by sovereignty that I am putting forward here, strikes at the heart of all the favored shibboleths surrounding the four defining events of modern Western history referred to above. It also challenges what I perceive to be the fifth, newly emerging one.
To begin with it sets aside the view that the Protestant Reformation brought about a fundamental reform of the Western church and society. While recognizing that the Reformation introduced many to a direct experience of God and made significant inroads into the absolute politics of the sovereign hierarchies of church and empire, this soon transitioned into new forms of hierarchical power represented by the sovereignty of the People, the nation state, and the new capitalism that undergirded it.
Secondly, instead of viewing the nation state and its supposed separation of church and state as a positive development, it sees the nation state as the dependent child of the partnership of church and empire. From this perspective the assumption that the Western democratic nation state upholds the separation of politics and religion is an unjustifiable deception.
Thirdly, rather than regarding the Second World War as a defining fight between an evil fascist empire and a now free West, it contends that the difference between Nazi Germany and the previous empires of Europe was only one of degree. It asserts that its mistake was to attempt the same kind of colonial superiority in the homelands of Europe that the previous European empires had exercised in the more distant continents of Africa, Australasia, and America. Fascism and so-called liberal representative democracy are on the same political spectrum as each other.
Fourthly, it makes the same point about communism and capitalism and suggests that the only fundamental difference between communism and capitalism is that one relies on a socialist form of sovereign power whereas the other relies on a capitalist form. Hence it is to be expected that the collapse of communism in the East, far from vindicating the superiority of the capitalist system of the West, prefigures its inability to deliver the still-expected peace and its own rapid and inevitable decomposition.
Finally it challenges the postmodern insistence that a total break has occurred between the modern world of certainty and moral absolutes and the postmodern world of relativism and pluralism. Based on their opinion that the former disciplinary society was dependent on an enduring transcendence for its operation, Foucault and others with him tried to protect postmodernity from any resurgence of the oppression of Christendom while retaining some hope for a coming peace. Actually the insight and the hope of prophetic thinkers like Foucault and the neo-Marxists could be strengthened by the recognition that biopower is simply part of the genealogy of church and sovereignty. Once we recognize that the subsumed version of the salvation story has consolidated the idea that sovereignty must be bought at the cost of violent victimhood for there to be peace, then it is not hard to see how the nation state ends up devouring itself and its people in order to sustain its sovereignty. As Foucault explains, human life, or biopower, has become the raw material of the machine that drives the Western political system.
From this standpoint it is possible to see that our contemporary conundrum is more than the result of losing Jesus’ loving kenotic lordship, forming a consequential conflictual partnership in sovereignty, and then blaming each other for the destructive fall out. It also presents contemporary evidence of the final destination of the pursuit of sovereignty. Instead of a place of peace, sovereignty reduces humanity to the fodder of the Western capitalist system. Here, the only real value of human life is to supply the circular routine of feeding the sovereignty that oppresses it, and in order to preserve the domination system, I become its victim. The marginalization and powerlessness felt by Christians and secularists alike is coming neither from transcendence nor the fear of it but from the age-old belief that human beings need sovereign power to fulfill their present and future hope for peace. It is a false hope consolidated in the subsumption of transcendence by sovereignty, its embrace by the church, the West’s subsequent narrative of domination, and its various attempts to escape its oppression until its final descent into biopower. It is the message of this book that the real hope for future peace is neither a partnership in sovereignty nor the misguided attempt to separate sovereignty from transcendence but the rediscovery of a transcendence free from sovereign power.”
If you’ve not read The Fall of the Church yet, you can get it by emailing me at email@example.com or from Amazon.com if you are in North America https://www.amazon.com/Fall-Church-Roger-Haydon-Mitchell/dp/162032928X. If you are in the UK you can get it from Amazon.co.uk https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/cka/Fall-Church-Roger-Haydon-Mitchell/162032928X