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….


  1. I have just finished reading Warren Magnusson’s Politics of Urbanism:Seeing Like a City in which he too 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. In turn the economy cannot be human centred and autonomous but must be seen within the wider ecology of the whole of creation. ‘Economy and ecology offer twin challenges to politics’ (p.128-129).

    • Thanks Mike, I’ve picked this up in the second post, above.

  2. Reblogged this on hungarywolf.

    • Thanks for the re-blog. That’s always encouraging!

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