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…



  1. Reblogged this on hungarywolf.

  2. Again, thanks for the reblog.

  3. I wonder if the economics of mystery and context of the Ehpesians 3 v 9 tale us beyond polis and oikos towards sobornost which I stumbled on when writing Here Be Dragons and using Ephesians around the mission/church dualism but blogged about here.

    • I like this. Particularly “following the mission dei is that the journey at times be with non-believers (who may have opposing ideas, antithesis), but whose voice, culture and context help us emancipate the church from what is has become and unfold a new of being as we journey together towards a life in all its fullness, that sobornost affirms.” Sue and I were talking over breakfast this morning about the need for “the other” for real understanding. Agamben’s development of Paul’s word “katargesis” that I refer to elsewhere on this blog plays a similar role, and rescues Hegel’s dialectic from the simple and I think unhelpful binaries that Francis Schaeffer critiqued rather negatively. It’s not so much a synthesis of opposites but genuinely new understanding as the result of genuine listening to difference that we need.

      • In Paul’s writing in Ephesians 5 is he pointing towards a movement from both polis and oikos to something more profound, using the metaphor of oikos and taking us beyond the binaries of both oikos and polis in v 32

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