Against Schmitt's Political Theology, Prometheus or Pandora? Hans Blumenberg and Walter Benjamin as Political Theologians

As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, Robert Wyllie looks at Richard Faber’s “The Rejection of Political Theology: A Critique of Hans Blumenberg,” from Telos 72 (Summer 1987).

In “The Rejection of Political Theology: A Critique of Hans Blumenberg,” Richard Faber reconstructs two alternatives to Carl Schmitt’s political theology. Faber draws the first alternative from Hans Blumenberg. Blumenberg, whose later work explores how metaphor orients thought, proposes a “polytheistic” alternative to “monotheistic” political theology. Polytheism is an early modern metaphor for plural sovereignty, underlying the checks and balances of liberalism. Sympathetically, Blumenberg believes a polytheistic political theology turns away from Schmitt’s “monotheistic” picture of sovereignty where one sovereign decides the state of exception. After expositing Blumenberg’s polytheistic political theology, Faber rejects it. Instead, he turns to Walter Benjamin’s eschatological political theology. Monotheists have been promised an apocalypse, a violent divine intervention, to restore justice in the future. Unlike the Schmittian state of exception, this hoped-for intervention would ground no new legal constitution. Benjamin radicalizes the state of exception into the “pure violence” of a Marxist revolution aimed at destroying the political state altogether.

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