The Architectonics of Hope: Political Theology in Carl Schmitt and Johann Baptist Metz

Kyle Gingerich Hiebert’s “The Architectonics of Hope: Apocalyptic Convergences and Constellations of Violence in Carl Schmitt and Johann Baptist Metz” appears in Telos 160 (Fall 2012). Read the full version online at the Telos Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue here.

This essay traces the apocalyptic re-emergence of political theology in late modernity in the work of the jurist Carl Schmitt and the theologian Johann Baptist Metz. Broadly speaking, the intellectual fault line between these two German Catholics can be provisionally drawn with reference to Hegel. On the one hand, Schmitt¹s lineage can be traced back through the conservative Catholic political philosophers of the counterrevolution (Bonald, de Maistre, and Cortés) to what amounts to, in very broad strokes, a political theology of the Hegelian Right. On the other hand, Metz¹s sympathies in his development of the new political theology clearly lie with the revisionary Marxists of the Frankfurt School (Adorno, Benjamin, and Bloch), which binds his intellectual heritage, again in very broad strokes, to the Hegelian Left. This way of putting the matter quite easily lends itself to interpretations that argue the relationship between Schmitt and Metz is straightforwardly oppositional. While perhaps conceptually useful, I argue that any easy conservative/critical dichotomy here obscures as much as it illuminates because it proffers too undifferentiated an account of the interrelationship between Schmitt and Metz. Alternatively, I suggest that the apocalyptic tone that infuses their respective accounts of political theology is the most adequate key for understanding how they function as different expressions of what I call an architectonics of hope; a reconfiguration of political theology that is structural in nature, animated by a thoroughly negative theological anthropology and that tragically acquiesces to the ongoing necessity of violence. In the end, then, Schmitt and Metz stand much closer to each other than currently realized.

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On Hobbes, Badiou, and the State

Geoffrey Holsclaw’s “At a Distance to the State: On the Politics of Hobbes and Badiou” appears in Telos 160 (Fall 2012). Read the full version online at the Telos Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue here.

Amid the contested status of the State, juxtaposing the political thought of Thomas Hobbes and Alain Badiou will facilitate a renewed questioning of the State itself. Hobbes stands near the beginning of the tradition of those using “State” as a term for the impersonal form of political authority between ruler and ruled, understanding politics as culminating in the State. Badiou, on the other hand, while assuming the basic conviction of the impersonal nature of the State, theorizes a space for politics at a distance to the State. This encounter is promising not only because of their differences, but because of their similarities. Both take mathematics as the key to their philosophical method. Both envision the primary situation as a tumultuous “multitude” or “multiplicity.” And both understand politics as the creation of a “One.” Yet their overriding difference is manifest in the position of the State in relation to the production of the One, and therefore politics itself. For Hobbes, politics culminates in the formation of the One within the State, or rather, as the State. For Badiou, politics occurs as the pronouncement of a One at a distance to the State. After showing how Badiou moves through and beyond Hobbes, this essay explores the upshot of Badiou’s understanding of politics in relation to other political theories, particularly how recent proposals from within a pragmatist-Hegelian framework hold a hidden alliance with Hobbesian contract theory.

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Žižek, Subjectivity, and the Risk Pool

Kevin S. Amidon and Zachary Gray Sanderson’s “On Subjectivity and the Risk Pool; or, Žižek’s Lacuna” appears in Telos 160 (Fall 2012). Read the full version online at the Telos Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue here.

In his In Defense of Lost Causes, Slavoj Žižek poses more than a few heavy-gauge questions. Foremost among them: “The only true question today is: do we endorse this ‘naturalization’ of capitalism, or does contemporary global capitalism contain antagonisms which are sufficiently strong to prevent its infinite reproduction?” Žižek’s analysis of this question, however, seems to us to be missing a crucial element. Where Žižek seems to posit a kind of reconvergence of the classical autonomous subject of the (neo-)liberal (and Frankfurt School) traditions with the class-based vocabulary of more radical Marxist and Lacanian analyses, we see another layer: the subject under the condition of the risk pool. The risk pool, protean and ubiquitous in today’s political economy, takes form in those meta-structures of institutionalized financial, political, and medical (i.e. bio-political) insurance and quasi-insurance that do not so much control the subject’s spheres of activity as regulate them. The (voluntarily or involuntarily) risk-pooled human being is thus in many ways neither subject nor class. She is always both, and navigating always between them in the sphere of financially and actuarially mediated risk. Such navigation in many ways evacuates the forms of political agency posited in both liberal and Marxist traditions, and focuses the individual centrally on the problem of uncertainty. Žižek’s complex analyses of topics as diverse as terrorism and Christianity approach reflections like these, but end where they must in fact begin.

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Carl Schmitt in China

Qi Zheng’s “Carl Schmitt in China” appears in Telos 160 (Fall 2012). Read the full version online at the Telos Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue here.

This essay explores the justification for studying Schmitt’s theory in China. It reveals the reasons why political philosophers who are interested in philosophical contributions to practical life should consider Schmitt’s theory as relevant for China. The first and second sections separately explore the two different schools of the critique of Schmitt in China. One school criticizes Schmitt either as a fascist theorist or a political philosopher whose theory is uncomfortably similar to the theory of Mao’s that directly produced the Great Cultural Revolution. I define this school as advancing a strong critique of Schmitt. The other school advances a weak critique of Schmitt. The weak critics aim to demonstrate a complicated relationship between Schmitt’s theory, liberalism and Chinese liberalism. On the one hand, they usually acknowledge the significance of Schmitt’s theory for showing the importance of the role of a strong state that is greatly ignored by Chinese liberalism. On the other hand, they criticize Schmitt for underestimating the ability of liberalism to build a strong state. In contrast to these two schools of Chinese criticism of Schmitt, the third and fourth sections of this essay provide a justification for studying Schmitt’s political theory in the current Chinese context by analyzing the inability of Chinese liberalism to provide the theoretical resources to deal with real political problems faced by China today.

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Adorno's Aesthetic Theory and the Message in a Bottle

James Hellings’s “Messages in a Bottle and Other Things Lost to the Sea: The Other Side of Critical Theory or a Reevaluation of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory” appears in Telos 160 (Fall 2012). Read the full version online at the Telos Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue here.

Drawing on a range of modern and contemporary works of art and literature (Edgar Allan Poe, Caspar David Friedrich, Bas Jan Ader, Tacita Dean), this essay seeks to exaggerate the aesthetic side of Adorno’s critical theory, re-evaluating the latter through a detailed analysis of the image of messages in a bottle. In overturning and displacing the critical genealogy of this image and in anchoring it to the construction of Adorno’s aesthetic and the work of art, I challenge the so-called “prevalent view” that transforms Adorno’s image into a pejorative logo for his alleged withdrawal into political quietism, pessimism, and resignation: a “strategy of hibernation.” Neither the critical theorists nor the activist critics of the Frankfurt School, I argue, have exclusivity over the image of messages in a bottle. If art is “the surviving message of despair from the shipwrecked,” then the work of art in Adorno’s aesthetics best expresses the paradox of engagement through disengagement, which itself translates Adorno’s standpoint on social praxis. Art turns socio-political, as with Friedrich’s Rückenfiguren, by turning away. Adorno valued radical new art for its distancing effect, for its great refusal, for becoming society’s Other. Art works well when complex antagonistic fragments crystallize into a force field, confronting, critiquing, and transforming the damaged life of society. Art, like the bottle of messages, is a container for truth and hope addressed to imaginary witnesses of an uncertain future, sent in spite of the aggressive indifference of the world, and aesthetics becomes, here at least, the privileged other of critical theory.

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Giorgio Agamben and the Ambiguity of the Sacred

Robbie Duschinsky’s “Pure and Impure in the Philosophy of Giorgio Agamben” appears in Telos 160 (Fall 2012). Read the full version online at the Telos Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue here.

The issue of the “ambiguity of the sacred” plays a significant role in Giorgio Agamben’s thought. Both the importance of the pure and impure to Agamben, and the nature of his theory of this issue, are revealed more clearly in his recent text Il Sacramento del Linguaggio. In contrast to functionalist explanations of themes of purity and impurity as an expression and affirmation of the social order (e.g., Emile Durkheim, Mary Douglas), Agamben considers purity and impurity as essentializing discourses. They contribute to the establishment of a transcendent but empty ideal, as the mandate for the social and political governance of individuals. In the course of this analysis, Agamben offers many philosophical reflections on purity and impurity that will be of note to researchers across the social sciences and humanities.

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