Political Theory and the Modern State


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For many, political theology is synonymous with Carl Schmitt.

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His Political Theology is a touchstone and Agamben frequently engages with Schmitt. However, as Schmitt himself points out, political theology has its origins in anarchism.


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Early 19th century anarchists were convinced that, with the killing of the French king in the Revolution, only half of the job was done. Political theology is a method of exorcism: identify the continuing presence of theological concepts in politics and therewith hold them up to withering critical appraisal.

Agamben is the latest in a long line of anarchists attempting this exorcism. Schmitt makes it perfectly clear that his greatest adversaries are anarchists and, of course, his task of political theology is to reify theology in politics. Pace Niall Ferguson, Agamben argues that the greatest political problem facing the West is the West itself. The basic drive of anarchist politics is toward collective solidarity without the state.

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Anarchists aim not for self-management, exactly, but certainly for micro groups to organize and manage themselves without government regulation and monitoring. Anarchists distinguish themselves from libertarians by stressing, not the self, but the group, and separate themselves from the Catholic ideal of subsidiarity by denying in principle that the state can worthily assist those in genuine need or deal justly in matters of the common good.

The state engages in what Agamben calls biopolitics. In this he follows French historian and theorist, Michel Foucault, and claims that the modern history of the West has been the stripping away of all institutions able to decentralize, diffuse, and resist power. On one side, the state, on the other, populations stripped bare—headless bodies, so to say, related to one another through management metrics.

The modern history of the West has been percolating since the Middle Ages.

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Christian theology posited a God both immutable and providential: a transcendent sovereign God who nonetheless has a care for every hair on every head, as the Bible says. How is it possible to mediate these two poles of the divine? In Greek, angelic management of human life is called oikonomia ; oikos in Greek being the name for the economics of the household. In the Christian theology of providence, or economy, managing the domestic life of the household became the task of the angels and, once secularized, the task of the state God administrators angels of the modern economy.

The household — its income, sexuality, education, health and welfare — is laid bare before the gaze of the state administrator. Beyond the veil, the reality is that each and every family member is exposed to the total and lethal power of the monitoring state. The theology that needs to be exorcised by the method of political theology is not Islam but a subtler and more wide-ranging effort of power, the angelology that gifted us the administrative and monitoring state.

As an analysis of conceptual history, political theology is strong on dramatic reversals of thought and light on concrete proposals.


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The Kurdistan Workers Party PPK has an anarchist faction in Northern Syria with effective control over an area the size of Connecticut where about five million people reside. The territory is divided into self-managing municipal assemblies. Anarchist, feminist, and environmental principles shape and link these assemblies in a defense alliance. What might this mean for the established polities of the West? The contradiction at the heart of contemporary Western political thought is that the state as domestic provider ushers in civil war. Sign in. Not registered?

Sign up. Publications Pages Publications Pages. Search my Subject Specializations: Select Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. More This book develops a new model of the separation of powers theory for the administrative state. Authors Affiliations are at time of print publication. Print Save Cite Email Share. Show Summary Details. Subscriber Login Email Address.

Political Theory and the Modern State by David Held

Library Card. View: no detail some detail full detail. The Theory in Action. End Matter Selected Bibliography Index.

Political Theory and the Modern State Political Theory and the Modern State
Political Theory and the Modern State Political Theory and the Modern State
Political Theory and the Modern State Political Theory and the Modern State
Political Theory and the Modern State Political Theory and the Modern State
Political Theory and the Modern State Political Theory and the Modern State
Political Theory and the Modern State Political Theory and the Modern State

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