Political theology

My first project, issuing in a series of essays, pertained to Carl Schmitt's claim, "All the concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological ideas," arguing for its coherence and drawing out its implications by using a particular historical case.  

My article “The General Will Beyond Rousseau” develops a thoroughgoing homology between Malebranche’s justification of the authority of the Church, in the Entretiens sur la métaphysique et sur la religion (1688), and Sieyès’ justification of the authority of the National Assembly, in his speeches on the floor of that body (1789), in order to defend a version of Schmitt's claim against the critique of Hans Blumenberg.

In another piece (“Permutations of the Theological-Political Analogy: Political Voluntarism, ‘Transfer,’ and Secularization”) I take up the Malebranche-Sieyès case again, considering the voluntarist model of sovereignty evinced in Sieyès and of interest to Schmitt. This model of political sovereignty (indicative of Malebranche's mid-career writing) is constructed on analogy with God's wholly unconstrained will; there is no norm beyond the volonté générale of France by which its legitimacy might be measured. In the later Malebranche, by contrast, we see a model of sovereignty according to which both God's willings and political sovereignty are legitimized with reference to a transcendent order of justice (for Malebranche, this order of justice derives from the relationships between God's perfections). In this instance, there is no 'political theology' (understood in the Schmittian sense) but only a 'theological politics.' That is to say, Schmitt's claim, in Political Theology, depends on a pre-existing distinction between ‘politics’ and ‘theology'--a distinction we generally associate with the secularization theory that consists in 'functional differentiation.'

In an invited contribution to a special issue of Telos ("Reimagining the Public Sphere"), I used Malebranche's ecclesiology to make sense of idiosyncrasies of Schmitt’s theory of political representation that his commentators in political and literary theory have tended to elide. I argue that Schmitt's frustration with the impossibility of realizing Malebranche's model of representation, in the modern era, drove him to tragedy. In Schmitt's late Hamlet or Hecuba, he flips Malebranche's incarnationist model of sovereignty on its head, constituting the audience and actors alike as representing before God. 

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I have designed a seminar entitled "What is Political Theology?" that I would love to teach to graduate students.