Friday, May 5, 2017

Schmitt as a Starting Point for Political Theology

I posted these points on MereOrthodoxy, in response to the six varieties of political theology available for Christians in the US. I thought the list was ham-fisted and unjust to numerous positions. However, if one wants to address political theology, one must read Carl Schmitt. He definitely sets the stage for thinking about these issues, even if he is not all comprehensive. His ideas are clouds and shadows that hang around, and must be addressed if this new fascination with political theology will generate any light, rather than self-indulgent heat. Here are the points for consideration:


1) Schmitt's assertion that all secular political categories were originally theological is crucial. For Schmitt, this revolved around the question of the exception, or the jurdical-political miracle. For him, a hall mark of Liberalism's jurisprudence is the idea that the law can be a self-contained order. In this reading, a constitution, and subsequent laws, functions as the canopy under which all governance takes place. There are no exceptions, fulfilling, for Schmitt, the Deist's theological idea that the world is a well-ordered clock, which merely goes forward according to the laws established by God. There is no need for intervention. It is this question of the exception which helps consider, and determine, how we think about our political order. As it were, the exception, or lack thereof, proves the rule.

2) Schmitt, while reminiscent, believed the figure of the monarch, particularly the early modern baroque one, was gone. While monarchs still existed, they had lost all credibility, literally. They no longer commanded the theo-political imagination, people did not believe in the power of kings. For Schmitt, this meant that the only proper political-theology that was thinkable in the modern world was that of the dictator. Schmitt was a pretty rabid supporter of President Hindenburg, and looked down on the Nazis, but he appreciated Hitler's decisiveness when he declared a state of emergency and destroyed his enemies who were political subversives to the Nazi infestation of the Weimar State (which was never abolished, only suspended). Now, there is a lot of spook around the word Dictator, and it does not mean totalitarian, but it is a reality that all post-liberals (with the exception of the Radical Anabaptist category) have to wrestle with, especially Catholic Integrationists. What governmental figure can bear the weight of Modernity's Demythologizing program, which did not banish myth but re-placed it elsewhere. The bodies of Charles I, Louis XVI and Nicholas II reveal a royalty that has been drained of its mytho-poetic status. Schmitt confronts us with the question of what that would be.

3) In a follow-up work, Schmitt enters into a debate with Erich Petersen over the nature of Catholic theology. Petersen, on one side, articulated a City of God Augustinian approach, saying that true Christianity banishes political theology, and it is manifest in Augustine's triumph over Eusebeius of Caesarea's paens to Constantine. He accuses Schmitt of being neo-Eusebeian, which the latter takes as a complement. These debates, perhaps as helpfully signaled by Peter Leithart's mediocre book, might helpfully circle around the figure of Constantine. How one makes sense of him, whether with Eusebian praise (or fawning), Augustinian cold distance, or the legendary Waldensian retreat to the woodlands at the corrupt bargain between Constantine and Sylvester, might be a way to address these questions, at least in theory.

If one wants to talk about political theology, Schmitt is the elephant in the room who must be addressed.

4 comments:

  1. since there was no sign of anything like this stuff you have here in any comments when I visited the Mere Orthodoxy post that seems to be in question I can only guess that someone may have moderated those comments out of existence.

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    1. The first time it was deleted, I emailed them thinking it was moderated. Matt told me it might've been a glitch, so I reposted it. After getting deleted a second time, I gave up and decided to repost it here.

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  2. They deleted a couple of my comments in response to a gushing number on Roger Scruton that I figure got deleted because they just didn't like what I had to say about Scruton's approach to musicology. I consider myself a moderately conservative sort in a lot of ways but I feel like there's a difference between conservative and reactionary and SCruton, I think, falls more squarely along reactionary lines. There is absolutely no good reason I can think of why I shouldn't think the Western musical canon can't include Stevie Wonder and Scott Joplin and Armstrong and Ellington alongside Bach, Haydn, Brahms, and even Stravinsky and micrtonality and, yeah, even selections of John Cage. But making this kind of case for why conservatives should not e so quick to embrace SCruton as a cultural critic because his reactionary Wagnerism isn't what I'd want to say conservatism is in cultural terms apparently didn't win over moderators at Mere O.

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    1. I haven't read any Scruton, but his posture as conservative culture critic comes off as politicized nostalgia. By the way, for a class on US history, I played some Scott Joplin and talked about how Black Americans utilized music, by putting their own spin on canonical forms, to innovate and integrate. When I played some bits of pieces, I thought of you because I know your interest is in ragtime.

      While economically I'd probably find myself on the left, I think your kind of socio-cultural conservatism, in music, is good. I like to think a guy like Dio made some operatic forms popular and ushered in the age of prog/symphonic metal that I really like, though its a small scene in North America.

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