Agamben

For better or for worse, Agamben has been known best to his Anglophone readers as an astute commentator and genealogist of modern politics. The cardinal merit of the first volume of Homo Sacer was to have seen that Schmitt’s theory of sovereignty was a logical or structural principle and that sovereignty was not simply the (ontological or psychological) “monopolization of force”. Then, like a spark shooting from the embers of a crackling fire, comes the latest installment of the Homo Sacer series (Il Regno e la Gloria), which provides us with a much fuller account of the topography of the theologico-political discourse of modernity. Presented at least in part as an intervention in the conceptual encounters between Schmitt and Peterson—of which American readers have generally only been privy to one side via the second volume of Schmitt’s Political Theology—Aristotle and Paul (the book is worth reading if only on the Pauline obsolescence of the Aristotelian oikos/polis distinction), Aristotle against the Latin Aristotelians, and the old problem of the two swords (nominated here as “ruling” and “governing”), Agamben shows us how—through what is more than simply what he calls a “parallelism” between the hierarchy of the angels and the administration of the state—“glory” is not simply the metaphysical or even epistemological principle it has been to the medievalists but an intrinsically political concept (the only other political theorist who comes to mind who has given us a similar genealogy is Voegelin): i.e., in slightly different terms, that the onto-theological determination of being and beings is precisely the politics of the administered state. The political question, which unites these volumes of Homo Sacer, that Agamben has attempted to answer only in his philosophical and poetic writings on potentiality and negativity is, simply: how is it possible to separate, rigorously, power not only from the state but from the process of subjectification? Of what would such a power consist?

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