Radical Democracy and Political Theology

Radical Democracy and Political Theology

Jeffrey W. Robbins
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/robb15637
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  • Book Info
    Radical Democracy and Political Theology
    Book Description:

    Alexis de Tocqueville once wrote that "the people reign over the American political world like God over the universe," unwittingly casting democracy as the political instantiation of the death of God. According to Jeffrey W. Robbins, Tocqueville's assessment remains an apt observation of modern democratic power, which does not rest with a sovereign authority but operates as a diffuse social force. By linking radical democratic theory to a contemporary fascination with political theology, Robbins envisions the modern experience of democracy as a social, cultural, and political force transforming the nature of sovereign power and political authority.

    Robbins joins his work with Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's radical conception of "network power," as well as Sheldon Wolin's notion of "fugitive democracy," to fashion a political theology that captures modern democracy's social and cultural torment. This approach has profound implications not only for the nature of contemporary religious belief and practice but also for the reconceptualization of the proper relationship between religion and politics. Challenging the modern, liberal, and secular assumption of a neutral public space, Robbins conceives of a postsecular politics for contemporary society that inextricably links religion to the political.

    While effectively recasting the tradition of radical theology as a political theology, this book also develops a comprehensive critique of the political theology bequeathed by Carl Schmitt. It marks an original and visionary achievement by the scholar theJournal of the American Academy of Religionhailed "one of the best commentators on religion and postmodernism."

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52713-2
    Subjects: Philosophy, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    This book arises out of two mutually reinforcing observations. First, the tradition of radical theology has heretofore been insufficiently political. Second, the predominant contemporary reading and employment of political theology has been antidemocratic in its thrust. Reading radical democratic theory into political theology redresses both issues. Radical theology joins together with radical democratic theory to provide an alternative political theology. In the process, the theopolitics of democratic theory and practice is laid bare and political theology is made more democratic.

    This is the problematic and constructive thesis that the pages that follow will pursue. It is largely a theoretical work...

  5. part one Radical Democracy
    • chapter one Democracy, More or Less
      (pp. 19-49)

      While the principal concern of this book is the (possible) connection between political theology and radical democracy and, as such, it is not principally a work in political philosophy, it is necessary to draw on existing theories of democracy in order to develop the radically democratic potential of political theology. For even by asserting a connection between political theology and radical democracy we find ourselves pressed up against certain objections. After all, the still normative understanding of political theology as defined by Carl Schmitt is largely antidemocratic in its thrust. This is an argument that will be made explicit in...

    • interlude Managing Democracy Abroad
      (pp. 50-56)

      Recalling Wolin’s argument fromDemocracy Incorporatedthat what currently goes by the name of democracy in the United States is in fact a “managed democracy” that hides an inverted form of totalitarianism, we might be tempted to look to the 2000 U.S. presidential election as the default case in point. As the Florida recount commenced, evidence of ballot rigging, statistical anomalies, and undercounts in some precincts and overcounts in others were compiled, and eventually the election was decided in the court system. Yet, as Crouch observed:

      apart from some demonstrations among Black Americans, there were very few expressions of outrage...

    • chapter two Democracy, Radically Conceived
      (pp. 57-74)

      To take the analysis from chapter 1 a step further: we might say along with Rancière that when examining how more or less democratic a few select representative democratic theorists and commentators are, what we discover is a hatred of democracy, a rationality of hatred that comes to expression in the common sense heard in the voices of the political and economic elite throughout the ages. As a hatred of democracy, it betrays an even more fundamental or baser fear of the people for their anarchic power. This is a fear as ancient as it is enduring. As Rancière writes:...

  6. part two Political Theology
    • chapter three Political Theology and the Postsecular
      (pp. 77-97)

      The recent interest in political theology arises out of the despair over the perceived failure of liberal democratic states. As such, it has been employed as an assault on liberalism, with democracy suffering as part of the collateral damage. The task we have pursued thus far is to set out a standard of democracy radically conceived, which has led to the question of whether democracy is possible without liberalism. Put otherwise, must the critique of liberalism (and in related fashion, modernism and secularism as well) necessarily imply the need to overcome or replace democracy as well? Must democracy be defined...

    • Interlude The Iranian Revolution Redux
      (pp. 98-105)

      In June 2009, thirty years after the Iranian revolution that toppled the regime of Muhammad Reza Shaw Pahlavi and eventually established Iran as an Islamic republic, the people of Iran again took to the streets, with the cries of “Allah akbar!” heard from rooftops throughout the city of Tehran. But this time the revolutionary Islamic rallying cry was not to be heard as a rejection of a Western secular political norm and a propped-up authoritarian regime but as a complaint against fraud—a complaint that was inspired at once by the ideals of both democracy and Islam. Despite its uncertain...

    • chapter four Political Theology, Beyond Despair
      (pp. 106-127)

      While an appreciation of how the postsecular provides for a reconceptualization of the proper relation between religion and politics is important, we are still far from our goal of articulating a democratic political theology. This book has already repeated the claim that political theology as conceived by Carl Schmitt and predicated on the concept of sovereignty is antidemocratic in its thrust. In addition, there is no shortage of those who believe that any form of religious influence on politics is a harbinger of theocracy and thus should be rooted out and exposed. Likewise, we have noted the concerns of those...

    • chapter five Political Theologies, or Finding an Alternative to Schmitt
      (pp. 128-154)

      If the Schmittian paradigm of political theology is unacceptable, then what other options are available? Returning again to Metz’s article on the new paradigm of political theology, he delineates three existing schools of thought, which he identifies as the neo-Scholastic, the transcendental-idealist, and the postidealist. The neo-Scholastic, which Metz calls “a defensive and nonproductive confrontation with modernity,” is most prevalent, reflecting the neoconservative tendencies not only within the church but also within society at large.¹ This can be seen in the contemporary revival of particular ethnoreligious traditions and identities that characterizes the so-called postmodern return of religion in the age...

    • chapter six The Theopolitics of Democracy
      (pp. 155-172)

      In an observation already repeated several times over, with its theopolitical implications hinted at but never developed, Tocqueville famously wrote: “The people reign over the American political world like God over the universe. It is the cause and aim of all things, everything comes from them and everything is absorbed in them.”¹ By this—almost a half century before Nietzsche—Tocqueville acknowledged democracy as the political instantiation of the death of God. By the people’s assumption to rule, the role once consigned to God—or at least to God’s assigned representative in the person of the monarch—was now usurped....

    • Interlude The Messianic as a Democratic Political Theology
      (pp. 173-179)

      In a deliberate contrast to the use of the phrase in theLeft Behindseries of apocalyptic novels written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, which at last count have sold over sixty-five million copies, I want to twist and distort this phrase “left behind” toward another purpose, with specific reference to the messianic figure of Christ who was left for dead, for the purpose of rethinking the conceptual possibilities of political theology. As the deconstructive philosopher of religion John Caputo writes inWhat Would Jesus Deconstruct?: “The crucified body of Jesus proposes not that we keep theology out of...

    • Conclusion From the One to the Many
      (pp. 180-192)

      With the postsecular reconfiguration of the proper role of religion within the public sphere, it is no longer a question of whether religion and politics mix, but how. More specifically, since the postsecular indicates a change in mindset about the enduring nature of religious beliefs and practices and, consequently, a change with regard to the secularist self-understanding of the state, then how might religion contribute to making our politics more democratic? And to what extent might an alternative political theology assist with and help complete the work of developing new conceptual bases for contemporary democratic theory and practice? By alternative...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 193-206)
  8. Index
    (pp. 207-218)