The Babylon Complex: Theopolitical Fantasies of War, Sex, and Sovereignty

The Babylon Complex: Theopolitical Fantasies of War, Sex, and Sovereignty

Erin Runions
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 312
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x02bq
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  • Book Info
    The Babylon Complex: Theopolitical Fantasies of War, Sex, and Sovereignty
    Book Description:

    Babylon is a surprisingly multivalent symbol in U.S. culture and politics. Political citations of Babylon range widely, from torture at Abu Ghraib to depictions of Hollywood glamour and decadence. In political discourse, Babylon appears in conservative ruminations on democratic law, liberal appeals to unity, Tea Party warnings about equality, and religious advocacy for family values. A composite biblical figure, Babylon is used to celebrate diversity and also to condemn it, to sell sexuality and to regulate it, to galvanize war and to worry about imperialism. Erin Runions explores the significance of these shifts and contradictions, arguing that together they reveal a theopolitics that tries to balance the drive for U.S. dominance with the countervailing ideals and subjectivities of economic globalization. Examining the confluence of cultural formations, biblical interpretations, and (bio)political philosophies, The Babylon Complex shows how theopolitical arguments for war, sexual regulation, and political control both assuage and contribute to anxieties about waning national sovereignty. Theoretically sophisticated and engaging, this remarkable book complicates our understanding of how the Bible affects U.S. political ideals and subjectivities.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5735-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: Babylon and the Crisis of Sovereignty
    (pp. 1-45)

    The “war on terror” and a renewed fear of sexuality have marked the years following the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. War and sex feed into a general sense of moral panic that creates assent for new kinds of political, economic, and military policies and actions.¹ Torture becomes a necessity. Economic interests take precedence over human well-being. Sexual expression and domestic arrangements become constitutional matters. Military action, economic policy, and sexual regulation are frequently given authority in the United States by means of the Bible and, more particularly, by popularized and sometimes secularized modes of...

  5. ONE From Babel to Biopolitics: Josephus, Theodemocracy, and the Regulation of Pleasure
    (pp. 46-85)

    How does the Tower of Babel become a story about human power relations? How does it become the carrier of biopolitics? What interpretive legacies mold it into a figure that characterizes the political? Genesis 11 tells simply of God’s fear of unlimited humancapacityin building the Tower of Babel. Despite a habitual rendering of the story as one of poor governance, tyranny, and pride, the biblical text has nothing to say about those issues and is remarkably unforthcoming about the reasons for human or divine actions. Humans want to make a name for themselves to avoid being scattered (11:4)....

  6. TWO Bellicose Dreams: Babylon and Exception to Law
    (pp. 86-117)

    In the previous chapter we saw how a Josephan Babel story was used alongside fear of demo cratic tyranny, or soft despotism, to promote an economic subjectivity (homo oeconomicus) that is regulated and hierarchized through the heterosexual family. In this chapter, I continue to look at conservative theopolitical discourse that refers to Babylon, in order to champion the clear access to truth—upheld by war, hierarchy, strong leaders, Christianity, heteronormativity, or some combination thereof—and to reject what is characterized as the mindless unity of liberalism and its laws. Babylon is frequently used to motivate the need for political or...

  7. THREE Tolerating Babel: Biopolitics, Film, and Family
    (pp. 118-147)

    The previous two chapters have shown how Babylon has come to represent a variety of perceived political ills: economic equality, state control, foreign empires, and the wrong kind of heterogeneity. Babelian fears are often countered by the proposed security and transcendent mandate of the heteropatriarchal nuclear family and strong (male) political leadership and decisionism. Against Babel, the United States is hailed as a better, hierarchically stratified kind of unified empire, promoting truth, universal values, freedom, and a certain limited kind of diversity. This chapter changes gears to match the terrain of another Babylonian fantasy, in which a new Babylon becomes...

  8. FOUR Revenge on Babylon: Literalist Allegory, Scripture, Torture
    (pp. 148-178)

    As much as the fictional Babylon might generate markets, sensual aspirations, cinematic ambition, and overall consumption, the actual place has been subjected to brutal violence. Less than two years after Hollywood Babylon was celebrated as a modern marketplace in the opening of the Hollywood and Highland Center in Los Angeles with its Babylon Court, the ancient city of Babylon was being destroyed in the war on Iraq. As noted in the introduction, troops occupied and seriously damaged the ancient city, beginning in 2003. The war on Iraq makes patently clear that an admired Babylon is only a place of fantasy....

  9. FIVE Who Lives in Babylon? The Gay Antichrist as Political Enemy
    (pp. 179-212)

    If, in the biopolitical gradation of populations, “good life” (life worth protecting) is controlled and arranged within the nation by means of the virtuous non-Babelian family, then outside of the nation, in the war on terror, “less-good” Babylonian life is shaped through pain. In the last chapter we saw how U.S. sovereignty violently extracts truth from enemy combatants—for the sake of the future of the nation and also the species—in a mode homologous to literalist-allegorical interpretation of biblical text. In this chapter, serious and nonserious renderings of Babylon’s prince, the antichrist, point to a heteroteleological national eschatology that...

  10. SIX Babelian Scripture: A Queerly Sublime Ethics of Reading
    (pp. 213-246)

    As witnessed in the preceding chapters, Babylon is particularly suited to the literalist-allegorical condensations of the problems of national sovereignty and transnational global capital because it can alternately condemn threats to sovereignty as threatstounity or as threatsofa hostile unity. While cultivating the subject of interest, Babylonian fantasies seek to curb the political, economic, or ethnic “excess” produced in globalization by calling it moral failing (at home) and demanding pious, heteronormative, and patriarchal virtue as a corrective; or worse, calling it demonic (abroad) and violently punishing it. In these dynamics, a theodemocratic, anti-egalitarian complex consolidates around a...

  11. Postlude: Roads to Babel
    (pp. 247-254)

    As we have seen throughout the book, Babylon is an uncertain symbol, alternately fetishized or demonized. Sometimes it is an object of desire. Frequently it signals dangerous incursions into national sovereignty and hierarchical authority. Babylon and its prince the antichrist are used to sanction the imperialist and heteroteleological project of the nation-state. The evil of Babylon and its prince the antichrist motivate preemptive wars, torture, and family values. The United States fights Babylonian tyranny and evil on behalf of the world, while it consolidates a sense of sovereignty for itself. Counterintuitively, images of Babylon and the antichrist also advance the...

  12. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 255-292)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 293-302)