Monday, 7 July 2008

Giorgio Agamben, theology and economy: Il Regno e la Gloria

Adam Kotsko (author of a new book on Žižek, which I’ve just finished reading) has been working through Giorgio Agamben’s latest book, Il Regno e la Gloria. Per una genealogia teologica dell’economia e del governo [The Reign and the Glory: A Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government]. You can see a list of the posts here, or you can download the full series as a pdf.

For those of us who don’t read Italian, this is an extremely helpful and remarkably fascinating chapter-by-chapter summary. From the sounds of it, Il Regno e la Gloria is Agamben’s most theologically sophisticated work to date. He engages with theo-political thinkers like Schmitt and Peterson, as well as theologians like Barth, Moltmann, Balthasar, Aquinas, Augustine, Origen, the Cappadoccians, the Arians, and St Paul.

Summarising Agamben’s argument, Kotsko writes: “Agamben’s goal in the book is to investigate the ways that power in the West has tended to take the form of an oikonomia. This aligns his project with Foucault’s, though Agamben hopes to show that there were internal reasons that Foucault’s project remained unfinished. His angle will be an investigation of the initial attempts to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity in terms of a divine economy and to show ‘how the apparatus of the trinitarian oikonomia can constitute a privileged laboratory for observing the functioning and articulation – both internal and external – of the governmental machine’…. The key question, missed by previous scholars of royal pomp and liturgy, is why power needs glory. Though this question has been neglected for the most part, Agamben believes it points toward the relation between oikonomia and glory as ‘the ultimate structure of the governmental machine of the West’. Glory is ‘the secret center of power’.”

Here’s the full index of posts:

  1. The two paradigms
  2. The mystery of the economy
  3. Being and act [Essere e agire]
  4. Kingdom and government
  5. The providential machine (translation of “threshold” to this chapter)
  6. Angelology and bureaucracy
  7. The power and the glory
  8. Archeology of glory (threshold)
    Appendix: The economy of the moderns
  1. Law and miracle
  2. The invisible hand
And to whet your appetite, here are a few excerpts from the series:

From the notes on chapter 1: “Schmitt’s famous thesis that all modern political concepts are secularized theological concepts has to be stretched to its breaking point by the notion of oikonomia. It’s not simply a matter of extending the thesis to include economic concepts as well – it’s the more radical move of claiming that the theological concepts already were economic concepts, all along.”

From the notes on chapter 8: “Agamben begins by castigating Hans Urs von Balthasar, who has led astray all theologians by confining glory to the aesthetic realm rather than its properly political place – and this despite the obvious clue provided by the German word Herrlichkeit. By contrast, Agamben sets out to prove that the terms kabod and doxa (glory) are actually never used in an aesthetic sense in scripture, but only in a political one.”

Again, from chapter 8: “Glory as inoperativity is necessary to the exercise of power because of the constitutive inoperativity of humanity. It is because humans don’t have a ‘use’ or ‘job’ that we are enabled to be so incredibly active. Just as the theological apparatus needs the central void of glory to function, so also ‘the governmental apparatus functions because it has captured in its central void the inoperativity of the human essence’.”


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