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:

    Introduction
  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’.”

11 Comments:

Brian said...

Wow. This man is a powerhouse.

D.W. Congdon said...

I thoroughly enjoyed Agamben's The Time that Remains, which I think is one of the best commentaries I've read on Romans.

This new work sounds very interesting. The criticism of Balthasar is excellent, and I find it remarkable that no one seems to have made that point before.

Adam Kotsko said...

Thanks for the link and the kind words.

Does every European philosopher end up doing a photo with a mirror, in tribute to Deleuze presumably?

kim fabricius said...

I had the same thought as David - why has no one made this blindingly obvious point before? That in itself is disturbingly suggestive.

By the way - with Stanley Hauerwas in mind - how interesting that the American flag is known as "Old Glory".

Mykel G. Larson said...

Where is Smith's "Invisible Hand?" Is that even integrated into this model? Invisible Hand = God's Hand?

Oh, the possibilities. Be careful, though. Someone will conjure up a manuscript.

*chuckles*

Interesting stuff, for sure. Divine Economy??? Wow. Just. Wow.

nathaniel drake carlson said...

I've been trying to dig up an email for Edward Oakes as I thought he might be the best one to address the Balthasar question. Maybe it's already addressed somewhere (like in the Cambridge collection for instance). It is hard to believe that Agamben would be the first to recognize this. Still, I'm not sure how monumentally important it is. Clearly he thinks it must be as that comment about "all theologians" suggests. But, leaving aside for the moment whether that's entirely true, I'm not sure that Balthasar's project can or should be reduced down to one defined by confinement. My general response to Agamben's objection would be that Balathasar is quite cognizant of the implications of the political use of glory but that his assessment of the aesthetic incorporates the political. That it goes beyond the explicit if you see what I mean. Isn't that the whole point of Balthasar's project? To ground glory in a contextual extension of the site specific? Some would argue (i.e. me) that the aesthetic determines the political.

Tony said...

Agamben loves the either/or reductionist way of doing theology, something that seems to appeal to some people. A gross misunderstanding of what Balthasar was about in the Theological Aesthetics and an inability it seems to see that the Aesthetics was a prelude to the Dramatics. That Balthasar never consciously wrote a political theology is par for the course, but that he was ignorant of the political ramifications of "doxa" is a super simplification that beggars the mind. O'Hanlon's book on Balthasar note the resources for a political and social theology in the works of Balthasar, and he notes Balthasar's caveat to all political theologies: they often are reductionist. It is in the area of the political that Balthasar is deeply Barthian!!!

Anonymous said...

I think that Il Regno e la Gloria would translate as 'The kingdom and the Glory" or something like that, but I'm pretty sure that Regno is Kingdom.
Does anyone know if there is a translation out there is French or Spanish?

nathaniel drake carlson said...

I've been trying to dig up an email for Edward Oakes as I thought he might be the best one to address the Balthasar question. Maybe it's already addressed somewhere (like in the Cambridge collection for instance). It is hard to believe that Agamben would be the first to recognize this. Still, I'm not sure how monumentally important it is. Clearly he thinks it must be as that comment about "all theologians" suggests. But, leaving aside for the moment whether that's entirely true, I'm not sure that Balthasar's project can or should be reduced down to one defined by confinement. My general response to Agamben's objection would be that Balathasar is quite cognizant of the implications of the political use of glory but that his assessment of the aesthetic incorporates the political. That it goes beyond the explicit if you see what I mean. Isn't that the whole point of Balthasar's project? To ground glory in a contextual extension of the site specific? Some would argue (i.e. me) that the aesthetic determines the political.

Mykel G. Larson said...

Where is Smith's "Invisible Hand?" Is that even integrated into this model? Invisible Hand = God's Hand?

Oh, the possibilities. Be careful, though. Someone will conjure up a manuscript.

*chuckles*

Interesting stuff, for sure. Divine Economy??? Wow. Just. Wow.

Tony said...

Agamben loves the either/or reductionist way of doing theology, something that seems to appeal to some people. A gross misunderstanding of what Balthasar was about in the Theological Aesthetics and an inability it seems to see that the Aesthetics was a prelude to the Dramatics. That Balthasar never consciously wrote a political theology is par for the course, but that he was ignorant of the political ramifications of "doxa" is a super simplification that beggars the mind. O'Hanlon's book on Balthasar note the resources for a political and social theology in the works of Balthasar, and he notes Balthasar's caveat to all political theologies: they often are reductionist. It is in the area of the political that Balthasar is deeply Barthian!!!

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