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May 16, 2014

Political Theology II: The Myth of the Closure of any Political Theology, Carl Schmitt

Carl Schmitt, Political Theology II: The Myth of the Closure of any Political Theology, trans. Michael Hoelzl and Graham Ward (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2008 [1970])

This text is Schmitt’s sequel to Political Theology I and began as a response to Erik Peterson’s “Monotheism as a Political Problem: A Contribution to the History of Political Theology in the Roman Empire.” In his book Peterson sought to argue for the “annulment of any belief in God being politically relevant, or of any socially relevant theology at all” (35). Schmitt wants to reject closure. He divides his text into three chapters: The Myth of the Ultimate Theological Closure; The Legendary Document; and The Legendary Conclusion.

The Myth of the Ultimate Theological Closure

In this section Schmitt outlines Peterson’s thesis and the responses of three theologians who have more-or-less adopted it. He writes, Peterson claimed to bring “to an end any Christian political theology once and for all” (56). According to Schmitt, Peterson’s argument rests on a belief that theology is specifically a Christian activity and that it only occurs in the period between Christ’s death and the second coming.

The Legendary Document

An important part of Schmitt’s argument appears here as “The church of Christ is not of this world and its history, but it is in this world” (65). He also claims, “There are many political theologies because there are, on the one hand, many different religions, and, on the other, many different kinds and methods of doing politics” (66). He is especially critical of Peterson’s “placement beyond all politics, the absolute unassailability, unattainability and autonomy from the political, is denied the non-Christian, that is, the non-trinitarian, monotheism” (77). Peterson also claims that the political theology that exists within Christianity is a vestige of Judaism and paganism. “When a bishop [Eusebius] is introduced into the twentieth century as the prototype of political theology, there seems to exist a conceptual link between politics and heresy” (84).

The Legendary Conclusion

“Theology is not the same as religion or faith or numinous excitement. Theology wants to be a serious academic discipline and it will remain as (107) such, unless a completely different understanding of science is able to marginalise religion and its theology and to assimilate them into a scientific understanding of the world” (108). “A conflict is always a struggle between organisations and institutions in the sense of concrete orders. It is a struggle of institutions over stances” (114).

Postscript: On the Current Situation of the Problem: The Legitimacy of Modernity

Here he reiterates that the law and theology proceed from the same impulse. “This understanding of the state has achieved, to date, the greatest rational ‘progress’ of humanity in the definition of war as it appears in the theory of international law: namely the distinction between the enemy and the criminal, and therefore the only possible basis for the theory of the neutrality of (117) states in times of war between them” (118). “Thus de-theologisation implies de-politisation, the sense that the world has ceased being ‘politomorph’. Consequently, the distinction between friend and enemy is no longer valid as criterion of the political” (124). “One cannot get rid of the enmity between human beings by prohibiting wars between states in the traditional sense, by advocating a world revolution and by transforming world politics into world policing. Revolution, in contrast to reformation, reform, revision and evolution, is a hostile struggle. Friendship is almost impossible between the lord of a world in need of change, that is, a misconceived world... and the liberator, the creator of a transformed world. They are... by definition enemies” (125). The postscript concludes with the necessary process to create a “modern-scientific closure of any political theology:” “no theology as a subject of discussion” (128); a new human being who “is the unplanned, arbitrary product of the process--progress of himself;” the process-progress contains within it “the possibility of its own novelty--renewal;” “freedom of the human being is the highest value;” this “self-producing new human being... is not a new God;” and the distinction between friend and enemy is eliminated and the “old is not the enemy of the new” (129);

Appendix: ‘Peterson’s Conclusion and Concluding Footnote’

This is a reprint from Peterson’s essay.

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