Current Issue Article Abstracts
Spring 2018, Vol. 18.2
Introduction: The Varieties of Political Theology
Jason A. Kerr, Ben Labreche
Feisal G. Mohamed
Carl Schmitt's interest in the writings of Thomas Hobbes is widely known, and clearly visible in Political Theology (1922). This essay explores the relationship between these two thinkers, especially surrounding the "protection- obedience axiom" that Schmitt strongly associated with Hobbes. As is apparent in Hobbes' responses to the story of Uzzah, protection and obedience are more complex in his writings than might first appear. This essay considers these responses alongside those of John Donne, Richard Hooker, and Lancelot Andrewes. Schmitt tends to overlook this complexity, even as he comes to similar conclusions on the loyal subject's exposure to the sovereign's arbitrary violence. We will see that Schmitt is ambivalent about Hobbes, associating him with the advent of legal positivism, the strain of legal theory against which he continually strives. If Political Theology enlists Hobbes as an ally, then, it is on the point of methodology propping up Schmitt's central argument: that political theory must be grounded in a sociology of the concept of sovereignty.
This essay considers how Milton actively and imaginatively rethinks political theology so that it takes on a more distinctive radical dimension in the early modern period. Recent studies of political theology in Milton have focused largely on the 1671 poems, rather than on Paradise Lost. This article consequently examines the theological tensions and radical political implications of the colloquy in Heaven in Book 3 of Paradise Lost, a notable place in Milton where theology and politics dramatically converge. Milton's radical political theology, generated through a process of strenuous interrogation in De Doctrina Christiana and imaginatively tested and dramatized in the colloquy in Heaven in Paradise Lost, needs to be approached on its own terms. It does not readily fit already established definitions of political theology, whether those proposed by twentieth- century thinkers influenced by early modern writers—as in the case of Carl Schmitt—or political theology as it was articulated in Stuart divine right theory. In Paradise Lost theological concepts in the realm of sovereignty are radicalized rather than secularized. The convergence of radical theology and politics in the poem unsettles and reforms rather than legitimates traditional concepts of political authority and sovereignty. The Son's promotion and acquisition of kingly power, after he freely assumes the role of mediator and redeemer on behalf of fallen humankind, thus enables Milton to present a new and more radical understanding of the theological legitimation of political authority.
This essay uses the theories of Hannah Arendt to characterize the Jacobean Oath of Allegiance as a problem of political theology, one in which the judicial performance of the oath must balance the interjection of sovereign authority over matters of individual conscience. The essay asks if that balance can include the necessarily plural, and potentially destabilizing, negotiations of promise-making. To answer those questions, the essay draws on accounts of the 1607 trial and execution of Robert Drury, an English Catholic priest captured less than a year after the infamous Gunpowder Plot. These accounts reveal how individual Catholic encounters with the Oath and the state machinery that enforced it demonstrate—in real time and before real audiences—an engagement with questions of sovereignty, conscience, and the competing claims of religion and nation that occupied more learned commentators. In this instance, Drury's attempt to negotiate a private submission to the king's decree, rather than a public one, runs aground on what I argue is the state's desire to control not only the allegiance of its Catholic (and Protestant) subjects, but also the creative and political agency that inheres in moments of socio-political compacting. The result is an account that complements recent theoretical studies by providing a sense of the lived experience of political theology in Jacobean England.
Robin S. Stewart
Recent critics who have challenged or revised Ernst Kantorowicz's seminal reading of Shakespeare's Richard II as "the tragedy of the King's Two Bodies" share a common impulse to reject the tragic vision of political theology (inherited from Carl Schmitt) and imagine more affirmative, rational, and democratic alternatives. The first half of this essay returns to Richard II to uncover an overlooked model for a comedic political theology located not in King Richard's decline, but in Henry IV's ascension, particularly in the subplot of Aumerle's failed conspiracy. These scenes challenge Schmittian political theology in two ways. First, the moment of sovereign decision is temporally displaced; second, this displacement enables a political resolution through a distributed and participatory form of fiction- making, which enacts at a practical level, while it simultaneously obscures, the operations of constituent and constituted power. The second half of the essay tests the broader applicability of these concepts by examining the legal reasoning and narrative techniques of the 1689 English Bill of Rights, a text which reflects both displaced temporality and distributed participatory performance by assiduously avoiding any decisive location of political sovereignty—whether in the monarchs or the parliament.
Jason A. Kerr
This essay draws out the challenge that Richard Baxter's A Holy Commonwealth (1659), read together with his writings on justification from the 1650s and those connected to the toleration crisis of the 1670s, offers to the legitimating, republican/proto- liberal model of consent, according to which the subjects' consent can potentially endow sovereigns with absolute power. Against such models, whose gendered problems the essay presents by reading the accounts in Livy and Ovid of Lucretia's rape, the article argues that after 1662 Baxter reframes consent around his ecclesiological practice of partial conformity. This reframing breaks the active- male/passive- female gender binary of legitimating consent by making consent something that is never wholly granted—with the consequence of putting sovereigns and subjects in a relation of mutual vulnerability.
This essay explores the nexus of race and natality in three of Shakespeare's plays: Titus Andronicus, The Merchant of Venice, and Othello. Depicted as a form of both corporeal and spiritual (re- )birth, natality also engages the vexed problem and possibility of redemption, which is frequently enacted and problematized in the plays discussed in this essay through the vector of circumcision. If natality registers as both generation and death, and circumcision denotes a form of both religious and racial incorporation as well as an indelible mark of difference, this essay seeks to expand our discussion of race in political theory from sanguineal to somatic and chromatic understandings. Following a primarily biopolitical framework, the essay demonstrates in its readings of these plays that even as the eugenic management of spectacular race comprises a critical concern, it also articulates a crucial prehistory of slavery. This essay thus seeks to affirm the importance of situating race at the center of readings of early modern political theology.