Political Theology As Poetry

Political theology is not exclusively the domain of postsecularists. Victoria Kahn’s The Future of Illusion — an homage to Freud’s 1927 The Future of the Illusion — takes issue with the assumption that religion provides the “ur-repetoire” of political symbolism.

Why not assume the exact contrary, that political theology is a subset of metaphor, that is, of purely human ways of understanding the world and negotiating its political conflicts? (7)

Carl Schmitt once argued that it was axiomatic of liberalism that “aesthetic value judgment is absolutely autonomous” (15). (Leo Strauss would claim that Schmitt wanted to grant autonomy to politics, i.e. putting the friend/enemy distinction beyond reproach.) A liberal in the great tradition of Hans Blumenberg, Kahn wants to defend this aesthetic capacity, which she calls poesis, in Hobbes and Vico. In these early moderns, as well as Machiavelli and Shakespeare, Kahn focuses upon the “human capacity to forge new, ideologically powerful myths” (21).

On The Immanent Frame, Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins reviews Kahn’s focus upon poesis:

What Kahn means by poiesis is that religion is a human creation on par with art or poetry. Poiesis, as such, entails a secular anthropology that empowers human beings with the capacity to fashion their own political visions of the world sans theology. This involves something more than just the idea that political theology is really a human fiction. It suggests, more importantly, the human ability to reimagine the ordering of the world.

Kahn tempers political theology in a postsecular key that takes for granted all theological myths belong to the religious sphere. That is a welcome intervention. Her critique may go further, with Freud, denying this sphere altogether. But I haven’t read the whole thing yet.


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