Agamben Translation: “Threshold” to Ch. 5

[This translation stems from pp. 157-160 of Il Regno e la gloria. I am a beginner in Italian, but hopefully this will at least be serviceable. I have not thoroughly proof-read it, but will make corrections based on comments and my own sudden realizations, as appropriate. "Governance" renders the Italian governo, and "kingship" renders regno.]

We can now try to list in the form of theses the essential characteristics that our analysis of the providential paradigm have brought to light. These define something like an ontology of acts of governance:

  1. Providence (governance) is that through which theology and philosophy attempted to confront the division of classical ontology into two separate realities: being and praxis, transcendent good and immanent good, theology and oikonomia. It appears as a machine directed toward rearticulating the two fragments into the gubernatio dei, into the divine governance of the world.

  2. It represents, in the same sense and in the same measure, the attempt to reconcile the Gnostic division between a God foreign to the world and a God who governs, which Christian theology had inherited, through the “economic” articulation of the Father and the Son. In the Christian oikonomia, the creator God confronts a corrupted and foreign nature, which the savior God, to whom the governance of the world has been given, must redeem and save, through a kingdom that is not, however, “of this world.” The price that the trinitarian overcoming of the Gnostic division between two divinities must pay is the substantial foreignness of the world. The Christian governance of the world has, consequently, the paradoxical figure of the immanent governance of a world that is and must remain foreign.

    א This “Gnostic” structure, which the theological oikonomia has transmitted to modern governmentality, reaches its extreme point in the paradigm of governance that the great Western powers (in particular the US) always try to realize on both a local and global scale. Whether it is a matter of the breaking down of preexisting constitutional forms or the imposition, through military occupation, of constitutional models considered democratic on peoples to whom these models appear to be impracticable, in every case the essential thing is that a region — and, at the limit, the entire globe — is governed while remaining completely foreign.

    The tourist, that is, the final reincarnation of the Christian peregrinus in terra, is the planetary figure of this irreducible foreignness to the world. It is, in this sense, a figure whose “political” significance is consubstantial with the dominant governmental paradigm, just as the peregrinus was the figure corresponding to the providential paradigm. The pilgrim and the tourist are, that is, the collateral effects of one and the same “economy” (in its theological or secularized version).

  3. The providential machine, while being unitary, is articulated, for this reason, on two distinct planes or levels: transcendence/immanence, general providence/special providence (or fate), primary cause/secondary cause, intellectual knowledge/praxis. The two levels are strictly correlated, in such a way that the first founds, legitimates, and renders possible the second and the second realizes concretely in the chain of causes and effects the general decisions of the divine mind. The governance of the world is what results from this functional correlation.
  4. The paradigm of the act of governance, in its pure form, is, consequently, the collateral effect. Insofar as it is not directed to a particular end but derives, as a concomitant effect, from a general law and economy, the act of governance represents a zone of undecidability between the general and the particular, between the calculated and the non-willed. This is its “economy.”
  5. In the providential machine transcendence is never given by itself and separate from the world, as in Gnosticisim, but is always in relation to immanence; this latter, on the other hand, is never truly such, because it is thought always as an image or reflection of the transcendent order. Correspondingly, the second level appears as execution (executio) of what was arranged and ordained (ordinatio) on the first. The division of powers is consubstantial with the machine.
  6. The ontology of acts of governance is a vicarious ontology, in the sence that, within the economic paradigm, every power has a vicarious character, acts in another’s place. This means that there is not a “substance,” but only an “economy” of power.
  7. It is precisely the distinction and correlation of the two levels, of the primary and secondary causes, of the general economy and the particular economy, that guarantees that governance is not a despotic power, which does violence to the liberty of the creature; it presupposes, to the contrary, the liberty of the governed, which is demonstrated through the operation of the secondary causes.

It should already be clear in what sense it can be said that the providential apparatus (which is itself only a reformulation and development of the theological oikonomia) contains something like the epistemological paradigm of modern governance. It is known that, in the history of law [diritto], a doctrine of governance and public administration (not to speak of administrative law which, as such, is a typically modern creation) takes a long time to take form. But well before the jurists began to develop its first elements, the philosophers and theologians had already developed its model in the doctrine of the providential gubernatio of the world. Providence and fate, with the train of notions and concepts in which they are articulated (ordinatio / executio; kingship and governance; immediate and mediated governance; primi agentes / agentes inferiores; primary act / collateral effects, etc.) are not only, in this sense, theologico-philosophical concepts, but categories of law and politics.

The modern State inherits, in fact, both aspects of the theological machine of the governance of the world, and presents itself equally as providence-State and as destiny-State. Through the distinction between legislative or sovereign power and executive or governance power, the modern State assumes on itself the double structure of the governmental machine. It puts on by turns the regal vestments of providence, which legislates in a transcendent or universal way, but leaves the creature it takes care of free, and the suspicious and ministerial vestments of fate, which carries out in detail the providential dictates and forces reluctant individuals into the implacable connection of immanent causes and effects that their own nature has contributed to determining. The economico-providential paradigm is, in this sense, the paradigm of democratic governance, just as the theologico-political is the paradigm of absolutism.

It’s not surprising, in this sense, that the collateral effect appears ever more frequently to be consubstantial with every act of governance. What the government aims at can be, by its very nature, reached only as a collateral effect, in a zone in which general and particular, positive and negative, calculated and unforeseen tend to be superimposed onto each other. To govern means to allow to be produced the concomitant particular effects of a general “economy” that would remain in itself entirely ineffective, but without which no governance would be possible. It is not so much that the effects (Governance) depend on being (Kingship), but being consists rather in its effects: such is the vicarious and effectual ontology that defines acts of governance. And when the providential paradigm, at least in its transcendent aspect, begins to decline, providence-State and destiny-State tend progressively to become identified in the figure of the State of modern law, in which the law regulates administration and the administrative apparatus applies and carries out the law. But, even in this case, the decisive element remains that to which, from the very beginning, the machine as a whole has been destined: the oikonomia, that is, the governance of human beings and of things. The economico-governmental vocation of contemporary democracies is not an incident along the way, but is an integral part of the theological inheritance of which they are trustees.

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3 Responses to “Agamben Translation: “Threshold” to Ch. 5”

  1. Scu Says:

    Thanks so much for this, I meant this ask this on the last post, what is the Italian for machine that Agamben uses?

  2. Agamben Notes: Table of Contents « An und für sich Says:

    [...] The providential machine (translation of “threshold” to this chapter) [...]


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