Political theology and money

I’ve finally gotten around to reading Paul Kahn’s Political Theology: Four New Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty. The project provides an interesting lens for thinking through American political institutions, but I have one major reservation that might be at the root of the other reservations I have about the book. The problem arises in his discussion of Schmitt’s idea of a sociology of concepts. The reading he offers of Schmitt’s own usage is similar to what I arrive at in the linked post, but he concludes that Schmitt was wrong to assume that every epoch will have its own correspondence between political and metaphysical outlooks, because our age doesn’t even have a metaphysical outlook:

In the postmodern world, the sources of fundamental belief, the diversity of metaphysical approaches, the conflicts between religious and secular outlooks, and even the conflicts between the biological and physical sciences are just too many and too deep to think that we can offer a single theoretical model to characterize the epoch. Perhaps we should say that we live in a “postepochal” age. We find that people operate with diverse systems of belief, which do not fall into any coherent order. We have discovered that we can live with this incoherence. The center does not hold, but things do not fall apart. (118)

I suppose this is true as far as it goes, but I’m not sure Schmitt is really thinking about explicit metaphysical systems — he’s thinking about the deep assumptions about the order of the world, which will often surface in the most representative metaphysical systems. And in our contemporary postmodern era, that role is filled by economic reasoning. Yes, any particular school of thought has trouble gaining hegemony, but that’s just the nature of our contemporary “marketplace of ideas” (for example).

Kahn can’t see this because he, like Schmitt, has already dismissed economic rationality as a kind of anti-idea. “Follow the money” is his chief example of the kind of reductionism that he and, by his account, Schmitt are trying to avoid — yet isn’t it reductionistic not to think of economic rationality as a form of rationality, one with its own assumptions and values? At the risk of being pedantic: don’t you at least need to concede that the accumulation of money is valuable in itself before you would act in a way that is explicable by means of “following the money”?

Hence I propose that Kahn’s account needs to be supplemented by Goodchild’s Theology of Money.

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10 Responses to “Political theology and money”

  1. Aaron Rathbun Says:

    I think it’s William Cavanaugh that suggests that economists are the new “high priests” of our age.

  2. Adam Kotsko Says:

    That strikes me as a strangely tactless analogy — given that the primary resonance of “high priests” for Cavanaugh’s audience will be the Jewish leaders who were complicit with Christ’s death, and given the vicious stereotypes about Jews’ economic acumen and influence… I’m uncomfortable.

  3. Aaron Rathbun Says:

    Maybe it was James K. A. Smith, rather than Cavanaugh.

    In any case, I think the sentiment is moreso meant to corroborate your own thoughts above that economic reasoning is in fact the dominant metaphysical outlook today, and subsequently, economists have come to be the “religious authorities” under this metaphysical outlook.

  4. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I obviously understand the point the quote is trying to make. Whether it’s Smith or Cavanaugh, however, my concerns remain.

  5. Aaron Rathbun Says:

    Upon reflection, it certainly does make for a somewhat unsavory analogy. ^_^

  6. seanchristophercapener Says:

    I doubt there’s any deliberate antisemitism in the remark (of course, intention doesn’t matter that much in something like this) but I wonder if the reason to reach for “high priest” imagery instead of pastor/bishop imagery in cases like this has to do with the fact that most Christian theologians *really can’t see* that pastors and the like aren’t somehow, at their core, naturally aligned with an answer to these hegemonies.

  7. Mike Grimshaw Says:

    The ‘high priests’- in fact any ‘new religious leaders’ anology- and here i remember back to Thomas Szaz’s definition of the medical profession as ‘the new priesthood’ in the early 1970s- is problematic in any useage that a) seeks to claim the replacement of the various religions/beliefs by new forms of what Tillich (wrongly i would argue) termed ‘psuedo-religions’ and b) that religious terms/metaphors etc are ‘useful’short-hand whenin their useage they are really examples- as adam notes- of what can be termed ‘dog-whistle politics’.

    If we think we don’t have a metaphysical outlook then consider the general response to Vattimo’s ‘a farewell to truth'; what we have appears to really be a plurality of metaphysics not the end of metaphysics; our metaphysics appears to be a continuation of ‘metaphysics'(the metaphysics of individual interest) but not a single metaphysics- which is why vattimo is a step too far for so many.

  8. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I should clarify that the reason I see a connection to Goodchild in specific is because he claims that the appeal of money is, in the last analysis, about freedom.

  9. Josh Says:

    The freedom created by money is libertas, ownership.

    If economy is theology, then money is the holy spirit, the threshold between the material and the immaterial, the oath which binds together the commonwealth of property owners, the bond between the master and the slave (Raoul Vaneigem), the political-economic trinity of the sovereign, the people, and money, the language which creates the bonds of debt and society.


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