The structure of The Kingdom and the Glory

I have spent a lot of time with Agamben’s Kingdom and the Glory, but until this time through, I was always baffled by the structure — the whole thing seemed to jump around quite a bit, and the motivation for the investigation of glory seemed difficult to discern. Why not skip the glory and more fully develop the stuff in the appendix? As far as I can tell, I am not the only person who has had this problem, and so I thought I would share the structure I have gleaned from the very detailed reading I’ve been undertaking over the past few days.

First points:

  • This is a book about the debate between Carl Schmitt and Erik Peterson — but not on their own terms. Rather, it’s about what they both disavow (economy) and what they both unwittingly share (glory). This is a big source of misunderstanding, because it’s easy to think that Peterson is supposed to be the source of the economic paradigm Agamben is developing (particularly back before Peterson was actually translated into English).
  • While the analysis of economy takes up slightly more space, the goal is to get to glory. Angels provide the hinge between the two parts, as the chapter “Angelology and Bureaucracy” seems to establish that there is no redemptive possibility in economy, while there are hints that glory is at least pointing toward something beyond our destructive power structure.

So I’ll just go through the chapters one by one.

1. The Two Paradigms: Agamben begins by contrasting the political-theological paradigm and the economic-theological paradigm. The former is obviously associated with Schmitt, and so we get a treatment of his notion of secularization — and a hint that the same logic might not hold for economic theology, given that theological concepts are somehow “already” economic. Then we get the debate between Schmitt and Peterson, wherein Peterson claims that the development of the doctrine of the Trinity somehow renders political theology impossible. Agamben finds this claim to be far from self-evident and turns to investigate one of Peterson’s quotes from Gregory of Nazianzen — and lo and behold, there’s all this stuff about “economy” that Peterson totally ignores, even though Gregory says you have to understand the discourse of the economy to get what he’s saying. The same holds for one of the passages Peterson quotes from Tertullian. Given that Peterson is a great scholar, surely something is up here — and so this sets up the immediately following chapter. But it also opens up a bigger question of Peterson’s alternative to political theology, namely his view of liturgy as somehow a directly political action, which will only come back in chapter 7. Again, the two paradigms aren’t Schmitt and Peterson — they’re Schmitt and whatever he and Peterson are both trying to fight against (i.e., economy).

2. The Mystery of the Economy: This chapter is almost pure philology, and the point is to fight against a tendency in theological studies that rankles me and Agamben equally — the habit of assuming that because a theologian is using a word, it becomes a kind of “insta-jargon,” even if it’s a perfectly common word whose common meaning fits perfectly well in the text. He establishes the semantic core of “economy” in the realm of home administration, which is a kind of know-how rather than a form of rigorous knowledge and shows how this was already beginning to spread metaphorically in classical times, for instance to rhetorical terminology. Then he turns to the scriptural and patristic uses of the term, which for the most part are easily understood as belonging to the same basic family of meanings, without any need to presuppose a specifically theological meaning. There’s a tendency to reverse Paul’s notion of the “economy of the mystery” (i.e., God’s prudent carrying out of his goals) into the “mystery of the economy” (so that God’s action in the world is itself the mystery). There’s also a general shift from using economic metaphors to indicate God’s prudent carrying out of his salvific goals to using them to describe the internal disposition of God’s own life as Trinity — the latter usage being an attempt to claim the term back from Gnosticism and thereby use it to seal up the gap between the transcendent god and the immanent government of the world. Agamben makes a lot of references to modern political concepts throughout, but the most important is the modern concept of history. In the threshold, he picks out the last three themes mentioned as particularly important disjunctions that the notion of “economy” is deployed in order to “manage,” and the next three chapters focus on them in turn (to the extent possible — they significantly overlap).

3. Being and Acting: This chapter sets the economic paradigm in contrast to the classical ontological paradigm exemplified in Aristotle, where the relationship between the Unmoved Mover and the world initially seems to be unproblematic in a way that the relationship between the Christian God and the world is not. Agamben believes that the economic paradigm grows out of the breakdown of classical ontology, which initially expresses itself as a gap between being and praxis — oikonomia as the know-how associated with managing conflicting demands thus becomes a strategy of managing this unbridgable ontological gap. This chapter traces the historical attempts to clarify the relationship between God the Father (being) and the Son (action/governance/economy). The Church Fathers’ attempts to chart a middle path between the Gnostics and the classical ontology produces a series of tensions or contradictions that will, in Agamben’s view, propagate themselves throughout the history of Christian thought — meaning that the structure of “economy” as a way of managing the gap between two heterogeneous levels marks all of Christian thought, even if the development of trinitarian orthodoxy meant that the term itself ultimately took up a subordinate place.

4. The Kingdom and the Government: This chapter begins with the enigmatic image of the roi mehaignié or wounded king, who is unable to exercise power but nonetheless somehow remains sovereign. This is the ultimate example of a phrase that becomes a major point of contention for Schmitt and Peterson: “the king reigns, but does not govern.” Agamben shows that they are both opposed to the sentiment that the phrase expresses — though curiously, Schmitt regards it as the very essence of liberalism, while Peterson views it as an example of the “bad” political theology that he is determined to foist onto the pagans and Jews and exclude from Christianity. Through an exploration of Aristotle, Aquinas, and others, Agamben shows that the Christian alternative to the Gnostic idea of a totally transcendent God who does nothing ultimately does not wind up giving God much to do — even in Aquinas, transcendence seems to be identical with the immanent order of the world as such. He then pushes the problem into the worldly political realm, with the medieval notion of the “two swords,” spiritual and political. Instead of asking which of the two is superior, he asks why there are two — and it turns out that there’s an inherent necessity to have a secondary sword to do the dirty work that’s beneath the spiritual sword. In other words, however the duality is hashed out in terms of names, the “transcendent” pole is always going to be idle and redundant. Every sovereign is finally the roi mehaignié. At this point, the political-theological paradigm appears to be simply a subset of the economic paradigm, wherein the two powers are simply identified. In other words, Schmitt collapses into the economic paradigm he so desperately wants to avoid. (One down…)

5. The Providential Machine: This chapter serves to address the Christian concept of history while at the same time providing the “connective tissue” between Agamben’s work on the Trinity and Foucault’s work on pastoral power as the paradigm of modern politics. The economic logic at work here is providence, which is supposed to coordinate God’s eternal plan with the contingent interaction of finite created things — this is often expressed in terms of primary causes and secondary causes. The goal of the providential apparatus is to respect human freedom and to respect the integrity of the created world more broadly, which Agamben seizes upon to claim that the providential paradigm is “democratic.” As a consequence of this democratic ethos, God cannot “force” anyone to do anything, but instead must rely on collateral effects. Finally, since everything within the providential machine is done on behalf of the transcendent God, who does nothing directly, all power is inherently vicarious in nature. At this point, Agamben thinks it’s reasonably clear that the providential paradigm matches up really closely with modern democratic techniques of government — hence we can see why Schmitt and Peterson would repress the economic theology that lies at its root!

6. Angelology and Bureaucracy: Having dispatched the unsaid point of agreement in terms of what both are rejecting (economy), Agamben turns to the more overt disagreement between Schmitt and Peterson — more specifically, he turns to Peterson’s alternative to “political theology,” namely liturgy conceived as a directly political action. For this, he turns to Peterson’s book on angels, where he portrays them as continually worshipping God and as validating the worship of the church by participating in it. Here again we have repression — surely Peterson knows that angels also have a role of carrying out God’s plan, and hence an “economic” role. The contemplative and administrative roles tend to blur together, following up on the reverse-Pauline notion of the “mystery of the economy.” Nonetheless, it seems that we return to the problem of the inactive God, insofar as the economy of salvation will culminate in the Last Judgment, at which point God and the angels will presumably have no more work to do. This is what opens up the path to the investigation of glory, because worship (glorifying God) is what the angels and saints will do when they have nothing more to do. In a brilliant digression, however, Agamben points out that we also have the chance to observe what an endless “economy” would look like insofar as there are some angels who continue to carry out God’s will forever — namely, the demons punishing sinners in hell. Given that the underlying assumption of modern politics is that the state is immortal, that means we neoliberal subjects are basically living in hell, which we all suspected. The pay-off in terms of Peterson is that even his attempt to avoid economy winds up being intimately tied with economy, so that now both of them have been collapsed into the economic paradigm.

7. The Power and the Glory: The burden of this chapter is to show that Peterson’s supposed liturgical alternative to Schmitt is really no alternative at all. There’s a lot of detailed analysis of imperial ritual, with a particular focus on acclamations — and the immediate purpose of this investigation (which was not terribly interesting to me) is to connect acclamations and overt political ritual to exactly the fascist form of politics that Peterson thought he was rejecting in foreclosing Schmitt’s political theology. Hence the Peterson-Schmitt debate seems to be essentially “closed out” in this chapter. This investigation of acclamation or glory then opens up the question of why power seems to need glory — though we already have hints in his analysis of the performative nature of the acclamation, which represents a way of suspending and remobilizing the denotative force of language — setting up the last, and longest chapter.

8. The Archaeology of Glory: This is the most varied and puzzling chapter, jumping around among Judaism, Christianity, and (very surprisingly) Indian religions as investigated by Mauss. The “big reveal” of this chapter is that the human act of glorification actually creates and sustains the gods, something that is explicit in Judaism and that even Christian theology implicitly admits. While chapter 6 had broached the possibility of a glory that outlived the economy, it becomes clear that glory is itself economical in Christianity — even within the divine life itself, where the trinitarian persons ceaselessly glorify each other. The end goal of the analysis, however, is to get at the inoperativity that the machinery of glory-economy covers over, an inoperativity that opens the possibility of a life that would escape a pre-given form (foreshadowing the analysis in The Highest Poverty of a life that would simply be its own form, a form-of-life) and thus give us access to the moment of anthropogenesis (anticipating The Sacrament of Language) so that we could become human in a new and different way. Jewish messianism (which here seems to include Paul, though not the whole New Testament), with its vision of a Sabbath-rest, provides a privileged access to this inoperativity, as does poetry, which suspends the denotative force of language in a way opposite to that of the acclamation (again anticipating The Sacrament of Language, where philosophy will replace poetry). The threshold on public opinion seems to “close the circle” on the Peterson-Schmitt debate by showing that liberal democracy does fundamentally rest on acclamation — demonstrating that both Peterson and Schmitt failed to escape the liberal democracy they loathed… and that liberal democracy has failed to escape Peterson and Schmitt.

The appendix seems to me to be relatively extrinsic to the structure of the book, even though these investigations feel somehow more “natural” than the progression to glory. I think they’re important in terms of gesturing toward the kind of “connective tissue” that could substantiate his continual gestures toward how the structure of economy and glory prefigures modern liberal political structures, yet they may also be a distraction, insofar as they maintain the focus on economy (which Agamben has shown to be finally a hellish apparatus) and away from the inoperativity that glory is inadvertantly pointing us toward.

Hopefully this overview is helpful for viewing The Kingdom and the Glory as a whole and can provide a helpful framework for figuring out how individual portions fit into it.

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12 Responses to “The structure of The Kingdom and the Glory

  1. TimLM Says:

    Thanks, I found this helpful. It replicates my own understanding in most places, but I don’t think I’d really understood the relation to the Schmitt-Peterson debate in this way. I’ve found the stuff on glory and acclamations to be the part I revisit the most for my own work.

    One other thing that jumped out at me in your summary, and I’ve also noticed it as I read Highest Poverty: I’m a New Testament scholar, and it doesn’t bother me when Agamben plays a bit fast a loose with some aspects of early Christian history. I’m fine, for example, with him treating Ephesians as basically Pauline even if not “by” Paul. (That’s essentially how most NT scholars treat it.) But he really wants Hebrews to be Pauline (“sabbath rest” is from Hebrews, for example), though he seems to know that he’s fudging this. But I actually think Agamben’s argument could be more specific if he treated Hebrews as representing a unique, non-Pauline tradition of Jewish eschatology. Since many read it as engaging the Hellenistic philosophical tradition much more clearly than anything in Paul’s letters, the connection with issues of classical ontology could be grappled with in much more detail in Hebrews. (Though I really like his work on Paul, too.)

  2. Adam Kotsko Says:

    The Hebrews thing has always bothered me, too, but I think he redeems himself somewhat in Opus Dei (forthcoming in translation), where he treats it as clearly different. I see the slippage with Hebrews a lot in authors from Catholic countries, actually.

  3. stuartelden Says:

    Reblogged this on Progressive Geographies and commented:
    a useful overview of the structure of Agamben’s The Kingdom and the Glory

  4. Nicolai Says:

    Dear Adam,

    Thanks for the post. I have asked myself the very same question, although I came up with a different answer. Not nearly as interesting as yours, I admit, but nevertheless: As I see it, the structure of the Kingdom and the Glory has to do with the structure of Mondzain’s “Image, Icon, Economy”. Agamben in many ways copies the structure and the progression of this book, although not with the same philosophical insights and arguments. Hence, the progression in Mondzain’s book is logical because she is discussing economy as icon, or economy in relation to icon and image, in the struggles over iconoclasm (or not) in Byzans, and therefore economy is naturally linked to glory (the glory of the ruler and the glory of God as elements of the economy).
    Agamben redoubles Mondzain’s discussions of economy and of glory, but with a somewhat different literature and a different focus, and so the connection is not obvious, bordering the unintelligible since Agamben is not referring to Mondzain except for a small note at one point. I also think that Agamben’s discussion of glory in modern media is somewhat obscure if one does not take Mondzain’s book into account, which is a thoroughly investigation of the roots of political power’s need for glory.
    So, as I see it, the inherent structure of Agamben’s book has to do with the inherent structure of Mondzain’s book, and Agamben’s book is, in a way, an attempt to ‘rewrite’ Mondzain’s book. Extremely originally done, no doubt, but nevertheless. This is not to take anything away from Agamben, but when I read Mondzain’s book later on, some of Agamben’s arguments and the inherent structure of what he was discussing and why became a lot clearer (you know the ‘Okay, it is definitely interesting, but why is he discussing this here?’ kind of questions).
    Btw, I think you yourself mentioned the connection between Mondzain’s book and Agamben’s at one point on this blog. So maybe this post is your own idea coming back to you…

    Thank you for the post, once again, and for your work on Agamben in general.

    Nicolai

  5. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I’ll have to look back at Mondzain, but I’m skeptical. If your theory is true, it seems like it would be tantamount to plagiarism given that Agamben only refers to Mondzain as an example of someone who examines the term in a certain setting rather than simply “as such.”

  6. Nicolai Says:

    ‘tantamount to plagiarism’ is a harsh expression, and it wouldn’t be my claim. I think, Agamben is extremely original and it is not unusual to be discussing somebody without directly referring to them, at least not in a sort of “French” philosophical tradition.

    I think the “natural” structure of Agamben’s book comes from the way he takes up Michel Foucault’s project on governmentality, as he mentions in the opening lines of the preface. Economy as government. However, Agamben claims, Foucault’s investigations fell short, because he wasn’t sufficiently aware of the theological roots of modern political concepts and structures. Enter: the debate on secularization and the Schmitt-Peterson dispute, which he well follow throughout the book, as you have shown. And the criticism of Foucault will thus remain somewhat immanent, but nevertheless at the core of the argument.
    I think this is also why: “The appendix seems to me to be relatively extrinsic to the structure of the book, even though these investigations feel somehow more “natural” than the progression to glory,” as you write. In the Appendix we return to the genealogy of governmentality, and this is why it feels more “natural” than the progression to glory.

    To explain the excursion through glory, and the connection between economy and glory, however, I think we have to turn to Mondzain’s work and the way she claims there is an inextricable connection. And it seems more than likely, to me, that Agamben picked up the connection from there, and tried to do somehting with it.

    I am not sure how unusual this is. A friend of mine living in Paris, came by a thorough historical work on the institution of ‘Homo Sacer’, published in French in 1992, or 93. And Foucault made extensive use of works by other historians that he hardly ever mentions, although there can be no doubt they served as starting points for his own investigations, which then became sort of a ‘philosophical superstructure’ on the basis of these works.

  7. Adam Kotsko Says:

    There’s no reason to believe that Mondzain’s book is playing the structural role you attribute to it, nor is there any reason to believe that her work has a status similar to Foucault’s in shaping Agamben’s argument. If he got the idea of a connection between glory and economy from Mondzain, why would he go through all the trouble of carrying out a completely different genealogy that doesn’t cover the same territory as hers (West vs. East) and makes the link via angels (suggested by Peterson) rather than Christology and the iconoclasm debate?

    Could it just be that they wrote books on a similar topic? It happens!

  8. Adam Kotsko Says:

    To put it differently: you don’t seem to understand the logical consequences of your claim about Mondzain. He says from the beginning that he’s talking about Foucault, and he explicitly references him at key points. I disagree with you about how much this debate is structuring the work, but it’s plainly obvious from the beginning that Foucault is important to him. If Mondzain is that important, then I don’t know how we can fail to conclude that he’s actively hiding that fact — he literally only refers to her once, in order to say that her work does not achieve the thorough-going historical study he’s trying to do. It seems to me that you’ve taken a couple superficial similarities between the two works and blown them out of proportion — perhaps because you haven’t actually studied the Schmitt-Peterson debate that actually structures the work.

  9. Nicolai Says:

    You’re right, I haven’t studied the Schmitt-Peterson debate, so I only know from some of Schmitt’s side and secondary sources, so perhaps I am not qualified. I just found it interesting that you were discussing a question, or problem, I myself have thought about and have been discussing with others a couple of times. And I also found that the similarity with Mondzain’s work was striking – especially as the connection between economy and glory is far from intuitive in Agamben’s work, whereas it is extremely obvious in Mondzain’s work. And also since they are using many of the same writers in their genealogy of the concept of ‘economy’, it is not that far-fetched that Agamben used this book as a source of inspiration. Especially when it comes to ‘correcting errors’, which seems to be sort of a methodological tool in all of Agamben’s work.But I think one should not underestimate what the work of those he is ‘correcting’ actually means for his argument – Foucault, Schmitt-Peterson, Mondzain, Arendt-Foucault in Homo Sacer, Schmitt-Benjamin in SOE, etc. So, I think Agamben does this all the time, and I think there is a lot to be gained in understanding him by reading those, he is correcting, since it implicitly forms the structure of his argument. Coming to think of it, I actually just wanted to contribute to your argument about quasi-hidden structures in Agamben’s book, which are far from just obvious.

  10. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I understand what you’re trying to do, and I also understand that Agamben sometimes is in implicit dialogue with people he doesn’t cite explicitly. I’m trying to point out to you that the way he deals with Mondzain is significantly different from how he deals with Arendt-Foucault, etc., and to suggest that you are incorrect to believe that he is structuring the work around a hidden dialogue with her. In other words, I understand you, but I disagree — so further clarification is probably not helpful.

  11. Nicolai Says:

    Yeah, you’re right. As I started out by saying, I found your explanation of the ‘leap’ from economy to glory very interesting, and I had initially thought about this leap from a very different angle. It will be in the back of my head the next time I pick up the book.

  12. Josh Says:

    The Kingdom and the Glory is about Raoul Vaneigem, Q by Luther Blissett, Foucault’s lectures about political economy, and about Schizoanalytic Cartographies and Plan for the Planet by Felix Guattari. It is also similar to The Invisibles, and The Filth by Grant Morrison, which are also based on Foucault, Nietzsche and Vaneigem.


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