What St. Paul and the Franciscans can tell us about neoliberalism

Last night, I presented this paper (PDF) to the Paul of Tarsus Interdisciplinary Working Group at Northwestern University. In it, I try to situate The Highest Poverty in relation to Agamben’s work since The Kingdom and the Glory, and at the end, I address the issue of Agamben’s relationship to Marxism.

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14 Responses to “What St. Paul and the Franciscans can tell us about neoliberalism”

  1. Will Says:

    Thank you for sharing – found it a very stimulating read which makes me wish to pick up the book. As if to encapsulate the collapse of “glory into economy”, one of my superiors at work is an ex-clergy, ex-banker that has ended up at a Credit Union.

  2. burritoboy Says:

    I like the paper very much. Some potential thoughts (not criticisms, but where our thinking might go towards):

    1. Agamben at least alludes to this (though you know his work far better than I), but one thing that can be added to his thought is the history of the philosophic community before Christianity. The Greco-Roman philosophers are clearly experimenting with various forms of philosophic community – the philosophic army of Xenophon, the philosophic commune of Epicurus’ Garden, and so forth with various amounts of success.
    2. The early Christian philosophers are clearly trying to build upon these pagan attempts – for example, Basil’s writings on monasticism. That the early Christian philosophers are trying to build philosophic communities is understood in the Middle Ages – for example, Abelard’s History of My Calamities shows that he interprets (and experiments with) monasticism as a potential form of philosophic community.
    3. I am not so certain that Agamben’s focus on the Franciscans is the complete or even the most illustrative starting point of analysis. In any case, analyzing the Carthusian or Dominican orders might also prove extremely illuminating as well.
    4. Moving forward in time after the Reformation, the Church is dominated by the Jesuit order. How can we apply Agamben’s thought toward the Jesuits and their development?
    5. The history of the medieval and modern university could be usefully analyzed through this lens as well.

  3. Adam Kotsko Says:

    All of those ideas seem like worthy paths for further research. I’d be especially interested in the last one.

  4. john thornton (jr) (@johnthorntonjr) Says:

    I really enjoyed this. In particular the end when it seemed that what you were narrating a type of crucifixion-resurrection in which whatever comes next it will necessarily have to travel through the suffering at the hands of the dead end of neoliberalism.

    What I am curious about is why anyone of us would actually attempt to live in that non-economic, “life as such” space. For those who already occupy a space of non-economic or non-possession (the homeless, the poor, those living in places of insecurity at the hands of neoliberalism), it is a space of remarkable pain and does not appear to be the site of any kind of newness or potentiality that gives way to the non-economic gap that you (rightly) say Marxism does not give an account for. It only appears to be a space of death.

    I want to push and question whether or not this property-less, use only, life as such is actually worth living then. If it is the way forward, the way to jetisen the economic and leaving only glory, why don’t we simply do it? Is it because we are worried about this form of life being under theorized and swept up as just another form of capital and neo-liberalization?

  5. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I did not intend to be narrating a crucifixion-resurrection dynamic of necessary suffering. The point of the bit about Benjamin at the end is to disallow any necessary relationship between the new and the old.

    From the point of view of individuals within the present order, deprivation of property is absolutely devestating. But it’s the very regime of property — which is based fundamentally on excluding all others from the use of one’s property — that produces that deprivation. Recognition of the suffering of the poor and homeless is a reason to try to reformulate things, not a counterexample. The property regime is only one way of using things. Agamben’s calling for us to develop a new use of things that would not be based on that fundamentally exclusionary logic.

  6. john thornton (jr) (@johnthorntonjr) Says:

    When I wrote that suffering was necessary, what I meant was that this new, “life as such” will be a rejection of the economic formulation of life and its under-riding logic of exclusion. Living in a world that has completely collapsed life into the economic, to reject its logic and formulations of property then is to invite suffering upon oneself as the poor and homeless exemplify with their lives. I want to say that this type of living death at the hands of the dead end of neoliberalism is a type of crucifixion. This death is not necessary for the glory, but for those whose lives are predicated on the logic of the economic, rejection of it will only bring what seems to be death.

  7. Mike Grimshaw Says:

    Central to capitalism is the creation of waste and this includes human waste. Yet what we have shifted to with neo-liberalism is the the hyper-creation of waste with no alternative postion gaining traction. To consider why we need to remember that Neo-liberalism reduces everything to the market- just as marxism reduces everything to the economy. It is no wonder that many neo-liberals started off as marxists or near-marxists- for them the market became the answer to the problem of the economy. The are flip-sides to a singular utopian project of economy/market.The next complication is the shift from money to finance that accompanies a post-industrial society whereby debt becomes the defining characteristic and in fact -for many- an ‘opportunity’.
    Yet the debt is not just economic/market/ fiance- it is a debt of lives- of millions of individual human lives that I- as educated, well-paid white westerner exist because of. So where to turn?The centrality of a shared humanity that sits at the core of juadaism, christianity and islam is central to a recovery of shared humanity, but this cannot be a shared humanity that all too easily becomes broken into saved and not saved, true and not true, more and less. So the idea of a common humanity is not the return of religion that divides and opposes fellow humans. It is however a claim of the equal value of every human life that takes the creation of human waste as a reduction in my own humanity- the humanity i share at base with all others- even with those who i may find myself in opposition to.

  8. Josh Says:

    The Highest Poverty is the same as the 28th March 1979 lecture about the subject of interest in the Birth of Biopolitics.

    The multitude of singularities and their transcendent, inessential subjectivity is the same as the global free market and the sovereign subject of interest who is above law, contract, and government.

    This is nothing to do with Negri, who does not understand Foucault.

    Nietzsche explicitly rejected Spinoza and monism.

    The Highest Poverty is a reference to Wittgenstein’s form of life in Philosophical Investigations, Foucault’s care of the self, and Nietzsche’s rejection of being and metaphysics in Twilight of the Idols. The multitude “use” the form of life and the common of language without having an essential identity or being.

    It is an attempt to create a “chaotic” politics beyond the political ontology of being and the state. The neoliberal plane of immanence is a threshold between classical liberalism and anarchy, between immanent order and the becoming of chaos. A Dionysian politics.

  9. Adam Kotsko Says:

    “Nietzsche explicitly rejected Spinoza and monism.” — How is that relevant? What are you on about in this flurry of comments?

  10. Josh Says:

    You do not seem to have understood what Nietzsche and Wittgenstein have done to metaphysics and philosophy. Deleuze and Negri’s work are based on an ontology, a form of monism. This is a misinterpretation of Nietzsche, who is a sceptic philosopher. Wittgenstein and Foucault are sceptics. A sceptic would reject any kind of metaphysical transcendence, or description of the subject as a fiction. Foucault is a sceptic, not a liberation theologian. His work is Nietzschean, the Death of God, not the libertarian free spirit. Nietzsche is actually the opposite of Bloch, Benjamin or libertarian socialism. Nietzsche has rejected being completely. Heidegger is a reactionary who does not understand what the Death of God implies. Wittgenstein and Foucault are not Marxists. With the language games, the concept of history itself disappears. Understand what it means to say that language has no essence.

  11. Adam Kotsko Says:

    So I shouldn’t read Agamben and Heidegger, or….? I don’t understand where this is coming from or what standard you’re using to judge me or what you think my work in general is about.

  12. Josh Says:

    Of course, read Heidegger, but just be aware that Agamben’s work covers contintental and analytic philosophy, because he looks at both “sides” of Aristotle, physics and metaphysics. Language is in the middle (media). Rhizome is between subject and object.

    Deleuze & Guattari is really continental philosophy, Nietzsche and Foucault is really sceptic philosophy. Agamben writes about both. Wittgenstein seems to be in the middle of continental and analytic philosophy, as is Marx. Be aware that early Marx is different to late Marx, and the same for Wittgenstein, who rejects his own earlier positions.

    The rejection of logical atomism and Wittgenstein’s comments in Philosophical Investigations are important because Wittgenstein would reject most of Deleuze & Guattari or Heidegger’s ontology as playing games with words, grammar creating illusions. The fly trapped in the fly bottle. This is also the same as the interrogation in 1984, which is really about logical positivism, metaphysics and scepticism. For Orwell, reality does not exist inside the skull.

    If you are aware of the different positions, read whatever you want, but don’t confuse yourself. Negri and Deleuze & Guattari confuse different positions, so end up writing nonsense. Foucault would reject Empire as nominalist, he was looking at physics and disciplines, not at metaphysics, the totality, or the state, which are chimeras, fetishes. Don’t take totalitarian claims seriously, be a sceptic.

  13. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Duly noted. From now on, please try to be more directly on-topic with your comments.

  14. Josh Says:

    This is on topic. Read the Birth of Biopolitics, and Capitalism A Very Special Delirium, then go back and read The Highest Poverty again. Agamben is talking about immanence, desire, and line of flight. Economy without politics is a plane of immanence without a plane of transcendence. The Fransciscans are proletarians in a class struggle with the Empire, the Church. This is like Q by Luther Blissett, and Tiqqun. Tikkun olam. The Coming Community is the proletariat, the classless class.

    The Homo Sacer is a proletarian, a threshold between the nomos of the Empire and the eternal life of the Coming Community. The Homo Sacer has a care of the self, a form of life, an acting without being, labour without capital. This is Deleuze & Guattari’s plane of immanence, after the apocalyptic end of capitalism. The multitude of singularities after the rhizome, the neoliberal physiocrat economic table, the tablet of values, has been broken. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The Death of God in the market place.

    How could you have history without linear time, care of the self without a self, or production of subjectivity without a subject? Ignore Heidegger’s metaphysics and Negri’s liberal socialism, or you won’t understand what Foucault is saying, or what the Homo Sacer series is about. Nietzsche and Foucault have rejected ontology and essence. Becoming, not being. There is no subjectivity, only a praxis, acting, a becoming, an eternal recurrence.


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