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.