Walter Benjamin and the Eschatology of Sovereignty
By James Martel
Routledge – 2012
Divine Violence looks at the question of political theology and its connection to sovereignty. It argues that the practice of sovereignty reflects a Christian eschatology, one that proves very hard to overcome even by left thinkers, such as Arendt and Derrida, who are very critical of it. These authors fall into a trap described by Carl Schmitt whereby one is given a (false) choice between anarchy and sovereignty, both of which are bound within—and return us to—the same eschatological envelope. In Divine Violence, the author argues that Benjamin supplies the correct political theology to help these thinkers. He shows how to avoid trying to get rid of sovereignty (the "anarchist move" that Schmitt tells us forces us to "decide against the decision") and instead to seek to de-center and dislocate sovereignty so that it’s mythological function is disturbed. He does this with the aid of divine violence, a messianic force that comes into the world to undo its own mythology, leaving nothing in its wake. Such a move clears the myths of sovereignty away, turning us to our own responsibility in the process. In that way, the author argues,Benjamin succeeds in producing an anarchism that is not bound by Schmitt’s trap but which is sustained even while we remain dazzled by the myths of sovereignty that structure our world.
Divine Violence will be of interest to students of political theory, to those with an interest in political theology, philosophy and deconstruction, and to those who are interested in thinking about some of the dilemmas that the ‘left’ finds itself in today.
PART ONE; Introduction: Sovereignty and temporality; The trap of sovereignty; Benjamin’s dissipated eschatology; PART TWO; Waiting for Justice; Forgiveness and judgment; Sovereignty de-centered: The Hebrew Republic; Conclusion: Politics without mythology.
James Martel is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at San Francisco State University.