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Political Theology: Four New Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (Columbia Studies in Political Thought / Political History) Paperback – May 29, 2012
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Paul W. Kahn is a distinguished political and legal theorist who has written many important books on the American political imagination before. Yet in this case, he directly engages a thinker with whom he has slowly discovered a philosophical kinship, the great German legal and political theorist Carl Schmitt. The encounter is providential. Quite apart from providing another version of Kahn's thinking about the nature of American political life, Kahn's new book offers an extremely original and insightful proposal about what to take away from Schmitt's project of 'political theology.' This is a very attractive and imaginative project, and it is executed with brilliance and provocation. (Samuel Moyn, Columbia University, author of The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History and coeditor of Democracy Past and Future)
Magisterial. (Michael Ignatieff New Republic)
Kahn's work is engaging and prompts further considerations on the sacred nature of politics. (Choice)
Kahn's book is fascinating, insightful, and a delight to read (Peter E. Gordon Immanent Frame)
In his masterful redefinition of Carl Schmitt's work within a democratic context, Kahn's book establishes the study of political theology as the key to understanding one of the most difficult yet urgent problems of American political life―the relationship between law and popular will. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the roles of sovereignty and the sacred in the development of our national identity. (David Pan, University of California, Irvine)
This is an important book, one that ought to be read by anyone interested in the relevance of Carl Schmitt's thought for contemporary democratic theory (and even more so those who believe it has none). (Adam Thurschwell Law, Culture, and Humanities)
Political Theology overflows with insights and productive provocations about politics, jurisprudence, and philosophy. (Mark S. Weiner Telos)
Kahn...has produced a biblically inspired reading of [Carl] Schmitt. (Muslim World Book Review)
Paul W. Kahn presents political theology as a secular inquiry into ultimate meanings sustaining an American faith in the popular sovereign. He works out this view through an engagement with Carl Schmitt's 1922 classic, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty. Kahn offers a new version of each chapter, which is responsive to the American political imaginary. As in Schmitt's work, sovereignty remains central, yet Kahn shows how popular sovereignty creates an ethos of sacrifice in the modern state. Turning to law, Kahn demonstrates how the line between exception and judicial decision is not as sharp as Schmitt may have led us to believe. He reminds readers that American political life begins with the revolutionary willingness to sacrifice and that both sacrifice and law continue to ground the American political imagination. Kahn offers a political theology that has at its center the practice of freedom realized in political decisions, legal judgments, and finally in philosophical inquiry itself.
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Top Customer Reviews
A fundamental contribution to understanding Schmitt through an American mind.
Kahn is really explaining how national interest, a state's existence, has become the highest order. It's the realist stance that butts heads with Yoder's idolatry (putting state's interests above morality is like making the state an idol). "The popular sovereign... is the mystical corpus of the state, the source of ultimate meaning for citizens (pg 121)."
My thought; Is God sovereign because He can make exception to his own laws or because He is the only one who truly understands the physical and spiritual laws of all existence? Kahn doesn't address this.
When we take the idea of sovereignty, God's sovereignty, and apply it to state power, we now get Schmitt's dictum that, "All significant concepts of modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts." And when you secularize theological concepts you may confuse the original intent. Kahn holds that political theory is not as helpful as political theology. Theology understands sacrifice while liberalism is confused by it.
Can anyone apply political theology to humanity without knowing the character of God? To say that humans have freedom because we are able to act in exception to a law is not the same as Schmitt's divine creation where God worked the ultimate exception to all laws. God is all loving AND just, all the time. Kahn barely mentions the moral dualism but it has to be implied. Is the sovereign state, exercising freedom through exception, on a completely different moral plane than the individual responsibility to a loving and just God?
There are a lot of great quotes and ideas in Kahn's work as he meshes politics, philosophy, law, anthropology and faith into his thesis. Kahn digs into philosophy when he discusses the origin of laws and ideas themselves. What comes first, the process that makes a law legitimate or the law itself? According to Kahn war, love, sacrifice and mercy are all exceptions to law at some level. They are counters to liberal theory. How does politics explain love and justice or law and mercy?
It's good read, very heavy at certain parts which makes it difficult to skim. Take your time.