James R. Martel
Divine violence: Walter Benjamin and the eschatology of sovereignty
Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon ; N.Y., 2012, 157 pp.
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.
Introduction: divine violence and political fetishism
The political theology of sovereignty
In the maw of sovereignty
Benjamin's dissipated eschatology
Waiting for justice
Forgiveness, judgment and sovereign decision
The Hebrew republic
Conclusion : the anarchist hypothesis.
James Martel is a Professor of Political Theory at
His research areas include early modern contemporary thought. Recent books by
the author include Textual Conspiracies: Walter Benjamin, Idolatry and
Political Theory (2011) and Subverting the Leviathan: Reading Thomas Hobbes
as a Radical Democrat (2007) San Francisco State University