Glory, both in theology and politics, is precisely what takes the place of that unthinkable emptiness that amounts to the inoperativity of power. And yet, precisely this unthinkable vacuity is what nourishes and feeds power (or rather what the machine of power transforms into nourishment.) – Giorgio Agamben, The Kingdom and the Glory
[T]hat is somethin that in a sign or concept marks and exceeds such a sign or concept referring it back to a determinate interpretation or field, without for that reason leaving the semiotic to constitute a new meaning or a new concept. Signatures move an displace concepts and signs from one field to another (in this case, from sacred to profane, and vice versa) without redefining them semantically. (Agamben, 4. italics in the original)
Theology, then, does not simply become economic by virtue of a disenchanment or even a semantic morphology. It is already constituted economically though it does not for that reason cease to be theological, or glorious. The glorification of economy is actually necessary and provides the link to liturgy. Agamben elucidates this via a dispute that took place between Carl Schmitt -the coiner of the term “political theology” – and a Roman Catholic theologian named Erik Peterson. Peterson argued that political theology was impossible in Christianity, and that Christian political action was possible solely on the presupposition of a triune God. Peterson, disavowing both political and economic theology, articulated politics as liturgical action, or participation in the heavenly city. Agamben, who will go on to draw out some surprising connections between medieval discourses on angels and contemporary bureaucracy, finds this disavowal revealing. The liturgical apparatus is part parcel of the articulation of the triune God as oikonomia, and more pointedly of government, whether divine or human managed by angels or officials.
Here we should perhaps return to the discussion of the two paradigms of political theology and economic theology. The two paradigms, which briefly we can refer to as sovereignty and government respectively, continue to oscillate throughout the numerous discourses to which Agamben makes reference. Establishing that the mystery of God in early Church theology, though significantly not in Paul, is nothing but the mystery of economy itself (that is the glorification of oikonomia) Agamben goes on to relate the conceptual gaps between ontology and praxis and finally kingdom and government. A central idea here is that of the sovereign as one who “reigns but does not rule”. In its final guise this takes the form of the empty throne, the glorious symbol of power. The centre of power is, in fact, empty and precisely for this reason glory -that is liturgy, acclamation, and ceremony – play a constitutive role. The contemporary connection to which Agamben refers here is the role of the media and the idea of “government by consent.” Drawing out the parallels with theology, or better the theological signature, Agamben refers to a theologian called Bossuet in whom theology and atheology overlap, as it were, without remainder. God governs the world as if it governed itself.
In sum The Kingdom and the Glory is a valuable contribution to the study of governmentality,liturgy, and glory. It is certainly a thought-provoking and challenging read for someone who lives within the Christian tradition, and particularly a variant of Christianity which celebrates the liturgical, often in a politicized way that resonate eerily with some of Agamben`s descriptions. Reading Agamben`s book thinkers such as John Milbank or Catherine Pickstock came frequently to mind. Is liturgy, after all, the deeply formative practice that forms us to depth of our being and allows us to participate in divine life, or is it a glorification of economy that occludes politics and leads to the sacralization of management?
On a more pressing level, Agamben challenges the contemporary “society of the spectacle” and the triumph of government and administration over other forms of social encounter. Agamben’s keen historical insights into the state of the exception, particularly with regard to Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, are deepened here. Noting the role of acclamation, including explicitly liturgical formulations, in the rise to power and adulation of government officials Agamen not only irrevocably indicts the Church in its complicity in the horrors of genocide, he also makes us aware that the dangers are not past. The ubiquitous presence of media, the overwhelming triumph of the managerial cult and the way these feed into a political-juridical system designed to produce outcasts. In Canada we have a minister of immigration who wants the (sovereign) right to revoke the permanent resident status, not to mention the increased use of biometrics. And this is a “majority government.”