At a distance to the State: Radical Democracy and Religion




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At a distance to the State: Radical Democracy and Religion

By Geoffrey Holsclaw


Introduction

Contemporary globalization puts both religion and the State on notice. Giving rise to a backlash of religious fundamentalism, cultural and economic globalization also puts the State into a reactionary stance. In light of this, questioning the relationship between religion and politics must again offer an account of the State. This paper will therefore investigate the relationship between the State, religion, and radical democracy. An interrogation of the State will proceed through a juxtaposition of the 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes and 21st century French philosopher Alain Badiou. The former understands politics as principally concerned with forming the State, while the latter understands politics as operating ‘at a distance to the State.’ Within this conceptions of politics we will then examine the recent account by Romand Coles and Stanely Hauerwas of radical democracy and radical ecclesiology in Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary: Conversations Between a Radical Democrat and a Christian.


Putting the State at a Distance

Thomas Hobbes: Politics as the State

Let us rehearse briefly the contours of Hobbe’s theory of the State under the three topics: 1) The State of Nature; 2) the ‘One’ of the multitude; and 3) the artificial person of the State. First, as Hobbes says in Leviathan, the state of nature is a state of perpetual war of every man against every man, battling for those means which they see fit for preserving their own life, yet always living in the fear of violent death. This natural state, stemming from the diverse passions and idiosyncratic reasons of each person seeking preservation, unfortunately ensures that none will long be preserved. This is the fundamental state from which the political situation emerges, with its Natural Rights and Laws, culminating ultimately in the production of the Sovereign State.1

Somewhere between the state of war and the creation of the State, Hobbes notes that people might band together for the benefit of mutual aid and protection. He calls these groups a multitude, or a crowd. Yet even this multitude fails to protect and preserved life because of the diversity of wills, reasons, and passions within it. Therefore, in addition to the Natural Rights and Natural Laws which bear on each individual in the state of nature, this multitude of wills must be made into ‘one’, into ‘one Person’ as a common power to keep the multitude in awe and to represent its will.2 This passage of the multitude to the One consists in each person consenting to give one’s own natural rights over to the Sovereign. And when this happens, “the Multitude so united in one Person, is called a Common-Wealth, in latine Civitas. This is the Generation of that great Leviathan.3 But we must keep firmly before us that this Leviathan is an artificial person, or as Quentin Skinner says, the Sovereign is a ‘purely artificial person’ who represents another, to be distinguished from a natural person who represents herself.4 But for Hobbes, a natural person never represent herself, but only himself, because a ‘person’ for Hobbes is one capable of exercising an individual will, which is only something a man can do. But not just any man, but rather only landowning men. In this sense, a vast majority of human individuals are not political persons and do not contribute in creating the ‘purely artificial person’ of the State. This ‘purely artificial person’ is created by and yet not reducible to the multitude (of men) which sanctions it. The creation of this artificial person, creating a ‘one’ out of the multitude, forming a state of peace beyond that of war, constitutes Hobbes’ vision of politics. In short, politics culminates in the creation of the State. This view is what Badiou, Coles, and Hauerwas all strive against.


Alain Badiou: Politics at a distance to the State

Without going into detail here, Badiou’s political philosophy is based in his mathematical ontology grounded in contemporary set-theory. This ontology articulates the fundamental distinction between presentation and re-presentation, the former in the realm of a ‘situation’ and the latter as that of a ‘state of the situation.’5 A situation is any, literally any, ‘presented multiplicity’: from the grouping of cardinal numbers, to a biological body, to a traffic pattern, to the condition of racism preceding the Civil Rights Movement. A ‘state of the situation’ is a second presentation, or re-presentation, that organizes, groups, and codifies everything that is presented in a situation. As an example along the political vein we are discussing, the situation called Illinois presents an individual person, Jane Doe. Within this situation she is presented as herself, living in her house, going on walks, having a job, going to a Cubs game. But within the ‘state of the situation’ (and note the coincidence of use ‘state’ to refer to the situation, as well as the ‘state’ of Illinios, extended to the Nation-State) Jane Doe is re-presented as ‘Jane Doe’, who is known not as she is in herself, but classified as a ‘tax payer’, a ‘legal resident’, or a ‘voter’. She is re-presented through State agencies like the IRS as a tax payer, the Census Bureau as a legal resident, and local voter registries as an independent. These agencies organize, group, and codify all the elements of the situation, i.e. all the people, but not merely people as such, but according to the language of classification of each agency. The State (ontologically and politically) is fundamentally indifferent that Jane Doe belongs to the situation as a singular person, but is preoccupied that ‘Jane Doe’ be included and re-presented.6 Within this scheme, Badiou categorizes those elements in a situation by how they are present and/or re-presented. In our example, Jane Doe is a normal element of the situation (of society), both presented and re-presented. This corresponds to natural person for Hobbes. However, the bureaucratic agencies of the state (the IRS, etc) are called excrescent because they are only represented by the state, or as the state, but are not directly presented. This corresponds to the artificial in Hobbes.

But there is another relation between presentation and re-presentation which eludes Hobbes, which Hobbes seeks in fact to eliminate. This concerns those elements that are presented in the situation but not represented by the State, which Badiou calls singular.7 An example which Badiou says merely approximates the concept is of a family which has a member who is an illegal immigrant. While other members of the family are re-presented by the State by the IRS, Census Bureau, and appear on voter registries, this one member does not pay income tax, is not counted as a citizen, and cannot vote. For the State, this person does not exist because his existence is illegal. 8 This person can only be counted as One according to the situation, but is not counted at all by the State.

This counting as One each singular person as presented is ultimately the definition of politics for Badiou. Against the ‘one’ re-presented by the State, and against the ‘One’ which is the State in the Hobbesian unification of the multitude, Badiou coordinates the position of the One, and therefore what he sees as authentically political, within the realm of presentation. Against the Hobbesian One founded in the purely artificial person of the Sovereign State, Badiou advocates the universality of each singular person counted as one according to a true, rather than fictive, equality. For “to count as one what is not even counted is what is at stake in every genuinely political thought.”9 In this way “politics puts the State at a distance” not by abolishing the State but offering an alternative accounting of the situation.10 This “at a distance” does not ignore the state but does remain outside of the electoral system of party re-presentation, and is therefore a post-party politics.11


Radical Democracy and Radical Ecclesiology

More could be said in regard to Hobbes and Badiou, but it was necessary to outline Badiou’s understanding of State and politics to preempt an understanding which either derides Coles and Hauerwas as idealistic and irrelevant sectarians, or champions them as anti-Statist extremists, both of which rarely farther the conversation between politics and religion. The purpose below is to discuss the relative merits, within the space provided by Badiou, of the relationship between radical democracy and radial ecclesiology at a distance to, but not against, the State. To do this we will interrogate a recent collaboration by Romand Coles and Stanely Hauerwas, titled Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary: Conversations Between a Radical Democrat and a Christian.


Romand Cole: Radical Democracy as Receptive Generosity

Away from the corporate megastate, which contains a rhetoric of democracy even while eroding its possibility, Roman Coles seeks out the roots of radical democracy, a democracy that is never in possession of its, that is fugitive in nature.12 Unlike the attempts to gain “a share” of State power, which usually is constituted anti-democratically, radical democracy attempts to share power through a persistent tending to other for mutual benefit.13 The characteristics of such a radical democracy consist in a tension-dwelling between the past and future, receptive listening and prophetic voicing, immediate goals and deep transformation, and cultivating local habits and the habit of de-habituation.14 Radical democracy is enabled by receptive generosity and reciprocal mutuality where each person involved is open to the other, never fully in possession of oneself. This generosity and mutuality is cultivated by liturgies—body practices—that form in participants the capacities of patience, care, dialogue, courage, and fortitude.15 Radical democracy is therefore not a system of government guided by a constitution, but a continual process guided by the individuals constituting it.

In his desire for radical democracy, Coles, who seems to be agnostic, admits to being haunted by John Howard Yoder, whose ecclesial politics, or radical ecclesiology, embodies the traits of radical democracy (tension dwelling, generous receptivity, body practices, and non-coercive relations).16 But even in this haunting, Coles has two crucial concerns in regard to Hauerwas’ appropriation and extension of Yoder. First (in the form of a question), might not Yoder’s jealousy for Christ lead unexpectedly to anti-democratic practices of exclusion? And doesn’t the emphasis Hauerwas places on orthodoxy lead to the inability of practicing generous receptivity? Second, concerning the ‘liturgical turn’ expressed in the Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics,17 might an understanding of Christian ethics as Christian practice embodied and performed in the liturgy lead to an orientation of gathering as a closed community rather than cultivating a community that openly scatters within the world?18 Yet even in the midst of these worrisome questions, Coles, ever true to practicing generous receptivity, acknowledges that these ‘undemocratic institutions linked to orthodoxy’ might constitute the very condition of radical democracy.19 Or said differently, Coles worries that radical democracy might indeed require a transcendent orientation supplied only but religion.


Stanley Hauerwas: Radical Ecclesiology as Repentant Orthodoxy

As is well know, Stanely Hauerwas has an anti-liberal streak that many times leads to accusations of fideistic, sectarian tribalism. But instead of accusing him of, or defending him against these claims, which typically come from those entrenched in State oriented liberalism, we will outline his interactions with Coles and the resulting similarities and differences between a radical ecclesiology and radical democracy.

First, in relation to Coles’ concern about the ‘liturgical turn’, Hauerwas wonders how and where people are formed who are concerned with radical democracy, because they do not drop from the sky. Hauerwas notes that Coles’ account of radical democracy is significantly developed in conversation with Ella Baker and Cornel West, who were formed liturgical into people capable of generous receptivity and prophetic voicing within an ecclesial tradition. Without these strong religious traditions, Hauerwas wonders if these types of people conceivable? And conversely, will not radical democracy become an “end in itself, and end to which God becomes an afterthought” and therefore become unhinged from its roots and possibilities? Therefore, his emphasis on the church comes from his fear that the church is currently unable to produced the type of people the world so desperately needs.20

Second, in relation to Coles’ haunting by John Howard Yoder, Hauerwas suggests that Yoder would like Coles to be haunted instead by Jesus. And that in fact Hauerwas himself is haunted by Jesus, and tries to place his body in positions to be haunted by Jesus. “That I go to church,” says Hauerwas, “does not mean I think that Jesus is only to be found there. It just means that he has promised to show up there in a manner that can help us discern how he shows up in other places.”21 He, therefore, emphasizes the ‘liturgical turn’ not to form a closed community, bordered off and secured from others, but rather as the principle place that the otherness of Jesus can haunted the community that gathers in his name, so that they might be scattered in the world to do as he did. Only in worship is It is not a question of Church against the world, but an emphasis on the Church for the world.22

Last, Hauerwas claims that a commitment to orthodoxy protects the radical democratic ideal practiced by (or rather, for Hauerwas, inspired by) Jesus because orthodoxy “but names the developments across time that the Church has found necessary for keeping the story of Jesus straight.” Because of this, “rather than being the denial of radical democracy, orthodoxy is the exemplification of the training necessary for the formation of a people who are not only capable of working for justice, but who are themselves just.”23 This relation of orthodoxy and the training of a people, expressed in the ‘liturgical turn’, highlights his understanding that only in these practices can radical democratic processes flourish. Or rather, only in them can people committed to radical democratic processes flourish; and without them it/they will stagnate. Indeed, in the midst of claims that Hauerwas’ ecclesial focus fosters an exclusivism based in an imaginary center (be it orthodoxy, liturgy, or Jesus), Hauerwas asks, and is never answered, “what do radical democrats do if they do not confession of sin?”24 For in the practice of confession and repentance of sin, the church takes into account its failure to be what it ought to be, but not as an excuse for evil nor as an eternal postponement of holiness. But rather the Church from the beginning knows that it is not in possession of itself, that it has yet been sufficiently haunted by Jesus, by the Spirit of Jesus, by the Holy Ghost. But if radial democrats do not confession sin, then how can they ensure that democracy will not come to possess itself, to be possessed by itself?


Conclusion:

But for all the questions which Coles and Hauerwas pose to each other, it must be clear that this exchange is occurs between friends and outside the State oriented liberalism, at least in the sense ‘that enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ For neither Coles or Hauerwas advocate a pre-established Rawlsian public reason, nor a desire to influence national politics, but prefer instead the local tending of reciprocal mutuality and generosity. Both see in this local tending the space of the true polis, a politics at a distance to the State. In this common distance Coles and Hauerwas refuse to enter into polemical rhetoric or a critical reduction between radical democracy and radical ecclesiology, even though there is clearly a tension of priority between a commitment to radical democracy, on the one hand, and radical ecclesia, on the other.

And in this tension is revealed the relative coordination between the four figures under discussion. For even with his commitment to generous receptivity against the corporate mega-state, Coles repeats a Hobbesian political motif which neutralizes robust religious commitments in the name of politics, albeit now at a distance to, rather culminating in, the State. And Hauerwas, a staunch believer, ironically finds more resonance with Badiou, the militant atheist, by arguing for a think understanding of truth, religious truth for Hauerwas and political truth for Badiou,25 and its local actualization as an alternative polis. It certainly is a sign of our post-secular times that the militant atheist and the staunch believer find deeper agree among themselves than with two more agnostic thinker in Hobbes and Coles.26

In either case, given the account sustained by Badiou, it seems the conversation between a radical democracy and a radical ecclesiology on the ground in neighborhoods, towns and villages, is more welcome and productive than that between abstract ‘religion’ or the purely artificial ‘state’, especially when it is in the form of religion acting as a civil conscience for national politics, or presidential politics exploiting religious rhetoric to bolster a migrating constituency.

1 Leviathan,ch. 14, 15, 17.

2 Ibid., ch 16 and 17.

3 Ibid., ch. 17.

4 Quentin Skinner, “The Purely Artificial Person of the State” in Vision and Politics, v.3: Hobbes and Civil Science, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 177-208.

5 Badiou elaborates this mathematical ontology in parts 1 and 2 of Being and Event (trans. Oliver Feltham. [NY: Continuum, 2005]). For the application of these concepts to politics see especially chapters 9 and 16.

6 Ibid., 107.

7 Ibid., 174.

8 Ibid., 174.

9 Ibid., 150 (emphasis added).

10 Badiou, Metapolitics trans. Jason Barker (NY: Verso, 2005), p. 145.

11 Badiou, “Politics and Philosophy” [interview with Peter Hallward]. Angelaki 3:3 (1998): 114.

12 Stanley Hauerwas and Romand Cole, Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary: Conversations between a Radical Democrat and a Christian (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2007), p.307. Coles is drawing from Sheldon Wolin’ s Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought, Expanded Edition (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2004), ch. 17 where he sets forth this idea.

13 Ibid., p. 141.

14 Ibid., p. 278.

15 Ibid., p. 323.

16 Note Beyond Gated Politics, p. 137-138.

17 Put in bibliographic details.

18 Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary, p. 211.

19 Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary, p. 323.

20 Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary, p. 111. Charles Marsh argues that the Civil Rights Movement drifted from its purpose and lost energy once it lost its theological roots in Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today (NY: Basic Books, 2005).

21 Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary, p. 105.

22 For course liturgical theologians like Alexander Schmemann and Aidan Kavanagh have always emphasized that the church gathers ‘for the sake of the world.’

23 Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary, p. 30.

24 Ibid., p. 326.

25 For Hauerwas on truth and orthodoxy see Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary, p. 324. For Badiou on truth see Metapolitics trans. Jason Barker (NY: Verso, 2005), ch. 10, “Politics as Truth Procedure.”

26 Of course Hobbes claimed he was not an atheist, but it is hard to square his strict nominalism and political claims with faith.

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