Symposium Introduction

The first thing to be said about political theology is the discipline, the field, the style, still lacks consensus about what it is, what kind of thing it is, and what it’s good for—if it is good for anything. For me, political theology always represents the danger of the immanent Spirit within theology. It is as dangerous as it is powerful: unpredictable and yet very easy to manipulative precisely it was what was most human about theology. Political theology moves people because it speaks directly to our fear, joy, and longing.

A host of voices in the discipline have linked political theology to liberal democracy and its woes. Jeff Robbins, Clayton Crockett, Paul W. Kahn and others are good representatives of this trend. In Force of God, Carl Raschke joins them, but in a much more self-consciously Marxian way. He recognizes that political theology is about value, and so fundamentally about political economy. He laments “the Great Separation,” not of the political from the religious, but of the theoretical from economic thinking. And for those wondering just what Rashcke might mean by theory, he’s quite clear from the beginning: it’s about ontology, grounding—genealogy.

Long time readers of Raschke will recognize the Nietszchean elements that immediately present themselves in Force of God. And yet it is Hegel—and the nifty reworking of Hegelian dialectics in Derrida—that really offer the energy of the project. The “force of God” is not so much about “the divine” as it is the animating principle that undergirds the possibility of the demos itself: the explosive assemblage of sovereignty as it is dispersed through the multitude of political subjects.

What is the effect of the force of God on theology? What does it to the work of real politics?

The contributors to this symposium offer rich, challenging, and at times, sharp analysis of Raschke’s ideas of Force of God. Michael Grimshaw highlights the way Raschke calls for “the need for politics after political theology, not political theology as the end but rather as entrance into ‘real politics’ (xv).” This politics is without doubt a revolutionary and insurrectionist one that see the crisis of the liberal democracy as an opportunity to reinstall the demos in the place of the bureaucratic and institutional state.

Tim Snediker explores the crisis of liberal democracy as the point of departure of Force of God. Emphasizing the genealogical focus on values over meanings, Snediker is interested in the question of how religious political theology is, especially if we think of the Force theologically (as Raschke wants us to). For him, “the question is, instead: is political theology, properly speaking, a religious discourse? Or, to put the question rather bluntly: Is Christianity a religion?”

Yannik Thiem wonders about the function of genealogy in Force of God. If, as Raschke says in his response to Thiem, that “political theology must become genealogy,” Thiem prefers civil theologies that help the theorization of identities and the proliferation of representative politics that critique culture. Thiem’s disagreement with Raschke, in the end, is not about the politics of citation or inclusion, but rather that the critique of identity politics that Raschke engages in misses the critical contribution that “the force of the religious” can offer political theology in the first place. Thiem queries:

My sense is that Force of God in how it frames “force” and “value” actually has a systematic place for thinking through the various vectors of racial, gender, queer, ableness, colonial differentiation in ways that resist the often quick subsumption of these vectors into “biopolitics” or “difference in general.

You will want to see how Raschke responds to that, trust me.

Joseph Winters agrees that the current political conditions spell something of a crisis for liberal democracy. In other words, it’s bad out there right now, and this gets attention because of the ways that “horrifying expressions of power, thoughtlessness, and indifference in our current juncture” are affecting those whose economic and racial power previously isolated them from the acute experience of this expression. And yet, “border thinking” (to draw on Raschke’s treatment of Walter Mignolo’s work on coloniality and indigeneity) challenges the boundaried character of Western thinking and the way that character has kept forms of thinking — liberal democracy for example — sequestered from broader colonial and racial stories.

More to the point, racial hierarchies that legitimate anti-black violence and settler projects—from classic forms of dispossessing indigenous land to contemporary practices of gentrification—have always been intertwined with liberal democracies.

And so maybe it’s not such a bad thing that liberal democracy is in crisis. Perhaps that runs the risk of focusing on the wrong problem at the hard of our social order. After all, as Winters goes on to say, “crisis language can deflect attention from the intractable fact that any social order is always a state of emergency for the tradition of the oppressed.”

Michael Grimshaw


Grimshaw on Raschke’s Force of God

I have been recently noting a number of works in political theology that express what Mary Ann Caws terms “the manifesto moment.” Such texts are proclamations into this moment positioned “between what has been done and what will be done, between the accomplished and the potential, in a radical and energizing division,”1 a moment of crisis expressing “what it wants to oppose, to leave, to defend, to change.”2 These texts work in two ways. The first is as a prophetical statement into the current time, critiquing the present and calling for its correction. The second way such texts work is as reminder that socially, politically, and perhaps most strongly theologically we live in what can be termed an interregnum. In Cities of God, Graham Ward stated the central theological question is “What time is it?”;3 if we want to shift this into political theology, I believe that question needs to be accompanied by another, asking, “Who’s time is it today?” Today the answer is most often a confused one, the time of the interregnum, a displaced time that in its dissatisfaction gives rise to the manifesto moment.

Eric Hobsbawm famously described what he termed the short twentieth century as existing between1914–1991 and being bookended by World War I and the collapse of Soviet Communism and the Soviet Bloc;4 reading the texts of the manifesto moment I am constantly drawn to questioning what century are we in theologically? There are those who seek to continue the twentieth—and we can also ask when did the twentieth century end theologically? Then there are those who look back to idealised centuries of the past where they believe their beliefs and visions held power they seek to emulate. But alternatively, are we yet in the twenty-first century theologically? What would a theological twenty-first century look like?

It is in such between-the-times moments that the manifesto erupts, and in Force of God Carl Raschke writes a manifesto aiming to expel us from the hiatus of our theological interregnum. For we need to and should read this as a manifesto of political theology, combining a searing personal vision and the rhetoric to match. Raschke uses the term “force of god” to describe what he identifies as sitting at the base of and behind political theology and in doing so perceptively ties political theology back into the theology of the end of theology. This innovative and insightful theoretical turn is what gives the text its manifesto power, for the manifesto exists on the back of a claimed new vision or insight that results in a new position to be argued. This is therefore nothing less than the manifesto of the force of god; nothing less than a bold new chapter in reimaging political theology as the genealogy of the force of god, a reimaging as manifesto. In this, Carl Schmitt’s thought—and invention—that is “political theology,” is taken into a new critique of and with liberal democracy in and for the twenty-first century. For the crisis in liberal democracy is convincingly linked as yet another expression and result of Nietzsche’s death of god. So I want to ask if Force of God is a prophetical work in being the first political theology of the Trump interregnum; a political theology written before the rise of Trump but existing as both handbook to understanding the crisis in liberal democracy that led to Trump and a manifesto of how to undertake a political theology of resistance?

What sits at the heart of the manifesto is the claim—as first stated on p. xiv—that “the force of God outstrips the death of God” and in this Raschke makes a bold new challenge to both theology and political theology. Both are reimagined after god and in this is laid open a way to newly comprehend why theology has become primarily political over the past decades: for in this manifesto, as I want to emphasize theology has become political theology as the force of god; unless it retreats, as I would argue, into the piety of the zombie corpse of god. The challenge of this manifesto therefore becomes the need for politics after political theology, not political theology as the end but rather as entrance into “real politics” (xv).

In these days of populism, the return of exclusionary nationalism and the associated rise in implicit and explicit power of a religiously based and biased narrative of exclusion, Raschke offers a reminder of the centrality of the religious within democracy, but a democracy in which subjectivism is also in struggle. The crisis is therefore underneath, that of attempting to perpetuate a seventeenth-century abstract notion of the subject into the modern world and now into our late-modern twenty-first century. Political theology is therefore the entrance, as stated, into a new type of real politics, a politics that is the end of seventeenth-century political theory as much as anything else.

The first half of the book undertakes a deep and detailed counter-reading of Nietzsche, Hegel, and Derrida in which the question of the force is engaged with via Deleuze. This section is in effect variously a deconstruction of what has been, a genealogy and a rereading. The force as the named exception is what becomes apparent in this section and here is the crucial insight for the later rereading of Schmitt. For the exception of the sovereign is not named in particular, but here Raschke establishes the secret of the grounds of the exception in the force of god. What also makes this work of note is the innovative linking of Nietzschean force with the force of art, especially modernist abstraction as developed by Kandinsky. Here Raschke impressively displays his wide knowledge and reminds us that modernism in thought interlinks art, politics, philosophy, and theology—after god. A theology therefore, a political theology in particular, that seeks to “return the God” [with a singular emphasis as oppositional being and claim] is not so much postmodern (as is often claimed by its proponents) but antimodern. Can we further not think of the postmodern—and too often postmodern political theology—as primarily antimodern in ethos? And further still, that sitting within it—the dwarf within the puppet of postmodernism—is the attempt to resuscitate the dead god? Such a reading as I have undertaken, a deconstructive reading perhaps, is what signals again that this is nothing less than a manifesto that demands we think anew of what we have too easily—and decidedly—forgotten. For to think only of politics, or of art, or of philosophy, or of theology is to self-limit our encounter with and engagement with the force that sits within modernism and modernity: “an indivisible, pure temporality” (47). His declaration of the meaning of force and the force of signs as expressed of Kadinsky’s painting Der Blaue Reiter (“The Blue Rider”) of 1903 is convincing and in itself worthy of further expression. I would very much like to see Raschke undertake a longer engagement with Der Blaue Reiter and especially with the thought of the Dadaist Hugo Ball, in particular his Dada diary Flight out of Time. A political theology of Dada is of course a project for another time, but Rascke’s discusion on pp. 50–51 would make an excellent entry point.

The return to Heidegger is where the manifesto takes a return to the political, in particular the aesthetics of the political, and, via Schelling and mythology, the question of fascism. While referencing the past debates of Heidegger’s degree of “being a Nazi,” this chapter will also provide another way to rethink the recent publication of Heidegger’s “black notebooks” (2014) and what way a rethought political theology of Heidegger may take. Could now we also not rephrase Heidegger’s claim to state that “only the force of God can save us”?

Raschke’s reinforcement of the centrality of Schelling is invaluable for this new rereading of political theology. It is a reminder that the genealogy of political theology still has lineages yet to be fully remembered and, importantly, rehabilitated. Of course, in this text there is never one genealogical tracing, for we also engage Aristotle and Benjamin. In this the homage to Deleuze becomes more evident and we find ourselves engaged in what can only be termed a rhizomic genealogy of the force of god.

The second half of the book shifts into an engagement with contemporary liberal democracy and more so sees the argument for the return of political economy, a return that overcomes what has been, it is argued, an ill-judged and false separation of the political and the economy for the twentieth century and into our current times.

What is innovative here is the introduction of the French language theorist Jean-Joseph Goux and his theory of exchange in which value can never be created, rather value is what occurs in exchange. Furthermore, Goux’s symbolic economies argues for a different reading of value in both Nietzsche’s and Foucault’s genealogies, that of symbolical force. The introduction of Agamben then adds a further rhizome to this manifesto. In all of this it is clear that Raschke is searching for an impasse—or in the language of the political, an event—that will clear a way for a new expression of political economy and liberal democracy from what has come before. The question to be raised here and now is whether this event is to be a positive or negative event? By this I wish to provocatively ask whether the event of Trump is actually the event that will clear such a way?

Raschke also argues, convincingly, for the shift into an economy of resentment and to understand this, brings in Baudrillard’s economics of hyper-reality. By now it should be clear that this is no normal text, but rather it is a type of meta-text in which potentially all theorists of modern, Western life have a role to play, all theorists under which sit the drive of the force of God. In effect, one unacknowledged impact is that in modernity theorists have replaced theologians—or rather become (secular? death of God?) theologians of the force of God. So via Baudrillard we arrive at the question of the need for a rethought exchange factor; not the overcoming of an exchange factor that is identified as utopian, but rather a reimagined and reexpressed exchange factor allowing a new type of political economy to occur after both Marxism and the temporarily triumphant claims of liberal democracy.

In chapter 6 there is a return to Kant to further discuss the falling apart of the Kantian liberal framework and then Schmitt reenters the narrative and the state of exception becomes the event rethought that allows the way forward. But first must also be encountered what is termed the crisis of post-nationalism, for what does sovereign exception as event, as political economy event, mean today? It is through this discussion that it becomes clear that as identified by Nancy, the fore of religion has returned via the singularities of identity politics whereupon the force of the religious is what lies behind the exception of post-national identity politics. Here is identified the force of religious monotheism as a preeminent force in our late modern world, a return of the religious as a force of “identity.” In this, as Raschke identifies, the post-political has become a reexpressed and reencountered theo-political, wherein lies the force of the singular. Here is the basis of the discussion of Badiou and his event of the singularity which is then contrasted with the thought of Sloterdijk on monotheistic force.

We then shift from a detailed, rhizomic, genealogy into the explicitly manifesto part of the book. Here Raschke lays out his political theology at the centre of which lies the claim: All political theory, therefore, is eminently political theology as well” (131). In this is raised the truly provocative question of the violence that occurs when the force of God is dissipated and is manifested in the polemos as the death of god. Violence is therefore the breakdown of the political; this means to move from an ascendancy of violence entails a recovery of the political as that what keeps violence under abeyance. How is this to occur? Here Raschke makes use of Lefort and the necessity to return to and take seriously the religious within the political: the religious as the counterbalance for the political against violence and consumerism, an economy without the political. This is where the manifesto shifts into an open call for the necessity of the religious for the political, via Lefort. Raschke undertakes a careful discussion to clarify what is or rather could be meant by the return of the religious here, a religious and religion that operates against so much of what does exist as the religious. A religious that, via Baudrillard could be—and this is my reading—the perverse inverse hyper-real religion/religious. A caution regarding Lefort is raised by employing Adam Smith—and this again demonstrates the innovation of this project. Anyone can be called in to testify—for the defence or the prosecution; in effect this is an open court wherein political economy is on trial.

All of this culminates in chapter 9 where the question of revolution is openly addressed, including what are self-described controversial discussions regarding the Second Amendment—and this is where the book as manifesto is finally, totally explicit. For as Raschke reminds us, the right to bear arms is in existence as that which holds within it the possibility of rebellion versus a tyrannical state. Is this in fact also therefore a political theology of the Second Amendment? If the state is, as identified, post-WW2 increasingly allied with predatory economic power, wherein lies the possibility of overcoming tyranny? In this Jeffersonian-derived reading—with a noted homage to Mao—the gun becomes the symbol and possibility of a restated democracy against the predation of the economic state. The challenge thrown down is that opposition to an armed citizenry lies in a belief in the non-tyrannical, utopian state. Democracy here relies on the possibility of armed resistance to the state as tyrant. Without this democracy becomes a sham and hence the need for revolutionary saints. Who else can invoke a power versus the law, versus the state and especially so versus the power of the named bureaucratic, bohemian bourgeoisie? Religion and guns are their great fear—for both counterpose a revolutionary power against the State as it is. I must say that reading this from outside the United States totally challenged my response to the usual American defence and appeals to the Second Amendment that in my external viewing always seemed to come from those who socially, politically, and theologically I would have no truck with. Yet is such a reading in the end nothing more than that arising from a position wherein I find myself as nothing more than a member of an antipodean bureaucratic, bohemian bourgeoisie? It makes me wonder what it must be like to live in an America that takes seriously its heritage and present-day existence as a revolutionary state?

The solution offered in this manifesto is that of a political theology of the future, a political theology of the revolutionary saints informed by a reading of Augustine wherein insurrection and resurrection find common ground in resurrection power that reveals the insurrectionary moment that is the task of political theology today.

As such it opens up a new reading in political theology and recovers—or rather demands—a revolutionary agenda back into the centre of political theology if it is not to become the agent of the liberal democratic state that acts to maintain an inequality and tyranny of the status quo. Yet what truly makes it such an important book is the way Raschke offers a new genealogy of political theology. Without this genealogy the revolutionary call could be too easily dismissed; with the genealogy the revolutionary call forces a self-evaluation in the reader: are they on the side of revolution—or counterrevolution?

What time is it? The time of revolution. What century are we in . . . ? That, only time will tell.

  1. Mary Ann Caws, Manifesto: A Century of Isms (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), xxi.

  2. Ibid., xxiii.

  3. Graham Ward, Cities of God (London: Routledge, 2000), 2.

  4. Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century 1914–1991 (London: Michael Joseph; New York: Vintage, 1994).

  • Carl Raschke

    Carl Raschke


    Response to Grimshaw

    Mike Grimshaw appropriately infers that Force of God may be considered a kind of “manifesto moment.” He is also correct that in a larger sense the book is a stab toward putting “political economy on trial.” However, I do appreciate very much the fact that he does not attempt necessarily to follow up on his own prescient observations. I will try here to fill in the blanks a little bit, perhaps even to unravel certain threads that seem to be loosely hanging from the book cover and offer some kind of drawstring that pulls them together.

    Let me start off by saying that manifestos by their very nature are designed to provoke and pose problems, not necessarily to soothe the mind of the reader, or to offer solutions. However, they have a patent intention, and often that assignment is to make visible what has heretofore been largely occultated. Like a protruding bone from a quarry, which at first sight appears to be nothing more than refuse, but once exhumed in its entirety proves to be the skeleton of some very ancient human being or extinct species, a manifesto can serve as a summons to dig deeper. We must dig deeper, and not allow our cozy, unconscious predilections to prevent us from drawing conclusions before we have actually begun to scrape away and remove the murky matter within which it is embedded.

    Force of God, like so many of the books I have written over my career, came suddenly as a blaze of intuition, a still shapeless prompting or vision, as I sat one morning on the porch of my lake house in Southern Oklahoma in early June of 2009 while sipping a cup of coffee. It was the first year of the Obama administration, or what might have at the time have been termed “The Progressive Spring” when the spirits of the symbol-making classes were soaring into the empyrean of political possibility. Although I was happily relaxed amid the wafts of bird chatter, all at once I felt a strange, affective jolt that threw my whole mind idyll into disequilibrium. Something a bit darker and disruptive was clamoring for my notice. I named it almost right away. The word “force” at that moment erupted into my consciousness. It was the opposite of the kind of event John Wesley described when he reported that his “heart was strangely warmed.” The phrase from Jeremiah about “crying peace, peace when there is no peace” oddly floated into my memory as well. I got up immediately and went to my word processor to try to write something, and the first paragraphs of Force of God, later redacted and folded back into the larger work, was the result. I ended up writing what amounts to a quarter of the rough draft of the manuscript during that month.

    I was only beginning to take a serious interest in the burgeoning and flourishing philosophical genre that was coming to be called “political theology.” The popularity of the work of Slavoj Zizek, whose writings like everyone else at the time I was devouring, had a lot to do with it. But it was also the political moment, in America at least, for the Tea Party, what in retrospect can be viewed as an out-of-the-gate, mobilized pushback among grassroots conservatives against the economic initiatives of the new Obama administration. These initiatives were designed to brake the collapse of the United States, and by extension, the global economy following the financial crisis of the previous year. It was the political turmoil that led me to realize that what in the book I call a “play of forces” was powerfully at work.

    My most fundamental perception at the time was twofold. On the one hand, I realized that the familiar “surface grammars” of contemporary politics (e.g., right versus left, conservatives versus liberals, not to mention the various permutations of “culture warriors” familiar in the news at the time) were completely inadequate to fathom what was happening. On the other hand, I discerned that the all-too-evident forms of rhetoric invoked to make sense of what everyone agreed was a “crisis,” one which most likely ran deeper than the collapse of the Dow Jones Average, could only be made intelligible through what Marx had termed the “critique of political economy.” Yet what Nietzsche named “genealogy”—a methodology adopted by Michel Foucault in his scouring of the meaning of the present through uncovering camouflaged value formations ensconced in the past—seemed the most suitable approach.

    It was Foucault who decades before had coined the phrase “crisis of representation,” an expression that Winfried Nöth notes had “become a commonplace of cultural, philosophical, and semiotic theory during the last decades of the twentieth century.”1 But, as Nöth himself suggests, the expression had largely been confined to philosophical debates coming out of the French post-structuralist literature concerning the relation between sign and referent, or between “words and things.”2 It was my aim to transport this method of genealogy into the arena of political theory, specifically by ascertaining and probing the politico-theological underpinnings of so much Western political thought which has spuriously claimed to be “value neutral.” Genealogy, as Nietzsche emphasizes, always seeks to find “valuations” where mere concepts are all that appear on first inspection. Force of God, therefore, may indeed be regarded as a kind of “manifesto moment” where we are all challenged to go behind the surface play of politics (LeFort’s le politique) that has become so tawdry and empty in our present climate and raise critical questions about how we got here in the first place.

    1. Foucault first uses the term “crisis of representation” in The Order of Things (London: Tavistock, 1970). See also Winfried Nöth, “Crisis of Representation?,” Semiotica 143 (2003) 9–15.

    2. The most important book that anchors this debate is, of course, Richard Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979). It should be noted that the original French title for Foucault’s The Order of Things was Les Mots et Les Choses, or “Words and Things.”

    • Michael Grimshaw

      Michael Grimshaw


      reply to Raschke

      Carl Raschke correctly observes that I did not necessarily attempt to follow up on my observations – and this was for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to express why I found this text to be a manifesto; and secondly I wanted, in my response, to give some indication as to why I believe this is such an important text for the interregnum we find ourselves in. Yes, this is an American book and in many ways it is about a particular American interregnum; but to rework Griel Marcus on the impact of American popular culture: in the world of political theology we are today increasingly all ‘imaginary Americans’- and, I would argue, via Schmitt, still ‘imaginary Weimarians’…! And so here we have that genealogy which, to throw a Deleuzean term into the mix, is increasingly a rhizomic genealogy. How else can an antipodean participate in North Atlantic political theology and debate?

      If we think of political theology as a rhizomic genealogy then to ‘dig deeper’ as Raschke instructs us to do means willingly and willfully seeking to become entangled within political theology and those “politico-theological underpinnings of so much Western political thought”. Now if anyone has found themselves wrestling with rhizomes in their gardening, then you will know that this is sweaty, frustrating and often back-breaking work. But that is the point of rhizomic thought: it is work, hard work, that enables us to see how what we may think of as a thought or thing ‘in itself’ is connected, often in ways not easily discernable, to that ‘over there’ – and to that ‘still elsewhere’. And here I find myself thinking of relegare ( to bind together) and relegere (to re-read) and are these not what the manifesto , by digging deeper, by urging us to dig deeper, also seeks to do- to do for us and to do to us- and to demand from us?

      And so we must be, as Raschke was, prepared to be open to the “blow of intuition” that is the origin and challenge to dig deeper: to dig deeper within ourselves, within our traditions, within our hopes and dreams and just importantly,within our fears and terrors. And here I hear, perhaps all too often these days, the challenge of Tillich – but of that Tillich who told Tom Altizer that the ‘the radical Tillich is the real Tillich’. For it is from digging in the radical depths, from the radix that is the root of our thought, our politics and theology ( the genealogy) that the radical expression that challenges our comfort , our privilege and the status quo, that we can now name as the manifesto, emerges.

      And so this reply has become itself increasingly rhizomic, but this is not surprising, for so is ‘Force of God’ itself- as text and as challenge and as claim and event and intuition.

      But another thought comes me : that the prophetical tradition was itself a series of manifestos arising from manifesto moments, often in times that could be considered the time of the interregnum. So perhaps what Raschke has done here is nothing less than to act as a prophetical voice and challenge in this interregnum – calling from the margins, from an intuition first heard in Southern Oklahoma, speaking of and via ‘Force of God’.

      The issue is what we do – in rhizomic ways wherever we may find ourselves – in response to this call and challenge?

Timothy Snediker


How Do We Recognize Political Theology?


If there is an article of faith among political theologians, then its germ is perhaps best expressed in the well-known declaration by the (not uncontroversial) founder of political theology, Carl Schmitt. Namely, that modern political concepts are secularized theological concepts.1 This is true, not only, we are assured by Schmitt, because of the (readily apparent) historical translation of the sovereign God into the sovereign monarch—which, according to Schmitt, is in fact the simpler task—but more importantly because of the “systematic structure” of these concepts, which can only be recognized by drawing an analogy from the theological register to its various analogates in modernity (the state of exception, or suspension of the law, is in fact the theological miracle, etc.).

How do we recognize political theology? The simplified, Schmittian reply runs something like this: beneath (or behind) the political, one should seek the theological; and this search is itself understood to be political theology in actu. Political theology seeks to lay bare the theological foundations of the modern, secular world; it bears witness to the event, the miracle, the exception. Thus, there is not so much an opposition between the religious (or the theological) and the secular (or the modern) so much as a genealogy that needs but be teased out or unfolded, so as to render possible a real grasp of the political concepts of one’s day. Political theology seeks above all to detect and to analyze the profound theological continuity that lurks beneath the seeming discontinuities of modernity and secularization. The religious, so the story goes, is the secret of the secular; at bottom, the modern world is determined by a disavowed religious consciousness. We can judge this politico-theological hypothesis to be extremely productive (I dare not say seductive), especially given that its discourse has successfully gathered together figures as politically diverse as John Milbank and Simon Critchley—not to mention a certain Carl Raschke. Yet it is possible to detect a certain conceptual slippage at the very heart of this historical schema.

The slippage to which I refer is that between religion and Christianity. To put it bluntly, the one is continually confused for the other, and the other for the one; not necessarily because they resemble one another, but because one will have invented, or named, the other—named the other, as other, “religion.” As Gil Anidjar remarks, riffing on Jacques Derrida,

Either Christianity is a religion and there are no others (because without Christianization and the globalization of Christianity, none of the so-called “world religions” would have been identified as religion, nor would they have had to refer to themselves as such). Or, there are religions in the world—according to one definition or another—but Christianity is not one of them.2

If the process of secularization, which political theology takes as its raison d’etre, can be understood as a discursive and political operation, not between the poles religion-secular, but rather between religion-Christianity, then perhaps we will be able to gain some clarity. That is: what if secularization referred to the relation between religion and Christianity? What, then, would political theology be?

In 1967 Gilles Deleuze published an essay on the subject of structuralism, and therein noted that the question, What is structuralism?, is hamstrung from the outset by its form (“What is X?”), and requires certain transformations. “It is better to ask,” writes Deleuze, “What do we recognize in those that we call structuralists? And what do they themselves recognize?—since one does not recognize people, in a visible manner, except by the invisible and imperceptible things they themselves recognize in their own way.”3 The wager of this essay is that one can effect a similar transformation with regard to the discursive and political positionality of the present text, for, indeed, we must recognize persons according to the invisible and imperceptible things they themselves recognize in their own way. Here the person in question is the author of a book called Force of God, and it is this eponymous force, invisible and imperceptible, that we must learn to recognize—or, as the case may be, to misrecognize—in his way, so as perhaps to find our own way.


Carl Raschke’s Force of God: Political Theology and the Crisis of Liberal Democracy is written, as the title portends, under the sign of a crisis. The crisis is arguably a general crisis: of the steady erosion of liberal democratic institutions; of imminent environmental catastrophe; of the senescence and sickliness of the university; and so on. The list could be extended indefinitely, but such a litany is not the undertaking of the text at hand. Raschke (who, I should mention, was my MA thesis advisor at the University of Denver) has something else in mind. Rather than simply enumerating the damages, Raschke wants to understand the inner workings of this crisis, so as to determine the conditions by which one can act on them, whether for or against them. True to the classic definition of political theology, Raschke understands that political theology is a second-order discourse—a “sociological consideration,” as Schmitt says, of the theological underpinnings of the modern state and the liberal democratic political form by which the state is buttressed—and that political theology is not politics per se.

As a political theologian, Raschke wants to know when liberal democracy took sick, to know when and how God died, since the two events are not unrelated. Indeed, Raschke announces at the outset of the book that “the death of God and the crisis of liberal democracy, in fact, consist in different facets of the same epochal ‘event’ delineating the late modern period” (xiv). The one, Raschke proposes, is the condition of (im)possibility of the other. That is, in spite of the complexity of their historical and discursive detours and retours, their destinies are inextricably linked. Hence the question, incumbent on the political theologians of the twenty-first century, is whether the halls of Parliament, Congress, and the United Nations are not also “tombs and sepulchers of God.”4 Liberal democracy is perhaps the putrefaction of God, stinking to high heaven. The alternative, to which Raschke addresses himself, is to burn this corpse, to let loose its elements in a sort of absolute deterritorialization, so as to produce from the frozen members of God a pure play of forces, the distribution and differentiation of which one can finally and fruitfully investigate. Against the sanctimony of the innumerable autopsies of God, Raschke suggests—following Nietzsche, Foucault, and Deleuze—a genealogy.

A genealogy concerns itself with values rather than meanings; with conditions of emergence and crystallization, rather than events on the surface, and the historical “accounts” of those events; with valuation and transvaluation, rather than interpretations (10). Values, for the genealogist, are crystals of force. “Politics,” Raschke writes, “is ultimately about values” (13), such that, in order to get a real grip on the political crisis of late modernity, one has to inquire into the seismic forces that have shaken—and are shaking—the fundaments of the world-system we call liberal democracy.

What Nietzsche grasped, and Deleuze in his use of Nietzsche so well articulated, is that genealogy leads us to an intuition of the deeper play of forces behind the deep politics of not only our era but also previous ones. The play is at the same time a Wechselspiel, an “interplay,” which both in its origins and its outtake can be deciphered as “divine” in an authentic political theological entailment of all its inferential possibilities. It is what we will designate as the force of God. (xiii)

Raschke’s genealogical undertaking is thus motivated by the basic insight “that any form of democracy that seeks to marginalize the religious is bound to shatter against its own internal contradictions” (7). That is, the force of God, understood as an imperceptible—yet universally operative—interplay of religious wills and desires, underlies the political to such an extent that every attempt to marginalize it amounts to an implicit disavowal of the conditions for the political as such—and leads inevitably to catastrophe. Turning to Jacques Derrida’s important work, “Force of Law,” a meditation on Walter Benjamin’s seminal (and notoriously obscure) essay “Critique of Violence,” Raschke notes that the double meaning of the German word Gewalt (both “force” and “violence”) is decisively linked to the question of the transcendental foundations of the political, as well as to the empirical “founding” of a given politeia.

“There is,” Raschke writes, “both a genealogical and substantial linkage between a politeia that is ‘justly’ founded and the force of the religious or, more technically, a faith-based or ‘fiduciary’ bonding” (18). Derrida’s well-known distinction between law(s) and justice comes into view here. The former are positive; laws can be represented, and are therefore deconstructible; the latter is negative; justice is unrepresentable, always to-come, and therefore cannot be deconstructed. The former are (bracketing the anachronism for the moment) minimally secular, procedural, pretending to universality; the latter is religious, singular, unconditioned, “impossible” and “unpredicatable” (18–19). A politeia, at least in the case of a modern liberal democracy, is founded in, or as, a disavowal of the hidden force of God. This founding is always violent (“law-constituting violence”), and is maintained through violence (“law-preserving violence”). Thus the crisis of liberal democracy is inaugural in multiple senses; as Raschke notes, glossing Derrida, “Secularists are effectively speechless . . . because they cannot give an acceptable account for the ‘establishing’ of justice, only of its ongoing rationale and administration” (18).

The same procedure is, mutatis mutandis, repeated throughout Force of God. Everywhere the occulted energies of the religious—this disavowed force of God—play out their determinations just below the surface of modern political economy, percolating, awaiting an insurrectionary eruption. In “Force of Economy,” which is, to my mind, among the most intriguing chapters of the book, Raschke examines the declension of the Marxian value-form (money) from the general equivalent (namely, gold) into a purely virtual system of exchange of signs, resulting in what Raschke dubs a “pure economy of resentment” (85). Relying primarily on the works of Jean-Joseph Goux and Jean Baudrillard, Raschke argues that the increasing virtualization of the monetary economy results in a transition—to quote Baudrillard—“from the commodity law of value to the structural law of value, and this coincides with the obliteration of the social form known as production.”5 “Even the general equivalent,” writes Raschke, “becomes inconsequential. What are ‘produced’ are simply signs and their endless proliferation as replicated sign functions… Referential value is annihilated, giving the structural play of value the upper hand” (88, author’s italics). Values are no longer produced, but are rather simulated: simulation becomes a law unto itself, with no ultimate point of reference such as concrete social production. The result is not only a catastrophic financial crisis (such as in 2007–2008), but a radical abstraction of value, to which a general impoverishment of the majority of the world corresponds.

By way of Derrida’s commentary on the impossible economy of the gift, Raschke observes a further declension of value: there is a “fiduciary element [which is not unrelated to the “fiduciary bond” we saw above with the question of the founding of a politeia] in every interaction that drives an operative economy—the promise or guarantee of credit” (98). Those familiar with Derrida’s analyses will recognize the paradox: the gift is that which “founds” every economy by virtue of having been given without calculation, without expectation of reciprocation; as the “outside” of economy, the gift is the beginning of economy, but the very recognition of the gift annuls the gift (the gift given becomes a debt received), thereby leaving the economy bereft of a true founding moment. Economies are fundamentally promissory, resulting in

a strange sort of faith calculus: I give without expecting repayment, yet the recipient is indebted to me and will find a way to make recompense. The gift is manifested within the calculus of exchange as “credit,” which demands a certain credulity on the part of the creditor qua giver… Increasingly, market economies run on credit as well as on credulity. They are gift economies that genealogicalyl reveal themselves as impossible political economies. (102, author’s italics)

Again, one can glean from the magnitude and the structure of the crisis of value—the utter groundlessness and meaninglessness of every modern political economy—an intimation of the hidden force of God, which runs like a subterranean current through the vagaries of history. Not only does Raschke claim, somewhat enigmatically, that “the only true economy is God’s economy” (83), he also offers a minimal prescription for the hyper-financialized, simulated gift economy of credit (swaps) and debt (defaults): “When gold as a general equivalent has been abolished, we must fabulate, perhaps politically, some variant of Heidegger’s famous quip: only a God can save us” (102, author’s italics). The force of God is a paradoxical solvent-solution that threatens dissolution and promises resolution; a radical wellspring from which pounce the specter of insurrection and the hope of resurrection; for, not unlike “Augustine’s vision of the city of God that lies beyond and grows almost indistinguishably within the frenzy of history on the whole,” Raschke’s own apocalyptic vision “summons us to realize that the force of God outstrips the death of God” (xiv). The discontinuities and contingencies of world history are but disparate surface effects of a deeper and more profound continuity—the perdurance and the obdurance of the religious.


And yet, is not the conceptual slippage between religion and Christianity—which we identified above—amply evidenced throughout Force of God? Indeed, one can find examples of this slippage in each chapter of Raschke’s text. No doubt, Raschke mentions Christianity as often as he does religion or the religious, but this interchangeability is precisely what constitutes the problem. When, late in the book, Raschke takes up the thought of Claude Lefort, affirming that “modern forms of polity are ultimately traceable to Christianity . . . because they are based on the principle of the corporealization of sovereignty” (146, my emphasis), we are given to understand that

any historical procedure or institution that ensures a political thematization cannot succeed without the symbolic, legitimating agency that the religious provides. It is for this reason that politics as practiced inevitably comes down to some implementation of an implicit political theology. (148, my emphasis)

Always this slippage between Christianity and the religious.

Prior to this, in the chapter on economy, Raschke claims—by way of Agamben—that we must rethink “our ‘economic’ and ‘ecumenical’ models of the new global political as ultimately the ‘God’ question. We are now all political theologians, mainly because all theology is political and all politics is theological” (83). One wonders whether or not there is a “God” question at all, or if the enduring and exigent question is, as Gil Anidjar tirelessly insists, ‘the Christian question.”6 One wonders if political theology has anything to do with religion—or even the more abstract, “the religious”—at all, or if political theology is, in fact, a discourse internal to Christianity, which takes itself (that is, Christianity) as its sole object. And, finally, one wonders if one can speak of politics proper outside of the massive politico-centripetal force called Christianity—that is, Europe.

In her incisive commentary on Anidjar’s work, Amy Hollywood observes that “Christianity is the unconscious of the modern West, one whose symptoms, whose secrets, lie in plain sight.”7 What I want to suggest is that the force of God in Force of God is itself a symptom of political theology tout court, the latter which constantly and constitutively misrecognizes itself as a religious discourse for whom the concrete “formations of the secular”8 are but materials for inquiry (because underneath the secular lies the theological or the religious), be these inquiries genealogical or otherwise. Political theology is in search of itself; it wants to recognize itself. And why shouldn’t it? That political theology is an eminently Christian discourse will likely come as no surprise. The question is, instead: Is political theology, properly speaking, a religious discourse? Or, to put the question rather bluntly: Is Christianity a religion?

Yes, of course it is. But also: No, certainly not. Here Anidjar’s interventions are decisive. “The two terms, religious and secular,” he writes (and note that these two terms are not just generally constitutive for political theology, but that, even more decisively, their specific distribution, where religion lies at the base of the secular, is what is most decisive), “are therefore not simply masks for one another. Rather, they function together as strategic devices and as mechanisms of obfuscation and self-blinding.”9 To what end are these terms deployed, and by whom?

I propose to take for granted that the religious and the secular are terms that, hopelessly codependent, continue to inform each other and have persisted historically, institutionally, in masking (to invoke Asad’s term) the one pertinent religion, the one and diverse Christianity and Western Christendom in their transformations and reincarnations, producing the love (or hate) of religion (all scare quotes dropped)… Christianity invented the distinction between religion and secular, and thus it made religion. It made religion the problem—rather than itself. And it made it into an object of criticism that needed to be no less than transcended.10

Anidjar’s specific target is the Orientalism of the nineteenth century, by dint of which Western Christendom “judged and named itself, reincarnated itself, as ‘secular.’”11 Yet, by means of a simple substitution, we can perhaps extend his analysis to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries: to wit, in Weimar Germany, in the interwar period, “[political theology]—which is to say, secularism—became one of the essential means by which Christianity failed to criticize itself, the means by which Christianity forgot and forgave itself.”12 Political theology is a Christian (European) discourse, but it is for that very reason a secular discourse, which has only European (secular, Christian) materials at its disposal. The process—or the fact—of secularization is the raison d’etre of political theology, but this is so not because political theology wishes to abolish the secular, rather because political theology is from end to end a defense of the secular—of the state, of Europe—precisely on the grounds that the secular is secretly Christian.

As Daniel Colucciello Barber has recently noted, the critique of the secular functions, in actu, as an apologetics for the world the secular claims to disdain, but in truth reproduces unfailingly:

The failure of the secular to fulfill its claims concerns the division and concomitant gap between, on the one hand, the claimed capacity of the secular to establish a condition of equality and, on the other, the evident perpetuation of inequality—that is, Western domination—in the name of the secular.13

Political theology claims the exception as its champion, but is everywhere a generalized apologia for the world. All this “world-making violence,” “world-preserving violence”—and no one to blame for any of it, since the greatest purveyor of violence in, and of, the world—Christian Europe—will have been secular, universal, innocent of any pretensions to such exceptions. How do we recognize political theology? By its theodicy.


In The Gift of Death, Derrida glosses the Czech philosopher Jan Patoçka—a self-described Christian heretic—as follows: “What has not yet arrived at, or happened to, Christianity is Christianity. Christianity has not yet come to Christianity.”14 Patoçka’s vision of a Christianity—viz. Europe—brought to fulfillment is, to put it delicately, an unorthodox one. That is, if Christianity were to think itself through, the Europe that would result would be a Europe entirely, radically, heterogeneous to the legacy and memory of Athens and Rome. It would be, in fact, the end of Europe—or the end of the world, since from the European perspective the two are not distinct. Perhaps this, the humble task of extirpating Athens and Rome from the world, could constitute a genuine task for political theology—at the risk, of course, of its self-abolition. But who would—who could—conceivably take up this intolerable burden? Raschke’s invocation (169–70) of the figure of the church militant at the conclusion of Force of God notwithstanding, I simply want to suggest that those who would—those who could—take up such an intolerable burden are precisely those for whom the world is intolerable.

By my lights, Raschke leaves ample room, in his reference to the revolutionary saints, for such rebellious subjects (who refuse to tolerate the intolerable) to emerge. So long, that is, as one is willing to admit that such subjects will likely be decolonial or abolitionist subjects, dyed-in-the-wool partisans of what is often derisively called (and, alas, Raschke is here no exception) identity politics. Let us put an end to the conservatism inherent in the needless slander of these persons who desire, not to be included in the structures and machinations of the world that is made and unmade by Christianity, but rather to rouse themselves to put an end to it. That would be an apocalypse worth fighting for. The alternative, as Anidjar puts it in his polemical review of Mark Lilla’s The Stillborn God,15 is to remain transfixed by “the sound of one civilization clashing.”16 The flesh that suffers in, or of, the emptiness of this clash, cannot afford to wait any longer.

Force of God is a book brimming with erudition, insight, and material for thought. If it is inadequate, as all books are doomed to be, it is perhaps because of the duplicity of the discourse in which it is imbricated, and of which it is a symptom. Yet, as Nietzsche—“the author and perfecter of our political faith” (xiv–xv)—knew all too well, symptoms exist, and insist, beyond good and evil. They are our materials. They are, however imperfect, a privileged form of our knowledge, and one must learn to wield them as one would a fine instrument. Force of God has been, and remains, instrumental for me—and for that I am grateful.

  1. Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, translated by George Schwab (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985). Here is the full text of this infamous passage: “All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts not only because of their historical development—in which they were transferred from theology to the theory of the state, whereby, for example, the omnipotent God became the omnipotent lawgiver—but also because of their systematic structure, the recognition of which is necessary for a sociological consideration of these concepts. The exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle in theology. Only by being aware of this analogy can we appreciate the manner in which the philosophical ideas of the state developed in the last centuries” (36).

  2. Gil Anidjar, “Of Globalatinology,” Derrida Today 6.1 (2013) vii, p. 14.

  3. Gilles Deleuze, “How Do We Recognize Structuralism?,” in Desert Islands and Other Texts: 1953–1974, edited by David Lapoujade, translated by Michael Taormina (Cambridge: Semiotext(e), 2004), 171.

  4. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science: With a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs, translated by Walter Kaufman (New York: Vintage, 1974), 182.

  5. Jean Baudrillard, quoted in Raschke, Force of God, 87.

  6. See Gil Anidjar, Blood: A Critique of Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).

  7. Amy Hollywood, “Inescapable Christianity,” review of Blood: A Critique of Christianity, by Gil Anidjar, Marginalia (Los Angeles Review of Books), March 2, 2015,

  8. This phrase, as well as a generous portion of the framework for my argument, are Talal Asad’s. See Talal Asad, Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003).

  9. Anidjar, Semites, 47.

  10. Ibid.

  11. Ibid., 45.

  12. The original passage reads as follows: “Christianity invented (or fashioned or produced or enforced, or yet definitely institutionalized by way of knowledge and law—whichever of these you think is better to describe the massive power of hegemony and its operations) Judaism and Islam—the Jew, the Arab, or, to be perfectly historical about it, the Semites—as religions, and more precisely, as being at once the least and the most religious of religions. And of races. Subsequently, it cleared the Jews of theological and religious wrongdoings and made Islam the paradigmatic religion, the religion of fanaticism. Doing so, Orientalism—which is to say, secularism—became one of the essential means by which Christianity failed to criticize itself, the means by which Christianity forgot and forgave itself” (ibid., 48–49).

  13. Daniel Colucciello Barber, “World-Making and Grammatical Impasse,” Qui Parle 25.1–2 (2016) 180.

  14. Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death and Literature in Secret, translated by David Wills (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2008), 30.

  15. Mark Lilla, The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West (New York: Vintage, 2008).

  16. Anidjar, “A Review in Three Parts,” review of The Stillborn God, by Mark Lilla, Immanent Frame, December 26, 2007,

  • Carl Raschke

    Carl Raschke


    Response to Snediker

    Tim Snediker’s response to Force of God, drawing on such important and stimulating authors as Gil Anidjar and Daniel Colucciello Barber,1 frames his queries in a manner that might be characterized as a genealogy of genealogies. In short, Snediker follows along with Anidjar in his dense, but bountiful recent book Blood to pose what the latter designates as “the Christian question.”2 For both Snediker and Anidjar, any genealogy of the political, especially one that explores the “ontotheological” systems of valuations lurking behind all political representations has to remain suspect because it functions covertly to preserve a seemingly inextricable “Christian” configuration of such a position.

    In a minimalist sense, Snediker is raising the same question that Nietzsche did throughout his major works. He maintains a kind of “hermeneutics of suspicion” regarding the task of political theology, insofar as he is subtly asking whether the “discipline” itself, if it can really be called that, is fully and inescapably inscribed within what Nietzsche dubbed the “Christian-moral view of the world.” If that is the case, then we are obliged still to undertake an actual genealogy of political theology itself, unmasking perhaps its profound complicity with the Christian frame of reference. Snediker quotes Anidjar with this end in mind. “Either Christianity is a religion and there are no others (because without Christianization and the globalization of Christianity, none of the so-called ‘world religions’ would have been identified as religion, nor would they have had to refer to themselves as such). Or, there are religions in the world—according to one definition or another—but Christianity is not one of them.”3

    Such a rendering falls within the scope of the secularization hypothesis, which assimilates the structures of political representation in the history of West to the Graeco-Christian synthesis of religion and politics that reached its culmination during the Constantinian era. The secularization hypothesis can be traced back several generations, but achieves its most recent incarnation in the writings of Mark Lilla,4 of whom Snediker is extremely critical. Without saying so outright, Snediker appears to be questioning whether such a “genealogy,” such as I have undertaken, is not really au fond a closed loop, barring implementation of subtler strategies for interrogation about the political itself, drawing us into a domain of inquiry that prelimits everything in terms of “the Christian question.”

    First of all, let me come directly at this presentation of the issue by addressing what I think Anidjar has in mind with the above quotation. Anidjar himself is, of course, making a judicious point that others such as David Chidester5 and Tomoko Masuzawa6 have made about the way in which the very notion of “religion” cannot be at all separated from the skeins of representation imprinted on the emergent grammars of cultural theory brought about by the process of globalization and stemming directly from centuries of colonial domination. Anidjar specifically has in mind Derrida’s well-known proclamation of the “return of religion” during the seminar he gave with Gianni Vattimo on the Isle of Capri in 1993,7 a recrudescence he associates closely with the rise of Islamist fundamentalism in the Middle East but attributes to the quickening of globalization itself, or what he calls “globo-latinization.”

    The implicit question is whether it is possible to talk about “religion” without the tacit backstory of Christianity itself in, first, its evangelical diffusion throughout the Western world and, second, its provision of the ideology for the so-called “civilizing” (i.e., colonizing) mission of Europe from the age of Enlightenment forward. For Barber, the interchangeability of the secular with the religious is subsumed uniquely under the sign of domination. “The secular, as a discourse of the world, is a matter of domination—in every instance.”8 For Anidjar, the schematics of domination can be traced to the very Christian archetype by which the very blood sacrifice of Christ marks out within the representational grid of “Western” thinking as a whole. According to Anidjar, “one cannot maintain a strict distinction between . . . the blood of the Eucharist and the blood of the Inquisition.”9 After all, was not crucifixion the ultimate registry of the absolute might and domination of the Roman imperium, which Christianity supposedly inverted but did not eliminate, imbibing its very essence in the propagation of a spiritualized, but sanguinary “slave revolt,” as Nietzsche called it, that left its indelible stamp on the “globo-latinized” world order in which the entirety of our theoretical discourse is somehow fatefully imbricated? For Nietzsche, the “moral” imperative of egalitarianism and democracy was annealed from this thoroughly Christian forge of history.

    These kinds of assessments are certainly timely and highly instructive, but in making them, I believe, Snediker is missing the larger objective in writing Force of God. He seems to assume that I am doing some kind of “political theology” inside this “religio-Christian” matrix within which, so far as his critique proceeds by taking a nod from Anidjar and Barber. If that were the case, I would not rely on Nietzsche to the extent that I do, unless one is going to make the case, as Bruce Benson does,10 that Nietzsche was actually more of a “Christian” than he claimed to be. But it is the category of “force,” as I make clear in the earlier chapters of the book, that is the key to this kind of genealogical investigation.

    Force is not a schema. As Derrida notes early on in his career, it is both the secret of “deconstruction” and the solvent of representation. It has a remarkable filiation with Nietzsche’s “will to power,” which in the case of the latter consists in the secret of both valuation and representation. So how is it “Christian” exactly? Following Barber and Deleuze, Snediker wants to identify the force of God with the saeculum or “world,” which Christianity has made.11 But, if we follow Nietzsche, we do not begin with “world.” One begins with the creative force. As Nietzsche writes, “this world is the will to power—and nothing besides!”12

    1. Daniel Colucciello Barber, “World-Making and Grammatical Impasse,” Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences 25 (2016) 179–206.

    2. Gil Anidjar, Blood: A Critique of Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).

    3. Gil Anidjar, “Of Globalatinology,” Derrida Today 6.1 (2013) vii, p. 14.

    4. The secularization hypothesis is most famously made by Mark Lilla in The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West (New York: Vintage, 2007).

    5. David Chidester, Empire of Religion: Imperialism and Comparative Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014).

    6. Tomoko Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions; or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

    7. See Jacques Derrida, “Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of ‘Religion’ at the Limits of Reason Alone,” in Gil Anidjar, ed., Acts of Religion (London: Routledge, 2002), 40–101.

    8. Barber, “World-Making,” 183.

    9. Anidjar, Blood, 59.

    10. See Bruce Benson, Pious Nietzsche: Decadence and Dionysian Faith (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007).

    11. “There is no other world in an ontological sense” (Barber, “World-Making,” 199).

    12. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, translated by Walter Kaufman (New York: Random House, 1967), 550.

    • Timothy Snediker

      Timothy Snediker


      Oh, When The Moon Turns Red With Blood

      Perhaps an article by Alberto Toscano, on the subject of Giorgio Agamben’s The Kingdom and the Glory, can be of some use to us.1 Toscano zeroes in on a fundamental problem in Agamben’s theological genealogy of economy, namely, Agamben’s insistence on the theological origin of political economy. Behind this reference to origin, Toscano observes,

      lies not only Agamben’s sympathy towards the Schmittian notion of secularization but the conviction, mediated by a pervasive Heideggerianism, of a historical-ontological continuity which allows one to argue that our political horizon is still determined—and worse, unconsciously determined—by semantic and ideational structures forged within a Christian theological discourse.2

      As I pointed out in my response to Force of God (see Part I above), political theology recognizes itself as the search for theological continuity. Inasmuch as political theology is at once the search for and the subject of this continuity, its very existence (its forgetfulness and forgiveness of itself) is predicated on the affirmation of an unbroken thread, twisting and turning through the labyrinth of history.

      Yet, as Toscano goes on to say, the encounter between political theology (Schmitt) and genealogy (Nietzsche and Foucault) is, in fact, a profound mismatch. “It is difficult to ignore,” he writes, “that the Schmittian and Heideggerian lenses through which Agamben approaches Foucault’s methodology lead to a basic and glaring infidelity towards the maxims that orient Foucault’s work—above all the Nietzschean and Bachelardian principle of genealogical and archaeological discontinuity.”3 Thus, on the one hand, there is political theology, which presupposes an original theological continuity that determines the political horizons of the West; on the other hand, there is genealogy, which, according to Foucault, opposes itself, precisely, to the search for origins.4 For genealogy

      does not pretend to go back in time to restore an unbroken continuity that operates beyond the dispersion of forgotten things; its duty is not to demonstrate that the past actively exists in the present, that it continues secretly to animate the present, having imposed a predetermined form on all its vicissitudes.5

      One can, perhaps, practice both Nietzschean genealogy and Schmittian political theology, but one cannot practice them at the same time.

      In this regard, Raschke replies that he is above all a genealogist, that his Nietzschean bona fides are enough to exempt him from implication in the Christian Question, that his is not a discourse that takes place “inside [the] ‘religio-Christian’ matrix,” and that it is the category of ‘force’ that structures his genealogical inquiry. Yet I cannot help but wonder if Raschke is not trying to have it both ways, to lay claim to the “gray, meticulous” work of genealogy alongside the world-historical investigations of political theology into the “ontological grounding” of “the political as we know it.”6 Indeed, on Raschke’s alternative—revisionist?—account, it was Nietzsche himself who “genuinely discerned political theology as genealogy.”7 We have already seen (in Part II above) in the language of the preface to Force of God, how easily the latter slides into the former:

      What Nietzsche grasped, and Deleuze in his use of Nietzsche so well articulated, is that genealogy leads us to an intuition of the deeper play of forces behind the deep politics of not only our era but also previous ones. The play is at the same time a Wechselspiel, an ‘interplay,’ which both in its origins and in its outtake can be deciphered as ‘divine’ in an authentic political theological entailment of all its inferential possibilities. It is what we will designate as the force of God.8

      The book repeats this movement again and again: from the multiplicity of the play of forces (genealogy) to the singular and titular force of God (political theology). Is Raschke’s procedure a closed loop? Perhaps not a loop, but certainly a slippage: from forces to force, from multiplicity to singularity, from discontinuous events and emergences to the secret continuity of the theological, from religion to Christianity, and, somewhat astonishingly, from the ‘return of the religious’9 to a “true Christian res publica”!10 Granted, the civitas Dei envisioned by Raschke is grounded not in the virtuous authority of the state, but finds its determination in the historical authority of “the saints, the communio sanctorum.”11 But who, exactly, are these militants? Who are these saints to-come who come marching in?

      “We live at a time,” writes Raschke,

      when the baton of political theology passes to the saints, the revolutionary saints, the Christian insurgents, the visible signs of the operative and indefensible force of God. We are not talking, despite the inevitable nattering complaints of ‘exclusivism’ and ‘hegemony,’ contra Milbank or any of his congeners of Christian ‘triumphalism’ in any meaningful sense of the word. The lengthy ‘parenthesis’,’ as the dispensationalists say of Christendom, is over. The church has played well its historic supporting part. It is the age of militancy, not of the virtuous state. The state cannot be virtuous any more than a dung beetle can be free of excrement. The virtue of the saints is the new knowledge that emerges from the event of the absolute Christ encounter—the force of God!12

      Raschke is at pains to insist that neither the State nor the Church is the agent of this irresistible, universal, destining force of God. He objects, in his response, that the force of God is not the world, but rather the will to power. Very well then. And yet, everything in Force of God suggests that this force of God, this invisible and imperceptible will to power, is, in fact, a visibly and perceptibly Christian will to power, and the world—this “monster of energy, without beginning, without end…”13—a Christian world. Christendom is at its end, Raschke assures us, but this seems to me to beg the question. As Barber says, “The world survives.”14 The apocalyptic vision with which Raschke closes the book (but this is also true passim) is framed entirely in terms of a universal Christian eschatology. So, these militants, these revolutionary saints—are they Christians per se? Are they political theologians? Genealogists? Are they religious or are they secular? Or are they both of these at once—which is to say, yet again, are they Christians? And what if—having suffered the world made and unmade by Christians—one does not want to be counted in that number?

      1. Alberto Toscano, “Divine Management: Critical Remarks on Giorgio Agamben’s The Kingdom and the Glory,” Angelaki, 2011, 16:3, 125-136. My thanks to Sean Capener for pointing me to this important source several years ago.

      2. Ibid., 128.

      3. Ibid.

      4. Michel Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, ed. D.F. Bouchard (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), 140.

      5. /Ibid., 146. Foucault goes on: “Genealogy does not resemble the evolution of a species and does not map the destiny of a people. On the contrary, to follow the complex course of descent is to maintain passing events in their proper dispersion; it is to identify the accidents, the minute deviations—or conversely, the complete reversals—the errors, the false appraisals, and the faulty calculations that gave birth to those things that continue to exist and have value for us; it is to discover that truth or being does not lie at the root of what we know and what we are, but the exteriority of accidents.”

      6. Carl Raschke, Force of God: Political Theology and the Crisis of Liberal Democracy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015), xii.

      7. Ibid.

      8. Ibid., xiii.

      9. Ibid., xii.

      10. Ibid., 167.

      11. Ibid., 169.

      12. Ibid.

      13. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, trans. Walter Kauffman (New York: Random House, 1967), 550.

      14. Daniel Colucciello Barber, “World-Making and Grammatical Impasse,” Qui Parle 25.1-2 (2016), 180.

    • Carl Raschke

      Carl Raschke


      Can One Do Both Political Theology and Genealogy? Yes, If The Terms Are Properly Understood.

      “One can, perhaps, practice both Nietzschean genealogy and Schmittian political theology, but one cannot practice them at the same time.”  So writes Tim Snediker in his latest response.  This argument, while neatly epigrammatic and seemingly trenchant on the surface, misses the point in my estimation about what is actually going on in Force of God.

      It is of course ancillary to the case Snediker has been pressing throughout his commentary.  Following Gil Andijar[49], Snediker takes the position that the “genealogical” project I announced at the opening of the book is largely a sophisticated cover for a Christian theological agenda.  Unmasking and smoking out crypto-Christo-theological methodologies has been a regular pastime, if not in some cases a blood sport, among religious studies scholars in the last four decades or so.   In extreme cases the implication is sometimes advanced, as Ninian Smart was want to do a generation ago, that virtually all theoretical generalizations about religion have the defective Christo-theological gene built into their DNA structure, because they are the historical output of the Western philosophical legacy.

      Such briefs are interesting but far more inconsequential than many scholars recognize, if only because they presuppose there is somehow a pure, pristine, and primordial protocol for theorizing about religion that is independent of this heritage.  Even the notion that there can possibly be some de-Christianized hermeneutic of “religion”, or “religions”, eo ipso shares this pretension, because it scants the now familiar argument advanced by various scholars (the most important of whom is Tomoko Masuzawa’s The Invention of World Religions[50]) that the entire enterprise of “world religions” itself is branded with the hot iron of Euro-Christian supremacy that long ago forged the methodology as an instrumentalization of its own “civilizing mission” we know as colonialism.

      We can add, of course, the now familiar argument that the taxonomy of multiple religions itself, insofar as it belongs to the paradigm of secularity, is itself an archival product of the idea of Christendom, a notion often ascribed to Mark Lilla’s The Stillborn God a decade ago, but actually can be traced back to the sociological progenitors of “secularization theory” more than a generation ago (e.g., Arendt van Leeuwen, Thomas Luckmann, Peter Berger)[51], who themselves adapted it from Max Weber.   It is also in this light, therefore, that we can begin to appreciate Schmitt’s famous formulation about political theology, not because Schmitt was anything but Christian in his outlook, but because for his own time he understood the construction of the “political” better than those precursors among his own contemporaries of the secularization hypothesis.

      I, of course, do not draw a straight line equivalence between political theology and Nietzschean genealogy, as Snediker implies.  And even Nietzsche with his clear conviction that the genealogical method co-habits with the “Dionysian” impulse behind Western thought did not try to separate what Deleuze identifies as the former’s own strange, “undialectical” dialectic from the common legacy of Athens and Jerusalem.  Nietzsche’s famous quip that “there was only one true Christian, and he died on the Cross” has to be read in tandem with his haunting declaration in Ecce Homo: “Have I been understood? – Dionysus versus the crucified”.[52] Nietzsche’s famous anti-Christianity amounts to a refusal of the identification between Christos and the “crucified”, i.e., the master trope of “slave morality” and the piece de resistance for a Dionysian re-interpretation of the larger narrative of Western philosophy.  Christianity, as far as Nietzsche was concerned, did not invent slave morality.  Slave ressentiment, for Nietzsche, is locked into the very architecture of the kind of dialectical and “Christian-moral” slant of “democratic” thinking that Foucault a century later would explore as the template for contemporary, global neoliberalism (which, by the way, is the argument for my forthcoming book as the follow-on to Force of God).

      Thus a genealogy of political theology also has to be a genealogy of Christianity itself a la Nietzsche.  The “revolution of the saints,” a term I draw from Michael Walzer and not from Augustine, may sound “Christian”, but only because it is the only recognizable terminology we have at our disposal.[53]  After all, Walzer’s point (a good one) was always that the revolutionary, or what we are now calling the “insurrectionary”, drive in modern Western theory is indistinguishable from the Christian theological thread, which gave us politics as we know it.   Anyone familiar with Alain Badiou’s Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism – one of the most influential “theoretical” books of this new millennium – will easily see the connection.[54]

      The opposite strain, of course, is the neo-colonial taxonomics of the “history of religions” which reduces this insurrectionary strain to simply one more docile system of representation within the current neoliberal hegemony, which leverages the indefinite differentialism of “identity politics” to both preserve and conceal the empire of capital.  A truly “Christian” reading in Snediker’s sense would offer a bald apology for this regime.  That is what I mean when I say “only a [genuine] political theology can save us.”  That is the real specter that is now stalking the halls of neoliberal academia.

      [49] See Gil Andijar, Blood: A Critique of Christianity.  New York: Columbia University Press, 2014.

      [50]  Mark Lilla, The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West (New York: Knopf Doubleday, 2008).

      [51] See inter alia Arendt Th. van Leeuwen, Christianity in World History: The Meeting of the Faiths of East and West (Edinburgh: Edinburgh House Press, 1964); Thomas Luckmann, The Invisible Religion: The Problem of Religion in Modern Society (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1970); Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (New York: Doubleday, 1967).

      [52]  Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twlilight of the Idols, and Other Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 151.

      [53] See Michael Walzer, The Revolution of the Saints: A Study in the Origins of Radical Politics (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1965).

      [54]  See Alain Badiou, Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, trans. Ray Brassier (Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 1997).

Yannik Thiem


Only Political Theology Can Save Us Now?

If Carl A. Raschke’s Force of God: Political Theology and the Crisis of Liberal Democracy was a timely book in 2015, it seems that this timeliness has only intensified in 2017. As far as we can tell, the deepening of this crisis of liberal democracy is far from over, especially in the wake of the white supremacist marches in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 and the current president’s and his administration’s repeated failure to unequivocally condemn and oppose white supremacy, white nationalism, and its racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence. But if civil strife in the United States is increasing, the internal crisis seems to be outstripped by the growing nuclear crisis between the United States and North Korea as well as by the intensifying weather catastrophes resulting from human-made climate change. Maybe calling it a crisis no longer quite grasps the state of democracy in the contemporary United States. It appears like it is on its way out, if we have not already been attending its wake for quite a while now, maybe at the very least since corporations became persons.

What then is the role of political theory at this wake? Since Machiavelli political theory has not been seeking timeless truths, but theorizing out of and into the contingencies of specific political situations. That however has also meant for our political theorizing that we are cursed by the fact that our attempts to intervene in present contexts and situations mean we are chasing a sometimes rapidly moving target. This “our present” changes often at a pace that outstrips the pace of scholarly production by a manifold. Some of our interventions may have a longer half-life, some may go mute more rapidly. None of us who are writing can anticipate or guard against that uncertainty, except for those who are augurs or have well-tuned crystal balls in their basements. Moreover, when it is situational urgencies and not truth as such that lends import to theoretical work, such work always runs the danger of overstating or rhetorically producing the crises that constitute the theoretical work’s exigency. And yet it seems that at least in the United States in 2017, we have good reason to diagnose a crisis of liberal democracy and the environmental and global circumstances seems to make the urgency of analyses and interventions undeniable.

To be clear, Force of God is not assuming that a solution can be easily proposed. As Raschke clarifies at the outset, “The book does not pose an articulated solution to the crisis any more than Nietzsche himself posed a ‘solution’ to the death of God” (xiv). But how we circumscribe and analyze the crisis will delimit how we approach the issue of subsequently outlining and engaging in interventions in the varied fields of social and political praxis where we are engaged. At the same time, Raschke emphasizes on the final pages of the book, “As the crisis of liberal democracy approaches—and it is indeed very near—it does not avail itself of any straightforward political and economic solutions. The solution, if we are to employ this term appropriately in this setting, is ultimately not one of politics but of political theology” (163). So in what follows, I will try to understand more specifically what this crisis is according to Raschke’s analysis and what kind of political theology is taking what role in analyzing and responding to this crisis of liberal democracy. Throughout the reconstructive efforts, I will raise some questions especially with respect to what exactly is at stake in introducing a “theological” register. Finally, I will conclude with a few questions about the place of question of gender and race in political theology and more generally in our practices as academics.

1. what crisis?

The idiom in which I tend to work differs from Raschke’s, so some of my efforts here in the reconstructive part of this response will involve my attempts to translate his idiom into terminology with which I tend to think about the questions that the book raises. Translations always lose, add, and alter the source text. So if the losses are too distorting, I hope that Raschke and others can aid the translation with subsequent clarifications.

In the first chapter, Raschke circumscribes the crisis of liberal democracy as a crisis of representation. Liberal democracy and its legitimacy is based in the representation of the people’s will and collective interests in the institutions of the legislative and executive. When these institutions are no longer experienced as representative, their popular legitimacy erodes, which is why the crisis of liberal democracy is also a “crisis in the theory of sovereignty” (6). Focusing on rights or economic policies remains too superficial, because, as Raschke argues, the problem that liberal democracy is facing lies deeper, namely, in a quandary of political representation itself.

This quandary of representation is not one that only now suddenly has come to the fore, but as Raschke’s analysis—informed by deconstruction—shows, political representation is always traversed by more fundamental questions that it can never quite settle. What exactly is being represented in representative politics? How can representation and procedural democracy bring about and assure justice? How do relations of power condition and undermine forms and processes of representation? These questions haunt liberal democracy all along, but depending on the broader social circumstances these issues may or may not become virulent.

To get the crisis of liberal democracy as a crisis of representation into sharper focus, Raschke introduces force and value as key concepts for defining what politics is about: “Politics is ultimately about values. But values are not lucidly inscribed within the order of things. Values are neither discovered nor selected, but—as Nietzsche understood—‘willed’” (13). Further, “‘Power’ (Macht) is the value-direction of these [representational] forces (Kräfte)” (72). This recasting of politics in terms of values, their force, and their production strikes me as a very generative way of thinking about politics, because it displaces debates of procedural justice vs. substantive justice in democratic theory. The questions “What values ought we hew to?” and “Ought our political theories articulate substantive values or only procedural norms?” are beside the point as long as we do not understand how collective values come about in the first place. Instead Raschke directs our attention to the question how the dominant foundational values are produced and circulated, which also constantly recede from our view because they are so intimately woven into, delimit, and animate our institutions, practices, and the scope of political possibilities. I take this question of force and value as what Raschke also terms the issue of “the authorization of the political as a whole” (xi).

This generation of the quasi-metaphysical value substratum that delimits and grounds any reigning form of political institutions and practices cannot be created in conscious and intentional efforts. As Raschke elaborates by turning to the work of the Tel Quel Group member Jean-Joseph Goux, the production of values is not so much an epiphenomenon of social practices, but a metaphenomenon. This distinction means that values are not just a byproduct of “semiotic transactions” but as metaphenomenon they also always profoundly exceed those exchanges and interactions. Values are endowed with reality, persistence, and force that are irreducible to the processes and exchanges from which they originate (74). This context clarifies what is at stake when Raschke writes earlier, “History does not inject force into the idea. Instead it materializes or concretizes the force of the idea as it unfolds. History is the idea’s progressive incarnation” (69). So yes, there is a metaphysics here, but it is not an ahistorical or immaterial one. Everyday transactions, exchanges, and events bring about and sediment into “ideas.”

The recasting of politics in terms of the production and circulation of values and forces also means that Raschke proposes a less common understanding of political economy: “The political also has an economy emerging from the play of force. Hence the older term for political theory itself—i.e., political economy” (73). A consequence of this more expansive understanding of “political economy” is that the current context of neoliberalism needs to be grasped as a project and force that extends far beyond economic policy issues. In this thrust against limiting neoliberalism’s scope to a narrow circumscription of financial capitalism, Raschke’s impetus runs parallel to the arguments that, among others, Wendy Brown—who is not a thinker in the archive that Force of God draws on—has been making in a number of essays since 2003.1 Deepened and expanded in Brown’s Undoing the Demos from the same year as Force of God, this critique has us attend to neoliberalism as political economy as a comprehensive remaking of the world, societies, institutions, normative orders, rationality, subjectivity, desires and sensibilities.2

To my mind, a materially, epi- and metaphenomenally sedimenting metaphysics is a helpful way of talking about why value-charged commitments and underpinnings of social and political institutions and symbolic practices can have an odd longevity and can live even past their usefulness even when that anachronism might be collectively avowed by a majority. Still I would like to mark three hesitations at this point.

The first is that using the vocabulary of “idea’s progressive incarnation” brings a lot of conceptual baggage that I am not sure Force of God needs or even wants. When ideas are incarnated, there is a specter of idealism that crops up here insofar as the idea seems to preexist vis-à-vis its material actualization. The Word was with God before the Word became flesh, after all.

Second, invoking incarnation inscribes a Christian commitment at the conceptual level that unless it is meant to be solely illustrative introduces the question of whether Raschke takes this materialization of ideas as translatable into theologically informed concepts from other traditions. What, for instance, about a Jewish framework that maintains a strict separate between divine and human substance?3 And even if one stays within a Christian paradigm, the invocation of incarnation remains rather one-dimensional. For instance, deepening the understanding of incarnation by engaging then with kenosis could be very generative, but that kind of fleshing out is also absent from Force of God.

Finally, the conceptual vocabulary of “ideas” and “transactions” gathers, but also flattens the varied ecologies of social and political phenomena and practices that make up the deep structures and dynamics. These deep structures and dynamics unfurl and are refashioned in everyday history and politics. But it is not history (or politics) that “inject force” into them, because these deeper structures and dynamics do not exist in any way apart or independently from empirical historical events, exchanges, transmissions, and manifestations. The problem is not that the vocabulary of “ideas,” “transactions,” and “exchanges” commits us to an “idealism” and therefore is bad as such, but we lose the possibility to account for how shared practices, institutional dynamics, various habitus, and collective sensibilities interact in complex ways in our daily interactions to generate and consolidate our sense of what we take for granted as “how the world works.”

What we notice in the everyday ongoings are the many more readily discernible sources of the crisis of liberal democracy, among them,

[EXT]Unsustainable demands on the capacity of governments to provide for the general welfare while maintaining its tax base; insatiable consumerist fantasies combined with an epidemic of narcissistic personality pathologies . . . ; an explosion of ethnic and cultural identitarian politics as well as resurgent types of religious exceptionalism and zealotry that go hand in hand with the slow but steady collapse of the institutions of civil society and authority of the nation-state. (x)[/EXT]

Against classical or neo-classical Marxist attempts of a political-economic analysis of the crisis and these sources, Raschke argues that an inquiry into the deeper forces underpinning all of these occurrences is necessary and this inquiry is best understood as an issue of “political theology.” The question that follows at this point is in what way the theological register is necessary or what it adds to the critique of the anti-democratic consequences of neoliberalism in which Raschke’s project joins inquiries such as Brown’s Undoing the Demos.

2. what theology?

The crisis of liberal democracy, as Raschke diagnoses it, is a crisis of political theology. But how is that so, what does that diagnosis imply, and what does “theological” mean specifically in this context? There are two main lines of casting the contemporary crisis as theological in Force of God. One approach inscribes a necessarily theological dimension to all political orders and diagnoses the current crisis as a failure in generating the right theology, while the other approach sees the main problem in the evisceration of political theology and therefore seeks a recuperation of that dimension. I am not entirely sure I am clear on how Raschke understands the interrelation of these two lines of inquiry. In the former case, the question would be one of understanding how different political theologies are produced, what practices are able to transform them, and how we can guard against worse theologies and enable generating better ones. In the latter case, which strikes me as the more dominant strain in Force of God, the issue is one of revitalizing political theology. The overarching questions that remain are (a) whether the problems that democratic politics are facing currently are indeed best described as theological ones, and (b) what exactly “theological” means in that context.

In a certain sense, as the analytic that Force of God establishes, no political order can escape the implicit manifestation of a “political theology.” Raschke does not explicitly call the constant metaphenomenal production of value systems and their economies theological in the context where he introduces it. But in the preface, he clarifies that “force of God” designates “the deeper play of forces behind the deep politics” (xiii). Consequently, insofar as we take “theological” to mark a transcendence that remains irreducible to, though bound up with the immanent world, it would this creation and sedimentation of values and their force references a theological register. This “political theology,” as Raschke circumscribes it, is substantively agnostic. He emphatically rejects the “Christian statism” of radical orthodoxy and clarifies at the outset in the preface, “Political theology is not a theology of the political. Instead it aims to inquire into the grounds—or perhaps we should say the ontological grounding—of the political as we know it. It inquires into the apparition of the political” (xii). And yet we might wonder, why not—if we are to concern ourselves here with “the ontological grounding”—simply cast the inquiry as a matter of political ontology? What does casting the sedimentation of valorization structures and dynamics as “theological” allow us to address that a different register wouldn’t?

In my estimation there are problems with political ontology as a theoretical project, but that is not at issue here. The question is what “theological” means in the project of Force of God and what its systematic role is. We get an interesting clarification in chapter 8, “The End of the Political,” where Raschke explains, “Any historical procedure or institution that ensures a political thematization cannot succeed without the symbolic, legitimating agency that the religious provides. It is for this reason that politics as practiced inevitably comes down to some implementation of an implicit political theology” (148). “The religious” and “theological” here appear to be used more or less interchangeably. Earlier in the book Raschke indicates that he seeks to understand “the religious” formally, not substantively as the form of a force that imposes compulsion, the form and “force of constraint and command” (113). “The religious” is the name of the form of that which is binding, religere, and in that sense legitimation seems to be by necessity always religious and theological. So can there be no non-theological legitimation at all? My sense is that Raschke would reply to the question with reference to how symbolizations work to create and circulate value and force and a primacy of infinity and indeterminateness on the one hand. On the other hand, he would probably also reply by referring to the need for keeping a sense of this transcendence and thus elusiveness of the source of normativity present in order to safeguard against hypostasizing it. But I am not sure that this reference sufficiently explains the theological quality and the status of its necessity (is it an ought or an is?). Does “theological” denote “inevitable transcendence”? If so, why can there not be a form of immanent transcendence? Does that as well deserve to be called “theological”? If that is the case, what is the conceptual loss involved in such capacious circumscriptions of “theological” and “religious”?

To some extent in conflict with the inevitability of this theological dimension of legitimation, there is also a thread in Force of God that puts forth that at the heart of the contemporary crisis is a loss or erosion of the political-theological dimension. Turning to Claude Lefort’s essay “The Permanence of the Theologico-Political?” Raschke diagnoses the current crisis of liberal democracy as owing itself to the loss of the formerly substantively theological grounding of political forms: “Modern secular democracy has witnessed a steady disincorporation of political symbolization. It is no longer driven by a ‘politics’ of the Word made flesh but rather one of the empty tomb. And this ‘empty place’ that now stands for the political has fateful consequences” (146).4 The (Christian incarnation) theological dimension here is not one that is still present to present-day society, but has been forgotten. Rather it seems that transcendence and its entry into the realm of immanence has been eviscerated altogether for liberal democracies, according to this diagnosis. All that is left is the “empty tomb,” an emptiness that is detrimental. This disappearance means “the fabric of the political withers away,” because without a transcendent grounding of political meaning-making, “political reality appear[s] as something far more substantial and impinging than a simple heuristic construct” (147).5 So a certain transcendent fullness or substantiveness is the source for political legitimacy and the presence of this transcendence guards against hypostasizing political realities. Rather than aligning the theological quality with dogmatism and unassailability by critique, it is full immanence, according to Raschke’s account, that becomes uncritical. Theological transcendence ensures the critical potential and reality, because the foundations remain presumably forcefully beyond human mastery and hence political realities are more readily recognizable and experienced as “a simple heuristic construct.”

This diagnosis of the “empty tomb” of political theology in modern democracy stands in conflict with the claims that an “implicit political theology” is always inescapable. The main thrust of Force of God overall is clearly that it seeks to recuperate the force of political theology as salutary: “The solution . . . is ultimately not one of politics but of political theology” (163). The claims are reconcilable with each other, if the “empty place” itself is read as an “implicit political theology” and the question then becomes one of distinguishing between salutary and detrimental or rather—it seems more properly in Raschke’s paradigm—between false and true theology, as his gloss on the distinction between civil theology and properly political theology in the final chapter implies.

In the final chapter, “God, the State, and Revolution,” Raschke discusses Augustine’s rejection of the Roman civil theologian Varro distinguishing between civil theology and political theology: “Civil theology was always an impostor theology. Only a political theology would rescue the res publica” (167). Civil theology, I take it, is the intentional theological enshrinement of the existing political order and those who are in power of it. How then is political theology different? As Raschke lays out through his reading of Augustine, as concerned with the res publica, political theology must be interested in the well-being of the people in establishing its institutions (167). Political theology as the proper theology of the res publica is qualified by a commitment to justice, while civil theology serves solely maintaining power. Civil theology is guided by base desires and “a genuflection to the whims of the leaders of the ‘general public’ (duces populorum)” (168). Whereas political theology proper roots itself in amor dei, civil theology thrives on self-love: “The state, therefore, as a functionary and intermediary for these desires, has no gravity or authority” (168). The lack of authority of the institutions is not a lack in the ability to operate and enforce the existing order, but a deficit in legitimacy and moral authority. However, on the preceding page when Raschke introduces the properly political theology, “operative power” only obtains to the state guided by justice and a functioning system of rights and law: “For the res publica to function as a ‘state,’ that is, to have operative power and authority, it must have both iustitia and ius” (167). Justice and law that is tied to justice—and not an empty proceduralist system—endow the res publica, the political, public matter, not only with moral authority, but also with operative power. Much depends here on how Raschke wants us to understand “operative.” Is the illegitimate state not operative? If it isn’t, then what and authority are here presumed as operative only insofar as they are tied to justice?

Another interesting implication of the claim that “for the res publica to function as a ‘state,’ . . . it must have both iustitia and ius” (167) is that if they are guided by justice and are not succumbing to populism, then institutions can be legitimate and endowed with “gravity and authority.” So in that sense Force of God seems to make an argument for institution building. However, the stronger strand running through Force of God is one that suggests that such institutions cannot exist and justice always lies beyond institutions because of institutions’ necessary interest in self-replication. Taking up Badiou, Raschke argues that genuinely political action always happens in opposition to existing institutionalized power:

Badiou builds out the theoretical—and by extension the nascently theological—latticework for the assertion of the quintessentially political in opposition to the claims of the state. . . . The political, which Badiou identifies with the concept of ‘democracy,’ arises from a ‘fidelity’ to an ‘evental singularity’ made known epochally in the resistance to state power. But it is only in this resistance that the state discloses itself for what it is, i.e, antihuman and antipolitical. (156–57)

The state, the sedimented institutions and practices of governance are “anti-political.” Genuine politics, which only democracy is, according to the identification here, is only possible in opposition to the established forms. In other words, political action happens solely as actions directed at the de-constitution of established institutions. This line of argumentation that institutions and their bureaucratic functioning are not the locus of democratic activity and are to some extent antithetical to such activity is shared by Jacques Rancière’s distinction between politics and police and Sheldon Wolin’s theorizing of democracy as “fugitive.”6 One aspect to consider in these discussions is whether a too one-sided emphasis on de-constitution neglects reflecting on the intricacies of institution-building and whether the “eventual fidelity” is not too fleeting and too abstract in the face of considering how social movement politics changes its shapes in the face of new and emerging social and economic realities. However, what stands out more about Raschke’s take is his gloss on Badiou as offering a “nascently theological latticework,” which helps to get into focus the question what “theological” means in this context.

To understand better what is at stake in invoking a theological dimension for anti-statist action, it is helpful to turn to Raschke’s invoking of a “community of saints” in connection to insurrections vis-à-vis the state authority: “We live at a time when the baton of political theology passes to the saints, the revolutionary saints, the Christian insurgents, the visible signs of the operative and indefensible force of God” (169). However, as Raschke immediately clarifies, the “Christian” character of the visibility of the force of god does not imply a privileged position for Christianity. Instead, the emphasis lies on insurrection as the political activity of this community of saints, which remains rather vague as a political subject. It is not clear to me what the meaning of the “Christian” circumscription is or why that specification is necessary, even if one concedes that insurrection is a theological endeavor, if one accepts that “the state is never genuinely competent, only God” (169). The central question here remains though: Does one need access to the last part of this claim, in order to be able to arrive at the first part? If the last part is necessary, then indeed a critique of the state and its anti-democratic tendencies qua bureaucratic institutionality requires theological grounds and more specifically a certain theism. It is, however, not right away evident why the long and varied histories of anti-statist critiques and insurrectional politics that do not endorse a theological critique should somehow have been fatally mistaken or why today it is not possible to deny the state apparatus’ moral competence without stipulating a god that is genuinely competent.

My own partial answer for why we might want to consider political theologies as accompanying political orders and examine especially talk about political ontologies as theological arises from wanting to develop ways to analyze and counter how political ontologies tend to function as crypto-theologies. Hence I see the theological register as a further tool in our repertoire for grasping a set of phenomena and dynamics that are difficult to map out and difficult to intervene in with regard to the affective power they exert over us. So “political theology” is interesting as a medium in which we can observe how truth and affect converge and as a medium where these convergences are being shaped, such as in explicitly political formulations arising out of concrete theological traditions (e.g., liberation theology, black theology, queer theology, etc.). These latter projects are not good or valuable qua functioning as political theologies. Such evaluations are a matter of further examinations with respect to how they shrink or expand the possibilities and actual realizations of justice, equality, and flourishing for human and nonhuman existence.

My primary philosophical interest in “political theology,” in other words, is animated by a critical-heuristic potential that I see in the conceptual framework. This interest relates to the brief discussion of “civil theology” as a problem at the end of Force of God, insofar as Raschke, it seems to me, holds that one can maintain a firm distinction between civil and properly political theology, while I would argue that all political theology will always sediment into a civil theology. The quasi-metaphysical sensibilities and underpinnings attending any political order performatively always precipitate what might be better called civil theologies, if that is the term we use for the quasi-liturgical symbolic and affective practices through which institutions and orders replicate themselves. So for Raschke recovering the theological dimension is what democratic politics requires, while I would rather argue that democratic politics requires ongoing critiques of the theological enshrinement of existing institutional orders and practices.

3. cui bono?

Force of God ends with a commitment to insurrection in the name of the res publica which requires justice and the insistence that “it is now the age of militancy, not of the virtuous state” (169). Still the book is strikingly homogenous in the demographics of its interlocutors and strikingly nonchalant in sidelining dynamics of racial, gender, sexual, and other difference as not central to the inquiry into the current crisis of liberal democracy. The question whether in the second decade of the twenty-first century it is or should still be possible to theorize “the political” without considering forces of race, gender, sexuality, ability, and/or coloniality in depth is not unrelated to which authors we do and don’t engage in our scholarly practices. Particularly for our scholarship in political theory, but generally in all our scholarship, it matters how we take up, engage, transform, or reiterate the norms and practices of the institution—namely, the academy—in which we ourselves directly and significantly participate every day.

Force of God engages substantively only with one female author, namely, Hannah Arendt. The other female author whose work is discussed in the main text is Catherine Malabou on plasticity. Otherwise, as far as I could tell, the work of one more female author is the subject of reflection in a footnote and six further women’s work is mentioned in footnotes as “see also” references. In terms of racial diversity the slate seems even slimmer, although there is a brief explicit engagement with Walter Mignolo’s work. But this engagement seems rather telling, as it starts with a discussion of Mignolo but within two and a half book pages the discussion of Mignolo turns into an engagement with Derrida and Deleuze.

The issue here is not simply that Raschke’s archive is mostly male, mostly white, and mostly Euroatlantic. Looking back over my own work, I find questionable and lacking engagements with broader archives there as well. And even in work on marginalized groups and by marginalized groups, the major theoretical references eventually are often rather male, rather white, and very European or North American. As for instance discussions of Fanon in the past seemed to be just one step away from Sartre and then leading quickly back into discussions of Freud and Hegel. The pervasiveness of this practice may account for why this omission was not noted by any of the editors and reviewers who worked on this manuscript, but more so, this pervasiveness points to the fact that the problem is structural rather than one of individual author’s shortcomings.

The point here is not about some simplistic “multicultural representation of diversity” by giving nods to a greater variety of scholars and approaches by proliferating footnotes with “see also” mentions. It is the political economy of the production and circulation of knowledges that is at stake and that we all are participants in here. Gender and racial bias in citation and intellectual engagement are well-documented. Moreover, Chad Wellmon and Andrew Piper show in their recent study “Publication, Power, and Patronage: On Inequality and Academic Publishing” that unsurprisingly individuals with name recognition at institutions with name recognition get read and cited significantly more than those without.7 Scholarly meritocracy is an ideal but we all are caught up in pressures to publish and produce as well as in long-learned habits of intellectual diets. In the humanities citations and even more so substantive engagement are the coin of the realm not only for credentialing but also for how ideas and perspectives are taken up, proliferated, and how they come to transform the baseline assumptions about what is recognizable as “important” and what isn’t.

One might now reply that the kind of philosophical, agnostic, continental political theory discussion of “political theology” that Force of God engages is simply dominated by white male Euroatlantic authors and that such keeping count of citation politics is beside the point. However, since plenty of theorists who do not themselves invoke “political theology” in Raschke’s idiom make it into Force of God, we cannot attribute the dearth of female and POC authors as well as a dearth of discussion of race, gender, differential ability, and queerness to the whiteness and maleness of scholars generally engaged in discussions on this topic. There seems to be a “redlining” of the existing and growing bodies of work on race and political theology, feminist political theology, and queer theology as well as more broadly feminist, queer, and critical race theory. Force of God explicitly dispenses with feminist, queer, and critical race theory by summarily categorizing such work as “identity politics” and rejecting it under this umbrella (59, 112–14):

The effort to relativize Western political thinking through different kinds of supposedly “heterological” critiques such as intercultural, postcolonial, or other fashions, which could all be lumped together as an attack on Enlightenment universalism, through the myriad strategies of “identity politics” (feminist, disability, African American, Latino, LGBT, etc.), are nothing more than ideological axes that have adopted their respective customized discourses of critical theory. But they do not amount to either genealogy or even political theory in the deeper sense. (59)

While Raschke does not engage decolonial theory other than for the few pages on Mignolo, Mignolo’s approach to decoloniality is granted an exemption from the charge of “identity politics.” Raschke defends Mignolo against those charges where his work is “sometimes criticized as identity politics in a much more sophisticated and philosophical disguise,” because on Raschke’s account Mignolo “is not retailing identity but ‘difference’—what he calls the decolonial difference” (134). If indeed a theoretical focus on “difference” is the difference that makes the difference, it is astonishing that the wide-ranging work of feminists on sexual difference did not find any consideration. A passing reading of, for instance, Elizabeth Grosz could also have lent itself to pivoting into a commentary on Deleuze. Possibly however the difference between sexual difference and decolonial difference is that for Raschke the latter is of interest, because “we find not so much a ‘decolonial’ option as a desecularizing one” (136). Yet even in that case, recent work articulating critiques of secularism within feminist theory, such as the scholarship of Saba Mahmood should have made it into the archive from which Force of God works.

The worry about “identity politics” deserves a closer look, especially since the specter of “identity politics” as the downfall of liberal politics seems to haunt liberal public discourse after the 2016 US presidential elections, which Force of God (2015) could of course not anticipate and possibly Raschke would now articulate his position differently or has changed it altogether. After all, we all constantly try out ideas and arguments and adjust them as we learn with and from others.

In Force of God, a key passage for the rejection of engaging with gender, race, sexuality, ability as axes of difference is tied to seeing them as identities which have been leveraged to undermine the cosmopolitan thrust at the heart of Enlightenment claims to universality:

We need only make the observation that the “state of exception” has now passed from the state and become a space of multiple singularities that render the state not all-powerful but otiose. Identity politics has hastened the proliferation, through globalization, of this future exceptionality. Identity politics, given special currency by postcolonial theory, was always a brutal battering ram for delegitimating the Enlightenment universalism implied in Kant’s democratic cosmopolis. (112)

The passage here is curious and I am not sure I am entirely grasping its worry. It seems that feminist, critical race, queer, crip, and postcolonial (though not decolonial?) theory were successful in both undermining the authority of European Enlightenment universalism and the authority of the state. I am assuming that the argument here is that the problem is that these theoretical efforts and the corresponding political movements aided and enabled the neoliberal evisceration of old democratic institutions and structures—structures and institutions which not only excluded women, POC, queers, and differently abled people, but were and continue to be predicated on their subaltern status. Is the “all-powerful” rather than “otiose” state really the last bulwark we have against neoliberal practices and reactionary white supremacist fantasies? Just to be sure, we are on the same page here: Is the claim here that feminist, POC, queer, crip, and decolonial activists and theorists are responsible for the current (hardly unprecedented) joining of forces of neoliberal capital and neofascism? Is the claim here that German Idealism and its cosmopolitanism was our best bet?

It is puzzling that decolonial, critical race, feminist, queer, and crip work should be rejected under the umbrella of trafficking in “identity politics,” when exactly the critique of facile identity politics has been part and parcel of exactly these traditions of scholarship for the past two decades. Intervening in the discussions about how to think about a politics of affect and recasting intersectionality, Jasbir Puar sums up one of the queer theoretical critiques of identity politics in Terrorist Assemblages, only ten years ago: “Identity politics, both a symptom of and a response to these networks of control, capitulates once again to chasing the space of retribution for the subject” (162).8 A few years earlier in 1995, Wendy Brown offered a lengthy analysis and critique of the political quandaries of identity politics in States of Injury, just to mention two examples.9

To reiterate, just to be clear, the point here is not to play a game of “gotcha” and mention authors and works that could have further aided or altered the scholarship. There will always be works that any of us could have and should have noted and incorporated and that we didn’t. The point here is that the very bodies of scholarship that get summarily rejected as having contributed to the problem that is being criticized (namely, “identity politics”) do not even get engaged, which would have revealed that there is a very differentiated critique of that problem developed by precisely these bodies of scholarship. One aspect of that critique that seems particularly relevant is the analysis of how reducing various kinds of difference to “identity” functions as a way to sequester and manage those differences, so that the dominant “normal” or “null” can remain unchallenged by those differences at a systemic and institutional level.

Raschke’s own critique of identity politics is that race, gender, sexuality, ability, or class each address a set of specificities without taking on the more general, underlying dynamic, which Force of God diagnoses as one of “the force of the religious”:

Identity politics is founded on an assertion of the singularness of what is existentially significant in a broad sense—gender, class, race, religious identification, nationality, sexual orientation, local peculiarity, etc. . . . The singularity is the absoluteness of the force of infinity upon the finite, the force of the religious. But this force has nothing to do with the religious as marker of temporal identity, only as a force of constraint and command, not the “force of law,” but the force majeur that expresses itself in the “majesty of the law,” the sovereign ordained by God—the ultimate force of God himself. That is the force behind the “exception” in the postnational era. (112–13)

In other words, Raschke argues that in order to talk about the specificities that gender, racial, sexual, socioeconomic differences mean, we first need to understand that these specificities issue from “the force of infinity upon the finite.” The argument, as I read it, says that it makes no sense to proliferate the categories of determination, if we do not understand how these determinations in general are generated. However, specificity is not a matter of rendering distinct and finite what starts as indistinct and in that sense infinite. Rather it is an infinity that impresses itself on the finite, which leads to the specification. Deferring for a moment further questions that I would like to raise about this interpretation, I am wondering how (a) this reading squares with the phenomenological accounts of the various differentiations, and (b) simply conceptually how this dynamic plays out more precisely. How is the experience of one’s body as racially marked and differentiated and the fluctuations of the internal and external meanings, investments, and affordances arising from this differentiation an experience of “the force majeur that expresses itself in the ‘majesty of the law,’ the sovereign ordained by God—the ultimate force of God himself”?

My sense is that Force of God in how it frames “force” and “value” actually has a systematic place for thinking through the various vectors of racial, gender, queer, ableness, colonial differentiation in ways that resist the often quick subsumption of these vectors into “biopolitics” or “difference in general.” As the third chapter, “Force of Art,” elaborates, force as political key concept—in the analytic of Force of God that focuses on a crisis of representation—compels considering the aesthetic and existential dimensions at the level where quasi-metaphysical sensibilities subtending political orders are shaped. Raschke’s analytic provides this place because it counters more mechanistic or physicalist concepts of force. There is decidedly no reductio ad neuroscientiam, because with the link of force to value and the aesthetic dimension, “force” retains a qualitative aspect that cannot be grasped by a neuroscientific, physicalist paradigm. One could then conceivably consider this excess as “theological”—not in the sense of relating to a deity—except ex negativo in the spirit of a critique of idolatry. All attempts to render substantive, reduce them to “stable identities” amount to the production of idols. This fundamentally aesthetic differentiation and the ways in which experience and social and political possibilities are aesthetically mediated and constituted would then be the site where race, gender, queer, disability, age, coloniality can be and need to be inscribed, tracked, and disarticulated. These differentiations are not reducible to individual bodies and their identifications, not even to populations and their management, because these dynamics of differentiation are equally inscribed into temporalities, spaces, and institutions.

But if we find ourselves pointing to one generalized dynamic that exempts us from engaging specificities, what allows us to presuppose that all forms of socially, politically, and existentially salient differentiation work according to the same underlying dynamic? Can we account for that presupposition without inscribing an axiomatic refusal of critically examining epistemic hegemonies? Where does the resistance to thinking through gender, race, sexuality, ability, and coloniality in their specificity and complexity substantively issue from? What does it mean, if we are inclined to reply here that such inquiries are indeed very welcome, but not feasible, because “nobody can do everything”? From where are we speaking, if we are inclined to respond that the point is to give a “general” encompassing account and having to focus on a few vectors would mean that the study then belongs to specialized subfields? Is this “generality” not an expression of where we ourselves remain caught up in an identity politics? Our inquiry just does so in a way where that identity is invisible and feels universal, because the specificity from which we work is in alignment with the hegemonic categories. Maybe a first step is to make the unbearable whiteness of our philosophies speak its name.


As Arnold Ruge pointed out in his critique of liberalism from 1843, the impulse of liberalism is to assume that there is fundamental agreement and disagreements are only a matter of misunderstandings or a lack of good will.10 I imagine that both Carl Raschke and I probably agree that this liberal impulse is smothering political discourse and what in German is aptly called Streitkultur (culture of disagreement, fighting). Some disagreements are indeed only a matter of clarification, but some disagreements are substantive. A number of disagreements that I flag here are—it seems to me—indeed substantive ones. There is a provisionality that obtains to all of our thinking. We constantly reconsider, refine, and revise our thinking in response to others and in response to the changing circumstances in which we find ourselves. And that is a good thing. Sometimes we are persuaded to alter our views, sometimes disagreements lead us to refine and clarify our own thinking. So I write here assuming that there are indeed substantive disagreements between Raschke and me and anticipating that he probably does not find himself readily moved to agreement in all points, maybe not in any. But I hope that he will be willing to clarify his arguments and the stakes that subtend them, so that all of us who read and think along can consider how we position ourselves in these conversations. Because that we do find ourselves in politically troubling times and a crisis of democracy, that—to me—seems a fact and we all do well to give our best in consciously and intentionally orienting ourselves in thought and in action now.

  1. Wendy Brown, “Neo-liberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy,” Theory and Event 7.1 (2003),, and Wendy Brown, “American Nightmare: Neoconservatism, Neoliberalism, and De-Democratization,” Political Theory 34.6 (2006) 690–714.

  2. Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution (New York: Zone, 2015). Charles Prusik engages with Theodor W. Adorno’s work in relation to classical economic theories to expand this understanding of neoliberalism as a comprehensive framework of experience and social life in his recent dissertation “Negative Reason: Adorno and the Critique of Neoliberal Society” (PhD, Villanova University, 2017):

  3. History being the “idea’s progressive incarnation” calls up and reiterates a Hegelian teleological concept of history, while it is not actually clarified whether political theology necessitates a teleological concept of history (Walter Benjamin for instance would answer with an emphatic no). Since Raschke very clearly distances himself from all forms of a Christian Heilsgeschichte and given the Derridian commitments of Force of God, this invocation of a progressive historical process seems simply a misplacement. However, the language of incarnation is a more systematic force haunting the conceptual framework in Force of God.

  4. Claude Lefort, “The Permanence of the Theological-Political?,” in Hent DeVries and Lawrence Sullivan, eds., Political Theologies: Public Religions in a Post-Secular World (New York: Fordham University Press, 2006), 148–87.

  5. The fuller context of the passage here reads as follows: “Modern secular democracy has witnessed a steady disincorporation of political symbolization. It is no longer driven by a ‘politics’ of the Word made flesh but rather one of the empty tomb. And this ‘empty place’ that now stands for the political has fateful consequences. . . . The outcome is a stripping away of the signifying interagencies and symbolic performatives of a society that makes political reality appear as something far more substantial and impinging than a simple heuristic construct. The fabric of the political withers away” (146–47).

  6. Jacques Rancière, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, translated by Julien Rose (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999). Sheldon S. Wolin, “Fugitive Democracy,” Constellations 1.1 (1994) 11–25.

  7. Chad Wellmon and Andrew Piper, “Publication, Power, and Patronage: On Inequality and Academic Publishing,” Critical Inquiry, July 21, 2017,

  8. Jasbir K. Puar, Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007).

  9. Wendy Brown, States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995).

  10. Arnold Ruge, “A Self-Critique of Liberalism,” translated by J. A. Massey, in Lawrence Stepelevich, ed., The Young Hegelians (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 237–60.

  • Carl Raschke

    Carl Raschke


    Response to Thiem

    I am very grateful for Yannik Thiem’s elaborate and intricate interrogations and annotations on Force of God. Since the rules of this exchange only allow a thousand words in my initial response, I will focus on one or two of his criticisms and observations, perhaps the ones that can be handled straightforwardly. I should say in outset that I appreciate his comparison of my project with the work of Wendy Brown, whose Undoing the Demos1 came out about the same time as Force of God and whom I am overwhelmingly indebted to in my current work on the topic of neoliberalism per se. I think some of Prof. Thiem’s queries may be actually addressed when that work, which is close at this point to a completed manuscript, comes out.

    To begin with, I sense that Thiem has a problem with what he perceives as my take on political theology as “political ontology.” I am not sure that is what I am really doing, insofar as ontology and genealogy are analogous, as Deleuze has famously noted, to symptoms and diagnosis. I, of course, as an arch-“postructuralist” regard any “ontology” not as a “metaphysical” or even a “conceptual” undertaking, but as ultimately a genealogy of force. The genealogy of force, which suffuses most of post-structuralism and is key in many ways to Foucault’s cultural hermeneutics of “power/knowledge,” has both engendered and continues to frame even the most methodical strategies of “intersectionalist” theorizing abundant nowadays. It finds its initial and persistent “ontological” vocabulary in Deleuze’s Nietzsche and Philosophy,2 which of course is my own point d’appui, as I make clear early on, in setting forth the larger agenda for Force of God. Unlocking the intimate relationship between valuation and force was the signature achievement of Deleuze’s book, published in 1962, which opened the intake valve for everything that we remotely call “postmodern” from Derrida and deconstruction to the entire oeuvre of the later Foucault.

    Political representations, even those that purport to be “theological” in nature, are always in a deep sense valuations of some kind or another. A lot of the confusion in these kinds of discussions comes down to whether we can get behind the “masks” (in Nietzsche’s words) of these ongoing structures of representation and lay bare the “play of forces” in the background. Even if I did not say it explicitly in my own book, I will here do my own riff on Feuerbach and say that political theology must become genealogy. It is only in this particular setting that one can make the distinction, as Augustine did in effect throughout The City of God, between “civil theology” and what I characterize as political theology. Thiem does not appear at all comfortable with this distinction. He notes that I “maintain a firm distinction between civil and properly political theology, while [he] would argue that all political theology will always sediment into a civil theology. The quasi-metaphysical sensibilities and underpinnings attending any political order performatively always precipitate what might be better called civil theologies.”

    I am not sure what to make of such a statement. At one level it is so obvious as not to serve as an item for contention. As his commentary unfolds, Thiem appears to make the case that a proliferation of different “civil theologies,” all derived from differential categories of political participation (what is really meant by the term “identity politics”) that are prioritized in accordance with their degree of their exclusion from prior representational systems and modes of “performativity,” will suffice in lieu of such a genealogy. This kind of argument, which has become the fashion these days in political theological discourse, is used frequently to obscure the uncomfortable truth, which writers such as Slavoj Zizek,3 Alain Badiou,4 Nancy Fraser,5 myself,6 and Wendy Brown (by implication) have brought to the fore, that the logic of social differentialism and the preoccupation with identity theorization are not emancipatory logics at all, but rather sustain powerfully and consistently the master narrative of neoliberal hegemony. Fraser, starting with her devastating critique of “second wave feminism” in 2013, has demonstrated how every “progressive variant” of the critique of capitalism has “tended nevertheless to overextend the critique of culture, while downplaying the critique of political economy. In practice, the tendency [has been] to subordinate social-economic struggles to struggles for recognition”7

    My effort in Force of God clearly is to revive the “critique of political economy” in the manner that Marx understood it. Whereas Marx was dealing with nascent industrial capitalism and the accumulation of “surplus value” materialized as the machinery of the production of commodities, the current critique of neoliberalism focuses on post-industrial capitalism and the deliquescence of capital itself as the immaterial equivalent of what enables the process of pure symbolic exchange. It is this accumulation and commandeering of the symbolic processes by the distinctive neoliberal form of exploitation, fomenting an ever-expanding apparatus of psychological micromanagement that serves to amass “human capital” under the pseudo-ethical guise of what Brown terms “self-entrepreneurship,” together with the thorough financialization and digitization of a global economy that runs almost entirely on leveraging and personal indebtedness (what Maurizio Lazzarato dubs “the making of indebted man”),8 that I begin to theorize in Force of God. What those who defend the discourses of differentialism that is at the heart of identity politics do not realize—perhaps because, as Lazzarato and others have shown, the American university itself is the manufacturing hub for this kind of purely symbolic, or “hyperreal,” productivity—is that they are defending at the same time the logic of neoliberalism tout court. Only a political theology that unmasks through the kind of radical critique of political economy we have called genealogy the faux “emancipatory” practices of neoliberal governmentality can truly “save us.”

    1. See Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution (New York: Zone, 2015).

    2. Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, translated by Hugh Tomlinson (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006).

    3. Slavoj Zizek, “Multiculturalism or the Cultural Logic of Multinational Capitalism,” New Left Review 225 (1997) 28–42.

    4. Alain Badiou, St. Paul: The Foundation of Universalism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 108.

    5. Nancy Fraser, “What Is Progressive Neoliberalism: A Debate,” Dissent 64 (2017) 130–47.

    6. Carl Raschke, “‘Progressive Neoliberalism’ and the Political Theology of the West,” Political Theology Today, March 28, 2017,

    7. Nancy Fraser, Fortunes of Feminism: From State-Managed Capitalism to Neoliberal Crisis (London: Verso, 2013), 219.

    8. See Maurizio Lazzarato, The Making of Indebted Man: An Essay on the Neoliberal Condition, translated by Joshua David Jordan (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2012).

Joseph Winters


Winters on Raschke’s Force of God

Carl Raschke’s Force of God: Political Theology and the Crisis of Liberal Democracy is an exhilarating, and at times daunting, book that brings together theology, political theory, continental philosophy, and critical theory with the aim of responding to the contemporary crises facing Western liberal democracies. While there is much in the book that deserves a generous, and critical, response, I want to focus on three motifs that emerge and take form in the text—political theology, crisis, and coloniality. By riffing and elaborating on these concepts, in conversation with Raschke’s provocative book, my hope is to push the conversation around theology, the political, and the exigency of the present toward new plateaus.

As the author describes early in the text, “political theology is not a theology of the political. Instead it aims to inquire into the grounds—or perhaps we should say the ontological grounding—of the political as we know it. It inquires into the apparition of the political, which has its origins in Greece and has evolved, drawing on the metaphysical superstructure of that inaugural formation or representation, into modern liberal democracy” (xii). In the tradition of Carl Schmitt, Walter Benjamin, and Slavoj Zizek, Raschke assumes that liberal democracy (like the political arrangements prior to the mergence of liberalism) is haunted and “secretly” structured by quasi-theological ideas, attachments, drives, and practices. According to the proponent of political theology, modern Western nation-states have always depended on theologically inflected concepts and practices like sovereignty, redemption, sacrifice, reconciliation, chosen-ness (the disavowal of which is often intertwined with the denial of both the violence that makes liberal democracy possible and the conditions for revolution and transformation). For Raschke, what is important is that political theology enables us to identify the “deeper play of forces” behind the immediacy of politics. In addition, the author argues that our current crisis is a result of some rift between the metaphysical and the political. Or as he puts it, “Our time is out of joint because the principal form on which Derrida began to meditate with the fall of Communism—i.e., democracy—is increasingly dislodged from its own ‘metaphysical structure’” (ix).

Perhaps what we need to interrogate is the relationship between political theology and ontology. Raschke seems to conflate Deleuze and Nietzsche’s play of forces with the “force of God.” While I might be quibbling here, it’s not clear why he links theology and ontology so closely. Here I am thinking about Heidegger’s critique of the Christian theological tendency to conflate a particular being with Being—ontotheology. I am also thinking about Deleuze’s attempt to affirm pure immanence—or to reject the subordination of immanent flows and rhythms to some transcendent realm or idea. Since Raschke is clearly aware of this legacy of distinguishing theology from ontology, one wonders what the language of “force of God” does that the language of constitutive “play of forces” does not achieve. What does political theology, in addition to what the author calls real politics, offer us that a commitment to immanence, event (Deleuze instead of Badiou), and eternal recurrence cannot?

Another related concept that we might want to examine is the notion of crisis. According to the author, “Since the end of the totalitarian era, most dramatically symbolized in the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, many new democracies have come and disappeared with a disturbing rhythm. At the same time, the Western democracies, both in America and in Europe, have descended into profound crises of historically unique proportions” (x). For Raschke, this crisis includes political dysfunction, economic collapse, the inability of governments to provide general welfare, religious fanaticism and terrorism, and our late capitalist hyperreality. But as the author intimates, the term “crisis” proves difficult when we attempt to exclusively locate that “crisis” in the present, or recent past, without offering a genealogy of the present or without identifying the constitutive limitations/symptoms of the current political-metaphysical order. While Raschke wants the reader to take seriously the present crisis (which only the most “trend-deaf ideologue” could ignore), he claims in chapter 1 that liberal democracy has always been haunted by contradictions. It has always pointed to its own undoing. As the author puts it, “The crisis today of liberal democracy in the West may have roots that run far deeper than what the prevailing theories consistently suggest” (4). As I understand it, the crisis of liberal democracy for Raschke is first and foremost a crisis in representation—liberal democracy’s willing subject, whether individual or collective, is always already animated by a desire to expropriate, possess, and accumulate. More generally, as Nietzsche points out, every value (such as liberty, freedom, or the self) undermines itself; every high value is intertwined with base desires, drives, and attachments. Liberal democracy tends to disavow its own conditions of possibility—violence of capital, colonization, empire, war, theft, and settlement. So it seems as if Raschke wants to hold onto the exigency of the present while taking seriously the immanent, and constitutive, sources of liberal democracy’s unraveling. Perhaps the present calamity is the explicit expression of latent tendencies and qualities.

In response to the ambivalence around the notion of crisis, it might be helpful to introduce a provocative line by Walter Benjamin. In the middle of his oft-cited “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” Benjamin writes, “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the state of emergency in which we live is not the exception but the rule” (Benjamin, “Theses,” 257). Here Benjamin acknowledges the catastrophe of his historical moment—Nazi takeover, World War II—while also suggesting that oppressed bodies always experience the social order as a crisis, as an everyday catastrophe. This aphorism dovetails nicely with Benjamin’s suggestion that progress is a storm or his claim that civilization is always intertwined with barbarism. But if Benjamin is right, why is our current moment any more critical for indigent people in the United States than in the 1980s under Reagan? Why is this moment more exigent for Haitians than the previous centuries of economic devastation caused by sanctions, imposed debt, invasions, etc.? Is this moment any more, or less, perilous for black Americans facing a legacy of State violence, military-style policing, excessive surveillance, etc.? Or women perpetually vulnerable to the possessive, violent desires of men? In light of my invocation of race and coloniality in the preceding questions, it might make sense to think about Raschke’s brief engagement with the decolonial critic Walter Mignolo. In chapter 7, Raschke addresses Mignolo’s affirmation of indigenous practices and epistemes as an alternative to Western modernity. According to Raschke, “The friend/enemy distinction, so far as Mignolo conceives it in terms of indigenous communitarianism versus the current world system, is provocative, but misleading and somewhat disingenuous however” (135). For Raschke, “[Mignolo’s] suggestion that any kind of anti-Western pushback presages this new ‘decolonial cosmopolitanism’ ignores much of the actual histories and trajectories of different parts of the world” (136). So whereas Mignolo supposedly uncritically endorses the indigenous against coloniality, Raschke reminds us that in Latin American there are “telling differences” among the political visions of various leaders and countries.

While there is validity to Raschke’s concerns about Mignolo’s project, it seems to me that the former glosses over key aspects of the latter’s project and decolonial thought more generally. One aspect is Mignolo’s focus on “border” thinking, a concept that has Hegelian resonances even as it moves beyond a Hegelian horizon. Border thinking is a mode of engagement that underscores exteriority, limits, and self/other interactions. For Mignolo, border thinking is a response to hoary tendencies to construct and imagine Western modernity, Western liberal democracy, apart from the spaces and zones that the West appropriated and dominated in order to make sense of itself. To think at the border is to situate our reflections and ethical engagements in between the West and its imagined outside—not to mention the interior zones of alterity that fracture any notion of a unified Western project. One of the many upshots of border thinking is that one cannot tell the story of Western modernity apart from what Lisa Lowe might call the West’s violent intimacies with other continents and hemispheres (the East, the global South, etc.). Consequently, any discussion of the formation of liberal democracies in the West must underscore how the very project of Western modernity is made possible by a colonial/racial imaginary that locates non-Europeans outside the sphere of the human. Because black bodies, for instance, are non-beings that inhabit zones of non-being (Sylvia Wynter), anti-black racism compels us to rethink the limits of ontology as a mode of philosophical inquiry. More to the point, racial hierarchies that legitimate anti-black violence and settler projects—from classic forms of dispossessing indigenous land to contemporary practices of gentrification—have always been intertwined with liberal democracies. As mentioned above, Raschke is clearly aware of the underside of the appropriative liberal subject and its concomitant notion of representation. At the same time, by underscoring the immanent sources of liberal democracy’s crisis, and without fleshing out the relationship between the internal and external that border thinking demands, Raschke downplays the permanent catastrophe of liberalism for those on the other side of Du Bois’s color line. When wasn’t early liberalism a crisis for enslaved Africans? When didn’t liberalism always spell erasure, dislocation, war, and internment for indigenous peoples? And when haven’t those on the underside of the liberal project imagined and created new practices and modes of being in the cuts and breaks of modern life?

There is so much in this book that is provocative, inspiring, and timely. I draw attention to the relationship between crisis and coloniality only to identify a productive tension in Raschke’s thought. While he acknowledges that the crisis of liberalism was always immanent to this political-metaphysical imaginary, he also suggests that the current moment is especially exigent and perilous. Perhaps. To be clear, my interrogation of crisis language is not for the sake of defending or recuperating Western-style liberal democracy. Nor do I want to diminish the urgency of cultivating alternative modes of living in, and relating to, our lifeworlds in the face of horrifying expressions of power, thoughtlessness, and indifference in our current juncture. I am simply concerned about the ways in which crisis language can deflect attention from the intractable fact that any social order is always a state of emergency for the tradition of the oppressed, those whose oppression is justified because they are marked as less than human, less worthy of life, or a threat to the order of things.

  • Carl Raschke

    Carl Raschke


    Response to Winters

    Prof. Winters’s insistence that if we are to take seriously the “crisis of liberal democracy,” we must come to terms with the long-standing, baleful, complicated, and highly fraught interlinkage between liberalism and colonialism is most acknowledged and welcome. It is a question that must be addressed, and admittedly I did not do so in Force of God, only because of the limited scope of the project from the outset. In addition, it is only, relatively speaking, quite recently within the Western theoretical imagination that we have begun to develop an expansive, theoretical vocabulary to tackle the problem head on. I am not talking simply about the admission of “Eurocentric” thought and analysis, which has been problematized for some time now with regard to all cultural, social, or political discourse coded by the categories of Western philosophy. Even Walter Mignolo’s “decolonial option” recognizes this fact. Gayatri Spivak’s inaugural gesture toward allowing the “subaltern” to speak is both central to, and part and parcel of, the project of any genealogy that aims to diagnose the “crisis of representation.”1 These lost or “suppressed” voices of colonial subjects, who are seeking to add their authentic voices theoretically as well as philosophically to what Alain Badiou has termed the “clamor of being,” are finally coming to be heard.

    But the question is: how are these voices being heard? Are they authentic, or do we hear them through a ventriloquism that disguises the new “neocolonial” masters who are merely speaking for them? Are they heard through some kind of new lingua franca that captures each one’s distinctive and genuine inflection of autochthony or “indigeneity,” what has in the European lexicon romantically and often condescendingly been called “primordial? And, if there actually is such a lingua franca, can it be separated from what Derrida termed our “white mythology,” our own Indo-European conceptual filter that parses everything we experience into rational, reflexive agents subsisting alone in their own monological space of self-direction and self-sufficiency within a zero-sum game that urges us to dominate or be dominated? Is the logos behind this fabled lingua franca merely a “logic” of difference and exception, whereby we can only point out what has been excluded rather than seeking to find a common register for the vast variety of subalterns to speak together viva voce? Unfortunately, the lingua franca we have adapted in the West to take account of these de-territorialized grammars of non-European subjectivity is the neoliberal one. We subscribe to the fantasy that the neoliberal logic of differentialism and “inclusion” under the sign of what we know as “cultural diversity” is not still a colonial one.

    The liberal position, which quickly morphed into the colonial stance, was always founded on the principle of rational autonomy, authorizing the subjugation of those who were not “enlightened,” who refused to exercise their own autonomy and preferred to remain in a state of “self-incurred immaturity” (selbst verschuldeten Unmündigkeit), as Kant put it. The “civilizing mission” of colonial Europe was to turn what they perceived as inchoate humanity into subjects, to discipline them into achieving their own rational autonomy, by “forcing them to be free” in the words of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The colonial myth, false and hypocritical from the outset, was nevertheless predicated on the conviction that those who were presently excluded from its vision of cosmopolitan universalism could one day earn majority status. The neoliberal position still assumes the same self-incurred immaturity of its would-be subjects.

    But the difference, as Achille Mbembe in his Critique of Black Reason has emphasized, is that neoliberalism functions to apply the condition to the whole of humanity, a fate which he provocatively calls “the becoming black of the world.” Liberalism, according to Mbembe, is inseparable from the imperial expansion of Europe during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in accordance with “the emergence of the plantation and the colony as institutions coincides with the very long period in the West during which a new form of governmental reason emerged and was affirmed: that of mercantile reason.”2 The black slave became the quintessential merchandise, a perilous subtraction through commodification from humanity on the corpse of which the abstract individual with “universal” rights and liberties could emerge. Following the abolition of slavery the burden of subjugation fell to the colonial racialized subject, who was technically not a slave, but performed the same function of furthering the global mercantile algebra whereby human beings were increasingly dehumanized for the sake of a “higher” human ideal.

    Neoliberalism, on the other hand, consists in a “process,” Mbembe writes, “characterized by the production of indifference; the frenzied codification of social life according to norms, categories, and numbers; and various operations of abstraction that claim to rationalize the world on the basis of corporate logic.”3 The “differentialism” on which mercantile capitalism excluded black and non-European peoples now is turned inside out and becomes a kind of “integral calculus” whereby exclusion is alchemized into a purely abstract inclusivity that both commodifies and renders nugatory not just some, but all, human subjects within a planetary ambit. Mbembe further describes neoliberalism as an “imperialism of disorganization” through which “foreign corporations, powerful nations, and local dominant classes all in turn present themselves as helping with reconstruction or use the pretext of fighting insecurity and disorder in order to help themselves to the riches and raw materials of countries thrown into chaos.”4

    The question arises whether political “theology” in employing a genealogy that strips away the layers of representation in order to expose a reciprocity of force and value can deal with all of this. I think it can. Force of God does not take up the colonial question per se. But as Mignolo, Mbembe, and others have effectively brought to our attention, the question itself is implicit in the deeper interrogation of the metaphysics of representation that has historically underwritten liberal democracy. My forthcoming book on neoliberalism fleshes that out.

    1. See Gayatri Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” in Rosalind C. Morris, ed., Can the Subaltern Speak: Reflections on the History of an Idea (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 21–79.

    2. Achille Mbembe, Critique of Black Reason, translated by Laurent Dubois (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017), Kindle edition, loc. 1753–55.

    3. Ibid., 257–59.

    4. Ibid., 302–4.