The Future of IllusionPolitical Theology and Early Modern Texts

The Future of IllusionPolitical Theology and Early Modern Texts

Victoria Kahn

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780226083872

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


This is a book about the neglected dialogue between several influential twentieth-century theorists of political theology and early modern texts. It focuses on Carl Schmitt, Leo Strauss, Ernst Kantorowicz, Ernst Cassirer, Walter Benjamin, and Sigmund Freud, and their readings of Shakespeare, Machiavelli, and Spinoza. The book argues that the modern critics find in the early modern period a break with an older form of political theology construed as the theological legitimation of the state, a new emphasis on a secular notion of human agency, and, most important, a new preoccupation with the ways art and fiction reoccupy the terrain of religion. In particular, the book argues that poiesis is the missing third term in both early modern and contemporary debates about politics and religion. Poiesis refers to the principle, first advocated by Hobbes and Vico, that we can only know what we make ourselves. This kind of making encompasses both the art of poetry and the secular sphere of human interaction, the human world of politics and history. Attention to poiesis reconfigures the usual terms of the debate and helps us see that the contemporary debate about political theology is a debate about what Hans Blumenberg called “the legitimacy of the modern age.” Against contemporary critics, who are asserting the “permanence of political theology,” the book proposes a critique of political theology and a defense of poetry broadly conceived.