Power in ModernityAgency Relations and the Creative Destruction of the King's Two Bodies

Power in ModernityAgency Relations and the Creative Destruction of the King's Two Bodies

Isaac Ariail Reed

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9780226689319

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


In Power in Modernity, Isaac Ariail Reed proposes a new theory of power that describes overlapping networks of delegation and domination. Chains of power and their representation, linking together groups and individuals across time and space, create a vast network of intersecting alliances, subordinations, redistributions, and violent exclusions. Reed traces the common action of “sending someone else to do something for you”—reformulating via cultural sociology classic theories of principal and agent—as it expands outward into the hierarchies that control territories, persons, artifacts, minds, and money. He mobilizes this theory to investigate the onset of modernity in the Atlantic world, with a focus on rebellion, revolution, and state-formation in colonial North America, the early American republic, and the English Civil war and French Revolution. Modernity, Reed argues, dismantled the “King’s Two Bodies”—the monarch’s physical body and his ethereal, sacred second body that encompassed the body politic—as a schema of representation for forging power relations. This leads to a new understanding of the democratic possibilities and violent exclusions forged in the name of “the people,” as revolutionaries sought new ways to secure delegation, build hierarchy, and attack alterity. Reconsidering the role of myth in modern politics, he proposes to see the creative destruction and eternal recurrence of the King’s Two Bodies as constitutive of the modern attitude, and thus as a new starting point for critical theory. Modernity poses in a new way an eternal human question: what does it mean to be the author of one’s own actions?