On the Tragedy of the Modern Condition: The ‘Theologico-Political Problem’ in Carl Schmitt, Leo Strauss, and Hannah Arendt

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Abstract

This article addresses Eric L. Santner’s claim that “there is more political theology in everyday life than we might have ever thought” by analyzing the “theologico-political problem” in the work of three prominent twentieth-century political thinkers—Carl Schmitt, Leo Strauss, and Hannah Arendt. Schmitt, Strauss, and Arendt share a preoccupation with the crisis of modern political liberalism and confront the theologico-political problem in a similar spirit: although their responses differ dramatically, their individual accounts dwell on the absence of incontestable principles in modern society that can justify life-in-common and the persistence of the political order. Their writings thus engage with the question of the place of “the absolute” in the political realm. In particular, Arendt’s indirect approach to the theologico-political problem is crucial to understanding the radicality of a political world in which traditional certainties can no longer be re-established. The theoretical trajectory I present suggests that the dispersion of political theology in everyday life has a specific corollary: modern politics operates within the tragic and paradoxical nature of its unstable and common origins that cannot be incorporated in exceptionalist versions of the body politic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)697-728
Number of pages32
JournalEuropean Legacy
Volume22
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - 18 Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Carl Schmitt
  • Claude Lefort
  • Hannah Arendt
  • Leo Strauss
  • disenchantment of the world
  • political beginnings
  • secularization
  • the theologico-political problem

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