Tag Archives: political theology

The Kings Two Bodies, E. Kantorowicz’s Political Theology

Thoughts thus far after having intermittently read 300 + pages of E. Kantorowicz’s TKTB:

1. Political theology is understanding how theological concepts are de-sacralized and then re-sacralized in an analogous/analogical sense (not the Thomist kind, mind you!) by politics and/or the study of statecraft.

2. Political theology is NOT public theology as it is popularized today.

3. One can really sense E. Kantorowicz engage Carl Schmitt here as a conversation partner (well, not in the literal sense, since they weren’t contemporaries). Having read Schmitt ahead of E. Kantorowicz eight years ago, the infamous Nazi constitutional theorist makes more sense to me now. I also understand Dutertismo better, seen from the lenses provided by E. Kantorowicz, Schmitt and Giorgio Agamben (ha!)

4. Reading through E. Kantorowicz’s chapters on the Christ-Centered Kingship, the Law-Centered Kingship and the Polity-Centered Kingship: Corpus Mysticum, I can argue from Dooyeweerdian eyes that what he discusses in these chapters is really what we mean by disciplinary differentiation, if in a rough way. Thus:

Ch. 1: the phrase ‘body politic’ often used by later philosophers (Locke and Hobbes, for instance) apparently finds root in the metaphysical theory of the King’s two bodies familiar to Tudor jurists — the indivisible body natural and the body politic. The theory itself developed out of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation of Christ and the Athanasian two natures. The King is dead, long live the King!

Ch 2. Shakespeare’s King Richard II illustrates the tensions and breakdowns of the theory in a subversive era.

Ch 3. In the Norman tracts, the theory gets further traction, the King becoming, as it were, an imitation of Christ on earth, under the notion of germina persona (something like the Lord President today who could do no wrong for that reason!). It is a liturgical kingship, the earthly ruler as christomimetes, the impersonator and actor of christ no less than priest or bishop celebrating the Eucharist.

Ch. 4 It gets more interesting for lawyers like me — the ground now shifts from liturgy to law, as the King becomes the epitome of equity and justice (as the canon lawyers take over, with their familiarity with Roman and ecclessiastical law). Thus the maxim the King is above the law, but is neverthless servant of the Law. The terms necessarily change –it is now a discussion between privata voluntas and persona publica (or private will as against public person).

Frederick II is its poster boy.

So this secularization is to be taken mostly in a positive sense, also pace Casanova (secularization as societal differentiation, marking out distinct boundaries for each sphere that is sovereign in its own orbit (Kuyper’s sovereignteit in eigen kring). So theologians shouldn’t take it out on jurists/political scientists/philosophers if their ideas were used by the latter in ways different from theirs. Also, they really shouldn’t wish things were back to the time when theology was the Queen of the Sciences.

5. This is what we otherwise understand to be the analogical moments that Dooyeweerd speaks of in the formation of disciplinary concepts as the various spheres open up in the process of societal differentiation (disciplines borrow from other disciplines in forming concepts, without transgressing the integrity of their own disciplinary concerns).

6. If we follow E. Kantorowicz (who was an atheist, by the way) –and now that we’re marking the 500th year of the Protestant Reformation — there’s not much to the often-repeated thesis that modernity (read as BAD secularization) is the fault of Protestants. Well, he does mention the nominalists here, but only in a very tangential way (take that, Milbank et al.) You can blame Dante for that. Or Marselius de Padua, or the Roman jurists. Or Frederick II. Or Paul of Tarsus. Take your pick.  Heck, Roman Catholicism could very well have bred the seeds of secularization, if we follow Kantorowicz’s account! (For an alternative reading of secularization in the BAD sense, see Dooyeweerd’s essay on the Secularization of Science).

7. I wish this book were one of the assigned texts, along with Harold Berman’s  two volumes on the development of law in the Western tradition, when I was reading legal history in law school.

(Nota bene: This is a slightly revised version of a post I earlier made on my Facebook account).


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Filed under Casanova, Dooyeweerd, Kantorowicz, Politics, reformational philosophy, Religion, secularization

Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello on: The Janus-faced State



A couple of weeks ago, I heard Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello speak at an event marking the International Day of the Disappeared of a Janus-faced State with “hard” and “soft” faces, by which he apparently meant that the State has a Dr. Jekyll-and-Hyde nature.  One part of the State is good but there is that part, represented by the security forces, that does evil. Which is why, according to him, we need human rights laws to rein in the apparently inherently evil part of the state.   Subsequently, an essay of his on the same question appeared on his online column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer (“Restraining Leviathan” 9/4/13 – which title, I hasten to add, echoes a leading work of a  philosopher of absolute power, the Englishman Thomas Hobbes).

Neither his talk nor his column mentioned any reference but if I may hazard to guess, he might have drawn his theory of a dual-faced State from the work of the German political theorist Ernst Fraenkel, who fled to the US in 1939 to flee Nazism. In 1941, he came out with the book  The Dual State: A Contribution to the Theory of Dictatorship, where he described  two contradictory features of Hitler’s government: a “Normative State” characterized by the existence of formal constitutional norms for civil and political rights, and a “Prerogative State”, defined as a State with a predilection for arbitrary and unchecked exercise of power (curiously, the Prerogative State echoes the definition given by the acknowledged chief architect of Nazi constitutional thought, Carl Schmitt, who defined the true sovereign as someone who has the sole prerogative to decide what is the exception).

In any case, Rep. Bello’s dualistic conception of the state raises key theoretical and practical problems. I mention here only three of several possible points. First, in both constitutional law and international law, the state is understood to be composed of a unity of people and government, regardless of its particular form (let us remember that according to the Montevideo Convention the elements of a state are government, people, territory and capacity to enter into international relations).

This gives rise to the question: so which part here answers to the soft side and which one answers to the hard part, if the state is one such unity?

Second, he seems to define evil chiefly in terms of human rights violations. What about graft and corruption, which, today seems to plague all sectors of society, and not just government? It is obvious that other branches of government are afflicted with this societal/cultural disease, and not just the security sector, not to mention that in the Napoles pork barrel scam, we have seen an entirely different type of Public-Private Partnership.

Third, he speaks of a hard face of the state as if it were something that is already a given, or inherent. This is a point in political theory with a long and distinguished history, beginning with the first anarchists, the Anabaptists (the predecessors of today’s Mennonites),  who, in the Christian tradition, rejected the state as an institution of the Devil, and all the way to contemporary Marxists and Anarchists who speak in varying ways of the “overcoming of the state.” There too are the debates between the Roman Catholic Thomists and the Protestant Augustinians: in opposition to the former, the latter believed that the power of the sword – the very thing the Anabaptists considered to be evil– was an essential part of the state’s structure from creation (now, would that make Rep. Bello some sort of a secular Augustinian?)

One wing of the Augustinian tradition identified with the Dutch Christian philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd rejects dualistic views of the state and insists that it is a unity of power and justice; in this view, power is foundational to state creation. The monopoly of the sword is necessary for the enforcement of public law. Without such power, ensuring even a modicum of public order is impossible. Public laws that lay down the rules of integration of society into a public legal community will remain laws on paper and civil law proper itself cannot be established and sustained.

Yet there is an unbreakable coherence between power and the state’s qualifying normative task expressed in norms of public justice.  In other words power, while foundational to it, may not be exercised arbitrarily by the state.  In other words,   this Christian tradition in political thought professes that there is a God-designed structure for the State,  but human acting and willing determine the direction it will take — for or against the side of justice.

Thus, while agreeing that the state’s duty is toward the whole society, Dooyeweerd restricts state power not by some supposedly external limit set by another institution – as in the case of human rights laws  -but by  the very nature of the state itself, which is a unity of power and justice.

Indeed, there is much in the Christian tradition that commends itself to contemporary debates on the origins and aims of the State but it is one often elided in what Schmitt himself would call the secularized “political theology” of the State.

For how the Christian tradition may address the question of the origins and aims of the state, see the first three chapters of my master’s thesis, downloadable here.

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Filed under Human Rights, International Law, Public Interest, State