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Modern Sovereignty in Question: theology, democracy and capitalism

Pabst, Adrian (2010) Modern Sovereignty in Question: theology, democracy and capitalism. Modern Theology, 26 (4). pp. 570-602. ISSN 0266-7177. (doi:10.1111/j.1468-0025.2010.01633.x) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:37477)

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This essay argues that modern sovereignty is not simply a legal or political concept that is coterminous with the modern nation-state. Rather, at the theoretical level modern sovereign power is inscribed into a wider theological dialectic between “the one” and “the many”. Modernity fuses juridical-constitutional models of supreme state authority with a new, “biopolitical” account of power whereby natural life and the living body of the individual are the object of politics and are subject to state control (section 1).

The origins of this dialectic go back to changes within Christian theology in the late Middle Ages and the early modern period. In particular, these changes can be traced to Ockham's denial of the universal Good in things, Suárez's priority of the political community over the ecclesial body and Hobbes's “biopolitical” definition of power as state dominion over life (section 2).

At the practical level, modern sovereignty has involved both the national state and the transnational market. The “revolutions in sovereignty” that gave rise to the modern state and the modern market were to some considerable extent shaped by theological concepts and changes in religious institutions and practices: first, the supremacy of the modern national state over the transnational papacy and national churches; second, the increasing priority of individuality over collectivity; third, a growing focus on contractual proprietary relations at the expense of covenantal ties and communal bonds (section 3).

By subjecting both people and property to uniform standards of formal natural rights and abstract monetary value, financial capitalism and liberal secular democracy are part of the “biopolitical” logic that subordinates the sanctity of life and land to the secular sacrality of the state and the market. In Pope Benedict's theology, we can find the contours of a post-secular political economy that challenges the monopoly of modern sovereignty (sections 4–5).

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1111/j.1468-0025.2010.01633.x
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
J Political Science > JC Political theory
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
Depositing User: Adrian Pabst
Date Deposited: 10 Dec 2013 21:10 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Nov 2021 10:14 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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