"All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are
secularized theological concepts." So wrote German legal theorist Carl Schmitt in a book called Political Theology. American legal theorist Paul Kahn has just published Political Theology: Four New Chapters in which he argues that the foundations of the American state remain theological. He explores this theme with IDEAS producer David Cayley.
When the President of the United States is away from the White House he's accompanied by a military aide carrying a black briefcase, nicknamed "the football." It contains codes that enable the launch of nuclear weapons. Should the President consider that the national interest of the United States required it, he could, on the spot, give orders that would destroy or poison much of the world. At that moment no assembly would vote, no court would review the case, no precedent would apply - the fate of the world would hang on his or her sovereign decision.
In a recent book called Political Theology
, American writer Paul Kahn
cites this example to show how much politics, in his native United States, rests on theological bedrock - on faith, not reason. What else but a religious commitment, he asks, could make the destruction of the world even thinkable. What else could justify the sacrifice of soldiers in war? Paul Kahn
is a professor of law at Yale University, and the author of a series of books that reflect on the ways in which a sense of the sacred structures American political life.