Political anthropology

Political anthropology January 20, 2014

Milbank’s Beyond Secular Order: The Representation of Being and the Representation of the Peoplepresupposes that there is a homology between metaphysics and politics. He identifies four assumptions of modern philosophy: “(1) the univocity rather than analogy of being; ( 2) knowledgeby representation rather than identity; ( 3 ) the priority of the possible overthe actual; and ( 4 ) causality as ‘concurrence’ rather than ‘influence,’” and claims that they are “all profoundly linked to the equally important inventionof a novel space of ‘pure nature’, independent of the human naturalorientation to the supernatural as taught by the Church Fathers and thehigh Middle Ages, but then largely abandoned by late medieval and earlymodern theology” 3).

The political assumptions of modernity give expression to these metaphysical claims:

In political thought “the field of ‘pure nature’ is . . . adumbrated in terms of proceduresat once univocally constructive according to a mathesis of human rationalartifice and representationally mimetic both of a supposed human natureand of human society reduced to measurable quanta. Political power isdefined as a reserve of potential that is enacted through will, rather than byan actualising ‘eruption’ of human society (as the Thomistically influencedJohn Fortescue put it in the late Middle Ages) that is already contingentlyactual, like an embryo with a heart that later gives rise to its own head.Finally, the formal and material aspects of human social existence are seenas concurrently coinciding, rather than as organically blended” (4).

And these assumptions broadly overlap with the anthropological assumptions of modern politics: “the rationalisation and eventual secularisation of political ontologyfurther surfaces in terms of ( l ) the sundering of human life from humanreason; (2) the sundering of human nature from human society; ( 3 ) thesundering of human nature from human culture; and ( 4) the sundering ofhuman nature from supernatural grace.” At every point this differs from the medieval Christian outlook, which “defined Man as a rationalanimal, as a social animal, as a fabricating animal (homo faber), and as destinedto the beatific vision. In every case, I argue that one is dealing with an’addition’ that is seen as paradoxically essential: this is what I dub ‘transorganicity’” (5). What modern political thought rejects, Milbank says, is the Trinitarian category of essential supplementation.

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