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Political Theory http://ptx.sagepub.com/

The Revolution Is Dissent: Reconciling Agamben and Badiou on PaulGideon Baker Political Theory published online 24 January 2013 DOI: 10.1177/0090591712470628 The online version of this article can be found at: http://ptx.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/01/02/0090591712470628 A more recent version of this article was published on - Mar 25, 2013

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The Revolution Is Dissent: Reconciling Agamben and Badiou on PaulGideon Baker1

Political Theory XX(X) 124 2013 SAGE Publications Reprints and permission: http://www. sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/0090591712470628 http://ptx.sagepub.com

Abstract Underlying Giorgio Agambens and Alain Badious disagreement over the apostle Paul we find common cause: following Pauls deactivation of law, both Agamben and Badiou see the fixed identities necessary to the naturalised nomos of State politics as transfigured by a politics of grace. This transfiguration is differently rendered as either the emergence of a universal subject (Badiou) or the opening up of existing subjectivities (Agamben), but both the messianic vocation in Agamben and the universal subject in Badiou allow subjective possibility to that which is not in the present objectified order. Developing this theme of a basic emancipatory affinity, two moments of the political which exist in a difficult but necessary tension are identified: revolution and dissent.While revolution signals subjective possibility itself by determining that the truth of the event is for all, dissidence keeps that possibility alive by pointing to the human subjects fundamental indeterminacy. Keywords political theology, universalism, revolution, Agamben, Badiou1

Griffith University, Gold Coast Queensland, Australia

Corresponding Author: Gideon Baker, Griffith University, School of Government and International Relations, Gold Coast Campus, Queensland, 4215, Australia Email: g.baker@griffith.edu.au

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Political Theory XX(X)

Why Paul?There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.1 What does the apostle Pauls still striking, and to his contemporaries ears simply staggering, claim mean today? Does it make Paul the revolutionary founder of a universalism upon which we still depend for the construction of an emancipatory politics that transcends narrow communalism? Or should Paul rather be read as revealing the impossibility that any people whatsoever, even the most universal among them, might be identical with itself, announcing instead the messianic gathering up of the remnant that will always be cast off a strong nation?2 Put simply, Paul is here, amongst other things, a fresh way into the now tired debate concerning the nature of universalism, specifically in what forms, if at all, it can be considered emancipatory. Accounts of Paul in continental philosophy have proliferated over recent years.3 Particularly influential, not to mention controversial, has been Alain Badious recourse to Paul in order to rehabilitate universalism in politics, as elsewhere.4 Badiou sees Paul not only as the founder of the universalism necessary, as he sees it, to emancipatory politics, but as an exemplary political figure in his own right. This double rehabilitation, both of a universalism now often identified with imperial oppression and of a figure frequently charged with making Christianity fit for empire, is intriguing. In contrast, the recent messianic turn in political theory has largely overlooked Paul.5 Yet Paul too was a Jewish thinker of the messianic (for Jacob Taubes and Giorgio Agamben, the thinker6), one for whom the title Christ was simply Greek for Messiah. In announcing the Messiah, Paul remained wholly within the Jewish messianic tradition.7 Beyond the neglect of the Jewish Paul in political theorys current Judaic turn, the bigger story is that an important strand of contemporary philosophising about the political appears to be indistinguishing itself from political theology through Paul. This shift would seem to support Carl Schmitts now familiar dictum that all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts.8 It is impossible to read Badious assertion that Paul is the founder of universalism without recalling this claim about the dependence of political theory on theology (except with the important difference that Badious universalism aspires to be a significant concept wielded against the state). Agamben, meanwhile, who also considers Paul significant enough to devote a book length study to his letter to the Romans, is explicit that Schmitts thesis is not radical enough. Agamben signs off his latest work in political theology with the claim that modernity not only has

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failed to leave theology behind, but in some ways has done no more than bring the providential economy established by Trinitarianism to completion.9 So far from being an obscure and tangential way of reading the political, theology here becomes the singular site of its legibility, and Paul the most significant thinker of this site. My own engagement with Pauline thought goes via Agambens and Badious commentaries because I believe that something significant is at stake between these two divergent readings. This disagreement over Paul occludes an underlying affinity, which is a redemptive vision of the political premised upon the Pauline category of grace: that which deactivates the law.10 The law in question here is that natural law which finds a place for everything and seeks to put everything in its place. In seeing the political as that which opens up the closed order of things, Badiou and Agamben echo the fundamental Pauline move whereby Greco-Roman eternal return, a cosmos governed by timeless laws, is countered with Jewish messianism, the coming of a new time and of a novel relation to law. For Badiou, Paul is the founder of universalism in the sense that he is the first to articulate the idea of the universal, which has the structure of finding no distinctions in those it addresses. This reading also suggests that attempts to think beyond the law start with Paul too. Law is always particular; the other side of law as that which is due is know your place. Law is concerned with justice, and justice (this worldly justice, at least) differentiates. So the universal, being rather for all in finding no distinction, is precisely alegal. As far as the existing order of being is concerned, it is, of course, illegal. This order is the state of things, and Badiou often plays on the double meaning here, referring at the same time both to the State as a political institution and to the status quo. Law and the State are two sides of the same coin so that thinking outside the law means at once to think outside the State, and vice versa. For Badiou, prior to Paul there is Jewish law and there is Greek natural law, the cosmos as an ordered totality within which everything is defined by its telos, therefore having its place in the whole. Pauls attempt to conceive of his lawgoverned world in terms other than law is, in Badious eyes, breathtaking both in its originality and in its implications for our own attempts, to this day, to imagine a law that might serve life in the face of life wholly submitted to law. Since Badious reading, which is itself a challenge to an earlier Paul (Lyotards, which has a longer lineage in describing Paul as a dialectician with an imperial sensibility), Agamben has provided us with a Paul who stands as an explicit rejection of Paul the constructor of universalism.11 Agambens Paul is a rather a deconstructionist, preaching the failure of every identity, universal or otherwise, to coincide with itself and the coming of a messianic time (which is not the end time of eschatology but the time of the

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Political Theory XX(X)

now) in which these remnants of each and every identity will be raised up. Thus although Agambens counter-reading of Paul shares Badious endeavour to think life in a new or non-relation to law, it eschews notions of a beyond to law, of a new subject in some sense freed from law (which, as we shall see, is what Badiou gives us in his secularisation of Pauls militant Christian subject), arguing instead that the Pauline deactivation of law works by producing a remainder in every subject of law. Agamben here emphasises the Pauline division within the Jew and the Greek according to whether the Jew/Greek is a Jew/Greek according to the spirit or according to the flesh (such that the difference between the Jew and the Greek ceases to be exclusive), arguing that the messianic vocation for Paul does not introduce a new, universal subject (the Christian), but rather renders each subject, and the difference between subjects, incompleteprecisely not all. Yet even though Agamben sees in the Pauline messianic vocation (the in Christ) the