This week our featured book is Spinoza for Our Time: Politics and Postmodernity, by Antonio Negri, translated by William McCuaig and with a foreword by Rocco Gangle. We’ve excerpted brief parts of a longer conversation between Antonio Negri and Gabriele Fadini from the journal Rethinking Marxism, in which Negri discusses the role of political theology in relation to his own political philosophy.
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Materialism and Philosophy
Gabriele Fadini: … [T]heology can be seen as a constituent element of revolutionary process even without knowing it as such. Thomas Muntzer and his political theology ofthe revolution gives us an example, and nowadays some of his ‘‘descendants’’ like Camilo Torres and the liberation theology movement continue the struggle for liberation in Latin America, leading us to reflect on these themes. What are your thoughts about this tradition?
Antonio Negri: At times there is a certain type of theology that intersects with revolutionary events. It is necessary, however, to clearly designate exactly what kind of theology we are speaking about. We must be clear here because it is equally certain that not all theologies cross revolutionary phenomena but, on the contrary, there are some theologies that cross the opposite of revolution: namely, pure ideological reproduction of Empire.
Theology becomes important for revolutionary thinking when charity and love (agape and amor) are assumed to be unrestrainable powers–where, in other words, the same logos, the same rationality is placed at love’s disposal. From this point of view, amor has first an epistemological, and then soteriological, importance. That is, it is love that individuates which are the forces and the powers that can develop the common and, through the common, realizes more and more charity. This epistemological power of love is joined to a power of liberation. Liberation here emerges as a thorough materialism, which moves from a focus on soteriology to all-out revolution. In this sense, it is necessary to try to understand what is the relation between charity and poverty, love and poverty–that is, the relation between theology and history, theology and politics.
There are two paths. The first is one in which poverty is equated with power, and so the relation between theology and politics is possible because poverty is the capacity to express different forms of love, the organization of passions, and ultimately the unfolding of desire. In the second, poverty is that flat and desperate situation that only the transcendental can redeem. It is clear that it is only the first conception of poverty that can make amor operational. That is, it is clear that only the nonmystical determination of poverty can give love a political role.
GF: The communism of Muntzer is based on the incarnation as a principle of immanence, such that the law does not arise from a hierarchical theocracy but from that law of nature in which ‘‘Christ’’ is the same ‘‘making-body’’ of the divine as the whole of reality and of eternity with temporality. The principle of resistance and struggle against sin–that is, against those who want to take possession of what was given to everybody–is to participate in this movement of immanence that is Christ: the logos that you have already identified. The ‘‘void’’ about which German mysticism speaks becomes in Muntzer the void of God that, in making himself man, calls man to make God. The subjectivity that arises from this void is the plane of immanence of the divine presence in history. Political theology of revolution–or of resistance. One immediately thinks of the figure of [Dietrich] Bonhoeffer, who understood theology as the process of redirecting transcendence into the power of immanence.
AN: The answer to the theological question is found at the point of human wondering about the question of the infinite and of perfection. Human beings’ wonderings begin to ask this question, not in front of a mystical or interior empty void, but before a void of experience and the emptiness of time*/when it stops and when it starts again. Expelled from the earthly paradise, humanity is on the edge of the void of nonbeing against which it has constantly to project being to continue the process, and it is in front of this extremely risky void that humanity has to operate in order to be.
Now the question is, Is it possible to define a plane of immanence as a constructed plan? In other words, can theological thought as transcendent be bent to the thought of life under the living forces immanent in the production of life? Or, on the other hand, can theological thought, as transcendent, only be satisfied by the temporal transcendence–the last form of transcendence–that the subject tests once she or he is in front of the void and its ruin? I believe that the only possibility of the theological is that one which asserts that transcendence is bent onto immanence. And so the theological becomes the bearer of an option extremely strong and positive! It is an option that, however, remains open to the possibility of both success or failure: the risk of the failure and of the alternative, the risk of the experimentation, that is neither Sartre’s nor Augustine’s risk, but absolutely realistic and never exclusive. A risk in which it is never an ‘‘aut-aut’’ but always an ‘‘et-et.’’ In this constructed context, I believe, we have to consider Muntzer again, setting aside the historical falsification in which he was often interpreted. On the other hand, the dimension of sin and of evil can be understood only according to the given framework of moral theology.
Read the whole interview here.