New York: Palgrave Macmillan (2016)
In this book, Gavin Rae analyses the foundations of political life by undertaking a critical comparative analysis of the political theologies of Carl Schmitt and Emmanuel Levinas. In so doing, Rae contributes to key debates in contemporary political philosophy, specifically those relating to the nature of, and the relationship between, the theological, the political, and the ethical, as well as those questioning the existence of ahistoric metaphysical, ontological, and epistemological foundations. While the theological is often associated with belief in a fixed foundation such as God or the truth of a religion, Rae identifies another sense rooted in epistemology. On this understanding, the ontological limitations of human cognition mean that, ultimately, human truth is based in faith and so can never be certain. The argument developed suggests that Levinas’ conception of the political is grounded in theology in the sense of religion, particularly the revelations of Judaism. For this reason, Levinas claims that the political decision is based on how to implement a prior religiously-inspired norm: justice. Schmitt, in contrast, develops a conception of the political rooted in epistemic faith to claim that the political decision is normless. While sympathetic to Schmitt’s conception of theology and its relationship to the political, Rae concludes by arguing that the emphasis Levinas places on responsibility is crucial to understanding the implications of this. The continuing relevance of Schmitt’s and Levinas’ political theologies is that they teach us that, while the political decision is ultimately normless, we bear an infinite responsibility for the consequences of this normless decision.