In this wide-ranging interdisciplinary work, Paul W. Kahn argues that political order is founded not on contract but on sacrifice. Because liberalism is blind to sacrifice, it is unable to explain how the modern state has brought us to both the rule of law and the edge of nuclear annihilation. We can understand this modern condition only by recognizing that any political community, even a liberal one, is bound together by faith, love, and identity.Putting Liberalism in Its Place draws on (...) philosophy, cultural theory, American constitutional law, religious and literary studies, and political psychology to advance political theory. It makes original contributions in all these fields. Not since Charles Taylor's The Sources of the Self has there been such an ambitious and sweeping examination of the deep structure of the modern conception of the self.Kahn shows that only when we move beyond liberalism's categories of reason and interest to a Judeo-Christian concept of love can we comprehend the modern self. Love is the foundation of a world of objective meaning, one form of which is the political community. Arguing from these insights, Kahn offers a new reading of the liberalism/communitarian debate, a genealogy of American liberalism, an exploration of the romantic and the pornographic, a new theory of the will, and a refoundation of political theory on the possibility of sacrifice.Approaching politics from the perspective of sacrifice allows us to understand the character of twentieth-century politics, which combined progress in the rule of law with massive slaughter for the state. Equally important, this work speaks to the most important political conflicts in the world today. It explains why American response to September 11 has taken the form of war, and why, for the most part, Europeans have been reluctant to follow the Americans in their pursuit of a violent, sacrificial politics. Kahn shows us that the United States has maintained a vibrant politics of modernity, while Europe is moving into a postmodern form of the political that has turned away from the idea of sacrifice. Together with its companion volume, Out of Eden, Putting Liberalism in Its Place finally answers Clifford Geertz's call for a political theology of modernity. (shrink)
The torture prohibition is not just one rule among many. Its status as an absolute prohibition in both domestic and international law suggests that it lies at the very foundation of the rule of law. Yet, the prohibition is oddly discontinuous with other practices of state sanctioned violence. I argue here that the prohibition functions as much as symbol as norm. To explain what it symbolizes, I deploy some of the interpretive methodology Freud used to interpret dreams. The torture prohibition (...) is a kind of waking dream. As with other dreams, we must pierce the manifest content to reveal the unconscious meaning. The prohibition, I argue, comes less from a concern about victims than about torturers, for the right to torture was a claim of the sacral monarch. The affective weight of the prohibition emerges from the relationship of law to sovereignty, and to the violent, sacrificial demand of even a popular sovereign. (shrink)
To reach a new generation, Paul W. Kahn argues philosophy must be brought to bear on contemporary discourse surrounding these primal concerns, and he shows how this can be achieved through a turn to popular film.
_An examination of how two fundamental concepts of order influence our ideas about sovereignty, citizenship, law, and history_ Western accounts of natural and political order have deployed two basic ideas: project and system. In a project, order is produced by the intentional act of a subject; in a system, order is immanent in the world. In the former, order is made; in the latter, discovered. Paul W. Kahn shows how project and system have long been at work in our theological (...) and philosophical tradition. Against this background, Kahn explains the development of the modern legal imagination in the nineteenth century as a movement from project to system. Americans began the century imagining the constitutional order as their common project: a deliberate construction of We the People. They ended the century imagining that order is continuous with the common law: an immanent development of the principles of civilization. This imaginative shift affected ideas of legal text, sovereignty, citizenship, interpretation, history, and science. (shrink)
On her seventy-fifth birthday, the author’s mother confessed to an affair more than three decades past. His father’s response was unforgiving. Her need to confess met his limitless rage. She acted out of love; he sought revenge. Their battle consumed everything and everyone around them. In the middle of this struggle, she was diagnosed with cancer. Two years later, she died. Testimony is a son’s memoir of this struggle. Paul Kahn finds here a story of the twentieth century, beginning with (...) poverty in the Depression and immigration from Hitler’s Germany. He follows his father’s experience of the war and his return with PTSD. He traces his parents’ movement through the turbulent 60s. More than a study of twentieth-century culture, Testimony is a philosophical inquiry into the possibility of faith in a secular age. History, philosophy, and theology flow together as Kahn finds in his parents’ lives the resources for a series of essays on the nature of truth, memory, death, and faith. Testimony is most of all a meditation on love in a time in which the very possibility of faith is constantly put to the test. (shrink)
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented an important case study, on a global scale, of how democracy works - and fails to work - today. From leadership to citizenship, from due process to checks and balances, from globalization to misinformation, from solidarity within and across borders to the role of expertise, key democratic concepts both old and new are now being put to the test. The future of democracy around the world is at issue as today's governments manage their responses to (...) the pandemic. Bringing together some of today's most creative thinkers, these essays offer a variety of inquiries into democracy during the global pandemic with a view to imagining post-crisis political conditions. Representing different regions and disciplines, including law, politics, philosophy, religion, and sociology, eighteen voices offer different outlooks - optimistic and pessimistic - on the future. (shrink)
Abstract. To understand the problem of torture in a democratic society, we have to take up a political-theological perspective. We must ask how violence creates political meaning. Torture is no more destructive and no more illiberal than other forms of political violence. The turn away from torture was not a turn away from violence, but a change in the locus of sacrifice: from scaffold to battlefield. Torture had been a ritual of mediation between sovereign and subject. Once sovereignty is located (...) in the people, it no longer makes sense to speak of being sacrificed for the sovereign. Instead, sovereign presence is now realized in an act of self-sacrifice. The wars of modern nation-states have been acts of reciprocal self-sacrifice. Terror invokes torture in response because both speak a primitive language of political sacrifice, denying the enemy the privilege of self-sacrifice. (shrink)