Angelology and Bureaucracy

In this video, you can see a January 2007 lecture by Giorgio Agamben, in which he discusses his project, “The Power and the Glory.” (Parts 2-6 can be found here.)

Adam Kotsko is a Divinity Student at the Chicago Theological Seminary, and he’s recently done the English-speaking world a great favor by taking detailed notes of his reading of Giorgio Agamben’s untranslated, book-length treatment of these themes, Il Regno e la Gloria, which is also intended to occupy a position in the Homo Sacre series. You can read it here:

    Introduction

  1. The two paradigms
  2. The mystery of the economy
  3. Being and act [Essere e agire]
  4. Kingdom and government
  5. The providential machine (translation of “threshold” to this chapter)
  6. Angelology and bureaucracy*
  7. The power and the glory**
  8. Archeology of glory (threshold)
    Appendix: The economy of the moderns

  1. Law and miracle
  2. The invisible hand

When it comes to contemporary politics, I have a great deal of respect for Agamben’s historical and descriptive work on biopolitics and sovereignty, but very little sympathy for his prescriptive work on nihilism and inoperativity. I’m interested in his work on the relationship between Christian oiconomia and the capitalist market paradigm, for instance, but I think it’s less persuasive than the Foucaultian work on the physiocrats, at least in the short form offered by Kotsko. Still, Agamben here seems to be telling the backstory of modern bureacratic thoughtlessness and the equation of free markets with Providence. Good stuff.

According to Agamben, angelologistic political theory starts with Pseudo-Dionysius. From Kotsko’s notes to Chapter 6:

The basis for the hierarchy of angels — as indeed the very term hierarchy itself — of course stems from Pseudo-Dionysius. Agamben is very up front about reading Dionysius’s strategy as one of sacralizing both the ecclesiastical hierarchy and all political hierarchies in general through his baroque analysis of the angelic hierarchy

Of course, a discussion of the angelic hierarchy inevitably raises the question of the demonic hierarchy that mirrors it. Whereas the angelic bureaucracy governs on earth by has no need to reign after Final Judgment, the demonic bureaucracy must reign forever in Hell, where it must perpetually mete out punishments.

Aquinas comes to the question of whether the demons carry out the punishments in hell, and he answers in the affirmative — meaning that eternal governance is found only in hell. For Agamben, this shows that within the frame of Christian theology, the model of contemporary politics — namely, an indefinite, eternal governance — is (rightly) thought to be hellish.

So the Church finds its practices and procedures in an exploration of the divine metaphysics of angels, but in so doing, is forced to admit that earthly governance that seeks permanence can draw better lessons from the governance of the damned. Thus the global monarchy advised by Dante in De Monarchia is actually hell on earth, and the Machiavellian warfare between small principalities aiming only to achieve nation-hood is actually somewhat closer to the original Christian ideal. (Or at least that’s how I’d parse the debate as it emerges into the early modern era.)

UPDATE: This post was reorganized for clarity.

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