et revelabitur quasi aqua iudicium et iustitia quasi torrens fortis


Historical Perspectives: Religion, State, Power

Marin Terpstra: "Varro, Spinoza, Lefort: Three Stage in the History of Political Theology"

Robert Doran: "The Political Theology of Victor Hugo: Les Miserables"

Dana Hollander: "The Remnant of Messianism: Rosenzweig and Political Theology

Chris Doude van Troostwijk: "In Civitate Rei. Supplementary Theopolitical Thinking and The Rhetoric of Conversion in Augustine"

Varro, Spinoza, Lefort: three stages in the history of political theology

Marin Terpstra

Despite his own, specific approach to political theology, Carl Schmitt recognized in his Politische Theologie II (1970: 48) that there are many forms of political theology. The relation between politics and religion, church and state, may vary according to circumstances. Schmitts remark is obvious, looking at the historical facts. Nevertheless, its polemical meaning directs our attention to a general assumption in western thought that political theology is related to monarchism. This dominant vision defines political theology mainly as a monotheistic-monarchical representative political theology. Aristotle is the godfather of this idea in philosophy: the oneness of God or cosmos must be represented in the state by a unitary principle, for example a monarch. Dantes political works or the doctrine of the divine right of kings express this tradition too. Petersons (1935) claim that political theology can be left behind, because he proved Christian theology to be incompatible with a theological defence of monarchism (a political statement at the time and place of publication!), is based on the same assumption. 35 Years later, Schmitt wrote his essay against this claim (which may be even more politically significant!): Petersons example is just one possible form among others. Polytheism or the absence of representational political order does not mean, that there is no political theology. Anyhow, the rejection of a certain or even a dominant type of political theology does not entail the final end of political theology. And less can it be the end of the political-theological problem. When I speak of the history of political theology, I mean the successive stages in the reflection on the politico-theological problem. The question behind my brief reconstruction of three moments in this history is: can there be a real end to the theological-political problem or is each Erledigung of political theology the start of a new form of political theology? This question, of course, is the same as Claude Lefort used as the title of the essay I will discuss at the end of my paper.

Carl Schmitts warning against a fixation on one form of political theology is echoed in the title of this conference: political theologies. I take this title as the status quaestionis. Does the plurality of political theologies mean, that there are different problems or does it mean that there are many solutions to the same problem? This question can best be answered by comparing some major positions in the history of political theology (or: theologies). In this paper, I will do so by discussing what I think to be important turning points: Varro, Spinoza, Lefort.

The notion of theologia politik was introduced and made famous by Terentius Varro in the first century B.C., although it seems that he set forth a tradition that had already been established. An important starting point of modern political thought is the publication in 1670 of the Tractatus theologico-politicus by Spinoza. The impact of this text became apparent a century later in French and German Enlightenment. In 1981, finally, Claude Lefort posed a seemingly simple question, Permanence du thologico-politique?. Lefort seems to foresee a post-political-theological era, although his formulations are sometimes ambiguous, mainly because he seems to be fixed to the aforementioned dominant form of political theology: monotheistic monarchy.

My presentation of these three figures du thologico-politiques, as a French book on this topic has it, will, of course, be schematic. I will discuss the central problem of their thought and the ways these writers dealt with them. At the end of this paper, I will evaluate the three positions. First, a preliminary remark should be made. As a point of departure, I am inclined to think that there is an original unity of the political and the theological, in the sense in which Marcel Mauss spoke of prestations totales. Jan Assmann shares this point of view in his recent book on political theology (2000). The social and political order is not separated from the communication with the divine, or with the gods. This is what can be called the theological-political complex, which is still the background for all reflections on this theme. This idea, as one knows, is still present in Durkheims idea of society (cf. especially a modernized version of this sociological theory: Rappaport 1999). At the same time, in historical civilizations we find all kinds of what Eric Voegelin called differentiations. One important differentiation is that between the social and political order on the one hand, and communication with the divine on the other hand. In our times, the form of this differentiation is exemplified in the separation of church and state. These differentiations are the starting points of all philosophical problems. First of all, because a differentiation forces one to ask what their relation is or should be. Secondly, the differentiation is never complete. In our case: the theological remains to some extent political, the political to some extent theological. One of these differentiations that will interest us here is that between three kinds of theologies: the so-called theologia tripertita (Lieberg 1973, Lieberg 1984). There is the mythical theology, present in the works of poets or in folk tales. There is the natural theology, present in the works of philosophers, who search for the true nature of the gods or God. And there is the political theology (theologia politik or civilis), the official cults practiced by priests, ordained and maintained by politicians and integrated in the state cult. Let us now turn to our three main characters: Varro, Spinoza and Lefort and the way they deal with this differentiation.

The interesting point of this theologia tripertita is not the division itself, but the way the parts are related to each other and are put together again. Here Terentius Varro enters the picture. In his Antiquitates Rerum Divinarum, a book that is lost and is only partially reconstructed from other sources (Cardauns 1976), Varro tried to re-establish, strengthen en accommodate the religion of his ancestors in function of actual political goals (which were afterwards put into practice). In his view, shared by many others in the political elite, the traditional religion and state cult was in decline. The main argument, I think, for Varro to undertake this immense project, was that he believed that the political order of the founders of the Roman Empire should be restored. It had proved to be successful, so there was no reason to do it another way. Civil religion had been an essential part of this original political order, so it had to become an essential part again.

Posidonios, before him, had already stressed the importance of political theology. In his view, the natural theology of the philosophers was of no use, because the people could not understand what they said, and what they said could even be dangerous to the official religion. On the other hand, the myths and folk tales contained a lot of rubbish, which was not in accordance with the official cults. However, it is wrong to interpret his position as merely cynical. The adjustment of religion to what is politically convenient was thought of as part of a certain pietas, respect for the ancestors, the state and the world order in general. It is only when theology is separated from the state that such an adjustment can be seen as cynical. Political theology was not, as it is now in most cases, the political discourse of theologians, who are in the first place discursive theologians. Theology was in essence still political. So, in the eyes of Posidonios, those who speak of the gods or the true nature of God without reckoning with the interests of social or political order are the real impious ones. Varro, however, did not go that far. He sympathized with philosophy more than Posidonios did. He tried to accommodate the ancient tradition to contemporary beliefs among the people, and at the same time he tried to select those myths that were acceptable, by allegorical interpretation, to the naturalist thoughts of the philosophers (mainly the stoic tradition). In short, he tried to re-establish the tradition of the right way to honour the gods in such a way that this could be acceptable for both the people and the learned elite.

What is important in this doctrine of the theologia tripertita is that the practice of worship, of the right way to honour the gods, is more essential to civil religion than the images of the gods, or stories and ideas about the gods. The description of the gods is functional to the cult but has no merit of its own. From this point of view, a social or political struggle concerning the beliefs of people about what the gods are or what they want from us, is hardly possible. One should accept and perform the official cults; one could have ones own thoughts about the gods. Such a position becomes a totally different one when, amidst the crisis of this political theology itself, a religion emerges that starts from a revelation of the Word of God. From that time on, theology becomes essential discursive. (Although ritual does not fade away, on the contrary.)

The critique of Augustine on Varro (mainly in the fourth book of The City of God), which made his theologia tripertita available to us, shows this in a clear way. The new norm is not the theological-political order of the ancestors (although gradually this way of thinking was re-established within the church), but the revelation of Gods Words, especially the words of Christ gathered by the evangelists. The introduction of a fourth kind of theology, a theologia revelationis, marks a further differentiation and entails new theological-political problems. From now on, there is a relatively independent theological discourse, which produces not only a theological discourse on politics, but also the possibility of a non-theological discourse on politics.

Spinoza wrote a Tractatus theologico-politicus (1670) and a Tractatus politicus (posthumous 1677), which shows that both possibilities are present to the modern mind treating political questions philosophically. I think, it is plausible to maintain that Spinozas political philosophy is a certain renaissance of Varros position, transposed and adjusted to modern times. (It was already Voegelins thesis, however without reference to Varro, that Hobbes reinvented pagan political theology as a solution for the religious-political crisis.) The problem Spinoza is trying to solve in his Tractatus theologico-politicus is a crisis in representation. Christianity still is the common frame of reference, but because of the schism of Reformation different groups claim to be the true representatives of the one God and derived political claims from their supposed election. So, in Holland the Calvinists claimed to be the state church and tried to intervene in the life and thoughts of citizens. Against this threat, Spinoza unfolds his idea of tolerance.

His plea, however, is not for a radical separation of church and state, of religion and politics. The state should maintain a minimal political theology in order to convince its subjects of the need to obey the orders of the government. This political theology, which Spinoza calls a minimal Credo, connects the political order with the divine. Theology is accepted as far as it is politically convenient. For the rest, people should be free to think of God as they please, as long as these thoughts were not subversive. (Spinoza, as a determinist, does not believe in the possibility of a politics of the mind: see Balibar 1985.) Revelational theology is reduced to confessio, private opinion. Of course, in the official (political) theology, the minimal Credo, the common features of the confessions are condensated. In this, Spinoza is a forerunner of the enlightened attempt to find a natural religion (Assmann 1997). But the idea is the same as in Varro: this Credo should convince ordinary people, but at the same time it should be acceptable for modern philosophers (that is Cartesians and natural scientist) and should, by allegorical interpretation, be made understandable in naturalistic terms. People and intellectual elite should be united in this Credo. What Spinoza does with the Judeo-Christian tradition, is the same as Varro did with the religion of his ncestors: re-establish the original sense of traditional religion for the use of political stability and social peace. Again, I do not see any cynicism in this position. Spinoza understands religion not as something different from loyalty to social and political order (pietas). So, to ask whether Spinoza really believes in God, or Gods laws, is beside the point. Believing in God is behaving like a good citizen. Thinking that true religion lies in believing the right stuff (taking the words as essential), is in fact impious.

Nevertheless, Spinoza is a naturalist philosopher. His Varroan position goes together with, and is maybe even contradictory to, a rejection of mythical theology from the point of view of a radicalised natural theology: Deus, sive Natura. In contrast to Varro, who told the philosophers to keep their discussions indoors, Spinoza defended the libertas philosophandi, that is the right to utter philosophical thoughts in public space. In anticipation of the terminology of Lefort we could say that Spinoza works out a certain differentiation between the real order and the symbolic order. The real order has the concept of potentia as its signifier: the real social forces in society and their condensation in political institutions. Politics can be described in naturalist terms. Politics can be described as a natural phenomenon in scientific terms. The symbolic order has the concept of potestas as its signifier: here appears the monotheistic-monarchical representational political theology as frame of reference. What is obedience or loyalty in the symbolic order (based on a fundamental juridical and theological world view), is a mere relation of forces in the real, natural order. In Spinozas view, the effect of both orders can be the same, both orders can correspond, if and only if the political theology is reduced to its functional and essential minimum, the aforementioned Credo. A democratic society could be developed if people reach a state of mind, in which the natural order is of greater significance than the symbolic order (juridical and theological-political ideas and images). Spinoza, however, did not really believe this was possible.

According to Claude Lefort (1981) the differentia specifica of democratic political order, in contrast to all other political orders, is the differentiation between the symbolic and the real order in the political sphere (or between le politique and la politique). By this he means that the symbolization of political power should be separated from the real political processes. The seat of power (potestas) should be vacant, whereas the actual political functions (potentia) should not be, of course (I meaan, seats of members of parliament or ministers and so on). In Spinozas terms, the minimal political theology or Credo should be reduced to zero. Thus, the actual political arena is occupied by political confessions, none of which can claim any superiority. There is no common ground anymore, just plurality, only united by the prohibition of absolute claims to political power. This prohibition is left as the only symbol, le lieu vide, functioning as the guarantee for democracy against falling into anarchy (when the vacancy becomes real) or into totalitarianism (the seat of political power is occupied by one social force, suppressing other social forces). Not only the King is decapitated and his seat left vacant, but also God does not return in his traditional place. The fate of political theology is settled. So it seems.

Why should there still be any question in regard to the permanence of the theological-political? The first answer Lefort gives to this question, occupying the greatest part of his essay, is that the permanence of a certain type of political theology is dangerous for democracy in its full sense. Democracy has its roots in the monotheistic-monarchical representational political theology, in which the monarch was the representative of God towards his subject and the embodiment of the totality of his subjects at the same time. This type of political theology could be transferred to an idea of democracy, in which the people became the sovereign (God) and the political leader its representative or even embodiment (the Fhrer in regard to das deutsche Volk, the Party or party leader in regard to the proletariat and so on). This continuity of the theological-political leads to totalitarianism. With respect to this threat, Leforts solution seems plausible: free political power from any substantial content.

The second answer is less obvious, because Lefort does not relate this explicitly to the theological-political. There is another, more structural, continuity between the monotheistic-monarchical representational political theology and modern democracy. There is only one political power in the symbolic order of democracy: the seat, which is vacant. In this sense, monarchy, not polyarchy (despite the importance of plurality), remains the blueprint of political order. Of course, the exact meaning of this one political power is left undetermined. No member of society may claim to know what this meaning is. No transcendent law commands this power. But nevertheless, all subjects/citizens must be focused on this one political power. We still have before us the front page of Hobbes Leviathan, be it with the mere silhouette of the kings body. That is: the Kings body seems to have left his shadow. (Kantorowicz 1957, a major source of Leforts essay, already showed illustrations of empty thrones, dating from the years after the assassination of Charles I in 1640. Unfortunately for Lefort, France was not the inventor of the idea. Even earlier, in the 16th century, the gentry of the Low Lands defined their broken relation with their former sovereign, the Acte van Verlatinghe, as a decapitation of the state: a body without head!) But why call this a permanence of the theological-political?

For Lefort, there seems to be no reason for doing this. Theology, in his view, is merely discursive. It is totally present in texts. As text, theology can become dogmatic and may give political power a substantial meaning. Again, because of the existence of theology, democracy is always endangered. Political theology can be nothing more than discursive itself. And what would be the sense of a political theology, when fewer people than ever talk about God, the gods or the divine at all? What sense can there be in a discursive political theology in the age of la sortie de la religion (Marcel Gauchet)? Lefort seems to have lost Varros and Spinozas concept of theologia politik, in which the discursive aspects of theology are secondary (myths, poems, tales, beliefs, world views, philosophies). First comes the right way of honouring the gods. First comes loyalty or pietas.

But if we, as citizens in a democratic political order, have to believe in political power as a vacant seat, if we have to act the right way in order to fight or struggle within the bounds of a regulated political arena, if we have to develop some attitude of loyalty to the basic principles of democracy, in short, if we have to subject ourselves in thoughts and acts to the democratic minimal Credo, why should we consider this position as different from that of Varro and Spinoza? What Varro called a theologia politik or what Spinoza called theological-political is to some extent the same thing as the symbolic order, le politique, to which Lefort devoted his thoughts.

The difference might be, that while Varro and Spinoza give some form to the symbolic order (state cult), thereby making symbolic order a part of the real order, Lefort seems to go further. In his essay, the question is avoided how the broken relation between the symbolic and the real order (the prohibition of occupying the vacant seat) has to take form in social and political reality itself. As I stated above, each differentiation creates a problem of how to organize their broken relationship. To Lefort, this does not seem to be a problem. I think it is though. The symbolic order, le politique, should be in some way or another present in the social and political reality, and not just in the heads of political philosophers who reflect on the idea of democracy. To say, as Lefort seems to be doing in some cases, that the self-presentation of society to itself, is an adventure in a democratic political order, is to say that the vacant seat has also disappeared. Plurality can take the form of polyarchy or heterarchy.

Is this the end of political order? In his Tractatus theological-politicus Spinoza discussed the political system of the Jews after the death of Moses, who did not appoint a successor. Spinoza noted, that this political system can be called a theocracy in the literal sense of the word: political power is in the hands of Gods, and therefore no human being me occupy this seat of power. God himself, however, is absent, accept for the Ark of the Covenant, which functioned as a reminder of the peoples choice to accept the rule of God. But, in fact, as Spinoza points out, this political system is democratic. (Terpstra 1998) In this change from the autocratic rule of Moses to democracy, we find the same transformation as described by Lefort of the monarchistisch political theology to democracy. In fact, the separation of the symbolic and the real order presupposes a theocratic political theology. But again, where in modern democracy can we find the Ark of the Covenant?

In conclusion, I think we can discern a common problematic in the political thoughts of or three thinkers: (1) the search for the minimal, but fundamental symbol which binds people together within a political order and which obliges them to loyalty: the question of existence of non-existence of a political order, and (2) the tuning of the imaginary world (mythical theology, potestas, the symbolic order) and the real world (natural theology, potentia, the real order). An important difference, however, is connected to the difficulty of articulating this symbol in such a way that it has some credibility in the eyes of the ordinary people and of the elites. Lefort is a democratic. For him, this problem seems to have lost any meaning. I doubt, whether democracy has a future without political theology and without finding a real form for the symbolic dimension of democratic society.


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The Political Theology of Victor Hugo: Les Miserables

Robert Doran

The idea for this paper comes from a seminar which Jacques Derrida gave during the 1999-2000 academic year on the topic of the death penalty. As Victor Hugo was one of the main (and certainly most influential) abolitionists of the nineteenth century, Derrida focused extensively on Hugos literary and public fight to eliminate the death penalty in France. Hugos arguments are theological in nature, saying, for example, that Christs being a victim of the death penalty showed the fallacy of mans attempt to justify capital punishment on purely political grounds. This contributed to Derridas being able to argue that any discussion of the death penalty is inherently theological and never merely political, even in the supposedly secular state. The subject of this paper, however, is not the death penalty, but Victor Hugos political theology as it is articulated in general terms in his great epic about nineteenth-century French society, Les miserables.

At the beginning of the seventh book of the second part of Les miserables we read: Ce livre est un drame dont le premier personnage est linfini. Lhomme est le second (II. 43).[1] Thus Hugo sets up the theological structure of his magnum opuswhich is not only one of the most popular novels of all time but also one of the most influential for the French left in the latter half of the nineteenth century and beyond. Hugo hoped to integrate into a secularized, post-revolutionary political culture a renewed and reinvorigated vision of Christian Faith and Charitya vision which he saw as eminently compatible with the ideals and promise of the Revolution. Like Napoleon, Hugo sees himself as both son and torchbearer of the Revolution. However, though Napoleon had understood the importance of ritualized religion for the maintenance of social cohesion, Hugo aims for more than symbolism. For he sees Christianity not as means to political ends but the way and goal of the political as the liberation of the human spirit. The political is thus given not only a theological basis but a theological purpose: the perfection of man.[2]

Hugos antipathy to the Church is well known. A deathbed attempt to bring him back into the fold proved unsuccessful. Hugo saw human liberty as irreconcilable with religious authority as embodied in the Church, an authority which had always been linked to the non-democratic State. Like many liberal authors from the Renaissance forward, Hugo emphasizes a return to a simple faith rooted in the Gospels and purified of dogma, ritual and other forms of institutional power. Hugo thus articulates the relation between human law and divine law, history and providence, with his own home-spun theology based on the example of Christ himself. But it will be by way of an aesthetic architecture that Hugo will show how a theological conception can reform the political.

By aesthetic architecture I mean the non-discursive mechanism by which Les miserables demands an ideological conversion on the part of the reader to the perspective of the text. That is to say, this text does not achieve its persuasive goal by argument (i.e. in those chapters devoted to historical or political reflection), nor by inducing the reader to adopt certain interpretative strategies (i.e. stacking the deck, so to speak, so as to engender inevitable conclusions), but through a structural homology between text and world, in which ideal aesthetic forms surreptitiously impose themselves on the everyday understanding of social reality. This romantic realism, as it is sometimes called, thus derives its persuasive force from its ability to generate affective forms out of universalizable or ideal figures. Hence the seeming everydayness on the narrative level is not disturbed by the symbolic or allegorical resonance laying just below the surface. Thus the reader can enter into Hugos world much in the same way he enters into the world of the Gospels, where the everyday concerns are not obscured by deeper, mythical resonances. Romantic realism would be distinguished from realism tout court mainly by its more impositional stance vis--vis the reader, usually in the form of explicit interpretation and commentary, as opposed to the more documentary and objective narrator of a Flaubert.

Hugos narrative structure is that of the Medieval or Christian romance: sin-repentance-conversion-persecution-sacrifice-redemption-transcendencethough Hugos story is placed in an actual (historical) social world context, where the real miracle is the enduring humanity of the human spirit. Thus Hugo integrates the plot-structure of the traditional romance into the novels emphasis on character portraits, scenic description, and concern with society and history. In addition Hugo peppers his text with biblical archetypesthe road, the garden, light and darknessimbuing his narrative with the aura of an epic on the scale of Dante or Milton. Though not as deliberately allegorical as Hawthorne or Melville, Hugo, like these authors, sees the novel as having a more elevated purpose beyond mere consumption (entertainment) or stylistic brilliance (lart pour lart). In this sense Hugo reveals his affinities with the Longinian tradition, which viewed art as the communication of the divine through the genius. Indeed Hugos explicit invocation of the notion of the sublime throughout his work is a testimony to this fact.

Now let us take Jean Valjeans conversion scene as an example of how the theological narrative structure is articulated by biblical archetypes and topoi. After his release from prison, Jean Valjean is destitute and unable to find lodging. After several rejections Valjean happens upon Father Myriel, the saintly town priest, who offers to take him in for free. Jean Valjean thanklessly repays this generosity by stealing two golden candlesticks from Father Myriels house. When he is caught and returned by the police the next day, Myriel insists that the candles were a gift, thus saving Valjean from being returned to prison. Valjean, incredulous at the action of the priest, sets out on the road to enjoy his freedom. And it is on this road, like Saint Paul on the way to Damascus, that Valjeans conversion is brought about. Still under the influence of his old habits, Valjean steals a coin which a little boy has dropped. Suddenly, Valjeans conscience is awakened; for the first time he feels guilt, dropping to his knees crying Je suis un miserable! (116). He looks everywhere for the boy in order to return the coin, but in vain. He has now developed a bad conscience and spontaneously decides to change his life. The love of Myriel had revealed a new type of economy to Valjean (who only understood vengeance and the settling of scores), the sacred economy of Charity, a gift with no exchange value, the gift of love. Valjean now sees himself as infinitely obligated to God, in whose name Myriel has accorded him grace. Thus, literally brought to his knees, crushed under the weight of undeserved grace, Valjean is led to see himself as God sees him: Il lui semblait quil voyait Satan la lumire du paradis a fallen soul seen for what it is and thus for what it can become. This Saint Paul-like moment of conversion is reinforced by the topos of the road. And just as Paul changes his name from Saul, Jean Valjean also will change his name, to Monsieur Madeleine, as he starts his new life dedicated to God and good works. Valjeans transformative vision is the light of Father Myriels love, figured in the gift of the candlesticks, by which Myriel has bought Valjeans soul (an inversion of Faustian pact). The transformative power of love is the principle theme of the novel, figured in the Christ-like Jean Valjean: no one is lost; there is good in everyone; redemption is available to all.

In this dynamic Hugo does not oppose the political to the theological, as it may appear on the surface. Hugo indeed pits the divine law of Charity (Christs twofold command of love)[3] against human law, la Justice. But this is not to say that the second should be abandoned in favor of the first, for Hugo recognized the utility and necessity of a vast and efficient system of justice in modern society. Hugos point is much more subtle: it is that political is more than the mere administration of justice; it is the space of mediation wherein the system of Law as a mechanical apparatus must be made serve goals other than its own perfect functioning. It does not make sense for a society to be virtuous, if virtue is understood as mere obedience to laws. One must be able to question the virtue (social utility) of the Law itself. Hugo takes the specifically Christian view which says that what is in ones heart is more important than the outward appearance of conformity. Hence one can be both evil and just, like Hugos terrifying creation, Javert. Javert is the incarnation of the abstract idea of justice as perfect administration and application of the law without regard to personal interest. One could say that Javerts personal interest is so completely identical with that of the interest of justice (its perfect functioning) that Javert is justice itselfwithout however being just. For justice contradicts itself in placing its interest above its purpose.[4] As Christ says, the law was made to serve man and not the other way around. In the end Javerts downfall is precipitated by an irreconcilable conflict between personal interest and public duty; he commits suicide after an act of professional dereliction in response to Valjeans act of grace. (Valjean lets his dogged persecutor, Javert, go instead of executing him; and Javert then sets Valjean free after finding him again.)

Hugo dreams of a society in which justice is guided and tempered by Charity. Hugos focus on societys poor, outcast, and weak is meant to magnify the injustice of justice, a justice which ends up serving the rich, the powerful and the strong, while persecuting the weak merely for being weak. But, unlike the Marxists, Hugo is not necessarily issuing a call to arms. Despite his enthusiasm for the Revolution, Hugo abhors violence and feels that love is the more powerful and ultimately more effective weapon. For arms can coerce men, but only love can effect an authentic transformation. Hugo sees violence as at best a necessary evil, a moment of overcoming which must ultimately give way to spiritual values.

In this theological conception, Hugo exudes a boundless optimism for the human condition. He believes that mans soul is of the same nature as God (Infinity) and thus that man is eminently perfectible: en meme temps quil y a un infini hors de nous, ny a-t-il pas un infini en nous? Ces deux infinis ... ne superpose-ils pas lun lautre? ... Nen-est-il pas le miroir, le reflet, lcho, labime concentrique lautre abime? (II. 51). This infinity outside of us (God) is also the same infinity inside of us (divine soul), and thus every human being without exception is redeemable by virtue of an indestructible inner essence.

By putting his assertions in the form of a rhetorical question, Hugo literally asks us to see the aesthetic implications of the theological viewpoint. In other words, by deferring this pronouncement until nearly halfway through the novel, Hugo is asking us if what has transpired so far cannot be seen in this theological light, thus proving his point by fiction, i.e., creating the aesthetic conditions under which a theological view will be seen as being fulfilled. Though this may be dismissed as a contrived or artificial operation, we must ask ourselves if even that fiction termed realistic or naturalistic (non-theological) has any more standing in this regard (like industrial dehumanization in Zola, or the perversion of the financial system in Balzac)? Of course, Hugo is not presenting an idealist view of society but rather a realist view of social reality with idealist expectations. Hugos theological perspective purports to show how the Christian vision offers real social hope, more so than technical progress or a fine-tuning of the existing political system.

Thus the aesthetic architecture out of which Hugo carefully constructs his novel is theological through and through. But Hugos lengthy discourses on historical matters (the convent, Waterloo, the uprising of 1830) should leave no doubt as to his commitment to the real socio-political conditionseven on the symbolic level. For even as Jean Valjean is at once a Christ-like figure of saintliness and redemption, at the same time his vicissitudes reflect the Napoleonic odyssey like an inverted mirror: they are born in the same year; Napoleons rise coincides with Valjeans incarceration; Valjean is released from prison and makes his way north at the same moment of Napoleons triumphant return to Paris from the island of Elbe (1815); and finally, Napoleons fall at Waterloo coincides with Valjeans fall and reincarceration. Jean Valjeans identification with Napoleon serves to make him a figure for the aspirations of the French people in general (le peuple). And Napoleon himself represents the revolutionary idea that ability not privilege should be the decisive factor in life and that individuals can make history (and thus make a difference) qua individuals.

Refuting the prevailing theories of history which focused either on impersonal forces (mechanistic or Hegelian) or the relation between different groups in society considered in the aggregate (Marxist), Hugo takes a heroic view, the idea that history can be significantly affected by the will of a single individual. But this thesis is not merely historiographical; it is also poetic. The heroqua imageis always overdetermined. Thus Jean Valjean becomes in the end the figure for the potential self-transcendence of the entire society: the plight of the wretched and their search for redemption.

Which brings us to the transformative effect of the novel: no one who reads the novel can fail to notice the masterful way in which Hugo generates feelings of sympathy on the part of the reader. But Hugos poetics of misery elicits sympathy not only for the characters as such, but also for the class of individuals they represent (by way of the structural homology referred to earlier): the convict who spend 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread out of hunger (Jean Valjean); the single mother forced into prostitution to support her child (Fantine); the Cinderella child, despised by her foster parents and treated like a slave (Cosette); the orphan street urchin (petit Gavroche). All of the characters are social types, surrogates for the thousands like them who form the wretched underside of nineteenth-century French society. Hugo tells their stories with almost unbearable poignancy (perhaps too heavy-handedly, too sentimentallybut this is immediately forgiven when one realizes the real suffering being referred to), obliging the reader to not only empathize with the characters but also to feel the invisible hand of real political and social injustice. Of course, all human beings suffer, and there always were and there always will be human beings who will suffer greatly and deserve our compassion. But what Hugo wants to show is not that suffering is universal, and a fact with which art can help us come to terms (catharsis). Hugos aim is much different, as is his conception of the function of the novel. Hugo believes (at least implicitly) in a sort of aesthetic education, the idea that art can attune our mind to nobler aims and ideals.[5]

It is thus through these type-characters (endowed with just enough individuality to make us care), the feelings they arouse in the reader, that Hugo attempts to produce a social conscience conducive to real political change. For Hugo is under no illusion that a large part of the public, his potential reading public, either believes that the miserables deserve their lot, or they simply refuse to recognize the misery around them as a specifically social and political problem (a problem for the collective). Hugo addresses this lack of a social conscience (and Charles Dickens with him), which is required in a new political order (the republic) in which (for the first time) citizens are collectively responsible for the state of the nation. Hugo thus proposes to create such a collectively oriented conscience through the aesthetic, through a theologically informed aesthetic. For after all it is the story of the God-man, the imagery of the cross, which made Christianity into the transformative force that it became.

However, in Les Miserables it is not a matter of individual salvation or personal morality, but the salvation of the collective. Thus Hugos novel asks us to feel the misery of the other (the neighbor) not as a matter for the individual conscience, but as a social phenomenon with political implications. The reader is induced to see himself as having a responsibility to the collective which is distinct from (and may be opposed to) his individual responsibility. This is of course a particularly Left-wing way of seeing things, as the Right privileges the individual perspective (risk is personal not social). But Hugos genius is in motivating the Christian ideal of Charity as the sign of a developed social conscience: love thy neighbor. (Though the Right will argue that loving ones neighbor is still a matter of individual morality not social justice, the Marxist Left will seek to create social conscience out of the interests of one class (the workers), which asserts itself as the truth of the collective.) Though Hugo will say with the Marxists regarder travers le peuple et vous aperceverez la vrit (II. 135), he means that the people as a national collective as contrasted with the international proletariat is the locus of truth. In addition the misery of the oppressed masses is a spiritual as well as an economic condition, and as such is to be the object of general sympathy and charity, not the rallying point for inter-class warfare.

Not one to leave it to the reader or literary critics to interpret his work, near the end of the book Hugo gives a discursive resume of what he has been trying to accomplish poetically:

Le livre que le lecteur a sous les yeax en ce moment, cest dun bout lautre, dans son ensemble et dans ses dtails, quelles que soient les intermittences, les exceptions ou les dfaillances, la marche du mal au bien, de linjuste au juste, du faux au vrai, de la nuit au jour, de apptit la conscience, de la pourriture la vie, de la bestialit au devoir, de lenfer au ciel, du nant Dieu. Point de dpart : la matire, point darrive : lame. Lhydre au commencement, lange la fin. (III. 297)

In short Hugos novel dramatizes the journey of the human spirit toward God. Thus Hugos notion of history is no less theological than his notion of the political. The post-revolutionary republic is simply the stage at which the human community can see itself as a self-determining collective, led by the silent hand of historys divine providence. Les miserables, then, is either part of the consciousness-raising mechanism of history itself, or given its social impact, a self-fulfilling prophesy.

In Civitate Rei

Supplementary Theopolitical Thinking and The Rhetoric of Conversion in Augustine

Chris Doude van Troostwijk

In his masterpiece De Civitate Dei, Augustine lays the groundwork for theo-political thinking. Based on an interpretation of history in the light of biblical eschatology, the book shows how the fall of Rome is linked to the misery of pagan religion. It is Varro, the pagan theologian who is presented by Augustine as the object of his pious mockery. Varro discerned three dimensions to theology - a mythological, a political and foremost a physical (genus fabulosum, genus civile, genus naturale, De Civitate Dei Vl:5, 12), respectively concerned with the theatre, the polis and the natural world (kosmos) - so that it might be stated that Augustines theo-political masterpiece is created against the backdrop of the prior invention of theo-politics in the reflections of Varro.[6] Where western political thinking normally proceeds in the cadenza of a bipolar, metaphysical paradigm, based on Augustine and by definition linked with problems of mediation (mixta res) and Platonist methexis, another, may be more hidden tradition can be found in Varros theo-politics which is tripartite.

Political theology is described by Augustine as the genus civile. This genre is concerned with the inscription of the political realm into what, in his too often and too easily cited La Condition Postmoderne, Lyotard has entitled the grand narrative of legitimating. Its legitimating capacity could be illustrated by the story of Aeneis, his travel from Troye to Rome and the instauration of the emperors ascendancy. This political theology finds manifestation on the forum, in the cults of the official gods and in the respect of sacred times and spheres. Durkheimien avant la letter, Varro ascribes to religion, state-religion, the function of underpinning socio-political cohesion, establishing and legitimating order and hierarchy. It may be defended that in fact Varros central focus was political theology, although Augustine tried hard to make him a philosopher of nature and metaphysics, who, out of fear for concrete repercussions, played the role of political correctness and pleaded for a distinction between the true gods of the state and the numerous popular inventions of divinities (De Civ. Dei Vl:5).

Linked to this political framework other theological genres are discerned by Varro. The genus fabulosa is the theological as far as it is concerned with religious imagination. Augustine mocks this theological in sometimes hilarious ways, for instance when he describes how pagan invention fabulated a ritual trespass at every thinkable step in the activities concerning sexual intercourse, fabulated for each of these passages a corresponding god. (De Civ. Dei Vl:9)[7] If the religious becomes theatrical, Augustine argues, it cant be trustworthy anymore and it shows through its own artificiality its untruth. Then the genus fabulosum transforms easily into what Augustine, if Latin grammar would allow it, would like to entitle a genus fabulare, a theological art of creating the gods by imagination (De Civ. Dei Vl:5). Varro, however, probably wanted to underline the social importance of free religious imagination, although, being an educated person, he saw some negative effects of it (De Civ. Dei Vl:6). Accroding to Varro, imagination serves, not to mock, but to introduce the gods to the people: Varro dixit! Non cim inrideret deos, sed cum commendaret hoc dixit (De Civ. Dei Vl:7) On the one hand it allows an open space for the informal and libertine energies, for the libidinal, as Lyotard says, which relieves the inevitable tensions created by the imposition of a unified political framework. On the other hand, it implies an indirect way of involving the lower classes and the uneducated in the unifying functions of official religiosity: as a do-it-your-self-religion or a visible and theatrical religion, the genus fabulare has pragmatic functions for the political.

The third wing of the theo-political trytique is occupied by the genus naturale and the corresponding physical theology. It is concerned with the religion of reason, science and philosophy. Religion not of the people, but of the elite class of which Varro C and Augustine C are part. The existence of the gods is not deductible from any revelation through official cults or informal narratives, it is to the thinking mind self-evident in principle. The unity of being, as such a presupposed condition of philosophy, necessarily leads to the acknowledgement of the divine which is, according to Varro stoic beliefs another word for the anima mundi (world-soul) and its parts or kosmos(De Civ.Dei Vll:5, 6). Theatrical and political gods are nothing but images, simulacra, - it is Augustine who underlines this - leading to the veritable insight in the truth of divine unity. From theoretical and physical perspective, God is another name for ground, founding principle, and as such, not a symbolic but rather a factual legitimating of unification of the political by virtue of the theological. The unity of being and the a-temporal cosmological order are the presupposed and proven paradigms of which official religion is nothing less but the corresponding image and in which it is articulated and implemented.

Two types of theopolitical thinking

In total two theo-political frameworks are confronted in the founding oeuvre of western theo-politics, two theo-political semiotics we should say, one dyadique, the other triadique, or C if one prefers and is willing to accept a rough analogy C one saussurian (semiological), the other peircean (semiotique). The first is Augustines: this physical world and its history are like signs referring to a veritable signification. Varros conception is Peircean: his political theology in the narrow sense relies on rules and conventions (symbolic), his physical on relations of contiguity (indexical) and his mythological-theatrical theology depends on un-codified analogies (iconic) according to which things can be signs of something else on the basis of resemblance. Therefor sexual stages may refer to godly instances. (We could even suggest to restate the same in a Lacanian vocabulary. Varros theo-political approach offers room to the real C genus naturale -, the symbolique - genus civile C and the imaginary C genus fabulosa -, whereas in Augustines, space is created only for the first two orders and an effort is made to suppress religious imagination. His Christian God is the only true God, the only true answer to the scientific-philosophical search for adequate knowledge.)

In his search for deconstruction of the metaphysical theo-political God - thus in search of deconstructing the grand narratives - Lyotard pleaded, in his already cited Economie libidinale, for a affirmative way of thinking. The book gives an account of Augustines De civitate dei, judging it nihilistic. Augustine, believing in one true and unifying God, implies the fulfilment of true knowledge to another world, certifying the phenomenological world as being temporal, non-being, but, at the same time instantiating an absolute Signifier, inaccessible and yet necessarily there. His God is philosophical in essence, philosophical by his presence in absence.

Augustine, in referring to Varro, rejects any form of theatrical theology, thus defending a mimetic binary structure of theo-political thinking. Lyotard, in turn, criticizes - or better - deconstructs Augustine on this point. by reintroducing a tripartite division. Against this theo-politics of nihilism, Lyotard advances affirmative, libidinal politics, taking sides provocatively with paganism, with Varro, and especially with his theatrical and imaginative theology. Free imagination and creativity is a way of affirming concrete, contingent being, a way of openness for the staccato of being, for its endless multiformity and singularity, for the event character of truth and for the primary processes that are always at work in secondary dispositions and structures. According to Lyotard, there is no such a thing as a pure political or a pure philosophical theology. ? Entre la thologie thatrique et la judo-chrtienne qui gouverne encore aujourdhui la critique de la religion et de lconomie politique, il ny a pas lopposition entre un loge du divin dans le monde et une louange de Dieu aux dpens du monde et in absentie, il y a la difrence entre du dispositifs du pathos. ?[8] Economy libidinal pleads for imagination on the basis of an libidinal reading of Freuds dream-analysis and of his second topology concerning the drifts of eros and thanatos. Imaginary forces are working inside the well organised binary and oppositional structures, an effectiveness baptized by Lyotard as diffrence.[9] In other words: in the apparently well organized orders of meaning and knowledge, there are always effect of what Lyotard calls dissimulation. The imaginary is indispensable, if only for pragmatic reasons, but it works inside the order of discourse in a dissimulated way .

By eliminating Varros third theo-political element, the genus fabulosa, Augustine is confronted with the problem of performative engagement of the citizens into the religious order. Theatrical theology is a way of involving and seducing the spectator, a seduction biased by its faculty of imagination. Rationality C physical theology C can convince me of the necessity of the sacred; social and political cohesion will persuade me of its effectiveness. But how will I be seduced to participate in the religious, to get involved subjectively and not only objectively or symbolically? How do I get involved into the story that is told to me and about me, even before I was able to understand it cognitively or symbolically? By which means will I be converted to the religious, if imagination and playfulness are exiled?

Augustine seems to replace or to supplement the lack of imagination with inwardness and with the godly inner voice. By which other means, than by immediate revelation, by divine inference into my distanced position towards the religious scene, can I be seduced to get engaged?[10] If the playground of the theatre is forbidden ground, where and how do I get involved? Where else than on the playground of the soul, this inner theatre where it will be the voice of God that exhorts me. The turn to religion, which is, on the private level, another expression for conversion C or at least a certain version of conversion C is presupposed to every theo-political reality. But it is in Augustines dyadic theo-political thinking precisely the missing turning point, obliterated and put aside together with Varros theatrical genre.

Confessiones as supplement to De Civitate Dei

The displacement of theatrical theology from the external world to the soul, requires a new genre of theatrical inwardness, the genre of confession. A confession, argues Augustine time and again, is not only an expression of the soul or confession of sins, it is before anything else, a glorification of God the creator. (Confessiones l,vi,10; X,i,1-6) The discovery of my relative status, of my fragility and mortal being and the excitement about that fact that the impossible is possible, that there is existence, my existence whose generation cant be explained without transcendent being, this discovery leads to the glorification of the absolute creator and stage director, in whose play I am playing a role. The world is a stage, yes, His stage and it is not my imagination that deserves priority, it is his. The confessions take the lived life as being an invention of the absolute Other. Augustines exclamations are numerous about the wonderful way the divine had prepared the stage for his conversion, step by step, for a philosophical turn through the exhortationes of Cicero, through a religious one (manicha?sm) and a sceptical to the final and definitive turn towards Catholicism in the famous garden scene in Milano. [11] Or in this sense, De civitate dei, presents a dualistic theo-politics C civitas terrena and civitas dei C always being res mixtae. But this presentation should not obliterate the third element, of which Varro speaks overtly, that of imagination and pragmatics. Indeed Augustine does have a theatrical theo-politics, a pragmatics of seduction, but not in his De Civitate Dei C from where is has been exiled -, but in a sort of theo-political supplement (chronologically speaking from the time before the theo-political masterpiece) in the Confessiones. In his Retractationes, Augustine states clearly that the Confessiones where meant to incite the audience to get engaged in the Christian, religious life. (Confessionum mearum [] deum laudant [] in eum excitant humanum intellectum et affectum, Retractationes ll,2.) Life is a role on the stage of an absolute playwright and director. Genus fabulatus more than genus fabulare or fabulosum, but still with exhortative ambitions. Augustines critique of Varro resulted in the suppression of theatrical theology, which C as happens more often with suppressed things C reoccurs elsewhere, on another stage, in another form, in the confessions.

The Confessions from their literary side, depend on the rhetorical approach that would be rejected in the Civitas dei. Augustine, before his conversion, searched for auto-glorification in holding a position in rhetorics in Carthage, Rome and Milan. Rhetorics, the art of inventing topoi and using tropoi in order to impress, motivate, touch and convince an audience, formed an obstacle to his conversion. (Conf. LX,iv, 13) Rhetoric is theatrical, is employed in order to seduce audience by use of imagination and poetic turnings (tropoi), considered by Augustine as obstacles to the final turn of conversion. Poetical turnings turn against the religious, because rhetoric is the method of sophistry, that is the method of making something appear as being a truth whilst is in fact a lie. The art of attorneys and politicians could not, according to Augustine, harmonize with catholic belief and Christian theo-politics. But, if the confessions are to be read as the theatrical setting of personal engagement with the big history of truth, how then could this theatricality do without rhetorical arts? Is there something thinkable like a pure theo-political order, exempt from any pragmatic and rhetoric intervention? Is there anything such as an immediate, pure conversion, an immediate lightening of a new life? If yes, how to convince an audience of this absolute, singular event, how to convince myself being audience aprs coup - as Augustine expresses in the cited passage in his Retractationes - of this event without rhetorical articulation? Could we say that intermingled with every modern, read: metaphysical , conception of theo-political thinking, an element of postmodern theatricality, read: pragmatic and rhetorical sophistry, is present? The fact, that we cannot describe, nor make understandable the event of conversion without relying on tropoi, on the rhetorical effects which I would summarize C in accordance with Lyotard unpublished lessons on the sophistry La logique quil nous faut and with his little text Sur la force des faibles - as the effects of retorsion?[12] There is retorsion in conversion, untruth in the turn to truth. And this retorsion is theo-political in character, because it deals with its necessary supplement.[13] Lets analyse an Augustinian statement about conversion, that is about searching and finding God.

Rhetorics of conversion

How many days of our human existence have passed through Your day and have received in and from there their measures ! [] You are always the same and everything which will be tomorrow, or after tomorrow, everything which has been yesterday, of before yesterday, you will make it today, you have made it today. I cant help if nobody understands. He should nonetheless rejoice and he should better find you not-finding, than not to find by finding (gaudeat etiam sic et amet non inveniendo invenire potius quam inveniendo non invenire te). (Conf. l, vi, 10)

This citation is an example of Augustines hesitation between a philosophical search of the absolute, and a rhetorical. In the first part the modern God of metaphysics, of measure, creation and eternity, is portrayed. It presents the transcendental framework for a possible pure, dyadic theo-politics, namely the embeddedness of successive temporality in substantial eternity. Dual theo-politics aims for the permanent and unified behind and through the phenomenological. And even if this absolute is to big for thought, negative theology is a good way of dealing with it. However, in the second part of the citation, a crossover is made to pragmatics. Rejoice, even without understanding! Such an exhortation implies the transition from a philosophical ideal of conceptualisation to a pragmatic emotional effect. Feeling is something like a sign for thinking, an indication of truth other than conceptual.

But how to explain or to communicate that joy, if logical conceptualisation fails? Augustine takes refuge in the sphere of sophistry and paralogistics. The thesis is paradoxical and enigmatic. Enigmatic is the whole assertion: It is better to find the absolute by not finding it, than not to find it by finding it. What is stated exactly? Logically speaking, the assertion is acceptable. If the is searching, than finding C satisfaction of a desire C is better than not-finding. But on the level of interpretation the phrase is a paradox. Because finding under scrutiny here, is not-finding? How could not-finding be better than finding?

The overall paradox covers two sub-paradoxes, consisting in the two parts which make up the sentence. The paradox in the first part of the sentence says not-finding is a way of finding, the second says the inverse: finding is a way of not-finding. Let us remark first that the last paradox, in an hermeneutic interpretation, could be made understandable. We are talking about the search for the absolute. In the paradigm of classical dualist metaphysics the finding of the absolute implies its demarcation and/or definition, that is to say implies a sort of objectification and determination. In order to find it, we should make the absolute relative, but if we did so, we would lose it in the same gesture, we would logically lose it. Taken on its own merits, the sentence is an offence to the second law of Aristotelian logics, which defends the oppositional contradiction in one and the same assertion. But in an interpretative explanation, this a-logical phrase appears to be perfectly understandable.

Could we then argue in the same way for the second claim, that not finding is a way of finding? Could we make it comprehensible that not finding is a way of finding? Which not-finding are we talking about? Not the not-finding which equals the pretension of having found in the third paradox. Not to find implies, for instance, the continuation of the search. Is searching finding? Is finding out that the thing found is not the thing searched for, i.e. is this finding out of the failure of finding, in itself a finding of the thing searched for? It is indeed possible that something, after intense observation, appears to be nothing C which is the case of the third paradox finding is not-finding C . Such a thing is called illusion. Something is not what it pretends to be. But what is the inverse of an illusion?

Ex nihilo nihil. Or could something which is not, appears to be something? Augustine is playing sophistry here to express the singular event of finding the impossible. The paradox non-finding is finding equals the sophistic thesis, criticised by Aristotle, according to which something which is not, is, because it is a thing which is not or the unknown is known, because it is known that it is unknown. (Rhetorics 1402a)

The paralogical structure of Augustines assertion is apparent when we realize that the phrase is acceptable as a whole on the basis that finding is better than not finding. It is however at the same time unacceptable as far as the finding under consideration is an impossible finding, a finding in the form of not-finding. The art Augustine is playing here, is rhetorics, and the trick he is performing is called retorsion: he makes the implausible acceptable. In brief, the metaphysical belief in an absolute measure is underscored (and undermined) by an sophistic retorsion, that deals with the question how to find the absolute which is the presupposed basis of dualistic theo-political thinking?

In his treatise on Rhetorics, Aristotle warned against all kind of argumentation by retorsion. Sophistry C and the technique of retorsion C consists mainly in the art of making the weaker argument win against the stronger. A sophist knows to mobilize the force of weakness and its destabilising and sometimes undermining effects. Sophists are those who twist and twirl pre-established orders and hierarchies. The morally bad is turned into good, black into white, poverty into richness, the relative into absolute. The effects look sometimes like magical manipulation (as for instance in the case of Apuleius). Sophistry is like a machine that puts the world upside down. It is as a set of two cogs, says Aristotle, the one turning around in clockwise direction effectuating the rotation of the cog inside in the opposite direction.

Aristotles central focus of critique is concerned with a certain Corax, the presumed founder of Greek sophism. Suppose that Corax would have to defend a man accused of murder in court at some point. He, too, would use the disgraceful art of turning a weak argument into a strong one. His defence of a man accused of murder, would be based not only on probable and acceptable facts; even the most improbable facts would serve him. If the man was weak, he would say: Your honour, look carefully, this man has so few muscles that he is incapable of murder. Aristotle calls this a call on the immediate, singular and absolute probability. (The Greek word haplous he uses has been translated beautifully in the English with absolute). Calling on such a thing is acceptable to every independent judge.

But if the man is strong Corax again will defend his client by calling on probability. He simply readjusts reality to serve his own purposes. The technique of retorsion serves him well to this end. Look, your honour, this man is so strong, you wouldnt think that he is so stupid as to commit a murder whilst it is evident that he would attract all suspicion of guilt because of his strength. According to Aristotle such an argument is dependent upon accidental circumstances and therefore relative and as such reprehensible. We may assume that C in the eyes of the great philosopher C the art of retorsion should be dismissed on three grounds.

Firstly, what is called dissoi logoi is sufficient to sofists.[14] Those are contradictory arguments for which there are no solutions in principle. Lyotard would most likely call them differends. Sofists are not searching for a definitive criterion for the truth or untruth of their propositions. Sofists work on the discours with an eye on the effects it may create. They do not search for truth () That is exactly the reason why their positioning towards the word is called techne. It is an art. They assume an artists pose towards language. It is a matter of tasting it. They treat language as a game.[15] Sofists want to seduce and persuade. It is not important to them to convince. One has to take their debates as a competition in agility (agoon). It is the right gesture, the right movement of the arm that counts. Especially, it is the right timing of moves and countermoves which counts. The right timing of sudden remarks can make a weak probability probable and strong.

The second evil aspect of sophistry C in the eyes of serious philosophers C is related to this sudden character of the sofistic move (coup is the term Lyotard uses in La condition postmoderne). Retorsion appears by surprise much like the pun of a joke, a koan or a rabbinic wisdom. Its efficiency depends on the right moment, on the kairos, as the sofists say (and the New Testament authors share this with them).

The third point concerns the fact that things are not what they seem. Sophistry is related to themes of dissimulation, described as effect of difference in Lyotards Economie Libidinale. We have continuously understood reality in a certain way and suddenly something happens C but what, it cannot be labelled C which makes everything different from what it seems to be.

Conversion as Retorsion

It surprises me time and again how much these kind of retorsion motives (dissoi logoi, kairos, dissimulation) correspond to intuitions from the judeo-christian tradition. Those traditions would not be what they are without respect for la force des faibles. Without the motive of the about-turn neither the Tenach nor the New Testament Scriptures would have anything much to say. That is most probably why faith appeared to the philosophical Greeks as an insanity, a sofistic insanity to be precise. Expressions such as blessed are the poor of mind, the first will be the last, and the kingdom is as a child are not exactly examples of logical evidence, indeed. Augustine, too, cries out continuously in his Confessions that he has to recognise his lowliness in order to find his strength therein, in that recognition. Conversion is the strong person turning around, the mighty one becoming a child again.

The famous conversion-scene (Conf. VIII xii 29) presents a good example of Christian retorsion. Augustine falls to earth crying under a tree. He lacks the strength to submit to the Christian God. Then he hears a childs voice singing: tolle lege, tolle lege. He does as the voice says, takes up the bible and reads: put on Christs clothes and do not put on clothes on the flesh for desires sake (Rom 13:14). The text suits his sinful body perfectly. He decides to say goodbye to his job as rhetor and to devote himself to the faith.

The most shocking element of this episode which is known as the conversion-scene is perhaps that more or less nothing shocking happens at all, in terms of content. Augustine makes sure he describes this almost meaningless moment as a grain of the absolute which has turned his life upside down. It concerns, in fact, two day-to-day events. Augustine himself presents the most probable explanation of the first event, the voice that sings take and read: it has to belong to some childs game but I did not know it. That is hardly strange if one realises that Augustine was a North-African immigrant in Milan. The miracle is, however, that he takes this childs voice to be the appeal of the absolute, as a divine tua res agitur: it concerns you. The most probable common meaning of childs game exists in what could be called its contrary meaning: it is the absolute God who speaks in the childish voice.

Neither is the second event shocking. Augustine takes up the bible and reads a text of which he previously in his Confessions had indicated to know it (Conf VII, xxi, 27). His despair under the tree consisted of the feeling of powerlessness not to be able to put on Christ as his clothes, the Christ about whom Paul speaks in the recorded quotation from Romans. The real shock, therefore, does not concern the content of what Augustine has read. The real shock is that he reads the well-known with different eyes. In accordance with the procedure of retorsion the well-known and the probable become suddenly different. Moreover, the difference only becomes noticeable as an effect of feeling and not as some rational conclusion: a light of certainty filled my heart (Conf. VII, xii, 29).

The experience of conversion retorses daily life into a sign of the Absolute. If one looks carefully Augustine presents many more of these retorsion-moments. But, if one can believe Lyotard, one has to look indeed very carefully: Against the sleepy backdrop of daily life Gods visit remains hardly noticeable: a voice from a neighbouring garden, the euphoria of a drunken tramp in a Milanese street, Ambrosius who sits reading in an opened door, a slightly excessive flood of tears, these are just some indications, which have been smuggled in in between the usual signs, almost without us poor readers recognising them.[16] The signs of the Absolute are hardly readable in reality, they are no mighty proclamations. They are small traces which almost invisibly dissimulate themselves in normal life, and which only do their work by surprise, in a kairos-moment. The attack on your eternity allows itself to be seen, within the calendar, only just, through a syncope, through nothing, in fact. The tip of a wing from somewhere else touches him for a moment with your presence, without pulling him away from the concerns of his deadly life. Compared to the routine progression of customs and with the desire wich is out of order, your visitation in almost unnoticeable.[17]

Analysis of the art of retorsion

According to Lyotards analyses the technique of retorsion boils down to the principle of inclusive self-reference. The principle is feared by philosophers, but loved by sophists. Because it is possible by means of this principle to turn even the gravest lie into the truth. Even better, thanks to this principle all ability to determine true and untrue has been erased. Using inclusive self-reference, that which seemed at first highly probable suddenly becomes uncertain. Anything probable can suddenly mean something entirely different.

How this self-referential art in the case of retorsion works has been explained by Lyotard in Sur la force des faibles with the use of the famous sophistic paradox of the liar from Crete. As is known, the man from Crete maintains that all men from Crete lie. His description is only meaningful as long as we keep him, the man from Crete, out of the picture. But this meaning ceases to exist the moment we allow the content of his expression to refer back to him, i.e. to the person who utters the saying. Inclusive self-reference means that we include the speaker in his own expression. When we do that we immediately start to ask ourselves whether the man speaks the truth or not. And we cannot solve this. If it is true that all men from Crete lie, then this speaking man from Crete lies too. But then it is not true that all men from Crete lie. This paradox describes, in fact, a insoluble performative contradiction.

The most compact definition of this paradox which has been handed to us by the ancient philosophers, in this case by Cicero, is the one from a certain Eubulides of Megara. Perhaps Augustine, too, knew this quotation since he was a fervent reader of Cicero: If you say you lie and if you then speak the truth, then you are lying. If you say I lie and it is true, so it is true what you say, then you lie, because you say to be doing something which you are not doing. We are dealing with contradictions which occur simultaneously which cannot, however, be resolved, as in the case of dialectisable metaphysical paradoxes or of a coincidenta oppositorum (Cusanus). This simultaneous happening has been created by the retorsion-technique and not by the reconciling work of one or other dialectical synthesis.

Obviously, the protest of common sense philosophers is very likely. Normally we understand very well, after all, that when I say I lie that on the moment of speaking the act of my speech has to be excluded from the content of what I say. Bertrand Russell in his Principia Mathematica elaborated upon this logic of the exclusion for the sake of the reliability of expressions. It produced the famous theory of types which may easily be considered to be an anti-paradox medication. This has to be taken in order to eradicate unreal problems from the world of thinking. The most probable and strong C Aristotle would say absolute (haplous) C meaning rests on differentiating between two different levels of speaking. (Rhet. 1402a) On the first level something is said about a collection of phenomena (all men from Crete). On the second level or meta-level, something is said which does not have itself as the object. That level is excluded from the collection and has to be regarded as a neutral point. The absolute (meta-) level should not be confused with the relative. In order to avoid paradoxes Russells ban on inclusive self-reference has to be obeyed. But the sophists refuse to take the anti-paradox medication of the logic of common sense. They thankfully and mischievously use retorsion.

Keeping in mind Lyotards discussion from the seventies of the sophists it is easy to trace rhetorical-sophist moments in his posthumously published interpretation of Augustine. In actual fact, the entire problem of the absolute conversion through confession is a problem of self-referential inclusion. Augustine longs for the absolute conversion. Such a conversions takes place without any leftovers. Everything, life as a whole is given over to God. That means that Augustine wants to confess to something such as: the totality of my life is the work of the Creator. Such a sentence is logically acceptable as long as one keeps following the road of the strongest probability and respects the ban on self-inclusion. But, in order to hear the weak probability and thus to deconstruct the evident meaning of the sentence, it is sufficient to sin against Russells principle. One simply has to include. The totality of my life is the work of the Creator then means: also the fact that I say: the totality of my life is the work of the Creator, is the work of the Creator. And if it is the Creator who creates this sentence, then I cease to be an actor, then my life ceases to be my life, and then the sentence exists in its paradoxical contradiction. The work of confessing, telling and meditating is only my work as far as it is yours Lyotard writes.[18] With regard to the absolute creator there is no personal or individual life. And exactly through this radical paradox the entrance to the absolute confession is blocked; because the truth of the sentence the totality of my life is work of the creation implies at the same time its untruth. In short: Augustine is Cout of confessional piety - in his confessions a sinner against the modern piety of the taboo on inclusive self-reference. And it is because of that pious sinfulness that the church father deserves the name postmodern.

Dissimulation in theo-politics or the dual track of modernity and postmodernity

The non-inclusion principle implies that one C like Aristotle and Russell C differentiates between absolute and relative, between first and second (meta-level) order of speaking. But according to Lyotard the principle as such is not at all reliable. It is not immune to sophist attacks. The principle implies exactly the same performative contradiction as the one common sense thinking pretends to shield it from. After all, it says in one breath something about both types which demand to be treated separately, namely that they need to remain separate. Thus, in comparing the two sentences one has to do exactly what one sought to exclude. One has to take the absolute sentence and the relative sentence in one view. Every differentiating principle silently presupposes after all a third factor for comparison. If I have two sentences of which one is placed on a neutral meta-level and the other only has relative validity, then I have to presuppose a third proposition, a meta-meta-proposition, which decides on the entirety of the first and second order-sentences. But such a third level of principle presupposes in turn a higher, fourth-order-meta-sentence and so on. The attempt to escape from paradoxality of self-reference through the logical ban on inclusion leads to a regression ad infinitum, a continuous postponement of the availability of the meta-sentence, a retreat of the truth which, as we have seen, is characteristic of negative theology and modern metaphysics.

Lyotard presents ostensibly an alternative. The choice is either sophistic self-inclusion of a proposition or endless philosophical-metaphysical regression. The alternative concerns the practice either of effective speaking without a determining criterion, or a speaking in which the ordering influence of an absolute, unattainable truth is believed. Either retorsion and insoluble oppositions, or coincidenta oppositorum and unattainable reconciliation. To a certain extent, it is the alternative of respectively postmodernism and modernism.

To a certain extent: the situation is more complex than might appear from the abovementioned. In the seventies Lyotard seemed for a moment to take the alternative in the sense of a clear possibility of choice. At the time he considered Augustine only as the representative of negative-theological metaphysics. Freud and Nietzsche were to him the thinkers of the sophist principle. In La Confession dAugustin he clearly retreated from that position. After all, if it is true what the sophists teach C that one has to think in terms of dissimulation C then it is impossible to choose. Negative theology and sophist scripture are indivisible. Then things are plausible both according to their strong as to their weak probability. The alternative appears to be soaked in indecisiveness. It concerns two sides of one medal which cannot be obtained separately but are neither ever both in view at the same time. The postmodern does not come after the modern, but is hidden therein like a secret and unpredictable force.

By confronting Lyotards early text La force des faibles with his reading of Augustines confessions I have tried to bring to light the postmodern moment in Augustines theo-political thinking. The postmodern is related to the endless search for the absolute. Augustine is focused on the absolute which does not allow itself to be caught in or be related to conceptual and formal structures of representation. The absolute for him is something like the breath which keeps life and thus the spiritual search going. The desire to praise you is your work already, and my unrest emerges from the fact that the relative is being moved by the absolute.[19] Postmodern and modern relate one to the other as the theatrical theology of Varro relates to the pure theo-politics of Augustines De Civitate Dei. The theatrical is replaced or supplemented by the spiritual quest, expressed in the newly invented genre of the Confessions.

Augustines postmodern theo-politcal spirituality comprises the search for what makes us to search. A search for the thing indicated by Lacan and Lyotard as being the Thing (La Chose). Once upon a time, in a time before chronology, a time-other-than-temporality, we were touched be this Thing, this Res. But now we are living in the retrait du reel.[20] And still we are searching for it, through imaginary inventions. As if the Thing never ceases to work. But be aware, such searching can only take place in the comfortable field of daily truths and probabilities, in the field where Aristotelian logic of the non-contradiction reigns supreme. Augustines postmodern spirituality searches for the absolute in C among other things C the great stories and the dogmatic considerations of the Christian religion. But despite and thanks to his metaphysical modernity which poses God as absolute arche in the transcendental, the absolute crawls around in his negative-theological thinking in the incognito of sophist retorsions.

As a modern and negative theologian Augustine knows that the absolute is beyond reach for what humanly is possible. He knows that finding it is an absurdity and thus equals non-finding (proposition 3). It makes him neither melancholic nor nostalgic. It opens him up for the unexpected kairos-moment of the retorsion. Because he knows as well that C in turn C non-finding is better than finding (proposition 1) and that non-finding is a form of finding (proposition 2). What is found is the absolute which cannot be found which urges on to search. Thus Augustine travels along a dual track C and Lyotard follows him in that: the track of modern spirituality which promises under the flag of negative theology that, which it cannot provide, and the track of the postmodern spirituality which through sophist retorsion provides what it cannot promise.

Augustines theo-political thinking in De Civitate Dei has its supplement in his Confessiones, which describe his permanent and infinite quaestio, his searching of that unknown and unknowable Thing, the Res, that incites him to search. In that sense, we could re-entitle his so-called autobiography In Civitate Rei. The confessions are written under the reign of the Thing. Theatrical theo-political thinking exists on the basis of an infinite search. Expression and imagination forced by the unexpressable and the absolute.


[1]All references to Les Miserables will be taken from the following edition: Les Miserables, Paris: Le Livre de Poche, 1985. Page numbers will be indicated in the text.

[2]This puts Hugo in a difficult position vis--vis the political Left (inspired by Marx), whose progressive agenda for societys miserables is based on secular views of social justice is diametrically opposed to the Rights invocation of religious virtue as the starting point for social transformation. (Oddly, because of Marxs influence on the European Left, Hugos views are much closer to those of the American Left, where religion is still a vibrant part of its political culture---though of course much less stridently so than the American Right whose sectarianism often runs into conflict with the proverbial separation between Church and State. Europeans see much less separation than do Americans. What Americans consider innocuous symbols rooted in tradition Europeans see as explicit forms of religious expressione.g., swearing on the Bible at court proceedings, In God we trust printed on the currency, prayer by the chaplain opening a session of Congress, etc.

[3]First, love God with all thy heart soul and mind; second, love thy neighbor as thyself.

[4]Perfect justice in the perfect application of the law will inevitably be unjust as the rule envisions not every possible application but only the most general. The exception, while not delegitimizing the rule, nevertheless proves the limitation of the rule, hence the importance of the judge, who places himself between the law and the manner of its application.

[5]This theory was first propounded, famously, by Schiller in his Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man (1801). Schiller is inspired by Kants thesis in his third Critique that the sentiment of the sublime (the feeling of respect for the minds supersensible vocation) leads to a mental attunement (Stimmung) of the same type that is required for man to realize the moral law. Whereas Kant conceives this as an analogous relation (between aesthetic and practical judgment) which may lead one from the aesthetic to the moral, Schiller posits a necessary relation. Thus according to Schiller art (qua beauty) links the two opposite conditions of feeling and thinking (137).

[6] More precisely, on the basis of a distinction made by a pagan priest-martyr Scaevola. (De Civitate Dei lV:27, compare lll:28)

[7] Compare Lyotard, Jean-Fran?ois Economie libidinale. Paris, 1974, pp. 15-21.

[8] Economie libidinale, pp. 15-16.

[9] Lyotard, Jean-Fran?ois Discours, figure. Paris, 1971, pp. 135ff.

[10] Seduction of violence, as explains Augustine in a predication on the conversion of Saint Paul and of a certain pagan called Faustinus. (Sermo 279)

[11] On God as stage director, for instance Confessiones V, vii,12-V, viii,13.)

[12] La logique quil nous faut : www.platina.frl/Deleuze/bib.html; Sur la force des faibles in : LARC (no. 64) Aix-en-Provence, 1976, pp. 4-12.

[13] Absent in the article Rtorsion en thoplitique (Rudiments pa?ens, Paris, 1977, pp. 60-80), conversion is not analysed by Lyotard before his posthumous La confession dAugustin, where the rhetorical analysis does not play a role. My text is a reconstruction of such an analysis la manire de Lyotard des annes 70.

[14] Dissoi logoi is the title of a treatise by an unknown author from Megara, regularly referred to as Dialexis. The title is based on the opening lines of the text, according to which about any case an intelligent speaker would be able to argument with double and heterogeneous arguments. The dissoi logoi are to be seen as the source for Lyotards famous concept of the diffrend.

[15] La logique quil nous faut, 7 febr. 1975.

[16] Lyotard, Jean-Fran?ois La Confession dAugustin, p. 58-59.

[17] Ibid., p. 27.

[18] La Confession dAugustin, p. 67.

[19] La confession dAugustin, p. 67.

[20] Lyotard, Jean-Fran?ois Le postmoderne expliqu aux enfants, p. 21.