Paul and Political Theology: nihilism, empire and the messianic vocation

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Baker, Gideon
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2015
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Abstract

Nihilism, for Nietzsche, is the nothing that results from the devaluation of the highest values. There is widespread agreement with Nietzsche’s claim that the apostle Paul was the great devaluer of the values of the ancient world, even to the extent of breaking the history of the world in two. Yet the mode of Paul’s devaluating nihilism is contested. Using Nietzsche’s three types of nihilist, I frame this debate over Paul as giving us, respectively, Paul the reactive nihilist (Nietzsche), Paul the active nihilist (Taubes) and Paul the overman (Badiou). I then read Agamben’s messianic Paul as a way to avoid the problem of nihilism tout court, which the two earlier accounts, despite releasing Paul from Nietzsche’s charge of passive nihilism, do not. I finish by arguing that while Agamben’s construction of the Pauline messianic vocation does indeed break with Nietzsche’s categories of nihilism, nihilism remains necessary to a genealogy of both Paul’s and Agamben’s messianism.

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Philosophy & Social Criticism
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Political science
Political theory and political philosophy
History and philosophy of specific fields
Philosophy
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