While in many respects valuable, postsecularism also encompasses unhelpful views that wish to liberate us from the legacy of the Enlightenment, which is made the whipping boy for all manner of ruses and self-deceptions of power. Religion, in contrast, is revalued because it is a repository of truths hidden from rational subjectivity and belying the foundations of the liberal state. Such claims rest on highly disputable theories of secularization that selectively sample the past and themselves simplify the interrelationships between profane reason and religious lifeworlds that have gone into the construction of liberal democracies. My chief exhibit will be the work of Paul W. Kahn (professor of law and the humanities at Yale Law School and director of its Center for International Human Rights) and the marriage of his thought to Carl Schmitt’s. Schmitt is not a late encounter in Kahn’s work, though his stature has grown enormously in 2011’s Political Theology: Four New Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty. Kahn’s subject in the text is the relationship between American power and American culture, a relationship he defines as a “political theological project.” My purpose is not to defend America from Schmittian accusations but to use the case of Kahn to isolate errors of methodology, recklessness of anti-Enlightenment rhetoric, and exploitation of theology that I hope the best aspects of postsecularism can avoid going forward.
Research Article|February 01 2013