Modern politics dogmatically separates politics from religion, the state from promises of salvation. This article makes a case for the fundamentally political nature of transcendence. It argues that the changing relationships between authority and salvation depend on culturally crafted engagements of the spiritual and the temporal. In a first part, I examine four key configurations of the political in the history of the West, which can be grasped as extraordinary form of “absolute” politics. From the adoption of Christianity by Constantine, the Gregorian reform, Luther's Reformation, and the French Revolution, secular forms of territorial power are grounded in an engagement between the spiritual and the temporal. In a second part, I show how ultimate ends influenced the emergence of secular forms of power. Although they lack tangible immediate effects and appear impracticable, ultimate ends shaped meanings of secular politics. Ultimate ends have been ritualized in practices of the modern state and the modern self, making the return of religion an inherent pillar of political modernity. Finally, the politics of transcendence must go beyond the friend–enemy distinction by incorporating the potentiality of forms of nonviolent political action, where the ends are superior to the means.

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