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.
The Politics of Transcendence
HARALD WYDRA IS A FELLOW OF ST CATHARINE'S COLLEGE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE WHERE HE HAS TAUGHT POLITICS SINCE 2003. HE HAS HELD VISITING FELLOWSHIPS AT THE ÉCOLE DES HAUTES ETUDES EN SCIENCES SOCIALES IN PARIS AND THE AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY IN CANBERRA AS WELL AS A VISITING PROFESSORSHIP AT THE UNIVERSITÉ PARIS OUEST NANTERRE LA DÉFENSE. HE IS A FOUNDING EDITOR OF THE JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL POLITICAL ANTHROPOLOGY. HIS MOST RECENT BOOKS ARE COMMUNISM AND THE EMERGENCE OF DEMOCRACY (CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2007) AND, AS CO-EDITOR, DEMOCRACY AND MYTH IN RUSSIA AND EASTERN EUROPE (ROUTLEDGE, 2008).