Book Review: Paul Kahn, Political Theology: Four New Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty
Law, Culture and the Humanities, Vol. 8
7 Pages Posted: 27 Sep 2011 Last revised: 28 Oct 2011
Date Written: September 15, 2011
This is an extraordinarily rich and insightful book. Many political theorists pay lip service to Carl Schmitt's "concept of sovereignty" and famous catchphrase, "sovereign is he who decides on the exception," but very few have have attempted to understand the meaning of that concept in its full context. With this book, Paul Kahn has undertaken that project by rewriting Schmitt's Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty chapter by chapter for our own political age. His overarching goal is to answer the question of what we can still learn from Schmitt about the tension between the rule of law and sovereign power under a political system that substitutes the concept of popular sovereignty for Schmitt's idea of the sovereign. Kahn succeeds in demonstrating the deep and continuing relevance of Schmitt's famously anti-liberal philosophy for liberal-democratic societies, and the modifications of that philosophy required when Schmitt's anti-liberal bias is discarded. In this brief review, I consider one of Kahn's most important themes, the notion of "freedom" he finds implicit in Schmitt's theory. Kahn's book is largely devoted to the transformation of this notion in political societies founded on the concept of popular sovereignty. Here I express some doubts about Kahn's overly-optimistic view of that apparent transformation.
Keywords: Schmitt, Paul Kahn, sovereignty, popular sovereignty, political theology
JEL Classification: K00, K19, K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation