The Throne is Not Empty: A Calculus of Power

15 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2012 Last revised: 2 Nov 2012

Date Written: March 18, 2012


Giorgio Agamben's (The Kingdom and the Glory, Stanford, CA, 2011) rediscovery of the theological notion of oikonomia as the frame to think about government and administration is sociologically suggestive in every aspect but one. The three main ideas of Agamben's reconstruction of the theological genealogy of any political economy are that (a) the world is created by God as a perfectly ordered one, which (b) provides for anarchy in worldly matters to let people choose in freedom a behavior in compliance with creation, such that (c) any government has to provide for the means to attain and execute a power, which treasures arbitrariness to celebrate compliance. Angels in heaven and officials on earth make sure that human beings never loose sight of an order harnessing its own degrees of freedom. Those three ideas are convincing even if we drop the further idea of the 'empty throne,' or hetoimasia tou thronou, as interpreted by Agamben. Agamben needs the idea of the empty throne to be able to develop a certain metaphysics of a sovereign rule, which is all the more glorious the more inactive and indeed evasive it is, such that any government actually administrating worldly matters both gains its interpretative leeway in any concrete situation and may at any moment be subjected to questions regarding the legitimation it is claiming. This paper argues that we do not need metaphysics to set up the important distinction between rule (auctoritas) and government (potestas), as it got its canonical formulation by Adolphe Theirs "Le roi n'administre pas, ne gouverne pas, il r├Ęgne." Instead we regard this metaphysics together with its theological backing by the distinction between God's absolute power (potentia absoluta) and this very power bound by His previous decisions (power ordinata) as the both anticipatory and ideological formulations of a social calculus of power, which in fact does not need kings nor gods but just the other (sozius) to come into operation.

Keywords: Economy, Fear, Glory, oeconomia, Power, Social Calculus

JEL Classification: B00

Suggested Citation

Baecker, Dirk, The Throne is Not Empty: A Calculus of Power (March 18, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Dirk Baecker (Contact Author)

Witten/Herdecke University ( email )



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