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Demonic Ambiguities: Enchantment and Disenchantment in Nathaniel Turner’s Virginia

40 Pages Posted: 4 Apr 2012 Last revised: 4 Jun 2012

Christopher Tomlins

University of California, Berkeley - Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program

Date Written: April 4, 2012

Abstract

This paper conjoins three texts – the “Confessions of Nat Turner,” Walter Benjamin’s “Capitalism as Religion,” and Max Weber’s “Science as a Vocation.” Benjamin and Weber provide interpretive prisms through which to examine Turner’s confession. Though quite unlike each other, each glances at the demonic – a matter of some significance when one considers the meaning of the “full faith and credit” held due the decision of the Southampton (Virginia) County Court to hang Turner for his attempted 1831 slave rebellion. Like guilt/debt, the dual meanings of Schuld that, for Benjamin, confirmed the existence of a religious – specifically a Christian – structure in capitalism, the conjunction of faith and credit has its own demonic ambiguity, simultaneously sacralizing (faith) and secularizing (credit) the authority of the law. In capitalism as religion and as law, these demonic ambiguities fuse together in an overwhelming simultaneity that is at once economic and juridical, moral and psychological, profane and sacral. This simultaneity – and Turner’s attempt to disrupt it – is the paper’s chief concern.

Suggested Citation

Tomlins, Christopher, Demonic Ambiguities: Enchantment and Disenchantment in Nathaniel Turner’s Virginia (April 4, 2012). UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2012-22. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2034443 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2034443

Christopher Tomlins (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program ( email )

Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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