The Babylon ComplexTheopolitical Fantasies of War, Sex, and Sovereignty

The Babylon ComplexTheopolitical Fantasies of War, Sex, and Sovereignty

Erin Runions

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780823257331

Publisher: Fordham University Press


Following allusions to Babylon in secular and religious discourse in the decade after 9.11, this book explores the complicated influence of the Bible on U.S. political thought. Babylon is a surprisingly multivalent symbol in U.S. culture and politics. This composite biblical figure—taken from interpretive traditions about Babylon, Babel, and the Whore of Babylon—is variously used to celebrate diversity and also to condemn it, to sell sexuality and to regulate it, to worry about homogeneous tyrannical imperialism and to galvanize the “war on terror” and the war in Iraq. Babylon becomes so much a site of admiration and an object of vilification that the United States can be said to have a Babylon complex. This book shows that the Babylon complex contends with anxieties about the loss of political sovereignty in economic globalization, while encouraging the very market forces that undermine sovereignty. Shifting and contradictory allusions to Babylon reveal a theopolitically motivated biopolitics that tries to balance the drive for U.S. dominance with the countervailing moral ideals and forms of political subjectivity that further economic globalization and control the distribution of wealth. The centering and decentering impulses of Babylon and Babel give the composite figure the biblical authority to manage this tension and sustain U.S. empire. The book interrogates the interpretive moves by which the Bible gains its political authority and proposes instead other modes of reading that take the figure of Babylon as a catalyst for a detranscendentalized, queer, sublime, radically democratic polity.