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The Babylon ComplexTheopolitical Fantasies of War, Sex, and Sovereignty$
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Erin Runions

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780823257331

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823257331.001.0001

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From Babel to Biopolitics

From Babel to Biopolitics

Josephus, Theodemocracy, and the Regulation of Pleasure

(p.46) One From Babel to Biopolitics
The Babylon Complex

Erin Runions

Fordham University Press

This chapter looks at how the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 becomes a facilitator of biopolitics. The Jewish historian and Roman apologist Josephus, writing in the first century of the Common Era, is the first to turn the story into one about proper modes of governance. The political ideals that Josephus conveys in his version—drawn from Greek and Roman ideals—were largely transmitted via Christianity and have indelibly marked transmission of this story. This chapter shows that Josephus’s version, including his addition of the tyrant Nimrod, carries with it a suspicion of ancient democracy as an impious and tyrannical locus of pleasure and moral dissolution and a threat to established hierarchies. Josephan allusions to the Babel story can still be heard in U.S. partisan politics, from Nimrod name-calling, to fear of Tocqueville’s “soft despotism” and demands for self-sacrifice. Both sides of the partisan divide use the story to promote theodemocracy: They require faith in the Christian God, democracy that preserves social hierarchies, and heteropatriarchal sexual regulation. The chapter shows how theodemocracy works to promote (bio)political subjectivity (the subject of interest), to secure the free flow of capital, and to control its distribution.

Keywords:   Babel, biopolitics, Genesis 11, Josephus, Nimrod, soft despotism, subject of interest, theodemocracy

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