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Common GoodsEconomy, Ecology, and Political Theology$
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Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre, Catherine Keller, and Elias Ortega-Aponte

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780823268436

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823268436.001.0001

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Between a Rock and an Empty Place

Between a Rock and an Empty Place

Political Theology and Democratic Legitimacy

Chapter:
(p.307) Between a Rock and an Empty Place
Source:
Common Goods
Author(s):

Paulina Ochoa Espejo

Publisher:
Fordham University Press
DOI:10.5422/fordham/9780823268436.003.0016

Since the 1990s political theorists have revisited the debate about the theological origins of the concept of sovereignty and particularly the question of how these origins affect the legitimacy of contemporary democracy. In particular, Claude Lefort’s political theology has become an obligatory reference in debates about representation, populism, and democratic legitimacy. According to Lefort, what keeps a democratic order from collapsing into totalitarianism is the legacy of a divine conception of sovereignty, which left “an empty place” in its wake. For Lefort and his contemporary followers, the hope and promise of democracy requires that we leave this place untouched. This essay argues that despite its many strengths in explaining twentieth-century totalitarianism, Lefort’s view cannot provide the positive political morality that democracy requires because it retains the hang-ups of early modern sovereignty such as its decisionistic conception of divine and earthly power. Rather than thinking of popular sovereignty as a negative place that demands distance and awe, democracy could profit from acknowledging the inherent indeterminacy of the people as a positive force that requires creativity and produces change. The people conceived as a process is not unified or complete, but it does exist, and it can be a positive source of political morality. I illustrate the idea by looking at the border of the United States and Mexico, where the “Security Fence” symbolizes sovereignty, and the people as process creatively work around it.

Keywords:   decisionism, empty place, legitimacy, the people, process

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