Sovereignty and Political Mythologies


The Cartesian mind/body dualism that has come to dominate western thinking for centuries has an unacknowledged affinity with the split in sovereign power that once characterized the king’s two bodies. In this medieval political theology the king is said to have both a physical-temporal body that eventually dies and another body that represents the politically sovereign and eternal body. Secularized Cartesian mind/body dualism, where the mind becomes an eternal force of reason acting within a corrupted embodied existence, the king’s two bodies reflect a hierarchical imposition of dominance that justifies a more deeply engrained master/slave duality.

In this talk, Dickinson argued that the western metaphysical backdrop for the king’s two bodies and for Descartes’ philosophy alike conceals a more menacing political mythology with racist, sexist and colonialist implications. By turning to the writings of Achille Mbembe on ‘necropolitics’ and Calvin Warren on ‘black nihilism’, Dickinson suggested that the best way to understand the political-theological imagination of various contemporary western political mythologies is to comprehend modern forms of emancipatory nihilism as a response to an oppressive metaphysics that has been used for centuries to sustain political accounts of sovereign power. By investigating this context, Dickinson aimed to demonstrate how western politics today has generally yet to take notice and disavow its own racist, sexist and colonialist metaphysical heritage, something it must do if greater advances in justice are to be achieved. 

Colby Dickinson is Associate Professor of Theology at the Loyola University Chicago. He has published and researches on the relationship of contemporary continental thought and systematic theology, mainly focusing on the works of Walter Benjamin, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Giorgio Agamben and Paul Ricoeur.

Katerina Koci, Research Director of the Woman without a Name progam, was the moderator.