Religion, Politics, and the Earth: The New Materialism– Chapter 3 Politics

This post is a part of the Religion, Politics, and The Earth blog tour. Below is an analysis of Crockett and Robbins’ chapter on Politics. One can buy the book here

The idea of politics as an arena for activism or a place where non-political human beings, i.e. non-politicians, join in a unique struggle to change the political landscape dominates Western culture. The rise of online petition websites and the emergence of the Obama administration’s “We The People” line of communication signify that politics is a discrete profession that lay persons may only enter as a special occasion. Crockett and Robbins challenge this picture of politics. Jacques Ranciere and Antonio Negri provide the basis for their thesis: “[D]emocracy is the very principle of politics—not that democracy is the least bad system of politics, or that democracy is one governing system among other first defined in the taxonomy of Aristotle’s Politics, but that it is only by the quintessentially democratic rejection of the prerogative to rule of the entitlement to govern that politics is born by the coming to power of the people.”

State power is a derived power, and the State derives its power from the people within a given State. The distinction between State-politics and the truly political for Crockett and Robbins, then, is “that no matter how alienated, how disenfranchised, or how exploited they may feel or they may be, that without the people’s consent—whether avowed or disavowed, tacit or expressed—the system would wither and die without their life giving force.”

A rare thought, indeed.

Crockett and Robbins, in addition to defining a democratic landscape of the political, are concerned with delineating the materialist parameters of the political. Thus, the question of “Who will decide the destiny of humanity?” The destiny of humanity is bracketed currently, waiting on the completion of a democratic-revolution-interrupted.

Crockett and Robbins analyze the emergence of religion repoliticized; a departure from the Enlightenment trends of personalization and privatization of religion. By moving away from an apolitical religion, the New Materialism interacts with the type of religion mentioned in Joel’s post four days ago. Religion as politicized is apparent in the June 2009 protests in Iran. The colors, the chants, and the ethos of the protests took on the character of a “genuine popular uprising,” not a religious/sectarian/dogmatic revolution.

A few days ago in France, the countrywide legalization of gay marriage passed through the government. Constantly in the American media, stories are being published about the changing tides of American public opinion concerning gay marriage, marijuana, and other issues. Usually, these shifts in public opinion are accompanied by a question: “Will the governors, representatives, senators, and president respond to these changes adequately?”

In this question, the line between the political and politics can be seen. The power of the State is derived, but it seems as if the people from which the power originates have forgotten themselves as the source of political power. The ceding of political power operates as a false consciousness to elevate the derived power to the ultimate material force in deciding the destiny of humanity. Such a situation is what Crockett and Robbins bemoan as the “perverse logic” by which States procure enemies as a necessity. That is to say, the State creates and sustains an enemy for fear of losing the illusory position of supreme power.

How can people realize the derived status of political power?

That is the continuing question that Crockett and Robbins address throughout the rest of the book. The political message is central to understanding the new power dynamics of a New Materialism, but the conclusions to the problems of politics vs. the political are hidden within the rest of the topics interrogated by Crockett and Robbins: Art, Ethics, Energy, Logic. The main leap that a member of a neo-liberal state ideology must make is to realize that politics as such is not political. The Political is the power in potentia (Spinoza’s potentia) not the construction and manipulation of the Statist political machinery as such.


Once again, feel free to read the reviews and purchase Religion, Politics, and the Earth. Amazon



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