The Economy of Matrimony

The renunciation of the eschatological imperative in Christian thought and practice is consummated in the modern period.5 It is nevertheless necessary to realize that this transformation of the character of Christianity did not arise through a straightforward rejection of eschatology. Rather, the doctrinal and conceptual territory of eschatology was "reoccupied," to use Hans Blumenberg's term, by the promises of human rationality, techno-scientific progress and the socio-political possibilities that coincided with the extraordinary pretensions of an enlightened "Man" who believed in the perfectibility of the world through the principles of reason:

Such is therefore the work of the good principle - unnoticed to human eye yet constantly advancing - in erecting a power and a kingdom for itself within the human race, in the form of a community according to the laws of virtue that proclaims the victory over evil and, under its dominion, assures the world of an eternal peace. (Kant 1996a: 153)

Kant's claim, quite remarkable in tone and uncompromising in its expectancy, comes in the seventh, and concluding, section of the third part of his Religion book which is entitled

"The Gradual Transition of Ecclesiastic Faith Toward the Exclusive Sovereignty of Pure Religious Faith in the Coming Kingdom." Pure religious faith is not simply concerned with an inner morality but with the juridical framework within which, and through which, peaceable living is engendered and the kingdom might be realized. The disruption of the law that is the sign of the immanent kingdom in Paul's messianic proclamation is wholly dismissed in this concrete establishment of a juridical virtue and an immanent kingdom of goods. Indeed, as Alain Badiou puts it, what is original in the Pauline noneconomy of grace is that it opposes "law insofar as it is what comes without being due" (Badiou 1997: 81). Kant, in contrast, requires a measurable duty that economizes on the need for grace. It is impossible to overemphasize the degree to which the Kantian vision of the kingdom is antithetical to a Pauline anticipation that requires not duty but grace of an immeasurable kind.

Unsurprisingly, the legalistic realization of eschatology undertaken by Kant is most fully clarified in his reflections on sexual economy. The law that Paul renders problematic is a central element of the true and rational taxonomy of the human as good. Consequently, "if a man and a woman want to enjoy each other's sexual attributes they must necessarily marry, and this is necessary in accordance with pure reason's laws of right" (Kant 1996b: 62). Only in the context of right, contract and a juridical morality can "Man" be saved from the destruction of his selfhood:

For the natural use that one sex makes of the other's sexual organs is enjoyment, for which one gives itself up to the other. In this act a human being makes himself into a thing, which conflicts with the right of humanity in his own person. There is only one condition under which this is possible: that while one person is acquired by the other as if it were a thing, the one who is acquired acquires the other in turn; for in this way each reclaims itself and restores its personality. But acquiring a human being is at the same time acquiring the whole person, since a person is an absolute unity. Hence it is not only admissible for the sexes to surrender and to accept each other for enjoyment under the condition of marriage, but it is possible for them to do so only under this condition. (Kant 1996b: 62)6

The ideology of morality in practice demands a reciprocal possession that itself requires the sovereignty of the self and the rejection of various modes of desire. Desire that rules the body - be it desire for intimacy, the divine, or erotic enjoyment - can only rightfully occur once it is mastered by the law and occurs within the parameters of the contractual, juridical agreement that we call marriage.7 Once again, Kant accounts for subjectivity and meaning in a manner that is both totalizing and evaluative. While Paul revokes the mastery of desire because of a radical shift in the order of things that is realized in the resurrected Christ, Kant is intent on divinizing order qua order in moral terms. It is this ideology that dominates the social and theological teaching of contemporary Christianity, an ideology that achieves its force in the refusal of the Messiah and that provides the very condition of desirability of the enjoyment it rejects.

More seriously, however, the moral evaluation of sexual desire neglects the kind of subjects that we have become, a failing that it shares with the type of sacrificial economy that capital itself has acquired. Late-modern subjects inhabit the limbo that is situated between the moral and the sacrificial, between the absolutely secured subject and the wholly annihilated self. Capital and the church provide the (necessarily) incongruous backdrops for this vapid drama in a perverse symbiosis that engenders debt and guilt in equal measure. There is no longer a specifically human eros, yearning for love, politics and ultimately God that drives and fuels existence towards its telos. In its wake comes a sentient desire that is fundamentally quiescent and static in character.

In effect, the status of our desiring, and its consequences, was revealed by Alexandre Kojève in a short lecture on Hegel in December 1937. This lecture shocked the champion of the redemptive character of sacrifice, Georges Bataille, because in it Kojève claims that the sacrificial ends in a "'beautiful death' but death just the same: total, definitive failure" (Kojève 1988: 89). And Kantian morality is rejected because it fails in a different manner: it is "utter inactivity . . . hence a Nothingness" (Kojève 1988: 87). In both these cases Kojève is repudiating economies. In the case of Kant, the economy of right and value measures everything against the status quo. In the economy of violent transgression in Bataille, everything is measured in relation to its negation. Neither perspective will suffice in the face of a contemporary context that Kojève outlined in detail during the 1930s.

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