Daniel M Bell Jr

The temptation is to approach the topic of the state and civil society from the vantage point of the various currents of theological thought that since the mid-1960s have been identified as "political theology." The task would then be to examine the ways these theologies have both interpreted those political realities and construed Christianity's relation to them. But, as other essays in this volume suggest, the question of Christian political engagement precedes the birth of the contemporary theological movements collectively known as "political theology." Indeed, as the proponents of several strands of political theology remind us, all theology is always already political. Expanding upon this insight, this essay begins with an understanding of "the political" and "politics" in the broadest sense. Politics and the designation "political" do not in the first instance refer to the machinations and deceits of state and party officials, but to the social arrangement of bodies, the organization of human communities (the root meaning of "polity" or "politics"). Moreover, intrinsic to this organization, to politics, is an act of imagination. Although always concerned with the arrangement of bodies, every politics involves the (re)production of a vision, a mythos, of community.

This insight provides our entrée to the theological and, in particular, to political theology. To assert that every theology is always already political is to recognize that every theology embodies, either implicitly or explicitly, a mythos, a vision of how human communities ought to be organized. As Carl Schmitt (1888-1985), a rather notorious forerunner of contemporary political theology, recognized early in the twentieth century, theological concepts and images have political correlates. (See chapter 8 by Michael Hollerich in this volume.) Of course, the recognition of the political impact of the theological, and of the Christian mythos in particular, has roots that extend much deeper than the early twentieth century. In the history of Christian thought it finds one of its earliest and most profound articulations in Augustine's City of God. There the political theology of Rome is subjected to a theological critique, the heart of which is Augustine's claim that such a theology cannot bestow salvation, for salvation is found at the altar of another city, the city of God (See chapter 3 by Jean Bethke Elshtain in this volume.)

Given that all theology is always already political, to address the issue of the state and civil society in political theology beginning with political theology's contemporary manifestations is to commence the story too late. This is the case, however, not because the history of Christian political engagement is much older, for actually the history of Christian engagement with what we recognize as "the state" and "civil society" is not that much older than contemporary political theology. Rather, the concern is a theological one. This is to say, if the treatment of these matters is to be particularly theological - that is, governed by norms and modalities of judgment anchored in the Christian mythos instead of in the mythos of modern social science or political philosophy - then we are compelled to initiate our tale just prior to the advent of "the state" and "civil society." For, as we will see, to begin the conversation once the state and civil society have been ensconced in our imaginations such that they have attained the status of a "given," such that they appear as simply "facts," is to have acquiesced, perhaps unknowingly, in a crucial theological judgment regarding the character of Christianity's political presence in the world.

There are a number of ways one could treat the similarities and differences that characterize the approaches of the sundry forms of contemporary political theology to the state and civil society. The popular imagination might suggest that the truly important differences lie along the axes determined by such categories as liberal and (neo)conservative, greens and laborites, capitalists and socialists, and so forth. As a distinctly theological reading, advanced in the spirit of Augustine, the axis of judgment in this essay is at once soteriological, escha-tological, ecclesiological: What are the theological presuppositions that underwrite contemporary political theologies? What do their visions of the state and civil society say about the nature and mission of the church, the nature of God's activity in history, the character of salvation? What is the proper political correlate of the Christian mythos?

Such an analysis suggests that the proponents of three prominent strands of political theology - political theology proper, Latin American liberation theology, and public theology - for all of their important differences, nevertheless are in substantial agreement concerning the nature of Christian engagement with such political realities as the state and civil society. I identify these strands as collectively constituting the dominant tradition of Christian political theology today. While no single movement currently exerts hegemonic influence over the field of contemporary theological reflection, nevertheless, taken together these movements embody what is unquestionably the dominant paradigm for conceiving of political theology today. By way of contrast, I then present what may be labeled an "emergent tradition." This emergent tradition may loosely be called "postliberal." In theological parlance, such a designation usually refers to certain methodological moves associated with the likes of Alasdair MacIntyre and George Lindbeck. Here the emphasis is upon the political difference such moves engender in the work of several prominent theologians typically identified as postliberal.

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