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Political Theology: The Authority of God

Avishai Margalit


There are two theses that are intimately related to the idea of authority.

One is political theology. It is associated with the name of Carl

Schmitt. The second is moral theology. It is associated with Elizabeth

Anscombe (though she never used the expression ‘moral theology’).

Political theology is the claim that key notions in modern and secular

political doctrines are unwittingly moored in theological and teleological

world views. These notions in their secularized versions make no

sense and can be validated only within a theological frame for which

they were designed. ‘Sovereignty’ and ‘authority’ are paradigmatic

cases of such key notions. Moral theology is a parallel claim. Key

moral notions in modern moral doctrines are moored in a theological

and teleological frame. They gain their currency only in such a frame.

Unmoored, as these notions are in a current secular frame, they have

lost their sense. ‘Obligation’ and ‘duty’ are paradigmatic examples of

such notions anchored in the old idea of God the law-giver. Without

God the law-giver these notions make very little sense. Secular morality

is like the famous explanation of what wireless is. Well, you know

what wire is. It is like a dog: you pull its tail in Jerusalem and it barks

in Rome. Now, wireless works like wire, but without the dog. Morality

without God is like wireless without the dog.

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