In The Utopian, Yale Law professor Paul W. Kahn argues that the discourse and imaginary of secular political theory fail to grasp the deep and abiding theological—specifically, sacrificial—dimensions of U.S. politics and the American political imagination.
If the purpose of American governance were simply to solve coordination problems among individuals, then justice would be the appropriate measure of political life. However, Americans do not believe in America because it is a means to some other good. It is itself a source of meaning that can displace all others. Indeed, Americans may have a poorly developed social-welfare state because to them politics is first of all a project of transcendent meaning. If the object of our inquiry is not justice but meaning, then the form of inquiry must shift from political theory to political theology.
While it is often proffered that governing tropes of sacrifice, rebirth, and sovereign presence underwrite America’s imperial adventures, Kahn’s analysis of how they suffuse even the more mundane workings of the U.S. political system constitutes a novel—and fascinating—contribution to the literature.
Read the essay in full here.