babylonian virtues – minority report

by pasdelabas

Babylonian Virtues – Minority Report is the title of the second chapter by Gunjević in God in Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse.  I didn’t read directly a reference to the film Minority Report in the chapter which is, effectively, an evaluation of Negri and Hardt’s book Empire in the context of their use of Augustinian ideas to develop their idea of the multitude.  The point of reference is that the Roman Empire ended with the Augustinian announcement of the Christian Empire and that there is a lesson to be learned about how to end the capitalist Empire.

I have a copy of Empire but I’ve not read it.  I bought it because I kept finding it referenced in material I was reading and I understand it to be about well, Empire, the empire of capitalism and how to bring about its demise within the context of radical movements for social change.  I used to read bits by Negri back in 1979 to the early 1980s when I was frequenting elements of what was left of the radical Italian left (Autonomia Operaia, Lotta Continua).  I remember an ironic story related to me by a journalist at the time who had been a sympathiser of Negri’s in Padova:

When Negri started out he said that revolution lay in the hands of the workers.  When they rejected him he said that it was up to the students.  When they failed him he got sent to prison.  Now revolution is supposed to come from the prisons.

It always stuck in my mind that story and in Empire Negri has the revolution in the hands of the nomads, the deserters.  To quote Gunjević:

Hardt and Negri claim with authority that battles against Empire are won by refusal, by desertion, by deliberately embracing exodus, mobility, and nomadism.

But, asks Gunjević, is all we are doing to move on, how do we ever escape the web of relations and power that Empire maintains?  Just moving on? I might ask in reference to Zizek, what does that achieve beyond a pseudo-politicisation of the idea of personal libertarianism born of the 1960s. Hardt and Negri use, according to Gunjević, St Augustine’s writings to explore this – drawing on his central idea that it takes the whole body of the church to combat Empire, that it cannot be a movement of disparate groups but requires a large scale (catholic) united body to dislodge it.  For Hardt and Negri this the multitude.

Basically Gunjević suggests over a detailed discussion of Augustine’s City of God that the multitude lacks both the idea of virtue and a discipline of asceticism without which it is not possible to replace Empire.  As a radical anti-capitalist Gunjević takes it as a given that the immanent violence in the current system – the Empire now capitalist once Roman – needs countering but contends that transcendent values are central to this struggle. In other words Gunjević sees that only theological engagement offers the grounds for virtue, an engagement that is founded on discipline, this is the incarnational resource.

Babylon is the earthly city in this context and as such one that represents a non-contained violence, a primeval violence – one opposed to the Godly city where virtue (order/charity/helping your neighbour) and discipline (ascetic) point in the right direction. The reference to Minority Report would seem to suggest that the Babylonian earthly city is warning us from the future of the potential for a set of circumstances and we need to pay heed dear friends to the promptings of love and truth in our hearts, a reference to the opening statement of Quaker Advices and Queries.   Now that makes me chuckle but it fits!

 

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