By Sergei Prozorov
Contemporary critical security studies increasingly turns to the problematic of political theology. This interest and inquiry into the theological origins of today’s political concepts and categories enables more effective critical interventions in contemporary politics. “Messianism” is one of the less explored aspects of political theology in security studies.
While its connotations of a fundamental rupture and the coming of something radically other appear to be of little relevance to the problematic of security, this article explores the implications of rethinking security in the messianic key.
In my recent Security Dialogue piece, “Like a thief in the night: Agamben, Hobbes and the messianic transvaluation of security,” I focus on Agamben’s reinterpretation of Hobbes’s Leviathan in Stasis, which restores an eschatological dimension to this foundational text of modern security politics. Hobbes’s commonwealth has been traditionally read as a secularized version of the katechon, a force that restrains the state of nature while drawing on its resources. Instead, Agamben argues that for Hobbes, the state is neither the analogue of God’s kingdom on earth nor the katechon that delays its arrival, but the profane power that will disappear when the kingdom of God is established on earth.
The Hobbesian state is thus in principle incapable of attaining the peace and security that it claims to provide, perpetually producing insecurity and violence in the guise of protection.
Rather than read Hobbes’s theory in the familiar terms of the exchange of liberty for security, Agamben insists that the Hobbesian commonwealth ensures no such trade-off and the Leviathan and Behemoth, order and disorder, remain entwined to the point of indistinction in every secular order. The Hobbesian state is thus in principle incapable of attaining the peace and security that it claims to provide, perpetually producing insecurity and violence in the guise of protection.
This diagnosis is confirmed by the contemporary transformations in the governmental rationalities of security that increasingly problematize the costs and inefficiency of security apparatuses and seek to devolve both the costs and provision of security to the subjects themselves through privatization, responsibilization and the ethics of resilience. And yet, the privatization, devolution or abolition of many of the security functions of the state do not entail its withering away. It is as if Leviathan not only learned to coexist with Behemoth, but also succeeded in making this coexistence the basis of something like an ‘ethics’ of eternal insecurity.
If pure security is unattainable, should critical security studies simply renounce security altogether? I argue that this would be counter-productive, since it is only from the perspective of security that the state could be judged and found wanting. The messianic approach affirms neither a pure security that cannot be attained nor the insecurity that no one could possibly want, but rather security from security, safety from the harm that comes with being secured by the Leviathan that always uncannily resembles Behemoth. Security is something that we desire and demand but, having seen that our demands lead to nothing more than insecurity, we are now content to be secure from it. Messianic security thus is a modest and transient – but still perfectly real – experience of relief from being secured.