The Politics of the Imperfect
On Global Politics: Building a Different World
Concrete Needs, Concrete Situations and Concrete Actions
The Global Context and Poly-Centric Perspectives – Taking Sides
I am speaking of global governance as a complex organisation which cannot be merely wished away. Getting from A to Z when you are at H requires that one go to I, J, and K, before X, Y, and Z. There have been movements to build a world government before, but that cannot even be an issue until America is reigned in – we are at a more preliminary phase of history, where even a weak institutional world federation would be a mammoth step forward in a world which cannot even have an effective United Nations. If we jump too far ahead in our thinking, we will become merely talkers and not actors of real history. We need to deal with the concrete and specific conditions of the world as it is evolving now.
Every single person upon this earth has a story to tell and a life to live.
Every single person is also radically finite, mortal, thrown upon the topography of the earth, and inhabiting an ultimately makeshift world.
Each in his or her way is also ‘eternal’ not only with respect to having been there, as a fact, or phenomenon, but also as a free and creative being engaged in his or her situation.
No one, no word, act or omission, no silence is every truly forgotten.
One tries to listen to all the stories, all the voices from across the world, but each is limited – there is only so much each of us can experience or know. One sifts through the material and makes a rough sketch of the evolving state of the planet.
Beyond the facticity of cosmopolitan life, each also seeks to speak with others, make connections, and create relations that transgress our own routine limited perspectives. Such relations are finite as each is finite, but this transgression of accomplices will have its ‘eternal’ impact in collective action.
It is upon this expanded topography that one begins to express strong instincts and suspicions in the context of a ‘we’, a relation. Experience and knowledge, experiencing and knowing, are collective as well as individual endeavours.
At the same time, however, life is not merely about ‘experience’ and ‘knowledge’, as it would be if one were merely a tourist of life, but life is primarily lived, and lived in very similar and basic manner by everyone – but in widely divergent avenues in terms of the quality of life. In this light, life is therefore about struggle, action, imagination, creativity, disappointment, patience, joy, sorrow, love and hate.
The tragic drama of life takes place upon a common earth, yet this place where we inexplicably live, ‘our world’, remains divided on so many grounds into an indefinite typology of territories, relations of subordination, servitude, hunger, violence, intimidation and outright murder or forced starvation.
Capital plays itself out as the global ‘gangster’ on this theatrical stage of a permanently militaristic political economy, democracy as McDonald’s-ization, franchises of KFC, Burger King, human trafficking – corruption, theft and chaos. Stock brokers snort cocaine off the bellies of corporate sponsored escorts while millions die of starvation, lack of access to clean water, to medicine, where the very principles of capital forbid the fulfilment of basic so-called ‘human rights’ (a thoroughly politicised and over-determined notion, rendered nearly meaningless via political and legal nihilism), and under the cynical cloak of ‘intellectual property,’ litigiously prevents the production (and distribution) of more affordable generic versions of food or drugs for the sake the poor.
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Marx and the Revolution of the Sacred
Religious suffering is at one and the same time the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. 
Religion is the general theory of that world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in a popular form, its spiritualistic point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, its universal source of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence because the human essence has no true reality. The struggle against religion is therefore indirectly a fight against the world of which religion is the spiritual aroma.
Perhaps the most formidable obstacle in the task of retrieving a sense of the sacred in Marx consists in his repeated, and often polemical, statements against religion – or the edited selections of his editors and guardians. Indeed, such an obstacle may in the end be one of our own making, as we are trapped within the labyrinth of our own historical understanding. Yet, assuming, for the moment, that religion and the sacred are the same phenomena, if we take his pronouncement that religion is the opium of the people – which I purposely left out in the opening quotation – in isolation, we may be lead to believe that Marx felt that at best religion – and thus the ‘sacred’ – is a narcotic, which while it may be utilized to alleviate pain, remains an illusory amelioration for a situation of humiliation and despair. Religion is an opiate in that it not only implies sedation from the pain of a life of exploitation, but also – ambivalently – suggests a systematic and strategic attempt to deaden or absorb any critical impulse to liberation. In this sense, Marx’s characterization of religion as an opiate is a forerunner of many of the most radical criticisms of religion and ‘negative’ theology in last century – Gutierrez, Miranda, Bultmann, Heidegger, Derrida, and Bataille. Each of these thinkers, in his own way, articulated a sense of the sacred in the wake of Marx and his deconstruction of religion as an ‘ideology’ – despite, perhaps, his own generation’s scientistic blindness to the regulative status of all ideas.
The kinship which is shared by each of these thinkers is a disdain for mere religion in favour of the ‘sacred’. Religion simultaneously constructs a ‘picture’ (Bild) for contemplation (Anschauung) and an organization that cultivates our captivity to that ‘picture’ (Wittgenstein). The sacred, on the contrary, intimates ‘love’ (Badiou), ‘binding commitment’ (Heidegger), an engaged and affirmative eruption of liberation amidst finite existence. Religion constructs its eternal church as an everlasting perpetuation of the ‘picture’, of an idol – a captivating grammar of existence – while the sacred exults in this moment of lived existence, in the haeccitas of Duns Scotus. If religion is a ‘rational’ and ‘systematic’ orchestration of feeling and phenomena, the sacred is an attempt to seek access to a phenomenon beyond the array of objectification towards traces of the numen. Indeed, for Otto, one need only begin amidst this singular event.
In light of this preliminary distinction between religion and the sacred, it will be the task of Marx and the Revolution of the Sacred to excavate and disclose in the writings and historical activism of Marx an affirmative sense of the sacred which is alterior to his inherently negative conception of religion. With Marx’s empathy in his ‘sigh of the oppressed creature’, we can glimpse a sense of the sacred dissociated from a religious leviathan that merely serves to perpetuate suffering – we can begin to glimpse a sacred that exists as a radical commitment to liberation. In this way, I will contend that Marx’s criticism of religion as an ideology of oppression and sedation in no way forecloses on a possible relationship between his work and Twentieth and Twenty-First Century attempts to articulate a sense of the sacred in the world. There emerges in these latter attempts the possibility of an openness which discloses a topos for an encounter with a sense of a sacred not mediated by ‘ideology’ (or positive theology).