Jan Assmann — Carl Schmitt — Cosmotheism


My old friend GK doesn’t have his Assmann in Hong Kong but wanted to see where Assmann links cosmotheism with what I’m identifying as Schmitt. Assmann does not mention Schmitt by name, but it seems not too hard to read between the lines. In rejecting this aspect of cosmotheism as false politics, Assmann has, I’m betting, Schmitt very much in mind. In the end, I think, the “liberalism” of Exodus and the Deuteronomist win the day, insofar as they separate out God from world, and religion from politics, making them separate.

Here are some passages about cosmotheism that caught my attention, especially in relation to Schmitt:

“[Monotheism], for its part, was originally anti-cosmotheism. It was directed against the divinization of the world, which implies a divinization of mastery.” (Price of Monotheism, p.57)

“In Egypt, the king can deputize for the creator and sun god Re by ensuring that justice is done on earth. In his law-enforcing rulership over his people, the kind reproduces god’s [sic] domination over the gods, drawing his authority from this relationship of similtude. The king’s mastery does not compete with the god’s; on the contrary it replicates that mastery and h: the ruler as an image of god. It is thus hardly surprising that in Egypt, ‘god’s image’ is a common royal predicate, In the eyes of biblical monotheism, the falsehood of Pharonic paganism is revealed precisely in the category of representation, the sphere of kings, images, and sacred animals…Precisely such representation is precluded by the political dimension of the band on graven images.” (p.68-9; note the lower case “god.” the reference i think is to Re, the over-lord in a “pagan” pantheon.)

For Assmann, the “seamless integration” (p.70) of gods and world is political in nature, generating what he calls throughout a “false politics” of dominion, etc.

Note how on p.9, cosmotheism is associated with “rapt assent to the divine order of creation.”  This caught my eye immediately. It sounds fascist to me (and is maybe the link drawn by JA between Spinozism and Nazism).

See also, “a world of gods constitutes society and the state as the gods exercise dominion over worldly affairs” (p.41)

And also: “The false religion can be recognized as such because it subjugates, denigrates, and enslaves” (p.45). The false religion described here is cosmotheism, as viewed through the lens of (original?) biblical monotheism.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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4 Responses to Jan Assmann — Carl Schmitt — Cosmotheism

  1. GEK says:

    Thanks for quotes. These seem to me all a bunch of nonsense. I’m not sure how you can derive any meaningful connection to anything from these gross generalizations. As for the divine order of creation, is it not the case that God orders creation in Genesis. I find this more confusing than clarifying. (By which I agree with your original post.) I appreciate your point of view, but linking Spinoza to Scmitt seems to me utterly ridiculous. (Where does Spinoza identify God with finite order rather than infinite creativity?) Why not just lump everything that seems to oppose the Jewish/ biblical liberal (spinoza=schmitt=nazism, ad infinitum) as the enemy. Or would that be too Schmittian? I’m entirely unconvinced by any of this. I don’t see Schmitt as anything like cosmotheist in its original polytheist guise. I’m happy to disagree with Assmann. But I’m also continually unimpressed with monotheism. And I don’t see Ex. or Deut. at the origins of civility and humanism. Sorry. Not sold.

    • zjb says:

      again, it’s not Spinoza who’s at issue, it’s Spiniozism. and it’s not my argument, it’s Assmann’s. and by Spinozism, i think Assmann means romantic rapt assent to the cosmos, which actually is not too unlike Spinoza’s use of the term acquiescence in the Ethics or obedience in the TTP. But Nazism? That’s a bit rich, I agree, and that’s definitely Assmann, not me. as for monotheism, it’s not been my point to sell it to anyone, much less to cosmotheists and to athiests. at any rate, these are not my points, in large part because i don’t see Spinoza in complete opposition to either monotheism or to liberalism, or to the Bible; and even if I did, well, i don’t like enemies, one way or the other. but i will stick to the separation of church and state if that means keeping religion and religious people into a box. about that i think we’re probably in complete agreement. as always, yours.

      • GEK says:

        Romantic rapt assent to the cosmos is hardly how I would characterize acquiescence. Romantics were generally opposed to science and assuredly Spiniza was not. Spinozism is such a vague concept as to be useless. why not simply avoid it? And obedience is about political expedience, not cosmic rapture. I goad you with the enemy idea. You’ve addressed the fascism label elsewhere, so I won’t belabor it. It just seems so … banal. You and I are forever brothers in disputation:-)

      • zjb says:

        you’re right about Spinozism, but i’d stick to a loose working definition given the Spinoza reception in the late 18th and 19th c. Germany. about Spinoza himself, i am as fond of him as are you, so about that there won;t be any dispute.

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