Voting as a Secular Political Eucharist and The Corpus Mysticum

    In his seminal text concerning the Gemina Persona of the sovereign body in medieval political theology, the first section in the fifth chapter of Ernst H. Kantorowicz’s ‘The Kings Two Bodies’ deals with the corpus mysticum and its secularisation as a concept. [1] A key fact of political theology, summarised perfectly in the worlds of the Nazi jurist and political theorist Carl Schmitt, is that: “All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts not only because of their historical development – in which they were transferred from theology to the theory of the state, whereby, for example, the omnipotent God became the omnipotent lawgiver - but also because of their systematic structure”. [2] Such a comprehension of the embedded secularised theology at the heart of the sovereign political unit – the modern state - has rendered some of the greatest works of political theory, in my opinion; be it in the discussion of international law as the Katechon [κατέχον] [3], the basis of modern politics as gnostic heresy [4], or even the secular politics of faith in faithlessness [5].

In this section of his chapter on the Corpus mysticum, Kantorowicz analyses the history of transubstantiation in the eucharist and how this was sociologically secularised from immanentizing the corpus Christi in material form to signifying one being a member of the wider body of the church, at the head of which Christ reigned. By partaking in the Eucharist, one engages in a sacrament that defines the sociology of the Christian transnational diaspora. In the eucharist, ontologically, one’s spiritual existence merges with that of others and becomes legitimated in Christ through a connection that defies a modern notion of territorial subjectivity – i.e. one’s subject is connected to that of other subjects through a de-territorialised ecclesiastical assembly and practice.

My thought here is the extent to which the notion of the corpus mysticum [6], in relation to the eucharist, has not only been secularised, but modernised and re-territorialised with the modern democratic nation-state. As far as the eucharist signified one’s existence as part of a wider Christian body, perhaps a secular democratic ‘sacrament’ that provides the same function - is voting. The two are actually rather similar, on a shallow, perhaps even pseudo-experiential, level. We cram ourselves into a communal building to wait for the local authority to present to us a wafer-thin object. With this object we then make our mark with blessings, before consuming the sheet (be it literally or in the consumption of the ballot box) and returning to whence we came. Elsewhere in the commonweal, at the same time that we engage with this secular eucharist, others do so also, re-legitimating their position in the polity-centred corporation.

One engages in a practice that legitimates one’s connected existence as a member of ‘the nation’, the modern politico-theological corpus mysticum, affirming oneself as a citizen of a self-determining body-politic – the ‘nation-state’ - that connects individuals across a territory, and as such re-territorialising the Christian diasporic corporation through secular political means. In this, the sovereign entity becomes itself the head of the corpus mysticum. Thus, voting – the task of deciding who staffs this institution – is perhaps to partake in a secular eucharist that reaffirms and legitimates the civic union of peoples within a given territory under the rule of such a single sovereign entity.

[1] Ernst H. Kantorowicz (2016) ‘The King’s Two Bodies: A study in Medieval Political Theology’, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, pp. 194-206.
[2] Carl Schmitt (2005) Political Theology: Four Chapters on The Concept of Sovereignty, Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, p. 36.
[3] Carl Schmitt (2003) The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europaeum, Candor, NY: Telos Press; Paolo Virno (2008) Multitude: Between Innovation and Negation, Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), pp. 43-66. 
[4] Eric Voegelin (2012) The New Science of Politics: An Introduction, Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press; (2012) Science, Politics, Gnosticism: Two Essays, Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc.
[5] Simon Critchley (2012) The Faith of The Faithless: Experiments in Political Theology, London: Verso.
[6] For a historical discussion on the ‘Corpus Mysticum’, see: Henri de Lubac (2007) Corpus Mysticum: The Eucharist and The Church in The Middle Ages, Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.