Theology and Global Order

David Pan
Because they are tied up with the attempt to establish an overarching basis for human relations, questions of global order lead into theological discussions of the human relationship to God and the sacred. In our podcast discussion of Carl Schmitt’s reflections on global order, John Milbank and I consider different possibilities for understanding the relationship between theology and global order in the context of the war in Ukraine. The meaning of the war shifts along with the differing theological framings of the discussion. While Milbank condemns the Russian invasion, he also takes seriously the Russian critique of Western secularization. Milbank suggests that in a global order organized around nation-states, self-interest becomes the logic that displaces an orientation toward the sacred. We discuss this possibility, as well as the alternative interpretation, in which a world of nation-states allows for a diversity in definitions of the sacred, grounded in popular sovereignty. By contrast, the alternative of a world of competing civilizational states does not create its own vision of the sacred but only expands some nation-states into nation-empires. But does this happen because the nation-state is itself flawed or because the expansion of the nation-state into an empire leads to an abandonment of the pluralistic premises of the nation-state system? We go on to discuss the third alternative of an overarching sacred framework for world order. Does such a basis make possible an ordering of the world based on virtue? Or would such a world establish a global bureaucracy that undermines freedom? Milbank addresses these questions in more depth in his essay in Telos 201, “A Tale of Two Monsters and Four Elements: Variations of Carl Schmitt and the Current Global Crisis.”


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