All discussions on political theology from Carl Schmitt to Slavoj Zizek inevitably center on the person of the sovereign, says Graham Hamill. It comes with no surprise, therefore, why modern rulers remain enchanted with the glorious days of the Caesaropapists, those sovereign kings whose absolute rule made them subject to no one for they claimed to have both political and divine authority. The closest we remember are the English monarchs from Henry VIII, to James I, to Charles I, and James II, all asserted the divine right to rule. This history of political theology, where absolute power secured by divine ordination persists in our culture like the fruit in the middle of the garden where all are craving to have a taste of it.
Was it James Madison who said that laws were created to circumscribe the power of the sovereign? Regardless of the answer, the truth of the statement is unassailable: laws and the force of moral order castrated the sovereign. From the creation of the Magnacarta that cowed the tyrant king John of England, to the formation of the Parliament after the revolt of Simon de Montfort, and the creation of the English Bill of Rights after the glorious revolution against King James II, all were done to reduce the power of the sovereign.
The entrance of political scientists who subverted the political theology of the divine right of the king and replaced it with more humanistic grounding called as “social contract” diminished some more the power of the sovereign. John Locke’s revision of Thomas Hobbes’ social contract by making revolution a legitimate act in case the sovereign reneged from this contract is another blow to the crown. There the beginning of the birth of political regimes based no longer on theological and religious symbols, but on constitutions approved both by the state and its people. With the rise of secular democratic states the power shifted to the people, they become now the sovereign.
But the old and golden years of the absolute sovereign rulers remain with us. It persists in our culture brought along with religious and theological symbols that survive just the same the onslaught of shrewd liberal humanists like Baruch Espinoza, Friedrich Nietzsche, and others. As Carl Schmitt said, “modern concepts of the state are secularized theological concepts”. There behind all the secular concepts of states and governments lies the memory of the absolute sovereign rulers.
The presence however of moral codes and of codified laws restrained modern rulers to rise like the caesaropapist of the old. It occurs to them, therefore, that termination of those laws, together with the moral principles, is the only way to return to the old reign of king-popes. It dawns to us then what Schmitt meant by the words, “Sovereign is he who decides on the exceptions”. Exceptions are defined as political crisis and emergency that the sovereign would be granted with freedom to supersede the law and initiate a sovereign decision. For a ruler or a president of a democratic country like the Philippines, occurrence of political and social crisis and emergency creates a state of exception that legitimizes him to act as absolute ruler who either bypass or enable the existing laws and take to himself the pleasure to decide on the crisis at hand.
This is the reason why the Philippine problem on drugs aggravated even more since the time this government started its war against it. The crisis of drugs must remain and must be worsened to create a state of exception. The chaos brought by the small band of dissatisfied armed group in Marawi was converted into a full-blown war to create an exception for the passage of martial rule in the whole land of Mindanao. Making the unequal development between manila and Mindanao as a state of exception to legitimize the passage of pseudo-federal government which will actually serve the interest of the politicians of this country rather than the people. More crises were made and still making more of them like the water problem now to create a political exception where it grants the president to set aside the law and decide for himself, making himself sovereign in the process.
Not only our law is under attack, even our sense of right and wrong is being challenged every day to inch himself to sovereignty. The applause the president receives for every display of misogyny, cussing, slandering, and violent speeches puts him above morality. He is not covered by moral order, only we his subjects is under it. The latest of these and dastardly done was his daughter’s attempt, Sarah Duterte, to normalize dishonesty among the politicians. More than an attempt to insulate from attacks her vile ally, Imee Marcos, it is a brazen test to subvert morality by their power. If they were able to get away from all their cussing, insults, and misogyny, and many odious acts, why not pushing a little farther by making dishonesty normal.
The House of Davao is hell-bent to declare their patriarch a sovereign, this will never happen without our consent. Jacques Bossuet, a known preacher in the 17th century, provided the theological basis for the divine right of the king. The Evangelicals already conferred such position to President Duterte through a malicious used of Romans 13, and embraced it at the same time as the very reason why they remained loyal to him after all his failures and scandals. Seemingly there is no one can stop him from claiming his divine right to rule, and we are damned to behold the absolute ruler subject to no one but to his own whims and caprices. Long live the King!