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  • Christian Theory:Postanarchism, Theology, and John Howard Yoder
  • Ted Troxell

John Howard Yoder was a Mennonite scholar who studied under Karl Barth and then taught at Goshen College, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, and Notre Dame. The Politics of Jesus is his best-known work, but he continued to write prolifically on a wide variety of issues in Christian theology and ethics until his death in 1997. Yoder is sometimes characterized as a monotonous trumpeter whose one note was pacifism, and while this is not the case, it is true that Yoder is one of the most articulate and sophisticated defenders of comprehensive nonviolence, a position that informs much of his work. It is not that Yoder begins with pacifism as an ideal and builds a theology or ethics around that—Yoder rejected the idea of an epistemological starting point at all—but that for him, following Christ and remaining true to the Christian heritage necessarily entail surrender to a nonviolent way of being in the world. Yoder wrestled with the political ramifications of pacifism in ways that bring him very close to anarchism, and there are Christian anarchists who make use of his work. Moreover, Yoder seems to have anticipated some of the moves being made in the shift in anarchist discourse toward what is being called postanarchism.

Yoder also helps us see the deep connections between theology and political theory, and the turn in both political and theological thinking toward the postsecular. The basic premise of postsecularity is that there is [End Page 37] no neutral sphere in which to negotiate the common good without influence from religious or theological thought forms. In fact, the idea that there is such a sphere itself constitutes a claim about the "way things are" that is already at odds with religious formulations. To claim that religion and state should remain separate is still to make a claim about religion, one that suggests that the state should exclusively be called upon to do things that might otherwise fall under the purview of religious authority. Questions about the common good or how humans might best live together—questions that are usually assumed to be political—are not questions about which religion has historically been silent. Even the idea that there is a genus "religion" of which a given person's way of constructing the world can be seen as a species is problematic—especially for those for whom religion is a primary source of social identity. What lies at the core of many constructions of self and community is precisely the element that liberal democracy says should be bracketed. This suggests, at the very least, that the boundary between political theology and political theory is porous. The theological formulations of a thinker like Yoder not only bear a resemblance to certain trends in anarchist thought but also constitute a contribution to that thought.

Postanarchism and Postsecularity

Since the 1999 protests at the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference, an altercation dubbed "The Battle in Seattle," anarchism has garnered attention from both the media and academia. The WTO protests were part of what is sometimes called the "anti-globalization" movement. "Postanarchism" is the name attached to the attempt to theorize the relationship between this movement and emerging forms of anarchism that seem to characterize it.1 This term does not mean "to be finished with anarchism," or that anarchism's moment has definitively passed, but instead denotes the introduction of poststructuralist and postmodern critiques into anarchist theory. It is often contrasted to the "classical" anarchism of Bakunin, Proudhon, Kropotkin, and others. Whether this is truly a break from these thinkers or a continuation of their thought is a topic of debate among postanarchist thinkers, but it is enough for our purposes to note that postanarchism is critical of the humanism and essentialism of modernist anarchist discourse. [End Page 38]

Postanarchism is also markedly different in how it conceptualizes the state and its place in political theory. Todd May borrows language from Michel de Certeau, and calls this a difference between "strategic" and "tactical" thinking. In strategic thinking, May explains,

the variety of oppressions and injustices that pervade a society and the possibility of justice are located...


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