In The Coming Community , Agamben articulates ‘the coming being’ as ‘whatever being’: a singularity that is ‘reclaimed’ from having properties, from ‘belonging to this or that set, to this or that class’. 1 In this text, which emblematizes his vision of possibility for human politics, Agamben aims at a displacement of the representative ideal that has riven political organization and the ontology of the political subject at least since Hobbes (or since Christ) – especially in Catholic political theology. 2 But as I will argue in this chapter, Agamben’s strategy cannot be regarded simply as one of negation or destruction of this political ideal: whatever being is not simply without belonging. What whatever singularity is reclaimed for is not nothing at all. It is for its own ‘being-such , for belonging itself’. And the paradigm, example, and taking-place of this singularity, is nothing other than the beloved as they appear in the gaze of the lover:
Love is never directed to this or that property of the loved one … but neither does it neglect the properties in favor of an insipid generality (universal love): The lover wants the loved one with all of its predicates , its being such as it is. The lover desires the as only insofar as it is such – this is the lover’s particular fetishism. 3
With this text Agamben therefore joins a long political philosophical tradition of Christian heredity that attempts to install love at the centre of politics. However, the love that literally bookends The Coming Community , serving as its ﬁ rst and last words and surfacing several times throughout its course, is clearly not intended as the Christian ‘universal love’ that has generally served this function in Western thought. Agamben’s political displacement also aims at a critique of the universal: overcoming the dialectic between the universal and the particular. 4 It is not that the Christian political ideal, if articulated precisely as an Ideal, is conceived in terms that are entirely foreign to Agamben’s project of defying the limited, identitarian belonging
that grips quotidian politics, today epitomized by the State. On the contrary, it is commonplace to claim that Christian love is directed at surpassing ‘all personal, social, national and religious divisions’. 5 Rather, what is in issue is that this Christian Ideal of love can only be offered in the name of ‘every human being’, 6 thus presupposing a universal humanity. The problem is not only that it belongs to the scene of a negative dialectic with the particular. More obviously the problem with this universal humanity is that by Christian theology’s own avowal, it is not lovable. It is unworthy of being loved in itself, and moreover to love it for itself is regarded as a dangerous error. The human, the worldly, is allowed to be loved only in the name of an external transcendental (God) that validates and veriﬁ es this love. This, I suggest, makes the human both more (transcendentally guaranteed) and less (unlovable) than it is. 7 In this way and others, the love that begins in Christian theology as a commandment immediately becomes a judgment over right and wrong love, right and wrong humanity. It is safe to speculate that this largely motivates Agamben’s lament for the juridiﬁ cation of love’s political possibility, and led to his 1996 declaration of the ‘deﬁ nitive end of the Christian ethics of love intended as a power that unites human beings’. 8
In order to focus on how Agamben paradoxically confronts this juridiﬁ cation by taking up the failed messianic possibility of Christian love, it will not sufﬁ ce to focus on what we might call its ‘political substance’. It is true that in The Coming Community Agamben sides with Badiou in showing that the State is not a form of social bond (at the level of Christian love) but only the prohibition of an unbinding; that the State is only interested in identity and its inclusion or exclusion (and not singularity); that singularity without identity is not simply irrelevant to the State but the state’s ‘principal enemy’, 9 and that politics will come to be a struggle between ‘the State and the nonState (humanity)’ rather than mere control of the State. 10 But Agamben’s politics of ‘pure means’ asks that we understand the political subject as a species of image within Christian political theology, and I argue that it is only by paying attention to the means of Agamben’s argument at the level of the reform of this subject-image’s ontology that Agamben’s speciﬁ c gesture can be understood.