“Dark and Beautiful” – On Giorgio Agamben’s The Mystery of Evil (TLS 2018)

D. L. Dusenbury, “Dark and beautiful,” TLS. The Times Literary Supplement (20 April 2018). A review of Giorgio Agamben, The Mystery of Evil: Benedict XVI and the End of Days, trans. A. Kotsko (Stanford, 2017). An excerpt from the author’s typescript is copied below:


Agamben believes that the crisis of the European church is nobly symbolized by Benedict XVI’s resignation in February 2013, and that this ecclesiastical crisis is linked to a political crisis of continental proportions. What Europe is currently facing, he suggests, is not a deficit of legality – or for that matter, of democracy – but rather, a crisis of legitimacy. This is a crisis which, by definition, “cannot be resolved solely on the level of law”. Note that Agamben wrote this in the pax Obamica years 2012–13, and not in despair at the anni horribiles 2016–17.

If the antichrist belongs to the church, as the young Ratzinger admits, then presumably the man of lawlessness belongs to the state. The human threat to order is intrinsic, and, in human terms, ineliminable. And it is Christian eschatology which has conferred on European history a structure in which “each person’s decision is always in question”, and in which every human institution is fundamentally called into question. This, incidentally, is why the critical philosopher par excellence, Immanuel Kant, saw the need for a concept of “philosophical millennialism” (philosophische Chiliasmus).

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