14 Jul 2022 · 4.00 pm

Johannes F. Lehmann: Politik der Rettung. Überlegungen zu einem politischen Narrativ jenseits von Sicherheit und Heil

Venue: Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung (ZfL), Schützenstraße 18, 10117 Berlin, 3. Etage, Trajekte-Tagungsraum
Contact: Henning Trüper

At its most profound level, as will be shown, the political is based upon the narrative of rescue/salvation. Time and again, the rescuing function of rule and government has been able to ground itself in the emergency of lifesaving. Examples include Roman commanders and emperors’ being honored as saviors; the early modern theory of sovereignty in which power is derived from the will of the subjugated towards self-preservation; lifesaving edicts’ being decreed within the framework of biopolitical governance during the second half of the 18th century; and the National Socialists’ politics of racial hygiene which understood their politics of the extermination of the Jewish people as necessary to save the Aryan race. Today, Covid policies with their extension of executive power, the most severe extension of its kind (in the West) since World War II, have been enacted in the name of lifesaving. Since the concept of “life” as an object of rescue is split between the poles of the bare life and the good life, it allows for rescuing things that go beyond physical life on the one hand (nation, freedom, integrity, honor, etc.) as well as those that enable “life” on a basic level, as can be seen in bank bailouts, Euro rescue, and efforts to save the climate.

In light of these findings, the lecture explores two neighboring phenomena of rescue/salvation that may limit its scope: first, there is the relation between rescue and concepts such as safety, danger, and provision. Hasn’t the discourse of a politics of rescue/salvation in security policy, health care, and the insurance business long been settled? Second, there is the relation between rescue/salvation and concepts such as apocalypse, messianism, and political salvation. Isn’t the idea of a politics of rescue/salvation taken up in political messianism or conceptions of political salvation? I would like to discuss both these problems of differentiation and thereby propose the thesis that rescue/salvation and lifesaving play a central, even formative role in both fields.


Fig. above: J.-B. Chapuy: View of the fire in Cap Français, June 21th, 1793 (detail), ca. 1795