Jerome Eric Copulsky, Assistant Professor and Director of Judaic Studies at Virginia Tech, submitted an article to "Sightings", published by the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School, titled, "King of Pain: The Political Theologies of "24."" At issue is the moral conundrums Bauer faces. His decisions often place him outside of "protocol." Those who question his tactics face either "trust me" or are made to feel they just don’t understand and hear, "I will explain it later." The matter is one of moral decision making and the "sovereign self."
Along with Copulsky I am a 24 nut. We took in five seasons since Thanksgiving weekend last year thanks to Blockbuster and then Charlie who found it cheaper to buy the seasons rather than rent them. Most of our musings have been on the surface with questions like, "When does Jack stop for a restroom break?" "How is it that is cell phone never dies, except at the most inopportune moment?" "How is it that in the same weekly episode Jack is near death and then gathers enough Sampson like strength, along with a deft eye and handy gun, and disposes of his captors?"
Copulsky probes deeper. He points out the "sovereign" Jack becomes episode in and out." He, Copulsky, uses the piece to work through what he asserts is the show’s secret, controversial jurist and political theories of Carl Schmitt. He quotes from Political Theology, Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (translated by George Schwab (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005), "Sovereign is he who decides upon the exception." Copulsky offers something of a summary of Schmitt’s "illiberal concept of sovereignty,"
To have this power to stand outside the law, to decide upon the state of exception, when normal rules do not apply. If we follow Schmitt’s claim that "significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts," the human sovereign is the political analogue of the omnipotent God.
Schmitt wrote Political Theology in 1922. Could we look further back to the concept of "inalienable rights" granted by our Creator? The problem seems to come when we "sovereigns" come into conflict. Whose rights’ trump? In developed communities rights must be subjugated at some point.
It has been too long since I took a couple of political history courses in college. Admittedly some will wonder what a pastor is doing thinking about secularized theological concepts. Reading this piece, I began to wonder about faith communities and "rights." How often does conflict arise out of the exercise of the "sovereign self" wherein one asserts the exception beyond the norms of the community. We tend to assert the role of romanticized individualism the culprit. What are the connections between these two – the "sovereign" as noted by Schmitt and the intensity of the individual often referred to as "rugged individualism?" Do we come to think of ourselves as the analogue to an omnipotent God? Just how is it we are to navigate authority when it comes to shared life in the community when any person moves sovereignly above the community suggesting the need either for trust or an explanation to come later?
Willard seems to be helpful here when he notes the conflict between the kingdom of the self and the Kingdom of God. Our attempts at sovereignty, ruling our own lives, do seem problematic. We lose sight of the ethic of love central to the Kingdom and replace it with an ethic resembling selfishness. We then become the framework for understanding and our perspective then turns myopic. The way of Jesus does seem to run "countercultural" to the sovereign self as well as the rugged individual. Witness Jesus who illustrates the norm in the Kingdom over against those who think they have the norm of God’s Kingdom in both mind and hand.
Copulsky closes with,
It’s not necessarily a bad thing to detect the strains of political theory or to be confronted with somewhat heavy-handed religious symbolism in a popular television series. But after we spend an hour in the thrall of Jack Bauer, Schmittian sovereign and secular savior, we should be sure to remind ourselves that entertainment which exploits our fears and strokes our hopes of simple solutions will not provide the means to our salvation, political or otherwise.