Giorgio Agamben’s The Highest Poverty, recently translated into English by Adam Kotsko, is a study of the radical political subtext in monastic texts.
From The New Inquiry:
The Highest Poverty is part of Agamben’s several-volume inquiry into the logic of sovereignty and law, and into better kinds of thinking about organizing ourselves. Politics in the West, his earlier volumes tell us, rests on a callous dominion over human life. What makes the law the law is its power to deem the destruction of certain lives legitimate. What makes the state sovereign is its ability to break its social contracts in an emergency. Agamben’s more political books, trickling out as they have during the post-Cold War pax Americana, suggest that the torture chambers of Abu Ghraib and the NSA’s aspirations to omniscience are not momentary failures of the system, but examples of its basic function. For the sake of order, we ransom parts of our humanity—but perhaps we don’t need to.
The Highest Poverty examines two medieval Christian attempts, in the name of eternal life, to live this life beyond the reach of ordinary politics: several centuries of monasticism, and then the brief and momentous epiphany in the movement founded by Francis of Assisi. Each, according to Agamben, fails in revealing ways.