Friday, 1 May 2015

Devin Singh: Indolent Tyrants: A Eusebian Critique

This paper first introduces the workshop theme, laying out the significance of exploring notions of labor in light of patristic apocalyptic discourse. It then turns to Eusebius’ critique of tyrants in his veneration of Constantine, as explored primarily in the Vita Constantini. Eusebius distinguishes the tyrannical rule of Constantine’s predecessors in part by their use of resources and lack of willingness to display largesse to their subjects. Tyrants are rapacious, gluttonous, slothful, selfish, and exploitative, directing the resources of their territories to their own treasuries, and undermining the productivity of their subjects. In fact, their injustice is so great that generosity is inverted in their realms, becoming instead a crime. Tyrannical economies leach resources from the governed, negate exchange relations marked by surplus, and remove altruistic purpose from labor.
Eusebius’ portrayal of such tyranny is couched in a narrative of Constantinian fulfillment of redemption history, as the hand of God, sovereign over the political and economic unification of Rome, has installed the Christian emperor over a new form of economy. The emperor, whose reign is modeled after that of the Father and the Logos, demonstrates the proper use of resources and forges a territorial space of work, accumulation, and redistribution that reflects a higher, divine form of cosmic governance and resource allocation. Eusebius thus fashions a template of governance that includes attention to the resources of the realm and the dynamics of imperial labor and accumulation, legitimating such policies theologically, and forging a Western theopolitical legacy that must be examined.

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