Richard Bourne closes his book, Seek The Peace Of The City, with a subsection on “Confinement.”  Bourne’s book, among other things, is an attempt to develop a radical Christian critique of political engagement.  He summons to his defense an impressive array of characters, from Foucault to Gramsci, MacIntyre to Zizek and Naomi Klein to Jurgen Habermas. 

Concluding with a section on “Confinement” proves to be a prescient move for Bourne, displaying his acumen and understanding of political issues beyond the traditional scope of theology.  In a word, Bourne refreshingly goes where few theologians dare to tread, at least insofar as a publication and bibliography goes.

I say Bourne’s “Confinement” section is prescient because it’s also one of the key issues that Zizek settles on in his recent book, First As Tragedy, Then As Farce, although instead of confinement Zizek speaks of “the new forms of apartheid” of the gap between the included and the excluded.  Bourne writes that the logic of consumerism creates “a ferocious form of confinement and exclusion – one dramatically at odds with the eucharistic logic of economic solidarity” (294).  In this instance, there’s nothing particular new that Bourne is saying here; however, when he seeks to define the form this exclusion takes his argument grows more pronounced.  For Bourne, the confinement of the excluded on economic grounds is not simply insecure employment or credit issues, but the very logic of the production process itself, a point that Zizek highlights.  “Most of the excluded are not confined a priori, nor do they opt out through an act of will; they are produced through the fabrication of desire” (294).  Bourne uses crime as an example to highlight this point:

In the social order of late modern capitalism, Young claims, “[c]rime occurs where there is cultural inclusions and structural exclusion.”  There is a remarkable assimilative power to the logic of desire.  The American, or, with some differences, the European “dream” performs the function of cultural inclusion.  Yet crime’s relation to structural exclusion is not only found in the isolation arising from the inability of the poor to attain the goals and aspirations set for them by this vision.  As the supposedly meritocratic society remains blind to the dynamics of class and racial inequality, so crimes appears in the creation of subcultures that invert, yet remain steadfastly guided by, the values of competition and self-reliance.  The final moment of the bulimic process, when the offending “others” are more fully expunged, occurs through the likes of “zero-tolerance” initiatives and ever-increasing levels of imprisonment – both of which disproportionately affect those on the wrong side of racial, educational, and class divisions” (295).

In a manner not completely unrelated to crime, Zizek speaks of the plight of undocumented workers.   An undocumented worker has “no legal status, so that, if he is noticed at all, it is as a dark external threat to our way of life; but once one gets his papers and his status is legalized, he again ceases to exists properly, since he becomes invisible in his specific situation.  In a way, he becomes even more invisible once legalized: he is no longer a dark threat, but is fully normalized, drowned in the indistinct crowd of citizens” (118-9).

Although recognizing the common threat, I think Bourne has the upper hand on Zizek, in that ecclesial politics can think and imagine a viable political community that not only makes claims of solidarity and justice, but also actively participates with them (but this is only to replay Milbank’s criticism of Zizek and this is not to say that Zizek is somehow unparticipatory).   Quoting Yoder, Bourne reminds us that we do not simply love our neighbor because we are told to do this, but because God is like that (136).  Of course, this is another conversation altogether.