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How Old Magic Does the Trick for Modern Politics

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This article attempts to interpret the insurrection led by Razin in the seventeenth century as the beginning of modern politics, because it was founded on the immanence of the social in contrast to the transcendent conceptions of power maintained by the court and church. This advance was made possible by the working of magic. Through performative speech, magic permitted the creation of a verbal presence for the non-existent tsarevich Alexis, who, however, was never given material form. In keeping the self-appointed heir invisible and by declaring his father’s rule illegitimate, the rebels reduced the role of the tsar to a pure signifier. The proof that this uprising represented a turn toward modern politics is that it did not rely upon the invocation of an intangible philosophical or spiritual ideal (as in the West); it was built instead upon an armed people, expressing itself in a language that was still archaic but already oriented toward a new representation of power as socially legitimatized. This analysis opens an important line of argument that has power beyond this specific case.

Affiliations: 1: CNRS, Paris and Universidad Nacional de San Martin, Buenos Aires,


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