By Denis Guénoun
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Sovereignty (of the world) and assembly (of the people) are thus formed as rival and separate regimes. But either one can exist only in their coupling, produced by the division of a single body. Each one—like the tiny beings in Plato’s allegory—dreams of returning to oneness and repairing origins. Church and empire are twinned but inverse productions: sovereignty without assembly, assembly without power. Church and empire will not leave each other alone; they will not stop being rivals and trying to annex each other, with each pope wanting to be sovereign and each emperor dreaming of being pope.
It constitutes itself before the world as that which doubles it and goes beyond it. It duplicates the world, borders it, is coupled to it, never blending, never a part of it. Present to the (secular) world or withdrawn from it (by its rule), the church covers it, and overlaps with it in its duality and difference. The name of this paradoxical extension over the entire face of the world, the attribute of this relaunched rewinding universality is Catholic. The Roman Catholic Church: the universal turned back toward itself, given figure—as assembly.
It is a word from before the empire—in the precise Roman sense that is going to concern us. Every name partakes of an anteriority—an etymon, metaphor, or borrowing. Every naming is a renaming. Thus barbarism, which stood for a mode of exteriority from before the empire, comes to designate what remains, when the empire—the project of universal sovereignty— turns around and is given its figure. The second name is that of the church. This one too is a term designating the universal as a figure. Within what regime?