Karl Barth’s suum cuique. by Gerardo Muñoz

In his chapter on the radical theology of abundance and ethics of Karl Barth, Mårten Björk discloses a central concept to the reformist theologian: the suum cuique, a term that prima facie could be rendered in natural law definition of legal justice, inherited from Roman lawyer Ulpian, as “may all get their due”. In the thomist tradition the legal notion of epikeia promptly became equity as the moral supervision of law’s principle (ius) understood as the application of the fair and the objective good. The justification of the balancing of aequum became a regulatory mediation on the grounds of a fictive principle of nature as moral reasoning, which has been well documented by Stephen Humphreys [1]. What makes Barth’s drawing on the notion of suum cuique in his interwar pamphlet Church and State (originally entitled Justification and Law, 1938), on the contrary, is precisely that it is not reducible to equity, but rather as Björk explains it: “the limit to our life, a limit brought forth by death itself, is in the end the vast chams that posits the creature as create of God…and this has ethical and political consequences” [2]. This is telling, and my aim here is to supplement the discussion in “Abundance and Scarcity” by showing its radical asymmetry with the reasonableness of the natural law. Barth’s anti-activist Church (although not neutral in the wake of the total state of the 30s) and apathy towards morality, stands as a sui generis bearing.

First, in the moral natural law tradition of equity (epikeia) “giving each one their due” becomes a strict legal-authoritative command principle on the reasonableness of nature centered on the ontology of the person. It is quite the opposite for Barth who does not favor a constant moral adjudication, since the separation between Church and State presupposes a previous divine justification that belongs exclusively to the Church, but not to the state. In fact, law practiced on the condition of natural principles will undermine the authority of the liberal positivist state, which Barth defends vehemently, making the case for its coherence with the teachings of the New Testament: “The democratic conception of the state is justifiable expansion of the of the New Testament…Christians must not only endure the earthly state but they must will it as a just state, not as a “Pilate” state” [3]. It is not surprising, then, that Barth wrote this tract openly defending the authority of the modern positivist state, contrasting it to the anti-statist unjust pretarian judgement of the trial of Jesus. This makes sense given that the pretorian ius honorarium could be understood, at least in part, as belonging to the tradition of the moral balancing of equity between morality and norms (just as the two irreducible kingdoms) [4]. Barth’s defense of the positivist state is even contrasted to natural law, which for Barth is incommensurable with the word of God: “We cannot measure what law is [in the State] by any idea of natural law…” [5].

Accepting the primacy of the equity of a substantive bonum will not only serve to override the authority of the state, but also, and more importantly, to flatten out theology’s monopoly over divine justification. At this point Barth is quite explicitly in saying that this is what took place – and I think he is correct, specially if we take into account that the degenerate legality in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia was not an abuse of positivism, but a consequence of the open-ended common and natural law principles to the point of distortion – in the wake of fascism and Bolshevism in the interwar years of Europe. Barth writes with this in mind against artificial heavens on earth, as part of a hyperbolic “politicizing from above”:

“Fascism and Bolshevism alike will be dethroned and the true order of human affairs will arise. Not as heaven (not even a miniature heaven) on earth! No, this “true order” will be able to arise only upon this earth and within the present age, but this will take the place really and truly, already upon this earth, and this present age, in this world of sin and sinners…this is what the Church has to offer to the state…” [6]. 

The political domination of the total state amounted to a conflation between the lapsarian condition of man and the theology of eternal life. The passage or mediation between the two dimensions, which he also described as a “tailor made garment” was the suum cuique, understood as a limit to life and death beyond morality and biological reductions. Barth insisted on the principle of separation in face of every temptation of technico-rational closures. Thus, by externalizing divine justification to the sphere of theological eternity, Barth’s conception of “giving one’s due” was radically disambiguated from the Nazi motto “Jedem das Seine” (to each his own) in the concentration camp of Buchenwald in 1937, made possible by the opened force of common law adjudication against the state positivist authority (understood by Nazi legal scholars as “too Jewish”). This was the barbaric dereliction of duty of the state becoming what Barth called a “clerical state” [7]. Barth’s ethical limit on finite and eternal life, so well reconstructed in Björk’s brilliant monograph, can only be a witness to a ‘world passeth away’ to which no priestly jurists have the last word unless catastrophic consequences are expected. The ethical response to the lapsarian condition was a radical drift from the dangers of natural absolute rationalism that was directly implicated in the arousal of immanent powers and the reduction of the population as mere administration of doctrine of last things through consciousness and not grace. The suum cuique introduced a radical exteriority in which all men became “strangers” (to the Church, national identity, the community, to the social) whose proper involvement pertained to the eternal mystery of life and death.




1. Stephen Humphreys. “Equity before ‘Equity’”, Modern Law Review, 2022, 1-37.

2. Mårten Björk. The politics of immortality in Rosenzweig, Barth, and Goldberg: Theology and Resistance Between 1914-1945 (Bloomsbury, 2022), 115.

3. Karl Barth. “Church and State”, in Community, State, and Church (Anchor Books, 1960), 146.

4. Gerardo Muñoz. “El pretor romano y el ius honorarium”, Infrapolitical Reflections, 2022: https://infrapoliticalreflections.org/2022/04/24/el-pretor-romano-y-el-ius-honorarium-por-gerardo-munoz/ 

5. Ibid., 147.

6. Ibid., 148.

7. Ibid., 132.

A gloss on the “element” of love. by Gerardo Muñoz

It might be the case that the self-evident nature of love as an affection proves itself lacking mediation in thought, insofar as it is a resource of mediation between thought and the world. In this sense, it is true that what one “loves” resists to be grasped as an object of representation or exposition; it is a question of limits, and those limits posit the question of the world. Now, love gives form, but it is not in itself a form or a mandate or an object. This means that love is outside of reality; indeed, it is the absolute indifference between object and world.

The question perhaps is one regarding proximity and distance. The problem of “nearness”, which is why in the text one reads the orphic inscription: “When we are in nearness to which we love we then go through the other side of the mirror.” Of course, what is interesting it not the “other side”, but rather to have become transformed by something without ever being entirely dissolved. Amor fati? Perhaps. In the transient path of the night one is opened to the condition of the “moon hunter”, in which one path reveals itself as the question of destiny (“one life”). The trick is that no path is ever ‘obligatory’, but rather validated by an access to an experience. Now, it is obvious that love cannot exhaust an experience, but there is no experience that is not affected by love, since it is this affection what inscribes the limit of a world without the fantasy of possession and abuse. 

Another moment: “In abusing something we no longer love; and even in the pleasure that were invested in we do not love”. Here the exotic (extemporaneous) nature of love becomes visible: no love is exhausted in materiality and form. Love is ex-scription: it demands exodus as homecoming. However, no fundamental fantasy of love can validate what is granted to us by the irreducibility of an experience. Perhaps this is after all what Gianni Carchia, reading Schelling called the “transfiguration with the divine”. Or, as I would like to call it, the intromission with the invisible [1]. In the invisible we carve out the limits of our deconstitution with our world in which our existence is possible through separation. 

There might a rebuttal, although it might not be one after all. It is a recent suggestion by a friend who claimed in a psychoanalytic speculation that: “Perhaps after all ‘love’ is a Christian invention, a compensatory and necessary one for the fact that we do not communicate”. There might be a few ways to respond to this claim; the first one being that the task of the transfiguration of love responds, precisely, to the subordinated status of love as mere compensation to the subject of sin and thus of the pleasure principle. The existence that can traverse the pleasure principle of the subject could be said to have gained reentry into a happy life capable of outsourcing the succession of infinite deaths while in life. 

Contrary to life or death, love might be another name for the orphic passage between the two states of potentiality; that is, of pure affection and the opening of the impotential in every life. To experience the death of what is possible as transient to the time of existence opens the path towards a “life to come…in underground streams” (Auden). If love is to be taken as compensatory to the impossibility of communication, then there is a love of thinking, but not necessarily a thinking of love. It is strange that philosophy – just as “liberty” for political thought – fails when measuring itself up to a thinking of love, a vertigo before the immemorial attunement to the state of mousikos. Such is the taking place among the things that we have surprised in the world, but only accessible to those who “seek” outside reality. 



1. Gianni Carchia. “Indifferenza, eros, amore: la critica dell’essere spirituale nella “filosofia della libertà” di Schelling”, in L’amore del pensiero (Quodlibet, 2000), 101-121.