[NB] Two Kinds of Sovereign Power

I have talked about Dumezil broadly and here I just want to record some longer quotes about the two sorts of sovereignty under discussion in Mitra-Varuna.

If you read these in light of the previous two notebook posts, you probably have some idea of where I am going.

Let’s start with a little about contracts. Dumezil suggests that the two forms of soveriegnty are closely allied with two forms of contract well-attested in Roman law:

By means of the nexum, a humilis would bind himself to a potens and would accept bond-service of some kind, because no more-balanced form of exchange is conceivable between them. By meeans of the mutuum, one aequalis would render some service to another, either without payment or with the understanding of a –theoretically free — return. (102-3; emphasis mine)

Dumezil aligns the nexus with the more violent expressions of Jupiter, Varuna, Romulus, and it is not for nothing that the Latin term has ties to words in English like nexus and net, with connotations of constraint and connections. By contrast, mutuum finds its spiritual allies in Fides, Mitra, Numa, foreshadowing in our language terms like mutual, with its free and balanced implications.

Benjamin’s notion of Fate fits well against the role of the nexum while Deleuze’s destiny plays across the freedom and supportiveness of the mutuum. Of especial interest regarding Benjamin and his image of tragedy is Dumezil’s own admission of Grecian exceptionalism:

In fact, however, they [Indo-European myths] merely shed light on the peculiarity of the Greek myths, and the impossibility of reducing them to the Indo-European systems. Uranos [unlike Varuna or Romulus or terrible Jupiter] does not form a couple with any other god. Beside this terrible king, the binder with his irresistible powers of seizure, this chaotic creator, we find no ordered, lawgiving, organizing sovereign….[Zeus] does not come as one part of a couple to balance Uranos…he comes to abolish his predecessor’s mode of activity forever, to begin a new phase in the world’s life…(119; emphasis mine)

If Greece defines a fascinating exception (Dionysus and Apollo perhaps a trace of the Varuna-Mitra tension), Germania provides the proper contrast:

[The ideal of Germania] evisage[s] a society whose entire life consists of one vast Lupercalia interrupted by a single brief period every year in which life is regulated by law. (129)

Dumezil suggests that this ideal is already in decline by the time it finds record in history, but that we can see clear traces of it in the legal attitudes of the Norse. We find a general disparagement of personal property, radical distributive practices, and a ‘court’ that meets only on occasion–i.e., the Thing. This practice creates a radical equality and which we find mirrored in the ritual ideals of the Norse myths. While the Romans had a diversity of cults, the Norse myths describe it as abnormal and offensive, that “conjoined and mingled sacrifices” to the totality of gods by a people who “offer[ed] up their prayers collectively” (128) was most proper.

Religious rites as a kind of pact, yes.

The powers of sovereignty (Dumezil’s Mitra and Varuna types) as defining the way in which those pacts are enforced, the nature of the rules, yes.

Which makes the sovereign spirits very important, their being itself providing the pacts with substance and force.


One thought on “[NB] Two Kinds of Sovereign Power

  1. Pingback: [NB] Indo-European Permutations | Disrupt & Repair

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