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We Are Kings

Political Theology and the Making of a Modern Individual
Spencer Jackson

BUY Cloth · 230 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813944715 · $65.00 · Oct 2020
BUY Paper · 230 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813944722 · $32.50 · Oct 2020
BUY Ebook · 230 pp. · ISBN 9780813944739 · $32.50 · Oct 2020

When British and American leaders today talk of the nation—whether it is Boris Johnson, Barack Obama, or Donald Trump—they do so, in part, in terms established by eighteenth-century British literature. The city on a hill and the sovereign individual are tropes at the center of modern Anglo-American political thought, and the literature that accompanied Britain’s rise to imperial prominence played a key role in creating them.

We Are Kings is the first book to interpret eighteenth-century British literature from the perspective of political theology. Spencer Jackson returns here to a body of literature long associated with modernity’s origins without assuming that modernity entails a separation of the religious from the profane. The result is a study that casts this literature in a surprisingly new light. From the patriot to the marriage plot, the narratives and characters of eighteenth-century British literature are the products of the politicization of religion, Jackson argues; the real story of this literature is neither secularization nor the survival of orthodox Judeo-Christianity but rather the expansion of a movement beginning in the High Middle Ages to transfer the transcendent authority of the Catholic Church to the English political sphere. The novel and the modern individual, then, are in a sense both secular and religious at once—products of a modern political faith that has authorized Anglo-American exceptionalism from the eighteenth century to the present.


A dazzling, provocative book. In addition to making a new case for the importance of recovering the individual as a crucial concept for interpreting eighteenth-century literature, We Are Kings also makes a bold new contribution to debates about secularization and modernity. Jackson makes an audacious argument for a new Marxist critique of complicity in which he proves himself as adept at analyzing the metrical intricacies of neoclassical couplets as parsing the nuances of novelistic prose.

Sarah Tindall Kareem, UCLA, author of Eighteenth-Century Fiction and the Reinvention of Wonder

An enormously insightful and forcefully argued work that teaches us to read eighteenth-century novels and forms of subjectivity in fresh ways.

Vivasvan Soni, Northwestern University, author of Mourning Happiness: Narrative and the Politics of Modernity

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