What happened to paradise after Adam and Eve were expelled? The question may sound like a theological quibble, or even a joke, but in The Kingdom and the Garden, Giorgio Agamben uses it as a starting point for an investigation of human nature and the prospects for political transformation.
In a tour-de-force reinterpretation of the Christian tradition, Agamben shows that the Garden of Eden has always served as a symbol for humanity’s true nature. Where earlier theologians viewed the expulsion as temporary, Augustine’s doctrine of original sin makes it permanent, reimagining humanity as the paradoxical creature that has been completely alienated from its own nature. From this perspective, there can be no return to paradise, only the hope for the messianic kingdom. Yet there have always been thinkers who rebelled against this idea, and Agamben highlights two major examples.
The first is the early medieval philosopher John Scotus Eriugena, who argued for a radical unity of humanity with all living things. The second is Dante, whose vision of the earthly paradise points towards the possibility of a genuine human happiness in this world. In place of the messianic kingdom, which has provided the model for modern revolutionary movements, Agamben contends that we should place our hopes for political change in a return to our origins, by reclaiming the earthly paradise.