Giorgio Agamben and Hegel



Commentary on the book “The Kingdom and the Glory”


Agamben's book is a very erudite, genealogical study of the theological matrices of fundamental political concepts. Its first objective is to demonstrate that Carl Schmitt's thesis according to which all relevant concepts of the modern theory of the State are secularized theological concepts must be extended far beyond “the limits of public law”, an extension of scope that would go as far as “ encompass all the fundamental concepts of economics and the very conception of the reproductive life of human societies”. The consequence, the book also says, is that it will be necessary to maintain – against Carl Schmitt's understanding – that “Christian theology is, from the beginning, economic-managerial and not political-state”.

More specifically, Agamben's program of analysis recommends that two antinomic paradigms be distinguished, although connected, of theological determination of political concepts, understanding the adjective in the broadest possible sense. The first, more studied, links the modern theory of sovereignty to the idea of ​​a single and all-powerful God; the second, still to be researched, developed and demonstrated, a task that, precisely, is proposed The Kingdom and the Glory, would reveal how the economy – comprehensively understood and also in terms of the etymological origin of the term, that is, as the general government of societies, in which public management and private initiatives and actions are combined – has Trinitarian theology as its ultimate genealogical determinant.

What may be unusual and extravagant about this suggestion is brought into the more ordinary register by Agamben's warning and methodological recommendation that in conceptual archeology work, the investigator must be prepared for "the possibility that the genealogy of a concept (... .) can be located in a different place than what was assumed when starting”, which would be precisely what happens in the case of institutions and political concepts, whose “genealogy”, the author tells us, “must be sought before us Treaties De gubernatione dei and in the writings on providence” than in those strictly devoted to political questions as, for example, the de regno of Santo Tomas.

Even though this is not expressly said, materially considered, the suggestion seems to be that if one really wants to penetrate the arcana in which the hard core of thought on the political is genealogically decided, it is necessary to substitute the simplicity of a Jewish reading, so to speak, of the Old Testament and the strict monotheism that would characterize it, the much more complex New Testament theology, whose initial hurdle would be found in the primitive, cunning and very sophisticated economic theorization of the Trinitarian dogma, which, however, later - when the The explanation of the trinity began to be systematically made in theological-metaphysical terms – it would come to be mainly understood as a providential economy and used, therefore, as a key to interpreting the work and mysteries of Providence.

The development of Agamben's genealogical demonstration is long, complex, heavily philological, and I decidedly cannot reconstruct it here. However, the general argument of the book is the idea that the theological conception of the Trinitarian economy - through which the immanent unity and diversity of God were first conceived and, later, what modern theologians call the economy of salvation - constitutes , as anticipated above, the conceptual basis from which to understand the complex unity of the economic government of the world, within which the actions of governments combine and complement what today, exoterically, is called the economic domain.

It is fundamental to understand, however, the author specifies that: “The two paradigms [that of the political tradition in the strict sense and that of the economic-governmental tradition] subsist together and intertwine to the point of forming a bipolar system whose understanding forms the condition preliminary to any interpretation of the political history of the West.

From this perspective, the examination of the texts of Hippolytus of Rome, of Tertullian, of Origines, of Clement of Alexandria, of Saint Gregory Naziazeno, of Numenius, of Eusebius of Caesarea, of Saint Augustine, of Saint Thomas Aquinas, of John XXII and William of Occam, Leibniz, Malebranche, Bossuet, among others, serves to obsessively show the doctrinal derivations and developments that command and result from the evolution of what Agamben calls the Trinitarian device, through which they are structured in advance, according to the author, the central categories of what would later become the specifically political thought of the West.

There is, however, in the long reconstitution of this still much longer and more complex conceptual history, an absolutely strategic step for Agamben's thesis and which seems to me to be very problematic and is precisely to better apprehend it and to, at least, demarcate its implications. which seems to me of great interest to cross-read The Kingdom and the Glory with the speculative conception of the syllogism.

The critical step I have in mind is not the general thesis of the book, this idea that when viewed from the perspective of its theological roots, one discovers an internal relationship between the political tradition stricto sensu and the economic-governmental tradition. This point seems hermeneutically very instigating, persuasive and illuminating. What seems problematic is something else, it is the complement, or, who knows better, this kind of scholium that is associated with it, the thesis that there is no solution of continuity when the concept of oikonomia is shifted from interpreting the mystery of the trinity to explaining what would come to be called the economy of salvation.

Or to put it another way: even though this doctrinal displacement of the theological use of the concept of economy occurred naturally, so to speak, in view of the dogma of the Son's incarnation, this does not mean that this displacement does not imply not only another theology, but also another and incompatible way of understanding the relations of the finite with the infinite. To understand this point, however, it is necessary to move on to Hegel, but before that, as an indispensable preliminary, it is convenient to retreat, even for a moment, to the strictly theological register.


Chapter II of The Kingdom and the Glory traces the evolution of word usage oikonomia, and its Latin translations, device e dispensation, among the early Fathers of the Church and shows how the term first acquired a theologically technical sense in the works of Hippolytus of Rome and Tertullian, a point that Agamben records by saying: “According to a widespread opinion, it is in Hippolytus and Tertullian that oikonomia ceased to be just an analogical extension of the domestic vocabulary to the religious sphere to become a technical term used to designate the Trinitarian articulation of the divine life”.

The immediately following annotation explains that: “The concept of oikonomia it is, therefore, the strategic operator that allowed the provisional reconciliation between the trinity and the divine unity, before a true philosophical vocabulary was elaborated in the fourth and fifth centuries.

Agambem underlines that the distinguishing mark of this first solution to the Trinitarian problem, of this appeal to economy, consists in dealing with the paradox contained in the idea of ​​a single God, but constitutively triune, avoiding ontology and trying to account for the diversity of people as being determined not ontologically, but practically, as a diversity, not of the divine substance, but of its action or operation. This thesis implies, notably, the possibility of admitting that, although the father must be understood as arké, the Son would be anarchon, the Unfounded, as can be read in a passage by Saint Gregory Naziazeno quoted in The Kingdom and the Glory.

Be that as it may, at this point, for the purposes we have in this communication, it is opportune to emphasize, first of all, as an important theologian of our day does, the current Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Luis F. Ladaria, that this use of the term oikonomia by the first fathers, especially by Tertullian, it designates above all an “intratrinitarian” reality.[I] On the other hand, however, it is equally relevant to insist, as already alluded to above, in repetition of Agamben, of course, that the economic paradigm was soon shifted to the explanation of God's relations with finite things, having become, in the truth, a concept central to the explanation of the government of the world and to the salvific doctrine.

Now, what I would like to examine here and now are the implications of this displacement and show how it is possible to see, or at least glimpse, in the Hegelian syllogistic a kind of demonstration by example that the containment and preservation of oikonomia as an expression of “intratrinitarian” relations, it allows avoiding the aporias that necessarily result from its extension to theorization of creation and its destiny, that is, to the doctrine of salvation and to the eschatological content that is necessarily associated with it. The explanation of this point, although I am going to do it in a very schematic way, cannot fail to be somewhat sinuous and therefore requires some patience.


When evaluating this displacement of the theologically technical use of the concept of oikonomia From the level of intratrinitarian relations to God's relations with the world, Agamben attempts to deconstruct the exegetical difficulties caused by this change in the use of the concept, as well as endeavors to disqualify the long history of contradictions and polemics raised by this important expansion of his domain of application, and for this he observes the following: “The conflict of interpretations rests on the erroneous assumption according to which the term oikonomia would have (...) two contradictory meanings between which the Fathers would have hesitated more or less consciously. A closer analysis allows us to establish that these are not two meanings of the same term, but an attempt to jointly articulate in a single semantic sphere (that of the term oikonomia) a series of levels whose conciliation was problematic: exteriority to the world and government of the world , unity in being and plurality of actions, ontology and history. Not only do the two meanings (….) not contradict each other, but they only recover their full intelligibility if we realize their functional relationship. They constitute, in effect, the two faces of a single divine oikonomia, in which ontology and pragmatics, Trinitarian articulation and governance of the world refer to each other, reciprocally, the solution of their aporias”.

However, to say the least, this solution is less than perfect. Indeed, once understood the oikonomia trinitarian as a function of the salvific doctrine, the trinity becomes constitutively eschatological and, therefore, unavoidably linked to the ideas of the Last Judgment and the end of time. Now, once this association is made — if the oikonomia Thus, the Trinitarian nature comes to be thought of as a function of the creation, incarnation and salvation of the just — it is worth asking whether God will not make himself dependent on the created and, within creation, on man himself, whose drama seems to become constitutive of the inner structure of the divine itself.

In addition, as will be seen later, one can also ask what logical articulation will remain, what reason will there be to maintain and preserve the Trinitarian vision of God, later, at the end of time, in the conditions of the pleroma, when, precisely, the economy of salvation has been closed and completed. It should be noted that it is precisely here that the traditional theological discussions emerge, whose reason for being Agamben tries to put down in the text just quoted. The difficulty in question is, however, strongly resilient and Agamben himself, somewhat inconsequentially, reintroduces it later in the book as a sign of the limit of all theological speculation.

In modern theology, indeed, the sharply critical point involved in this discussion is often made in the exposition of what theologians call the immanent and economic doctrines of Trinitarian dogma. The recent exposition that the already mentioned Luiz Ladaria makes of the point, in discussion with the version proposed by Karl Rahner for understanding the articulation of these two theologies, will allow us to summarize with reasonable security the essence of the problem under discussion.

According to Ladaria, in his work Mysterium Salutis. Foundations of dogmatics as the history of salvation, Rahner enunciates the so-called “fundamental axiom” of Trinitarian theology in the following terms: “the Economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity and vice versa”.[ii] However, according to Archbishop Ladaria, despite the relevance of Rahner's work for recovering the ancient truth that it only makes sense to speak of the triune God from the "revelation that happened in Christ",[iii] the vice versa contained in his formula is visibly problematic and virtually anathematizable, as it can easily lead to the idea that God only becomes triune insofar as he communicates with men.[iv]

A point that, it soon becomes apparent, would lead him almost directly to a Hegelian conception of the trinity in which the abstraction and indeterminacy of the Father is overcome through his positive and particularized manifestation in the work of creation and, thus, in the Son, thanks to which he would recover , finally, himself insofar as, through Him, he would return to himself as self-knowledge, that is, as the Holy Spirit.

Now, such an interpretation of the dogma of the Trinity makes God not God without the world, makes creation and Incarnation necessary and not free,[v] with the consequence that, as one can say paraphrasing a passage from Hans Urs von Balthasar quoted by Ladaria, it becomes imperative that one sees God as “absorbed in the process of the world”, not being able, therefore, “to come to himself not to be through said process”.[vi]

In the present context, the disastrous consequences brought by this Hegelian interpretation of the Trinity for the integrity of the doctrine of faith and its Congregation do not matter.

What matters to me, instead, firstly, is to try to show, albeit counterintuitively, that interpreting the Trinity in genuinely Hegelian terms, far from reducing or subordinating the so-called immanent trinity to the economic trinity, thus giving the vision of the absolute a constitutive character. eschatological, rather does the opposite, thus occurring, if we are not mistaken in the interpretation, that Hegel, in fact, what he does is to recover the concept of oikonomia originally proposed by Tertullian, separating the theory of the absolute from eschatology.

A second result and a second advantage of the Hegelian position that I would like to argue for, if I may say so, is that, by admitting the precedence proposed by Agamben of theological conceptual structures over those dedicated to the explanation of the political, one gains in this field , thanks to that – thanks to the Hegelian passage – a liberation from all Messianism and a much more realistic and integrated vision of oikonomia ethics, if, again, I may be allowed to use that expression which Hegel would most likely refuse. But let's look at this a little more closely, even if the unfolding – why else can I – is going to be minimalist.


Demonstrate precisely and with textual support how the Hegelian syllogistic recovers the original conception of oikonomia Trinitarian and, thus, allows avoiding the aporias involved in its extension to the doctrine of salvation and the eschatology that is inherent to it, is an exegetically complex task, whose implementation requires an extensive reading of texts, in addition to being condemned to confront the most complex and difficult problems of interpretation of Hegel's work.

In this communication, however, I will try to take a short course. However, before that, as an epigraph, or, perhaps better, as a kind of advance notice, it seems convenient to quote the statement that one reads in the section on the proofs of the existence of God, in the Lessons on the Philosophy of Religion, where it is said very expressly that "insofar as one speaks of knowledge about God, one immediately speaks of the form of a syllogism".[vii]

Making this statement somewhat clearer is one of the desideratums to be pursued here, but to achieve it, it is better to go straight to those texts in which Hegel deals directly and exhaustively with theological questions. So, to begin with, and not without some irony, at the beginning of Philosophy of Nature, in § 247, Hegel says:

“The divine idea is precisely that, to resolve this other thing outside of oneself and again to take it back into oneself, to be subjectivity and spirit”.[viii]

This crude summary of the most essential part of Hegelian philosophy is still too indeterminate to further clarify and corroborate the thesis stated above, and it is certainly necessary to explain with greater clarity what this resolution of the divine idea consists of. O topos it is recurrent in Hegelian philosophy and the texts abound.

Thus, to go further, we can refer, for example, to the Addendum to paragraph 381 of the same Encyclopedia where we read the following: “As is known, theology expresses this process in the mode of representation, saying that God the Father (the Universal simple, which is in itself), renouncing its solitude, creates nature (the outside of itself, what-is-outside-of-itself), generates a Son of its other Self); but this Other, by virtue of his infinite love, contemplates himself, recognizes his image there, and in it returns to unity with himself. [That] unity, no longer abstract, immediate, but concrete, mediated by difference, is the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son and in the Christian community reaches its perfect effectiveness and truth.”

However, this presentation of the trinity in the language of representation, in the peculiar sense that Hegelianism gives the word, despite the fact that it is expressed in Hegel's own words and introduced as a pedagogical version of his own position, still does not confirm the assertion we made above that Hegel's theory of the Absolute Idea involves an interpretation of Trinitarian dogma which, expressed in the language of current theologians, would be immanent rather than salvationist. Much less does it make us see why it would involve, as we stated above, a renunciation of all eschatology.

In fact, at first glance, one could well think the opposite, since Hegel sustains – for example, when expounding the concept of God – a kind of constitutive dependence of the latter in relation to the finite. A clear expression of this position can be found in the following passage: “The finite appears (...) as an essential moment of the infinite and, if we place God as the infinite, He cannot, in order to be God, do without the finite. God finitises himself, gives himself determination. This could in principle be contrary to the Divinity, but this is already present in the ordinary representations of God, since we are used, for example, to consider him as the creator of the world”.[ix]

Furthermore, putting things in terms no longer of representation, but in the strictly speculative register, it is necessary to admit that the processuality of the Idea must be conceived as a concrete and positive development, to borrow two adjectives used by Bourgeois.[X] Which is to say, it makes no sense to doubt that both the decision of the Idea of ​​“freely letting the moment of its particularity come out of itself (...), the immediate idea as its reflection, as nature” (Enc., § 244)[xi], as for nature's self-denial - her burning like a phoenix[xii] – from which the spirit comes out, are real processes.

More: when the authoritative commentary by Bourgeois tells us that: “for Christianity the Trinitarian sequence is a descent from the Father by the Son in the Spirit”, whereas, for Hegelianism, it is: “an ascension of the Father, by the Son, to the Spirit"[xiii] it seems well to confirm the thesis that – as the defenders of Catholic orthodoxy say, and here, to be specific, the Ladaria archbism – that the Trinitarian development “seems to arise more from the lack than from the superabundance of the divine being”,[xiv] behold, as our contemporary theologian continues – and, as we have already seen in the texts cited above – according to Hegel: “God is not without the world, the Son is not without the Incarnation, the Holy Spirit is not without the community Christian".[xv]

Now, if this were the last station, the end of the line in interpreting and understanding the Hegelian position then it would be forced to conclude that the claim I made above that Hegel would recover an immanent view of the trinity, thereby being cautious about the eschatological aporias, would have been nothing more than a daring and unusual hypothesis, lacking philological basis and hermeneutic relevance.

However, things are more complex than they appear and I don't think it's time to definitively give up. In fact, in the aforementioned § 247 of the Encyclopedia, the following is read: “The world was created, it is created now and it was created eternally; this happens in the form of conservation of the world. Creating is the activity of the absolute Idea; the idea of ​​nature is, like the idea as such, eternal. (….) The finite is, however, temporal; it has a before and an after; and when you have the finite before you, you are in time. The finite has a beginning, but no absolute. His time begins with him and time is only of the finite. Philosophy is a timeless understanding also of time and of all things in general, according to their eternal determination.”[xvi]

Well, if Hegel can even say of Nature that she is eternal, then it is clear that he can say the same of Spirit and that is why, at the other end of this same book II of the Encyclopedia, right after the step in which the philosopher tells us says that spirit comes from nature itself, the text adds: “it [the spirit] is both before and after nature (...). not empirically, but insofar as he is always already contained in it and presupposes it to himself. But his infinite freedom sets it free and presents the idea's working against it as an inner necessity in it, just as a man free in the world is sure that his action is the world's activity." (Enc., § 376, Addendum).[xvii]

More: the very lesson of the conclusion of the conclusion of the Encyclopedia, the one given to us at the culmination of the system, what we are told in paragraph 577, is the full confirmation of the point, because what Hegel calls the syllogism of the idea of ​​philosophy , consists precisely in the statement that if the Idea is divided, having its two appearances in nature and in the spirit, it, in the absolute knowledge of itself, understands itself as eternal and as eternally active and engendering of its appearances and enjoys this knowledge.[xviii]

If, therefore, returning to the language of conventional theology, we now ask ourselves how the speculative conception of the trinity is to be understood, it seems to me that the answer must be that it does indeed overcome the distinction between immanent and economic understandings, for the facts of God's creation, incarnation and revelation in time are annulled by being reabsorbed in the eternal character of the Idea's division in its appearances and in the eternal knowledge of its return to itself.

Gerard Lebrun, in one of the many passages of his The concept patience, – to which, incidentally, I partly owe the lesson that I have just hurriedly and clumsily summarized – illustratively expresses what I believe should be considered as the best reading of the Hegelian thesis by saying:

“Now, to say that God 'reveals himself' is to say that the being-other, the Finite is not outside of God. (….) Undoubtedly, it is difficult for the Christian to conceive of this, inasmuch as he attaches more importance to the Incarnation than to Golgotha ​​(….). However, it is at the moment when the difference between God and the world is revealed as a simple differentiation that the Offenbarung culminates: the alienation in the finite was just a flash, the time that the realm of Finitude appeared as a figure that the divine raises to later dissolve in its wake”.[xx]


If, returning to the initial concerns of these notes, to Aganbem's thesis concerning the genealogical precedence of theological categories in relation to political categories, we now ask ourselves what derivations follow from the speculative understanding of the trinity for the structuring of political concepts; If we ask ourselves, then, how and in what terms the philosopher's speculative theology determines Hegelian politics, my first answer will be that it makes all messianism and all eschatology impossible. The second will be that, from the Hegelian point of view, the paradigms that Agamben calls economic-managerial and political-state cannot be considered as antinomic.

To clarify the first of these points aphoristically, I could simply say that for Hegel, from the point of view of the fundamental conceptual structures of ethics, the game is always already played. This means that from the speculative point of view its macro-divisions – family, civil society, State – are eternal, behold, such institutions are necessary, they are the constants that constitute the very terms of the ethical syllogism.

As is known, this position exasperated Marx, whose critique, inter alia, said: “The Idea is erected as a subject and the real relationship of the family and civil society with the State is presented as the work of the Idea and its imaginary activity. The family and civil society are the presuppositions of the State; they are therefore the only really active elements, but in speculation everything is turned upside down”.[xx]

Be that as it may, considered things from the Hegelian point of view, it makes no sense or irony to criticize the division of global social life into a terrestrial life and a heavenly life, as we read in The Jewish question,[xxx], neither waiting nor announcing, nor fighting, for any society, conceptually new. Which is also to say that the absence of eschatology makes messianism a foolish and useless passion, to use Sartre's famous expression.

Radicalizing the point even more, it could be said that it is the discussion itself about the end of history that has always been wrongly placed, because the same applies to it as Hegel says with regard to the demand that a definitive answer be given to the question that arises. questions whether the world had a beginning in time or not, that is, it must be said that it is this you-you of the useless question (§ 247, p. 29). It is because, he explains to us, when we place ourselves on the plane of the finite, we do not reach any end and it can be said both that we have a beginning and that we do not. True, there is a finite history of infinity, a history of the Idea's return to itself in time, but this, insofar as it is effectively the history of infinity, and not the monotonous series of chronologically accumulated events, is eternal, in spite of the fact that can be empirically forgotten and repeated in the course of finite history, as when, for example, in the countries of the so-called real socialism, attempts were made to dissolve the distinction between the State and civil society.

Analogously, regarding the second question, as I tried to show in my study on the Hegelian conception of patriotism, the economic-managerial and political-state paradigms are inextricably associated, because just as there is a double figure of patriotism – one of the ordinary situations, another those of situations of exception – so it can also be said that according to the concrete situations in which the ethical life is contingently found, one or another of the figures of the ethical syllogism may predominate.

By the way, to end with an allusion to the situation we are living in, it could be said that worldwide in recent years people have lived under the sign of the purely formal and superficial formula of the ethical syllogism – SPU –, the formula of the syllogism of appearance according to which universality seemed to derive simply from the interaction of individuals mediated by the particularity of the system of needs, that is to say in current language, by the immanent dynamics of globalization.

Now, however, the great crisis that the world is going through has reestablished the most fundamental formula, the SUP formula, in which the middle term is the universal, whose potency attests to the ideality of every singular and every particular –of every finite‑ exhibiting- if at the same time as its foundation and ultimate end. For that is what this extraordinary uplift of governments really means, which again demonstrates that, eternally, the State is the ultimate truth of the social, the instance on which, in the last analysis, the ethical totality depends for its stability and conformation.

*Joao Carlos Brum Torres is a retired professor of philosophy at UFRGS. He was Secretary of Planning for the government of Rio Grande do Sul (1995-1998 and 2003-2006). Author, among other books, of Transcendentalism and Dialectics (L&PM).


Giorgio Agamben. The Kingdom and the Glory: A Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government [Homo Sacer, II]. Translation: Selvino J. Assmann. São Paulo, Boitempo, 328 pages.


[I] V. Luis F. Ladaria, The Living and True God—The Mystery of the Trinity, translation by Paulo de Gaspar Meneses, SJ, Edições Loyola, São Paulo, 2005, p. 157.

[ii] apud Luis F. Ladaria, op. cit., p. 37.

[iii] Id., 38.

[iv] Id., 45.

[v] V. Id., p. 45. What from the technical point of view of theology leads to confusion “between theology of the Trinity and Christology” (Id., 48).

[vi] apud Ladaria, op. cit., p. 49.

[vii] VGWF Hegel, Lessons on the Philosophy of Religion, I, work quoted here according to the Spanish translation by Arsenio Guinzo, entitled  The concept of religion and published by Fund of Economic Culture, Mexico, 1981, p. 248.

[viii] VVGWF Hegel, Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences – In Compendium (1830), vol. II, § 247, Addendum; trans. by José Nogueira Machado, published by Edições Loyola, São Paulo, 1997, p. 26

[ix] O concept of religion, in. cit., p. 190.

[X] V. Bernard Bougeois, Presentationin Encyclopédie des Sciences Philosophiques III – Philosophie de lEsprit, Vrin, Paris, 1988, p. 83, note 34, ultimately.

[xi] V. Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences – In Compendium, I, ed, cit., p. 370-1.

[xii] V, id, II, § 376, Addendum, p. 536.

[xiii] V. Bernard Bourgeois, Hegel, Les Actes de l'Esprit, Vrin, Paris, 2001, p. 231.

[xiv] See ob. cit., 47.

[xv] ID Ib.

[xvi] Ed., cit., p. 28.

[xvii] In. cit., 556,

[xviii] Cf.. ed. cit., 364

[xx] V. Gerard Lebrun, The patient of the concept, Gallimard, Paris, 1972, p. 137.

[xx] V. Karl Marx, Critique of the Hegelian State, in the French translation by Kostas Papaioannou published by 10/18, Paris, 1976, p. 59.

[xxx] Marx says, in effect: “Where the political state has reached its true development, man – not only in thought, but in reality, in life – leads a double life, a heavenly life and an earthly life: a life in the political community, in that he considers himself a collective being and lives in civil society, in which he acts as a private individual, considers other men as means, degrades himself by making himself a means and converting himself into a plaything of powers strangers to you”. In: K. Marx, Oeuvres, III: Philosophie, Paris, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1982, p.356.

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