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Carl Schmitt

German jurist, political theorist and professor of law

Carl Schmitt (11 July 18887 April 1985) was a German jurist and political theorist. Schmitt wrote extensively about the effective wielding of political power. His work has been a major influence on subsequent political theory, legal theory, continental philosophy and political theology.



Political Theology (1922)Edit

Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty. George Schwab, trans. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1985.

Preface to Second Edition (1934)Edit

  • To be sure, Protestant theology presents a different, supposedly unpolitical doctrine, conceiving of God as the "wholly other," just as in political liberalism the state and politics are conceived of as the "wholly other." We have come to recognize that the political is the total, and as a result we know that any decision about whether something is unpolitical is always a political decision, irrespective of who decides and what reasons are advanced. This also holds for the question whether a particular theology is a political or an unpolitical theology.

Ch. 1 : Definition of SovereigntyEdit

  • Sovereign is he who decides on the exception.
  • All law is "situational law." The sovereign produces and guarantees the situation in its totality. He has the monopoly over this last decision.

Ch. 2 : The Problem of Sovereignty as the Problem of the Legal Form and of the DecisionEdit

  • It is striking that one of the most consequential representatives of this abstract scientific orientation of the seventeenth century became so personalistic. This is because as a juristic thinker he wanted to grasp the reality of societal life just as much as he, as a philosopher and natural scientist, wanted to grasp the reality of nature. He did not discover that there is a juristic reality and life that need not be reality in the sense of the natural sciences. Mathematical relativism and nominalism also operate concur rently. Often he seemed to be able to construct the unity of the state from any arbitrary given point. But juristic thought in those days had not yet become so overpowered by the natural sciences that he, in the intensity of his scientific approach, should un suspectingly have overlooked the specific reality of legal life inherent in the legal form. The form that he sought lies in the concrete decision, one that emanates from a particular authority. In the independent meaning of the decision, the subject of the decision has an independent meaning, apart from the question of content. What matters for the reality of legal life is who decides.

Ch. 3 : Political TheologyEdit

  • All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts not only because of their historical development—in which they were transferred from theology to the theory of the state, whereby, for example, the omnipotent God became the omnipotent lawgiver—but also because of their systematic structure, the recognition of which is necessary for a sociological consideration of these concepts. The exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle in theology.
  • The metaphysical image that a definite epoch forges of the world has the same structure as what the world immediately understands to be appropriate as a form of its political organization.

Ch. 4 : On the Counterrevolutionary Philosophy of the StateEdit

  • Liberalism, with its contradictions and compromises, existed for Donoso Cortés only in that short interim period in which it was possible to answer the question “Christ or Barabbas?” with a proposal to adjourn or appoint a commission of investigation.
  • The essence of liberalism is negotiation, a cautious half measure, in the hope that the definitive dispute, the decisive bloody battle, can be transformed into a parliamentary debate and permit the decision to be suspended forever in an everlasting discussion.

The Concept of the Political (1927)Edit

  • The concept of the state presupposes the concept of the political.
  • The equation state = politics becomes erroneous and deceptive at exactly the moment when state and society penetrate each other.
  • A definition of the political can be obtained only by discovering and defining the specifically political categories.
  • The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy.
  • Only the actual participants can correctly recognize, understand, and judge the concrete situation and settle the extreme case of conflict.
  • The enemy is not merely any competitor or just any partner of a conflict in general. He is also not the private adversary whom one hates. An enemy exists only when, at least potentially, one fighting collectivity of people confronts a similar collectivity. The enemy is solely the public enemy, because everything that has a relationship to such a collectivity of men, particularly to a whole nation, becomes public by virtue of such a relationship.
  • The political is the most intense and extreme antagonism, and every concrete antagonism becomes that much more political the closer it approaches the most extreme point, that of the friend-enemy grouping.
  • The inevitable lack of objectivity in political decisions, which is only the reflex to suppress the politically inherent friend-enemy antithesis, manifests itself in the regrettable forms and aspects of the scramble for office and the politics of patronage. The demand for depoliticalization which arises in this context means only the rejection of party politics, etc. The equation politics = party politics is possible whenever antagonisms among domestic political parties succeed in weakening the all-embracing political unit, the state.
  • The friend, enemy, and combat concepts receive their real meaning precisely because they refer to the real possibility of physical killing. War follows from enmity. War is the existential negation of the enemy.
  • War as the most extreme political means discloses the possibility which underlies every political idea, namely, the distinction of friend and enemy.
  • Every religious, moral, economic, ethical, or other antithesis transforms into a political one if it is sufficiently strong to group human beings effectively according to friend and enemy. The political does not reside in the battle itself, which. possesses its own technical, psychological, and military laws, but in the mode of behavior which is determined by this possibility, by clearly evaluating the concrete situation and thereby being able to distinguish correctly the real friend and the real enemy.
  • That the state is an entity and in fact the decisive entity rests upon its political character.
  • The state as the decisive political entity possesses an enormous power: the possibility of waging war and thereby publicly disposing of the lives of men. The jus belli contains such a disposition. It implies a double possibility: the right to demand from its own members the readiness to die and unhesitatingly to kill enemies.
  • As long as the state is a political entity this requirement for internal peace compels it in critical situations to decide also upon the domestic enemy. Every state provides, therefore, some kind of formula for the declaration of an internal enemy.
  • The political entity presupposes the real existence of an enemy and therefore coexistence with another political entity. As long as a state exists, there will thus always be in the world more than just one state. A world state which embraces the entire globe and all of humanity cannot exist.
  • The concept of humanity is an especially useful ideological instrument of imperialist expansion, and in its ethical-humanitarian form it is a specific vehicle of economic imperialism.
  • All genuine political theories presuppose man to be evil.
  • Political thought and political instinct prove themselves theoretically and practically in the ability to distinguish friend and enemy. The high points of politics are simultaneously the moments in which the enemy is, in concrete clarity, recognized as the enemy.

"The Tyranny of Values" (1959)Edit

  • Whoever asserts a value, must bring its influence to bear. Whoever maintains that it has value regardless of the influence brought to bear by any individual human being who endorses it, is simply cheating.
  • A science that observes the laws of causation, and so is value-free, threatens human freedom and man’s religious, ethical, and legal responsibility. The philosophy of values raised to that challenge, in the sense that it opposed a sphere of values, as a realm of ideal valuations, to a sphere of being that was only causally understood. It was an attempt to assert the human being as a free, responsible creature, indeed not in itself, but at least, in its valuation, what one called value. That attempt was put forth as a positivistic substitute for the metaphysical.
  • Correctly understood, the phrase “tyranny of values” may supply the key to the understanding that all thinking about values only foments and intensifies the old and endless struggle between convictions and interests. Not much is gained by what the modern philosophy of values acknowledges as the “fundamental relationship,” according to which, occasionally the lower value may be preferred to the higher value, because that is the prerequisite of the higher value. All that points only to the confusion that affects the whole argumentation about values, which continually gives rise to new relations and points of view, thereby the position is always maintained from which the opponent is reproached that he does not heed the manifest values; or, in other words, he is disqualified as value-blind. The polemical utilization of the word “blind” is adequate to the logic of values as long as it is concerned with the systems of reference that it will build up out of viewpoints, standpoints, and vantage-points.
  • Nobody can valuate without devaluating, revaluating, and serving one’s interests. Whoever sets a value, takes position against a disvalue by that very action. The boundless tolerance and the neutrality of the standpoints and viewpoints turn themselves very quickly into their opposite, into enmity, as soon as the enforcement is carried out in earnest. The valuation pressure of the value is irresistible, and the conflict of the valuator, devaluator, revaluator, and implementor, inevitable.
  • In a community, the constitution of which provides for a legislator and a law, it is the concern of the legislator and of the laws given by him to ascertain the mediation through calculable and attainable rules and to prevent the terror of the direct and automatic enactment of values. That is a very complicated problem, indeed. One may understand why law-givers all along world history, from Lycurgus to Solon and Napoleon have been turned into mythical figures. In the highly industrialized nations of our times, with their provisions for the organization of the lives of the masses, the mediation would give rise to a new problem. Under the circumstances, there is no room for the law-giver, and so there is no substitute for him. At best, there is only a makeshift which sooner or later is turned into a scapegoat, due to the unthankful role it was given to play.
    A jurist who interferes, and wants to become the direct executor of values should know what he is doing. He must recall the origins and the structure of values and dare not treat lightly the problem of the tyranny of values and of the unmediated enactment of values. He must attain a clear understanding of the modern philosophy of values before he decides to become valuator, revaluator, upgrader of values. As a value-carrier and value-sensitive person, he must do that before he goes on to proclaim the positings of a subjective, as well as objective, rank-order of values in the form of pronouncements with the force of law.

"The Tyranny of Values" (1967)Edit

  • The social product grows from year to year. Who is now the true creator of this surplus value which grows wildly and beyond any measure? Who can afford to figure out the profit yielded causally adequate by this immense wealth and the series of economic miracles? In concrete terms: who is the legitimate distributor of the social product and who actually assesses the shares in practical life? As long as the issue is about value, all such questions must above all be formulated as economic questions.
  • The various philosophies of life presented themselves as a conquest of materialism, or in any case, they readily claimed it. That does not change anything: their valuations, revaluations, and explanations of disvalue have been emptied into the over-all secularization stream, where they have only hastened the tendency to unlearn, which is a neutralizing process, after all.
  • Value has its own logic. In the constitutional state that is most clearly recognizable in the enactment of its constitution.

Quotes about SchmittEdit

  • In the Weimar Republic, the Westphalian Schmitt began his career as the most original Catholic adversary of socialism and of liberalism. In polemics of electric intensity, whose charge was increasingly aimed at the precarious parliamentarism of postVersailles Germany, he treated their ideas as dilute theologies, which were bound to prove weaker than the force of national myth. His own positive doctrine became a neo-Hobbesian theory of politics. Its critical edge was to protect the state of nature depicted in Leviathan, the war of all against all in which individual agents are pitted against each other, onto the plane of modern collective conflicts: thereby transforming civil society itself into a second state of nature. For Schmitt, the act of sovereign power then becomes not so much the institution of ‘mutual peace’ as the decision fixing the nature and frontier of any community, by dividing friend from foe – the opposition that defines the nature of the political as such. This stark ‘decisionist’ vision came out of a regional background in which the choices seemed, to many others as well as Schmitt, to reduce themselves to two: revolution or counter-revolution.
    • Perry Anderson, "The Intransigent Right: Michael Oakeshott, Leo Strauss, Carl Schmitt, Friedrich von Hayek" (1992)
  • In his last tour de force, published under the Federal Republic, Der Nomas der Erde (‘The Law of the Earth’), Schmitt showed that the very term fetishised by Oakeshott and Hayek to bespeak the transcendence of abstract procedural rules, exempt from all specific social directives, in its origins actually signified the opposite: and that none other than Thomas Hobbes had been the first to make this clear. […] For Schmitt, such original distribution presupposed a founding appropriation, what he called a Landnahme: the occupation of territory that necessarily preceded any division of it, and which English soil had known as memorably as any, under Roman boot and Norman stirrup. The ‘radical title’ (as Locke put it) underlying any law lay in such taking and allocating, as the etymological linkage of nomos with nemein (to take) suggested. Here, conceptually and historically, the oppositions between rule and goal, law and legislation, the civil and the managerial, dissolve. Nomos and telos are one.
    • Perry Anderson, "The Intransigent Right: Michael Oakeshott, Leo Strauss, Carl Schmitt, Friedrich von Hayek" (1992)
  • The conduct of Carl Schmitt under the Hitler regime does not alter the fact that, of the modern German writings on the subject, his are still among the most learned and perceptive.
  • In the view of the German political and legal theorist Carl Schmitt (1888–1985), politics reflects an immutable reality of human existence: the distinction between friend and enemy. In most accounts, this notion of ‘the political’ is linked to the production, distribution and use of resources in the course of social existence.
    • Andrew Heywood, Political Theory:An Introduction, Third Edition (2004), Ch. 3 : Politics, Government and the State
  • Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to portray political realists as warmongers, who are unconcerned about the death and devastation that war can wreck. Carl Schmitt (1996), for example, argued against just wars, on the grounds that wars fought for political gain tend to be limited by the fact that their protagonists operate within clear strategic objectives, whereas just wars, and especially humanitarian war, lead to total war because of their expansive goals and the moral fervour behind them. Indeed, one of the reasons why realists have criticized utopian liberal dreams about ‘perpetual peace’ is that they are based on fundamental misunderstandings about the nature of international politics that would, ironically, make war more likely, not less likely.
    • Andrew Heywood, Global Politics (2011), Ch. 10 : War and Peace
  • As of today, apart from a few isolated exceptions, Carl Schmitt’s relationship to democratic theory has not been carefully explored. Never considered a promising topic, it has remained marginal within a constantly expanding Schmitt scholarship. Obviously, the simple mentioning of Schmitt’s name invokes strong reactions, especially when it comes to democracy, and with good reasons.
    • Andreas Kalyvas, Democracy and the Politics of the Extraordinary : Max Weber, Carl Schmitt, and Hannah Arendt (2008)
  • Carl Schmitt is one of an unholy triumvirate with which Strauss has been increasingly identified. The other two are Nietzsche and Heidegger. Their unholiness derives from their links with Nazism: in the case of Schmitt and Heidegger, actual party membership, and in the case of Nietzsche, the perception of an intellectual affinity by some Nazi party ideologues. (It should be noted that Nietzsche also said a great deal that was not in any way supportive of Nazi ideologies and politics, including a rejection of anti-Semitism.)
    • Catherine and Michael Zuckert, The truth about Leo Strauss : political philosophy and American democracy (2006), Ch. 5 : Leo Strauss—Teacher of Evil?
  • Like other German theorists of the state, Carl Schmitt held to the idea that politics is always about violence; if we really and truly disagree with other people, we ought to treat them as enemies. Fish does not follow Schmitt this far. To be sure, he fills his books with examples of people who ought to, and usually do, hate each other: secular liberals dealing with religious fundamentalists; full-stop opponents of affirmative action confronting those who support it; defenders of speech codes and critics of hate-crime laws.
    • Alan Wolfe, The Future of Liberalism (2009), Ch. 5 : Mr. Schmitt Goes to Washington

See alsoEdit

Social and political philosophy
Philosophers AmbedkarArendtAristotleAugustineAurobindoAquinasAronAverroesAzurmendiBadiouBakuninBaudrillardBaumanBenthamBerlinBurkeJudith ButlerCamusChanakyaChomskyCiceroComteConfuciusDe BeauvoirDebordDu BoisDurkheimEmersonEngelsFanonFoucaultFourierFranklinGandhiGentileGramsciGrotiusHabermasHan FeiHayekHegelHeideggerHobbesHumeIrigarayJeffersonKantKierkegaardKirkKropotkinLaoziLeibnizLeninLockeLuxemburgMachiavelliMaistreMalebrancheMaoMarcuseMaritainMarxMenciusMichelsMillMisesMontesquieuMoziMuhammadNegriNiebuhrNietzscheNozickOakeshottOrtegaPaineParetoPlatoPolanyiPopperRadhakrishnanRandRawlsRenanRothbardRousseauRoyceRussellSadeSantayanaSartreSchmittSearleSkinnerSmithSocratesSombartSpencerSpinozaStirnerStraussSunSun TzuTaineTaylorThucydidesThoreauTocquevilleVivekanandaVoltaireWalzerWeberŽižek
Social theories AnarchismAuthoritarianismCollectivismCommunismConfucianismConservatismFascismIndividualismLiberalismLibertarianismRepublicanismSocial constructionismSocialismUtilitarianism
Concepts Civil disobedienceJusticeLawPeacePropertyRevolutionRightsSocial contractSocietyTyrannyWar
Forms of rule AristocracyBureaucracyDemocracyMeritocracyPlutocracyTechnocracy

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