Carl Schmitt

Carl Schmitt (11 July 18887 April 1985) Weimar and Nazi jurist and critic of parliamentarism and liberalism.


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.
  • All genuine political theories presuppose man to be evil.

Quotes about SchmittEdit

  • Schmitt's moral instability never impaired an extraordinary capacity to fuse conceptual insight and metaphoric imagination in lightning flashes of illumination around the state.
    • Perry Anderson, Spectrum (2005), Ch. 1 : The Intransigent Right: Michael Oakeshott, Leo Strauss, Carl Schmitt, Friedrich von Hayek
  • 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)
  • Nor did equality fare well as an ideal in the aftermath of the French Revolution. One twentieth-century writer, the Israeli historian Jacob Talmon, blamed the egalitarian thrust of the Revolution, and especially the ideas of Rousseau, for the totalitarian dictatorships of his time, while other thinkers who experienced those dictatorships at first hand, including Leo Strauss and the right-wing German philosopher Carl Schmitt, found it easier to defend secrecy, elitism, and dictatorship than to endorse anything resembling egalitarian principles. As late as the 1950s, an American conservative man of letters could still look back to the French Revolution as the ultimate cause of an egalitarian condi tion in which “the people subsist only as an inchoate mass of loosely cohering units, a tapioca-pudding state, which condition many utilitar ian and social planners contemplate with equanimity,” but which he, Russell Kirk, viewed with a sense of dread.
    • Alan Wolfe, The Future of Liberalism (2009), Ch. 3 : Equality’s Inevitability
  • 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?

See alsoEdit

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