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He did not offer ideology, as did so many forgotten political philosophers, but instead clear analysis of power relations, untied to any specific system or regime. So, as the neoliberal new world order collapses, and the old dragons of man, lulled for decades by the false promises of liberal democracy, rise from slumber, such matters are become relevant once more, and Schmitt informs our times, echoing, as they do, his times.
But I turned to Schmitt because his name kept coming up in modern books by leftists and was used by NeverTrumper Bill Kristol when trying to tar his opponents.
He was not interested in such restorationism; he correctly saw it as a false path. He was master of identifying and rejecting the historical anachronism in favor of reality; such clarity is one key to effective Reaction. Born in , of a provincial Roman Catholic family in the Rhineland, Schmitt studied jurisprudence which then included political science and political philosophy in Berlin in the early s.
At that time, the legal philosophy of positivism dominated German thinking. Positivism held that the law consisted only of, and was derived only from, legal pronouncements, and formed a seamless whole through and by which all legal decisions could be made uniformly and predictably, if only one looked hard enough.
This, a modernist concept beloved of liberals, had erased the earlier philosophy of natural law, under which much of the law existed outside specific legal mandates written down in books, whether divinely mandated or the result of custom and human nature.
The war, however, firmly set his thought on the path it was to take for the rest of his long life, which was opposition to positivism, as well as all other liberal forms of law.
Schmitt volunteered, but due to an injury, served in a non-combat capacity in Berlin. Here Schmitt associated not with the Prussian elite, but with a more bohemian crowd. After the war and the post-war revolutionary disturbances, the mainline left-center parties, over the objections of the defeated rightists and cutting out the violent Left, promulgated the Weimar constitution, in August of Here, he attacked the German Romantics for refusal to politically commit, instead remaining detached observers of critical events, manipulating words to create emotional effect while standing back from history.
As Balakrishnan notes, this book is neither Left nor Right, and one cannot tell where on the political spectrum the author fell, though Romanticism was generally associated with the Right. Schmitt even cited Karl Marx to support his arguments.
Not that he was a man of the Left; he was merely hard to classify. Declining to work in government, Schmitt began his academic career in Munich, and in published The Dictator. Though the book was written earlier, was immediately after the various Communist revolts, as well as the Kapp Putsch; the political situation was, to say the least, still unsettled. This had obvious applications to Weimar, but Schmitt did not focus on the modern; instead, his analysis revolved around sixteenth-century France, where the King claimed the right to suspend customary right in the execution of royal justice.
Opposed to the King were the Monarchomachists, part of a long tradition of political philosophy holding that a tyrannical or impious king could justly be overthrown , and that no extraordinary measures could be taken by the king without tyranny. In between was Jean Bodin, author of The Six Books of the Republic, who argued that the king could indeed overthrow customary law, but only in exceptional situations, and only to the extent he did not violate natural law as it ruled persons and property.
In the modern context, though, for Schmitt, the sovereign dictatorship is not always illegitimate, because the old structures have imploded. What was wrong for the King of France in the sixteenth century was right for the Germans in That is, through his analysis, Schmitt concluded that the Weimar Constitution was wholly legitimate, even though it was the result of a sovereign dictatorship, because the sovereign dictator, the provisional legislative power, the pouvoir constituent the power that makes the constitution , existed for a defined term and then dissolved itself.
Schmitt viewed Article 48 as authorizing such a commissarial dictatorship—but under no circumstances authorizing a sovereign dictatorship, which had been foreclosed upon the promulgation of the new constitution, whatever external threats might still exist. Though that did not preclude, perhaps, another such moment, which, in fact, arrived soon enough. Balakrishnan next covers two short but influential books revolving around Roman Catholicism, Political Theology and Roman Catholicism and Political Form.
Although often Schmitt is seen as a Catholic thinker, he had a tense relationship with the Church not helped by his inability to get an annulment for his first marriage , and much of his thinking was more Gnostic than Catholic. It is not decided, at its root, by positive law; deep down, it is a theological question hence the title. Turning from his earlier suggestion that only a commissarial dictatorship was typically necessary, Schmitt came closer to endorsing sovereign dictatorship of an individual, not derived from the people, in opposition to the menace of proletarian revolution.
This vision did not entrance Schmitt for long; it smacked too much of restorationism, of trying to turn back the clock, rather than creating a new thing informed by the old. Less influential, perhaps, but more interesting to me, is Roman Catholicism and Political Form. Schmitt had fairly close ties to the Catholic Center Party, but this book is not a political work.
The book portrayed the Roman Church as the potential pivot around which liberalism and aggressively sovereign monarchs of the old regimes could be brought together, through its role in myth and in standing above and apart from the contending classes, as well as being representative of all classes and peoples. It sounds like this book has a lot in common with a current fascination of some on the American right, Catholic integralism, a topic I am going to take up soon.
Spiritually arid, divisive, atomizing, impractical, and narrow, it had no future; the question was what future Europe was to have instead. Here Schmitt lurched away from the idea of the sovereign imposing good government on the masses, and focused on the mass, the mobilization of the multitude that can give authority to the sovereign who decides on the state of exception, citing men like the violent French syndicalist Georges Sorel and impressing on the reader the power of political myth, rather than Roman Catholic truth.
Schmitt discussed the tension between liberalism and democracy, among other things focusing on rational discourse as the key to any parliamentary system, and that rational discourse tends to be lacking in proportion to the amount of direct democracy in a system, though Schmitt attributed that to the power of political myths creating political unity, not to the ignorance and credulity of the masses, as I would. This was once something that was universally recognized and assumed, but today the divide between rationality and democracy is ignored.
This change, or debasement, derives from a combination of political ideology, in part informed by Marxism and cultural Marxism, and ignorance, from the forgetting of history and thousands of years of applied political thought. It will not end well. Schmitt is not recommending a particular resolution or political program; Balakrishnan attributes that to Schmitt still building his own thought, without an ideological goal in mind. Various other writings followed, responsive to the events of the s.
He wrote a massive work on German constitutional law which is untranslated to English , analyzing the relationship between democracy and the Rechtstaat , the core structures of German law revolving around the rule of law, which did not presuppose any particular form of government. In these writings, Schmitt addressed a wide range of thorny problems, including the legitimacy of law and who authorizes a new constitution, from which arise questions of legitimacy, and, just as importantly and about to become more important at that time , questions of whose interpretation commands assent.
This is, needless to say, directly contrary to the claims of legal positivism. This book sounds like the most relevant to today, both in its topic and in the specifics it diagnoses about modern liberalism.
Politics is thus, at its core, not separate from the rest of life, but, ultimately, the way in which a political community determines its destiny, in opposition to those who hold incompatible beliefs, through violent conflict if necessary. This is an internal decision to each political community, not susceptible to rational discussion with those outside the community, and it is not a moral, but rather a practical, decision. Liberalism, which believes that politics is a matter of pure rationality with a moral overlay, not only misses the point, but by being wrong, exacerbates the chances of and costs of conflict, especially by turning all conflict into a crusade where the enemy is evil, rather than just different.
Liberalism makes war and death more, rather than less, likely. The point he was making was directed at those who, failing to understand the irreducibly partisan, emergent dynamics of such scenarios, see the causes of major political events in the small tricks and mistakes of individuals.
Lenin, he said, understood that such people must be decisively refuted. In the late s, Schmitt moved to Berlin, and became part of circles there, mostly conservative but idiosyncratically so. He became close friends with Johannes Popitz later executed for his role in the Stauffenberg plot , who opened doors in government for Schmitt.
The disappearance of that belief would destroy the enchantment of the world, but would not reduce conflict, which would be more and more meaningless. As the clock ticked down to National Socialism in power, Schmitt became more involved in government, especially in advocating various forms of constitutional interpretation.
Among other works, he wrote Legality and Legitimacy, analyzing the tension between majority rule and the legitimacy of its decisions with respect to the minority, casting a jaundiced eye at the ability of liberals to resist Communists and Nazis. At this point, in the early s, he was anti-Nazi, but that changed as the Nazis came to power, and Schmitt always keenly interested in his own career saw on which side his bread was buttered, although he was also fascinated by the Nazis and what their rise said about politics and political conflict; moreover, he made the typical error of intellectuals, to believe that he could influence and control the powerful through his intelligence.
Despite his attempts to become ever more shrilly anti-Semitic among other dubious offerings, suggesting that Jewish scholars referred to in books have an asterisk placed by their name to identify them as Jewish , he was still viewed with suspicion by the Nazis, as a Catholic and an opportunist, and within a few years he was exiled from political life, before the war began. Still, he kept writing, among other things, using Thomas Hobbes as a springboard, developing a theory of the supersession of nation states by larger blocs embracing satellite states, as well as related theories of the political implications of Land and Sea.
After the war, Schmitt refused to submit to any form of denazification, so although he was not prosecuted, he was barred from teaching for the rest of his life—another forty years. He maintained intellectual contacts with a wide circle, though, and remained somewhat influential—an influence that has increased since his death in When the katechon is withdrawn, Antichrist will become fully manifest.
Saint Paul, however, implies that his listeners know who the katechon is. I think one can, perhaps, contrast such a role with the role suggested by the Left, of some person or a vanguard, who creates a wholly new system, often conceived of as utopian. In reactionary thought, therefore, the katechon plays the essential role of being rooted in reality and human nature; the force that, through a combination of power and inertia, prevents the horrors unleased by utopian ideology.
Certainly the American Left long since recognized, since it is the necessary belief of any ideological worldview seeking utopian goals, who is friend and who is enemy. And even a casual listen to the words of the Left today, from their foot soldiers to their elites , reveals an explicit acknowledgement of this view.
It is not just ideological, either; the Left thrives on the solidarity that comes from recognizing who the enemy is. The American Right, on the other hand , is still delusionally trapped in the idea that we can all get along , or at least, their leaders hope to be eaten last. Meanwhile the Left marches its columns ever deeper into enemy territory, stopping at nothing and only avoiding widespread violence though, certainly, there is plenty of Left violence already because it is not yet adequately opposed.
This spreading thin, driven by ideology, potentially erodes their power, or would if they were being opposed at all, more so if effectively. Perhaps this is a universal flaw of the ideological left, from the French Revolution on, and the source of the truism that Left revolutions eat their own.
Without a sovereign, no stability, and no future—only the capacity for destruction, on full display now, after which those not poisoned by the beliefs of the Left pick up the pieces. But first, they have to be recognized as enemies, and treated as such. No time like the present to begin, and better late than never. Instead, we get Donald Trump, who is better than nothing, but not by much.
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