Furthest Right

Carl Schmitt on friends, enemies and the political (Andrew Norris)


Carl Schmitt on friends, enemies

and the political

Andrew Norris

If the work that Carl Schmitt produced during the Weimar Republic is of interest today, it is in large part because of his insistence on the conceptual autonomy of the political. Like Hannah Arendt, Schmitt categorically distinguishes the political from the economic, the technological, and the legal; and, like her, he also criticizes liberalism for muddying and obscuring these distinctions.(n1) As one might expect from an eminent jurist, he places particular emphasis on the last — the distinction between the legal and the political. The main lines of his argument are clear enough: the concept of law is defined by the criteria of what is and is not in accord with legal roles and norms; the concept of the political, by the criteria of friend and enemy. The identification of friend and enemy is an existential decision which cannot be anticipated by law. Moreover, the political is not simply distinct from the legal but prior to it in that no system of norms can be developed or applied without a moment of decision that exceeds the regulation of those norms. Thus the state as the political actor cannot be reduced to a legal system, nor can what legitimacy it has be derived from law. Particularly in an emergency or state of exception, a sovereign “either/or” decision must be made, and this decision cannot be derived or inferred from the norms that obtain in the normal situation. Because of the inherent limitations of laws, rules, and norms, the political decision that identifies friend and enemy must be made independently.

The main complaint: against this formulation is familiar enough: Schmitt allegedly emphasizes the limitations of law only to glorify the decision that exceeds the regulation of any law. Insofar as rights are defined and guaranteed by law, Schmitt’s existential concept of the political makes these rights vulnerable to unregulated political decision. This is found to be all the more distressing, since Schmitt stresses the decision’s role in the most extreme case, i.e., war, in the political identification of the existential enemy. As he puts it: “Only the actual participants can correctly recognize, understand, and judge the concrete situation and settle the extreme case of conflict. Each participant is in a position to judge whether the adversary intends to negate his opponent’s way of life and therefore must be repulsed or fought in order to preserve one’s own form of existence.”(n2) The bellicose nihilism this suggests is often seen as a causal factor in Schmitt’s own active participation in the Nazi movement in the 1930s. His political theory, it is alleged, is opportunistic, with only one consistent commitment –to the irrational. Thus Richard Wolin claims that the central roles played in Schmitt’s political theory by the political decision and the threat of war are both motivated by a “vitalism” and a “politics of authenticity,” with the aim of overturning the vapid bourgeois order.(n3) The result is a glorification of violence.(n4) In the end, politics for Schmitt is a matter of conflict and war, and the true criterion of the political is the enemy. Who one’s political “friends” are is determined only in the encounter with the enemy, and they are valued only insofar as they allow for success in the resulting war. As Martin Jay puts it, “the hated other [is] needed to create the solidarity of the homogeneous self.”(n5)

This reading of The Concept of the Political is unwarranted. While some might not be surprised that Schmitt put his intellectual powers in the service of the Nazi Party when it came to power, although most of his colleagues and students were shocked, it does not follow that Schmitt’s concept of the political is itself necessarily totalitarian.(n6) Schmitt’s attempt to characterize politics in terms of friendship and enmity is both more complicated and more interesting than his critics suggest. In particular, his provocative formulations of the friend/enemy distinction should not lead to the conclusion that he reduces politics to a function of war. Schmitt’s theoretical position requires a prior substantive commitment to relations of “friendship” and social solidarity. His account of political authority, in particular, rests on an almost Hegelian understanding of the individual’s relation to the community and one’s own mortality. The friend/enemy criterion defines a particular form of life, one in which group identity is valued above physical existence.(n7) To properly understand Schmitt’s work it must be considered not as a rejection of an established moral order but as a response to a culture of nihilism in which meaning — rather than value — is ebbing away.

There are a number of reasons to be wary of accepting the interpretation of Schmitt as, in Alan Megill’s phrase, “a prophet of extremity.” To begin with, Schmitt is no Ernst Junger, though he has been portrayed as such.(n8) Junger was a professional soldier whose revelatory experience of the front line in WWI transformed his life, while Schmitt consistently displays a Hobbesian concern with physical security. It is certainly true that he is of his time and place in the stress he places on decisive violence. But it is less clear what function this has in his thinking. In this regard it is extremely relevant that Schmitt’s references to physical conflict in The Concept of the Political are defensive in nature. As Heinrich Meier notes, Schmitt’s imagination reacts to an attack from without; it does not pursue aggressive action of its own.(n9) Indeed, Schmitt himself at one point defines the existential quality of war in precisely defensive terms: “If physical destruction of human life is not motivated by an existential threat to one’s own way of life, then it cannot be justified.”(n10) Moreover, this interpretation of Schmitt ignores his account of the “equal chance.” George Schwab argues that Schmitt developed this in an effort to protect the Weimar Republic from those extremist political parties that would subvert it from within, as the Nazis did.(n11) Whether this is true or not, Schmitt’s insistence that only those political parties committed to the maintenance of the constitution should be allowed to compete for political office reveals a commitment to stability which is incompatible with a celebration of political will. Most importantly, the simplest form of the decisionist allegation relies on a poor understanding of Schmitt’s friend/enemy distinction that does not do justice to the complexities of his work.

That all said, interpretations of Schmitt that center on his alleged “occasional” belligerence remain plausible, because of the stress he places on the threat of physical death implicit in the encounter with the enemy. It is this, he argues, that establishes the existential independence of the political: “The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy”; and, “The friend, enemy, and combat concepts receive their real meaning precisely because they refer to the real possibility of physical killing.”(n12) Because of this structural configuration, he has far more to say about the enemy than the friend. Since The Concept of the Political understands the state in terms of the political, it characterizes the state primarily in terms of external conflict rather than in terms of specific internal social structures.(n13) Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to think that what Schmitt means by an enemy can be grasped without understanding what he means by a friend, however difficult this latter task may be. This is not merely true because, as the old saw has it, a valley cannot be imagined without a hill. It is also because some meaning must be given to the notion of the friend in order to make any sense of Schmitt’s distinction between the private and the public.(n14)

“The enemy,” Schmitt writes, “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 ….”(n15) Why must this be so? What justification does Schmitt have for this distinction between the hostis and the inimicus? Given that Schmitt’s intention in The Concept of the Political is to work toward “a definition [of the political] in the sense of the criterion,”(n16) it cannot be merely that political matters are by definition public matters that involve groups of people. Since Schmitt intends to explain the state in terms of the political, and not vice versa, it does not matter that today the state is understood to be “the political status of an organized people in an enclosed territorial unit.”(n17) It must instead be the case that the enemy of which Schmitt speaks cannot be conceived apart from a notion of friendship in which people are brought into “collectivities.” If this were not the case, there is no reason why the mugger on the street should not be seen as triggering political conflicts.

Here a contrast with Arendt may be helpful. She argues that political action is analogous to artistic performances, such as dance, and not to solitary arts, such as sculpture. On her account, both dance and political activity aim at a revelation of the actor that is simply impossible in the absence of an audience containing a multiplicity of perspectives and judges. Thus, political action is inherently public.(n18) Schmitt, however, can appeal to no such an argument: for one does not need the presence of others either to face violent death or to defend oneself from it.

Schmitt relies on the threat to the individual’s own physical life to draw out the “existential” quality of the political. But this threat is hardly identical with the threat to the collectivity’s “way of life” or “form of existence.” In order to bridge the gap between the two, Schmitt must present the Lebensform as in some way prior to the individual. This is why Schmitt never acknowledges as his own the problem that bedevils Hobbes: if individuals merely enter into a polity to protect their lives, how can that polity ever demand that they risk or sacrifice their lives? As Schmitt explicitly states, “the right to demand from its members the readiness to die” implies that the state has a priority over the individual.(n19) Indeed, this is one of the most important features of the Schmittian state. It is “by virtue of [its] power over the physical life of men [that] the political community transcends all other associations or societies.”(n20) Since the enemy is defined as a threat to those relations of “friendship” internal to the state, it follows that the latter are not entirely a function of the external relation to the enemy.(n21) If Schmitt is at all coherent, then Wolin must be wrong in claiming that Schmitt’s “existential definition of politics in terms of the primacy of the friend-enemy grouping necessitates the relinquishing of all claims to the ‘good life’ and instead to rest content with ‘mere life’ — namely, existential self-preservation.”(n22) If an often intemperate writer is also capable of subtlety, one might see Schmitt’s dedication to The Concept of the Political as a clue to this. It reads “In memory of my friend, August Schaetz of Munich, who fell on August 28, 1917, in the assault on Moncelul.”

At this point, however, this may seem to be making extremely heavy weather out of a few turns of phrase. But Schmitt explicitly states that: “The political… does not describe its own substance, but only the intensity of an association or dissociation of human beings whose motives can be religious, national (in the ethnic or cultural sense), economic, or of another kind and can effect at different times different coalitions and separations.”(n23) The plainest reading of this is as follows: groups define themselves in a variety of ways. The conflicts that emerge between these various groups are not political until they reach a certain level of intensity — until they pose a threat to the group’s existence. The sovereign decision is then made whether or not to go to war in order to resolve the conflict, at which point the conflict becomes political. What is distinctively political, then, is entirely a matter of the conflict with the enemy; the relation with the friend is only a pretext: for this conflict. If the final step of this interpretation were correctly taken, in view of Schmitt’s claim that the political has an existential priority over all other forms of association, Wolin would be quite right to conclude that Schmitt is committed to the view that “all the energies of modern life stand in the service of war.”(n24) How then can Schmitt assure his readers that “War is neither the aim nor the purpose nor even the very content of politics”?(n25)

“In case of need,” Schmitt writes, “the political entity must demand the sacrifice of life. Such a demand is in no way justifiable by the individualism of liberal thought.”(n26) What does justify, such a demand? In the longer of the two passages just quoted, Schmitt is wholly unconcerned with the substance or motives of the association that enters into the political conflict. Yet something connected to these motives, which are said to have no specifically political substance, is strong enough to lead men and women to offer their lives for the group. More, it is strong enough that men and women ought to recognize as legitimate the “right” of the state to “demand” their lives. Given the political indifference of the content of the group’s motives and beliefs, it can only be this recognition itself that makes the group political. When one, for whatever reason, prize the integrity of one’s way of life over one’s own lives, then he has become political. The threat to human life does not make one political, but serves only as a reminder of one’s commitment, of the fact that one’s way of life is valued above one’s life. Compare, in this regard, the quotation at the beginning of this paragraph with Schmitt’s previously cited claim: “If physical destruction of human life is not motivated by an existential threat to one’s own way of life, then it cannot be justified.” The decisive conflict is between political solidarity and apolitical, liberal individualism: “The negation of the political… is inherent in every consistent individualism.”(n27)

Individualism is an understanding of human freedom at home in a “modern economy,” in which “a completely irrational consumption conforms to a totally’ rationalized production. A marvelously rational mechanism serves one or another demand, always with the same earnestness and precision, be it for a silk purse or poison gas or anything whatsoever.”(n28) In an individualistic society, “Public life is expected to govern itself. It should be governed by public opinion, the opinion of private individuals. Public opinion, in mm, should be governed by a privately owned press. Nothing in this system is representative; everything is a private matter.”(n29) Schmitt defines “representation” in Burkean terms, as an individual’s ability to embody the body politic, and not to act as a mere functionary for one’s constituents.(n30) Schmitt in turn identifies the body politic with the constitution — a collective decision about the nature of political unity and identity. Schmitt is critical of legal positivism, in part because a legal system cannot itself generate a constitution, but must always act in the service of one. The essence of politics, for Schmitt, is a homogenous form of identity that both allows for the transcendence of private, physical life and opens the possibility of a particular form of violent conflict.(n31)

Compare this interpretation with Leo Strauss’s reading of Schmitt: Strauss concludes that, in the absence of an independent moral affirmation of the political, “the affirmation of the political is the affirmation of fighting as such, wholly irrespective of what is being fought for.”(n32) This still places too much emphasis on actual combat. As Schmitt put it: “The political does not reside in the battle itself… but in the mode of behavior which is determined by this possibility.”(n33) That mode of behavior is a solidarity that makes possible both self-sacrifice and political authority. In a passage often quoted by his detractors, Schmitt insists that “The high points of politics are simultaneously the moments in which the enemy is, in concrete clarity, recognized as the enemy.”(n34) “Simultaneously,” because such high points of politics are not identical with the recognition of the enemy. It is not that groups need to be constantly at war with one another to be political,(n35) but that the people belonging to them see war and what it demands as a real possibility, i.e., that they are reminded of their commitments, of their willingness to give their lives when the sovereign demands they do so. The relation of friend is not defined by the emergence of the enemy, but it is brought into view in its true significance. This should make it plain why Schmitt suggests that a loss of meaning and significance attends the eclipse of the political.(n36) Life will lack meaning unless it contains commitments cherished above mere physical existence.(n37)

Much of the drama and the danger of Schmitt’s work is a function of this attempt to use politics to counter nihilism. Though Schmitt’s polemical political theory sets itself against the presuppositions of what he finds to be today’s “individualistically disintegrated society,”(n38) he is hardly a latter-day Tocqueville or a communitarian a la Michael Sandel. Where Tocqueville contrasts individualism with a public life of the sort that jury duty might encourage, Schmitt contrasts it with solidarity in the face of the potential enemy.(n39) If Tocqueville seeks to broaden personal interests and to temper “the habits of the heart,” Schmitt seeks to change the concept of who one are.(n40) Politics paves the way for this in such a way that. it makes sense to sacrifice one’s life, because of the awareness that there will be some other form of survival. Where Schmitt adds decisively to the analysis of Tocqueville et. al. is in his emphasis on authority (and hence commitment) and mortality. Schmitt aligns himself with the Greeks in his insistence that politics be a response to the fragility and futility of human life. He is hostile to individualism., not simply because of his authoritarian tendencies, but also because the form individualism has taken in contemporary society, manifest in the consumption of images, pleasures, and commodities, is simply incapable of addressing this issue.

This helps to understand the significance of Schmitt’s almost cryptic note on Hegel in The Concept of the Political. “Hegel remains everywhere political in the decisive sense.” He “also offers the first polemically political definition of the bourgeois. The bourgeois is an individual who does not want to leave the apolitical riskless private sphere.” Finally: “Hegel has… advanced a definition of the enemy which has in general been evaded by modern philosophers. The enemy is negated otherness.”(n41) The first two of these claims become clear in light of an explication of the third. Hegel argues that war is a fundamental possibility of political life, one that is actually beneficial. It is a fundamental possibility, because the state is, vis-a-vis other states, an individual, “and individuality essentially implies negation. Hence even if a number of states make themselves into a family, this group as an individual must engender an opposite and create an enemy.”(n42) It is a beneficial one because, by providing the necessary context for martial courage, war allows the individual to transcend the limited perspective of his place in society: “the important thing here is not personal mettle but aligning oneself with the universal.”(n43) As Hegel acknowledges, even “robbers and murderers bent on crime” sometimes demonstrate a willingness to risk their lives. Such bravery has a merely negative worth because “it is the negation of externalities, and their alienation, the culmination of courage, is not intrinsically of a spiritual character.”(n44) That is to say, courage even in a wicked cause has some worth in that it strips away or “alienates” the inessential baggage of life (e.g… the obsession with property). This worth, however, is only negative because it is found in removing or negating the inessential, without affirming something of real spiritual worth. Quite different is patriotically motivated self-sacrifice: “The intrinsic [or positive] worth of courage as a disposition is to be found in the genuine, absolute, final end, the sovereignty of the state.”(n45)

The affinities between this position and Schmitt’s are obvious.(n46) But where Hegel’s commitment to the view that reason must be actual leads him to celebrate the actual virtuous conduct of war, Schmitt never praises war as such and remains silent on the value of courage. For Hegel, the modern state is the highest form of ethical life, and the sacrifices it demands are part of that life. Thus war “is not to be regarded as an absolute evil,” as it itself contains an “ethical moment”: courage.(n47) For Schmitt, war is essentially a political matter; as such, it is as little ethical as it is evil. “If there really are enemies in the existential sense meant here, then it is justified, but only politically, to repel them and, fight them physically. …Justice does not belong to the concept of war.”(n48) No doubt, the conduct of war is often also sublime, economically wasteful and immoral. But Schmitt cautions against concluding from this that moral, aesthetic, or economic categories should trump political ones. In particular, the attempt to end war because of its immorality may backfire horribly by producing a war to end all wars. Schmitt argues that this could well produce a form of warfare that is “unusually intense and inhuman because, by transcending the limits of the political framework, it simultaneously degrades the enemy into moral and other categories and is forced to make of him a monster that must not only be defeated but also utterly destroyed.”(n49) As a political theorist, Schmitt neither celebrates nor bemoans war. Instead, he recognizes that it appears inevitable, and he argues that it is a distinctively political possibility, in that it can be the expression of the solidarity that binds together the various warring factions. No doubt, he would also recognize that war is not always the function of such political systems some wars are little more than private squabbles between princes, dictators and business interests, whose servants remain as alienated and isolated in conflict as they were in peace.

If this interpretation is correct, it is not merely because people are “evil” in the sense of dangerous that the political is their destiny. It is not the threatening presence of the enemy alone that leads into the political; the enemy must threaten relations and forms of life that are sufficiently cherished by those who partake of them. It is such commitments and such solidarity that are the destiny of human beings.(n50) This seems to be what Schmitt has in mind when he writes: “In the concrete reality of the political, no abstract orders or norms but always real human groupings rule over other human groupings and associations.”(n51) To describe these “real human groupings” or “ways of life” as relations of friendship may be misleading. As one of the criteria of the political, “friend,” like “enemy,” has a formal, almost technical meaning. Just as Schmitt argues that the public enemy is conceptually distinct from the private enemy, whom one hates, so is his public friend distinct from the private friend, whom one loves. This, however, does not mean that Schmitt’s political friendship is the same phenomenon described by Aristotle in books eight and nine of the Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle’s philia emphasizes objective qualities of character and lacks the connotations of intimacy carried by “friendship.” In contrast, Schmitt’s political friendship implies as little about the character of the “friend” as it does about one’s feelings for him. Indeed, in stark contrast to both the Aristotelian and the popular concepts of friendship, it is not necessary that those people who share a relation of political friendship even know one another. What is essential is that there be a shared commitment to their way of life. As Schmitt makes clear, that form of life might be defined in any number of ways: “All concepts, including the concept of mind, are pluralistic and can only be understood in terms of concrete political existence. Just as every nation has its own concept of nation and finds the constitutive characteristics of nationality within itself, so every culture and every cultural epoch has its own concept of culture. All essential concepts are not normative but existential.”(n52)

The existence of such a shared commitment in no way allows for the evaluation of political order in ahistorical, rationalist terms. Schmitt’s concern is with the nature of the commitment to the group, not with the “objective” moral status of that group’s behavior. This is not necessarily a fatal compromise. As Stuart Hampshire, hardly a nihilist, has argued, there is no reason to expect all of the necessary mores of a group to be open to rational, universal standards. “Any particular sexual morality,” for instance, “is under-determined by purely rational considerations, which are everywhere valid …. At all times and in all places there has to be a sexual morality… but it does not have to be the same sexual morality.”(n53) The same could be said of any of the features that identify a group its members see as possessing political authority over their lives.

Here it may be objected that Hegel’s distinction between a legitimate state and a gang of courageous “robbers or murderers bent on crime” is valid. If so, does Schmitt’s political theory allow him to recognize it? It does in so far as it distinguishes between a loosely organized group and one in which the sovereign authority is acknowledged by the citizenry to possess “the right to demand from its members the readiness to die.” Whether a group of the latter sort is made up of thieves and murderers is beside the point. No doubt, some states have been largely concerned with the pursuit of murder and thievery. Such states are deplorable. But they are states nonetheless. Schmitt is attempting to provide “a definition [of the political] in the sense of a criterion,’ one independent of the criteria that define the moral, aesthetic and economic spheres of human thought and action. It follows that he will acknowledge as political some forms of association that may be good or evil, beautiful or ugly, profitable or unprofitable.(n54)

However, it is one thing to say that the internal standards of a group defy evaluation by universal rationalist standards, and quite another that the members of the group are incapable of guiding their own decisions by shared values or shared ideas of what constitutes a good reason. Schmitt commits himself to the latter as well as the former position. The first step toward this unwelcome conclusion is taken when he insists on the political irrelevance of the content of the “motives” that define any given political group. Schmitt argues that the political “is independent, not in the sense of a distinct new domain, but in that it can neither be based on any one antithesis [such as good and evil, beautiful and ugly] or any combination of other antitheses, not can it be traced to these.” Further, “it would be senseless to wage war for purely religious, purely moral, purely juristic, or purely economic motives.”(n55) On what, then, will the solidarity of the group be based? What do they have in common if it is neither economic, aesthetic, religious, or moral? The answer is a shared identity, the homogeneity of the group. Hence the only “sensible” justification for waging war is the self-defense of the group.(n56) The homogeneity that defines the group may well have its origins in a shared religion or a shared set of moral values. But politically this content is irrelevant. This would seem to squash most public debate and deliberation. Moral, economic and even religious matters are things about which one can argue. But shared identity, if there is one, appears to be nothing more than a fact. Indeed, it is not even that because this identity is so formalized, so thoroughly drained of content, that is nothing more than a shared commitment. Like the sovereign decision, it is neither a fact nor a norm.(n57)

This does not completely preclude political deliberation. Because solidarity is based on a shared identity, there is little room for the multiplicity of perspectives required if debate is to emerge at all. But there is still the possibility to differ about the interpretation of political identity. In a discussion of 17th-century theories of natural law, Schmitt writes: “Public order and security manifest themselves very differently in reality, depending on whether a militaristic bureaucracy, a self-governing body controlled by the spirit of commercialism, or a radical party organization decides when there is order and security and when it is threatened.”(n58) This suggests that there is no distinction between the regime and the sovereign. But the basic point remains relevant: different regimes will be threatened by different things and in different ways, and these threats will not be self-evident. Consider the US, which today still has a slim claim to being “a self-governing body controlled by the spirit of commercialism.” The men who led the country into war against Iraq could argue with at least some plausibility that they were “defending” the concrete way of life characterized in this way. But it was obviously open to others to deny this, and to claim that the “self governing” and “commercial” spirit in no way required this war. Such a debate can be conducted on at least two levels. On the first, it is largely a matter — in this case — of economics; on the second, it is a matter of whether’ something poses an “existential” threat to a political entity that merely happens to be guided by a “commercial” spirit. On this second level the debate would concern the interpretation of identity and, as such, be a purely political one.

Schmitt himself demonstrates an easy confidence in his own ability to make the required distinctions: “To demand seriously of human beings that they kill others and be prepared to die themselves so that trade and industry may flourish for the survivors or that the purchasing power of the grandchildren may grow is sinister and crazy.”(n59) Such a remark might well be made in a debate over “Operation Desert Storm.” Here the claim might be that Americans are committed to and united in a democratic freedom that has only contingently been aligned with capitalism’s interests, and that Middle-East oil is not one of this polity’s vital interests. Put this way, the reply is easy enough to imagine. On the face of it, such a debate about the nature of shared identity and the focus of mutual commitment would not seem to be in conflict with Schmitt’s strictures. Nonetheless, he does not permit for political decisions to involve public debate and deliberation, even of the minimal sort his theory will allow. In his constitutional theory, the populace is accorded the right to evaluate the performance of the state only in the form of acts of acclamation.

This limitation is a result of Schmitt’s decisionism. Schmitt understands the political decision as an alternative to the law — one necessitated by the law’s own limitations. The rationality that characterizes the normal situation is, in his eyes, that of a norm or law governing that situation. In its absence, there is no indication, in Schmitt’s texts of the 1920s, of any rational guidance whatsoever.(n60) This is why Schmitt has no faith in public debate. If the only rational guidance that can be found is that of a norm, and if that will not apply in the case of an exception, it is plain that open debate will serve no purpose but that of undermining authority. Schmitt is quite frank about this: “The decision becomes instantly independent of argumentative substantiation and receives an autonomous value.”(n61) In the end “The exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle in theology.”(n62)

The relevant point here is that this characterization of the irrationality or arationality of the political decision is not necessarily connected with Schmitt’s characterization of the nature of political community. Schmitt’ s version of identity politics is largely derived from his reading of Rousseau. As he emphasizes again and again, according to this model, democracy is not a matter of popular participation, revocable consent, or liberal/ parliamentary institutions; instead, it is a question of the identity of the ruler and the ruled.(n63) Such identity is not at all irreconcilable with a form of dictatorship that denies to the populace the right to debate political issues.(n64) This much is clear in Rousseau’s own infamous references to the possibility of forcing the citizenry to be free when they misunderstand their own (general) will. But it does not necessitate dictatorship. As The Social Contract again makes clear, a Rousseauian polity that rests on the homogeneity of the commitments of its members is compatible with a variety of political structures and institutions.(n65)

If the proper interpretation of The Concept of the Political has been established here, this hardly neutralizes Schmitt because, like Heidegger, Schmitt did not always appreciate his own best insights. The fact that he put his theoretical system in the service of the Nazis should draw attention to the disturbing, if conceptually necessary, lack of content he gives the political form of life. Many detect anti-Semitism in Schmitt’s references to the political enemy as “alien and …. of a different type.(n66) Others disagree (though Schmitt is blatantly and offensively anti-Semitic in some of the writings he produced under the Nazis). But there is certainly no reason why a political form of life could not revolve around such bigotry. Indeed, Schmitt’s own attempt to stave off nihilism is clearly compatible with the nihilistic frenzy tearing apart regions like the former Yugoslavia, where ethnic solidarity is rife.

No doubt, this interpretation shifts the grounds of the debate on Schmitt in an important way. Too many of Schmitt’s critics take him to task for war-mongering. If this were true, it would make him an easy target. It is far more uncomfortable to recognize his close relation to the currently fashionable identity politics. The assertion of identity need not follow from nor lead to a violent conflict. Schmitt is quite right when he insists that “[w]ar is neither the aim nor the purpose nor even the content of politics.” But it would be naive or disingenuous to maintain that a politics that defines itself in terms of a shared identity did not raise this and other dangers. As Schmitt rather chillingly puts it “[D]emocracy requires …first homogeneity and second — if need arises — elimination or eradication of heterogeneity.”(n67)

If this suggests that the essentially Aristotelian/Platonic appeal to the primacy of the political whole over the political part is problematic, Schmitt’s work suggests similar limitations to the appeal to the whole in terms of the individual’s own life. Throughout his work, Schmitt is centrally concerned with commitment. To commit oneself to a political authority that can then make decisions concerning one’s life and death is, in a sense, an absolute commitment. It does not allow for the whimsical changes of mind Schmitt associates with romanticism and aestheticism. But, in itself, this hardly seems to justify the close connection Schmitt establishes between mortality, authority and meaning. If the point is to give meaning to .life and not, like Aristotle, to ensure that death be kalos — why bother with death at all? Surely some other “absolute” form of commitment is possible, say, marriage without the possibility of divorce, or the bearing of children whom one will “absolutely” refuse to abandon or disown. Schmitt’s utter disregard of such banal alternatives suggests that the commitment required involves a life in its entirety. Schmitt here appears to be working on precisely the same principle that defines his concept of the political the part finds meaning only in assuming its rightful place within the whole. Just as the individual becomes the person he truly is by transcending his physical life in his solidarity with the community, so too the discrete relations and commitments of his individual life take on their true meaning when they form a whole. Only death confronts life as a whole.

The appeal and the danger of Schmitt’s political thinking largely derive from his twofold insistence on the primacy of the whole. Only if politics and experience can be imagined in a new way — one that does not revolve around the attempt to regain unity and totality — will it be possible to move beyond Schmitt’s concept of the political. Liberalism, of course, tries to do this. But the mere assertion of liberal principles to those who seek something else from politics is clearly futile.(n68) Whether one finds Schmitt acceptable or not, it is undeniable that his concept of the political continues to apply today. If it is to be set aside, it should be done with a clear awareness of the needs it promises to fulfill. For it is simply not true that every Nazi or Stalinist was an evil, stupid, or morally retarded human being. As disturbing as it sounds, it follows from this that there were what appeared to be good reasons to believe that legitimate needs could be met by such movements. Until those needs are understood, it is difficult to meet them in other ways and to resist those movements that promise to meet them. As Jean-Luc Nancy and Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe(n69) note: “It is not possible to push [Nazism] aside as an aberration, still less as a past aberration. A comfortable security in the certitudes of morality and of democracy not only guarantees nothing, but exposes one to the risk of not seeing the arrival, or the return, of that whose possibility is not due to any simple accident of history.”(*)


(n1.) See Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, tr. by George Schwab (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996), pp. 25-26; and “On the Counterrevolutionary Philosophy of the State,” in Carl Schmitt, Political Theology, tr. by George Schwab (London: The MIT Press, 1985), p. 65: “Today nothing is more modem than the onslaught against the political. American financiers, industrial technicians, Marxist socialists, and anarchic syndicalist revolutionaries unite in demanding that the biased role of politics over unbiased economic management be done away with. There must no longer be political problems, only organizational-technical and economic-sociological problems.” Arendt does not discuss the works of Schmitt addressed here. But in The Origins of Totalitarianism she does refer in passing to his “arresting” and “ingenious” discussions of law and democracy; she also distinguishes him sharply from “the Nazi’s own brand of political and legal theorists.” See Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, new edition with added prefaces (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973), p. 339, note 65.

(n2.) The Concept of the Political, op. cit., p. 27; and compare p. 35. Unless otherwise noted, all references to this text are to the 1932 edition. On the differences between this edition and its predecessors, see Heinrich Meier, Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss: The Hidden Dialogue, tr. by J. Harvey Lomax (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995).

(n3.) Richard Wolin, “Carl Schmitt: The Conservative Revolutionary Habitus and the Aesthetics of Horror,” in Political Theory, Vol. 20, No. 3 (August 1992), p. 432. Wolin’s reading of Schmitt is fairly typical. Compare, for instance, John P. McCormick’s recent Carl Schmitt’s Critique of Liberalism: Against Politics as Technology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), which takes it as a given that “the political” for Schmitt is “the transhistorically legitimated human propensity toward violent existential conflict” (pp. 17, 96, and 110). “The political, the postulation of an enemy… serves to distract from the discomfort… of not knowing who oneself [or] one’s culture… is in modernity” (p. 233). Cf. also William Scheuerman, Between the Norm and the Exception: The Frankfurt School and the Rule of Law (Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1994), pp. 31 and 32.

(n4.) This line of interpretation is largely derived from Karl Lowith’s 1935 essay “The Occasional Decisionism of Carl Schmitt,” in Heidegger and European Nihilism, tr. by Gary Steiner (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995). Interestingly enough, Lowith elsewhere makes essentially the same claim about Germans as a class that he does of Schmitt in particular: “It is nothing more than insecurity that has given the Germans their political and racial self-confidence after Hitler. They have never been sure of themselves, nor do they know who they are. They constantly need an enemy, or at least a scapegoat, in order to gain self-determination. Because of this, the ‘Aryan’ is pure fiction provided he is not anti-Semitic.” See Karl Lowith, My Life in Germany Before and after 1933, tr. by Elizabeth King (London: The Athlone Press, 1994), p. 140. To complicate matters further, in yet another essay he characterizes Europe itself in these terms. See the first line of his “European Nihilism: Reflections on the Spiritual and Historical Background of the European War”: “Europe is a concept that develops not from out of itself but rather from out of its essential contrast with Asia.” See Heidegger and European Nihilism, op. cit., p. 173. The context makes it clear that here Lowith is drawing uncritically on Hegel’s analysis of the concept of Europe. It is ironic that the concept of political identity and difference Hegel uses is closely related to the political concepts of identity and difference Schmitt develops — concepts of which Lowith is deeply suspicious.

(n5.) Martin Jay “The Reassertion of Sovereignty in a Time of Crisis: Carl Schmitt and Georges Bataille,” in Force Fields: Between Intellectual History and Cultural Critique (New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 193, note 9.

(n6.) There is a tendency to make what are little more than ad hominem attacks against figures like Schmitt and Heidegger, and to treat their actions as embodiments or enactments of their philosophical arguments and analyses. The following statement by Lukacs is noteworthy, not for its eccentricity but only for its baldness: “There can be no innocent reactionary Weltunschauung …. From Nietzsche to Simmel, Spengler and Heidegger, et. al., a straight path leads to Hitler.” See Georg Lukacs, “On the Responsibility of Intellectuals,” tr. by Severin Schurger, in Telos, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Spring 1969), p. 124. But actions do not automatically follow from philosophy. The relations between philosophy and politics and between theory and biography are vexed, and they are no simpler to sort out in the cases of “Nazi” philosophers than in any other.

(n7.) Schmitt is not the only one in this context to take a polemical interest in the question of the proper form of life. As Peter Galison demonstrates in his “Aufbau/Bauhaus: Logical Positivism and Architectural Modernism,” in Critical Inquiry, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Summer 1990), the positivists of the Vienna Circle were adamant that their principle of analysis implied a form of life, one in which groups–pace Schmitt–are wholly reducible to their individual members. Where Bentham used this same argument in an attempt to develop a social science that would maximize the aggregate pleasure of isolated individuals, Neurath et. al. saw that the principle had a more specific function than this, as it resisted the organicism of the Right.

(n8.) See for instance “The Occasional Decisionism of Carl Schmitt,” op. cit., pp. 146 and 275. See also Joseph Bendersky’s critical discussion of Jeffrey Herf’s claims that Schmitt, like Junger, was responding in his writings to the experience of the front, in “Carl Schmitt and the Conservative Revolution,” in Telos 72 (Summer 1987), pp. 28-29.

(n9.) Meier, Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss, op. cit., pp. 18-19.

(n10.) Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, op. cit., p. 49, emphasis added.

(n11.) For a helpful discussion of this doctrine and the context in which it was advanced, see chapter 5 of George Schwab, The Challenge of the Exception (1970), 2nd edition (New York and London: Greenwood Press, 1989).

(n12.) Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, op. cit., pp. 26 and 33.

(n13.) Ibid., p. 19.

(n14.) Jacques Derrida’s reading of Schmitt has the virtue of recognizing that this is an interpretive problem. Unfortunately, Derrida does not attempt to solve it. “Hence a first possibility of semantic slippage and inversion: the friend (amicus) can also be an enemy (hostis) … Another way of saying that at every point when this border [between public and private] is threatened, fragile, porous, contestable… the Schmittian discourse collapses. It is against the threat of this ruin that his discourse takes form.” See Jacques Derrida, Politics of Friendship, tr. by George Collins (New York: Verso, 1997), p. 88. It remains to be seen if the distinction between inimicus and hostis is in fact a paradoxical or unstable one.

(n15.) Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, op. cit., pp. 28 and 51′ “A private person has no political enemies.”

(n16.) Ibid., p. 26

(n17.) Ibid., p. 19.

(n18.) See Hannah Arendt, “What is Freedom?” in Between Past and Future (New York: Penguin, 1968). Schmitt’s concept of the political also incorporates “the pluralism of spiritual life.” See Carl Schmitt, “The Age of Neutralizations and Depoliticizations,” tr. by Matthias Konzett and John McCormick, in Telos 96 (Summer 1993), p. 142. But this plurality is not what distinguishes the political from the private. Cf. Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, op. cit., p. 53.

(n19.) Even writers sympathetic to Schmitt do not seem to fully appreciate his point. Thus Bendersky does recognize that for Schmitt power does not produce relations of political friendship and that the distinction between friend and enemy must precede the onset of hostilities. See his Carl Schmitt: Theorist for the Reich (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983), pp. 93 and 89. But he does not explain what this would involve. Similarly, he notes in passing that “Many of the factors that could motivate friend-enemy oppositions, such as economic competition or the defense of one’s homeland, were quite rational” (pp. 92-93). But he does not acknowledge that this is hardly self-evident. What needs to be explained is the reason for sacrificing one’s life for a polity one could hardly enjoy in death.

(n20.) Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, op. cit., pp. 46-47. Curiously, Schmitt himself, for all his ambivalence toward Hobbes, may not have understood this decisive difference between himself and his predecessor. In his 1938 book on Hobbes, he claims repeatedly that Hobbes denies the citizen the right to resist the state. See Carl Schmitt, Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes: Meaning and Failure of a Political Symbol, tr. by George Schwab and Erna Hilfstein (London: Greenwood Press, 1996), pp. 46 and 53. But this is not true: Hobbes has to grant such a right in cases where the state directly threatens the individual’s life, as the protection of life is a necessary (if not sufficient) condition of political legitimacy. Cf. Hobbes, Leviathan (New York: Penguin, 1968), p. 199.

(n21.) Leo Strauss has his own slant on this. He writes: “Hobbes conceives the relation between the status naturalis and culture (in the widest sense) as an opposition; here all that needs to be stressed is the fact that Hobbes characterizes the status naturalis as the status belli and that ‘the nature of war consisteth not in actual fighting, but in the known disposition thereto’ (Leviathan, ch.xiii). That means, in Schmitt’s terminology, the status naturalis is the genuinely political status, for ‘the political lies not: in the conflict itself …. but in behavior determined by this real possibility.’ Hence it follows that the political, which Schmitt brings out as fundamental, is the ‘state of nature’ prior to all culture; Schmitt restores Hobbes’ conception of the state of nature to a place of honor. That provides the answer to the question within which genus the specific difference of the political is to be placed: the political is a status of man, indeed, the human status in the sense of the ‘natural,’ the fundamental and extreme status of man.” See Leo Strauss, “Comments on Carl Schmitt’s Der Begriff des Politischen,” appendix to Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, op. cit., pp. 87-88.

(n22.) Wolin, op. cit., p. 443. It is peculiar that Wolin silently refers to Aristotle here, as the claim for the existential priority of the political is ultimately Aristotelian. For the connection between this and the distinction between the good life and mere life, see the first book of Aristotle’s Politics.

(n23.) Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, op. cit., p. 38.

(n24.) Wolin, op. cit., p. 439.

(n25.) Schmitt, The Concept o. f the Political, op. cit., pp. 34 and 33.

(n26.) IBM., p. 71.

(n27.) Ibid., p. 70.

(n28.) Carl Schmitt, Roman Catholicism and Political Form, tr. by G. L Ulmen (London: Greenwood Press, 1996), pp. 14-15.

(n29.) Ibid., p. 28. Schmitt argues elsewhere that “the way from the metaphysical and the moral spheres is through the aesthetic sphere, which is the surest and most comfortable way to the general economization of intellectual life and to a state of mind which finds the core categories of human existence in production and consumption.” See Schmitt, “The Age of Neutralizations and Depoliticizations,” op. cit., p. 133. The danger of individualism is thus that it can throw the individual back on his own “spontaneous” desires, most of which are easily constructed by capital. It is absurd to suggest that Enlightenment theories of autonomy are realized in the endless shopping malls of contemporary America; but it is just as absurd to suggest that there is no connection between the two. Marcuse rightly argued that such a critique of culture remains dangerously incomplete as long it fails to address the politics of capitalism (e.g., the friend/enemy divide between the interests of international corporations and those of particular communities). Marcuse, however, errs to the other extreme in his emphasis on the isolated individual and his categorical assertion that, “released from its economic and social content, the concept of the whole has absolutely no concrete meaning in social theory.” See Herbert Marcuse “The Struggle Against Liberalism in the Totalitarian View of the State,” in Negations: Essays in Critical Theory (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968), p. 20.

(n30.) See Schmitt, Roman Catholicism and Political Form, op. cit., pp. 8, 20 and 26.

(n31.) Schmitt’s interest in political homogeneity is particularly marked in The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, where he links its absence to the devaluation of the political. It also plays a central role in his discussion of federalism. There he argues that existential conflict is always possible unless there is “a substantial homogeneity, an existential affinity” between the member states of the federation. This makes it clear that such homogeneity is identical to political friendship. See Schmitt, “The Constitutional Theory of Federation (1928),” in Telos 91 (Spring 1992), p. 39.

(n32.) Strauss, “Comments on Carl Schmitt’s Der Begriff des Politischen,” op. cit., p. 105.

(n33.) Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, op. cit., p. 37.

(n34.) Ibid., p. 67.

(n35.) Cf. Carl Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, tr. by Ellen Kennedy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988) p. I 1. This is not to deny that violent conflict may forge communities. Indeed, this is a fairly common occurrence. As Russell Hardin observes, “Individuals’ nationalist sentiments rise during wartime in part because the individuals’ fates become more closely tied to the national fate and, for many people perhaps, because wartime mobilization opens individual opportunities. Nationalist sentiments may go far beyond what self-interest would stimulate, but self-interest is there. Once the norm of nationalism takes over the field of play, it begins to reinforce itself. Under wartime conditions of nationalism, individuals begin to have reduced knowledge of alternatives and become less able to judge their own state.” See Russell Hardin One for All. The Logic of Group Conflict (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), p. 14. Here Schmitt is asserting a logical priority, not a temporal one. If there is no solidarity allowing for recognition of the authority of the sovereign over life and death, then no conflict, however bloody or extensive, is a conflict between political entities, though it may become one. That such apolitical conflicts are still called wars is of no significance, as Schmitt is not attempting to define politics in terms of war but in terms of the collectivity and the public enemy.

(n36.) See Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, op. cit., p. 35; and Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, op. cit., p. 12. A striking similarity emerges here between Schmitt and Heidegger, who in “The Age of the World Picture” complains bitterly that “No one dies for mere values.” See Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, tr. by William Lovitt (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), p. 142.

(n37.) Wolin and others assume that the connection between politics and meaning in Schmitt consists in his alleged belief that violent conflict is the only or the most meaningful form of experience. How rare such a belief would be, if it has ever been held by anyone. Even Junger does not affirm violence for its own sake, but as a Nietzschean attempt to affirm the technological nihilism that increasingly determines current modes of being. See, Junger, “Total Mobilization” in The Heidegger Controvery, ed. by Richard Wolin (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1991).

(n38.) Carl Schmitt, Political Romanticism, tr. by Guy Oakes (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1986) “Preface,” p. 20.

(n39.) See the final third of Chapter XVI of the first volume of Democracy in America.

(n40.) There are, however, important parallels between Schmitt and contemporary communitarianism. Will Kymlicka has argued that, while communitarians such as Michael Sandel and Charles Taylor “say there are shared ends that can serve as the basis for a politics of the common good which will be legitimate for all groups in society …. they give no examples of such ends or practices.” Kymlicka concludes from this silence that “there are no such shared ends.” See Will Kymlicka, Liberalism, Community and Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 86. While this exclusion is rather hasty, it is interesting to note the similarity here with the formalism of Schmitt’s existential/political commitment. It too remains to be defined.

(n41.) Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, op. cit., pp. 62-63.

(n42.) G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy’ of Right, tr. by T. M. Knox (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), addition to paragraph 324.

(n43.) Ibid., addition to paragraph 327.

(n44.) Ibid., paragraph 327.

(n45.) Ibid., paragraph 328.

(n46.) See Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, op. cit., p. 24, where Schmitt contrasts anti-statist liberalism and Hegel’s philosophy of the state.

(n47.) Hegel, Philosophy of Right, op. cit., paragraph 324. Shlomo Avineri argues that, for Hegel, “War is not the health of the state –in it a state’s health is put to the test.” See Shlomo Avineri, Hegel’s Theory of the Modern State (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1972), p. 199. This could be more accurately said of Schmitt. Indeed, Avineri’s own discussions of Hegel’s views on both war and the actuality of the rational bring out the fact that., as war is not something merely existent (real), it is not an illness the state suffers, but a necessary function of its life and its participation in the dialectic of history, of the actual. To the extent that a woman, for whatever reason, finds her womanhood to be confirmed or realized in giving birth, her labor is not a test of that womanhood so much as a fundamental expression of it. Cf. Avineri, op. cit., pp. 126-127 and 194-207. Even so, it would be a mistake to conclude that Hegel prefers war to peace. There is no reason to assume that all of the necessary functions of a state are equally desirable. Cf. Errol E. Harris, “Hegel’s Theory of Sovereignty, International Relations, and War,” in Selected Essays on G. W. F Hegel, ed. by Lawrence (Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1993), p. 112.

(n48.) Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, op. cit., p. 49, emphasis added. Hegel’s conflation of the moral and the political may be what Schmitt has in mind when, in discussing those “genuine political philosophers” who see man as “a dangerous and dynamic being,” he refers to Hegel’s “double face” (p.61). Indirect evidence for this is found in Schmitt’s later use of the phrase: “Ethical or moral pathos and materialist reality combine in every typical liberal manifestation and give every political concept a double face” (p. 71)..

(n49.) Ibid., p. 36.

(n50.) Ibid., p. 78.

(n51.) Ibid., pp. 72-3.

(n52.) Schmitt, “The Age of Neutralizations and Depoliticizations,” op. cit., p. 134. The context of this remark is telling. Schmitt’s emphasis on “concrete political existence” might lead to the conclusion that he fails to see that communities are often defined and wars often fought over abstract issues. In fact, Schmitt makes the above claim so as to be able to evaluate the different “central spheres” that he argues have succeeded one another in defining European civilization over the past five centuries: theology, metaphysics, humanistic moralism, and the aesthetic culture of production and consumption.

(n53.) Stuart Hampshire, Morality, trod Conflict (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), p. 136.

(n54.) At times, Meier betrays an inability to accept these distinctions. He asks why Schmitt takes pains “to conceal his moral judgment, his evaluative stance, towards the political.” See Meier, op. cit., p. 67. This implies that evaluative stances entail moral judgments if they can even be said to be distinct from them at all. In fact, Meier argues that Schmitt’s “moral” commitment is a form of theology. But not every “evaluative stance” is a moral one. Morality deals with how one ought to live. When Schmitt suggests that the political is to be preferred over the apolitical way of life, he is claiming something about how one ought to live. Does it follow that this claim is a moral one? It does it’ “moral” is defined so broadly that this conclusion really fails to make the point its proponents take it to be making; and it does not if one follows Schmitt and common usage and give the term a more specific definition. If Schmitt maintains the political as a way of life more meaningful than an apolitical way of life, it follows that he has an idea of what makes life meaningful. one that, if it is to be used as a standard by which to appraise the political, must be independent of it. It would make sense to call this “ethical,” in the widest sense, that of ethos, of character and habit. The problem is, if ethical is taken in this sense, it does not seem to say that the political is valued for ethical reasons, since everything is valued for ethical reasons: economics, aesthetics — even immorality itself.

(n55.) Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, op. cit., pp. 26 and 36.

(n56.) Ibid., p. 49.

(n57.) Cf. “Definition of Sovereignty,” in Schmitt, Political Theology, op. cit., p. 6.

(n58.) Ibid., pp. 9-10.

(n59.) Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, op. cit., p. 48.

(n60.) He does suggest that the English have attained a degree of homogeneity of values and manners that circumvents law to some extent. But he hardly adopts the English as a model for other political communities.

(n61.) Schmitt, “The Problem of Sovereignty,” op. cit., p. 31. Schmitt makes this comment in a discussion of the “moment of competence,” in which authority is assumed to make the decision without the guidance of the rule that authority will apply. He also specifies that this happens “in certain circumstances”; but he then goes on to. say that “there can never be absolutely declaratory decisions.” What is decisive is the entire absence of non-normative or legal reasons for deciding one way or another here and throughout Political Theology. While one might attribute this to the book’s emphasis on law, the examples of legal theorists from H. L. A. Hart to Stanley Fish demonstrate that discussions of law are by no means compelled to exclude discussions of non-legally determined judgment.

(n62.) See Schmitt, “Political Theology,” in Political Theology, op. cit., p. 36.

(n63.) See the first chapter and the preface to the second edition of Ire Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy.

(n64.) In his eagerness to vilify Schmitt, William Scheuerman argues that Schmitt “refers to Rousseau, but he strips Rousseau of any of his more defensible features.” As an instance of these features, Scheuerman argues that, “insofar as Rousseau’s reliance on the metaphor of the social contract is based on the picture of an agreement between individuals who first enter into it, it still is predicated on some degree of political pluralism.” See Scbeuennan, Between the Norm and the Exception, op. cit., p. 23. The objection, however, is poorly taken. Not only does Schmitt acknowledge this ambiguity in Rousseau t See Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, op. cit., p. 13), but he is right to resolve the ambiguity as he does. Rousseau distinguishes himself from, say, Locke, in his use of the concept of the General Will. If the members of a Rousseauian political/moral community did not share the same identity ….. the same (general) will …… it would be incomprehensible how one of them could “force” another one to be free. How such a shared identity might be the product of “an agreement, of individuals who first must enter into” a contract is wholly unclear. Rousseau’s “picture” of a social contract is not simply rhetorical, but neither is it a sell-evident, common-sensical concept.

(n65.) See, in particular, the third book. Schmitt acknowledges this on The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, op. cit., p. 25, but his own political thought moves decisively away from this openness.

(n66.) See, for example, Meier, op. cit., p. 7, note 5.

(n67.) Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, op. cit., p. 11. On the following pages he asks, in rhetorical illustration of this principle, “Does the British Empire rest on universal and equal voting rights for all of its inhabitants’?” His answer is, “It could not survive for a week on this foundation; with their terrible majority, the coloreds would dominate the whites. In spite of that the British Empire is a democracy.”

(n68.) John Rawls, the exemplary contemporary liberal, begins his Theory of Justice by arguing that utilitarianism is a wrong-headed approach to moral theory because it improperly generalizes from what is rational in the case of a single individual to what is rational in the case of many persons. While it might be rational for a single person to sacrifice a present pleasure to achieve a later, greater pleasure, it is never rational for a group to sacrifice the pleasure of one of its members to achieve the greater pleasure of others. Rawls understands the violation of his principle entirely in Kantian terms, as the use of one person as a means by others. But reading Schmitt demonstrates that some at least will understand this in radically different ways. Reading Rawls will hardly change their minds.

(n69.) They continue: “An analysis of Nazism should never be conceived as a dossier of simple accusation, but as one element in a general deconstruction of the history in which our own provenance lies.” See Jean-Luc Nancy and Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe, “The Nazi Myth,” tr. by Brian Holmes, in Critical Inquiry, Vol. 16, no. 2 (Winter 1990), p. 312.

(*) Kateri Carmola, Ron Polansky, Tom Rockmore, Hans Sluga, Eric Wilson and John P. McCormick provided critical and helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article.

[Telos; Summer98 Issue 112, p68, 21p]


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