Furthest Right

Liberalism (Carl Schmitt)

Liberalism has changed all political conceptions in a peculiar and systematic fashion. Like any other significant human movement liberalism too, as a historical force, has failed to elude the political. Its neutralizations and depoliticizations (of education, the economy, etc.) are, to be sure, of political significance. … But the question is whether a specific political idea can be derived from the pure and consequential concept of individualistic liberalism. This is to be denied.

The negation of the political, which is inherent in every consistent individualism, leads necessarily to a political practice of distrust toward all conceivable political forces and forms of state and government, but never produces on its own a positive theory of state, government, and politics. As a result, there exists a liberal policy in the form of a polemical antithesis against state, church, or other institutions which restrict individual freedom. There exists a liberal policy of trade, church and education, but absolutely no liberal politics, only a liberal critique of politics. The systematic theory of liberalism concerns almost solely the internal struggle against the power of the state. For the purpose of protecting individual freedom and private property, liberalism provides a series of methods for hindering and controlling the state’s and government’s power…

In a very systematic fashion liberal thought evades or ignores state and politics and moves instead in a typical always recurring polarity of two heterogeneous spheres, namely ethics and economics, intellect and trade, education and property. The critical distrust of state and politics is easily explained by the principles of a system whereby the individual must remain terminus a quo and terminus ad quem. In case of need, the political entity must demand the sacrifice of life. Such a demand is in no way justifiable by the individualism of liberal thought. No consistent individualism can entrust to someone other than to the individual himself the right to dispose of the physical life of the individual. … All liberal pathos turns against repression and lack of freedom. Every encroachment, every threat to individual freedom and private property and free competition is called repression and is eo ipso something evil. What this liberalism still admits of state, government and politics is confined to securing the conditions for liberty and eliminating infringements on freedom. …

Ethical or moral pathos and materialist economic reality combine in every typical liberal manifestation and give every political concept a double face. Thus the political concept of battle in liberal thought becomes competition in the domain of economics and discussion in the intellectual realm. Instead of a clear distinction between the two different states, that of war and that of peace, there appears the dynamic of perpetual competition and perpetual discussion. The state turns into society: on the ethical-intellectual side into an ideological humanitarian conception of humanity, and on the other into an economic-technical system of production and traffic. The self-understood will to repel the enemy in a given battle situation turns into a rationally conceived social ideal or program, a tendency or an economic calculation. A politically united people becomes, on the one hand, a culturally interested public, and, on the other, partially an industrial concern and its employers, partially a mass of consumers. At the intellectual pole, government and power turns into propaganda and mass manipulation, and at the economic pole, control.

These dissolutions aim with great precision at subjugating state and politics, partially into an individualistic domain of private law and morality, partially into economic notions. In doing so they deprive state and politics of their specific meaning. Outside of the political liberalism not only recognizes with self-evident logic the autonomy of different human realms, but drives them toward specialization and even toward complete separation. That art is the daughter of freedom, that aesthetic value judgment is absolutely autonomous, that artistic genius is sovereign — all this is axiomatic of liberalism. In some countries a genuine liberal pathos came to the fore only when this autonomous freedom of art was endangered by moralistic apostles of tradition. Morality became autonomous vis-à-vis metaphysics and religion, science vis-à-vis religion, art and morality, etc. The most important example of such an autonomy is the validity of norms and laws of economics. That production and consumption, price formation and market have their own sphere and can be directed neither by ethics nor aesthetics, nor by religion, nor, least of all, by politics was considered one of the few truly unquestionable dogmas of this liberal age. With great passion political viewpoints were deprived of every validity and subjugated to the norms and orders of morality, law and economics. In the concrete reality of the political, no abstract orders or norms but always real human groupings and associations rule over the other human groupings. Politically, the rule of morality, law, and economics always assumes a concrete political meaning…

(According to liberal theorist Franz Oppenheimer) the economic way is declared to be reciprocity of production and consumption, therefore mutuality, equality, justice and freedom, and finally nothing less than the spiritual union of fellowship, brotherliness and justice. The political way appears on the other hand as a conquering power outside the domain of economics, namely, thievery, conquest, and crimes of all sorts. A hierarchical value system of the relation of state and society is maintained… But in actuality it is not permissible and neither moral nor psychological, least of all scientific, to simply define by moral disqualifications, by confronting the good, the just, and the peaceful with filthy, evil, rapacious, and criminal politics. With such methods one could just as well the other way around define politics as the sphere of honest rivalry and economics as a world of deception. The connection of politics with thievery, force and repression is, in the final analysis, no more precise than is the connection of economics with cunning and deception. Exchange and deception are often not far apart. A domination of men based on pure economics must appear a terrible deception if, by remaining nonpolitical, it thereby evades political responsibility and visibility. Exchange by no means precludes the possibility that one of the contractors experiences a disadvantage, and that a system of mutual contracts finally deteriorates into a system of the worst exploitation and repression. When the exploited and the repressed attempt to defend themselves in such a situation, they cannot do so by economic means.

Evidently, the possessor of economic power would consider every attempt change its power position by extra-economic means as violence and crime and will seek methods to hinder this. That ideal construction of a society based on exchange and mutual contracts and, eo ipso, peaceful and just is thereby eliminated. Unfortunately, also, userers and extortioners appeal to the inviolability of contracts and to the sentence pacta sunt servanda. The domain of exchange has its narrow limits and its specific categories, and not all things have an exchange value. No matter how large the financial bribe may be, there is no money equivalent for political freedom and political independence.

State and politics cannot be exterminated. The world will not become depoliticized with the aid of definitions and constructions, all of which circle the polarity of ethics and economics. Economic antagonism can become political, and the fact that an economic power position could arise proves the point that the point of the political may be reached from the economic as well as from any other domain. The often quoted phrase by Walter Rathenau, namely that the destiny today is not politics but economics, originated in this context. It would be more exact to say that politics continues to remain the destiny, but what has occurred is that economics has become political and thereby the destiny. It is also erroneous to believe that a political position founded on economic superiority is “essentially unwarlike,” as Joseph Schumpeter says in his Zur Soziologie der Imperialismen. Essentially unwarlike is the terminology based on the essence of liberal ideology. An imperialism based on pure economic power will naturally attempt to sustain a worldwide condition which enables it to apply and manage, unmolested, its economic means, e.g., terminating credit, embargoing raw materials, destroying the currency of others, and so on. Every attempt of a people to withdraw itself from the effects of such “peaceful” methods is considered by this imperialism an extra-economic activity. Pure economic imperialism will also apply a stronger, but still economic, and therefore (according to this terminology) nonpolitical, essentially peaceful means of force. A 1921 League of Nations resolution enumerates as examples: economic sanctions and severance of the food supply from the civilian population. Finally, it has sufficient technical means to bring about violent death. Modern means of annihilation have been produced by enormous invests of capital and intelligence, surely to be used if necessary.

For the application of such means, a new and essentially pacifist vocabulary has been created. War is condemned but executions, sanctions, punitive expeditions, pacifications, protection of treaties, international police, and measures to assure peace remain. The adversary is thus no longer called an enemy but a disturber of the peace and is thereby designated to be an outlaw of humanity. A war waged to protect or expand economic power must, with the aid of propaganda, turn into a crusade and into the last war of humanity. This is implicit in the polarity of ethics and economics, a polarity astonishingly systematic and consistent. But this allegedly non-political and apparently even apolitical system serves existing or newly emerging friend-and-enemy groupings and cannot escape the logic of the political.


[from The Concept of the Political (George Schwab (Translator), University of Chicago Press; 1996]


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