"Anybody who is at all committed to liberal democracy does not at all need to read Carl Schmitt." - Kurt Sontheimer
Introduction - First, I would like to thank everyone who has agreed to contribute a short piece or scattered thoughts on Carl Schmitt's essay, "Theory of the Partisan," which will likely end up dominating Long Sunday content for about the next week. I am especially greatful because this is, by far, the longest piece yet proposed for a symposium and, therefore, the time committments I've asked of people is, most certainly, unreasonable. I look forward to reading the posts! Second, if you have not volunteered to post something, but would still like to or would like to contribute a more detailed response to an individual (or series!) of posts than can be adequately done through comment threads, then please do contact me and we'll arrange something.
The texts under discussion can be found here: from the New Centennial Review and Telos; two journals which incidentally published translations - with some interesting differences - of the same text in the same year. A bibliography of Carl Schmitt's works in English can be found here.
Additionally, this post can be used as an 'open thread' regarding administrative matters, comments, etc that do not fit into the already existing posts.
Biographical Note - 1933 and 1945. These two years have overdetermined the subsequent reception of Carl Schmitt's thought and influence. In 1933, as we all know, Schmitt joined the Nazi part; the same month as Martin Heidegger. In 1945, Schmitt was released from internment at Nuremberg, at which point he entered exile, never again to teach in West Germany or to hold an academic position. Schmitt's star, then, plummetted to levels lower than that of Heidegger's. While a whiff of suspicion surrounds Heidegger's thought as potential 'Nazi philosophy,' a stench of suspicion follows Schmitt. There is, apparently, no doubt to many that his political theory is 'Nazi political theory.'
Why, then, is Heidegger spared the assault that Schmitt has suffered? What about others who were either sympathizers or full members of the party? Why is it acceptable for artists, such as Eliot and Pound, to have had fascist sympathies? What was so dangerous about Schmitt that he was interned at Nuremberg in preparation for trial and then prohibited an academic job after the war? Why does such a pariah, such a horrendous figure appeal so greatly to certain segments of the left? However, there are reasons to question the simple conflation of Carl Schmitt's political theory and Nazi political theory:
These American anti-Schmittians ignore the fact that Schmitt opposed both the communist and the Nazi parties during the Weimar Republic (and secretly conspired with the German army in Berlin until the very last minute to keep the Nazis out of power); that the Nazis were always suspiscious of him as not being a real Nazi; that his emphasis on the state rather than on the party after Hitler's rise to power resulted in his expulsion from the Nazi Party in 1936; and that thereafter he was under surveillance, had his mail read, and had political observers at his lectures. (Piccone and Ulmen, "Uses and Abuses of Carl Schmitt," Telos 122.)
Perhaps, then, the fascination with Schmitt qua Nazi has more to do with the aspirations of left politics than with any real danger - at least insofar as that danger is fascist. Thus, the point in such 'critiques' isn't fascism, but rather those who do not have the common sense to be decent, complacent liberals.
Schmitt and the Left - Perhaps Schmitt is to the left as his student Leo Strauss is to the right? On the one hand, it cannot be denied that Schmitt has had a pervasive influence on the left and that Strauss' influence on the right has been just as great. Yet, on the other hand, most accused of being 'Schmittians' or 'Straussians' will most certainly deny the association. Perhaps this, in a sense, reveals why Schmitt (and, indeed, Strauss) are so distrusted in their political theory and political beliefs: because they, unlike Pound, for instance, sought to influence power. Perhaps it is the conjunction of thought and action that frightens us. For isn't this unity, at the core, extremely anti-liberal? We only have to check this intuition against the most important strand in radical thought: Marxism, which precisely demands the unity of thought and action.
The appeal of both Schmitt and Strauss is that they offer, if not an alternative to then at least a critique of liberalism that locates itself outside liberalism. The danger, then, isn't in the antiliberalism, but rather in the potential next step: antimodernism. Contrary to many critics, 'Schmitt and the Left' is not a recent phenomenon: in the 1920s he was taken seriously by Benjamin and Lukacs, among others, while in the 1960s-1970s it was possible to accuse none other than Jurgen Habermas as a crypto-Schmittian. The 'renewal' of Schmitt by Telos in the 1990s is but another engagement with Schmitt by the left. It seems, then, that Schmitt has offered something to at least three generations of leftists.
We might identify three aspects of Schmitt that have proven influential: (1) the separation of democracy and liberalism in the attack upon representative parliamentary government; (2) the assertion of the political against the neutralizations of bureaucracy and technology; (3) an emphasis upon the limits of the political - friends and enemies, sovereignty and the exception, etc. As some have noted, Schmitt at times appears to the left as an alternative to or in place of none other then Lenin.
That Schmitt, in English at least, has largely been a phenomenon of the left is evident in much commentary on Schmitt reception:
Yet, hostility toward Schmitt's work is so intense that it spills over onto what anti-Schmittians smear as 'Schmitt apologists" - those who view Schmitt as someone more interesting and relevant than a mere Nazi ideologue. This intensity cannot be explained solely in terms of differences of scholarly opinion. It is rooted in more subtle political issues. While the motivation seems to be clear, i.e., that the 'apology' somehow is related to a diabolical conservative attempt to re-habilitate fascist or Nazi ideology by de-Nazifying Schmitt and legitimating his dangerous ideas, the charge makes no sense and is a typical result of the confusion of European and American political realities. For example, the allged 'apologists' have no connection to conservatism: Joseph W. Bendersky (author of the first intellectual biography of Schmitt in English) has always been a liberal; George Schwab last several close family members in Nazi camps and cannot possibly be suspected of fascist sympathies; and Telos (which published the first special issue on Schmitt in English) has been the main organ of New Left philosophy and theory in the US since 1968. Thus, the conflict of interpretations is not between Left and Right - or between conservatives and managerial liberals - but exclusively between what remains of the Left after the debacle of the New Left in the 1970s and the collapse of the Soviet empire in the late 1980s. (Paul Piccone and Gary Ulmen, "Uses and Abuses of Carl Schmitt," Telos 122.)
They continue, "these conflicting interpretations can be traced to a fundamental split that resurfaced after the collapse of New Left expectations." Thus, Schmitt acts as a marker of the collapse of a political imagination and the attempt to recover or revive it. Put differently, "Political economy had been replaced by a left-wing political theology" (Jan-Werner Muller, A Dangerous Mind: Carl Schmitt in Post-War European Thought, 179).
Elsewhere - The Decline "Robots and Humans Philosophically Discussed" and "[Untitled]"; s0metim3s "Not-yet counter-partisan"; Theoria "Weber/Schmitt" and "Carl Schmitt at Nuremberg"; Posthegemony "Benito Cereno"; The Weblog "Sovereignty Week"; Jacques Ranciere "Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man?" [via I Cite]