|Died||7 April 1985 (aged 96)|
|Education||University of Berlin (1907)|
University of Munich (1908)
University of Strasbourg (Dr. jur., 1910; Dr. habil., 1916)
|Institutions||University of Greifswald (1921)|
University of Bonn (1921)
Technische Universität München (1928)
University of Cologne (1933)
University of Berlin (1933–1945)
|State of exception, the friend–enemy distinction, sovereignty as a "borderline concept", the legality–legitimacy distinction|
Carl Schmitt (//; 11 July 1888 – 7 April 1985) was a German jurist, political theorist, and prominent member of the Nazi Party. Schmitt wrote extensively about the effective wielding of political power. A conservative theorist, he is noted as a critic of parliamentary democracy, liberalism, and cosmopolitanism, and his work has been a major influence on subsequent political theory, legal theory, continental philosophy, and political theology, but its value and significance are controversial, mainly due to his intellectual support for and active involvement with Nazism. Schmitt's work has attracted the attention of numerous philosophers and political theorists, including Giorgio Agamben, Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Susan Buck-Morss, Jacques Derrida, Jürgen Habermas, Waldemar Gurian, Jaime Guzmán, Reinhart Koselleck, Friedrich Hayek, Chantal Mouffe, Antonio Negri, Leo Strauss, Adrian Vermeule, and Slavoj Žižek, among others.
According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Schmitt was an acute observer and analyst of the weaknesses of liberal constitutionalism and liberal cosmopolitanism. But there can be little doubt that his preferred cure turned out to be infinitely worse than the disease."
Schmitt was born in Plettenberg, Westphalia, German Empire. His parents were Roman Catholics from the German Eifel region who had settled in Plettenberg. His father was a minor businessman. He studied law at Berlin, Munich and Strasbourg and took his graduation and state examinations in then-German Strasbourg during 1915. His 1910 doctoral thesis was titled Über Schuld und Schuldarten (On Guilt and Types of Guilt).
Schmitt volunteered for the army in 1916. The same year, he earned his habilitation at Strasbourg with a thesis under the title Der Wert des Staates und die Bedeutung des Einzelnen (The Value of the State and the Significance of the Individual). He then taught at various business schools and universities, namely the University of Greifswald (1921), the University of Bonn (1921), the Technische Universität München (1928), the University of Cologne (1933), and the University of Berlin (1933–45).
In 1916, Schmitt married his first wife, Pavla[note 1] Dorotić, a Serbian woman who pretended to be a countess. They were divorced, though an appeal to the Catholic Church for an annulment was rejected. In 1926 he married his second wife, Duška Todorović (1903–1950), also Serbian; they had a daughter, Anima. Schmitt was excommunicated because his first marriage had not been annulled. In 1957 his daughter married Alfonso Otero Valera (1925–2001), a Spanish law professor at the University of Santiago de Compostela and a member of the ruling Spanish Falange party under the Franco régime. She translated several of her father's works into Spanish. Letters from Schmitt to his son-in-law have also been published.
Schmitt died on 7 April 1985 and is buried in Plettenberg.
As a young man, Schmitt was "a devoted Catholic until his break with the church in the mid twenties." From around the end of the First World War, he began to describe his Catholicism as "displaced" and "de-totalised". Consequently, Gross argues that Schmitt's work "cannot be reduced to Roman Catholic theology given a political turn. Rather, Schmitt should be understood as carrying an atheistic political-theological tradition to an extreme."
Schmitt met Mircea Eliade, a Romanian religion historian, in Berlin in the summer of 1942 and later spoke to his friend Ernst Jünger of Eliade and his interest in Eliade's works.
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Schmitt remarked on 31 January 1933 that with Adolf Hitler's appointment as Chancellor, "one can say that 'Hegel died.'" Richard Wolin observes:
it is Hegel qua philosopher of the "bureaucratic class" or Beamtenstaat that has been definitely surpassed with Hitler's triumph... this class of civil servants—which Hegel in the Rechtsphilosophie deems the "universal class"—represents an impermissible drag on the sovereignty of executive authority. For Schmitt... the very essence of the bureaucratic conduct of business is reverence for the norm, a standpoint that could not but exist in great tension with the doctrines of Carl Schmitt... Hegel had set an ignominious precedent by according this putative universal class a position of preeminence in his political thought, insofar as the primacy of the bureaucracy tends to diminish or supplant the prerogative of sovereign authority.
The Nazis forced through the passage of the Enabling Act of 1933 in March, which changed the Weimar Constitution to allow the "present government" to rule by decree, bypassing both the President, Paul von Hindenburg, and the Reichstag.
Alfred Hugenberg, the leader of the German National People's Party, one of the Nazis' partners in the coalition government that was being squeezed out of existence, hoped to slow the Nazi takeover of the country by threatening to quit his ministry position in the Cabinet. Hugenberg reasoned that by doing so, the government would thereby be changed, and the Enabling Act would no longer apply, as the "present government" would no longer exist. A legal opinion by Schmitt prevented this maneuver from succeeding. At the time well known as a constitutional theorist, Schmitt declared that "present government" did not refer to the Cabinet's makeup when the act was passed, but to the "completely different kind of government"—that is, different from the democracy of the Weimar Republic—that Hitler's cabinet had brought into existence.
During 1921, Schmitt became a professor at the University of Greifswald, where he published his essay Die Diktatur (on dictatorship). In 1922 he published Politische Theologie (political theology) while working as a professor at the University of Bonn. Schmitt changed universities in 1926, when he became professor of law at the Handelshochschule in Berlin, and again in 1932, when he accepted a position in Cologne. His most famous paper, "Der Begriff des Politischen" ("The Concept of the Political") was based on lectures at the Deutsche Hochschule für Politik in Berlin.
Schmitt joined the Nazi Party on 1 May 1933. Within days, he supported the party in the burning of books by Jewish authors, rejoiced in the burning of "un-German" and "anti-German" material, and called for a much more extensive purge, to include works by authors influenced by Jewish ideas. In July Hermann Göring appointed him State Councillor for Prussia, and in November he became the president of the "Union of National-Socialist Jurists". He also replaced Heller as a professor at the University of Berlin, a position he held until the end of World War II. He presented his theories as an ideological foundation of the Nazi dictatorship and a justification of the Führer state concerning legal philosophy, particularly through the concept of auctoritas.
In 1932, Schmitt was counsel for the Reich government in the case "Preussen contra Reich" ("Prussia v. Reich"), in which the Social Democratic Party of Germany-controlled government of the state of Prussia disputed its dismissal by the right-wing Reich government of Franz von Papen. Papen was motivated to do so because Prussia, by far the largest state in Germany, served as a powerful base for the political left and provided it with institutional power, particularly in the form of the Prussian police. Schmitt, Carl Bilfinger and Erwin Jacobi represented the Reich and one of the counsel for the Prussian government was Hermann Heller. The court ruled in October 1932 that the Prussian government had been suspended unlawfully but that the Reich had the right to install a commissar. In German history, the struggle resulting in the de facto destruction of federalism in the Weimar republic is known as the "Preußenschlag."
In June 1934, Schmitt was appointed editor-in-chief of the Nazi newspaper for lawyers, the Deutsche Juristen-Zeitung ("German Jurists' Journal"). In July he published in it "The Leader Protects the Law (Der Führer schützt das Recht)", a justification of the political murders of the Night of the Long Knives with Hitler's authority as the "highest form of administrative justice (höchste Form administrativer Justiz)". Schmitt presented himself as a radical anti-semite and was the chairman of an October 1936 law teachers' convention in Berlin at which he demanded that German law be cleansed of the "Jewish spirit (jüdischem Geist)" and that all Jewish scientists' publications be marked with a small symbol.
Nevertheless, in December 1936, the Schutzstaffel (SS) publication Das schwarze Korps accused Schmitt of being an opportunist, a Hegelian state thinker, and a Catholic, and called his anti-semitism a mere pretense, citing earlier statements in which he criticized the Nazis' racial theories. After this, Schmitt resigned as Reichsfachgruppenleiter (Reich Professional Group Leader) but retained his professorship in Berlin and his title "Prussian State Councillor". Schmitt continued to be investigated into 1937, but Göring stopped further reprisals.
During the German occupation of Paris a "round-table" of French and German intellectuals met at the Georges V Hotel, including Schmitt, the writers Ernst Junger, Paul Morand, Jean Cocteau, and Henry Millon de Montherlant, and the publisher Gaston Gallimard.
In 1945, American forces captured Schmitt and, after spending more than a year in an internment camp, he returned to his home town of Plettenberg and later to the house of his housekeeper Anni Stand in Plettenberg-Pasel. He remained unrepentant for his role in the creation of the Nazi state, and refused every attempt at de-nazification, which barred him from academic jobs. Despite being isolated from the mainstream of the scholarly and political community, he continued his studies, especially of international law, from the 1950s on, and frequently received visitors, both colleagues and younger intellectuals, well into his old age. Important among these visitors were Ernst Jünger, Jacob Taubes and Alexandre Kojève.
In 1962, Schmitt gave lectures in Francoist Spain, two of which resulted in the publication, the next year, of Theory of the Partisan, in which he characterized the Spanish Civil War as a "war of national liberation" against "international Communism". Schmitt regarded the partisan as a specific and significant phenomenon which, during the latter half of the 20th century, indicated the emergence of a new theory of warfare.
In his essay Die Diktatur (on dictatorship) he discussed the foundations of the newly established Weimar Republic, emphasising the office of the Reichspräsident. In this essay, Schmitt compared and contrasted what he saw as the effective and ineffective elements of the new constitution of his country. He saw the office of the president as a comparatively effective element, because of the power granted to the president to declare a state of exception (Ausnahmezustand). This power, which Schmitt discussed and implicitly praised as dictatorial, was more in line with the underlying mentality of executive power than the comparatively slow and ineffective processes of legislative power reached through parliamentary discussion and compromise.
Schmitt was at pains to remove what he saw as a taboo surrounding the concept of "dictatorship" and to show that the concept is implicit whenever power is wielded by means other than the slow processes of parliamentary politics and the bureaucracy:
If the constitution of a state is democratic, then every exceptional negation of democratic principles, every exercise of state power independent of the approval of the majority, can be called dictatorship.
For Schmitt, every government capable of decisive action must include a dictatorial element within its constitution. Although the German concept of Ausnahmezustand is best translated as "state of emergency", it literally means "state of exception" which, according to Schmitt, frees the executive from any legal restraints to its power that would normally apply. The use of the term "exceptional" has to be underlined here: Schmitt defines sovereignty as the power to decide to initiate a state of exception, as Giorgio Agamben has noted. According to Agamben, Schmitt's conceptualization of the "state of exception" as belonging to the core-concept of sovereignty was a response to Walter Benjamin's concept of a "pure" or "revolutionary" violence, which did not enter into any relationship whatsoever with right. Through the state of exception, Schmitt included all types of violence under right, in the case of the authority of Hitler leading to the formulation "The leader defends the law" ("Der Führer schützt das Recht").
Schmitt opposed what he termed "commissarial dictatorship", or the declaration of a state of emergency in order to save the legal order (a temporary suspension of law, defined itself by moral or legal right): the state of emergency is limited (even if a posteriori, by law) to "sovereign dictatorship", in which law was suspended, as in the classical state of exception, not to "save the Constitution", but rather to create another constitution. This is how he theorized Hitler's continual suspension of the legal constitutional order during the Third Reich (the Weimar Republic's Constitution was never abrogated, emphasized Giorgio Agamben; rather, it was "suspended" for four years, first with the 28 February 1933 Reichstag Fire Decree, with the suspension renewed every four years, implying a continual state of emergency).
On Dictatorship was followed by another essay in 1922, titled Politische Theologie (political theology); in it, Schmitt, gave further substance to his authoritarian theories, analysing the concept of "free will" influenced by Christian-Catholic thinkers. The book begins with Schmitt's famous, or notorious, definition: "Sovereign is he who decides on the exception." By "exception", Schmitt means the appropriate moment for stepping outside the rule of law in the public interest (see discussion of On Dictatorship above). Schmitt opposes this definition to those offered by contemporary theorists of sovereignty, particularly Hans Kelsen, whose work is criticized at several points in the essay.
The book's title derives from Schmitt's assertion (in chapter 3) that "all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts"—in other words, that political theory addresses the state (and sovereignty) in much the same manner as theology does God.
A year later, Schmitt supported the emergence of totalitarian power structures in his paper "Die geistesgeschichtliche Lage des heutigen Parlamentarismus" (roughly: "The Intellectual-Historical Situation of Today's Parliamentarianism", translated as The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy by Ellen Kennedy). Schmitt criticized the institutional practices of liberal politics, arguing that they are justified by a faith in rational discussion and openness that is at odds with actual parliamentary party politics, in which outcomes are hammered out in smoke-filled rooms by party leaders. Schmitt also posits an essential division between the liberal doctrine of separation of powers and what he holds to be the nature of democracy itself, the identity of the rulers and the ruled. Although many critics of Schmitt today, such as Stephen Holmes in his The Anatomy of Anti-Liberalism, take exception to his fundamentally authoritarian outlook, the idea of incompatibility between liberalism and democracy is one reason for the continued interest in his political philosophy.
In chapter 4 of his State of Exception (2005), Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben argued that Schmitt's Political Theology ought to be read as a response to Walter Benjamin's influential essay Towards the Critique of Violence.
For Schmitt, "the political" is not equal to any other domain, such as the economic (which distinguishes between profitable and not profitable), but instead is the most essential to identity. While churches are predominant in religion or society is predominant in economics, the state is usually predominant in politics. Yet, for Schmitt, the political was not autonomous or equivalent to the other domains, but rather the existential basis that would determine any other domain should it reach the point of politics (e.g. religion ceases to be merely theological when it makes a clear distinction between the "friend" and the "enemy").
Schmitt, in perhaps his best-known formulation, bases his conceptual realm of state sovereignty and autonomy upon the distinction between friend and enemy. Schmitt writes:
The political enemy need not be morally evil or aesthetically ugly...But he is, nevertheless, the other, the stranger…"
This distinction is to be determined "existentially", which is to say that the enemy is whoever is "in a specially intense way, existentially something different and alien, so that in the extreme case conflicts with him are possible." Such an enemy need not even be based on nationality: so long as the conflict is potentially intense enough to become a violent one between political entities, the actual substance of enmity may be anything. In this work, Schmitt makes the distinction between several different types of enemies one may make, stating that political enemies ought to be made out of a legitimate concern for the safety of the state rather than moral intuitions.
The collectivization of friendship and enmity is, for Schmitt, the essence of politics. This theory of politics was influential in the Third Reich where the recognition and eradication of the enemy became a necessary component of the collective national identity. Similar views were shared by other Nazi legal theorists like Werner Best. Although there have been divergent interpretations concerning this work, there is broad agreement that "The Concept of the Political" is an attempt to achieve state unity by defining the content of politics as opposition to the "enemy". Additionally, the prominence of the state stands as an arbitrary force dominating potentially fractious civil society, whose various antagonisms must not be allowed to affect politics, lest civil war result.
Schmitt provided a positive reference for Leo Strauss, and approved his work, which was instrumental in winning Strauss the scholarship funding that allowed him to leave Germany. In turn, Strauss's critique and clarifications of The Concept of the Political led Schmitt to make significant emendations in its second edition. Writing to Schmitt during 1932, Strauss summarized Schmitt's political theology thus: "[B]ecause man is by nature evil, he therefore needs dominion. But dominion can be established, that is, men can be unified only in a unity against—against other men. Every association of men is necessarily a separation from other men ... the political thus understood is not the constitutive principle of the state, of order, but a condition of the state." Some of the letters between Schmitt and Strauss have been published.
The Nomos of the Earth is Schmitt's most historical and geopolitical work. Published in 1950, it was also one of his final texts. It describes the origin of the Eurocentric global order, which Schmitt dates from the discovery of the New World, discusses its specific character and its contribution to civilization, analyses the reasons for its decline at the end of the 19th century, and concludes with prospects for a new world order. It defends European achievements, not only in creating the first truly global order of international law, but also in limiting war to conflicts among sovereign states, which, in effect, civilized war. In Schmitt's view, the European sovereign state was the greatest achievement of Occidental rationalism; in becoming the principal agency of secularization, the European state created the modern age.
Notable in Schmitt's discussion of the European epoch of world history is the role played by the New World, which ultimately replaced the Old World as the centre of the Earth and became the arbiter in European and world politics. According to Schmitt, the United States' internal conflicts between economic presence and political absence, between isolationism and interventionism, are global problems, which today continue to hamper the creation of a new world order. But however critical Schmitt is of American actions at the end of the 19th century and after World War I, he considered the United States to be the only political entity capable of resolving the crisis of global order.
Published in 1956, Hamlet or Hecuba: The Intrusion of the Time into the Play was Schmitt's most extended piece of literary criticism. In it Schmitt focuses his attention on Shakespeare's Hamlet and argues that the significance of the work hinges on its ability to integrate history in the form of the taboo of the queen and the deformation of the figure of the avenger. Schmitt uses this interpretation to develop a theory of myth and politics that serves as a cultural foundation for his concept of political representation. Beyond literary criticism or historical analysis, Schmitt's book also reveals a comprehensive theory of the relationship between aesthetics and politics that responds to alternative ideas developed by Walter Benjamin and Theodor W. Adorno.
Schmitt's Theory of the Partisan originated in two lectures delivered during 1962, and has been seen as a rethinking of The Concept of the Political. It addressed the transformation of war in the post-European age, analysing a specific and significant phenomenon that ushered in a new theory of war and enmity. It contains an implicit theory of the terrorist, which during the 21st century has resulted in yet another new theory of war and enmity. In the lectures, Schmitt directly tackles the issues surrounding "the problem of the Partisan" figure: the guerrilla or revolutionary who "fights irregularly" (p. 3). Both because of its scope, with extended discussions on historical figures like Napoleon Bonaparte, Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong, as well as the events marking the beginning of the 20th century, Schmitt's text has had a resurgence of popularity. Jacques Derrida, in his Politics of Friendship remarked:
Despite certain signs of ironic distrust in the areas of metaphysics and ontology, The Concept of the Political was, as we have seen, a philosophical type of essay to 'frame' the topic of a concept unable to constitute itself on philosophical ground. But in Theory of the Partisan, it is in the same areas that the topic of this concept is both radicalized and properly uprooted, where Schmitt wished to regrasp in history the event or node of events that engaged this uprooting radicalisation, and it is precisely there that the philosophical as such intervenes again.
Schmitt concludes Theory of the Partisan with the statement: "The theory of the partisan flows into the question of the concept of the political, into the question of the real enemy and of a new nomos of the earth." Schmitt's work on the Partisan has since spurred comparisons with the post-9/11 'terrorist' in recent scholarship.
Through Walter Benjamin, Giorgio Agamben, Andrew Arato, Chantal Mouffe and other writers, Schmitt has become a common reference in recent writings of the intellectual left as well as the right. These discussions concern not only the interpretation of Schmitt's own positions, but also matters relevant to contemporary politics: the idea that laws of the state cannot strictly limit actions of its sovereign, the problem of a "state of exception" (later expanded upon by Agamben).
Schmitt's argument that political concepts are secularized theological concepts has also recently been seen as consequential for those interested in contemporary political theology. The German-Jewish philosopher Jacob Taubes, for example, engaged Schmitt widely in his study of Saint Paul, The Political Theology of Paul (Stanford Univ. Press, 2004). Taubes' understanding of political theology is, however, very different from Schmitt's, and emphasizes the political aspect of theological claims, rather than the religious derivation of political claims.
Schmitt is described as a "classic of political thought" by Herfried Münkler, while in the same article Münkler speaks of his post-war writings as reflecting an: "embittered, jealous, occasionally malicious man" ("verbitterten, eifersüchtigen, gelegentlich bösartigen Mann"). Schmitt was termed the "Crown Jurist of the Third Reich" ("Kronjurist des Dritten Reiches") by Waldemar Gurian.
Timothy D. Snyder has asserted that Schmitt's work has greatly influenced Eurasianist philosophy in Russia by revealing a counter to the liberal order.
According to historian Renato Cristi in the writing of the present Constitution of Chile Pinochet collaborator Jaime Guzmán based his work on the pouvoir constituant concept used by Schmitt as well as drawing inspiration in the ideas of market society of Friedrich Hayek. This way Guzmán would have enabled a framework for an authoritarian state with a free market system.
Some have argued that neoconservativism has been influenced by Schmitt. Most notably the legal opinions offered by Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo et al. by invoking the unitary executive theory to justify highly controversial policies in the war on terror—such as introducing unlawful combatant status which purportedly would eliminate protection by the Geneva Conventions, torture, NSA electronic surveillance program—mimic his writings. Professor David Luban said in 2011 that "[a] Lexis search reveals five law review references to Schmitt between 1980 and 1990; 114 between 1990 and 2000; and 420 since 2000, with almost twice as many in the last five years as the previous five".
Schmitt has become an important influence on Chinese political theory in the 21st century, particularly since Xi Jinping became General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012. Sinologist Flora Sapio has highlighted the friend–enemy distinction as a particular topic of interest in China, commenting, "Since Xi Jinping became China's top leader in November 2012, the friend-enemy distinction so crucial to Carl Schmitt's philosophy has found even wider applications in China, in both 'Party theory' and academic life." Leading Chinese Schmittians include the theologian Liu Xiaofeng, the public policy scholar Wang Shaoguang, and the legal theorist and government adviser Jiang Shigong.
The first important wave of Schmitt's reception in China started with Liu's writings at the end of the 1990s. In the context of a transition period, Schmitt was used both by liberal, nationalist and conservative intellectuals to find answers to contemporary issues. In the 21st century, most of them are still concerned with state power and to what extent a strong state is required to tackle China's modernization. Some authors consider Schmitt's works as a weapon against liberalism. Others think that his theories are helpful for China's development.
A critical reception of his use in a Chinese context does also exist. These differences go together with different interpretations of Schmitt's relation with fascism. While some scholars regard him as a faithful follower of fascism, others, such as Liu Xiaofeng, consider his support to the National Socialist regime only as instrumental and attempt to separate his works from their historical context. According to them, his real goal is to pave a different and unique way for the modernization of Germany—precisely what makes him interesting for China. Generally speaking, the Chinese reception is ambivalent: quite diverse and dynamic, but also highly ideological. Other scholars are cautious when it comes to Schmitt's arguments for state power, considering the danger of totalitarianism, they assume at the same time that state power is necessary for the current transition and that a "dogmatic faith" in liberalism is unsuitable for China. By emphasizing the danger of social chaos, many of them agree with Schmitt—beyond their differences—on the necessity of a strong state.
Note: a complete bibliography of all English translations of Schmitt's books, articles, essays, and correspondence is available here.