Sturm und Drang: The Question of Carl Schmitt by Colm Gillis

I am embarking on a journey of discovery – a journey which, I hope, will help me know and understand one of the great political philosophers – Carl Schmitt. Yet, as I embark on this journey – a research project intended to become my second book – there is an acute awareness that the lid is being opened on a very, very, controversial thinker. Sometimes, my emotions tell me that I shouldn’t bother. Sometimes they fill me with an instinct to know. My reason and intellect has to be the judge.

Schmitt will always be known as the man who threw his intellectual weight, and it was a considerable intellectual weight, behind Adolf Hitler in 1933. He gave his support to, and then later withdrew his support for, the Nazis. According to some scholars of Schmitt, this support was never really given in the first place, at least not is spirit. Yet these are the doors you must enter if you want to study Schmitt. Our gut instinct is to forget all that he said.

Yet Schmitt is essential reading for anyone who is interested in politics. His book Concept of the Political is a standard textbook and another book Constitutional Theory is considered as great a work in the political field as Being and Time is in the philosophical world. Even Jews such as Hannah Arendt and Friedrich von Hayek, who suffered exile as a result of the Nazi machine, have cited Schmitt as being one of those thinkers of whom it is impossible to ignore and from whom it is obligatory to learn.

Schmitt’s greatest strength was his analytical acumen and terse writings, qualities which helped him shine light into the dark corners of politics and law. He traversed many stages in his journey; the critic of Weimar Germany, the supporter of the Nazis, the analyst of the new international order, the friend of the new left. Even his death had political symbolism and he lived to an unusually old age, like his hero Thomas Hobbes.

One thing was constant and this was his detesting any form of indecision, which is why he never could accept liberalism.

So, that is the platform I embark from. Someone with Conservative, even somewhat Liberal, leanings has to engage with a man for whom state and society had to be one to have meaning. That is a shocking position for most of us in the Anglophone world.

As I start this journey there is a sense of trepidation, excitement, curiosity, a desire to succeed and a fear of failing to understand … underscored by a certainty that I won’t be the same man after as I was before.

But like Schmitt’s friend Ernst Jünger  realized, that is all part of the human experience.

Currently, I am researching a book on Carl Schmitt. Any comments or suggested corrections to this post are welcome. I have already authored one book Mysteries of State in the Renaissance. My Amazon page is here.

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