Never Write Off a German by Colm Gillis

This blog is supplementing a book that I am researching on Carl Schmitt. In this post, the reaction to Schmitt in post-WWII Europe is outlined. 

Slide1

 An issue of the left-wing journal Telos devoted to Schmitt.

– by a curious paradox the name Schmitt is surrounded by mist, and it may be asked whether this fog is not often manufactured artificially…. It is fashionable to discredit the work of this author on the basis of a reputation that is based largely on rumors … [and] it is better … to recognize that Carl Schmitt is controversial and will always remain controversial, like all those who belong to the same intellectual family: Machiavelli, Hobbes, de Maistre, Donoso Cortes, and also Max Weber [Julian Freund, quoted in Concept of the Political (Expanded Edition) pp. 3]

Carl Schmitt will always stoke debate. One of the most important jurists and political thinkers of the 20th century, his association with authoritarianism, reactionary conservatism and National Socialism (note that I use the word associated particularly with regard to the latter) means that he is a marked man. A liberal democratic world will be inherently hostile to Schmitt because his most potent criticisms, on which his fame rests, were levelled at the Weimar, liberal democratic regime that existed in Germany from 1919-1933. Notwithstanding, Schmitt had become an important intellectual in the German Weimar republic. He opposed the Nazis and then supported them within a few months of Hitlers appointment as Chancellor in 1933. Although he had fallen out of favour with the National Socialists by 1938, Schmitt was stigmatized after the war and nearly put on trial at Nuremburg. Nonetheless, his contribution to public law (that field of law concerning relations between the government and the members of a polity) meant that Schmitt the political and legal theorist couldn’t be ignored. And, in spite of Schmitt’s baggage, his political thought remains seminal even today, a fact conceded by his critics or those who are otherwise hostile to the right-wing.

Recently, Jan Werner Müller has written an encyclopaedic study of Schmitt’s reception worldwide[1], from which it can be concluded that the incorporation of Schmitt’s ideas into political programs and theories was more of a European than an Anglophone phenomenon. Yet, even in the political and legal environment of the Anglophone world, a habitat so very different from that of the continent, Schmitt has become the new kid on the block. This is in spite of the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas conjecturing, quite logically, that such a thing was unlikely.[2]

Radical democrats imported Schmitt to the US, with the magazine Telos to Carl Schmitt what Fox News is to neo-conservatism. In response, the US has witnessed an Alamo like resistance to Schmitt, with William E. Scheuermann, Stephen Holmes, Mark Lilla, and John P. McCormick most vociferous in their attempts to de-legitimize Schmitt.[3] Much resistance to Schmitt is extremely political and there can be no doubt that, for example, the bizarre attempts to portray Schmitt as some kind of Reaganite are misplaced, to put it lightly.[4] While the American anti-Schmittians are swimming against the tide, it is surprising that Schmitt is beginning to gain traction in the paradigm of liberal democracy amongst nations.

Left-wing resistance to Schmitt has been most pronounced in German circles. What has been grist to the mill in Germany is the undeniable fact that Schmitt’s legal thought played a not insignificant part in legal debates that took place in Germany after WWII (the extent of Schmitt’s influence is debatable). So there is concern among a strand of German public opinion that a regrettable past has not been completely left behind. Ingeborg Maus was probably the most notable of these left wing commentators. Her argument, in a nutshell, was that Schmitts attempts to supposedly restore order in inter-war Germany (he supported a classical dictatorship) were in actuality ruses to protect the status quo in the Weimar republic, a kind of emergency elitism.[5] Another Marxist, Benno Teschke, has linked Schmitt to neo-conservatism, has suggested Schmitt endorsed genocide, as well as claiming Schmitt’s international thought lacks relevance in any case. To cap it all off, Teschke has levelled the charge at Schmitt of being a fascist.[6] Once more, the versatility of Schmitt’s thought is attested to by noting that those on the traditionalist left wing, like Paul Hirst, have been enlightened by Schmitt.[7]

Bundesverfassungsgericht, Richter Böckenförde

Schmitt’s most noteworthy champion in Germany, Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde, the jurist and former member of the German constitutional court.

Despite Schmitt’s deep admiration of French counter-revolutionaries such as de Bonald and de Maistre, the mere mention of Schmitt’s name causes consternation in French intellectual circles. Yet there he has his champions and Alain de Benoist, the remarkably gifted and original thinker, has fought the Schmitt war in modern Gaul.[8]

Schmitt’s more natural home amongst Conservatives is in other countries on the continent, particularly Germany and Spain. Conservatism in these two countries varies markedly as does their reception of Schmitt. German Conservatism is far more organic and attached to the state, following in the tradition of Hegel, a tendency hard to grasp for an Anglophonic Conservative disposition. Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde was a representative of Schmittian thought in the high halls of the German establishment and showed his Schmittian credentials with one of the most famous sayings in post-war German dialogue when he declared that

the liberal secular state lives off preconditions which it cannot itself guarantee.[9]

The very different nature of Iberian history and politics, relative to Germany, meant that Schmitt was received cautiously in the authoritarian era of Spain and Portugal. Franco and Salazar relied on legal theorists who employed Schmittian concepts in their legitimation of Latin authoritarian regimes. Eugenio d’Ors and his son Alvaro d’Ors were two of those who commented on Schmitt’s works in Spain. They admired some of this work but also took him to task on other points. This was due to their adherence to Catholicism and judgement of some of Schmitt’s works to be idiosyncratic and lacking in substance. Schmitt’s realism, as regards his decisionism (a legalism that is more concerned with who rules as opposed to identifying the right rules), was not palatable, and they sought a more legitimate basis for Franco’s rule. However, Schmitt was useful for attacking liberal leanings.[10]

In Italy, Schmitt has also enjoyed a renaissance among the far right. Many of these followers are opposed to a Christian order and generally want a return to a federalism of shared European values. Gianfranco Miglio, who served as a professor and rector at the Catholic university of Milan, carried out a war of attrition against neo-Kantian liberalism as it applied to legal rulings, replicating the Carl Schmitt of the 1920s and 30s. Miglio asserted that values of legal liberalism were far too preponderant in Italy. Umberto Bossi, founder of the Northern League, a far-right party holding the balance of power in Italian politics, was one of Miglio’s enthusiastic students.[11]

That is just a flavour of Carl Schmitt’s legacy in the modern world. In the next blog post, I hope to sketch a biographical account of Schmitt and demonstrate why many of those criticisms, noted in this post, are misconceived.

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.

References

  1. A dangerous mind: Carl Schmitt in post-war European thought Jan-Werner Müller Yale University Press New Haven, Conn. London 2003
  2. Decisions and Indecisions: Political and Intellectual Receptions of Carl Schmitt Benno Teschke New Left Review No. 67 Jan – Feb 2011 pp. 61
  3. The Geopolitics Of Separation: Response to Teschke’s ‘Decisions and Indecisions’ Gopal Balakrishnan New Left Review Vol. 68 Mar-Apr 2011 pp. 57 – 72; The Definite and the Dubious: Carl Schmitt’s Influence on Conservative Political and Legal Theory in the US Joseph W. Bendersky Telos 2002 No. 122 pp. 33-47; Carl Schmitt and the Road to Abu Ghraib William E. Scheuerman Constellations 2006 Vol.13 No. 1 pp. 108-124; Carl Schmitt -The Hobbesian of the 20TH Century? Jacob Als Thomsen MARS/Social Thought & Research 1997 Vol. 20 No. 1-2 pp. 5-28; New Evidence, Old Contradictions: Carl Schmitt and the Jewish Question Joseph Bendersky Telos 2005 No. 132 64-82; Uses and Abuses of Carl Schmitt Paul Piccone and Gary Ulmen Telos 2002 No. 122 pp. 3-32; Carl Schmitt: The End of Law William E. Scheuermann Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. Lanham Boulder, New York Oxford 1999; A dangerous mind: Carl Schmitt in post-war European thought Jan-Werner Müller Yale University Press New Haven, Conn. London 2003; The reckless mind: intellectuals in politics Mark Lilla New York Review Books New York 2001. See also Richard Wolin in Carl Schmitt: The Conservative Revolutionary Habitus and the Aesthetics of Horror Richard Wolin Political Theory 1992 Vol. 20 No. 3 pp. 424-447
  4. Uses and Abuses of Carl Schmitt Paul Piccone and Gary Ulmen Telos 2002 No. 122 pp. 3; The Definite and the Dubious: Carl Schmitt’s Influence on Conservative Political and Legal Theory in the US Joseph W. Bendersky Telos 2002 No. 122 pp. 38
  5. The Definite and the Dubious: Carl Schmitt’s Influence on Conservative Political and Legal Theory in the US Joseph W. Bendersky Telos 2002 No. 122 pp. 38-39; Carl Schmitt, Political Existentialism, and the Total State Richard Wolin Theory and Society, 1990 Vol. 19 No. 4 pp. 396
  6. The Geopolitics Of Separation: Response to Teschke’s ‘Decisions and Indecisions’ Gopal Balakrishnan New Left Review Vol. 68 Mar-Apr 2011 pp. 57 – 72; Decisions and Indecisions: Political and Intellectual Receptions of Carl Schmitt Benno Teschke New Left Review No. 67 Jan – Feb 2011 61-3, 66-8
  7. The Challenge of the Exception: Introduction to the Political Ideas of Carl Schmitt Between 1921 and 1936 (2nd Ed.) George Schwab Greenwood Press New York Westport, Conn. London 1989 pp. vii
  8. Carl Schmitt in France Alain de Benoist Telos 2003 No. 126 133-152
  9. A dangerous mind: Carl Schmitt in post-war European thought Jan-Werner Müller Yale University Press New Haven, Conn. London 2003 pp. 4
  10. Ibid. pp. 2, pp. 134-6
  11. Ibid. pp. 214-5

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