Carl Schmitt has found it difficult to shake off his association with the National Socialist movement. This article is intended to shed light on this association.
Figure 1: Articles like The Fuhrer Protects the Right (title circled) of 1934 have poisoned Schmitt’s legacy.
When Hitler came to power, Carl Schmitt found himself in an odd position. Throughout the 1920s, in books like The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, he had cited a fundamental weakness of ‘liberal democracy,’ one that was very prominent in the Weimar republic set up after Germany’s defeat in WWI. The Weimar constitution recognized all shades of thought and their so-called ‘legitimate’ right to compete for power – even if such shades wanted to destroy the very constitutional order that brought them to power.
With the booming economy in Germany in the late 20s, this was only a hypothetical fear, even though there had been a real possibility of a successful revolution early on in the Weimar republic. When the depression hit, the rise of extreme parties brought emergency scenarios into focus.
Schmitt supported the idea of dictatorship, but not the sort of dictatorship associated with Hitler or Stalin. He was a supporter of a ‘commissarial’ dictatorship, such as had existed in Rome. In opposition to this, he was against a sovereign dictatorship, where a dictator was not part of any regulated procedure (see his book Dictatorship). Furthermore, he poured scorn on the National Socialist mentality. Also, both his wives were Serbians, so he can’t be accused of having an ingrained ethnic bias.
Such was his opposition to the National Socialists pre-1933 that he took a much harder line towards them than many others in the German establishment. When the National Socialists assumed power, he hesitatingly agreed to join them and support their measures.
Many of his books from this time contain barely concealed references to alien and foreign forces who influenced German law and politics. Perhaps his most notorious article was entitled The Fuhrer Protects the Right, written after the ‘Night of the Long Knives.’ Finally, he disassociated himself from the National Socialists after harassment from the Storm Troopers. SS members and leaders considered him to be first and foremost a devout Catholic and therefore not amenable to National Socialism. His book on Thomas Hobbes in 1938, Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes, following his rupture with the NSDAP was a thinly veiled attack on National Socialism.
Schmitt was ideologically opposed to National Socialism, but he seems to have collaborated with them out of a desire to control the movement. This is perfectly plausible. Many conservatives at the time felt that Hitler could be manipulated. Furthermore, he developed a theory of ‘concrete orders’ in books like On the Three Types of Juristic Thought that placed the NSDAP in the confines of a social order. His attacks on the Jews were probably the most outrageous actions Schmitt perpetrated during his period of involvement with National Socialism. Law-books were purged of Jewish influence with Schmitt head of the posse. However, the support of the SA purges of 1934 were somewhat understandable in light of the fact that, strange as it seems now, Hitler was considered a moderate who was dealing with extremists. Schmitt also condemned the murder of innocents in this purge, albeit in guarded terms.
Figure 2: Other conservatively minded notables in Germany, such as Ernst Junger (left-hand side, pictured with Schmitt in 1943 in Paris), also were ideologically opposed to Hitler but recognized his authority.
It is difficult to conclusively come to grips with Schmitt’s legacy as a result of his involvement with National Socialists in the mid-1930s. Perhaps it is more worthwhile to concentrate on the quality of his work as opposed to his temporary support of a tyrant.
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.