Leo Strauss was profoundly affected by his encounter with Carl Schmitt as evidenced by his TV viewing habits
Leo Strauss and Carl Schmitt: two misunderstood political philosophers dogged by controversy.
Strauss critiqued one of Carl Schmitt’s most famous books The Concept of the Political. In this book, Schmitt claimed that the most distinctive feature of politics is the willingness to choose between friends and enemies. War was the utmost extreme of this intensity.
In his critique, Strauss thought that Schmitt was really attacking Liberalism and not engaging fully with the political. However, he was profoundly influenced by the book and did realize that Schmitt had copped onto something vital. Schmitt had recognized that if people are so de-politicized that they only want to engage in mindless entertainment, then they have lost all sense of value.
Schmitt’s friend-enemy definition of politics can then be seen as validating the seriousness of human life.
Interestingly, I saw a great documentary by the film-maker Adam Curtis entitled the Power of Nightmares. While I don’t agree with Curtis’ labelling Strauss as the godfather of modern American neo-conservatism, one thing Curtis unearthed was notable.
Strauss used to love a Western series called Gunsmoke according to one of his former students Professor Stanley Rosen. In Gunsmoke, there is a sheriff dressed in a white hat who ‘wins’ and who thus justifies the triumph of good over evil. Strauss told his students that this was a potent form of political symbolism. Curtis suggested that Strauss had given birth to what we see in the world today.
One thing should be made clear however – Schmitt did not subscribe to a view of politics as that between good vs evil. He subscribed to that of friend vs enemy and he thought in terms of Medieval duels. Two participants in a Medieval duel are both worthy participants. Why they argue may be unimportant to others but important to the participants. Schmitt further warned against the world becoming like Gunsmoke, i.e. a world of good vs evil. He blamed Liberalism for engendering such a world by claiming to speak for all of humanity, thus dehumanizing others.
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.
Gunsmoke picture credit: “Gunsmoke (title screen)” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gunsmoke_(title_screen).jpg#/media/File:Gunsmoke_(title_screen).jpg