Sovereign is he who decides on the exception … this was Carl Schmitt’s definition of the sovereign. Decisions were made in an exceptional circumstance. Only then could we really identify who the sovereign was.
Decisions, decisions, decisions … life is full of them.
We make a decision in the true sense when it is a decision that effectively opens up a new life for us. Before the decision was made, there were different avenues open. Once we make the decision, one avenue is taken and all the other avenues are cut off.
That is very much the classical meaning and the Latin root for decide denotes a cutting-off.
Sports refereeing is one example of everyday decision-making that we are all familiar with.
In general decisions frighten us. The sense of fright is escalated when those decisions are political decisions. That political decision becomes even more intense when that decision is talked about with a sense of finality.
Carl Schmitt, the German philosopher whom I am researching, gave so much weight to the role of decision-making that he made it the key attribute, or mark if you will, of sovereignty. In Political Theology, he said
Sovereign is he who decides on the state of exception (or state of emergency).
This made him very different from many other political philosophers who merely saw the sovereign as the one who sat high above everyone else.
Schmitt is notorious for political positions he stuck by, including that of the decision.
Throughout Schmitt’s career, he made clear that a decision was not a ruling handed down by a judge, or even a decision to kill someone … it was that final decision over the direction a political community takes in an emergency situation. Only a sovereign could make this decision.
The decision proved the fact of who was sovereign. In a way, the decision itself decided the argument over who was sovereign.
Later in his career Schmitt softened up the ‘decisionism’ that he promoted earlier in his career. He placed what was known as ‘concrete-order’ thinking behind the decision so that the sovereign would not act like a tyrant.
By Schmitt’s definition, Ludendorff and Hindenburg formed a sovereign in Germany during WWI because they decided on all important matters.
To conclude, we can say that at one level, we are all personally sovereign and at another, we are all at the mercy of the decisions of a sovereign.
Currently, I am researching a book on Carl Schmitt but no final decision has been made on when to release it. 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.