What is in a name?

We all have a name. We give names to things and are given names. Our lives are dominated by names. Names are what compose government and law and they come before any disputes or any political unions. Carl Schmitt pursued the meanings of names because he understood the relevance of such meanings when considering matters of political or legal import.

The sub-title of my latest book The Exceptionally Decisive Carl Schmitt is that of Naming the Sovereign Hand. The book, which investigated Carl Schmitt’s sovereign theory had two themes, that of names and the hand. Their absolute priority of importance is given by the sub-title …. names precede application of the hand, i.e. action.

But what does it mean to name something and why was it so important for Schmitt? Or, specifically in relation to the latter point, why did I see it as so important for Schmitt to be concerned with names when I was examining his sovereign theory?

Naming appeared to me to assume a key role in human history for two reasons: (1) names identify something and (2) names provide an identity to something. Exploring both of these statements would involve a lengthy excursion so I will just provide simple examples and you can fill in the rest. For the first, we identify things as legal or illegal simply by labelling them. With regard to the second, we are given an identity when we are named (and sometimes we rename ourselves). Could we imagine life without a name?

Yet, it is incorrect to simply think of names as mere labels. Names are the forms by which we label things but they are the facade of something far deeper. We pronounce when we name, we make legal or illegal via a naming form but behind the name there lies something mysterious.

When I was looking at Schmitt’s sovereign theory, or even other theories pertaining to the State and politics relevant to his theory of sovereignty, it occurred to me that he took great care to define and designate names. Read the Concept of the Political, particularly the opening part, and you will see what I mean. His exploration of the word ‘Constitution’ is another case in point.

At a personal level, I had started to examine Schmitt’s sovereign theory using the idea of the hand, by which I meant the full panoply of human artistic endeavour. The more I got into researching, the more I found that Schmitt gave far more priority to the legal form of the name.

So, what is in a name? Every cause of dispute and every source of unity amongst people throughout history, it seems!

Colm Gillis has authored two books, the latest one being The Exceptionally Decisive Carl Schmitt, which can be viewed here.

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