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[S]chmitt came to the following conclusions about modern bourgeois politics. First, it is a system which rests on compromise; hence all of its solutions are in the end temporary, occasional, never decisive. Second, such arrangements can never resolve the claims of equality inherent in democracy. By the universalism implicit in its claims for equality, democracy challenges the legitimacy of the political; order, as liberal legitimacy rests on discussion and the compromise of shifting majority rules. Third, liberalism will tend to undermine the possibility of the political in that it wishes to substitute procedure for struggle. Thus, last, legitimacy and legality cannot be the same; indeed, they stand in contradiction to each other.

The driving force behind this argument lies in its claim that politics cannot be made safe and that the attempt to make politics safe will result in the abandonment of the state to private interests and to "society." he reality of an empirical referent for this claim was undeniable in the experience of Wiemar. [...]

There is here, however, a deeper claim, a claim that the political defines what it is to be a human being in the modern world and that those who would diminish the political diminish humanity. Schmitt lays this out as the "friend-enemy" distinction. What is important about this distinction is not so much the "who is on my side" quality, but the claim that only by means of this distinction does the question of our willingness to take responsibility for our own lives arise. "Each participant is in a position to judge whether the adversary intends to negate his opponent's way of life and therefore must be repulsed or fought in order to preserve one's own form of existence." It is this quality that attracts the nonliberal Left and the Right to Schmitt. It is precisely to deny that the stakes of politics should be so high that liberals resist Schmitt. If a liberal is a person who cannot take his own side in an argument, a liberal is also a person who, as Schmitt notes, thereby raising the stakes, if asked "'Christ or Barabbas?' [responds] with a proposal to adjourn or appoint a committee of investigation."
    -Tracy B. Strong, Foreword: Dimensions of the New Debate Around Carl Schmitt

The basic gist of Schmitt's Concept of the Political can be stated rather easily:
The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy. [...]

The political enemy need not be morally evil or aesthetically ugly; he need not appear as an economic competitor, and it may even be advantageous to engage with him in business transactions. But he is, nevertheless, the other, the stranger; and it is sufficient for his nature that he is, in a specially intense way, existentially something different and alien, so that in the extreme case conflicts with him are possible. These can neither be decided by a previously determined general norm nor by the judgment of a disinterested and therefore neutral third party.

Only the actual participants can correctly recognize, understand, and judge the concrete situation and settle the extreme case of conflict. Each participant is in a position to judge whether the adversary intends to negate his opponent's way of life and therefore must be repulsed or fought in order to preserve one's own form of existence.
It is some of the permutations that flow therefrom that are difficult, as Schmitt's own notorious career demonstrates. As Tracy B. Strong suggests in the excerpt from his Foreword to the book above, Schmitt's philosophy was shaped by the bitter experience of Wiemar Germany, where he was a leading legal scholar. As Wiemar was buffeted by extremists on the Left and the Right he prevailed upon President Hindenburg to invoke the expressly provided dictatorial powers to save the Republic, but was unsuccessful. In 1933 he joined the Nazi Party and wrote not just in defense of the regime but in explicitly anti-Semitic terms. A few years later he fell afoul of the Party and largely stayed out of politics for the remainder of the war, focusing on his teaching position at the University of Berlin, but was arrested and interned by the Allies afterwards, though never charged with war crimes. He was never to regain a position in academia, though he lived to age ninety-six, dying in 1985. Today, he and his ideas are ironically associated with Leo Strauss -- who he had known before joining the Nazi Party -- and the other predominantly Jewish neocons. Indeed, pundits on the Left take predictable joy in noting the influence of a Nazi on the Straussians. Setting aside the cheap points to be scored, if it is not necessary to reject all of Schmitt's ideas just because he was a Nazi and anti-Semite for whatever period of time, neither is it responsible to ignore the possibility that his ideas lend themselves to such disastrous flirtations.

One vital aspect of Schmitt's theory that does, has, and will separate conservatives of every stripe (neo, paleo, Christian, etc.) from liberals (by which we mean the modern Left, rather than classical Liberals) is that it proceeds from the assumption that evil is real, that men are prone to conflict with one another as a result, and that such conflict is necessary, even good, because our adversaries may threaten the very existence of our way of life. The dangerous aspect is that we may not recognize enemies who are sufficiently similar to us and may tend to make enemies out of those who are merely different, who do not meet the rather high standard that Schmitt set, that "the adversary intends to negate his opponent's way of life and therefore must be repulsed or fought in order to preserve one's own form of existence." Thus, when America was confronted by domestic Communist subversion it proved unequal to the task of rooting out the internal enemy. After all, it seemed hard to accept that an Alger Hiss or a Harry Hopkins -- the very cream of the New Dealers -- was trying to destroy the Republic. On the other hand, we all too easily rounded up and interned Americans of Japanese descent who were not only no threat but were most all of them patriots. The primordial power of simple prejudice would appear to be so corruptive of good judgment that even if we accept Schmitt's formulation we must do so with open eyes and great distrust of ourselves. In particular, we must be careful to judge enemies by their ideas alone and by their opposition to the premises of our "way of life." No matter how different someone may appear or how different their beliefs may be on peripheral matters, so long as they adhere to the core concepts around which our politics is structured they are friends. Meanwhile, no matter how similar someone else looks or how similar their beliefs in other spheres, if they oppose the political regime they are the enemy. So, in the American Civil War blacks were not the enemy of either side, but the brother who fought his brother was in fact his enemy.

The flip side of this caution to be tolerant of unimportant differences is just as, or even more, important. Schmitt cautioned that:
A people which exists in the political sphere cannot, despite entreating declarations to the contrary, escape from making this fateful distinction, If a part of the population declares that it no longer recognizes enemies, then, depending on the circumstance, it joins their side and aids them. Such a declaration does not abolish the reality of the friend-and-enemy distinction.
This attempt to deny that there are any differences so significant that they can not be tolerated is a far greater problem today than is the danger that we may misjudge minor differences because of residual bigotry. We saw in the nation's impressively dispassionate reaction to 9-11 and in the absence of any generalized negative response to fellow citizens who happen to be Muslim just how mature and responsible our political culture has grown. But there is a not inconsiderable portion of the Left that advocates precisely the kind of "value-pluralism" that would threaten the existence of our political order. We've probably covered that issue sufficiently in our review of John Gray's Two Faces of Liberalism that we needn't go over it again here. Suffice it to say that if the Left has great fun at the thought that the philosophy of a Nazi informs modern conservatism, they are at a loss to explain how they can reconcile their belief that we should tolerate every individual's choice of values with a coherent opposition to Nazism. In the end, even they have to judge some men to be enemies.


Grade: (C)


See also:

Carl Schmitt Links:

    -Carl Schmitt (Wikipedia)
    -Carl Schmitt (July 11 1888 - April 7 1985) (Science Daily)
    -Carl Schmitt (1888-1985) (
    -Special Issue on Carl Schmitt (Telos, Summer 1987)
    -ESSAY: Liberalism for Losers: Carl Schmitt’s “The Tyranny of Values” (Blake Smith, February 2021, American Affairs Journal)
-ESSAY: Carl Schmitt Is Not Your Friend (Samuel Mace, Fusion)
    -ESSAY: Polarization, Politicization, and Carl Schmitt (Alexis Carré, 5/17/23, Public Discourse)
    -ESSAY: Carl Schmitt and the Origins of Friedrich Hayek’s Thought on Rent-Seeking (DANIEL NIENTIEDT, May 5, 2023, PropMarket)
    -ESSAY: The Cult of Carl Schmitt (Richard Wolin, 10/07/22, Liberties)
    -ESSAY: Why Carl Schmitt Matters to China: Uncovering the pathology of Schmitt Fever. (Addis Goldman, 10/21/21, Hedgehog Review)
    -ESSAY: A Fascist Philosopher Helps Us Understand Contemporary Politics (ALAN WOLFE, April 2, 2004, Chronicle of Higher Education)
    -RESPONSE: The Shadow of Fascist Philosophy on Today's Conservative Politics (Peter Berkowitz, Chronicle of Higher Education, May 14, 2004)
    -RESPONSE: Insane-Clown Posse’s Mandates: Alan Wolfe does his duty. (Jonah Goldberg, 4/06/04, National Review)
    -ESSAY: A Forgotten Thinker On Nation-States vs. Empire (Paul Gottfried, V-Dare)
    -ESSAY: CARL SCHMITT AND DEMOCRACY: In our fifth article in the series on the German Conservative Revolution Paul Gottfried examines the relation of the famous jurist to the question of democracy. (Paul Gottfried, The Scorpion)
    -Essay: Helmuth Plessner and Carl Schmitt: Closeness and Distance (Marek Cichocki, Centre for Political Thought)
    -LECTURE: Carl Schmitt and Thomas Hobbes on violence and identity (Gabriella Slomp)
    -ESSAY: Rockefeller College Review, Volume 1., No. 2 – Carl Schmitt on Friends and Political Will Decisions, Decisions: Carl Schmitt on Friends and the Political Will (Frank Vander Valk, Rockefeller College Review)
    -ESSAY: Liberalism or Democracy?: Carl Schmitt and Apolitical Democracy (Tomislav Sunic, Synthesis)
    -PROFILE: CARL SCHMITT (Integral Tradition)
    -ESSAY: Plato, Anyone? (Paul Starobin, April 1, 2005, National Journal)
    -ESSAY: The Sovereignty of the Political: Carl Schmitt and the Nemesis of Liberalism (S Parvez Manzoor)
    -ESSAY: What Carl Schmitt reveals about Vladimir Putin: The German theorist haunts the Kremlin (STEFAN AUER, 27 August 2022, UnHerd)
-REVIEW ESSAY: The Enemy of Liberalism (Mark Lilla, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europaeum by Carl Schmitt (David Gordon, Mises.orrg)
    -REVIEW: of Carl Schmitt: Antworten in Nürnberg (Professor Dr Mathias Schmoeckel, European Journal of International Law)
    -REVIEW: of CONSTITUTIONAL FAILURE: CARL SCHMITT IN WEIMAR, by Ellen Kennedy (John E. Finn, Law and Politics Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of LEGALITY AND LEGITIMACY, by Carl Schmitt. Translated and edited by Jeffrey Seitzer with an introduction by John P. McCormick (Benjamin Gregg)

Book-related and General Links:
-REVIEW ESSAY: Leszek Kolakowski & the anatomy of totalitarianism (Roger Kimball, June 2005, New Criterion)


I still need to write the review, but I think it's inherently short-sighted, as witness his own career.

- oj

- May-12-2005, 00:28


From everything I've read on this site, I'd have thought you would have loved this book.

Seriously, how can you give this book a C?

- Alcibiades

- May-11-2005, 23:54