Wednesday, July 06, 2005


In a comment to “The German State of Exception: From Carl Schmitt to Gerhard Schröder”, I have added some remarks on another wildly convoluted effort to connect Carl Schmitt to George W. Bush and the Republican Party: this being the would-be sophisticated academic variant on the “Bushitler” trope. The would-be sophisticated academic in question is Alan Wolfe of Boston University, who - while attempting to taint Bush with "Fascism" by way of the contrived association with Schmitt - is seemingly unaware of the widespread respectability enjoyed by Schmitt’s oeuvre in Europe, i.e. not only among trendy philosophers, but even – and this is the far scarier thought – among jurists. Here is the bulk of my comment:
The first sentence of Wolfe's essay reads: "To understand what is distinctive about today's Republican Party, you first need to know about an obscure and very conservative German political philosopher", viz. not Leo Strauss as has been so commonly suggested (you see, Alan Wolfe is an original thinker) - but Carl Schmitt. I'll leave aside the fact that Schmitt was a National Socialist and that National Socialism - a self-styled revolutionary ideology whose "socialist" aspects (as has been discussed on Trans-Int here and here) were more than merely nominal - hardly deserves to be described as a "conservative" ideological current. The only "evidence" Wolfe gives for his assertion is that Schmitt in The Concept of the Political developed the particularly hokey (me, not Wolfe) "politico-metaphysical" "theory" according to which the distinction "friend-enemy" is essential to politics... - and Republicans as a rule are not friendly to Democrats (whereas Democrats, on Wolfe's view, are friendly to everyone). That's it. Otherwise, Wolfe admits that virtually all (he manages to dredge up one exception) the contemporary intellectuals who display a sympathetic fascination with Schmitt are precisely self-styled "leftists" - and often indeed sworn enemies of Bush and the Republican Party. But somehow it is still supposed to be the latter who are the real Schmittians. To paraphrase the title of the Pirandello play, apparently it is so because Alan Wolfe thinks it's so.

Regular readers of Trans-Int will be interested to know that apart from his more abstruse theories about “friends and enemies” and the “state of exception” and whatnot, Schmitt was also a fervent supporter of the “völkisch” ideal. In my “Kosovo and the ‘Jewish Question’”, I note:
…writing just after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia and shortly before the German invasion of Poland, [Schmitt] called the idea of ethnic-nationhood—of "each and every people [Volk] as a form of life determined by kind and origin, blood and soil"—the "great political idea" which it would be the vocation of the German Reich to disseminate throughout Europe. "The deed of our Führer," Schmitt concluded, with obvious reference to Hitler's "solution" of the "Sudeten question," "has infused this thought of our Reich with political actuality, historical truth and a great future in international law.”

The passage comes from Schmitt’s Völkerrechtliche Grossraumordnung: roughly, “The Great Spatial Order in International Law”. The work continues to exercise significant, if often unacknowledged, influence upon discussions of European integration today. The particular “great spatial order” that Schmitt had in mind was, in effect, Europe. The antagonism drawn by Schmitt between the would-be greater European order and the USA - the sub-title reads: “With a Prohibition on Interventions by Foreign [i.e. foreign to the "space"- Raumfremde] Powers” - has likewise lost none of its topicality. Or, perhaps more precisely, in light of the rhetoric of European leaders like Jacques Chirac, it has evidently become topical again.