Carl Schmitt’s Early Writings: A Critique of Liberal Political Theology

It is no surprise to say that liberalism is in some trouble, both globally and within the American political system.  However, many liberals and liberal sympathizers have struggled to understand the sources and reactions against liberalism as a political system and a form of political thinking.  While there is no simple cause to the recent political movements we have witnessed (the Trump phenomenon, Brexit, etc.), it is increasingly important to think through how such reactions can occur and may perhaps persist into the future.  In the paper I have below, written for a Fall graduate seminar at the University of Chicago, I attempt to begin to explore the relevance of Carl Schmitt’s early critiques of liberalism.  Doing so, I suggest, can make us liberal sympathizers a little more cautious in our political thinking and help move us in a direction that is actually ‘political’.

Schmitt’s Early Writings and the Relevance of His Liberal Critique


Throughout the Western world, there has been a growing dissatisfaction with the contemporary liberal democratic order and its political institutions.  This can be seen through recent electoral challenge to the imagined liberal consensus and the political elites who are believed to constitute its order.  However, in thinking through these challenges, their significance, and their political implications, many liberals have struggled to conceptualize how these reactions could have occurred.  In many ways, these events do not fit in the liberal conceptual model and do not constitute a type of politics which they find familiar, or perhaps legitimate.  To better understand the possible sources of these disaffections and the political confusion surrounding their occurrence, I argue that it is increasingly necessary to recognize the critiques waged against liberalism by Carl Schmitt, the 20th century German legal theorist, in his writings of the early 20s.[1]

In this period, Schmitt’s critical writings focus on two fundamental aspects of liberal thought and its political practice.  First, he analyzes liberal theory’s overwhelming emphasis on economic and technical thinking in both conceptualizing and addressing political problems. This, he claims, not only restricts liberalism from being political, as it obscures the possibility of defining and defending specific human ends, but that modern liberal theory constructs a comprehensive metaphysical political ideology which does not allow for one to conceive a rejection of its model and its supposed rationality.  In other words, liberal political thought seems to be reliant on a secular faith, a faith in liberalism’s metaphysical political system.  Second, Schmitt argues that this form of liberal thought and its comprehensive character possesses a certain conceit or self-satisfaction that allows for it to become self-deluding and politically dangerous.  It does so by not being able to imagine alternative political models and by believing that liberal theory has a firm basis in truth as opposed to other theoretical frameworks.  By appreciating and confronting the nature of Schmitt’s early criticisms against liberalism and his basic conception of political theology, I argue that both liberals and liberal sympathizers can begin to see the limitations of liberalism’s all-encompassing metaphysical structure and perceive the assumptions behind their political commitments as well as where the real political debates and battles lie in the coming future.

Liberalism’s Economic and Technical Thinking

Modern liberal theory[2], for Schmitt, is characterized primarily by its focus on economic and technical thought as well as its discursive ends. As he says, “In almost every discussion one can observe the extent to which the methodology of the natural-technical sciences dominates contemporary thinking” (RCPF 12).  It is a thinking influenced by post-Kantian philosophy that “conceived organic and historical life as an eternal process of antitheses and syntheses” and defined by a specific dualism, most notably “a dichotomy between a rationalistic-mechanistic world of human labor and a romantic-virginal state of nature” (10).  Further, it is a type of calculative thinking associated with Protestants, exemplified in Max Weber’s famous work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism where Weber shows how the rationalism of Protestant theology led to the development of “the spirit of capitalism” which left the modern world trapped in “a shell as hard as steel” (stahlhartes Gehäuse) where men are left to be “specialists without spirit [and] hedonists without heart” (Weber 2002, 121).  In this world, “man makes himself the master of nature and harnesses it to his will”; and, this domineering end is what Schmitt attempts to show is behind modern liberal political thought as expressed in its brazen materialism and “an anti-Roman temper,” in opposition to the personified Catholic juridical model (RCPF 10, 3).

The materialistic nature of economic thought and its relation to liberalism, Schmitt claims, leads to the framing of political problems in economic terms as well as the tendency to lose sight of all immaterial ideas.  As he says, “Economic thinking has its own reason and veracity in that it is absolutely material, concerned only with things” (RCPF 16).  With this thought, a radically new world-view develops.  For example, “In this naïve mechanistic and material mythology, the world becomes a gigantic dynamo where there is even no distinction of classes” since “the world-view of the modern capitalist is the same as that of the industrial proletarian” (13).  In other words, Schmitt claims that both classes simply have material ends and that liberalism and Marxism are not as far apart ideologically as one might imagine.  In fact, both political theories seek Lenin’s “‘electrified earth’” but “disagree essentially only on the correct method of electrification” (13).  Within this economic thought, simple material status can be seen to define man’s fulfilment and happiness; the more quantifiable goods, the better, leaving the debate only to determine the most effective methods of production and distribution.  Thus, both classes seek to formulate new ways to manipulate matter in order to produce a world controlled by man’s will.  In this way, Schmitt claims that “American financiers and Russian Bolsheviks find themselves in a common struggle for economic thinking, that is the struggle against politicians and jurists” (14, 13).

As a result of these analogous political outlooks between contending classes and supposedly distinct political theories, all supposedly political questions – questions involving the way in which human life should be organized and directed – are reduced to economic ones under this mode of thought.  In effect, the goal of this economic liberalism is the depoitiization of the state and society as a whole, a concept that will be discussed in more detail below (25).  For liberalism, economics becomes the highest cultural authority, being both the rationale that is appealed to when defining and defending the virtue or merit of a specific policy and the way in which modern liberal thinkers conceive man’s “good.”  The concern is not with what men should do but how they should produce, simply seeking the most efficient manner.  As a consequence of this thinking, technology and technological thought are employed to solve or address these supposed problems as “Modern technology easily becomes the servant of this or that want and need” since “irrational consumption conforms to a totally rationalized production” (14).  However, what concerns Schmitt is the liberal adoption of this mode of thought since all desires are able to fit within this economic and technical scheme.

No discernment of ends is necessary, Schmitt argues, within economic and technical thought since all desires are viewed as equally legitimate and the free flow of material objects is perceived as an end in itself.  Describing the danger of this thinking, Schmitt famously states that a “marvelously rational mechanism serves one or another demand, always with the same earnestness and precision, be it for a silk blouse or poison gas or anything whatsoever” (14-15).[3]  This neglection of discernment highlights one of the real dangers found in liberal thought and its embrace of economic and technical thinking.  Economic and technical thinking is not forced to confront “political” questions as its only concern is production.  However, Schmitt charges that it is not only this, and the fact that liberal thought leaves all political problems to public opinion since “public life is expected to govern itself” as “everything is a private matter,” but that at the core of liberal thought is the belief that it can overcome such discernment altogether, and in fact all decisions, by developing a comprehensive metaphysical and political system (28).

Liberal Metaphysics and the State

The development of a liberal metaphysical system, Schmitt argues, necessitates a re-imagination, or perhaps a reinvention, of the idea of the state.  The modern theorists whom Schmitt believes exemplify this thought and its goals are Hans Kelsen, the Austrian legal theorist, and Hugo Krabbe, the Dutch law professor.  In Political Theology, published in 1922, Schmitt attempts to both articulate as well as refute the comprehensive and impersonal assumptions behind liberal thought as he sees expressed in its characteristically modern form.  For example, in Kelsen’s discussion of sovereignty, Schmitt perceives the omission of “all sociological elements […] of the juristic concept” in order to “obtain in unadulterated purity a system of ascriptions to norms and a last uniform basic norm” (PT 18).  What this means is that, in Kelsen’s view, “the state is thus [conceived] neither [as] the creator nor the source of the legal order” but as “the unity of the system of norms” that cannot be “traceable to a person or to a sociopsychological power complex” (19).  With the state conceived as a comprehensive system and not an institution led by individuals, all political decisions for Kelsen are reduced to mere “points of ascription” of norms, making the state “the terminal point of ascription” (19).  Yet, through so doing, Schmitt argues that Keslsen does not define how this state emerged or how it began to fulfill this role.  In fact, there is even no discussion of the foundation of such norms; instead, the sovereignty of the state and its laws are simply assumed and not defined or defended.  This lapse leads Schmitt to believe that Kelsen, in his state theory, “solved the problem of the concept of sovereignty by negating it” (21).  He does this by denying the possibility of what Schmitt calls an “exception” through assuming that they no longer exist and believing that the unity of the system is always present and constantly preserved because of its comprehensive character (41).  As Schmitt argues, such “unity and purity are easily attained when the basic difficulty is emphatically ignored and when, for formal reasons, everything that contradicts the system is excluded as impure” (21).

By ignoring the foundational question, which is inherently the question of sovereignty, Krabbe, along with Kelsen, simply assume that the state is equated with the legal order.  As Schmitt says, “The modern idea of the state, according to Krabbe, replaces personal force (of the king, of the authorities) with spiritual power” (22).  Continuing, and quoting from Krabbe’s Die modern Staatsidee, “We no longer live under the authority of persons, be they natural or artificial (legal) persons, but under the rule of laws, (spiritual) forces.  This is the essence of the modern idea of state” (22).  For Schmitt, these arguments radically transform the concept of the state as conceived in the writings of Hobbes and Bodin by denying the persoanlism of the political decision through believing that all resolutions fit within its all-encompassing system.  In this way, the norm becomes the standard at all times and there can be no exception or extraordinary circumstances; once stability and order is achieved, it will persist into the future.  This radical belief is further bolstered, Schmitt argues, by the emphasis on the parliament and its relation to this model.  Its is an institution that is believed to be objective, thus having a specific relationship to “truth,” and one that symbolizes what Schmitt will show are characteristics of all 19th century concepts of state in their attempts to move away from the personalism of the 17th century political theories (CPD 35). [4]

With the state now viewed as “the terminal point of ascription” in liberal thought, it adopts a historically new role as its “only task […] is to ‘make law,’ that is, to establish the legal value of interests” and maintain objectivity (PT 23, 29).  The parliament then is viewed as the political body that seeks to accomplish this task.  As Schmitt argues in The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy – a 1923 work that seeks to clarify the intellectual foundation of concepts such as the parliament, rationalism, and democracy – the role of the parliament is something specific (CPD 21, 33).  As he states, “The essence of parliament is therefore public deliberation of argument and counterargument, public debate and public discussion, parley, and all this without taking democracy into account” (34-35).  In this way, the idea of the parliament and its function as an institution is bound with a commitment to certain values, specifically, openness and discussion.

Openness, for instance, emerges as a modern political value because the parliament is thought to be in opposition to private and centralized political administrations of the past.  As Schmitt says, “Cabinet politics, conducted by a few people behind closed doors, now appears something eo ipso evil, and as a result, the openness of political life seems to be right and good just because of its openness.”  Continuing, “Openness becomes an absolute value, although at first it was only a practical means to combat the bureaucratic, specialist-technical secret politics of absolutism” (38).  Thus, what this openness involves is the freedom to openly voice one’s opinion, making it so that “[f]reedom of opinion is a freedom for private people; it is necessary for that competition of opinions in which the best opinion wins” (39).   This principle in turn supports the tenet of discussion since “[t]he intellectual core of this thought” – which he refers to as liberalism’s “comprehensive metaphysical system” a few sentences before – “resides finally in a specific relationship to truth, which becomes a mere function of the eternal competition of opinions” (35).  The logic of this whole system depends on an implicit faith in these two principles, a faith that believes that these commitments will be upheld by others since such principles are assumed to be universally valid.  Yet, this is the tragic and self-deluding nature of liberal thought as understood through its metaphysical constructs, Schmitt will suggest.

On the one hand, it is unclear whether these principles are in fact self-evident, deducible from reason, or in fact worthy of our commitment.  On the other hand, Schmitt will argue that intellectual foundation of these principles will be undermined once they are put into practice.  This is because robust debates are not effective in all situations; in fact, they can often lead to stalemates.  Thus, what instead must occur is the formation of committees.  Such committees, Schmitt contends, will increasingly grow smaller and smaller, making decisions by way of what was originally sought to be avoided, forcing “the parliamentary plenum” to become increasingly private, thus leaving the public principle to be “a mere façade” (49, see 20).  Further, it is not only that liberalism’s metaphysical system lies on premises which are, at best, dubious, but that at its core, liberal thought is apolitical.  By focusing on economic and technical rationales that lead to construction of this “comprehensive metaphysical system” that has been discussed above, liberalism, Schmitt will argue, loses sight of its real and signifying political import.  As he says, “a political form of organization ceases to be political if it is like the modern economy, based on private law” (25).  Therefore, to highlight liberalism’s apolitical nature, Schmitt contrasts its economic, technical, and metaphysical thinking with the Catholic juridical model.

Liberalism as Apolitical and Self-Deluding

In contradistinction to liberal theory’s pursuit of a comprehensive system, Schmitt views the Catholic Church to embody a specific type of rationalist thinking that is characteristic of a political theology.  As he says, “Catholic argumentation is based on a particular mode of thinking whose method of proof is a specific juridical logic and whose focus of interest is the normative guidance of human social life” (RCPF 12).  Further, with this concern, “The rationalism of the Roman Catholic Church morally encompasses the psychological and sociological nature of man and, unlike industry and technology, is not concerned with the domination and exploitation of nature” (13).  Rather than being concerned over material manipulation and production, Catholic thought is seen to be focused on defining and guiding men towards specific ends in life.  Since its thinking has an idea, it is, for Schmitt, political (see 16-17).  Such an idea is an immaterial concept but it constitutes a specific authority as derived from “an ethos of belief” (17).  To Schmitt, the Catholic Church represents the pinnacle of such authority where the pope is viewed as both the Vicar of Christ and a symbol of juridical authority, heading the institution that is “the consummate agency of the juridical spirit and the true heir of Roman jurisprudence” (14, 18).  With such thought, there is an idea of representation, embodied by personal authority, a special dignity, and then “represented” to the world (21).

Schmitt laments that such concepts are lost in modern liberal theory where the only representative idea can be seen in a parliamentary figure who is believed to represent “the people” (RCPF 25-26, see CPD 28-29).  However, Schmitt doubts the power of such a representative image since the idea of “the people” or “the electorate” are nebulous concepts that “[do] not connote anything distinctive” (RCPF 25).  Further, the authority of this parliamentary “representative” comes from below, i.e., from the people, and not a higher idea from above (27).  In addition, as we have seen, liberal thought even seeks to deconstruct this weak representative idea by viewing the state as “the terminal point of ascription” and thus, like Weber, as a “huge industrial plant” (PT 19, 65).   With this loss of a noble idea of representation, and perhaps even the idea of representation itself, there is also, Schmitt claims, the loss of great rhetoric.  Instead of having a “the spiritual resonance of great rhetoric” from “the belief in the representation claimed by the orator,” modern rhetoric is merely constituted by discussion and debate (RCPF 24, 23).  The fear of the total loss of the idea of representation and great rhetoric, among the other concerns discussed below, constitutes the thrust of Schmitt’s critique against liberal political thought.  The forecast of its future is a banal, relativistic, and trivial world where human life has no defined purpose or perceived end; all is simply economic and rational calculation.  Further, it is defined by a type of political thinking which is in fact not even ‘political’.

In communicating this insight, Schmitt can be read here to be both defending the existence of the political idea, and political theology, while also cautioning liberals who have fallen into the webs of economic and technical thinking.  He shows that the moral-political questions cannot be so easily subverted, as many liberals quietly assume, and attempts to show how this political overlooking, combined with the liberal emphasis on discourse, can lead to an inconsistent political theory and self-defeating political order.  As a result, he argues for the need to see our thinking about politics in theological-political terms and argues that real political debates are always value-substantive.

The additional aspect of Schmitt’s critique, which I refer to here as liberal self-delusion, is the characteristics of liberal thought that can be intellectually inconsistent, as he shows in his analysis of the parliament, or smugly self-satisfied, as seen in its confidence in constructing a comprehensive system that has a particular relationship to truth.  This self-delusion, I argue, is what Schmitt claims to liberalism’s intellectual bankruptcy as well as its political danger, especially when we take the historical context of his writings from the 1920s to the early 1930s into account.  During this time, Schmitt is seen to be defending the place of a strong executive, or sovereign, who can act extra-legally in order to defend and ensure the sovereignty of the political order, which in his case was the Weimar republic.  Thus, he insisted, as George Schwab argues in his introductory remarks to Political Theology, that “a constitution by definition does not aim at its self-destruction” and that as a result, “a value-neutral and legalistic interpretation of the constitution” can “[facilitate] its subversion” (PT xlix).  Therefore, in order to offer a refutation of these liberal arguments and to show their inherent inadequacy in addressing and thinking through existential political crises, Schmitt articulates a defense of the sovereign and his decision on “the exception,” a situation, he argues, “confounds the unity and order of the rationalist scheme” since “[a]ll tendencies of modern constitutional development point toward eliminating the sovereign” and his ability to decide “whether there is an extreme emergency as well as what must be done to eliminate it” (14, 7).  Thus, by delving into “the extreme situation” and the need for a decision on “the exception,” Schmitt shows how such situations are not only “more interesting than the rule” but that they both prove and solidify the very legitimacy of the rules or norms upon which a state, and its constitutional order, is founded (15).

Schmitt defines “the exception” to be that “which is not codified in the existing legal order” but “can at best be characterized as a case of extreme peril, a danger to the existence of the state, or the like” and that “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception” (6, 5).  Accordingly, he asserts that such a decision on the exception “is a decision in the true sense of the word” (6).  It is a decision in a specific moment and seeks to address a concrete and pressing political situation, a situation in which the stability and preservation of the entire political order is at stake: “What characterizes an exception is principally unlimited authority, which means the suspension of the entire existing order” and that “[i]n such a situation it is clear that the state remains, whereas law recedes” (12).   In other words, by exercising extra-legal authority, the sovereign is able to protect and codify the legal foundation upon which the state rests; consequently, “[t]he exception reveals most clearly the essence of the state’s authority” (15).  As a result, Schmitt argues that all political regimes and the related theorizing on their actions must not only account for these situations but develop institutional methods that take them into account.  It is precisely liberalism’s resistance to and neglection of this thinking that frustrates and confounds Schmitt.  Thus, for Schmitt, all legal theory, which is “[p]recisely a philosophy of concrete life,” must “not withdraw from the exception and the extreme case, but it must be interested in it to the highest degree” (14).  In addition, I argue that through reading Schmitt, one can see that all legal thinking, as a “philosophy of concrete existence,” must not only recognize the central importance of “the exception” but also the nature of a regime’s foundations principles and consequently the implications of such commitments.  Through doing so, I argue that it becomes more apparent that ““All law is “situational law,”’ as Schmitt asserts, and thus that these foundational political ideals are not simply legitimate in themselves, through being supposedly “self-evident,” but, rather, that they derive their legitimacy through the basis of their commitments, commitments that can only be understood by thinking through how one would address an exception (13).

By way of such thinking, which is a thinking that is facilitated by the reading of Schmitt, one becomes a little less self-certain in their own political thinking, leading them to interrogate the faith upon which their political beliefs and convictions rest.  This is part of Schmitt’s goal in writing since he understands such self-certainty to be political naïve and dangerous, especially when one places themselves on the side of inherent truth and “universal humanity.”[5]  Consequently, the thrust of the argument made in Political Theology is an articulation of the relationship between the theological and the political, and thus the assumptions of human nature and political society that underlie all political thinking.  Through appreciating and apprehending this insight, I argue that liberals and liberal sympathizers who confront Schmitt will be more equipped to interrogate many of the tacit assumptions that undergird much of their own political thinking, allowing them to see the limitations of their own commitments and thus the ground upon which the real political, as well as intellectual, battles are fought.

Appreciating “Political Theology”

Through deconstructing the intellectual foundations and tacit assumptions that underlie the political conceptions of liberals and modern liberal theory, Schmitt shows that intellectual debates over the nature of politics run much deeper than merely liberal or conservative notions of constitutional governments.  Instead, he argues, they occur over conceptions of human nature, considerations on whether man is fundamentally good or evil, decent or depraved. Therefore, in the last chapter of Political Theology, Schmitt compares the thought of the Spanish Counterrevolutionary Catholic Donoso Cortés and the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin to highlight the true divide on this matter.  As Schmitt suggests, it is within these two competing visions and a decision on whom one supports that determines one’s politics as well as the future of the political world.  In this way, liberalism, for these two thinkers, as well as for Schmitt himself, is seen to occupy a particular middle period of world history that appears to be coming towards an end.

As Schmitt describes in this last chapter, for a person or a particular idea to be political it must make a determination, and thus a decision, on human nature.  As he says, ‘“Every political idea in one way or another takes a position on the “nature” of man and presupposes that he is either “by nature good” or “by nature evil”’ and that “[t]his issue can only be clouded by pedagogic or economic explanations, but not evaded” (PT 56).  In effect, what Schmitt suggests is that liberals have clouded over the nature of political decisions – hence their self-delusion – and that at their core, they most likely have a view that holds men to be good, as their system offers no moral guidance to human life (see RCPF).  However, with this view, Schmitt suggests that they do not carry their assumption to its full import as did Bakunin, or Coréts in reverse.

For instance, Donoso Cortés, Schmitt suggests, does not only begin with the assumption of “original sin” and thus that man is fundamentally malevolent, but that he carries “this polemically into a doctrine of the absolute sinfulness and depravity of human nature” (57).  As a result of this position, Schmitt argues that Cortés’s views falls into the most severe misanthropy where “his contempt for man knew no limits”: “Man’s blind reason, his weak will, and the ridiculous vitality of his carnal longings appeared to him so pitiable that all words in every human language do not suffice to express the complete lowness of this creature” (58).  In direct contrast, Bakunin saw all authority to be inherently corrupt and emphatically asserts that men are naturally good.  As Schmitt says, “Bakunin was the first to give the struggle against theology the complete consistency of an absolute naturalism” based on the fact that his “intellectual influence” rests […] on his conception of human life, which on the basis of its natural rightness produces the correct forms by itself” (64).  According to this view, he saw that “[a]ll moral valuations lead to theology and to an authority that artificially imposes and alien or extrinsic “ought: on the natural and intrinsic truth and beauty of human life” (64).  It was upon these views, Schmitt argues, that their political prescriptions were based.  For Cortés, a decision, in fact any decision or authority, was needed to direct human life that was too sinful and depraved to be left to its own devices for even a moment.  Whereas, for Bakunin, it was the essence of all ‘decisions’ that were the root of human evil (66).

As Schmitt then suggests in the final pages of this work, the future of the political world resides in taking a position within this debate.  It is, he claims, “the bloody decisive battle […] between Catholicism and atheist socialism” (59).  Accordingly, liberalism is not to be in the picture in the coming future; this, Cortés will argue, is because of its discursive character: “Liberalism, with its contradictions and compromises, existed for Donoso Cortés only in that short interim period in which it was possible to answer the question “Christ or Barabbas?” with a proposal to adjourn or appoint a commission of investigation” (62).  Thus, what he suggests is that its discursive ends are short-lived.  In effect, this is intimated by Bakunin, as well, except in the opposite direction.  This leads Schmitt to conclude himself that “The essence of liberalism is negotiation, a cautious half measure, in the hope that the definitive dispute, the decisive bloody battle, can be transformed into a parliamentary debate and permit the decision to be suspended forever in an everlasting discussion” (63).  Harboring contempt for this political outlook, as a result of its political naivety and its influence over the Weimar constitutional crisis, Schmitt shows his readers where the future of the political world lies.  Its either in supporting “decisionism [which] is essentially dictatorship, not legitimacy” or in claiming that all decisions in themselves are evil like the anarchists (66).  And, it is through our own decisions on these matters that we in turn determine our own political commitments.

By living during a time that is experiencing reactions against liberalism, the ideas expressed here by Schmitt can seem haunting.  In fact, it may perhaps be that there is not as much hope within liberalism and its goals as one might expect, or has at least come to assume.  However, I argue that directly confronting these critiques is the only possible way for liberals and liberal sympathizers to be able to move forward and articulate a more coherent and convincing political vision.  As a result, the worst approach is to be continually wedded to liberalism’s implicit faith, a faith that we have seen to be self-deluding and politically dangerous.  This danger might not be the one Schmitt suggests in his later work The Concept of the Political (see note 5), but it could be the danger experienced by the short-lived Weimar republic.  Therefore, to check against this danger and to prepare for perhaps a more serious liberal politics of the 21st century, we must have the courage to face and accept Schmitt’s critiques in order to move forward towards a future that will inevitably be ‘political’.

[1] In this paper, I will focus on Schmitt’s writings from 1922-23 including Political Theology, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, and Roman Catholicism and Political Form (henceforth PT, CPD, and RCPF respectively).  The English translations used are noted in the bibliography.

[2] In this paper, I characterize “modern liberal thought,” following Schmitt, to be a political thinking that is focused on discourse, democracy, the parliament, the private sphere, economic and technical rationales, as well as the subversion of the decision.

[3] A work of art that beautifully portrays this haunting idea is Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals (1933) in the Detroit Institute of Arts where the production of poison gas is contrasted with the administration of vaccines, above a crowded industrial factory filled with laborers.

[4] Later, in his lecture “The Age of Neutralizations and Depoliticizations” (1929), Schmitt further articulates this evolution in thought, claiming that it is a result of European intellectual history “striving for a neutral domain” (Schmitt 2007, 82, 89).

[5] This argument, I suggest, is implied here.  However, it is more fully developed in Schmitt’s later work The Concept of the Political (1932).  Here, Schmitt argues, modifying Proudhon, that “whoever invokes humanity wants to cheat” as this invocation serves both as a “useful ideological instrument of imperialist expansion” as well as a method of justifying “the most extreme inhumanity” in war by “denying the enemy the quality of being human and declaring him to be an outlaw of humanity” (54).


Schmitt, Carl. 1985. Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty. Translated by George Schwab. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

—. 1996. Roman Catholicism and Political Form. Translated by G. L. Ulmen. Westport: Greenwood Press.

—. 2007. “The Age of Neutralizations and Depoliticizations.” In The Concept of the Political, by Carl Schmitt, translated by Matthias Konzett and John P. McCormick. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

—. 2007. The Concept of the Political. Translated by George Schwab. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

—. 1988. The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy. Translated by Ellen Kennedy. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Weber, Max. 2002. The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism and Other Writings . Translated by Peter Baehr and Gordon C. Wells. New York: Penguin Group.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s