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Can Schmitt’s Political Theology Be Redeemed?

A sure way to establish enduring significance as a thinker is to combine sophistication with carefully constructed ambiguity and, if necessary, outright contradiction. The odd combination of precision and ambiguity is something of a goldmine for interpretation and debate. To exponentially amplify it, the thinker just needs to be involved in some form of notoriety that makes a determinative interpretation all the more significant in order to illuminate what went wrong. One need only look at the complexity of Heidegger’s legacy to see how public and important such discussions can become. The notoriety licenses all manner of analyses—Is his or her work entirely undermined by such transgression? Does their thought lead to failure or is some contextual explanation a possible exoneration? The contrast of intellectual achievement and moral failure strikes us viscerally by touching on one of our most basic fears: that markers like high intellect and education cannot always protect against violence and hatred.

Like Heidegger, Carl Schmitt is such a thinker of great sophistication, ambiguity, and notoriety. The famous German jurist and political theorist is known both for his brilliant political insights and his quite active participation and public justification of the Nazi regime. That embrace of Nazism has led one author to label him the “theorist for the Reich.”[1] Schmitt’s collaboration with the Nazis is undeniable as he joined the party in 1933 and a year later wrote a justification for Hitler’s extrajudicial purge of political threats during the Night of the Long Knives. He also wrote publicly about the importance of removing Jewish influence from German culture and law in support of Nazi policies. Fittingly for a figure as complex as Schmitt, his own fall from grace in the Nazi party around 1936 due to party infighting around the sincerity of his Nazi commitments likely saved him from more severe scrutiny at Nuremberg. On one read, it is possible that the very ambiguity of Schmitt’s writings prevented him from being pinned down as providing a clear political and theoretical scaffolding for the Nazi regime.[2]

Schmitt’s support of the Nazi party is difficult to stomach but exactly why he made his choices and the level of his personal culpability remain contested. His involvement should make anyone suspicious of engaging Schmitt, but the thing that makes him so difficult to get rid of is that his political insights continue to provide significant challenges to the story many of our contemporaries tell about the value of democracy, dialogue, technology, and progress. Schmitt points out how those things do not necessarily liberate but more often than not manipulate, exploit, and delay. And he reveals these complexities of the political by tracing their connection to the theological in ways that have had fundamental importance for political theology ever since.

I will attempt to provide a brief background to Schmitt’s political thought and why he continues to disturb us in very interesting ways. In the essay to follow I will move on to his engagement with his one-time friend the theologian Erik Peterson, and then say some things about why their exchange is still very relevant today. The central claim is that while Schmitt offers political insights and criticisms about liberalism and its roots that are important to consider, his theological claims are far more problematic and poorly supported when viewed under the light of Erik Peterson’s perspicacious analysis. Schmitt will claim that there was a certain theological analogy between God and the sovereign lawgiver that was the foundation of the medieval political order and that this theological analogy bears political relevance today. Peterson will take him to task for that claim on the grounds of the Trinitarian theology of the early Church which became Christian orthodoxy and thereby effectively disallows the analogy Schmitt would like to make. This is a conversation that comes from a rich context and cannot be understood apart from the development of their thought over the years. Thus, I would like to be clear from the outset that I am not offering a strict exegesis of Schmitt or Peterson but attempting to situate their engagement within the larger political and theological trends in which they participate. This requires some chronological jumping around but I think it worthwhile as this will help to clarify how both figures fit into larger narratives of political theology.

But one final word of preface is necessary before beginning. The secondary scholarship on Schmitt has been most accurately described by Michael Hollerich as “massive, contentious, and unabating.”[3] Any brief review of the literature is enough to verify the first and third adjective, but the claim of “contentious” deserves a bit more unpacking. Several factors contribute to the contention around Schmitt that rightfully generates the diversity of interpretation and the outright polar opposite understandings of the value and meaning of his thought. First, Schmitt’s writings span decades and his positions on various themes and political and theological controversies changed, sometimes dramatically. Oftentimes, a simple prioritization of one text over others can shift the meaning of his entire body of work. This can make it difficult to establish consensus about multiple threads of continuity, let alone a larger comprehensive framework. Second, Schmitt often has conversations with other thinkers in and through his texts who may or may not be referenced explicitly by Schmitt himself. This easily lends itself to discussions about who Schmitt’s interlocutors actually are in any given text and, while these discussions can amplify the complexity of his thought via these interlocuters, it might not actually be who or what Schmitt had in mind. Third and most relevant to the theological direction in which this essay will go, Schmitt appears to have been, by many reports, an arrogant and inconsistent person.[4] This is perhaps no more strikingly the case than in terms of his religious commitments where evidence can be found for both a sincere belief in Christianity on some level (even if just cultural) and the use of it as a charade. Schmitt turned from Catholicism after a failed marriage and drifted away from the Church during the early 1920’s. Schmitt’s postwar notebooks from 1947-1951 provide evidence that he identified as a Catholic but some still argue there are good reasons to hold out on taking Schmitt at his word.[5] There remains the suspicion of Schmitt hyping up his Christian commitments in order to retroactively cover for his unseemly political collaboration. All of these things make interpretation quite difficult but important in order to accurately determine the issues that are at stake.

Carl Schmitt’s Thought

Whatever the case may be for Schmitt’s interior life, it is clear that he wanted to rehabilitate the role of religion for politics. Schmitt does not want to read history and the history of politics as a gradual progression wherein successive achievements of development free humanity more and more from the bonds of religion and backwardness and eventually bring us into the light of modernity. Instead, Schmitt thinks that metaphysics and religion are what really determines how the political is expressed even as Schmitt remains difficult to read as to whether or not he values Christian revelation on its own terms.[6] The terms “metaphysics” and “religion” are difficult to interpret in Schmitt’s work because he uses the words without precise definition and seemingly interchangeably. However, they can be generally understood to refer to the conception of the transcendent in any particular epoch. For Schmitt, it is not economics, not technology, not even pure will to power but how a culture understands and lives transcendent truth claims that will ultimately license the political ordering of the day.

He famously writes, “The metaphysical image that a definite epoch forges of the world has the same structure as what the world immediately understands to be appropriate as a form of its political organization.”[7] What Schmitt thinks has happened over the course of several centuries of modernity is that access to a coherent, unified metaphysical/religious viewpoint has been destroyed. Without this larger framework to mediate, a collision course has been setup between expanding conceptions of individual freedom and the capacity of law to control that freedom. In his very complicated treatment of Hobbes in The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes (1938), a central point Schmitt is making is that right at the point where Hobbes could have made the sovereign truly absolute, he actually very subtly lays the groundwork for a liberalism which will run amok in the succeeding centuries.[8] In Hobbes’s theory, the purpose of Leviathan is to protect people from the state of nature which includes both internal and external threats. Therefore, the state’s sovereign power exists to protect people and all rights which might derive from the state’s recognition come second. But Schmitt thinks that the logic has been subverted. The position has shifted such that the state’s sovereign power is now primarily to protect from external threats and, consequently, the state’s sovereign power over internal divisions is being undercut by individual freedoms.[9] Instead of public peace and sovereign power providing the “form-giving principle” individual freedom becomes an obligation of the social contract. But if individual freedom becomes paramount, what exactly is being given up in social contract? In Schmitt’s view, it is now the case that the individual freedom which preexists the social contract has become the end in itself and so there is no longer a common transcendent framework of meaning that can adjudicate opposition.[10] How exactly does the sovereign function as representative of something when individual freedom still reigns supreme?

Schmitt’s Leviathan is a later text but it brings to a head what he has identified earlier on (particularly in Political Theology, where he is responding to the legal positivism of Hans Kelsen) as a problem in Hobbes’s concept of “representation.” If the unity of the people only arises because each individual gives over her autonomy and submits to the social contract, then the representative is entirely above the people and is generated out of a mechanistic handing over of power. The representative does not emerge organically, as one specially designated out of a pre-existing cultural or social unity of some sort, but actually and only enacts the unity by being different from it. The unity is in and through the representative. But if this is the case, what is the relationship between this difference and unity?[11] How can a representative be said to represent the whole even as he or she is fundamentally different from it? If there is no larger framework other than the brute fact of social contract and individual freedom, then when a representative sovereign enacts law and inevitably suppresses the activity of some segment of the population, how can the representative still be said to “represent” their will? What if the freedom of the people’s will is constantly manipulated or an oppressive majority emerges? Does the overthrow of the sovereign representative in a revolution, by however small a group, thereby also establish an entirely new order from the top down in a “new covert theology of divine government”?

According to Schmitt, the success of Hobbes is that he attempted to imbue the sovereign as representative with absolute powers, but, precisely because he did not sufficiently work out this relationship between unity and difference, law and freedom, this political model has broken down. Schmitt argues that what is glossed over by Hobbes is a presumed theological analogy that makes all of Hobbes’s claims possible. Hobbes can claim that a sovereign can represent the people only because he has subtly placed in parallel how Christ “represents” God (by uniting in his Person the difference between God and humanity, the eternal law and human freedom) with how the representative similarly represents the people by bridging the difference of representation and social unity.[12] Christ unites the eternal and absolute God with free Christian believers in the society of the Church through his very Person. The sovereign representative is thereby set up as purportedly capable of overcoming the gap between an absolute ruler over all who somehow still emerges organically from a cohesive social whole of free individuals.

This rests on theological arguments about Christology and the Trinity, both of which will become of fundamental importance for political theology after Schmitt, but we will have to return to this later. For now, the claim is that this sleight-of-hand is successful only because the previous medieval political model had actually worked this out through a unity of the religious and the political. There was a real, concrete unity between belief and politics that allowed for individual freedom and rights but within a larger framework oriented towards the common good. Hobbes relies on this pre-existing unity even as he conceptually undermines it by keeping religion in the sphere of private belief and outside the power of the Leviathan. This core element of subjective right has become its own monster and evacuated the sovereign’s power to control it. Law can no longer get a grip on it because subjective right has become so diverse and expansive and because the representative power is simply different and above its subjects. Law becomes “machine” and “technology” because it is not connected to the organic complexity of the people any more and this organic complexity is on the overdrive of individualism. The “mechanistic” conception of law issues laws seemingly apart from the entire complexity of social, economic, cultural, and religious relations from which those laws must emerge and to which they must apply.[13]

We can now attempt to tackle the opening lines of Schmitt’s Political Theology (1922), which densely touches upon the whole series of claims we have addressed thus far:

All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts not only because of their historical development—in which they were transferred from theology to the theory of the state, whereby, for example, the omnipotent God became the omnipotent lawgiver—but also because of their systematic structure, the recognition of which is necessary for a sociological consideration of these concepts. The exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle in theology. Only by being aware of this analogy can we appreciate the manner in which the philosophical ideas of the state developed in the last centuries.[14]

The claim that “the omnipotent God became the omnipotent lawgiver” is derived from the analysis we have provided above—that the complex relation of representation and authority that derived from Christianity has been transferred from God to the lawgiver. The lawgiver is offering a purported unity and absolute power that, upon closer scrutiny, is presumed rather than actual. Schmitt argues that these secularized theological concepts are “necessary for a sociological consideration” because, for the moment, what is “political” about his “political theology” is how modern political concepts relied on the theological matrix from which they emerged even as they deformed and thereby transformed their fundamental meaning.

Schmitt’s theological presupposition here is not just an ecclesial fracturing (although this is true) but also, in Schmitt’s reading, the embrace of Deism which denied God’s active involvement in the world after its creation. When Schmitt argues that the “exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle in theology,” what he is arguing is the shift in an entire political and theological worldview. Because modern political concepts have dismissed the possibility of miracles via Deism, they have sealed off the world from the transcendence and supernatural freedom that generates real and meaningful spontaneity. Since there are no more miracles which would require deference to the spontaneity of a free God, there are, therefore, no more exceptions in jurisprudence which would require deference to the fundamentally unruly and uncontrollable spontaneity of humanity. The sovereign can just be increasingly relied upon to generate the legal framework to any and all political situations.[15] The analogy is meant to highlight how Schmitt’s targets in the text have assumed that all can be controlled, all can be contained, all can be constrained because no exception is beyond the mechanistic technology of law.

And this juridical belief is standing in open and obvious tension with how the expanding power of individual freedom keeps breaking out of the laws that are supposed to be able to constrain it for the greater and harmonious operation of the whole. Thus, when Schmitt opens Political Theology with the claim “sovereign is he who decides upon the exception,” Schmitt is attempting to cut through this morass of political justification that seeks to control through the mechanical, all-controlling theory of law. Schmitt suspects that in all the claims of authority derived from social contract, the seeds of the entire liberal project function by obfuscating the manner in which law is inevitably and inextricably personal and has to deal with a fallen human freedom. Law must be interpreted, applied, and lived in concrete and shifting circumstances that rely on being able to adjudicate between the sovereign and citizens. Thus, when an “exception” to the controlling leviathan of law emerges, it shows the lie of the purported efficacy of the whole system. By leaning so very hard on the idea of “sovereign is he who decides upon the exception,” Schmitt is arguing that what really shows who has authority is not the mechanistic functioning of law but what happens when law fails, when a “state of exception” to the law reveals itself as urgent and necessary to address.[16] This question of exception relates to important ideas that Schmitt developed about dictatorship, which he understood to be necessary to preserve and protect truly democratic political functioning, but we cannot address those here. Instead, it is important to focus on how Schmitt builds out this seemingly authoritarian, personalistic, decisionist conception of authority to reveal what he sees as the lie of liberalism that claims to resolve the tension of conflict but more nearly only serves those who actually have power and control. At least in part, Schmitt’s claim that “sovereign is he who decides upon the exception” is attempting to get people to see through the lie of liberalism, and to consider that whoever assumes control whenever law fails and/or when some emergency arises, that is the person/group who actually has power. But in thinking about who that person/group would be, one would also have to consider how more primary considerations of ethnic, cultural, religious, economic, or other factors would hold sway.

Perhaps a contemporary example would be helpful here. On the one hand, Schmitt’s approach appears nonsensical given the complex and international web of relations that provides the economic, political, and social stability in any given context that would buck dominance by any one group or person. And yet, on the other hand, by framing the question in this way, Schmitt asks his readers to look through law as it is formally articulated and to discern how the application of law actually occurs in and through that complex web of economic, political, and social relations. By doing so and beginning to see how these forces manipulate how law is generated and how it is applied, we start to get a feel for the illusion of accountability that is a structural feature of most liberal democracies. In the United States of America, every schoolchild learns that a system of checks and balances between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches balances out power and creates stability. But when we think of all the cultural and economic forces that led to Obergefell vs. Hodges or the momentum that is driving pro-life hopes for the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, then what power and stability look like become far murkier and a product of complex social and cultural forces rather than the linear, rational debate that purportedly grounds the system.

Because all these extra-legal forces continue to grow more conflicting and antagonistic (exacerbated by social media and the influence of economic interests), then “exceptions” become more and more politically common in order to grant a particular person/group the authority to effectively address them. The election of Donald Trump and the rise of radical political figures in Europe also point to something like what Schmitt is getting at, I would argue, in that these figures reveal the limited resources that legal systems have when dealing with exceptional circumstances and figures and how resort to extra-legal means for political ends becomes more commonplace. Giorgio Agamben is also a notable thinker in this regard, compellingly developing Schmitt’s thought and identifying how George W. Bush invoked a “state of exception” for the highly unique treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.[17]

In his own context, Schmitt thinks that because the state keeps thinking it can just make laws to solve things, it fails to account for how manipulations of people by the press (“fake news”) and the inability to regulate businesses and lobbyists means that the authority itself behind the law is being called into question. Those who have to “interpret and apply” the law are being manipulated by those not held accountable to the law (lobbyists and various economic/social interests) and thereby undermining the authority of law altogether. When reading Schmitt on some of these things, particularly in Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy (1923), portions of it very much read like something about the contemporary American context.

To keep leaning into the complexity of social, cultural, and economic forces that make law so complex could easily lead to a type of aesthetic resignation or chaos, which Schmitt fears perhaps above all else. Thus, in the years after Political Theology and in a variety of other texts, Schmitt offers his own political theory which channels all of this complexity into a very simple but very powerful (and equally dangerous) claim of politics: the distinguishing of friends and enemies. The Concept of the Political (1927, revised 1932) articulates Schmitt’s fundamental rule of the political which determines all else: what the political means is to distinguish between friend and enemy. This distinction goes beyond any and all economic, moral, religious, cultural, or social factors. Schmitt is not claiming here that the friend/enemy distinction pristinely rests above all of these other factors, but instead that all of these factors are now politicized and understood in the manner in which they contribute to the intensity of the friend/enemy distinction. Whatever contributes to the sufficient distinction between friend and enemy is involved in and subsumed under proper political order. Liberalism again comes under censure here for being too reticent to accept this foundation of politics and choosing instead to delay and defer through dialogue and tolerance. And while the friend/enemy decision is not the practice of war in and of itself, it again returns to the importance of who makes decisions about who is an enemy and who is a friend and how those decisions become actionable. This constant negotiation of friend/enemy holds in tension the personal and decisionistic aspect of authority that Schmitt wants to value against liberalism even as it recognizes that such a decision about the friend/enemy requires that it emerge from a complex network of relations.[18]

We have covered a wide swath of Schmitt’s thought, but it is necessary to close on one final point before turning to Schmitt’s sparring partner, Erik Peterson. In Nomos of the Earth (1950), Schmitt’s surprisingly prophetic treatment of international law, he invokes another theological concept for his political theory—the katechon. The biblical conception of katechon comes from 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 where Paul instructs the Christians that the “lawless one” must be revealed before the return of the Christ and that “what is restraining” (in the next verse, ὁ κατέχων, “he who is restraining”) works until the “lawless one” is revealed. What exactly the katechon is has been subject to debate over the centuries but, for Schmitt, it is the force that holds the chaos and destruction of the world at bay. The katechon prevents the Kingdom of God from arriving because it attempts to stop the destruction of the world and, in classic Schmitt ambiguity, he finds this a very good thing.[19] Schmitt’s politics requires the friend/enemy distinction but the katechon functions to bracket conflict so as to not lead to total destruction. In each period of history, this force has been identified with a particular power (Rome, the Catholic Church, British Empire, and the USA) but Christians are under an obligation to participate with it in order to prevent chaos from overcoming the earth.

This reference to the katechon is significant for two reasons. First, it shows that Schmitt continued to include theological content within his political thinking after the tumultuous war years and the reckoning of his Nazi involvement. Second, it seals Schmitt’s standing as an apocalyptic thinker. The Second World War called into question much of the political project of modernity and, in response, a proliferation of apocalyptic thinkers rose up to elucidate the ending which they were undergoing (such as Walter Benjamin and Erich Przywara, among many others). Schmitt already had an apocalyptic viewpoint well before with his keen assessment of the problems inherent in the Weimar Constitution and liberalism in general. But with the articulation of the role of the katechon and understanding Christianity as obligated to participate with the katechon however it is expressed, Schmitt steps into offering not just an apocalyptic politics but a fundamentally apocalyptic theology. The question becomes where such a theology might have arisen and if his former friend Erik Peterson might have had something to do with it. . . .

Editorial Note: This is the first part of a two-part series on the political theology of Carl Schmitt and Erik Peterson’s response to it. The essays will be collected here as they are published.

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Featured Image: Photo of a young Carl Schmitt, c. 1916, artist unknown; Source: Wikimedia.de, believed to be PD-Old-70. 

[1] From Joseph Bendersky’s Carl Schmitt: Theorist for the Reich, originally published in 1983.

[2] http://opiniojuris.org/2010/01/10/carl-schmitts-nuremberg-near-miss/; http://www.telospress.com/carl-schmitt-and-nuremberg/

[3] “Carl Schmitt” in The Blackwell Companion to Political Theology, ed. Peter Scott, William T. Cavanaugh (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004): 107.

[4] Schmitt often referred compared himself to Benito Cereno, the main character from in a novel of the same name by Herman Melville.  In this short story, a ship’s captain encounters a floundering slave galley captained by another Spaniard, Benito Cereno. Cereno maintains that the rest of the Spanish crew died from illness and storms that plagued their journey. Although many of the slaves remained alive, Cereno only had a few fellow Spaniards left to help him. The story is told from the perspective of the other sea captain who initially finds Cereno’s claims unexceptionable but, as the story progresses, becomes suspicious of what is actually happening. At the end of the story, Cereno jumps from his dock onto the departing ship and the charade is revealed – the ship had undergone a slave revolt and Cereno was being held captive to act as a puppet. Later in Carl Schmitt’s life, after his involvement with the Nazi Party and which has placed all of his work under suspicion for many, Schmitt often compared himself to Cereno, even signing a letter once with the name. This demonstrates two things. First, Schmitt even later in life had a remarkable capacity for social ineptitude as it would hardly inspire sympathy to compare oneself to a crew member on a slave ship. Second, it also demonstrates Schmitt’s understanding of his work as taken hostage by the Nazis and thereby perverted into something it was not meant to be. This anecdote is related in Tracy B. Strong’s foreword to Carl Schmitt’s Political Theology, trans. George Schwab (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

[5] Schmitt’s Glossarium was published in 1991 and contains notes from 1947-1951. Michael Hollerich concludes that these documents “contained abundant evidence that [Schmitt] thought of himself explicitly as a Catholic.” “Carl Schmitt”, 110. This stands in contrast to Aaron Roberts who finds reasons to believe that Schmitt was anything but sincere about faith. See Aaron Roberts, “Carl Schmitt—Political Theologian?” in The Review of Politics 77 (2015): 459-460.

[6] For example, Heinerich Meier has forcefully argued for the fundamental theological register of all of Schmitt’s thought in The Lesson of Carl Schmitt: Four Chapters on the Distinction between Political Theology and Political Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998). For a refutation of that, see Roberts.

[7] Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, trans. George Schwab (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006): 46.

[8] I begin with Schmitt’s The Leviathan because I think it is something of a climax in the trajectory of Schmitt’s thought in that it produces the most robust criticism of liberalism as Schmitt, via Strauss, identifies as originating in Hobbes.

[9] Schmitt identifies this as the shift from ethos to pathos and places the blame at the feet of Baruch Spinoza. It is certainly disturbing that not only does this reading of Hobbes justify the absolute sovereignty of the state in determining questions of peace/rights in the Nazi period, but it is equally disturbing that all the blame is heaped onto a Jewish philosopher.

[10] Schmitt’s earlier answer to this challenge was to hold up Roman Catholicism as capable of providing a unifying form despite all the contradictions of the social and cultural. See Roman Catholicism and Political Form, trans. G.L. Ulmen (trans. G.L. Ulmen (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996).

[11] For a helpful clarification on the role of representation for both Hobbes and Schmitt, see Miguel Vatter, “The Political Theology of Carl Schmitt” in The Oxford Handbook of Carl Schmitt, ed. Jens Meierhenrich and Oliver Simons (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).

[12] “At this point Hobbes introduces the two central possibilities for representation, one after the other. The first is that ‘the true God may be personated’ (2010, 82, 100). Hobbes claims that this happened on three occasions: first by Moses; then by Jesus Christ; last by the Holy Spirit found in the apostles and their legal successors (the Holy Spirit is a person sent by both God and his Son). Immediately after theological representation, he introduces the famous consideration about political representation: ‘A Multitude of men are made One Person, when they are by one man, or one Person, Represented; so that it be done with the consent of every one of that Multitude in particular. For it is the Unity of the Representer, not the Unity of the Represented, that maketh the Person One. And it is the Representer that beareth the Person, and but one Person: And Unity, cannot otherwise be understood in Multitude’ (82, 100). Thus, Hobbes places in parallel God’s representatives and the state’s or people’s representatives. For this very reason it is not implausible for Schmitt to claim that Hobbes is engaging in the exercise of political theology, understood as reaffirming the ‘unity’ of politics and religion, ‘the power of the sovereign as the lieutenant of God … that brings about the unity of religion and politics’ (2008c, 55).” Vatter, 253.

[13] A problem that Schmitt identified early in his career: “No political system can survive even a generation with only the naked techniques of holding power. To the political belongs the idea, because there is no politics without authority and no authority without an ethos of belief.Roman Catholicism and Political Form, 17.

[14] Political Theology, 36.

[15] “Schmitt, in other words, requires that his understanding of law and politics respond to what he takes to be the fact of the ultimately unruly and unruled quality of human life. And if life can never be reduced or adequately understood by a set of rules, no matter how complex, then in the end, rule is of men and not of law—or rather that the rule of men must always existentially underlie the rule of law. For Schmitt, to pretend that one can have an ultimate ‘rule of law’ is to set oneself up to be overtaken by events of some unpredictable but necessarily occurring time and it is to lose the human element in and of our world.” Tracy B. Strong’s “Foreword” in Political Theology, xvii.

[16] Hobbes’ questions of Quis judicabit? Quis interpretabit? are just as much Schmitt’s own, even if his answers will differ. This is also of dramatic import in Schmitt’s own context with the controversy over article 48 in the Weimar Constitution which granted the Chancellor emergency powers. An article which Hitler used to great effect.

[17] State of Exception, trans. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

[18] While this can and should be debated, I do not think Schmitt can be said to support as arbitrary and despotic an expression of power as some would like to reduce him.

[19] Schmitt spoke approvingly of Dostoevksy’s Grand Inquisitor. See Gopal Balakrishnan, The Enemy: An Intellectual Portrait of Carl Schmitt (Brookly: Verso, 2000): 203.

Michael Altenburger

Michael Altenburger is a University of Notre Dame Ph.D. in Systematic Theology.