chapter  29
12 Pages

Carl Schmitt


To summarize Carl Schmitt’s long life is to necessarily engage with and be wary of his own and his opponents’ political propaganda, as little about his life and times is uncontroversial (Gottfried 1990). Schmitt was born in the provincial German Rhineland town of Plettenberg on 11 July 1888 to a Franco-German Catholic family that came from the Moselle Valley. He read law at the Universities in Berlin, Munich and Strassburg, graduating in 1915. He took up a professorship in Greifswald in 1921 and it was here that he published his Die Diktatur [The Dictatorship] (1994a), an influential work that was followed in theme by the seminal Politische Theologie [Political Theology] in 1922 (2005), when Schmitt moved to the University of Bonn. The 1920s saw Schmitt engage in the legal and political debates emerging with the various crises of the Weimar Republic and opposing legal formalism and normativism in notable works such as Verfassungslehre [Constitutional Theory] of 1928 (2007b). He moved academic institutions frequently, teaching at Hochschule für Politik in Berlin and finally moving to the University of Cologne, where he was to publish an expanded version of his 1927 pamphlet, Der Begriff des Politischen [The Concept of the Political], in 1932. Speaking in support of the Weimar Republic, Schmitt advocated in 1931-32 that the National Socialist German Workers (Nazi) Party be suppressed and lobbied Paul von Hindenburg, the Republic’s President to imprison its leadership. He did not believe, as did other representatives of the Catholic Centre Party, with which he had been affiliated, that the Nazis could be controlled within the bounds of a coalition government. While scholarship is right to condemn Schmitt’s membership of the Nazi

Party in May 1933, and his attempt to transform himself into the crown jurist of the Third Reich as well as into a bona fide anti-Semite in his writings, there was an element of opportunism in his doing so, as the Nazis themselves suspected. From 1935 onward, his teaching and activities were monitored and in 1936 the mouthpiece of the SS, Das schwarze Korps, called him to task for his Catholicism and earlier critiques of the Party’s racial theories. Interned from September 1945 to May 1947, briefly by the Soviets and then by the American occupational forces, he was prohibited from returning to teaching and retreated to his hometown of Plettenberg. It is in

this period of his life that he would produce important contributions in international law and politics, such as Der Nomos der Erde im Völkerrecht des Jus Publicum Europaeum [The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europaeum] in 1950 and later Theorie des Partisanen [Theory of the Partisan] in 1963. He continued to travel, write and publish, with his entire corpus having what is regarded to be a ‘subterranean’ influence on a number of post-war thinkers such as Reinhart Koselleck, Hans Morgenthau, Hanno Kesting, and Roman Schnur, as well as prominent cultural and intellectual figures of the twentieth century such as Ernst Jünger, Walter Benjamin, Leo Strauss, Jacob Taubes, and Alexandre Kojève. Schmitt described himself as a jurist, a scholar familiar with two areas of

legal science: constitutional and international law. Both form part of public law and as such, he argued, were ‘exposed to the danger from “the political”’ (Schmitt 1950). For Schmitt, this ‘exposure’ meant that legal theory could not be dissociated from political theory in the same way that understanding international law could not be dissociated from analyses of international politics, that is, what we would call today, international theory. Schmitt’s understanding of law, in fact, was radically different from the legal positivism and formalism which arguably dominated the twentieth century, with their abstract and generalising tendencies that rendered any analysis of constitutional and international law abstract and ultimately meaningless, devoid of a substantial engagement with real issues of domestic and international politics.