Carl Schmitt and civil war

Carl Schmitt and civil war

Carl Schmitt is relevant – this is my basic premise. There are many fascinating theorists, some perhaps more fascinating than Schmitt, but the basic premise of relevance cannot be applied to all of them equally. Schmitt’s relevance is not something that can be easily explained in a post. But there is an interesting anecdote recounted by George Schwab (his translator into English), that even mentioning Schmitt’s name in academic debates/arguments would be met with “hostility” up until the 1970s ([amazon text=The Challenge of the Exception&asin=0313272298]). I am not going to explain the relevance as such; instead, it is perhaps better to go over a particular issue in Schmitt that has had relatively little attention. And specifically the issue of civil war. Perhaps by going over what Schmitt has to say on civil war, his relevance will become clearer.

In this post I will deal with his The Concept of the Political ([amazon text=Amazon&asin=0226738922]) as it is considered his primary text (his magnum opus if you will), even though I am not entirely convinced that that is the case.1

The citations below are from the 2007 Expanded Edition of [amazon text=The Concept of the Political&asin=0226738922] (it includes the commentary by Leo Strauss, a must read!, and Schmitt’s The Age of Neutralisations and Depoliticisations), published by The Chicago University Press.

APA: Schmitt, C. (2007). The Concept of the Political. Expanded Edition. (G. Schwab, Trans.). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Why a concern with civil war?

Schmitt’s interest in civil war is not a clear one, and not without contradictions. It is important to note, for instance, that until the second edition of his treatise there was absolutely no mention of civil war in The Concept of the Political; and it is questionable whether there would be any mention were it not for Hans Morgenthau’s comments in 1929. This is crucial, before preparing the paper for a treatise in 1932, Schmitt had solely the international arena in mind – the move towards domestic political antagonisms only appears from communication with Morgenthau. As Meier notes: “Schmitt speaks of war seventy-seven times . . . civil war does not occur once [in 1927 version]” ([amazon text=Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss&asin=0226518884]). Morgenthau’s comments are very interesting. He detects a flaw in Schmitt that is generally overlooked (even in the adaptation), namely that the notion of intensity of the relation between friend and enemy is one that can equally be applied to domestic politics – it is natural for Schmitt to take this over and include the notion of civil war. But Morgenthau in fact goes a little further, he claims that Schmitt misses why domestic politics is less prone to dispute than international arena.

Let’s back up a little. For Schmitt in 1927 there is only a political differentiation on the international arena – domestic politics is wholly neglected/ignored. In 1932, after Morgenthau’s comments, civil war starts playing a role (as the citations in this post testify). Morgenthau detects that Schmitt’s view of intensity of the relation between friend and enemy is downplayed in the domestic sphere, but Schmitt has no realisation of why this is the case. Morgenthau does have one: namely, the domestic sphere is “elastic” – there is a “system of norms” that is lacking internationally, but that is present domestically. If we take US example, this becomes quite clear. There is something that we understand as American, we may disagree what that is, we may fight about it publicly (the word ‘patriotism’ comes to mind), but we generally accept the ‘American’ character of one another – regardless of how immensely different we actually are. This is entirely missing in Schmitt precisely because of his philosophical anthropology – man in innately bad/sinner/wicked/etc. His reliance on Hobbes leads him to understanding the friend-enemy relation in terms of intensity and thereby of the potentiality of conflict. (I should note that Morgenthau returns to Schmitt later in his career and is closer to the ‘intensity’ reading, but that is currently unimportant, because I am more interested in civil war right now).

So the following citation is one of those adapted to Morgenthau’s comments:

The intensification of internal antagonisms has the effect of weakening the common identity vis-a-vis another state. If domestic conflicts among political parties have become the sole political difference, the most extreme degree of internal political tension is thereby reached; i.e., the domestic, not the foreign friend-and-enemy groupings are decisive for armed conflict. The ever present possibility of conflict must always be kept in mind. If one wants to speak of politics in the context of the primacy of internal politics, then this conflict no longer refers to war between organized nations but to civil war.

For to the enemy concept belongs the ever present possibility of combat. All peripherals must be left aside from this term, including military details and the development of weapons technology. War is armed combat between organized political entities; civil war is armed combat within an organized unit. A self-laceration endangers the survival of the latter. The essence of a weapon is that it is a means of physically killing human beings. Just as the term enemy, the word combat, too, is to be understood in its original existential sense. It does not mean competition, nor does it mean pure intellectual controversy nor symbolic wrestlings in which, after all, every human being is somehow always involved, for it is a fact that the entire life of a human being is a struggle and every human being symbolically a combatant. The friend, enemy, and combat concepts receive their real meaning precisely because they refer to the real possibility of physical killing. War follows from enmity. War is the existential negation of the enemy. It is the most extreme consequence of enmity. It does not have to be common, normal, something ideal, or desirable. But it must nevertheless remain a real possibility for as long as the concept of the enemy remains valid. (pp. 32-3)

When domestic political difference reaches an intensity ‘normally’ present internationally, then we reach civil war. Despite my allusions, a conception of enmity is not the crucial one (and yes, I am aware that enmity has played the predominant role in secondary literature). What stands out is, again, the actuality of the political difference. The ‘ever present possibility of combat’ – this is why Schmitt emphasises the ‘original existential’ meaning of combat. What else is combat, Schmitt claims, than a physical death? – poetic/symbolic death is meaningless.

Most of us would probably comment that symbolic death is something equally (and sometimes more) cruel than actual physical death – e.g. keeping someone alive for the purpose of torture ([amazon text=Game of Thrones&asin=B007BVOEPI] comes to mind). Schmitt’s answer to this is that such a behaviour does not even belong to the political; it belongs to a liberal conception of humanity – the other becomes less than human and can be treated as less than human. Instead, the physical killing of the other is always justified in a political conflict, for as long as the conflict itself is played out outside the moral/other categories – i.e. for as long as the political is understood as an authentic/distinct domain. This is precisely the reason why the sudden turn of tone/attention – the sudden shift from the otherwise specific delimitation of the political towards the human body/mind: ‘the entire human life is a struggle’ – this is poetry, not actuality.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to linger on this ‘poetic note’ for a little longer: why this sudden change of tone? The physical killing of the other is what determines the potentiality of the political difference – but the poetic notion is perhaps something that prepares the warrior for his ultimate decision. Any Hollywood lover would admit that death happens too easily there – it is not as easy to kill someone as it is made out – both physically as well as emotionally. If life itself is presented as a struggle, as Schmitt presents it, then perhaps it would be possible to somehow prepare oneself for this ultimate possibility. I doubt this was Schmitt’s intention with this passage (I actually think that he sank into ‘capricious poetry’), but perhaps this does briefly elucidate why internal conflicts turn external.

On a final note, the actuality of the situation once again takes over – for as long as there is an enemy, there is a possibility of a physical death. This is why all the peaceful protests in the West are meaningless (to Schmitt!); they announce the impotence of the political grouping, or perhaps they announce that the grouping is precisely not political at all because it is not in the position to declare the enemy as such. (And note that individual action does not stand for group action, so someone like Anders Breivik is not part of the political constellation – he is unable to declare the enemy; if he were, there would be no reason for him to take up arms).2

What is the political?

In order to understand the previous paragraph, I should explain what the political is, according to Schmitt; and I will do so with reference to another passage on civil war:

In his Republic (Bk. V, Ch. XVI, 470) Plato strongly emphasizes the contrast between the public enemy (polémios) and the private one (exthrós), but in connection with the other antithesis of war (pólemos) and insurrection, upheaval, rebellion, civil war (stásis). Real war for Plato is a war between Hellenes and Barbarians only (those who are ‘by nature enemies’), whereas conflicts among Hellenes are for him discords (stáseis). The thought expressed here is that a people cannot wage war against itself and a civil war is only a self-laceration and it does not signify that perhaps a new state or even a new people is being created. Cited mostly for the hostis concept is Pomponius in the Digest 50, 16, 118. The most clear-cut definition with additional supporting material is in Forcellini’s Lexicon totius latinitatis (1965 ed.), II, 684: ‘A public enemy (hostis) is one with whom we are at war publicly. . . . In this respect he differs from a private enemy. He is a person with whom we have private quarrels. They may also be distinguished as follows: a private enemy is a person who hates us, whereas a public enemy is a person who fights against us. (pp. 28-9n)

This distinction between the two types of enmities is fundamental in the understanding of Schmitt’s political categories. There are several layers of unpacking:

First, the political, as Schmitt is often quoted to say, is the decision on the enemy and friend – these purely political categories are to be distinguished and separated from all and other categories that differentiate (Schmitt gives examples in morality – good/evil; or aesthetics – beautiful/ugly). In relation to civil war in the citation above, the enemy is public, which is to critique the liberal view of the enemy as ‘private’. Private enemies are particularly interesting in contemporary political domain, as they lead to a misleading conception of politics as something between individuals. Think of domestic politics (this is warranted, as I am interested in civil in this article): the political disputes in liberal democracies are almost always reduced to particular persons – not their groups. So in US, we have particular officials to blame, or particular CEOs, or particular individuals – they rarely stand for an entire group (i.e. not all congressmen, or capitalists, or groups in general). The contrast is particularly clear in certain recent examples of ‘extremism’ (e.g. Islam/Muslims are represented as groups, while individual attacks by ‘whites’ are always reduced to individuality). In Schmitt’s view, this strongly detaches us from what true political matters are. Liberalism—I should note that Schmitt’s notion of liberalism is not identical to what we may call it today—aims to remove group formation and thereby also reduces the possibility of political conflicts. So what we have here is the co-dependence of publicity with groups, and private with individuality. The political needs to be public in order to create the group formation.

Second, a people waging war against itself (or rather by itself) is what distinguishes civil war from normal war. This is so obvious, that it requires no examination. . . . Except that it does. For civil war is not merely a war within a nation, but precisely a war that divides the state. Note here Schmitt’s terminological choice: a people (nation) and a state. Schmitt’s view is that a nation/people is set, it cannot be divided as such. Even when the nation is so intensely opposed within itself, it remains a single unit. Just because there is civil war, this does not signify that the result of this civil war is going to be two separate peoples/states. I think Schmitt would concede that two states are in fact possible (temporarily perhaps), but two nations as a result of one is not – if this were to happen, they were never one nation in the first place. This is perhaps again best illustrated by an example: the division in US between Republicans and Democrats is thought to be so intense (‘polarised’ is the notion used very often in contemporary debates referring to Congress), that it seems that there are really two nations within the state. But any indication of an external threat to ‘our way of life’ is enough to unify the two into a singular unit. You will see this clearly in someone like Noam Chomsky, who is quick to critique what comes on the political agenda; and this is almost always something that cannot (i.e. will not be allowed to) divide the nation beyond that limit that would allow for a split and ultimately the possibility of civil war.

Third, publicity leads to a distinction between war and civil war. This step is odd, precisely because the distinction itself is not fully realisable. Schmitt creates binaries of publicity/war and private/civil war. These binaries are to be questioned; not due to their reliance on Plato (this is what Derrida does for instance), but precisely because they are irrelevant to an understanding of (civil) warfare. The public enemy is equally present in civil war, as we shall see in the following remarks. The curious addition of civil war in this section is therefore very puzzling (I am open to ideas).3

The political in relation to Marx

So far, Schmitt’s view of the political is without application to other theorists. But Schmitt does, at some length, refer to Hegel and applies his views to Marx. Consider Marx’ 11th thesis on Feuerbach, roughly: “Philosophers have only interpreted the world, the aim is to change it” – this is precisely where Schmitt would agree that Marx understood the political better than any other philosopher, for it is only with this dictum that Marx understood what the actuality of the political situation is – namely, class struggle:

Also a class in the Marxian sense ceases to be something purely economic and becomes a political factor when it reaches this decisive point, for example, when Marxists approach the class struggle seriously and treat the class adversary as a real enemy and fights him either in the form of a war of state against state or in a civil war within a state. The real battle is then of necessity no longer fought according to economic laws but has—next to the fighting methods in the narrowest technical sense—its political necessities and orientations, coalitions and compromises, and so on. Should the proletariat succeed in seizing political power within a state, a proletarian state will thus have been created. (pp. 37)

This needs little elaboration in terms of civil war – the economic turns into the political iff (if an only if) the Marxist grouping ‘approaches the class struggle seriously’ – i.e. if the Marxist grouping realises that there is a possibility of physical confrontation and is also willing to shed blood. If we are to take this note further, this is precisely what is lacking in the later 20th century Marxism – violence is outright rejected (and perhaps rightly so, but that’s beside the point right now.4 For Schmitt a grouping is political only if it understands the actuality of the situation. Physical death of the other necessarily belongs to that situation. In this sense, the neo-Marxists have not only rejected the economism of Marx, but also the politicism of Marx – for Marx there has always been the understanding of the class struggle as a historical necessity; by which I mean that the struggle itself was always inevitable (and hence the move towards the revolution).

But next to this observation on Marx, there is also a naive view of the outcome of the civil war. Schmitt observes that a proletarian state would have been created were it to overthrow its adversaries and seize political power. The problem with this thought is that according to Schmitt’s own views, ‘the political’ depends on the a notion of the adversary – overthrowing them would create an apolitical state precisely because there no longer would be friend and enemy categories applicable to the new situation. Furthermore, the moment the proletariat distinguishes between the machine above it and its own historical necessity, it can no longer be called a single political grouping (and indeed, it becomes split into two groupings: those who relinquish their political power to the state and those who do not wish to do so). Schmitt’s rejoinder, I expect, would be that the proletariat is represented by the sovereign (represented in the sense that the sovereign literally embodies the rest of the population and is one with them – he does not represent in the sense of having various opinions thrown at him and he picks those of the majority as we would think modern democracies to work). But there nevertheless remains a naivete of thinking a proletarian state that no longer distinguishes between the friend and enemy within. Let us remember that for Schmitt the constitution of a state is necessarily linked to the political – the political is prior to the state means that in order to have political groupings at all (and thus a state as such), humanity has to be divided into groupings. This is the notion of the political that Strauss already observed in this comments to the 1932 edition of The Concept of the Political. The political is the condition for the state (and only in this sense prior to it). But this necessarily reduces the possibility of civil war once the proletarian state has been established – Schmitt’s inclusion of civil war in this passage is then at least curiously peculiar.5

Schmitt in times of peace?

Schmitt had little to say about peace. There are a few passages where he proclaims the possibility of the end of the political categories; but he usually quickly retracts towards ‘currently this is not the case’ rhetoric and abandons an enquiry into how to achieve that. At most, he would admit that plenty of good things may be present in a completely pacified globe, from art to philosophy to morality and economics – but the lack of political categories also spells the end of politics. So it is very strange to find the following passage in Schmitt that leads to peace talk in more general terms:

The state as the decisive political entity possesses an enormous power: the possibility of waging war and thereby publicly disposing of the lives of men. The jus belli contains such a disposition. It implies a double possibility: the right to demand from its own members the readiness to die and unhesitatingly to kill enemies. The endeavor of a normal state consists above all in assuring total peace within the state and its territory. To create tranquility, security, and order and thereby establish the normal situation is the prerequisite for legal norms to be valid. Every norm presupposes a normal situation, and no norm can be valid in an entirely abnormal situation.

As long as the state is a political entity, the requirement for internal peace compels it in critical situations to decide also upon the domestic enemy. Every state provides, therefore, some kind of formula for the declaration of an internal enemy. The polemios declaration in the public law of the Greek republics and the hostis declaration in Roman public law are but two examples. Whether the form is sharper or milder, explicit or implicit, whether ostracism, expulsion, proscription, or outlawry are provided for in special laws or in explicit or general descriptions, the aim is always the same, namely to declare an enemy. That, depending on the attitude of those who had been declared enemies of state, is possibly the sign of civil war, i.e., the dissolution of the state as an organized political entity, internally peaceful, territorially enclosed, and impenetrable to aliens. The civil war then decides the further fate of this entity. More so than for other states, this is particularly valid for a constitutional state, despite all the constitutional ties to which the state is bound. In a constitutional state, as Lorenz von Stein says, the constitution is ‘the expression of the societal order, the existence of society itself. As soon as it is attacked the battle must then be waged outside the constitution and the law, hence decided by the power of weapons.’ (pp. 45-6)

Before I proceed with peace, I should emphasise the double implication of jus belli: it demands both a readiness to die and to kill – the two cannot be viewed separately if we are to consider the political as the intense antagonism between friend and enemy. This is specifically the case for Schmitt because the aim of The Concept of the Political is to elucidate which category could justify warfare. He is not, as such, interested in some empty arm-chair philosophical project that defines concepts for no other purpose than definition. As I have noted several times so far, Schmitt never loses sight of actuality of the political categories. So when he emphasises the double implication, he aims to find reasons that would compel men to die (for their country) as well as to kill (for their country). This may seem simple enough, but consider how many of us would readily submit to one implication and not another; say, just to die but not to kill. We are often in a position that we are only willing to die for our country, but are not willing to pick up arms against another out of our moral/etc. convictions.6

What is striking in the passage above is that Schmitt speaks of normal state and assurance of total peace. We may certainly agree that for a legal system to function there is a need for peace/normality (under normal circumstances, in a state governed by laws, people do not kill one another) – being an exception, the legal system can judge murder for what it is. Were murder normal then any laws against it would be deemed superfluous (at least until enforcement of that law). What is stranger however, is the requisite for total peace. As I have mentioned before, Schmitt’s conception of a state is for a complete unity of its members and a sovereign embodiment of that totality. But quite strictly, and I am sure Schmitt was aware of it, this is not possible. He specifically alludes to this in his earlier [amazon text=The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy&asin=0262691264]. Next to sovereignty, there is a requirement for authority. Total peace is thus only possible within the theoretical confinements of sovereign embodiment of the members of the state. For as long as that embodiment is in place, there is no need for laws; law is in place precisely because the sovereign embodiment of the totality fails and authority is required in order to curb the deviations from totality. Total peace, in other words, is something very peculiar in this passage. Schmitt should have been the first to mention that total peace is by definition absent as long as we consider the political in civil war. There is, in Schmitt’s terms, a potentiality of conflict for as long as the political categories of friend and enemy are in place.

So the move from the first paragraph to the second in the above citation is dubious precisely because Schmitt added ‘civil war’ to it. The domestic enemy would have been something alien to his conception in the 1927 edition, but its inclusion in the 1932 edition is telling of the problematic relation the political has for domestic politics. The provision of an internal enemy itself is something that Schmitt does not dwell in for too long – the polemios and hostis concepts are too theoretical for my liking and do not address the actuality of politics as Schmitt does elsewhere.

But there is, nevertheless, something very intriguing (and I am surprised Schmitt does not say this explicitly but only in passing somehow with a reference to von Stein): the inclusion of the enemy in enactment of law – or precisely, in constitutional law itself. There are, as we all know, numerous acts against espionage, etc., which certainly play a role in defining a domestic enemy. But what Schmitt does not make clear enough is that the very purpose of law is to define what will be legally acceptable. As a legal theorist he must have been thinking about this even though there is no direct formulation. I emphasise this not because of the obvious truism, but precisely because of the implications of this truism. What is legally acceptable also delimits what will legally not be acceptable. The implication is that the constitution as the expression of order, and in its reference to normality and abnormality, already derives the enemy conception from within itself. The wide discretion on what counts as terrorism in contemporary discourse – which, incidentally, was communist threat some decades back, equally regarded with a wide discretion at the time – is a case in point. The confines of an enemy grouping are always present in law itself because law establishes the normal situation, and the deviation from which prompts the recognition of the abnormal. It is in this deviation from normality that the potential for a declaration of a domestic enemy resides. The polemios and hostis in classical period are somewhat irrelevant and perhaps even outdated precisely because of their specificity (though keep in mind their publicity that was mentioned at the beginning of this article). Nevertheless, the proviso of a domestic enemy remains problematic for the same reasons as discussed above – the unity of the state is always at stake, and Schmitt does not account how unity would be achieved after the civil war is won by one political grouping.

Finally, the passage above does have a curious addition in relation to civil war that is missing in the previous passages discussed above. Schmitt’s reliance on von Stein (who I admittedly know nothing about bar the Wikipedia entry) points to something that is somewhat too strong for the rest of his treatise. For conflict to be decided by the power of weapons is not excluded by Schmitt, but he does make clear throughout The Concept of the Political that his intention is not to create a military theory. It is thus unnerving to find the resort to weapons so quickly – what happened to prudence in diplomatic solutions (mention some pages before)? That the battle is waged outside the constitution does not necessarily mean that it is waged by weapons (to be sure, a weapon is not metaphorical, and Schmitt actually means a weapon that leads to physical death – “The essence of a weapon is that it is a means of physically killing human beings” (pp 32-3)). Unless Schmitt means to imply that civil war/internal conflicts are necessarily more violent, which is not said anywhere explicitly I think, this resort to physical killing is unwarranted.

Other passages where civil war is mentioned. These do not add anything new to what has already been said above in my opinion though, but I would be curious to hear if you disagree.

Figgis, Churches in the Modern State (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1913) noted on p. 249 that Maitland, whose legal historical researches likewise influenced the pluralists, considered Gierke’s Das deutsche Genossenschaftsrecht ‘to be the greatest book he had ever read’ and remarked that the medieval controversy between church and empire, i.e., between pope and emperor, or more precisely between the spiritual order and the temporal ones, was not a controversy of two societies but a civil war within the same social entity. But today two societies, duo populi, face one another. This in my opinion is correct. In the period prior to the schism the relation of pope and emperor could still be understood according to the formula that the pope possessed the auctoritas and the emperor the potestas. Accordingly a division existed within the same entity, and Catholic doctrine since the twelfth century has maintained that church and state are two societates, and indeed both are societates perfectae (each one sovereign and autarchic in its own domain). Naturally on the side of the Church the Catholics recognized their church only as societas perfecta, whereas on the side of the state today a plurality of societates perfectae appear, whose perfection, considering the great number, becomes very problematical. An extraordinarily clear summary of Catholic doctrine is contained in Paul Simon’s “Staat und Kirche,” Deutsches Volkstum (August 1931), pp. 576-596. The co-ordination of churches and labor unions which is typical of the Anglo-Saxon pluralist notion is naturally unthinkable in Catholic theory, and it is just as inconceivable for the Catholic Church to permit itself to be treated on an equal level with an international labor union. In reality the Church serves Laski, as Elliott aptly remarked, only as a “stalking horse” for the labor unions. A clear and fundamental debate on the two theories and their mutual relations is unfortunately missing so far on the side of the Catholics as well as on the part of the pluralists. (pp. 41-2n)

Hobbes himself had experienced this truth in the terrible times of civil war, because then all legitimate and normative illusions with which men like to deceive themselves regarding political realities in periods of untroubled security vanish. If within the state there are organized parties capable of according their members more protection than the state, then the latter becomes at best an annex of such parties, and the individual citizen knows whom he has to obey. As has been shown (under Section 4 above), a pluralistic theory of state can justify this. The fundamental correctness of the protection-obedience axiom comes to the fore even more clearly in foreign policy and interstate relations: the simplest expression of this axiom is found in the protectorate under international law, the federal state, the confederation of states dominated by one of them, and the various kinds of treaties offering protection and guarantees.


It would be ludicrous to believe that a defenceless people has nothing but friends, and it would be a deranged calculation to suppose that the enemy could perhaps be touched by the absence of a resistance. No one thinks it possible that the world could, for example, be transformed into a condition of pure morality by the renunciation of every aesthetic or economic productivity. Even less can a people hope to bring about a purely moral or purely economic condition of humanity by evading every political decision. If a people no longer possesses the energy or the will to maintain itself in the sphere of politics, the latter will not thereby vanish from the world. Only a weak people will disappear. (pp. 52-3)

The political entity presupposes the real existence of an enemy and therefore coexistence with another political entity. As long as a state exists, there will thus always be in the world more than just one state. A world state which embraces the entire globe and all of humanity cannot exist. The political world is a pluriverse, not a universe. In this sense every theory of state is pluralistic, even though in a different way from the domestic theory of pluralism discussed in Section 4. The political entity cannot by its very nature be universal in the sense of embracing all of humanity and the entire world. If the different states, religions, classes, and other human groupings on earth should be so unified that a conflict among them is impossible and even inconceivable and if civil war should forever be foreclosed in a realm which embraces the globe, then the distinction of friend and enemy would also cease. What remains is neither politics nor state, but culture, civilization, economics, morality, law, art, entertainment, etc. If and when this condition will appear, I do not know. At the moment, this is not the case. And it is self-deluding to believe that the termination of a modern war would lead to world peace—thus setting forth the idyllic goal of complete and final depoliticalization—simply because a war between the great powers today may easily turn into a world war. (pp. 53-4)

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Selected bibliography

Schmitt, C. (2000). [amazon text=The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy&asin=0262691264] (E. Kennedy, Trans.). Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Schmitt, C. (2007b). [amazon text=The Concept of the Political: Expanded Edition&asin=0226738922] (G. Schwab, Trans.). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Arditi, B. (2008). On the Political: Schmitt contra Schmitt. Telos, 142, 7-28. (pdf)

McCormick, J. P. (1999). [amazon asin=0521664578&text=Carl Schmitt’s Critique of Liberalism]. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Meier, H. (2006). [amazon text=Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss: The Hidden Dialogue&asin=0226518884] (J. H. Lomax, Trans.). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Schwab, G. (1970). [amazon asin=0313272298&text=The Challenge of the Exception: An Introduction to the Political Ideas of Carl Schmitt between 1921 and 1936]. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot.

For a more complete bibliography make sure to visit our library, and browse the Schmitt section.

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  1. I am not convinced for several reasons, but the main reason is that it does not elucidate ‘the political’ sufficiently, and only mentions a basic category. The same themes dealt with in The Concept of the Political are present in his other works (especially The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, Political Theology, and Dictatorship), and are dealt with more clearly there.
  2. The possibility of a civil war, as we can see, is downplayed, even though it is admitted. For as long as Schmitt holds to the political as an intensity of the relation between friend and enemy, civil war remains in the background of his interest. This is most clear in the statement ‘war follows from enmity’ – as noted above, following the comments by Morgenthau, the enmity within the state is always somehow/somewhat lower than the international enmity. But perhaps this is indeed Schmitt’s aim: for as long as domestic enmity has not reached that extreme that is more common internationally, we cannot speak of civil war.
  3. A quick note on the correct use of Plato (I agree with Derrida that Schmitt’s use is not correct; and neither is Schmitt’s use of Aristotle in this context) – the overly academic problem here is precisely that it is quite irrelevant whether Schmitt’s use of Plato is correct or not. Schmitt was not a philologist/philosopher and he was quite uninterested in these questions beyond their precise applicability. His interest, as he says over and over again in the treatise, is the actuality and the present. What could be said philosophically is interesting and perhaps even important, but it does not tell us what the actuality is.
  4. We also have, at least partially I think, thinkers like Hannah Arendt to thank for this, cf. in particular her On Violence – a blog post may follow in the future, for now just a reference to the book itself on the classics page.
  5. How does the establishment of the proletarian state lead to a unity of the state? – I presume this is neither possible nor desired; by today’s standards of course, but in Schmitt’s outlook the unity is not only possible but also desired. The way I read him, and I have to admit that there is disagreement among Schmitt scholars on this point, he does desire a unity of the population and the sovereign solely as an embodiment of that unity – its voice if you will. Still, Schmitt does not account how the unity is achieved once civil war is won by one of the two political groupings, other than complete annihilation of the other grouping (something he would be against!), or a continuous domination of the other groupings in the form of dissidents, separatists, etc. (in which case he has to admit to perpetual civil war).
  6. In this sense, also, pacifism is only meaningful if one is willing to die but not to kill – it is an absolute readiness to die, and an absolute resolve not to kill under any circumstance (not even as self-defense!); without it pacifism is meaningless politically. Equally, I presume that unhesitatingly killing without a readiness to die is a trait of any deserter, but I may be wrong there.

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