On Schmittian Politics

Scu has a post up on Schmitt’s Nazism and whether that means he shouldn’t be taught. Elden’s article that he mentioned takes up the “compromised” nature of Schmitt and Mark Neocleous’s claim in Radical Philosophy from 15 years ago that turning Schmitt into a debating partner was a pernicious move. If I recall correctly, Elden rightly made a claim I’ve long thought: Schmitt just doesn’t have much to offer. (That’s always a great conclusion after reading a number of someone’s work, taking the time to lay out the arguments, and checking key translations?)

There are several directions I would go in reaction to Elden’s article and Scu’s post:

1) I’ve taught Schmitt. But the point is not to use him as a “debating partner,” like one of those tired pro/con political philosophy books. The task, as I saw it, especially given the time I was teaching him, starting during the early part of the “GWOT,” was to show the impeccably clear logic being employed in our contemporary politics and in certain writers.

2) Agamben, I think, stands as an excellent example, though, of what not to do with Schmitt. Homo Sacer is one thing, but he even takes up Schmitt as a major thinker on the history of religion (in his Il regno e la gloria [2008]). Well, that will certainly give you a blinkered view of the West and the possibility of another politics.

3) And certainly Schmitt’s friend/enemy distinction is in the Republic; his thinking on just about everything else is a cheap-man’s version of analyses in Arendt and elsewhere.

But he’s not a “resource” in the sense that you should think, well here’s an interesting reading of public opinion (again, Agamben from Il regno e la gloria). He’s not a debating partner. He’s a cautionary tale.

Thus when Scu writes, “I occasionally fear that Schmitt will start being read less and less with a critical distance,” I wonder by whom? Other than the Straussians and those writing intros for his translations, I’ll only worry when I start to see formulations of the “As Schmitt reminds us…” variety in secondary sources.


  1. Yes! As the denizen of an English Department I yearn for the day on which this hugely over-rated thinker is let go. Something similar happened with Kantorowicz (the king’s two bodies) but this may not have affected philosophers too much…

    Great that you cited Plato.

    1. Ok, but to clear the reference to Arendt is about the “nomos” and “nemein” of politics—not that her notion of “plurality” isn’t a priori to any possible friend-enemy distinction…

      1. In case I wasn’t clear, I didn’t mean to imply that Arendt was shitty but that Schmitt is potentially a shitty version of Arendt. While not the works that Stuart is primarily referring to, Schmitt’s work in the twenties and the thirties seems to be very much in line with Weber, including the use of emergency powers and the definition of politics. That was all that I was implying.

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