Academic journal article Journal of the History of Ideas

Carl Schmitt's Political Theory of Representation

Academic journal article Journal of the History of Ideas

Carl Schmitt's Political Theory of Representation

Article excerpt

I. Political Representation

"Representation means the making present of something that is nevertheless not literally present."1 This definition, provided by Hanna Pitkin in her celebrated book on the subject, contrasts strongly with most modern discussions of political representation which regularly delimit their focus to technical questions of election and accountability.2 Even theorists who see in representative government the classical virtues of a necessarily "chastened" (public) authority rely on impoverished notions of political representation in the sense of the definition outlined above.3 As Pitkin herself suggested, political representation explores the way in which "the people (or a constituency) are present in governmental action, even though they do not literally act for themselves."4 This paper examines Carl Schmitt's "solution" to this quandary of political representation, which suggests that representation can bring about the political unity of the state, but only if the state itself is properly "represented" by the figure or person of the sovereign.5

In assessing and explaining the centrality of representation to Schmitt's political thought-an area often excluded from discussion6-I focus upon his attempted reconciliation of a starkly "personalist" and then Hobbesian account of representation that would justify support for the Reichsprasident under the Weimar Republic, with insights drawn from the constitutional republicanism of the Abbe Sieyes that placed the constituent power of the people at the basis of representative democracy. The argument develops and modifies Bockenforde 's hypothesis, that Schmitt's well-known concept of the political-first presented in a lecture of 1927-provides the "key" to understanding his more substantial constitutional theory, Verfassungslehre, published the following year.7 Instead, Schmitt's concept of representation provides the key with which to understand his densely structured constitutional argumentation.8 Therefore, after outlining the early theological and personalist roots of Schmitt's account of representation in order to show his long-standing concern with the issue, the central arguments of Sieyes and Hobbes concerning representation are next outlined, and their impact on Schmitt's political and constitutional theory discussed.9 Such a structure places in sharp relief the political implications of his ideological appropriation of the language of modern representative democracy in order to justify support for the presidential leader.

II. Capitalism, Rationality, and Representation: The Figure of the Representative

In his 1923 essay "Roman Catholicism and Political Form," Schmitt claimed that the technical-economic rationality of modern capitalism and its dominant political expression, liberalism, stood at odds with the truly political power of the Catholic Church.10 Schmitt was concerned to illuminate the particularly "representative" character of the Catholic Church as a complexio oppositorum, in contradistinction to its typical appearance as the unworldly "other" to an ascetic and industrious Protestantism, so as to counter the "anti-Roman temper that has nourished the struggle against popery, Jesuitism and clericalism with a host of religious and political forces, that has impelled European history for centuries."11

Even the "parliamentary and democratic nineteenth century" was an era where Catholicism was defined as "nothing more than a limitless opportunism." It was Schmitt's contention, however, that this missed the fundamental point of such a complex of opposites, which was that the "formal character of Roman Catholicism is based on the strict realisation of the principle of representation. In its particularity this becomes most clear in its antithesis to the economictechnical thinking dominant today."12 Schmitt contended that something peculiar to Catholic representation allowed it to "make present" the true essence of something by "representing" it. …

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