Carl Schmitt

Carl Schmitt was a professor of constitutional law and an academic lawyer in Germany. When Hitler came to power, he sided with the Nazis. He was known as the "Crown Jurist" of National Socialism. He enthusiastically defended Hitler's killings of political opponents and the purging of Jewish influence from German courts. In 1936, legal academia ousted him from his position of power. Others within the system accused him of false allegiance to Nazis, supporting them only to advance his career.

To this day, some scholars believe he had no ideological attachment to Nazism and was only overly ambitious and opportunistic. Others provide proof that his anti-Semitic and anti-liberal standings led him to support the Nazi regime.

As a young professor of constitutional law during the Weimar period, Schmitt wrote influential works about his political concepts. His essay "Political Theology" contained his theory of sovereignty, and his 1923 book, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, questioned the legitimacy of parliamentarism in government. His most famous paper, "The Concept of the Political," was published in 1927. In that work, he described his view of politics as based on the construct of friend versus enemy. His 1928 book, Constitutional Theory, is considered his greatest achievement. He used it as a forum to interpret the Weimar constitution according to his political theory.

Legality and Legitimacy analyzed the dissolution of German's parliamentary government. The Guardian of the Constitution promoted his belief that the president, and not the constitutional court, should defend the constitution. His underlying message is a call to amend the constitution, putting in place an authoritarian political framework.

Schmitt's later writings about international law are largely a justification for Nazi expansionism. He was certain that liberal cosmopolitanism, as practiced in 20th century international law, would undermine stable international legal order. The Nomos of the Earth, written in the early 1940s and published in 1950, described the foundations of international law. After 1945, he was not permitted to return to academic work, due to his Nazi sympathies. Yet, until his death in 1985, he remained a key figure in the conservative intellectual scene in West Germany.

Schmitt's controversial political stance created a cloud of doubt about the significance of his works. Some argue that his analysis of liberal constitutionalism before the rise of the Nazis can be separated from his writings during the Nazis' reign. They maintain that his earlier works represent an insightful analysis of the political basis of a liberal constitutional system that functions well. Others question his writings, noting the continuity of his notions of law, democracy and fascism from his Weimar-period writings through his Nazi period writings.

Regardless of the controversy surrounding him, some key points of Schmitt's philosophy have lasted into the next century. His views on sovereignty and emergency powers are considered the basis of calls for strong executive powers that can act without the constraints of legality. His theory of popular sovereignty and his conception of international order are also seen by experts as worth developing in a systematic context.

Schmitt is regarded as the most influential opponent to the American and French concept of relations between a nation's constitutional powers and democracy. The Weimar Constitution, upon which he based his writings, was devised to embody the democrat and liberal traditions of the French and American revolutions. Schmitt reinterpreted them in an ethnicist manner. He gave credit to rulers more than to rules. He maintained that democratic order essentially expressed the will of the people to preserve their distinct properties. Furthermore, he viewed the constitution as a need to impose the will of the people on the social, cultural and economic aspects of the modern society.

Schmitt's understanding of the will of the people allowed him to justify exclusion of non-homogenous members of society from affiliation with the people and to deny them political rights. He regarded the people who were the same nationally and ethnically as the true foundation of democracy. He contended that elections in liberal democracies could not express the people's will, because elections allow expression of private individual wills instead of the collective will. In his view, the collective will of the people is the foundation of true democracy.

According to Schmitt's explanation, democracy and authoritarian rule are closely linked. He translated that into the idea that dictatorship is a type of democracy, as long as the dictator succeeds in acting as the identity of the people.

Schmitt also argued that a legal order cannot function without a sovereign authority. Despite modern liberal constitutions' refusal to acknowledge a holder of sovereign authority, he said, they regularly rely on it. The interpretation required of general legal norms in order to apply and enact laws de facto creates a sovereign authority.

Carl Schmitt: Selected full-text books and articles

Weimar: A Jurisprudence of Crisis By Arthur J. Jacobson; Bernhard Schlink; Belinda Cooper University of California Press, 2000
Librarian's tip: Chap. Nine "Carl Schmitt"
The New Inquisitions: Heretic-Hunting and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Totalitarianism By Arthur Versluis Oxford University Press, 2006
Librarian's tip: Chap. 6 "Carl Schmitt, the Inquisition, and Totalitarianism"
The Political Classics: Green to Dworkin By Murray Forsyth; Maurice Keens-Soper Oxford University Press, 1996
Librarian's tip: Chap. 4 "Carl Schmitt: The Concept of the Political"
The Gentle Civilizer of Nations: The Rise and Fall of International Law, 1870-1960 By Martti Koskenniemi Cambridge University Press, 2001
Librarian's tip: Chap. 6 "Out of Europe: Carl Schmitt, Hans Morgenthau, and the Turn to 'International Relations'"
Beyond the Conceivable: Studies on Germany, Nazism, and the Holocaust By Dan Diner University of California Press, 2000
Librarian's tip: Chap. One "On the Brink of Dictatorship: Carl Schmitt and the Weimar Constitution"
Legitimacy and Politics: A Contribution to the Study of Political Right and Political Responsibility By Jean-Marc Coicaud; David Ames Curtis Cambridge University Press, 2002
Librarian's tip: "Legitimacy and Legality: From Max Weber to Carl Schmitt" begins on p. 161
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