Carl Schmitt

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Carl Schmitt (11 July 18887 April 1985) was a German jurist and political theorist. Schmitt wrote extensively about the effective wielding of political power. A conservative theorist, he is noted as a critic of parliamentary democracy, liberalism, and cosmopolitanism, and his work has been a major influence on subsequent political theory, legal theory, continental philosophy, and political theology.


Political Theology (1922)[edit]

Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty. George Schwab, trans. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1985.

Preface to Second Edition (1934)[edit]

  • To be sure, Protestant theology presents a different, supposedly unpolitical doctrine, conceiving of God as the "wholly other," just as in political liberalism the state and politics are conceived of as the "wholly other." We have come to recognize that the political is the total, and as a result we know that any decision about whether something is unpolitical is always a political decision, irrespective of who decides and what reasons are advanced. This also holds for the question whether a particular theology is a political or an unpolitical theology.

Ch. 1 : Definition of Sovereignty[edit]

  • Sovereign is he who decides on the exception.
    • p.5
  • All law is "situational law." The sovereign produces and guarantees the situation in its totality. He has the monopoly over this last decision.
    • p.13

Ch. 2 : The Problem of Sovereignty as the Problem of the Legal Form and of the Decision[edit]

  • It is striking that one of the most consequential representatives of this abstract scientific orientation of the seventeenth century became so personalistic. This is because as a juristic thinker he wanted to grasp the reality of societal life just as much as he, as a philosopher and natural scientist, wanted to grasp the reality of nature. He did not discover that there is a juristic reality and life that need not be reality in the sense of the natural sciences. Mathematical relativism and nominalism also operate concurrently. Often he seemed to be able to construct the unity of the state from any arbitrary given point. But juristic thought in those days had not yet become so overpowered by the natural sciences that he, in the intensity of his scientific approach, should unsuspectingly have overlooked the specific reality of legal life inherent in the legal form. The form that he sought lies in the concrete decision, one that emanates from a particular authority. In the independent meaning of the decision, the subject of the decision has an independent meaning, apart from the question of content. What matters for the reality of legal life is who decides.

Ch. 3 : Political Theology[edit]

  • All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts not only because of their historical development—in which they were transferred from theology to the theory of the state, whereby, for example, the omnipotent God became the omnipotent lawgiver—but also because of their systematic structure, the recognition of which is necessary for a sociological consideration of these concepts. The exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle in theology.
  • The metaphysical image that a definite epoch forges of the world has the same structure as what the world immediately understands to be appropriate as a form of its political organization.

Ch. 4 : On the Counterrevolutionary Philosophy of the State[edit]

  • Liberalism, with its contradictions and compromises, existed for Donoso Cortés only in that short interim period in which it was possible to answer the question “Christ or Barabbas?” with a proposal to adjourn or appoint a commission of investigation.
  • The essence of liberalism is negotiation, a cautious half measure, in the hope that the definitive dispute, the decisive bloody battle, can be transformed into a parliamentary debate and permit the decision to be suspended forever in an everlasting discussion.

The Concept of the Political (1927)[edit]


  • The concept of the state presupposes the concept of the political.
  • The equation state = politics becomes erroneous and deceptive at exactly the moment when state and society penetrate each other.


  • A definition of the political can be obtained only by discovering and defining the specifically political categories.
  • The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy.
  • Only the actual participants can correctly recognize, understand, and judge the concrete situation and settle the extreme case of conflict.


  • The enemy is not merely any competitor or just any partner of a conflict in general. He is also not the private adversary whom one hates. An enemy exists only when, at least potentially, one fighting collectivity of people confronts a similar collectivity. The enemy is solely the public enemy, because everything that has a relationship to such a collectivity of men, particularly to a whole nation, becomes public by virtue of such a relationship.
  • The political is the most intense and extreme antagonism, and every concrete antagonism becomes that much more political the closer it approaches the most extreme point, that of the friend-enemy grouping.
  • The inevitable lack of objectivity in political decisions, which is only the reflex to suppress the politically inherent friend-enemy antithesis, manifests itself in the regrettable forms and aspects of the scramble for office and the politics of patronage. The demand for depoliticalization which arises in this context means only the rejection of party politics, etc. The equation politics = party politics is possible whenever antagonisms among domestic political parties succeed in weakening the all-embracing political unit, the state.
  • 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.
  • War as the most extreme political means discloses the possibility which underlies every political idea, namely, the distinction of friend and enemy.


  • Every religious, moral, economic, ethical, or other antithesis transforms into a political one if it is sufficiently strong to group human beings effectively according to friend and enemy. The political does not reside in the battle itself, which. possesses its own technical, psychological, and military laws, but in the mode of behavior which is determined by this possibility, by clearly evaluating the concrete situation and thereby being able to distinguish correctly the real friend and the real enemy.
  • That the state is an entity and in fact the decisive entity rests upon its political character.


  • 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.
  • As long as the state is a political entity this 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 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 concept of humanity is an especially useful ideological instrument of imperialist expansion, and in its ethical-humanitarian form it is a specific vehicle of economic imperialism.


  • What remains is the remarkable and, for many, certainly disquieting diagnosis that all genuine political theories presuppose man to be evil, i.e., by no means an unproblematic but a dangerous and dynamic being.
  • Political thought and political instinct prove themselves theoretically and practically in the ability to distinguish friend and enemy. The high points of politics are simultaneously the moments in which the enemy is, in concrete clarity, recognized as the enemy.

"The Tyranny of Values" (1959)[edit]

"The Tyranny of Values" (1959)

  • Whoever asserts a value, must bring its influence to bear. Whoever maintains that it has value regardless of the influence brought to bear by any individual human being who endorses it, is simply cheating.
  • A science that observes the laws of causation, and so is value-free, threatens human freedom and man’s religious, ethical, and legal responsibility. The philosophy of values raised to that challenge, in the sense that it opposed a sphere of values, as a realm of ideal valuations, to a sphere of being that was only causally understood. It was an attempt to assert the human being as a free, responsible creature, indeed not in itself, but at least, in its valuation, what one called value. That attempt was put forth as a positivistic substitute for the metaphysical.
  • Correctly understood, the phrase “tyranny of values” may supply the key to the understanding that all thinking about values only foments and intensifies the old and endless struggle between convictions and interests. Not much is gained by what the modern philosophy of values acknowledges as the “fundamental relationship,” according to which, occasionally the lower value may be preferred to the higher value, because that is the prerequisite of the higher value. All that points only to the confusion that affects the whole argumentation about values, which continually gives rise to new relations and points of view, thereby the position is always maintained from which the opponent is reproached that he does not heed the manifest values; or, in other words, he is disqualified as value-blind. The polemical utilization of the word “blind” is adequate to the logic of values as long as it is concerned with the systems of reference that it will build up out of viewpoints, standpoints, and vantage-points.
  • Nobody can valuate without devaluating, revaluating, and serving one’s interests. Whoever sets a value, takes position against a disvalue by that very action. The boundless tolerance and the neutrality of the standpoints and viewpoints turn themselves very quickly into their opposite, into enmity, as soon as the enforcement is carried out in earnest. The valuation pressure of the value is irresistible, and the conflict of the valuator, devaluator, revaluator, and implementor, inevitable.
  • In a community, the constitution of which provides for a legislator and a law, it is the concern of the legislator and of the laws given by him to ascertain the mediation through calculable and attainable rules and to prevent the terror of the direct and automatic enactment of values. That is a very complicated problem, indeed. One may understand why law-givers all along world history, from Lycurgus to Solon and Napoleon have been turned into mythical figures. In the highly industrialized nations of our times, with their provisions for the organization of the lives of the masses, the mediation would give rise to a new problem. Under the circumstances, there is no room for the law-giver, and so there is no substitute for him. At best, there is only a makeshift which sooner or later is turned into a scapegoat, due to the unthankful role it was given to play.
    A jurist who interferes, and wants to become the direct executor of values should know what he is doing. He must recall the origins and the structure of values and dare not treat lightly the problem of the tyranny of values and of the unmediated enactment of values. He must attain a clear understanding of the modern philosophy of values before he decides to become valuator, revaluator, upgrader of values. As a value-carrier and value-sensitive person, he must do that before he goes on to proclaim the positings of a subjective, as well as objective, rank-order of values in the form of pronouncements with the force of law.

"The Tyranny of Values" (1967)[edit]

"The Tyranny of Values" (1967)

  • The social product grows from year to year. Who is now the true creator of this surplus value which grows wildly and beyond any measure? Who can afford to figure out the profit yielded causally adequate by this immense wealth and the series of economic miracles? In concrete terms: who is the legitimate distributor of the social product and who actually assesses the shares in practical life? As long as the issue is about value, all such questions must above all be formulated as economic questions.
  • The various philosophies of life presented themselves as a conquest of materialism, or in any case, they readily claimed it. That does not change anything: their valuations, revaluations, and explanations of disvalue have been emptied into the over-all secularization stream, where they have only hastened the tendency to unlearn, which is a neutralizing process, after all.
  • Value has its own logic. In the constitutional state that is most clearly recognizable in the enactment of its constitution.

Quotes about Schmitt[edit]

  • The most rigorous attempt to construct a theory of the state of emergency can be found in the work of Carl Schmitt. The essentials of his theory can be found in Dictatorship, as well in Political Theology, published one year later. Because these two books, published in the early 1920s, set a paradigm that is not only contemporary, but may in fact find its true completion only today, it is necessary to give a resume of their fundamental theses. The objective of both these books is to inscribe the state of emergency into a legal context.
  • In the Weimar Republic, the Westphalian Schmitt began his career as the most original Catholic adversary of socialism and of liberalism. In polemics of electric intensity, whose charge was increasingly aimed at the precarious parliamentarism of post-Versailles Germany, he treated their ideas as dilute theologies, which were bound to prove weaker than the force of national myth. His own positive doctrine became a neo-Hobbesian theory of politics. Its critical edge was to protect the state of nature depicted in Leviathan, the war of all against all in which individual agents are pitted against each other, onto the plane of modern collective conflicts: thereby transforming civil society itself into a second state of nature. For Schmitt, the act of sovereign power then becomes not so much the institution of ‘mutual peace’ as the decision fixing the nature and frontier of any community, by dividing friend from foe – the opposition that defines the nature of the political as such. This stark ‘decisionist’ vision came out of a regional background in which the choices seemed, to many others as well as Schmitt, to reduce themselves to two: revolution or counter-revolution.
    • Perry Anderson, "The Intransigent Right: Michael Oakeshott, Leo Strauss, Carl Schmitt, Friedrich von Hayek" (1992)
  • In his last tour de force, published under the Federal Republic, Der Nomas der Erde (‘The Law of the Earth’), Schmitt showed that the very term fetishised by Oakeshott and Hayek to bespeak the transcendence of abstract procedural rules, exempt from all specific social directives, in its origins actually signified the opposite: and that none other than Thomas Hobbes had been the first to make this clear. […] For Schmitt, such original distribution presupposed a founding appropriation, what he called a Landnahme: the occupation of territory that necessarily preceded any division of it, and which English soil had known as memorably as any, under Roman boot and Norman stirrup. The ‘radical title’ (as Locke put it) underlying any law lay in such taking and allocating, as the etymological linkage of nomos with nemein (to take) suggested. Here, conceptually and historically, the oppositions between rule and goal, law and legislation, the civil and the managerial, dissolve. Nomos and telos are one.
    • Perry Anderson, "The Intransigent Right: Michael Oakeshott, Leo Strauss, Carl Schmitt, Friedrich von Hayek" (1992)
  • More serious consideration must be given to the conceptual definition of the political offered by a well-known Roman Catholic exponent of Constitutional Law, Carl Schmitt. In his view the political has its own criterion, which cannot be derived from the criterion of another realm. It is the distinction between friend and foe which in his view corresponds to “the relatively autonomous criteria of other oppositions, good and evil in the moral sphere, beautiful and ugly in the aesthetic, and so on”. The eventuality of a real struggle, which includes the “possibility of physical killing”, belongs to the concept of the foe, and from this possibility the life of man acquires “its specifically political tension”. The “possibility of physical killing” — really it should be “the intention of physical killing”. For Schmitt’s thesis carries a situation of private life, the classic duel situation, over into public life. This duel situation arises when two men experience a conflict existing between them as absolute, and therefore as capable of resolution only in the destruction of the one by the other. There is no reconciliation, no mediation, no adequate expiation the hand that deals the blow must not be any but the opponent’s; but this is the resolution. Every classic duel is a masked “judgment of God”. In each there is an aftermath of the belief that men can bring about a judgment of God. That is what Schmitt, carrying it over to the relation of peoples to one another, calls the specifically political. But the thesis rests on an error of method.
    • Martin Buber, Between Man and Man, Translated by Ronald Gregor Smith P. 73-74
  • According to Schmitt’s aggressive critique, which Fraenkel reiterated in his own writings, the parliament had not originally been an institution of democracy and national politics. When first created in the nineteenth century, it was a distinctly bourgeois institution, open only to wealthy elites. Its purpose was to provide a forum for capable and independent individuals to engage in free discussion and peaceful competition of ideas, then legislate laws for the benefit of the general public. In the Weimar Republic, however, this bourgeois institution had begun to unravel. The electorate now comprised not only wealthy individuals but also the masses, huge parties, powerful pressure groups, and private interests that no longer cared about the public good and sought only to serve their own constituencies. In Schmitt’s narrative, celebrated by many anti-republican conservatives, this irreversible process had turned the German parliament, the Reichstag, into a pathetic institution, in which there was no free discussion or any form of cooperation. As he famously put it, “[s]mall and exclusive committees of parties or party coalitions make their decisions behind closed doors, and what representatives of … interest groups agree to in the smallest committees is more important for the fate of millions of people, perhaps, than any political decision.” Schmitt thus acidly dismissed the parliament as an empty shell that was irrelevant to modern politics. Germany had to dispose of it altogether and reconstitute itself as an authoritarian dictatorship.
    While Fraenkel agreed with the crux of Schmitt’s painful critique, he strongly rejected his anti-parliamentary conclusions. Schmitt was correct in asserting that the Reichstag had emerged from a bourgeois worldview that sought to preserve individual liberties and free economic enterprise, one that was no longer attuned to the twentieth century. Indeed, the rise of the working class had introduced a new concept of rights to politics. Workers were not interested in individual rights but in what Fraenkel called “collective” rights, which were based on the identity of the group. According to Fraenkel, this concept of “group rights” had spread beyond the working class to religious, ethnic, and other groups. These groups were now demanding that the state represent their interests, not just as individuals, but also as members of collectives. “It has rarely been noticed before,” he maintained, “that our era is experiencing the rudiment of a new social order … [in which] not only the individual, but also associations as such engage independently in the creation of public affairs.” It was this modern focus on group demands that had transformed the parliament into a stage for rival blocs. The difficulty that politicians faced in building coalitions between parties reflected the conceptual conflict between the individualist principles of bourgeois parliamentarianism and the collective nature of modern parties and politics.
    • Udi Greenberg, The Weimar Century: German Émigrés And The Ideological Foundations Of The Cold War (2014), Chap. 2 : Socialist Reform, the Rule of Law, and Labor Outreach: Ernst Fraenkel and the Concept of “Collective Democracy”
  • For Gurian, the dangerous consequences of this shift were epitomized by Carl Schmitt’s theory of the “total state.” During Gurian’s years in Cologne, Schmitt had been an influential mentor. In the early years of his journalism career, Gurian remained deeply influenced by Schmitt’s thinking, which aggressively condemned liberalism and individualism as weak and soulless. As the 1920s progressed, however, this admiration morphed into enmity, as Schmitt began supporting authoritarian and even fascist models for Germany. Schmitt hoped that such a regime would break the autonomy of communities, parties, and churches and subject them to a strong and centralized state. In 1931 Schmitt coined the term that captured this vision, calling on Germans to replace parliamentary democracy with a “total state.” In the modern era, Schmitt explained, countries had to choose between two options: to let the domestic struggle between parties and groups paralyze policymaking and thus tear states apart from within, or to transfer all power to a strong leader, who would disband the parliament, abolish opposition, and have the authority to impose economic and political policies. In Schmitt’s anti-liberal theory, such an authoritarian state would have unrestricted power and would therefore be “total.” Only this kind of regime would overcome the internal divisions of society and save Germany from disintegration and chaos.
    For Gurian, Schmitt’s theory exemplified the danger in Catholics’ turn toward authoritarianism. In their frustration with democratic politics, he believed, Catholics like Schmitt dangerously and ignorantly embraced secular and earthly institutions like the state and forgot the supremacy of spiritual organic communities. Gurian therefore appropriated the term “total state,” using it not as a desirable political model but as the manifestation of the church’s enemies, especially their adherence to earthly and secular ideas. By reversing Schmitt’s term to describe Catholicism’s opponents, Gurian hoped to alarm Catholics who might have found Schmitt’s theory appealing. Indeed, in the first pages of his book on Bolshevism, which appeared only a few months after Schmitt first used the term, Gurian sarcastically claimed that the total state’s most explicit manifestation was not Italy’s authoritarian regime, which Schmitt lauded, but its enemy, the Soviet Union, which Catholics abhorred. “The fascist state,” he declared, mocking his former mentor, “is far and away less ‘total’ than the Bolshevik.”
    • Udi Greenberg, The Weimar Century: German Émigrés And The Ideological Foundations Of The Cold War (2014), Chap. 3 : Conservative Catholicism and American Philanthropy: Waldemar Gurian, “Personalist” Democracy, and Anti-communism
  • The conduct of Carl Schmitt under the Hitler regime does not alter the fact that, of the modern German writings on the subject, his are still among the most learned and perceptive.
  • There is indeed no better illustration or more explicit statement of the manner in which philosophical conceptions about the nature of the social order affect the development of law than the theories of Carl Schmitt who, long before Hitler came to power, directed all his formidable intellectual energies to a fight against liberalism in all its forms; who then became one of Hitler’s chief legal apologists and still enjoys great influence among German legal philosophers and public lawyers; and whose characteristic terminology is as readily employed by German socialists as by conservative philosophers. His central belief, as he finally formulated it, is that from the ‘normative’ thinking of the liberal tradition law has gradually advanced through a ‘decisionist’ phase in which the will of the legislative authorities decided on particular matters, to the conception of a ‘concrete order formation’, a development which involves ‘a re-interpretation of the ideal of the nomos as a total conception of law importing a concrete order and community’. In other words, law is not to consist of abstract rules which make possible the formation of a spontaneous order by the free action of individuals through limiting the range of their actions, but is to be the instrument of arrangement or organization by which the individual is made to serve concrete purposes. This is the inevitable outcome of an intellectual development in which the self-ordering forces of society and the role of law in an ordering mechanism are no longer understood.
  • In the view of the German political and legal theorist Carl Schmitt (1888–1985), politics reflects an immutable reality of human existence: the distinction between friend and enemy. In most accounts, this notion of ‘the political’ is linked to the production, distribution and use of resources in the course of social existence.
    • Andrew Heywood, Political Theory:An Introduction, Third Edition (2004), Ch. 3 : Politics, Government and the State
  • Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to portray political realists as warmongers, who are unconcerned about the death and devastation that war can wreck. Carl Schmitt (1996), for example, argued against just wars, on the grounds that wars fought for political gain tend to be limited by the fact that their protagonists operate within clear strategic objectives, whereas just wars, and especially humanitarian war, lead to total war because of their expansive goals and the moral fervour behind them. Indeed, one of the reasons why realists have criticized utopian liberal dreams about ‘perpetual peace’ is that they are based on fundamental misunderstandings about the nature of international politics that would, ironically, make war more likely, not less likely.
    • Andrew Heywood, Global Politics (2011), Ch. 10 : War and Peace
  • I know of no sadder or deeper fall from human reason than Schmitt's barbarous and pathetic delusion about the friend-foe principle. His inhuman cerebrations do not even hold water as a piece of formal logic. For it is not war that is serious but peace. Only by transcending that pitiable friend-foe relationship will mankind enter into the dignity of man's estate. Schmitt's brand of "seriousness" merely takes us back to the savage level.
  • As of today, apart from a few isolated exceptions, Carl Schmitt’s relationship to democratic theory has not been carefully explored. Never considered a promising topic, it has remained marginal within a constantly expanding Schmitt scholarship. Obviously, the simple mentioning of Schmitt’s name invokes strong reactions, especially when it comes to democracy, and with good reasons.
    • Andreas Kalyvas, Democracy and the Politics of the Extraordinary : Max Weber, Carl Schmitt, and Hannah Arendt (2008)
  • Carl Schmitt is one of an unholy triumvirate with which Strauss has been increasingly identified. The other two are Nietzsche and Heidegger. Their unholiness derives from their links with Nazism: in the case of Schmitt and Heidegger, actual party membership, and in the case of Nietzsche, the perception of an intellectual affinity by some Nazi party ideologues. (It should be noted that Nietzsche also said a great deal that was not in any way supportive of Nazi ideologies and politics, including a rejection of anti-Semitism.)
    • Catherine and Michael Zuckert, The truth about Leo Strauss : political philosophy and American democracy (2006), Ch. 5 : Leo Strauss—Teacher of Evil?
  • Like other German theorists of the state, Carl Schmitt held to the idea that politics is always about violence; if we really and truly disagree with other people, we ought to treat them as enemies. Fish does not follow Schmitt this far. To be sure, he fills his books with examples of people who ought to, and usually do, hate each other: secular liberals dealing with religious fundamentalists; full-stop opponents of affirmative action confronting those who support it; defenders of speech codes and critics of hate-crime laws.
    • Alan Wolfe, The Future of Liberalism (2009), Ch. 5 : Mr. Schmitt Goes to Washington

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