Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wobbly Times number 16

Carl Schmitt was a German Catholic authoritarian who hated liberal democracy and ended up supporting the Nazis. He was born on July 11, 1888. He was 29 years old when World War I ended in 1918. He didn't participate in the war.

Schmitt was disturbed by what he saw during the aftermath of 'The Great War'. What he saw was the breakdown of capitalist and aristocratic authority and with that decline, a transference of political authority from God to the secular, democratic State, a continuing assertion of working class interests, the expansion of democratic rights and the rise to power of the newly established Stalinist State in the wake of the Russian Revolution. To Schmitt's mind, these historical turns signalled a disastrous descent into decadence. Like his contemporary Heidegger, Schmitt feared an eventual victory of the working class and godless socialism in Germany and beyond.

Schmitt's solution to what he perceived as the decadence of the bourgeois democratic Weimar State was developed in his theory of political theology. Schmitt claimed that all moves away from a theocratically based State, such as those ruled by kings ('Dieu et mon droit') were steps in the direction of chaos, anarchy and the dissolution of civilisation. In the modern age, it seemed to Schmitt that the best cure for the decay of central, religiously sanctioned authority was fascism.

Fascism demands hierarchical, political obedience to the authority of the leader. What was demoralizing and decadent in the liberal democratic Weimar Republic was the lack of a 'Fuehrerprinzip' (leader principle). For Schmitt, the old feudal systems of kings invested by God had gradually been replaced by States based on the 'will of the people'. Thus, obedience to God's will, manifested through the sovereign king, had been replaced by a secular, democratic State of conflicting human wills and this was, in his view, the reason why Weimar was so culturally and politically decadent.

Hobbes' LEVIATHAN (1651) had profoundly influenced the young, reactionary Schmitt as had his authoritarian, Catholic upbringing. After all, the Pope was a kind of kingly servant of God who ruled his flock through divine authority and was infallible in terms of the orders he gave and actions he blessed. As for Hobbes, his philosophy argued that monarchy was the best form of government, the only one which could guarantee peace between human beings, who, if left to their own devices, would return to a state of Nature and a condition of constant war amongst themselves, for, as the BIBLE told him, humans were naturally sinners. Thus the need for authority, especially the divinely sanctioned authority of a monarch and Schmitt's own synthesis of Hobbesian philosophy and Catholic Church doctrine into 'political theology' was just the philosophy to fill that need. In fact Schmitt claimed that ALL political philosophy was at bottom based on theologically inspired notions.

Schmitt's views represent the roots of socially conservative, right-wing thinking: human nature is evil and ordinary humans need to be controlled by authorities who are not godless. His views coincide with the social psychology which is engendered within class societies, a social psychology which results in the social formation of an authoritarian personality character structure. Socialist humanists like Eric Fromm have developed a dialectically opposite position from Schmitt and reactionary philosophers like Heidegger. As opposed to right-wing, conservative thinking, Fromm found that human nature was instinctually connected to an urge for freedom, an urge which had to be continually tampened down within the political power hierarchies of class, sex, race and so on, so that the power of rulers and their ideas could remain in charge of the majority, the wealth producers of society, the working class of the modern world.

Carl Schmitt died on April 7, 1985. Like Heidegger, Schmitt never renounced his Nazi connected past.

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