Carl Schmitt, Donald Trump, and Academic Poltical Theory


It was always a grotesque intellectual alliance. Since about 9/11, academic political theorists on the left, including so-called political theologians, have jumped to the ultra-conservative and fascist and Nazi-leaning German Carl Schmitt. They did so for a host of concepts meant as resources that the left could use to attack and undermine liberalism and liberal state power –as if these concepts could undo the difference by showing the identity between the liberal state and mid-century state totalitarianism. What a difference an election makes. Stephen Bannon-Donald Trump are now in the White House declaring total war on the press, the “administrative state,” and anyone who gets in their way, all for the interest of creating a new “poltical order.” In realizing fascist political concepts, Bannon and Trump are the ones putting Schmitt’s contemporary use-value to the test as a theorist of anti-liberalism, or even worse, as a genuine political theorist from whom, practically, there is what to learn.

We have been given a better understanding of what’s at stake than the view offered up by academic political theory; we now see in action those nasty concepts, the “friend-enemy distinction” and the “omnipotence” of “sovereign states of exception.” These were never at the structure of the political as such, only its fascist variant of unlimited state power; and adopting them does nothing to promote those values advanced on the left. As catastrophic, Schmittian concepts stand as stark, apocalyptic threats to the liberal-constitutional norms of limited governance and to the practice of government by checks-and-balance, to which, all of a sudden, we are now finding ourselves holding onto for dear life. Is it only now, when under threat, that liberal norms and institutions are worth fighting for? A terrible mistake, one wonders if academic political theorists on the left will continue to use fascist concepts as a way to analyze the very liberal political structures that Bannon and Trump want to eviscerate, or to construct their own models. Can one hope now to see Schmitt’s star fade into the historical record? He was always a rotten foundation upon which to build anything.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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5 Responses to Carl Schmitt, Donald Trump, and Academic Poltical Theory

  1. dmf says:

    I’ve long given up on getting folks to stop with the political-theologizing, Rorty has come back into favor for a minute in the pop press but his real falling out with the Branch Derriddeans was along these lines, the limits of philosophizing and the need to focus on actual people, institutions, and behaviors. Not deply versed in Arendt but my sense is that some of why she didn’t call herself a philosopher was along these lines too.

  2. dmf says:

    @realDonaldTrump 13 Sep 2012
    Wake Up America! See article: “Israeli Science: Obama Birth Certificate is a Fake”

  3. ndulitzky says:

    The Carl Schmitt´s revival in continental political science or the new age writings of Julius Evola in the seventies don´t hide their commitment with nazi-fascist thinking in the 30-40´s.
    In my country, Argentina, they have a deep influence in the ultranacionalist right theoricals, as other traditional-esoteric-conservative intellectuals as Rene Guenon, Mircea Eliade,etc.
    There is a huge amount of references in spanish about this subject in the web.
    I apologize for my english.
    Greetigs from Argentina.

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