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Corpus Mysticum to Luridicum

Prasanta Chakravarty

By Carl Schmitt. Translated by George Schwab
The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 2005, pp. 70, $13.00


Few works of political philosophy in the last century can equal this thin volume under review. And few works can claim equal relevance in helping us to understand the motivations behind some key geo-political (mis) adventures of the present century so far. Carl Schmitt, the leading constitutional jurist of the Weimar Republic, charts the bedrock principles of illiberalism, principles that have driven the theologically motivated radical forces, both of the right and the left for centuries.   One must take Schmitt seriously. Merely dismissing him as a counter-revolutionary and reactionary because he had actively participated in the Nazi adventure (much like Martin Heidegger) between 1933 through 1936 is both premature and dangerous. First, one tends to forget that there were various factions within Nazism and Schmitt often found himself on the losing side of several controversies, surely sometimes owing to his meticulousness as a thinker. He was expelled from the Nazi party in 1936, was under surveillance thereafter, had his mails read and had political observers at his lectures. Ignoring Schmitt will also means not taking seriously the ideological moorings and motivations of a sizable swathe of political actors, even in the seemingly sedate democracies of the world. In fact, one reason that the English-speaking world knows so little about the voluminous and gifted output of Schmitt is because he is dismissed as a Nazi ideologue. Not until 1976 did the first translation of The Concept of the Political appeared in English where Schmitt advanced the friend-enemy concept of the political, which he had originally developed in 1927. One must then begin by congratulating George Schwab for undertaking to translate Schmitt’s other masterwork, this one originally written in 1922. One recalls that the first book on Schmitt in English was Schwab’s The Challenge of the Exception published in 1970, a book which was an originally rejected Ph.D dissertation. Despite losing several of his close family members in the Nazi camps, Schwab’s tribulations for daring to deal with Schmitt’s ideas in the politically correct climate of the 1960s Columbia University was enormous.   On the other hand you have Schmitt acolytes not willing to confront head-on his Nazi involvements and virulent anti-semetism. The tendency of such scholarship has been to project Schmitt as an unconvinced and insincere Nazi who merely underwent a series of extensive political compromises in the 1930s for the sake of self-preservation. This attitude also does not brazen out the full implications ...

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