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1, Special Issue on German Politics (Winter, 1988), pp. 130-132 Published by: Cambridge University Press for the University of Notre Dame du lac on behalf of Review of Politics Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1407595 . Accessed: 10/01/2011 11:19
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THE REVIEW OF POLITICS
Translated with an introduction by Guy Carl Schmitt: PoliticalRomanticism. Oakes. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986. Pp. 177. $20.00.) The mosaic which represents the writing and political life of the political and legal theorist, Carl Schmitt, has been incomplete for some time, especially for the English-reading public. This translation of one of his earliest works (originally published as PolitischeRomantik, 1919, 1925, by Duncker & Humboldt, Berlin) provides us with a valuable piece of the mosaic: the basic cultural and philosophical assumptions which informed his critique of the liberal bourgeoisie and parliamentary democracy. Construction of this mosaic has not been an easy task. Schmitt's recent death (1888-1985) brought forth commentaries that praised his brilliance as a perceptive critic of the constitutional problems of Weimar Germany and the inadequacies of liberalism as well as assessments that described him as the chief jurist of the Nazi state, the scholar as intellectual chameleon, and the opportunist who not only wrote legal opinions to justify Hitler's seizure of power in 1933 and his arbitrary use of violence in 1934, but who also developed a heretofore unknown streak of anti-Semitism in his writings to suit the party in power. Both judgments are correct. An exceptional work of balanced scholarship by Joseph Bendersky, Carl Schmitt: Theoristfor the Reich (Princeton University Press, 1983), speaking of the 1933-36 period, notes that "his writing and actions during these years were indeed reprehensible" (p. 282). Bendersky also notes: "Toallow Schmitt's Nazi collaboration to overshadow all other aspects of his life and work would create a distorted image of an important historical figure" (p. 282). All the more reason to be indebted for this graceful translation by Guy Oakes of a work written substantially in 1917-1918 which offers the gist of Schmitt's critical attack on modernity, a critique which the later works on sovereignty, parliament, and liberal democracy draw on. In PoliticalRomanticism, which could have been aptly subtitled "The Need for Traditional State Authority in a Mass Society," Schmitt described political romanticism as the disease of the atomized mass society. The carriers of this debilitating malady are the liberal bourgeoisie; they lack realism in facing political conflict at home and abroad, and they support a political value system with no core: pluralism without hierarchy, political cacophony without strong state orchestration. In his words: "In the liberal bourgeois world, the detached, isolated, and emancipated individual becomes the middle point, the court of last resort, the absolute" (p. 99). The remedy which Schmitt offered was to remind the intellectual elite of Germany's new republic that the political thinkers of conservative Catholicism - de Maistre, Bonald, and Burke - had also faced the undisciplined demands of the sovereign ego in the turbulent times of post-1789 Europe and had offered sound advice. Schmitt clearly saw a parallel between the challenge to traditional authority of the French revolutionary period, and the unstructured nature of the political experiment of Weimar.
Schmitt'sCatholicism in this work and others should not be underplayed. It helpsexplainthe fusillade-nature his defensivepolemicsagainstsecular of intellectuals and his attitude that Catholics were more sober realists and careful restorerswhile rebellious Protestantism was part of the threat of modernity. Schmitt's argument in this work is cleanly stated. In the preface, he asserted:"Romanticism subjectifiedoccasionalismbecausean occasional is relationshipto the world is essential to it.... Because the final authority is shiftedfrom God to the genius of the ego,'the entire foregroundchanges" (p. 18).ForSchmitt,the forcesof individualism,subjectivism,and privatism havebeen hurriedalong by industrializationand democracy.The problem of constructing a national community is normally difficult in bourgeois societies, but it is doubly difficult in Germany where, in Schmitt's analysis, the romantic style in politics is the classic example of style over subSchein Sein.Early on in his argument he laments, "therootals stance, mehr lessness of the romantic, his incapacity to hold fast to an important idea on the basis of a free decision . . ."(p. 51). The prefaceoffersnot just a compact summary;it is also where Schmitt sets up his target: the aestheticization of experience which undermines the hierarchy of values crucial for political choice. The action-oriented Schmitt is dismayed by the romantic as a free floaterwed to the Hegelian ideal of "eternal becoming." Intellectually this leads to caprice, fancy, whimsy, and opportunisticfeints. Politicallyit leads to passivity,the "endless conversation" Novalis, a fatal posture in Schmitt'sview for a weak of German state with contentious social forces. The argument moves forward with Schmitt as accuser and judge in a debate in which he contrasts the inadequacies of Adam Mueller (1779-1829) and FriedrichSchlegel (1772-1823)with the received wisdom of de Maistre, Bonald, and Edmund Burke. Guy Oakes is certainly correct in his introduction when he notes that Schmitt "embracesthe j'accuse role with an unqualifiedenthusiasm" xiii). The polemical,prosecutorial, (p. and dogmatic tone, developed to a fine art by Schmitt, is a familiar strain of the characteristicWeimar style of debate in political, intellectual, and social life. The chargeagainst Mueller is especially unrelenting, and much of it is deeply ironic given Schmitt'slater political actions. Mueller "is a zealous student of whatever system happened to be in power"(p. 45); he is an "amoral "withouthis own center of gravity" appreciatorof everything" (p. 128). He lacks Burke'sappreciation of the "great,superindividual national reality, independent of all the power and volition of the individual person"(p. 63). Schmitt's amalgam of historical, philosophical, literary, and political analysis is extremely well done. Yes,the tone is polemical, but the scholarship, for the most part, is solid and the writing is forceful. There are problems where he grinds his axe too intently. Burke did fear an individualism fueled by materialismand disdainful of community, but he also promoted parliamentarygovernmentwith its endless discussion and toleranceof dissent. For all of Schmitt's wide reading, he does not seem to have come across Alexis de Tocqueville. Here one could read the appreciationof the aristocraticvirtues with the qualified hope in more widespreadparticipa-
THE REVIEW OF POLITICS
tion which Schmitt could not balance. Another problem with Schmitt's analysis has to do with his definition of romanticism. The romantic for him is devoid of any commitment to principle and is completely dominated by short-term feelings. Other writers, including Jacques Barzun, see romanticism as revising rationalism not replacing it, and many romanticsdid notjust engage in endlesstalk, they created.WhereasSchmitt in Hobbesian fashion is skepticalof man'sreason and fearfulof his undisciplined feelings, another view of romanticism warns of an exclusive attachment to either emotion or reason. What is most problematical in Schmitt'sdiatribe is that all romantics are politically passive. "Wherepolitical activity begins, political romanticism ends" (p. 159). This injudicious remarkwould havedifficultymaking sense of either a Heinrich Heine or a Heinrich B11. What you essentially get in Schmitt'sbook is an overdramatic caricatureof a serious political problem in Germany: the political estrangement of many intellectuals. The introductionby Guy Oakes admirablysummarizesthe framework of Schmitt'sarguments and providesvaluable historical and biographical information, but severalcriticisms should be advanced. The relationship of this text to the works of Schmitt in the later 1920'sneeds more discussion. A long footnote on p. xxxv aims at that task, but it needs elaboration in the introduction. The beginning student of Schmitt could use a glance at the road ahead. A second comment is that the intellectual influences which were working on Schmitt at the start of the Weimar regime need comment. These include the political sociology of Weber and Michels, the literatureof Musil and ErnstJuenger,and the action theoriesof George Sorel. Schmitt was a political theorist who took art and literature seriwith ously. Musil's DerMannohne Eigenschaften its rootless individual and with Juenger's Stahlgewittern its germ of the friend-enemydistinction were important influences on Schmitt. Jiirgen Habermas is no doubt correct that Schmitt was not at home with the overly robust pluralism of Weimar and the challenge this posed for the powerof the state. In an recentessayon Carl Schmitt,"DieSchrecken der Autonomie: Carl Schmitt auf englisch"in EineArtSchadensabwicklung (Suhrkamp, 1987), Habermas analyzes Schmitt's intellectual debt to Hobbes and Schmitt'sfascination with the aesthetic of force. Habermas states in this essay: "Carl Schmitt's polemical argument with political romanticism hides the aestheticizing oscillations in his own political thought"(p.111).This essay adds another important piece to the mosaic of which we spoke earlier. Students of German history and politics should be deeply grateful to the series, Studies in Contemporary Social Thought, and to its general editor, Thomas McCarthy,for bringing this workout. Schmitt'sother important works are now available in English, and a larger public can now better judge his views on the crisis of authority in the modern age. This volume is an indispensable part of that task, and it deserves widespread and careful scrutiny.
- DONALD SCHOONMAKER