Balakrishnan - Repsonse to Teschke on Schmitt NLR30203
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THE GEOPOLITICS O F S E P A R AT I O N Response to Teschke’s ‘Decisions and Indecisions’
ssessments of the many first-rank European thinkers who sympathized or collaborated with fascism—Heidegger, De Mann, Céline, Jünger, Gentile, Croce, Della Volpe, Pound—are inevitably problematic. In the case of Carl Schmitt, the difficulties are compounded by the apparent discontinuity of his political positions and his anomalous relationship to the intellectual traditions of the right. Coming to us from a disturbing place and time—and, for English readers, in the scrambled fragments of an ad hoc translation process—Schmitt’s writings do not fit within any grid of contemporary academic specialization.1 A sober evaluation requires both a careful diachronic contextualization and a critically informed interrogation of his work. ‘Decisions and Indecisions’, Benno Teschke’s intervention on the thinker in nlr 67, seeks to cut through these complexities. A historical sociologist of early-modern European state formation and transitions to capitalism, Teschke established his reputation with The Myth of 1648.2 The positive contribution of his latest essay lies in its discussion and critique of Schmitt’s thinking on these subjects, as set out in The Nomos of the Earth. Teschke develops a striking reading of this formidable work, couched within a broader reflection on the contemporary reception of Schmitt’s oeuvre, and the intellectual and political continuities of his trajectory as a writer. Teschke’s essay presents a portrait of a fascist ideologue, whose legacy currently provides the theoretical underpinning new left review 68 mar apr 2011
for us neo-conservatism. Its burden is that Schmitt has returned to cast a baleful shadow on American foreign policy, the field of international relations and the mainstream of intellectual life more generally; but that his writings have, nonetheless, little if anything to say about the current historical moment or past ones. He builds his case in the course of reviewing Reinhard Mehring’s important new biography, Carl Schmitt, Aufstieg und Fall.3 Building on a previously articulated framework of periodization and contextual interpretation, Mehring’s carefully documented account measurably advances our understanding of Schmitt’s life and career. An assessment of the biography might have spotlighted this new historical material, and considered what changes it compels us to make in our understanding of this controversial figure. By and large, Teschke declines to convey much of the fascinating story Mehring tells, instead essentially complaining that it is not the sort of study that he would like to see. In his view, Mehring simply fails to pass an appropriately damning moral judgement on the manifestly culpable subject of his study. Above all, the biography’s painstaking examination of the 44-year-old’s motives for joining the nsdap in May 1933 is peremptorily dismissed. Instead, Teschke proposes a ‘theoretical edifice’ consisting of character traits and political dispositions that in his view ‘predestined Schmitt like few others’ to ‘opt for Hitler’.4 Clearly many of Schmitt’s contemporaries did not think his decision was a foregone conclusion, as they were shocked and angered by it. In order to determine what in his past predisposed him to join, a more careful consideration of motives of the kind that Mehring presents cannot be simply brushed aside. And if Schmitt’s decision is going to be explained by some deeper intellectual and political affinity, making sense of his complicated intellectual relationships with other currents on the right, both before and after 1933, is absolutely indispensable. I develop this discussion further in The Enemy: An Intellectual Portrait of Carl Schmitt, London and New York 2000. 2 Benno Teschke, The Myth of 1648: Class, Geopolitics and the Making of Modern International Relations, London and New York 2003; see also ‘Imperial Doxa from the Berlin Republic’, nlr 40, July–Aug 2006. 3 Teschke, ‘Decisions and Indecisions: Political and Intellectual Receptions of Carl Schmitt’, nlr 67, Jan–Feb 2011, p. 62. Reinhard Mehring, Carl Schmitt: Aufstieg und Fall, eine Biographie, Munich 2009. 4 Teschke, ‘Decisions and Indecisions’, p. 78. 1
A new liberal order Teschke seeks to demonstrate that Schmitt’s ‘international political thought and historical narrative’ are ‘empirically untenable and theoretically flawed’—as he specifies: ‘replete with performative contradictions, subterranean reversals of theoretical positions, omissions and suppressions, mythologizations and flights into épreuves étymologiques’.5 In response, let me first of all provide a very bare sketch of Schmitt’s thinking on the position of the German state in the international order after the end of the First World War, and let the reader decide whether Teschke has fairly conveyed the gist of his thinking. For Schmitt, the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations were attempts by legal means to freeze the post-war status quo, subjecting Germany to a new regime of international fiscal and military controls. In this new order the victorious Great Powers preserved their full prerogatives while the defeated were subject to invasive, destabilizing qualifications of their nominal sovereignty in the form of sanctions, embargos, international supervision of their foreign debt repayments and punitive interventions for non-compliance. If the modern concept of law presupposed a uniform jurisdiction over subjects, then the dictates of the post-war settlement were legal only in the nominal and attenuated sense that this now threadbare term had come to assume, as states were subject to this international regime to vastly varying degrees. This crisis of legal form was the most general expression of an epochal breakdown of the classical bourgeois separation of the state from the sphere of economic relations, as well as of the state’s monopoly of legitimate force over its own territory and subjects, unfolding in a Europe stuck between the old regime and welfare capitalism. The historical boundaries and conditions of a whole conceptual network of oppositions—war and peace, belligerents and neutrals, soldiers and non-combatants—that presupposed this separation of state and society, of ‘the political’ from ‘the economic’, were beginning to dissolve. Disorder manifested itself in the increasingly contentious, not to say arbitrary, application of these terms to old and new varieties of conflict. The new measures of international pacification were increasingly difficult to distinguish from a continuation of war, giving rise to an in-between condition of interminable low-level international disorder stalked by outbreaks of civil war and economic meltdown. 5
Teschke, ‘Decisions and Indecisions’, p. 86.
Over this zone of patchwork and faltering sovereignties the United States came to exercise vast influence as a creditor power, operating indirectly through institutions that it controlled but to which it did not subject itself, like the League of Nations. Reparations payments to New York, and loans flowing back from it to a tenuously stabilized Europe, formed the monetary artery of an unsustainable status quo. It was often said at the time that the age of sovereign states was passing and that, if declining or backward peoples relinquished the old-fashioned prerogatives of sovereignty, they would eventually emerge out of the tunnel into a new age of international law and prosperity. Whatever the likelihood of that would have been, Schmitt’s Weimar-era writing on international and constitutional conflicts sought to address the consequences of a German and European drift into a highly volatile, increasingly American-centred world economy, without any political safeguards to stave off impending storms.6 This summary account conveys a sense of some of the historical realities that came into relief in Schmitt’s work. It seems reasonable that some of it would resonate in contemporary conditions—as different as they are from his times, the age of international revolution, fascism and total wars between the world’s most powerful states. It is plausible that Schmitt’s picture is incomplete, that there might be much more to say, or indeed that one should hold a more positive view of the situation described here than of what preceded it or came after. These would be legitimate considerations in drawing up a balance on Schmitt. Teschke, however, can see little more in these writings than a quasi-theological valorization of sovereign decisions and an illiberal fixation on drawing lines between friends and enemies. The upshot is that he offers little to strengthen our grasp of the history of the facts and norms of liberal imperialism, then and now.
Conditions of emergency Teschke’s criticism of key elements of Schmitt’s ‘intellectual edifice’ takes us little further. In his view, Schmitt’s ‘jargon of the exception’— 6 ‘Das Rheinland als Objekt internationaler Politik’ (1925), ‘Der Status Quo und der Friede’ (1925), ‘Das Doppelgesicht des Genfer Völkerbundes’ (1926), ‘Zu Friedrich Meineckes Idee der Staatsräison’ (1926), ‘Demokratie und Finanz’ (1927), ‘Der Völkerbund und Europa’ (1928), ‘Völkerrechtliche Probleme des Rheingebiets’ (1928), ‘Der Völkerbund und Europa’ (1928), ‘Völkerrechtliche Formen des modernen Imperialismus’ (1932). These articles on the Weimar Republic in European and world politics can be found in Positionen und Begriffe, Berlin 1988.
‘sovereign is he who decides in/on the state of emergency’—offers no analytic purchase on actual historical emergencies: The explanation of the emergency is outside their remit; its critique cannot be formulated from within the Schmittian vocabulary. Why is that the case? Since Schmitt’s method—be it decisionism, the friend–foe distinction, or concrete-order-thinking—is bereft of any sociology of power, decisionism lacks the analytics to identify what constellation or balance of socio-political forces can activate, in what kind of situation, the politics of the exception and fear.7
It seems strange that Teschke has missed Schmitt’s many attempts to frame the problem of emergency powers in socio-political terms. As early as 1921, Schmitt was clearly identifying the evolution of emergency powers as the legal form of appearance of a fundamental structuring problem, a difficult-to-reconcile antagonism at the heart of modern politics. ‘In the years between 1832 and 1848,’ he wrote, ‘the most important dates for the evolution of the state of siege as a legal institution, the question arose as to whether the political organization of the proletariat created an entirely new condition, and thus new constitutional concepts.’8 This formulation was elaborated upon in numerous subsequent variations. Putting emergency financial measures by late Weimar governments into context, Schmitt noted that here one can proceed from a recognized and undisputed fact that public finance, in comparison to the earlier pre-war dimensions as well as in relationship to the contemporary free and private economy, has assumed such proportions that what lies before us is not merely a quantitative increase but a ‘structural transformation’.9
A formulation from 1933, after the last of the Weimar governments had fallen, succinctly captures the paradox of this transition to state capitalism: ‘Out of this there develops the necessity of a great, long-term Teschke, ‘Decisions and indecisions’, p. 80. Carl Schmitt, Die Diktatur, Leipzig 1921, p. vii. A later passage offers a striking encapsulation of the socio-political problem of le pouvoir constituant of modern states: ‘Sieyès posed the famous question What is the Third Estate?, and gave the answer that it was the Nation; the Third Estate was nothing and shall become everything. But as soon as the bourgeoisie itself appears as a class dominating the state, distinguished by property and education, the negation wanders away. Now the proletariat becomes the people, because it is the bearer of this negativity. It is the part of the population which does not own, which does not have a share in the produced surplus value and finds no place in the existing order.’ Carl Schmitt, Verfassungslehre, Munich and Leipzig 1928, p. 243. 9 Carl Schmitt, Der Hüter der Verfassung, Berlin 1931, p. 81. 7
plan, even if the purpose of this plan is the restoration of a planless, functioning economic system’.10 But even putting aside the substantive, historically specific dimensions of what Schmitt wrote on states of emergency, the sociologies of power that Teschke claims would explain them cannot, in fact, adequately do so. For the phenomenon itself results from the way in which ‘the constellation or balance of socio-political forces’ is manifested in the form of legal-political controversies over whether the threat that would warrant a state of emergency even exists or not, and who has the constitutional or alternatively historical right to make this determination. Legality and legitimacy: all states, including the ones that Marxists used to think needed to be built, exist in this relationship of facts, norms and exceptions. As a result, both dialectics and ordinary experience are united in recognizing that the very existence of a crisis situation is entangled in opposing assertions regarding its meaning and implications, although they depart in considering the significance of this. As a Marxist, Teschke might have learned something from Schmitt about the necessity of taking into account the problems surrounding the categorial forms in which certain socio-political phenomena are unavoidably entangled. For Marx these problems were not confined to the economic realm, but arose out of bourgeois society’s constitutive separation of ‘the economic’ and ‘the political’.
Lessons from Marx On this point, Teschke in fact senses that what Schmitt wrote often seems to touch on the conceptual centre of his own Marxist understanding of modern statehood and geopolitics, which hinges on the historical process of the separation of the political from the economic, of coercion from the conditions of surplus appropriation. Teschke interprets this as ‘a theoretically uncontrolled volte face’: against the logic of his own views, Schmitt was forced to ‘deploy a Hegelian-Marxist figure of thought: the separation between the political and the economic, with its international analogue, the separation between a territorialized inter-state system and a private, transnational world-market’.11 This is a blunder. The multi-level crisis of this constitutive difference is, in fact, the central problem cutting across nearly all of Schmitt’s writing on the inter-war disorder. His best-known 10 11
Schmitt, Verfassungsrechtliche Aufsätze aus den Jahren 1924–1954, Berlin 1958, p. 370. Teschke, ‘Decisions and Indecisions’, p. 85.
text The Concept of the Political begins by laying out the consequences of the post-liberal breakdown of the separation between the state and society. Schmitt’s political and legal writings track an ongoing conflictual process of the maintenance and redrawing of this separation in different phases of international capitalist development and state formation. Many of his contemporaries—including Marxists who wrote on what they called monopoly and state capitalism—addressed the same development. But in one respect Schmitt was in advance of them, and precisely because his whole work was an exploration of the impact of this post-liberal structural transformation on the very categories that are employed in delineating the partly autonomous regions of modern collective existence and their respective forms of judgement. Teschke could have learned something from Schmitt’s reflections on this ‘Hegelian-Marxist’ problem, for in his own proposed sociological alternative, this separation once established never becomes problematic in the subsequent history of capitalism. In this respect Schmitt was the more ‘dialectical’ thinker. Teschke vaguely and in passing acknowledges that Schmitt might have theorized the crisis of the separations and neutralizations that are bourgeois society’s conditions of existence but disingenuously dismisses the significance of anything he did write because ‘Schmitt’s state’, as he puts it, was unable to solve this crisis: Schmitt’s state could not mediate and arbitrate the tensions of civil society but needed to be insulated from it: to govern against civil society, to provide order. This was grounded in the conviction that industrial society, class conflict and the spectre of a socialist revolution demanded a reformulated theory of the state—and, ultimately, dictatorship.12
Actually, until the end of the Weimar Republic Schmitt held that independent working-class organizations were a permanent feature of more developed capitalist societies, and that the attempt to destroy them would trigger a civil war.13 It is hard to know exactly what Teschke means by ‘Schmitt’s state’, but the term effectively effaces the distinction between his relationship to the Weimar Republic on the one hand and Nazi rule on the other. The effacement is realized in the design of the entire essay, which gives scant consideration to Schmitt’s Weimar writings, i.e. the texts for which he is best known and form the basis of almost all of the contemporary reception of his work. We have seen that biographical 12 13
Teschke, ‘Decisions and Indecisions’, p. 88. ‘Wesen und Werden des faschistischen Staates’ (1929), in Positionen und Begriffe.
concerns do not weigh heavily for him, but is it really true that the Weimar Schmitt was already a fascist in his conception of law and politics, as Teschke’s running together of the two periods would seem to imply? Everyone knows how easy it is to find statements coming from other times that offend contemporary sensibilities. By these standards Karl Marx would be a bigot, but not some table-thumping right-wing newscaster who knows how to stick to his script. In this case, the task of understanding requires determining whether Schmitt held views which, by the standards of Weimar times, would make it reasonable to think of him as an ultra-authoritarian, extreme nationalist or anti-Semite. In fact there is no evidence of this whatsoever. In lieu of evidence, Teschke simply asserts that Schmitt subscribed to a theory of ‘racist-identitarian democracy’ tout court. What Schmitt actually wrote in his main work on constitutional law from 1928 conveys a rather different conception of popular sovereignty: Nation and Volk are often treated as synonymous concepts but the word ‘nation’ is terser, and less subject to misunderstanding. It designates, that is, the ‘Volk’ as a unit of political action, while a Volk that does not exist as a Nation is only some kind of ethnic or cultural group, not however a real political bond between human beings.14
It is certainly true that, like many on the right at the time, he was an early and avid admirer of Mussolini, but, unlike most of them, was wholly hostile to his local imitators until just before they came to power in 1933. From the beginning to the end of the Weimar era, Schmitt had an unusually politically diverse circle of friends, students and admirers—Walter Benjamin, Otto Kirchheimer, E. R. Curtius, Leo Strauss, Ernst Jünger, to name only a few. Since he was not regarded by any of them as being an ultra-authoritarian, extreme nationalist or anti-Semite before 1933 it is safe to assume that he was not, even leaving aside the fact that the case cannot be made on the basis of his work. The significance of pointing this out is not to diminish the enormity of his later choices, but simply to establish the difference between the recurring and continuous problems of his work and his conjunctural responses to them, so as to avoid identifying the former with any one phase of the latter. When this conflation is made, neither the continuity nor the ruptures in the career of this profoundly disturbing figure can be understood, while the historical concreteness of his thought appearing in the pattern between the two is effaced beyond recognition. 14
Schmitt, Verfassungslehre, p. 79.
Schmitt considered and proposed a variety of provisional solutions to the erosion of the old European form of statehood—in his view, the defining development of the contemporary historical situation—from conservative presidential democracy to National Socialism, from attempts to restrain the decline of the old European order of sovereign powers, to embracing breakthroughs to new forms of continent-straddling imperium. Rather than denouncing him as a theorist of dictatorship pure and simple, Teschke might have explored what could be learned from Schmitt, just as Schmitt knew that there was something to learn from how Marx had addressed this problem of the separation of the economic from the political, from his early articles on Hegel all the way to his later account of the primitive accumulation of capital in great land grabs and colonial conquests.
Blood and dirt In a work written in 1943–44, although published only after the war, Schmitt situated the past quarter-century of upheavals in terms of an epochal crisis in the underlying presuppositions of European norms of statehood, property and war. A configuration of concrete juristic forms had taken shape in Europe’s post-feudal passage to a system of centralized warring states vying for continental hegemony and mercantile-colonial acquisitions. Written when the tide had turned against Wehrmacht/ss forces in the East, Schmitt’s Nomos of the Earth was a conservative retrospect on the origins of an inter-state civilization that had arisen out of the fiery chaos of war and primitive appropriations, and now seemed to be returning to it. In Land und Meer, written in 1942, Schmitt had looked back at this same historical span with some expectation that an old European order of sovereign states could be superseded by a new order of polities capable of continent-wide military and economic organization. The Westphalian order of warring powers formed a community of shared legal and political orders in opposition to non-Christian peoples, later conceived in terms of a division between civilized and uncivilized. These oppositions expressed a world-historical expropriation of nonEuropean peoples and territories. Teschke suggests that Schmitt ignored the fate of the New World indigenes, conceiving the Americas ‘as a de-subjectified vacuum’.15 What he actually wrote was more disturbing than this alleged omission. In Land 15
Teschke, ‘Decisions and Indecisions’, p. 82.
und Meer, alluding to the genocidal measures that German occupation forces had unleashed on the Eastern front, Schmitt pointed out that none of the colonial powers of the Age of Discovery had recognized the rights of the original inhabitants of the lands they seized. The nomos arising out of early modern state-formation and overseas conquests divided the world into two zones, with two laws of war and appropriation. In this Westphalian state-system the terrestrial surface of the earth was subject to norms of European war and diplomacy by which territories anywhere in the world could be legitimately acquired and their inhabitants reduced to native subjects or eliminated. Schmitt claimed that the obscure presupposition of this mode of territorial enclosure and delimitation was that the oceans remained res omnium, owned by no one but subject to the de facto control of the greatest maritime power of the age. The mold of this Eurocentric concrete order was now being broken open by the inexorable rise of the us, a development that threatened to reduce the old continent to the status of a province within a planetary civil war. In response, as Schmitt saw it, the German Reich was making its own ‘America’ in Europe, with methods comparable to those of the New World founders. The formless total war now raging across the world was the result of the crumbling limites, and the reflux of the elemental, oceanic and colonial violence that European political form had once held down and kept out—‘bracketed’. Land und Meer makes clear, in a way that the later Nomos of the Earth does not, that this original division between land and sea in European public law is what explains a historical reversal unfolding from early modern times. A European continent of autochthonous warring states came to be subject to the power that had assumed effective control of the world oceans, balancing these states from offshore and hollowing them out by unleashing social forces within them that were inexorably drawn into the orbit of the open world market. This is the historical thesis of Schmitt’s essay The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes from 1937. The opposition of land and sea is the primitive dimension of the opposition of state and society, and Schmitt’s quasi-mythic account is an attempt to grasp the historical logic of the original separation of state and society and the long unfolding reversal of the hierarchy between them.
Tales of transition Teschke seeks to demonstrate that his own, Marxist account of the historical emergence of early modern forms of sovereignty, war and property
is superior to the one he attributes to Schmitt. As he tells it England’s passage to capitalism is a break away from the power and property relations of continental feudalism; its subsequent economic and mercantile expansion eventually undermines the world of European Absolutism which for centuries had successfully evolved alongside it; these victories paved the way for subsequent converging 19th-century transitions to capitalism and the state forms that correspond to it. Britain’s post-1713 balancing of the continental inter-state system— empirically noted by Schmitt, but theoretically reduced to the extra-sociological category of ‘maritime existence’—eclipses a social account of Britain’s transition from feudalism to capitalism and post-1688 transformation from dynastic to constitutional-parliamentarian sovereignty, essential for understanding the timing and socio-political sources of British balancing in the 18th century.16
The truth is more interesting than this hesitant contrast would indicate. For told in a different register and with concepts that explain as opposed to just narrate, Teschke’s historical sociology replicates the exact form of Schmitt’s fascist epic. Pointing this out is not meant to discredit his excellent work in this field, studies that seek to extend Robert Brenner’s unsurpassed theorization of the transition to capitalism into the geopolitical realm. It only further underscores the futility of his attempted demolition. For The Leviathan, Land und Meer and The Nomos of the Earth tell the story of how the old regime mutated into the 19th-century world of nation-states and British-centred world-market colonialism, and then reached its limits with the rise of new powers and new dimensions of power. As the airplane came, a third new dimension, appearing alongside land and sea, was conquered. Now man is lifted above the surface of the land as well as the sea and receives in his hand a wholly new means of transport as well as a weapon. The range and measures are further transformed, and the possibility of human domination over nature and other men ascends into unforeseeable domains.17
Air power and radio waves were productive forces that spelled the end of the British Empire, laissez-faire capitalism and a European map of small and medium-sized nation-states. Teschke believes that ‘the predominantly non-territorial nature of the us restructuration of the inter-war 16 17
Teschke, ‘Decisions and Indecisions’, p. 84. Schmitt, Land und Meer, Leipzig 1942, p. 74.
European order provided a direct refutation of Schmitt’s axiomatic thesis of international orders based on land-grabs’18 because he does not realize that for Schmitt, the main problem of concrete-order-thinking was that land was no longer the clear-cut ground of political and economic organization, even as legal and political thinking remained mired in the older elemental presuppositions. Schmitt envisaged the reorganization of political space along the lines of a vast geographical zone embracing a large number of satellite states that would constitute the Grossraum of a guardian power. In his view the us Monroe Doctrine was the precursor of these new geopolitical shapes. Like the American Republic with its hemispheric claims, such guardians would not be states in the older sense of a bureaucratically organized, territorial monopoly of force but dynamic exponents of a political and historical idea to determine friend and enemy. Although he would oppose the militant universalism of the us–ussr age that emerged with the destruction of the German Reich, Schmitt seems to have foreseen something like the Cold War bloc system coming into being. The secondclass satellite states that Schmitt had once viewed as the embodiment of political reason were now reduced to nominal entities, with jurisdictions honeycombed by military bases, radio towers and patrolled airspaces. Teschke’s complaint that Schmitt was never able to clarify the exact mode of integration of these smaller states into the new ‘“greater imperial order”—federal, imperial, vassalic’ rings hollow, as this harrowing outline of emerging political shapes would hardly seem to require it.19 Aside from his understandable hostility to the historical Schmitt, and his less reasonable indifference to non-sociological forms of thought, there is another factor at work in Teschke’s inability to note this disquieting parallel between his own and Schmitt’s understanding of the problem posed by the original historical separation of the political and the economic, as well as the historical narrative of the transition to modern capitalism to which it gives rise. For Teschke the classical age of the jus publicum europaeum—the multi-state European legal community of war and diplomacy—that Schmitt portrays in The Nomos of the Earth idealizes the insatiable war machines of Absolutism as the protagonists of a civilized and limited form of military competition. Teschke thinks that he is refuting Schmitt when he claims that Absolutism brought 18 19
Teschke, ‘Decisions and Indecisions’, p. 85. Teschke, ‘Decisions and Indecisions’, p. 89.
no reduction in the human toll of warfare, writing that, at the end of the Seven Years’ War, ‘casualty figures in the Prussian Army stood at 180,000 soldiers, which was the equivalent of two-thirds of its total size, and one-ninth of the Prussian population.’20 What he fails to grasp is that the reason why Schmitt extolled the protocols of land war of that period was not because they reduced the casualty rates of battle, but because they were based on the neutralization of the religious and civil wars of the past century. In Schmitt’s account, the terminal crisis of the European state form in the 20th century induced a reflux of religious and civil wars—in the form of warring ideological movements—and an end of the age of neutralizations. Schmitt’s purpose in The Nomos of the Earth was to provide a history of the international conditions of the conventions of limited war— limited in the sense of another separation: the separation of sovereign power from the promotion of partisan religious causes—and to portray this rationalization-neutralization of public order as the condition for the transition to 19th-century civilization. Since Teschke holds that Absolutism recognized no firm distinction between state and society, he has assumed that Schmitt, in the face of massive contravening evidence, was indifferent to it as well, and that his primary purpose in writing The Nomos of the Earth was to portray continental European monarchies in a more favourable light than England’s glorious parliamentary-capitalist state. Schmitt’s actual point was that the jus publicum europaeum, the concrete order that had withstood and adapted to an age of war and revolution, in the transition from the old regime to the new age of classical liberalism, was now in danger of dissolving amidst another equally momentous transition.
Drawing the balance In giving The Nomos of the Earth its due, we might ask how it stands up to the classic liberal and Marxist theories of imperialism: Hobson in the first category; Luxemburg, Kautsky, Lenin and Bukharin in the second. None of these authors—it should be noted—attempted to deal with the origins of European overseas imperialism in the 16th century, with the Spanish and Portuguese carve-up of South and Central America, as Schmitt signally did. Nor did these traditions produce any memorable 20
Teschke, ‘Decisions and Indecisions’, p. 83.
theorizations of the inter-war power system, transformed by the diktats of Versailles and the League of Nations. Against this background, Schmitt’s penetrating insights on the inter-state order stand out all the more sharply. Arguably, their relative abstraction—compared to the rootedly historical accounts of Lenin or Hobson—freed Schmitt’s analytics for wider application in radically altered times. Others have used Schmitt as a platform to express their unqualified support for law, tolerance, modernity etc, or, alternatively, to formulate some qualifications regarding these same commitments. Much of Teschke’s essay is written in a similar editorial spirit. His opening paragraph bemoans a double ‘rehabilitation’ of Schmitt by neo-conservatives and post-Foucauldians—Hardt and Negri, Agamben—which has ‘outflanked the Kantian liberal-cosmopolitan mainstream in a pincer movement’.21 In order to impress on the reader that he is making a bold challenge to orthodoxy, Teschke has to portray the Anglo-Saxon reception of Schmitt as nearly unanimously apologetic. In fact, the judgement that he wishes to press home is wholly at one with respectable liberal opinion, as the titles of two well-regarded studies—Mark Lilla’s Reckless Mind, Jan-Werner Mueller’s Dangerous Mind—suggest. A sample of recent essays reveals a veritable outpouring of exactly the same sentiments that Teschke expounds in his review: nyrb (Lilla), New Republic (Stephen Holmes) or Boston Review (William Scheuerman). If he had taken the actual reception into account it might have dispelled his outsized fears of an unopposed Schmittianism, rendering some of his polemical efforts superfluous. In order to rule out the possibility that there might be legitimate intellectual reasons for the contemporary interest in Schmitt, Teschke identifies him with the national security doctrines of the Bush administration. Leaden tales of neo-conservative adventures at home and abroad make it seem as if America’s recent assertions of power were inspired by notions alien to the political traditions of this republic, although the remorseless continuities of the last couple of years have led to a noticeable decline in the market for these civics lessons. Turning his own method of argument against him, one could say that Teschke’s views are characteristic of an educated liberal milieu that was inflamed by the cavalier legalities of American ‘unilateralism’ when the speaking roles went to people 21
Teschke, ‘Decisions and Indecisions’, p. 61.
called ‘neo-conservatives’, but simply lost interest in such issues as soon as the normal quotient of legitimizing pabulum was restored to the language of televised statecraft. The reader of his essay may have wondered why its author bizarrely proceeds as if this former president were still in office, as opposed to the actual incumbent. More interesting is his suggestion that neo-conservatives promoted both the Manichean world-view and decisionism that he sees Schmitt as having advocated, and the wars for humanity and imposition of liberal democracy that he clearly attacked.22 But any familiarity with Schmitt’s accounts of the international scene between the wars makes it clear that it was precisely this combination that he saw taking shape in the American relationship to the far more unstable Versailles order. Teschke refuses to consider what Schmitt’s theorization of this inter-war crisis got right, let alone to what extent our own times could be said to resemble his. Maintaining equanimity often proves difficult when examining the work of important thinkers compromised by association with fascism; but it should not pose such problems for the kind of tough-minded Marxism that Teschke aspires to represent, for the classics of this tradition, however polemical, offer a clear model for a critical study of major bourgeois thinkers like Schmitt. In order to have the right to judge, one must first set up the relationship between theoretical assumptions, ideological limitations and political alignments through a careful weighing of evidence and argument in context. Teschke would probably agree that overly politicized or moralistic judgements of Hegel or Weber might block comprehension of their work. But since he already knows that Schmitt was a fascist, he thinks that he will not miss much by rapidly proceeding to the harshest dismissals. Why does he assume that, in this case, the method of reducing an ‘intellectual edifice’ to an imputed ideology satisfies the requirements of criticism? The implicit logic seems to be as follows: Schmitt could not possibly have sought an objective understanding of structural transformations in law and politics; he must have been motivated by a tendentious hostility to law, tolerance, modernity, etc. One can therefore dispense with the protocols of immanent criticism, and move on to the problem of classifying the work, ideologically. If it cannot be denied that while reading through some of Schmitt’s texts, occasionally moments of insight and even brilliance stand out, these must be 22
Teschke, ‘Decisions and Indecisions’, pp. 92–3.
regarded as lucky strikes, or the result of incongruous borrowings from more legitimate thinkers. Arriving at a balanced judgement of Schmitt, that avoids either apologia or demonization, is no easy task. His critique of liberal democracy under the Weimar Constitution contained some of the most striking insights ever written on this political form; but it was fed by a counterrevolutionary authoritarianism which, after March 1933, led him to Nazism—a trajectory demanding outright condemnation. His critique of the Versailles settlement, equally acute, has actually become more relevant, as the imperialist order of the Great War’s victors mutated into the ‘international community’ of the capitalist bloc under American hegemony—its ideologies and practices uncannily close to so many of Schmitt’s almost clairvoyant descriptions. America’s post-Cold War flight forward now seems to be faltering, in tandem with the financialization it tirelessly promoted as a long holding pattern against the onset of capitalist stagnation. Further rounds of public intervention to stave off the unfolding meltdown of markets, at ever greater social cost, as the exclusive form through which wealth can be created, are releasing a new phase of an ongoing structural transformation of the classical relationship between state and society. Properly understood, the writings of Carl Schmitt form an indispensable supplement to comprehension of the current situation in terms of a longer-run breakdown of the separation of ‘the political’ and ‘the economic’, and of the forms of the coming attempts to shore up the ‘neutralizations and depoliticizations’ that constitute capitalism’s historical conditions of possibility.