Carl Schmitt and the Jews: Schmitt's Legacy

Written by Matthew Unangst on Thursday, April 06, 2017 at 12:41 PM


Carl Schmitt and the Jews: Schmitt's Legacy

This is the fourth and final in a series of blog posts about Raphael Gross’ Carl Schmitt and the Jews.

After the war, Schmitt returned to Christianity, becoming part of a group of Christians stylizing itself as victims of Nazism, and which argued that Nazism had been anti-intellectual Schmitt justified himself as both a Christian and a “conservative revolutionary,” opposed to Nazism’s revolution. But, Gross, argues, there is no evidence that Schmitt opposed Nazism. He was never denazified, and in his interrogation by the jurist Robert Kempner did not distance himself from his antisemitic writings. He responded instead with a claim to scholarly integrity. He continued to claim victimhood at the hands of Jews while claiming the same at the hands of the Nazis. In Schmitt’s worldview, the traditional Christian order had been destroyed through the work of Nazis and Jews together.

In his personal writings, Schmitt compared his situation to that of Alexis de Tocqueville, a French aristocrat defeated by the liberal ideals of the 1789 French Revolution, and declared himself the “last teacher and researcher in an existential sense” of European public law (204). In his public work, Schmitt returned to his writing mode from before 1933, avoiding direct attacks on Jews and portraying himself as a victim. Schmitt carefully cultivated his reception to create an image of himself as a conservative paragon, like Toqueville. The posthumously published Glossarium aimed to put Catholicism at the center of Schmitt research, rather than Nazism. Gross claims, however, that “Schmitt’s battle against the Jews was political, not theological” (215). His postwar work “enriched Europe’s antisemitic vocabulary” (219) by hiding antisemitism beneath other political claims.

This self-refashioning made Schmitt’s ideas acceptable in legal theory. Paul Gottfried, the man who coined the term, “alternative right,” as a challenge to Republican orthodoxy, has deployed Schmitt’s legal concepts to argue for a new basis for American law. His Carl Schmitt: Politics and Theory (1990) dismissed Schmitt’s antisemitism. Gottfried argued that Schmitt was the culmination of a longer tradition in conservatism, a continued conservative voice against Nazism’s radical politics. Those ideas have become part of political practice in the Trump administration through Steve Bannon, who has claimed politics are like war, labeled multiple domestic groups as “enemies,” and created policies to weed out and intimidate those internal enemies.

Ultimately, Gross tells us that Schmitt failed because “legal theory cannot be grounded in particularity. The legitimacy of every modern form of such theory lies precisely in its claim to universality” (226). Additionally, we cannot separate Schmitt’s corpus from his antisemitism. “Carl Schmitt’s obsession with Jews, Jewry, and the ‘Jewish question’ did not spring out of nowhere in 1933. Rather, it accompanied him, to large extent malignantly, throughout his adult life” (23). The resuscitation of Schmitt’s ideas of sovereignty in the Global War on Terror United States has brought back his antisemitic rhetoric, but, like Schmitt, today’s practitioners cloak their antisemitism in claims about “globalism.”

Matthew Unangst is a Teaching Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of History at Washington State University. He received his Ph.D. from Temple University in 2015. His current manuscript, "The Geography of Empire: German Colonialism, Race, and Space in East Africa, 1884-1907," explores the ways in which German, African, and Arab ideas about East African spaces and their relationship to their inhabitants shaped ideas about race, governance, and world history. His research interests are in the intellectual history of empire and the history of geography, as well as in both German and African intellectual history more broadly.

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