Matthew Unangst, The Antisemitism of Carl Schmitt

Raphael Gross. Carl Schmitt and the Jews: The “Jewish Question,” the Holocaust, and German Legal Theory. Trans. Joel Golb. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2007. 344 PP. Cloth. $45.00. ISBN: 9780299222406.

2007 - Raphael Gross - Carl Schmitt and the Jews cover

Raphael Gross’ Carl Schmitt and the Jews provoked much discussion in Germany upon its publication in 2000. The book forced a reexamination of the writing of Carl Schmitt, the so-called “crown jurist of the Third Reich,” for what Gross argued was an overarching antisemitism in all of Schmitt’s work. In the decades following the Second World War, Schmitt, his followers, and his biographers cast the jurist as a great judicial mind who had worked with the Nazis only out of political expediency. Carl Schmitt and the Jews makes that idea untenable. To make his argument, Gross examines Schmitt’s diaries from 1947 to 1951 and, in an afterword to the Mosse Series edition, from 1912 to 1915.

This is the first in a series of blog posts that examines the ideas in Gross’ book in the light of recent political pronouncements in the United States. With the resuscitation of political rhetoric from the pre-World War II period such as “America First” and new policies meant to defeat internal enemies, Gross’ discussion of Schmitt’s antisemitism is helpful for thinking through both the roots and the consequences of what appears to be a new political era. In particular, Gross’ analysis of Schmitt’s “encoding process” to publicly hide his antisemitism while expressing more openly in private is useful for thinking about antisemitic rhetoric today (18).

Matthew Unangst, 2017
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.

Schmitt, Gross tells us, imagined Jews as the embodiment of the revolutionary and liberal ideals of the French Revolution and Europe’s 19th century that he hated. In his Political Theology of 1922, Schmitt “traced all problems of the nineteenth century German state back to the destructive influence of emancipated Jewry” (152). The concept of equality under the law especially was a focus of Schmitt’s attacks on Jews and the Weimar state. Schmitt argued that the ideal of equality was a creation of emancipated Jews, who aimed to replace the Christian and völkisch nature of German law with a system of law applicable to all humanity. Jews had destroyed what was German about German law, and replaced it with a global legal system that ignored Germany’s history. For Schmitt, Jews existed only in the law, not tied to any one country. His ideas paved the way for National Socialism to sweep away Jewish legal equality and create laws specifically for Germany’s Jews.

There are parallels between the rhetoric of the 2017 and the pre-World War II period, rhetoric of “America First” and of globalism prominent in the recent presidential campaign. Gross tells us that, for Schmitt, “widely understood code words made clumsy direct attacks unnecessary” (19). The idea that international legal norms are harming the United States and that there is something specifically “American” about United States law both echo today, as does the idea that the United States can create different classes of citizens based on religion. Subsequent blog posts will discuss Gross’ analysis of Schmitt’s State of Exception, of Schmitt’s definition of Jews as an internal enemy, and of the normalization of Schmitt’s ideas after the Second World War.

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