Der Begriff des Politischen

In 1927 Carl Schmitt published the first edition of his famous essay The Concept of the Political.  Heinrich Meier has done the world of scholarship a service in his study of the “hidden dialogue” between Schmitt and Leo Strauss that presents itself between the second edition of Begriff (1932) and the third (1933) after the publication of Strauss’s review in 1932.  Schmitt responded to a friend that Strauss’s review “cut through him a barre’s length” or some such thing.  No matter what one thinks of Strauss or Schmitt it is clear that Schmitt’s reputation has the most to gain from this hidden association.

My concern though is the equally subtle and hidden dialogue between the first and second edition of Schmitt’s Begriff.  In 1929 Hans Morgenthau wrote a dissertation on Schmitt’s book, where he argues that Schmitt’s is wrong to say that politics is to be understood as a domain but is instead to be understood as an intensity.  The vista this opens up in Schmitt’s theory is the ability to explain civil war:  any relationship between any two groups has the potential of becoming political, of becoming a battle for the good of friends and the death of enemies.  Morgenthau asserts in 1978 that Schmitt printed Morgenthau’s ideas “without lifting the veil of anonymity from the author” – Bill Scheuerman is fantastic on this particular episode in Weimar intellectual history.  What I find most fascinating is that the valorization of this violence in Schmitt’s political theory, and the return to the violence of Hobbes’s State of Nature — not as a negative standard but as the essence of politics — all of which is possible with the movement of Morgenthau’s critique from domains to instensity, is precisely the ground upon which Strauss builds his critique of Schmitt.  Therefore, the dialogue “between the lines” of the “hidden dialogue” is between Strauss and Morgenthau.  Compare the new first chapter and acknowledgments in Morgenthau’s Politics Among Nations, second edition.  At any rate, the good people at Palgrave have released a translation of Morgenthau’s 1933 French monograph, “The Concept of the Political”.  I look forward to reading this.  The translators note for the benefit of the great unwashed that Morgenthau is writing explicitly with Schmitt in mind, as well as Hans Kelsen’s legal positivism (a framework that is also criticized for its inability to distinguish tyranny from healthy regimes).  Where does one find this criticism?  In Strauss’s Natural Right and History, naturally (first chapter, footnote 2).  Hans Kelsen is a name that deserves more currency – Constellations has done us all a favour.  As always, books we refuse read have already been critiqued and ideas rethought by authors we ignore.  No doubt, five years from now graduate students will discover Kelsen’s nomostatics the way Columbus discovered America: already populated, full of life.  But as we’re approaching the 100th anniversary of J.J. Ruedorffer’s Grundzüge der Weltpolitik in der Gegenwart, where is Kurt Riezler’s day in the sun?


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