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New Left Review 67, January-February 2011


benno teschke

DECISIONS AND INDECISIONS

Political and Intellectual Receptions of Carl Schmitt

In 1989 Jürgen Habermas opined that Carl Schmitt was unlikely to have the same ‘power of contagion in the Anglo-Saxon world’ as had Nietzsche and Heidegger. [1] Jürgen Habermas, ‘The Horrors of Autonomy: Carl Schmitt in English’, in Habermas, The New Conservatism: Cultural Criticisms and the Historians’ Debate, Cambridge 1989, p. 135. Too deep and unbridgeable was the spiritual gulf that separated the disgraced éminence grise of the ascending Axis power—publicly, at least, a virtual taboo figure within the Federal Republic—from the more liberal climes and political sensibilities of the Anglosphere. Two decades later, such predictions may appear naive. In fact, the trend has been reversed. While the Schmitt reception in German public discourse and in academia—though growing and ever more strident—seems to remain residually tied to certain ethical inhibitions that prevent a full and unqualified embrace of Göring’s former protégé, the Anglo-American Schmitt literature, beyond some notable critical engagements, has generated a less restricted rehabilitation. It either parades an authoritarian and part-time fascist thinker as a precursor and ally of the neo-conservative revolution, re-mobilizing Schmitt’s notion of the state of emergency and his concept of the political; or it reads him as a radical—even critical—voice against a world-historical conjuncture characterized by liberal imperialism that flattens all geopolitical enmities and differences. [2] For reception in Germany, see Thomas Darnstädt, ‘Der Mann der Stunde: Die Unheimliche Wiederkehr Carl Schmitts’, Der Spiegel, 39, 2008, pp. 160–1. For leading statements of the critical current, see Stephen Holmes, The Anatomy of Antiliberalism, Cambridge, ma. 1993; William Scheuermann, Carl Schmitt: The End of Law, Lanham, md 1999; Mark Lilla, The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics, New York 2001; Jan-Werner Müller, A Dangerous Mind: Carl Schmitt in Post-War European Thought, New Haven 2003. For less restricted rehabilitations, see Chantal Mouffe, On the Political, London 2005; Slavoj Žižek, ‘Carl Schmitt in the Age of Post-Politics’, and other contributions in Mouffe, ed., The Challenge of Carl Schmitt, London 1999; Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, Cambridge, ma 2000; Danilo Zolo, Invoking Humanity, London 2002; William Rasch, Sovereignty and its Discontents, London 2004; Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, Chicago 2005; Peter Stirk, Carl Schmitt, Crown Jurist of the Third Reich, Lampeter 2005; Kam Shapiro, Carl Schmitt and the Intensification of Politics, Lanham, md 2008. This dual reception has outflanked the Kantian liberal-cosmopolitan mainstream in a pincer movement.

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