Schmitt, Carl

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Schmitt, Carl



Carl Schmitt, German political theorist, was born in 1888 in Plettenberg in Westphalia. He studied law and obtained his habilitation for public law at Strasbourg in 1916. His subsequent academic career was a successful one: he taught at Greifswald from 1921 to 1922; at Bonn from 1922 to 1928; at Berlin from 1928 until early in 1933; at Cologne during the year 1933; and again at Berlin, from the beginning of the academic year 1933/1934 until 1945.

Schmitt is an important representative of a school of thought in German public law which, after World War i, turned away from the German tradition of legal positivism and tried to broaden the scientific study of law and legal institutions by introducing into it historical, sociological, and political considerations. Accordingly, his publications cover a wide variety of subjects: the relationship between written law and judicial decision making, the romantic movement in political thinking during the early nineteenth century, and the history of dictatorship as a political idea and as an institution. He developed a systematic theory of constitutional law and made the history of European public law an object of philosophical investigation. He studied particular issues of constitutional, international, and martial law, and he engaged in polemics over the actual political situation in Germany.

Schmitt’s participation in the antiliberal intellectual and political movement in Germany did not preclude his making significant contributions to political science. Observing the importance of arbitrary decisions both in the process of adjudication and in systematic jurisprudence, he established the concept of Dezisionismus to designate the fact that any legal order is ultimately based on sovereign decisions. These decisions are based not on positive norms but on the ultima ratio of emergency decrees [seePolitical justice]. Schmitt traced this philosophy back to Hobbes’s doctrine that auctoritas non veritas facit legem (laws are based on authority rather than truth), as well as to what he called the political theology of de Maistre, Bonald, Donoso Cortes, and other counterrevolutionary thinkers. Schmitt believed that the decisionistic method of looking for extreme and critical cases would lead to a new concrete way of thinking about the political order and political action (konkretes Ordnungs- und Gestaltungsdenken), However, the decisionistic method became more than an approach to political phenomena: Schmitt’s preoccupation with the “extreme cases,” as well as with the counterrevolutionary thinkers’ pessimistic view of man, led him to convert the decisionistic method into a moral interpretation of politics and history that, in the turbulent situation in German politics between the two world wars, was to serve as a political ideology.

Schmitt defined politics as emerging from the friend-foe constellations that challenge the polity to distinguish between allies and enemies; friend-foe constellations arise in the situations in which civil war or war between states has to be considered an immediate possibility. All human groups, whether of economic, religious, or ethnic origin, may enter into extreme conflicts. The state, therefore, is valued because it is the institution which protects its citizens against the enemy within and without. Schmitt considered this defensive and repressive function of the state to be the precondition and the guarantee of all law and order in human affairs. He interpreted the modern history of continental Europe as a development from the absolute state of the eighteenth century, through the neutral state of the nineteenth, to the total state of the twentieth [see Totalitarianism], This total state would overcome the neutralization of political power and the cleavage between the state and society that had resulted from nineteenth-century liberalism. Liberalism and democracy were, in Schmitt’s view, incompatible political principles, and the institutions of parliamentary government, once based on genuine political discussion and on the efficient functioning of public opinion, had, in twentieth-century mass society, lost their raison d’etre and their legitimacy.

The Weimar Republic was, according to Schmitt, a distorted version of what he called a parlamen-tarischer Gesetzgebungsstaat, a distortion which he attributed to the waning of the nation’s political homogeneity, which he considered to be caused in turn by the anarchical pluralism of incompatible political forces. Schmitt did not believe that Germany under the Weimar Republic could become politically integrated. He therefore defended the National Socialists’ seizure of power as a way of regaining the authority necessary to restore substantive justice. Thus he provided the ideological justification of a new German constitution. Based on the defense of national and racial homogeneity (Artgleichheit), and guided by the principles of leadership and loyalty, Germany should be rebuilt as a threefold totality comprising (1) a bureaucratic apparatus that included the judiciary, (2) a one-party political movement, and (3) a politically neutralized sphere of professional and communal administration ( Selbstverwaltung ).

In matters of international law, Schmitt criticized all global constructions of international legal order and defended a European Monroe Doctrine based on German hegemony. He distrusted concepts of international legal order because they could be used to justify imperialism and illegitimate imperialist intervention in the affairs of foreign states. He also deplored political universalism, because it produced a concept of warfare according to which both the enemy’s state and its citizens could be prosecuted as criminals (the difference between the enemy and a criminal being blurred). [See International crimes.] As Germany approached defeat in World War n, Schmitt tried to discover what historical conditions had once enabled the European states to distinguish between an enemy and a criminal and to conduct war as an honorable duel between honorable adversaries. He believed he had found those conditions in a so-called Nomos der Erde, which originally had been shaped by the jus publicum europaeum. Schmitt believed that this Nomos could be found in a special geopolitical order, based on the division of the world into different areas of influence, dominated by the great European powers. These powers would recognize each other as independent sovereignties united by a common civilization of martial law.

Schmitt compared his own role under the Nazi regime to that of Benito Cereno in Herman Melville’s story, who, after a mutiny on his slave ship had succeeded, served under the victors as a pirate, unable to disentangle himself from a situation in which protection was contingent on obedience. Schmitt’s teaching, however, was often very near to the “mutinous” ideology which destroyed the Weimar Republic and helped the Nazi movement gain power. Yet by making the character of enmity, among citizens as well as nations, the crucial theme of systematic jurisprudence and political thinking, Schmitt created a new awareness of important problems.

Jürgen Fijalkowski

[For the historical context of Schmitt’s work, seeCrisis government; Delegation of powers; Legitimacy; National Socialism. Other related material may be found under Jurisprudence; Political science.]


1912 Gesetz und Urteil. Berlin: Liebmann.

(1919) 1925 Politische Romantik. 2d ed. Munich: Duncker…Humblot.

(1921) 1928 Die Diktatur: Von den Anfdngen des modernen Souveränitatsgedanhens bis zum proletarischen Klassenkampf. 2d ed. Munich and Leipzig: Duncker…Humblot.

(1922) 1934 Politische Theologie. 2d ed. Munich: Duncker…Humblot.

(1923) 1961 Die geistesgeschichtliche Lage des heutigen Parlamentarismus. 3d ed. Berlin: Duncker…Humblot.

1926 Die Kernfrage des V6lkerbundes. Berlin: Dummler.

(1927a) 1963 Der Begriff des Politischen. Berlin: Duncker…Humblot.

1927bVolksentscheid und Volksbegehren. Berlin: Gruyter.

(1928) 1957 Verfassungslehre. 3d ed. Berlin: Duncker…Humblot.

1931Der Hitter der Verfassung. Tübingen: Mohr.

1932 Legalitdt und Legitimitat. Munich and Leipzig: Duncker…Humblot.

1933 Staat, Bewegung, Volk. Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt.

1934a Staatsgefūge und Zusammenbruch des zweiten Reiches: Der Sieg des Būrgers iiber den Soldaten. Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt.

1934b Ūber die drei Arten des rechtswissenschaftlichen Denkens. Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt.

1938a Der Leviathan in der Staatslehre des Thomas Hobbes. Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt.

1938b Die Wendung zum diskriminierenden Kriegsbegriff. Munich: Duncker…Humblot.

1939 Völkerrechtliche Grossraumordnung, mit Interventionsverbot fur Machte. Berlin: Deutscher Rechtsverlag.

1940 Positionen und Begriffe im Kampf mit WeimarGenf-Versailles, 1923-1939. Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt.

(1942) 1944 Land und Meer. Leipzig: Reclam.

1950a Donoso Cortes in gesamteuropäischer Interpretation. Cologne: Greven.

1950b Ex captivitate salus: Erfahrungen der Zeit 1945/47. Cologne: Greven.

1950c Der Nomos der Erde im Volkerrecht des Jus publicum Europaeum. Cologne: Greven.

1963 Theorie des Partisanen: Zwischenbemerkung zum Begriff des Politischen. Berlin: Duncker…Humblot.

Verfassungsrechtliche Aufsatze aus den Jahren 1924-1954: Materialien zu einer Verfassungslehre. Berlin: Duncker…Humblot, 1958. → Essays originally published between 1924 and 1954, with commentaries by Schmitt on his own earlier articles.


Barion, Hans; Forsthoff, E.; and Weber, W. (editors) 1959 Festschrift für Carl Schmitt zum 70. Geburts-tag. Berlin: Duncker…Humblot. → Contains a comprehensive BIBLIOGRAPHY of Schmitt’s works and of works about Schmitt, compiled by Piet Tomissen.

Fijalkowski, JÜrgen 1958 Die Wendung zum Filhrer-staat: Ideologische Komponenten in der politischen Philosophie Carl Schmitts. Cologne: Westdeutscher Verlag.

Fijalkowski, Jurgen 1965 Das politische Problem der Feindschaft. Politische Vierteljahresschrift 6:105-111.

Hofmann, Hasso 1964 Legitimitdt gegen Legalitdt: Der Weg der politischen Phitosophie Carl Schmitts. Neuwied (Germany): Luchterhand.

Krockow, Christian 1958 Die Entscheidung: Sine Un-tersuchung Über Ernst JÜnger, Carl Schmitt, Martin Heidegger. Stuttgart: Enke.

Krupa, Hans 1937 Carl Schmitts Theorie des “Politischen,” mit einem Verzeichnis der Schriften Carl Schmitts. Leipzig: Hirzel.

Schmidt, Hermann 1963 Der Nomosbegriff bei Carl Schmitt. Staat 2:81-108.

Schmitz, Mathias 1965 Die Freund-Feind-Theorie [in der politischen Philosophic] Carl Schmitts. Cologne and Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag.

Schneider, Peter 1957 Ausnahmezustand und Norm: Eine Studie zur Rechtslehre von Carl Schmitt. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt.

Wohlgemuth, Heinrich 1933 Das Wesen des Politischen in der heutigen neoromantischen Staatslehre: Ein methodenkritischer Beitrag zu seiner Begriffs-bildung. Emmendingen: Dölter.