Answer to a Question on Foucault and the Invisible Hand

I was responding recently to a query from a graduate student back in Britain about Foucault and liberalism, focused around he famous ‘invisible hand’ in Adam Smith, in which self-interest in the market place promotes a general welfare. There is some debate about how important the idea of the ‘invisible hand’ is in Smith, but it is widely used and understood as shorthand for his view that a more ‘liberal’ form of political organisation, with more free trade allows general economic improvements that do some extend flow from self-interest rather than charitable intentions or a public plan, and I levee aside questions about the meaning of the ‘invisible hand’.

I’m  not going to reproduce a private message and a private response as a post, but my response was about the right length for a post, and after some revision, will convey some of my current thoughts on Foucault.

In his treatment of David Hume and Adam Smith, Foucault is connecting them with a model of art of government in which governemnt limits itself, so that the lower level can flourish. That lower level was seen by Smith, Hume, and others, in terms of nature, of a kind of spontaneity that owes nothing to state action (including the invisible hand) , invented laws, or designed institutions, because natural processes make them redundant, or create such designs through the development of human co-operation, without a conscious overall plan. There is some ambiguity in these authors, as assumptions about the dominance and desirability of  ‘natural order’ as the basis of social institutions, are undercut by discussion of the value of institutions and the right kind of state action, but not to the extent that eliminates the natural order aspect.

Foucault is wary of any idea of a natural social order independent of human design, but is also highly wary of rationalistic total designs or constructions that claim to be neutral with regard to power and various kinds of discourse. In his writing on neoliberalism’, he displays some sympathy for the way that a non-moralistic view of economic efficiency, or value, can challenge the impositions of moralistically justified state power, or other expressions of power. One of the things he thinks characterises ‘neoberalism’, at least in its Freiburg University Ordo liberal manifestation. That is in the group of free market Austrian influenced economists in Germany from the 20s, 30s, and 40’s who had some influence on post-war German reconstruction, as Foucault notes, through their ideas on the need for a less statist more market based economic model for post-National Socialist Germany.

The Freiburg/Ordoliberalismus current recognises the role of institutions and rules, which to some extent are designed, in promoting markets.  This is different from the ways totalitarianism might try t encourage economic activity, because it is more rules based and less based on direct forms of intervention. That is basis of  the ‘Ordo’ in Ordoliberalismus. Foucault further emphasises the Husserlian phenomenological influence on Ordoliberalismus and linked the ‘anti-naturalism’ in Husserl’s account of conscciousness with the critique of naturalism in Smith and Hume. That is Foucault looks at Husserl’s criticisms of taking ‘natural’ psychological states as the basis for the philosophy of pure ideas and structures of consciousness  and sees that as entering into ways in which ‘Neoliberalism’ distances itself from that natural order aspects of Hume and Smith.

Foucault’s relationship with liberalism, in all its forms, is shaped by his resistance to idendeifying power with just the legalistic sovereigty of the central state.  ‘Disciplinarity’, as discussed in Discipline and Punish, is emergent or spontaenous in its totality, rather than the product of the design of a sovereign. In that sense it is an example of spontaneous or emergent order in Hayek. For Hayek, generally speaking the spontaneous order formed over time through co-operation between individuals is preferable to state designs and the products of a sovereign political will. However, this must be balanced with Hayek’s acceptance that there are significant areas of legitimate stare activity, which can include income maintenance, basic public services, administrative courts, and stabilisation of the economy, though the total of such activities should be less than what the state stated to take on after about 1870.

‘Disciplinarity’ is not pure spontaneous order, it includes elements that are the consequence of design, as in the prison reforms plans of the Enlightenment and later, even if they always fail to achieve their goal of moral, human, or religious reform and rehabilitation. Disciplinarity is I believe rather ambigouous in the evaluation Foucault gives to it. To some degree it is an expression of the creativity of power, and the formation of a kind of individualism which has some benefits from Foucault’s point of view, but he is certainly arguing for arguing for a critical renewal, as he finds the individuality of disciplinarity too isolating and inclined to rigid internalisaiton of norms.

Foucault was not a complete rejectionist with regard to disciplinarity, or all the other forms of power including biothetics, which is tied up with his account of disciplinarily and neoliberalism,  as he was not  an anarchist, which seems to be the inevitable conclusion of total rejection of power.  Nevertheless, he did certainly the currents of localist and workerist anarchism in French history as a corrective to political and economic power concentrations; and regarded the anarchocapitalism he connected with America, as also offering a challenge to the administrative (disciplinary or bioethical)  power of the state.

Like Foucault, Smith and Hume also had critical attitudes to concentrations of economic power backed by the state, whether feudal-monarchist remnants or more recent developments. They were also very ambiguous between being radical critics of the Whig (I take this to cover Tories as well, who had really accepted the classic Whig agenda by the late 18th century) mercantile-aristocratic liberal leaning British state and being intellectual pillars of it. There is plenty of ambiguity in Foucault, but I think his ambiguity leaned further towards a Tom Paine style radicalism than Smith and Hume tended towards. Though there are some elements of Foucault’s thinning sympathetic to Hayek, consciously or unconsciously, including his account of Ordoliberalismus, the strong sense of opositionism, the wish to be with the marginals and the lower orders (some of the time anyway, no need to pretend that Foucault was not a privileged academic of upper middle class origin, with some very bourgeois and intellectualist aspects to his life style), removes him from the Burkean element in Hayek, the preference for the evolution of traditions and old hierarchies in a more inclusive and open direction over radical challenge.

I should finish by emphasising that there is an element in Hayek, as in Smith and Hume, which is challenging of tradition and sceptical of the self-justification of old elites, so that there is no clean neat line between Hayek or the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers on the one side, and radical anti-conformist, egalitarian challenges to power and tradition, of a kind which clearly motivate Foucault, motivated him so thoroughly he could see the power interests embedded in various forms of state encouraged, or imposed, welfare he labelled as ‘bioethics’, and which have become central to ‘progressive’ politics.




Carl Schmitt on Dictatorship. Reading the First English translation XIII

Concluding Comments

This has gone on longer than I expected, and posts so  far must total about 10,000 words, which is maybe a bit long for anyone just looking for a concise summary and overview. I hope the more detailed approach, with historical digressions where I found them  useful will be of benefit to some with regard to reading and contextualising Schmitt. The publication of the book is a step forward for English language commentary on, and understanding of Carl Schmitt, and I think it deserves to be widely read by anyone with some interest in Schmitt.

The most appropriate point for reading might be immediately after reading other early texts, which are all bit shorter. That means Political TheologyConcept of the PoliticalCrisis in Parliamentary Democracy, and  Political Romanticism. Like all these texts, it certainly benefits from some grasp of European history since the sixteenth century, and ideally the thirteenth century. It would be slightly odd to be interested in Schmitt and not acquire some basic knowledge of that history, but if you have developed an interest in Schmitt and are very fuzzy in these matters, now is the time to get into the outline of European history, with particular emphasis on those moments, which particularly interested Schmitt, which are generally significant in any case.

Those moments and aspects are: state system of Medieval ‘Christendom’ (with reference to Catholic western and central Europe), the adoption of Roman law by monarchies and the church, the medieval ‘estate’ system in politics, the apparent centralisation of monarchies and church, the Protestant Reformation, the Thirty Years War (mostly in Germany but bringing in most of Europe), early modern ‘absolutist’ monarchies, the English Civil War (a way of referring to more than war and which affects Scotland and Ireland as well as England), the rule of Oliver Cromwell in England (alone with Scotland and Ireland), classical/Enlightenment liberalism, the French Revolution, the 1848 Revolution (particularly in France, though is a cross European movement), the rise of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte after the 1848 Revolution, nineteenth century liberalism including the rise of representative government, the Bolshevik October Revolution in France, Weimar  Germany, the rise of Fascism in Italy (as an example of the rise of authoritarian or totalitarian regimes in Europe of the twenties and thirties). If any of this is unfamiliar, internet searches are a great first step for increasing familiarity, followed up by reading of any relevant books that look particularly introductory or readable or which just catch your imagination for some reason. I don’t want to put anyone off reading Schmitt who doesn’t know much of this history, but I remember reading classics of political thought and being frustrated when I couldn’t pick up on historical references, and if you are interested in a historical approach to political thought, reading history should be part of that interest. If you are starting to read Schmitt but are weak in this knowledge, try checking online every unfamiliar reference, which might slow down your reading, but should develop your historical sense by significant degree.

What my reading of Dictatorship has added to my own thinking on Schmitt is an even more enhanced sense of his ambiguity. The shifting about between a very sovereigntist hierarchical kind of conservatism and liberalism, here mostly with regard to Montesquieu, is stimulating if not entirely convincing. How convincing it is may depend on what one makes of Montesquieu. If Montesquieu is seen as definitely monarchist and as definitely emphasising the more traditionalist hierarchical aspects of aristocracy and other institutions under monarchy, then Schmitt’s position may seem relatively close to the ‘real’ Montesquieu. However, even those people are likely to find Schmitt’s argument that Montesquieu is explaining a form o sovereign unity, which can quickly switch to ‘dictatorship’ to defend itself, questionable and maybe the most likely to find it questionable, since they are inclined towards a very fastidious constitutionalist limit power version of Montesquieu.

These  doubt around Schmitt’s reading of Montesquieu can be seen in the context of Schmitt’s polemical style of thinking and writing. That is certainly not to say that Schmitt is a propagandist or vulgar abusive kind of writer. Far from it, though moments of passion do erupt. His ideas are always a least a little too deviant from any rigid program, a bit too unsettling to the dogmatic believer in anything. The polemic in Schmitt is a concern with the life of ideas, ideas which are basic to common existence in human societies, the changes in those ideas over time and what is also revealed about those ideas in their convict with other ideas. There is something very open and challenging about Schmitt’s simplifications and schematisations, because it is a very mobile shifting process, in which there is always a new formulation, a new conflict, or a new accommodation about to appear.

My knowledge of Schmitt’s biography inclines me to regard him as personally lacking in a strong sense of moral responsibility and accountability, as someone who thought his failings could be justified by his intellectual life. He told an American war crimes investigator that he was just a scholar at his desk during the National Socialist era, which is is quite an evasion, particularly regarding 1933 to 1936 and the nearest he came to an apology for his anti-Semitism and compromise with totalitarianism was to take up approvingly the thought of the Jewish Marxist aesthetic and cultural thinker, Walter Benjamin, in his own book on tragedy, Hamlet or Hecuba, which is a kind of return of a favour, since Benjamin had referred to Schmitt in The Origin of German Tragic Drama. Still if one  is going to limit one’s sense of moral accountability to acknowledging an intellectual debt to those whose persecution one had endorsed, that is a great tribute from a man who was undoubtedly  great in the quality of his political thought and his passion for political ideas, if not in  every other respect.


(The above refers to:

Carl Schmitt


From the origin of the modern concept of sovereignty to proletarian class struggle

Translated by Michael Holzel and Graham Ward

Cambridge: Polity Press, 2014)

Carl Schmitt on Dictatorship. Reading the First English translation XII


The Dictatorship of the Reich according to Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution


The Appendix is a text of 1924, in which Schmitt addresses the issue of the special powers that the President of the he first German republic could invoke and gets into more general questions of the nature of dictatorship and modern sovereignty. The relevant background  presumably, is the troubled birth of that first republic, the Weimar Republic or Weimar Germany, out of defeat in the First World War, followed by attempts at Bolshevik style revolution  and repressive actions by far right militias, in co-operation with the elected social democratic government, but involving its own attempt at a far right seizure of power.

The President at the time Schmitt presented this text was Friedrich Ebert, the social democratic leader. At this time the German Social Democratic Party was in principle Marxist, and continued to be until the 1950s, but of course had split with supporters of the Bolshevik Revolution during the World War One, and even before that increasingly looked like a party that was Marxist revolutionary in principle, but reforming of capitalism in practice. Anyway, it is interesting to think that Schmitt wrote a text on the powers that might be used by socialist leaning president.

The text may also look prophetic, with regard to German history and Schmitt’s own life since he was a lawyer for the German Chancellor Franz von Papen, under Ebert’s successor, the considerably more conservative Paul von Hindenburg on the issue of interpreting article 48. As a lawyer arguing on behalf of the von Papen, Schmitt defended martial law measures in the state of Prussia which had a radical effect on the rights of the Social Democratic state government, the National Socialist opposition and others.

This reflects Schmitt’s attitude to the National Socialists who regarded as dangerous and extreme, that is his attitude before they came into government, at which point he was happy to join the party and become head of the National Socialist jurists’ association from 1933 until 1936, when interested people in the SS denounced Schmitt as an opportunist, not a Nazi by conviction, who had not developed a racially based theory of law. Schmitt stepped down from his ‘Crown Jurist’ role but continued an academic career and wrote texts, which are at least accepting of the National Socialist regime. Since the Schmitt relationship with the Hitler regime lies some years ahead of the texts I am discussing, I won’t have anything further to say about it, but of course for Schmitt’s thought and career as a whole it adds something very important with regard to sovereignty and dictatorship in all forms.

The text on Article 48 mixes rather specific comments on German law of that time with more general comments on the use of special powers. I won’t attempt to reconstruct the argument with regard to the interpretation of the German constitution and will confine myself to discussing the more general aspects. Schmitt appears to regard the president of  a republic as necessarily lacking the sovereignty of a king (presumably of the type preceding notions of the sovereignty of representative assemblies, though elsewhere, Nomos of the Earth from the 1950s I believe, Schmitt does suggest that in Medieval/Early modern thought laws passed by an assembly have more weight than those that are edicts of the king).

Anyway, here Schmitt assumes that the king in strongest sense has a kind of sovereignty which covers the creation of law. A properly formulated republican constitution will have provisions for an emergency situation where parts of the constitution are suspended, but will not allow the destruction of the constitution. Schmitt’s classic case for the latter outcome is the seizure of power by Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, who became President of France under the 1848 constitution, and succeeded in abolishing the republic so that he became Emperor Napoleon III.

In general Schmitt seems to be a great believer in preservation, even if his ideas about preserving the Weimar Republic allow a big movement towards commissary dictatorship. The sovereign individual is a feature of the traditional monarchical system (not sure how well this fits with Schmitt’s emphasis on respect for law and custom within a monarchy, if the monarch can easily command it out of existence). Otherwise the idea of a sovereign individual is a monstrosity.

The head of state in a republic, or the head of government acting in the name of the head of state, can and should preserve the republican regime, through exceptional measures. The moment of implementing exceptional measures is a revealing moment, because it reveals where sovereignty lies, similar to the suggestion in Political Theology that the sovereign is the one who decides on the state of exception. In the context of a (presumably democratic) republic, that appears to mean the head of state in association with anyone else who may have some major say in the highest matters of state, the president alone, the president with prime minister and cabinet minister, or the president with cabinet.

Making a regime work in a way consistent with the basic principles of its constitution appears to be a very high political good, maybe the highest. However, the exceptional measures are just that, ‘measures’ rather than ‘laws’. Measures are tied in Schmitt’s argument to government commands tied to a factual situation, while laws are universal in application and not just introduced for special circumstances. The idea of measures becoming law is a negative one in other texts in Schmitt, and for him it is part of the problem of liberalism, which is not careful with the distinction and creates an administrative state that undermines liberty, something that in Schmitt’s thinking is very tied to deep customary principles and historically embedded orders with society that develop independently of political will.

Next and last post in this series will be general comments on Schmitt


(The above refers to:

Carl Schmitt


From the origin of the modern concept of sovereignty to proletarian class struggle

Translated by Michael Holzel and Graham Ward

Cambridge: Polity Press, 2014)

Carl Schmitt on Dictatorship. Reading the First English translation XI

Chapter 5

The Custom of People’s Commissars During the French Revolution


Chapter 6

Dictatorship in Contemporary Law and Order: The Stare of Siege


After going rather slowly through earlier chapters and engaging in a good deal of digression and repetition of a kind I thought necessary to really communicate the historical pattern and assumptions about history that inform Schmitt, I’m going to get through the last two chapters at a comparative gallop. The Appendix will be considered in the next post.

In chapter 5 Schmitt is concerned with the French Revolution, as indeed the title suggests, with most emphasis on measures taken round the attempts flight of the royal family from France, which is a convenient point to concentrate on with regard to the progress of the French Revolution to an urge for a constitutional monarchy working with an elected law making body, resting on a good deal of violent social tension to a period of concerted state violence against enemies real and imagined, which has become the model of anti-constitutional authoritarianism, itself followed by attempts at restraining revolution culminating with the personal rule of Napoleon Bonaparte as First Consul and the Emperor. Schmitt moves about through this history to emphasise the ways in which commissary dictatorship reaches some kind of extreme limit during the ‘Terror’ of the Committee for Public Safety, and the ways in which the kinds of exceptional powers used by the Committee become part of the ways in which a more conservative state creates and maintains order under its own authority.

Chapter 6 really expands that shifting about through the history of Revolutionary and Bonapartist France into a shifting about through history since the late eighteenth taking on developments mostly in France, Britain and the United States,  and some reference to the German kingdom of  Prussia. Though the subtitle of Schmitt’s book refers to proletarian class struggle, the discussion of Marxism and Bolshevism is very brief. As a whole these two chapters lack some of the readability of the earlier chapters, which engage with a great overarching moment of European history from the thirteenth to eighteenth centuries.

The last two chapters feel more scrappy, incoherent and unsatisfying in comparison. Whatever happened to a full account of Marxist Proletarian Dictatorship and Lenin’s implementation of it in Russia? My belief is that this suits Schmitt’s enterprise, which is to suggest some kind of European (including America) decline from the time of Enlightenment liberalism, though with earlier roots. If there is no compelling account of Proletarian Socialist Dictatorship as an endpoint of European history, that is because the whole idea fails to provide any resolution to European history, negative or positive.

The Marist idea of a history ending dictatorship in which the evil of politics and state power consumes itself in a final apocalypse burning the remnants of class society away, is for Schmitt just another move of state power and political struggle, which repeats a Jacobin French Revolutionary move from commissary to constitutional dictatorship, which is never consummated. For Schmitt constitutional dictatorship means the rule of the nation or people that overrides the limits of law and constitutionalism. As Schmitt explains in chapter four though, the instrument of constitutional dictatorship never gives up the the idea that it is answerable to the National Convention and the laws passed by that convention, even if it is engaged in an apocalyptic project of destroying the enemies of virtue and reason, and any concrete phenomenon which impedes the purity of reason and virtue.

The constitutional dictatorship is an inherently failed project, a limit that can never be reached. I do not remember Schmitt saying this anywhere in the text, but I suggest it is the necessary outcome of reading and interpreting the text, in just a modest sense of interpretation concerned with finding internal consistency. The Bolshevik and Jacobin goals of constitutional dictatorship are only achieved in comparatively petty acts of dictatorship, which can be found within conservative and liberal order, even if not as intensely as in Jacobin and Bolshevik dictatorship. In practice, the goal of constitutional dictatorship tends to lead to methods of dictatorship in conservative and liberal states through ideas of martial law, state of emergency, and state of siege. These are reactions to and imitations of Jacobin and Bolshevik dictatorship.

The limited acts of dictatorship carried out by liberal and conservative regimes may themselves be repugnant to the Jacobin type constitutional dictators, since the idea of limited powers for state officials to ignore laws and constitutional provisions, just do not allow enough power, and tend to be directed against the kind of unruly popular acts that Jacobins thought they could use and direct towards their more grand ends. Schmitt gives examples of various kinds of how constitutional regimes, more conservative and more liberal, find it necessary to allow for exceptional powers. Schmitt thinks the model for this is martial law, which in giving military authorities special powers to deal with situations of violence, to some degree separates the working of civil political power from dictatorship, though also brings out something necessary to the stability and continuity of constitutional order.

Special powers for the military define certain situations as states of war, implicitly or explicitly, and provide a pretext for suspending the power of the courts, in the same that courts are nor used to punish soldiers for ‘murder’ in relation to killing in  a battle while in uniform and under military command. Schmitt’s account creates layers of approbation and rejection for exceptional state powers, in which they are seen as the product of a break down of traditional forms of pre-liberal order, but then necessary to protect the order that does exist, and a rejection of ‘constitutional dictatorship’, which nevertheless accepts the need for a concrete sovereignty able to destroy its enemies as part of there being order.


Next post, the Appendix ‘The Dictatorship of the President of the Reich according to Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution’.

After finishing the Appendix, I will post some overall thoughts on the book.


(The above refers to:

Carl Schmitt


From the origin of the modern concept of sovereignty to proletarian class struggle

Translated by Michael Holzel and Graham Ward

Cambridge: Polity Press, 2014)

Expanding the Liberty Canon: Aristotle

Notes On Liberty

Apparently  some people have enjoyed the posts on ‘Another Liberty Canon’, so I will keep going on that tack, but with a revision to the heading as I ‘ll be covering some thinkers already accepted into the liberty canon, or at least some of the various canons. I’ll continue to discuss what I think should be brought into the canon, and push the boundaries a bit on those already generally accepted into the canon. I’ll be giving coverage to major figures, with regard to their work as a whole, but at some point I’ll start doing some relatively detailed readings of individual classic works.

I’ll start at the beginning, more of less with Aristotle. I’m sure there are texts and thinkers within the Greek tradition, and certainly in the Near East, southern and eastern Asia, and so on worthy of attention, but for substantial books clearly devoted to the nature…

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Carl Schmitt on Dictatorship. Reading the First English translation X.2

Chapter 4

The Concept of Sovereign Dictatorship

Second part of my account. Less historical digression and repetition of previous key points than the last post.

Schmitt’s account of the rule of Oliver Cromwell in seventeenth century England (and other nations in the relevant state system) suggests a drift from a commissary dictatorship rooted in the ancient Roman understanding of  dictator as serving the sovereignty power to accomplish limited and defined tasks on behalf of that power, towards a sovereign dictatorship that represents the dark side of bourgeois Enlightenment liberalism, or what is wrong with liberalism from Schmitt’s traditionalist conservative point of view.

The emergence of sovereign dictatorship comes out of a tension Schmitt outlines between laws and the norms that justify both obedience and enforcement with regard to laws. This is clearly an issue for all political systems, which as Schmitt recognises (if not entirely explicitly) was first made really clear by Rousseau in The Social Contract. Schmitt seems both to credit Rousseau with making the problems with the justification of law clear and to regard him as opening the way for sovereign  dictatorship. However, Schmitt does not descend to some of the more ridiculous polemics in which Rousseau is held to be directly responsibly for the Jacobin Terror in the French Revolution and all the varieties of modern totalitarian politics.

Sovereign dictatorship fort Schmitt comes from a power that is the power of what constitutes law and just the power of the constituted laws themselves. The sovereignty of a power that is constituting of laws is the power to override laws and make laws, without regard to the constraints followed by constituted powers within laws. The Jacobins of the French Revolution draw on Sieyès (as in the author of What is the Third Estate?) and Rousseau’s Social Contract  in their efforts to make law and virtue coincide, to make the general will (Rousseau) and the third estate-the nation (Sieyès) truly sovereign.

Since the people are often lacking in sufficient virtue, special measures should be taken. Tis seems to me more easy to justify with reference to Montesquieu’s account of republic than with reference to Sieyès or Rousseau, and indeed the most famous Jacobin advocate of terror after Maximilien de Robespierre, Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just, did exactly that. Of course Montesquieu probably did not mean to justify a later reign of terror, initiated by the Committee for Public Safety, when he discussed the Ancient Roman tendency to rely on the accusations of citizens, because citizens were naturally virtuous, but he did argue that a properly constituted republic would rely on state trust in accusations. This is possibly a bit awkward for Schmitt’s presentation of Montesquieu as a classic advocate of traditionalist monarchy, but is not in itself fatal.

Anyway, behind the thoughts of the Jacobins about terror and virtue is the continuing development of the constituting power as what shows itself in sovereign dictatorship. Schmitt notes ways in which the Committee for Public Safety in France still remained in some degree within the limit the limits of commissary dictatorship. The Committee regarded itself as defending the sovereignty of the National Convention, not as usurping that sovereignty, and it was not the only committee answerable to the Convention and that had special powers.

However, the National Convention always unanimously supported the decisions of the Committee for Public Safety, at least until the Coup of Thermidor (Thermidor was a month in the revolutionary calendar, that is the new calendar the French republicans though appropriate to the new age of justice and reason), so during that time the Committee was in practice exercising sovereignty and even adopting that kind of super-soveriegnty identified by Schmitt as sovereign dictatorship in which the power of constituting laws overwhelms laws themselves.

The non-recognition of the de facto sovereignty of  the Committee by those involved and the very temporary nature of the situation nevertheless means it was not a full sovereign dictatorship, and can be said to remain with the limits of commissary dictatorship. Schmitt’s account while careful about labels and definitions is aimed to give a negative impression of the ways that Protestant thought and Enlightenment liberalism challenge the layers of of custom, laws, sovereignty, religion, and institutions, accumulated in traditionalist Catholic monarchical Europe.

The heterodox elements of early modern Catholicism, particularly Occasionalism (the philosophical position according to which God arranges the consistency of mental perceptions with the general structure of the universe, which lack a natural physical connection) are also at fault in Schmitt’s thinking. Political Theology is also relevant here. There is an ambiguity in Schmitt’s thinking, which I’ve already alluded, in which he both welcomes the greater clarity about the gap between laws as what is constituted and the power to constitute them. His own account suggests that Medieval Catholic thinking was lacking in that it reduced political power and administrative acts to judicial power. The liberalism taken as the enemy is what makes clearer what sovereignty is and what state power is. Indeed the idea of a political enemy, important to Schmitt’s thinking (particularly The Concept of the Political and its much later sequel Theory of the Partisan) itself becomes clearer in the French Revolution and the attitude of the Committee for Publşc Safety with regard to defending the rule of reason.

(The above refers to:

Carl Schmitt


From the origin of the modern concept of sovereignty to proletarian class struggle

Translated by Michael Holzel and Graham Ward

Cambridge: Polity Press, 2014)