Schmitt Not So Decisionist

Me at the group blog New APPS on Carl Schmitt. Opening two paragraphs below.

Nothing new to say about Schmitt here, but I think there is something to be said for clarifying in what ways Schmitt is not ‘Schmittian’ in some senses that influence some people. This issue came up in a teaching context recently and I think refers to a widespread tendency, which I believe can be tackled without hopefully falling into assault and battery on a straw man in order to clarify what is distinctive about Schmitt’s contribution.

The issue is of defining Carl Schmitt as a ‘decisionist’ who regards the question of who exercises sovereignty as arbitrary, as a question which begins and ends with the question who has the force to exercise sovereignty, with no regard for the legitimation of that sovereignty. This is severely one- sided, but does have some basis in some things Schmitt said, particularly in Political TheologyThe Concept of the Political, and Crisis in Parliamentary Democracy. The opening of Political Theology and a slightly later in the text quotation from Kierkegaard, with related discussion, is where decisionistic Schmitt seems most apparent.

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Republicanism and Nostalgia

My latest post at the group blog New APPS

The idea of a republic has been very tied up from the beginning with the idea of loss, even when linked with the hope for a new beginning. The first great political text of republican political theory may be the Funeral Oration of Pericles as reported (invented?) by Thucydides in The Peloponnesian War, where the defence of the Athenian form of self-government as tolerant and cultured, as well as heroic in war, is articulated in a speech of mourning. It is the loss of the lives of the citizen soldiers of Athens that provides an opportunity for putting foward the general greatness of Athens. So a rather immediate sense of loss is the moment for an imformal pit of republican theory. The speech itself is a model for later commentary on republics and democracy, including Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which echoes some phrases from Thucydides and is again a celebration of a republic driven in its rhetoric of passion but the immediacy of loss.

The model that Pericles, Thucydides, and other writers of Classical Greece, have for courage in war as a civic virtue, does not come from a republic though. It comes from the Homeric epics of the Mycenaean monarchs at war, kings and heroes from societies where those who rule states and command armies are close to the gods, and those commanded are from some lower order of life. Nevertheless Homer permeates the culture of classical Greece. Pottery surviving from Athens of that era suggests a fascination with the martial courage of Achilles, Ajax, and Odysseus, though many of Odysseus’ fights are wit mythical dangers rather than war in the most organised and politically defined sense. The broader nature of Odysseus’ struggles maybe give us an idea of a culture in which war seems to be part of a constant struggle with divine and natural dangers including fate and chance, along with the inevitability of death.

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European Identities and Histories

My latest post at the group blog New APPS

Discussions of European identity, and the history mostly revolve round two points of reference. One goes back to the origin of modern usage of Europe and European in the eight century around the struggle between Christian Franks and Muslim Moors, and then round the Frankish king Charlemagne who received the title of Emperor of the Romans, an event which questions the claim of the eastern and Greek Roman Empire, Byzantium, to continue the legacy of Rome there is an obvious religious focus here, which is Catholic Roman Christians as against Orthodox Greek Christians, and a Christian struggle against Islam. In Charlemagne’s reign the struggle to Christianise pagans is still very much an issue in northern Europe. So this is the Europe which is Catholic Christian, Frankish, and western Roman.

The other point of reference, one thousand years later, is the Enlightenment, so an origin in cosmopolitanism, rationalism, ethical universalism, secularism, and science is suggested. The Enlightenment does have a historical and geographical location in Europe, and particular concentrations within Europe. The most important focus for the cosmopolitan rationalist understanding of Europe is Königsberg, though purely Königsberg as the city of Kant. Kant is generally understood through his links to the west, to Scottish Enlightenment, the Enlightened despotism of Frederick the Great in Berlin, the Swiss-French Rousseau, and so on. Frederick II, King of Prussia was ruing over Kant’s location in East Prussia, but from Brandenburg and within the boundaries of the new Rome (in practice the German Empire) of Charlemagne.

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Enlightenment Ethics as Critique of Progress

My latest post at New APPS group blog

I don’t think I’ve got anything surprising to say for anyone whose read Enlightenment texts concerned with ethics texts at all attentively, at least in terms of pointing out what is obviously there, but what I’m discussing as far as I can see is underplayed in most discussion, and certainly in the ‘average understanding’ that circulates prior to any close reading of texts.

The obvious exception is Rousseau who gets understood as the back to ‘natural man’ nostalgic. Some recent work on Smith and Rousseau (e.g. Dennis Rasmussen) maybe gets to some degree at Smith’s concerns about the ‘progress’ of commercial society, and there is a discussion in Foucault of the relation between the subject of eighteenth century political economy and the ‘savage’, though that is not so much about endorsement of ‘savage’ ethics as bringing out a supposed persistent ‘natural’ person. Given that Vico was already criticising any tendency to read legally defined rights back into ‘natural’ humanity in the early eighteenth century, we should be careful about simply attributing a brute identification of individual rights in commercial society with ‘natural or ‘savage’ humanity on the part of all Enlightenment advocates of commerce and legalism.

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On Types of Republicanism

My latest post at the group blog New APPS

The academic literature on republicanism, in my experience, largely assumes one major distinction between kinds of republicanism. As I did not do conduct a major literature review just recently on the issue, I may have missed something, but it seems safe to say that the distinction I am getting onto is well established. That is the distinction between Roman and Athenian republicanism, with the two big names in the field, Philip Pettit and Hannah Arendt lined up on either side.

There are other distinctions between Pettit and Arendt, in the ways they approach political thouht but I will leave those aside here. In terms of general political thought, Pettit has a more individualised and reductive approach to rights, while Arendt refers to a lived experience of the political side of humanity. Pettit’s ‘Romanism’ is indeed a claim to avoid the supposed denial of individuality and the right to be free from the political sphere, apparently inherent in ‘Athenianism’. Arendt’s ‘Athenianism’ is a claim to deal with the role that politics has in the life of humanity, which can never just be ‘social’, so lacking the competition for power in a public space. There are ways we might try to equate those with differences in political position with regard to issues other than pure political structures, but I do  not believes that those really work out and that is again something I leave aside.

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Kierkegaard’s Subjectivity and Foucault’s Style of Life-Juridification Distinction

My latest post at the New APPS group blog

Continuing from my last post on ‘Style of Living versus Juridification in Foucault’, there seems to be me to be something to be gained by thinking about Kierkegaard’s ethics here, even if Kierkegaard’s Christianity and Foucault’s aesthetic self seem rather distinct. The emphasis in Foucault on style or aesthetics of life or existence seems to be be already the object of criticism, in Kierkegaard’s account of the aesthetic (as a mode of life rather than with regard to the appreciation of art and beauty). However, Foucault does refer on occasion to the self as acting on itself in Kierkegaard. So Kierkegaard has a particular importance in suggesting that the self is not just an observing consciousness.

Kierkegaard’s attitude to the self , and modes of living, is in some degree structured by an understanding of the relation between individuality and the state as a political entity. It is an understanding that draws on Hegel, but which tries to resist what Kierkegaard takes to be an absorption of the self into history and communal morality in Hegel’s philosophy. That continuation of aspects of Hegel includes a distinction between antique and modern communities, which itself draws on an enormous amount of earlier thought going back to the Renaissance regarding the distinction between antiquity and the present. [Read on here]



Style of Living versus Juridification in Foucault (my latest post at the group blog New APPS)

I’m making a brief exploration of one of the most significant oppositions in Foucaut’s thought, which has not been discussed that much in my experience, but I may well have overlooked some vast bibliography. In any case, there is a major polarity in Foucault between the style of living in antiquity, related to care of the self, and in which ‘style’ can be replaced by ‘aesthetics’ or ‘techne’, while ‘living’ can be replaced by ‘existence’, in ways I do not think make much difference to the current discussion. There is also a relation with the discussions of the government of the self and the use of pleasure.  I am not getting into references and precise context, but outlining the general field.

The most obvious opposition to ‘style of living’ is the emergence of ‘subjectivty’ in the sense of some deep subject behind speech and action. Foucault’s understanding of this refers in large part to the development of the confessional in Christianity, with the standard Catholic confession in private to a priest taken as the end point. There is a suggestion in this historical discussion of a historical preparation for the development of assumptions about the sıbject that come to inform Descartes, and what follows Descartes with regard to consciousness and subjectivity.

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Forgotten Republics of Political Theory. Me at the group blog New APPS

‘Forgotten Republics of Political Theory’ in NewAPPS

The emergence of republicanism as a major stream in political theory and philosophy, as well as history of political ideas, since I suppose the 1980s, but since the late nineties for political philosophy in the normative Rawlsian style, is a highly welcome phenomenon from my point of view. That does not mean I have no criticisms. For example, it seems to me that much of it has gone a bit far in the direction of equating the active liberty of the citizen in republics of the past with a very equality oriented sense of distributive justice. Despite the historical consciousness that republicanism has helped to bring more into theoretical discussions, some areas of historically oriented relevant discussion have not been dealt with adequately so far. This particularly applies to Foucault, and his discussions of antiquity, which is a strange omission in that Quentin Skinner claims to have taken inspiration from Foucault, at least in questions of method.

However, in the present post, I will focus on another issue, which is the narrow range of republics considered. The standard range is ancient Athens (sometimes compared with Sparta), Ancient Rome, Renaissance Florence (maybe compared with Venice), England in the era of the Civil Wars and the Commonwealth,  the political awakening of the British colonies in America, incorporating the foundation of the United States, and finally the French Revolution though that tends to be given less attention than the Anglo-American revolutions. Interest in Spinoza’s political theory has not in my experience led to much consideration of the Dutch Revolt and the Dutch Republic, though the republican impulse has probably led to a bit more attention being paid than would otherwise be the case

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Ethics and the Novel: Nietzsche’s Twist

My latest post at the group blog New APPS


The slow emergence of the novel as a major literary genre is an ethical event. The novel as a form of literary writing goes back to Greek antiquity, and one novel from antiquity is still widely read,  The Metamorphoses of Apulieus (or The Golden Ass by Apulieus). One of the great writers on the form of the novel, Mikhail Bakhtin, even claimed it went back to the Menippean Satire of antiquity. This is probably  not one of his most shared ideas. In any case, the idea of a unique moment of origin is not a good basis. There are a series of beginning, which include antique epics, behind the novel as it developed from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, when it did become accepted as a literary genre on a level with epic, drama, and lyric poetry.

The modern origin is again ambiguous. Rabelais provides a strong candidate, with major attention coming from Eric Auerbach as well as Bakthin, but Don Quixote is the more widespread object of discussion. Nietzsche refers to it (Genealogy, II.6) as with regard to a change in ideas of humour, so explicitly ethical ideas about where we can find humour. The original readers of Cervantes could laugh without restraint at the suffering of Quixote, and the suffering caused by the ‘ingenious hidalgo’, but Nietzsche suggests that by his time, readers feel unease and even pain themselves at the suffering and humiliation.


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Kierkegaard, Irony, Narrative, and the Ethics of Literature

My latest post at the group blog NewAPPS

This is in part a followup to a post from two weeks ago on irony. Irony is the object of Kierkegaard’s first major work, The Concept of Irony, and then disappears from view as a direct object of discussion in Kierkegaard’s writings. That is not to say that irony disappears from Kierkegaard, but the criticisms of Romantic Irony in The Concept of Irony give an indication of why Kierkegaard did not want to take irony as a maor theme, which is that the Romantic understanding (referring to the Jena Romantics in the last few years of the 18th century)

of irony leads towards a self-destructive subjectivity. The irony cannot be understood as just belonging in literary texts, including Socratic dialogues, but must be thought of as the way in which the subject communicates itself. As a matter of the history of ideas, this is to some degree a reference to the way that the Romantic Ironists were drawing on Fichte’s ideas of subjectivity in the first two editions of the Wissenschaftslehre (often, but misleadingly, known in English as The Science of Knowledge).

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