on Carl Schmitt. Old Socialist comments

Mr. Rachman’s choice of Jan-Werner Müller as not just a representative, but advocate, for a nostalgia that has at its center, a return of a ‘Liberalism’ of the kind that takes as its exemplars : ‘Isaiah Berlin, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Karl Popper, and Raymond Aron’ is misbegotten.
See Mr. Müller’s essay titled ‘What Cold War Liberalism Can Teach Us Today’ at The New York Review of Books of November 26, 2018:  Some revelatory quotations and commentary:

But if liberal democracy itself is under threat of collapse because of this weakened center, why are the great defenders of the “open society” such as Isaiah Berlin, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Karl Popper, and Raymond Aron so little invoked?

Mr. Berlin demonstrated what kind of ‘Liberal’ he was. Read Isaac and Isaiah: The Covert Punishment of a Cold War Heretic by David Caute! *Read Tariq Ali’s enlightening  review of Mr. Caute book here:

That ‘weakened Center’ is now constituted by the New Democrats and the Neo-Conservatives, in sum , The Party Of War and or The Party of Empire.

But what Schlesinger outlined in an influential 1949 book called The Vital Center was not a matter of mere pragmatism, let alone triangulation between extreme left and right. These thinkers sought to craft a principled politics of freedom for the circumstances of the twentieth century.

What Schlesinger advocated with his ‘Vital Center’ was a politics that viewed anyone outside that center, meaning the Left, excluding the Cold War Liberals, were not welcome to participate in America’s electoral process, in sum, that ‘Vital Center’ was  McCartyite. Its institutional expression was the Americans for Democratic Action.

This was very different from the tendency of today’s disoriented centrists to preemptively enact the agenda of populists—…

There are no ‘disoriented centrists’ just the alliance between the bellicose Mrs. Clinton and her Neo-Con cadre, led by Wm. Kristol,Robert Kagan and Jeffrey Goldberg.

Rather than looking forward to a perfected future, right-wing populists in particular conjure up a fantasized past of a homogeneous, pure volk. In fact, they tend to reduce all political questions to questions of belonging: they insinuate that those citizens who do not share their conception of the people do not properly belong to the people at all; if citizens criticize populists, they are quickly condemned as traitors.

This reader recognizes the above technique from the 2008 Republican Campaign, that portrayed Obama as ‘not one of us’!

Please read the rest of Mr. Müller’s essay, his bad judgement is on full display.

To the question of Carl Schmitt, read this enlightening essay by Mark Lilla, from May 17, 1997 issue of The New York Review of Books, in which he reviews eleven books by or about Schmitt titled ‘The Enemy of Liberalism’ .

See also ‘The Enemy: An Intellectual Portrait of Carl Schmitt’ by Gopal Balakrishnan published in 2000 by Verso:

One of the books reviewed by Mr. Lilla Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss:The Hidden Dialogue:

The reader has to wonder that Mr. Schmitt and his writing exists, as a revelation to the ‘Chief foreign affairs commentator’ of the prestigious Financial Times!

The resurgence of interest in Schmitt is testimony to a global backlash against liberalism. As the Princeton political theorist Jan-Werner Müller puts it, Schmitt was “the [20th]century’s most brilliant enemy of liberalism”.

My encounter with Schmitt’s books and ideas began with the Lilla essay, that I have linked to. That led me eventually to Balakrishnan’s ‘Intellectual Portrait’ and to Heinrich Meier’s book, on the relation between Strauss and Schmitt.

Another puzzling revelation in the Balakrishnan book, is that on page 292 note 15 – Schmitt wrote a letter of recommendation for Leo Strauss, to the Rockefeller Foundation, that enabled Strauss to travel to Britain, to do research on his Hobbes book in or very near 1932. Did Schmitt save the life of Strauss? This might just put Mr. Rachman’s penultimate paragraph in a some what different light?

Perhaps more surprisingly, the study of Schmitt has also entered the academic mainstream. As Professor Müller puts it: “In many ways his thought has been normalised.” In 2017, Oxford University Press published The Oxford Handbook of Carl Schmitt. The blurb notes: “Despite Schmitt’s rabid anti-Semitism . . . the appeal of his trenchant critiques of . . . representative democracy and international law . . . is undiminished.”

Old Socialist

*Note that Mr. Ali provides a link to Christopher Hitches’ essay about Berlin at The London Review of Books. Not to be missed!







About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.'
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