Liberal Decisionism – a Carl Schmitt legacy

Wer Interesse hat an einem älteren Text zu Carl Schmitt und dessen ideengeschichtlichem Nachwirken in der Bundesrepublik, der sei auf beiliegende Einführung und den weiterführenden Link verwiesen. Aufgrund einer negativen Begutachtung wurde der Text nie veröffentlicht. Vor einiger Zeit habe ich ihn dann auf der Plattform hochgeladen. So war die Arbeit daran nicht ganz umsonst.

Carl Schmitt continues to haunt German political thought and intellectual life. In that, the name Carl Schmitt represents a number of pre-2nd World War ideas, concepts and programmes which have been met with a mixture of reverence and loathing by post-war intellectuals in Germany. On the one hand, Schmitt’s work and biography have been interpreted as an affirmative approach towards totalitarianism which is the cause of some embarrassment even today. On the other hand, we may identify a rise of political and philosophical reasoning that draws upon the work of Carl Schmitt positively. This rise is very much also an international phenomena with the work of Giorgio Agamben and Chantal Mouffe being indicative of a constructive, if critical, approach towards Schmitt and the way of thinking he came to represent.

This article will concentrate on the shadow which the work of Carl Schmitt still casts upon the intellectual setup in Germany. As research on Schmitt has grown tremendously since the late 1970s and many facets of his life and thinking have been analysed by focusing on Schmitt’s notion of the ‘decision’ and the post-Schmittian development of this concept. For the ‘decision’ has proved to be a stumbling block in post-war intellectual debates about the political make-up of German society. A number of authors have dealt with Schmitt’s concept of the ‘decision’ and both polemic as well as constructive contributions may be identified. Turning one’s attention to the importance of decision-making within a (German) democracy always had to go along with a pronounced distance from the authoritarian ‘decisionism’ – as this trait of thought came to be called – which Schmitt represented. As a result, every kind of decisionism was (and often still is) suspected of being elitist, anti-democratic or outright fascist.

This suspicion also holds true for liberal readings of Carl Schmitt’s decisionism which will be at the core of this article. On the one hand a liberal interpretation of Schmitt stresses that the political decision – both as a concept and as a phenomenon ­– is a crucial element of democratic societies. On the other hand is, however, the rejection of the emphatic decisionism which was fashionable during the 1920s.

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