Schmitts Political Theology and its Catholic Reception

The season of political theology

Today we are an utterly political species. And our quest for "salvation" comes alive in the political dimension.

Paul Althaus in 1933

In 1922 Schmitt was ahead of his time. With Weimar's final crisis, however, "political theology" became the refrain of a broad and ecumenical chorus, reaching an adulatory crescendo in the months after Hitler came to power (Scholder 1988: I, 99-119, 189-209, 414-40). By then Schmitt's sympathies had shifted away from the political Catholicism of the Center Party, in part perhaps because the church rejected his annulment petition for a marriage that ended in divorce in 1924, thereby making his second marriage noncanonical (Nichtweiß 1992: 72 7-8). Schmitt increasingly disagreed with the Center Party's commitment to parliamentary democracy, religious confessionalism, tolerance, and pluralism (Lönne 1994: 34-5). A different outlook from the parliamentarism of the Center Party existed among conservative Catholics who looked back nostalgically to the medieval German empire and advocated a Catholic Reichstheologie as an antidote to liberal democracy. They favored an organic conception of society, organized as estates or professional groupings, which they believed was reflected in National Socialist rhetoric of a national community, totality claims, and the leadership principle, spelling the welcome end of liberalism, individualism, and the Weimar "party-state." Such ideas were popular among discussion groups like the Catholic Academic Association and the aristocratic fellowship Kreuz und Adler ("Cross and Eagle") which met at the Benedictine monastery of Maria Laach, under the benevolent patronage of Abbot Ildefons Herwegen (Böckenförde 1961: 224-51; Nichtweiß 1992: 764-72).

Though he occasionally attended the Maria Laach meetings, Schmitt had scant respect for this Reichstheologie. When he made his shaky peace with the Nazis, he preferred a rationale unencumbered by natural law categories or medieval precedents (Böckenförde 1961: 229 n. 45). He probably stood closer to contemporary Protestant political theologians such as Wilhelm Stapel, with whom he was in close contact, and Emmanuel Hirsch, with whose Kierkegaar-dian decisionism he shared much in common.

In 1934 Schmitt reissued Political Theology. In a new preface he noted with satisfaction that Protestant theologians like Friedrich Gogarten, with whom in 1931 he had contemplated co-editing a journal to be called Der Staat (Lauermann 1994: 300 n. 17), now recognized that a concept of secularization was essential to understand the course of the past several centuries:

To be sure, Protestant theology presents a different, supposedly unpolitical doctrine, conceiving of God as the "wholly other," just as in political liberalism the state and politics are conceived of as "the wholly other." We have come to recognize that the political is the total, and as a result we know that any decision about whether something is unpolitical is always a political decision, irrespective of who decides and what reasons are advanced. This also holds for the question whether a particular theology is a political or an unpolitical theology (Schmitt 1985: 2).

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