The climate of interpretation

Carl Schmitt frequently denied being a theologian at all (Schmitt 1950: 89; 1970: 30). Being a lay theologian entailed risks he preferred to avoid (1970: 101 n. 1; Wacker 1994a: 286-92). Scholarship took him at his word, reading him primarily as a legal scholar and a political theorist. Even now much of the attention devoted to him comes from a secularist left uninterested in his religious commitments (McCormick 1997; Balakrishnan 2000).

The religious dimension of Schmitt's work did not attract attention until after his death in 1985. First, Schmitt's Glossarium, a postwar diary of notes and reflections, appeared in 1991. It contained abundant evidence that he thought of himself explicitly as a Catholic. In an entry for May 23, 1948, he wrote, "For me the Catholic faith is the religion of my fathers. I am Catholic not only by confession but also by historical origin, if I may say so, by race" (Lauermann 1994: 300 n. 16). And a month later: "This is the secret keyword to my entire mental and authorial life: the struggle for the authentically Catholic sharpening . . ." (Wacker 1994b: 7). Second, German Catholic scholarship began to reconsider Carl Schmitt, after trying for 40 years to forget he ever existed. In 1993 the Catholic Academy of Rhabanus Maurus sponsored a symposium on his Catholic identity and his place in German Catholicism past and present (Wacker 1994a: 280-92; 1994b; Lönne 1994; Nichtweiß 1992: 722-830; Dahlheimer 1998). Third, Heinrich Meier's studies of Schmitt and Leo Strauss (Meier 1991, 1995, 1998) argued that political theology was fundamental in Schmitt's thinking (Meier 1998: 27). Meier's reading proposed a deeply religious Schmitt, driven by his Christian faith to wage lifelong war against secular reason, unbelief, and nihilism. Another who took the religious foundations of Schmitt's work seriously was Jacob Taubes, though he approached Schmitt from a left-wing Jewish viewpoint different from Meier's Straussianism. For Taubes, whose interest in political theology was inspired by Schmitt, the Hobbesian decisionist the world knew was really "an apocalypticist of the Counter-Revolution" (Taubes 1987: 16).

The main sources for Schmitt's political theology are a series of short treatises written over half a century, in his trademark polemical and aphoristic style. (Also important, especially for those like Meier who work from the concept of a Schmittian "arcanum," are the two volumes of notes and reflections from the years immediately after World War II, Ex Captivitate Salus and the above-mentioned Glossarium.) Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (1922; 2nd edn. 1934) and Roman Catholicism and Political Form (1923; 2nd edn. 1925) make a complementary set. The first discloses the roots of sovereignty as a secularized theological concept and develops Schmitt's decisionist theory of law: "Sovereign is he who decides on the exception" (Schmitt 1985: 5) The second presents the Roman Catholic Church as a Machtform, a bulwark of authority in an unsteady social world. The Concept of the Political (1927; 2nd edn. 1932; 3rd edn. 1933), perhaps Schmitt's most influential work, defines the political by the friend-enemy distinction. The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes (1938) is Schmitt's fullest assessment of a political thinker whom he regarded as teacher and intimate friend; it uses Hobbes as a yardstick by which to evaluate the modern deterioration of the state. Politische Theologie II: Die Legende von der Erledigung jeder Politischen Theologie (1970), Schmitt's last book, is a hostile response to his late friend Erik Peterson's 1935 monograph Monotheismus als politisches Problem. Peterson had ended his book with the sweeping assertion that Nicene trinitarianism and Augustinian escha-tology had made a fundamental break with every political theology "which misuses the Christian proclamation for the justification of a political situation" (Peterson 1951: 104-5) a thesis Schmitt believed was directly squarely at him.

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