The political is the total

This dictum is a revealing corollary to Schmitt's political theology. In The Concept of the Political he had defined the political as the measure of existential and even violent conflict. To say it was "the total" meant that when existential conflict broke out, no other criterion for decision-making could claim priority. In his 1938 book on Thomas Hobbes, he would call such competing claims "indirect powers." Schmitt took this term from Catholic doctrine as expounded classically by Robert Bellarmine, according to whom the church exercised a potestas indirecta in the sphere of politics, law, and the state, though no longer a direct power as had been the case in the Middle Ages. Schmitt extended its meaning to include any and all social agencies that threatened to destroy the unity of the state: cultural organizations, business corporations, professional associations, and the like (Schmitt 1996b: 71-4). In 1933, to say that the political was the total was to endorse the idea of "the total state." Schmitt himself had popularized the concept of the total state, by which he did not mean precisely what is today thought of as a "totalitarian" state (1996a: 38-9). In The Concept of the Political he had said that the total state was a merely polemical concept for describing what had happened to the "neutral state" of the nineteenth century, itself a successor of the "absolute state" of the eighteenth century. The development of the total state was necessitated by nineteenth-century liberalism's neutralizations. The various domains of "society," now split off as separate spheres, had sought to make a claim on the state and its resources. Schmitt strongly disparaged the expropriation of the state by the forces of "society," whose concerns were made into political matters (1996a: 22). The state was thus forced to align itself with society and to close the gap. The total state could not afford to regard anything as nonpolitical (1996a: 23-5). In Schmitt's eyes such a state was more likely to become too weak rather than too strong, since it risked overextending itself and becoming dissolved by democratic passions. He originally opposed the National Socialists precisely because he feared that they would cannibalize the state, and his Nazi-era writings, such as Staat, Bewegung, Volk ("State, Movement, People") had to turn somersaults to accommodate Nazi populist dynamism. Central to his compromise was the doctrine, enunciated in 1933, that a total state in this weak sense ought to give way to a total state of a strong type, which could exploit modern means of mass communication and enthusiastic mass movements to impose, top-down, the requisite order - in short, fascism.

Regardless of Schmitt's intention, such totalizing language posed obvious dangers, and Catholic critics attacked it head-on (Lonne 1994: 23-33; Dahlheimer 1998: 346-61, 3 71-81). Gustav Gundlach, a prominent Jesuit moral theologian who had a substantial hand in drafting the 1931 papal encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, stood against Schmitt on both political and philosophical grounds. He argued that the experiences of the Weimar period demonstrated the practical wisdom of the parliamentary system for Catholics, whose welfare depended on party discipline and party political action. On natural law grounds he opposed the decisionism and philosophical voluntarism underlying Schmitt's assertion of the total state (Lonne 1994: 32). He showed how natural law argument could be used against political theology at the same time that other Catholic thinkers such as Karl Eschweiler were using natural law arguments to validate it (Dahlheimer 1998: 224-8).

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