The End of the Constitution of the Earth. A review of Samuel Zeitlin’s edition of Tyranny of Values & Other Texts (Telos 2018), by Carl Schmitt. By Gerardo Muñoz.

Samuel Zeitlin’s edition of Tyranny of Values and Other Texts (Telos Press, 2018) fills an important gap in the English publication of Carl Schmitt’s work, in particular, as it relates to his lesser known essays written during the interwar period. This edition is still meant as an introduction to Schmitt’s political thought and it does not pretend to exhaust all the topics that preoccupied the Catholic jurist, such as the geopolitical transformations of the European legal order, the rise of economicism at a planetary scale, or the ruminations over the early modern theories of sovereignty and its defenders. Indeed, these essays sheds light on the complexity of a thinker as he was coming to terms with the weakening of the ius publicum europeum as the framework of European legality and legitimacy, and of which Schmitt understood himself to be the last concrete representative, as he repeatedly claims in Ex captivate salus.

As David Pan correctly observes in the Preface, the Schmitt that we encounter here is one that is confronting the transformations of political enmity in light of a gloomy and dangerous takeover of a global civil war. In fact, one could most definitely argue that the Schmitt thinking within the Cold War epochality is one that is painstakingly searching for a “Katechon”, that restraining force inherited from Christian theology in order to give form to the ruination of modern legal and political order. The global civil war, cloaked under a sense of acknowledged Humanism, now aimed at the destruction of the enemy social’s order and form of life. This thematizes the existential dilemma of a jurist who was consciousness of the dark shadow floating over the efficacy of Western jurisprudence. In other words, the post-war Schmitt is one marked by a profound hamletian condition in the face of the technical neutralization of every effective political theology. This condition puts Schmitt on the defensive, rather than on the offensive, as his later replies to Erik Peterson, Hans Blumenberg, or Jacob Taubes render visible.

The essays in the collection can be divided in three different categories: those on particular political thinkers, some that reflect on political enmity and the concept of war, and two major pieces that deal directly with the crisis of nihilism in the wake of the Cold War (those two essays are “The Tyranny of Values” and “The Order of the World after the Second World War”). Zeitlin includes an early essay on Machiavelli (1927), a brief piece on Hobbes’ three hundred years anniversary (1951), a reflection on his own book Hamlet and Hecuba (1957), and a succinct note on J.J. Rousseau (1962). These are all not necessarily celebratory of each of these figures. Indeed, while in the piece on Hobbes Schmitt celebrates the author of Leviathan as a true political analyst of the English Civil War against Lockean contractualism; the piece on Machiavelli is a clear exposition of his loathe for the Florentine statesman. In fact, to the contemporary student of intellectual history these words might sound unjust: “[Machiavelli] was neither a great statesman nor a great theorist” (Schmitt 46). If politics is understood as the art of reserving an arcanum, as mystery of power against all forces of moral relativism and technical procedures, then, machiavellism’s endgame amounts to a mystified anti-machiavellinism that favors individual pathos over political decisionism. Machiavelli might have said “too much” about politics; and for Schmitt, this excess, points to the flawed human anthropology at the heart of his incapacity for thinking political unity (Schmitt 50).

If juxtaposed with the essay on Hobbes, it becomes clear that Schmitt’s anxiety against Machiavelli is also the result of the impossibility of extracting a Christian philosophy of history, which only the Leviathan was able to guarantee in the wake of a post-confessional world. Whereas Hobbes provided a political theology based on auctoritas, non veritas, facit legem, Machiavellism stood for an impolitical structure devoid of a concrete political kernel. In such light, the essay on Rousseau is astonishingly curious. For one thing, Schmitt paints a portrait of Rousseau that does not adequately fits the contours of a political theologian of Jacobinism. On the reverse side of this, Schmitt also avoids making the case for The Social Contract as a precursor of totalitarianism. Rather, following Julien Freund, Schmitt polishes a Rousseau that stands for limited freedom and equality; a sort of intra-katechon within Liberalism, and in this sense a mirror image of every potential Hegelianism for the unfolding of world history (Schmitt 173). Finally, the piece “What Have I done?”, a response to a critic of his Hamlet and Hecuba, is aimed not so much at the making of a “political Shakespeare”, but rather at shaking up both the “monopoly of dialectical materialist history of art” as well as the “well-rehearsed division of labor” of the university” (Schmitt 139-41). This is critique has not lost any of its relevance in our present.

Whereas the pieces on political thinkers is an exercise in reactroactive gazing on the tradition, the essays on political enmity and war are direct confrontations on the erosion of the European ius publicum europeum in the wake of the Cold War, dominated by the rise of international political entities (NATO, UN), and anticolonial movements of a new global order. It is in this context that Schmitt’s interest in the figure of the partisan begins to take shape as a way to come to terms with the new forms of mobility, irregularity, and changes in its territorial placement of the enemy. In “Dialogue on the Partisan”, Schmitt revises some of his major claims in Theory of the Partisan, while reminding that “the great error of the pacifists…was to claim that one need simply abolish warfare, then there would be peace” (Schmitt 182).The destitution of the ius publicum europeum, that oriented war making vis-a-vis the recognition of political enmity has, in fact, opened up for a de-contained partisanship in which the destiny of populations now was at the center. This new stage of political conflict intensifies the nihilism where potentially anyone is an enemy to be destroyed (Schmitt 194).

As Schmitt claims in the short piece “On the TV-Democracy”, the question becomes who will hold political power and to what extent, as techno-economical machination becomes the force that directly expresses the Goethean myth of nemo eontra deum nisi dens ipse. With the only difference that the mythic in the essence of technology has no political force, but mere force of mobilization of abstract identities and what Heidegger called “standing reserve”. In this new epoch, the human ceases to have a place on earth, not merely because his political persona cannot be defined, but rather because he can no longer identify himself as human (Schmitt 205). Schmitt’s sibylline maxim from poet Theodor Daubler, “The enemy is our question as Gestalt”, thus loses its capacity for orientation. Already in the 1940s, Schmitt is contemplating a crisis that he does not entirely resolve.

This is one way in which the important essay “The Forming of the French Spirit via the Legists”, from 1941, must be understood. This text on the one hand it is a remarkable sketch of French jurisprudence, grounded on “mesura”, “order”, “rationalism”, and sovereignty. It is no doubt an essay directed against royalist French intellectuals (Henri Massis and Charles Maurras are implicitly alluded to); but also at the concept of state sovereignty. Indeed, the most productive way to read this essay is next to The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes (1938) written a couple of years prior. The impossibility of crafting a theory of the political in the wake of the exhaustion of the sovereign state form will eminently leave the doors wide open for a global civil war, as he argues in the post-war essay “Amnesty or the Force of Forgetting”. Schmitt’s defense of the a formation of the Reich in the 1940s will be translated in his general theory of a ‘new nomos of the earth’ immediately after the war.

The two most important pieces included in The Tyranny of Values and Other Texts (2018) are “The Tyranny of Values” (1960), and “The Order of the World after the Second World War”. The “actuality” of Schmitt’s political thought has a felicitous grounds on these essays, although by no account should we claim that they adjust themselves to the intensification of nihilism in our current moment. There is much to be said about the weight that Schmitt puts on the “economic question”, a certain pull that comes from the emphasis of the much debated question then concerning “development-underdevelopment”, which does not really capture the metastasis of value in the global form of the general principle of equivalence today. Schmitt also deserves credit in having captured in “The Tyranny of Values”, the ascent of the supremacy of “value” in relation to the philosophies of life (Schmitt 12). Schmitt quotes Heidegger’s analysis, for whom “value and the valuable become the positivistic ersatz for the metaphysical” (Schmitt 29), which we can have only intensified in the twenty-first century. Perhaps with the only difference that “value” is no longer articulated explicitly. But who can deny that identitarian discourse is a mere transposition of the tyranny of values? Who can negate that the cost-benefit analysis, “silent revolution of our times” as one of the most important constitutionalists has called it, now stands as the hegemonic form of contemporary technical rationality? [2].

At one point in the “Tyranny” essay, while commenting on Scheler’s philosophy, Schmitt says something that it has clearly not lost any of its legibility in our times: “Max Scheler, the great master of objective value theory has: the negation of a negation value is a positive value. That is mathematically clear, as a negative times a negative yields a positive. One can see from this that the binding of the thinking of value to its old value-free opposition is not so lightly to be dissolved. This sentence of Max Scheler’s allows evil to be requited with evil and in this way, to transform our earth into a hell, the hell however to be transform into a paradise of values” (Schmitt 38). It is a remarkable conclusion, and one in which the “mystery of evil” (the Pauline mysterium iniquitatis) becomes the primary function of the art of government in our times. It is here where we most clearly see the essence of the techno-political as the last reserve of legal liberalism. Schmitt would have been surprised (or perhaps not) to see that the disappearance of the rhetoric of values also coincides with a new regulation of disorder, whether it takes the name of “security”, “cost and benefits”, or “identity and diversification”. Indeed, now politics even has its own place in the consummation of the race for the “highest values”, since anything can be masked a “political” at the request of the latest demand.

In his 1962 conference “The Order of the World after the Second World War”, delivered in Madrid by invitation of his friend Manuel Fraga, Schmitt still is convinced that he can see through the interregnum. Let me quote him one last time: “I used the word nomos as a characteristic denomination for the concrete division and distribution of the earth. If you now ask me, in this sense of the term nomos, what is, today, the nomos of the earth, I can answer clearly : it is the division of the earth into industrially developed regions or less developed regions, joined with the immediate question of who accepts development f aidrom whom…This distribution is today the true constitution of the earth” (Schmitt 163). It is a sweeping claim, one that seeks to illuminate a specific opaque moment in history.

But I am not convinced that we can say the same thing today. Here I am in agreement with Galli and Williams, who have noted that the disappearance of a Zentralgebiet no longer solicits the force of the Katechon [3]. And it is the Katechon that guarantees an effective philosophy of history for the Christian eon. The Katechon provides for a juridical sense of order against a mere transposition of the theological. Indeed, it is never a matter of theological reduction, which is why Schmitt had to evoke Gentilis’ outcry: Silenti theologi, in munere alieno!  I guess the question really amounts to the following: can a constitution of the earth, even if holding potestas spiritualis, regulate the triumph of anomia and the unlimited? Do the bureaucrat and the technician have the last world over the legitimacy of the world? Here the gaze of the jurist turns blank and emits no answer. One only wonders where Schmitt would have looked for new strengths in seeking the revival of a constitution of the earth; or if this entails, once and for all, the closure of the political as we know it.

 

 

Notes

  1. Carl Schmitt. The Tyranny of Values and Other Texts, Translated by Samuel Garrett Zeitlit. New York: Telos Publishing Press, 2018.
  2. Cass Sunstein. The Cost Benefit Revolution. Massachusetts: MIT Press 2018.
  3. See Carlo Galli, “Schmitt and the Global Era”, in Janus’s Gaze: Essays on Carl Schmitt. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015, p.129. Also, Gareth Williams, “Decontainment: The Collapse of the Katechon and the End of Hegemony”, in The Anomie of the Earth (Duke University Press 2015), p.159-173.

An explanation for ‘deconstructing the administrative state’. By Gerardo Muñoz.

A few weeks ago at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference), when Steve Bannon, Donald J. Trump’s White House chief strategist, laid out the principle of “the deconstruction of the administrative state” as one of the immediate objectives of the Trump administration, there followed a storm of commentaries. For academics in the humanities, it was a perfect setting to mock ‘deconstruction’, and assert the un-political character of this so called “theoretical trend” in the academia, easily linking Derrida with Bannon’s strategic plan.

Just to cite one of many examples, French writer Alain Mabanckou twitted: “Steve Bannon, le mentor de Trump parle de “deconstruction” du povuir de Washington. Deconstrution? Srait-il un lecteur de Derrida?”. Many more followed on social media and in academic groups. These witty remarks were, of course, written under the sign of irony, which is certainly a central stimmung of our time. But irony is also one of the most serious genres to discuss a serious affair, of which I would like to briefly contemplate. Of course, my intention is not to defend Derrida, or even worse, to prove that Bannon has not read Derrida. I am sure that Bannon has not read Derrida, and even if he has heard of him, or someone told him a few things about deconstruction as a critical strategy of contemporary thought, this is irrelevant.

Bannon’s usage of deconstruction of the administrative state is correct, although in another sense. For one thing, deconstructing the administrate state is a technical term used in sociology and political science analysis as it relates to the fiscal state. In his new book Democracy against Domination (2017), Sebeel Rahman discusses the deconstructive force of computative fiscal logic over institutional structures and governmental regulatory bureaucracy [1]. In a good portion of the literature, whenever the notion of deconstruction of the administrative state is used, it refers directly to the dismantling of the fiscal regulatory apparatus (see Norris 2000). Whereas it might, at first sight, seem that Bannon is misinformed or just downright clownish, he is deeply versed in the specific discipline that he wants to target; mainly, political science of the welfare state as it has been discussed from the New Deal onwards.

One could press this point even further: the idea that Bannon wants to ‘deconstruct the administrative state’ does not merely amount to ‘more neoliberalism’ as cultural critics seem to reduce the problem. This is part of the truth, but not the whole truth. The attempt to attack the administrative state entails a serious assault on the rule of law, since as the most intelligent constitutionalists have recently noted, the administrative state is today the legal structure that has supplanted legitimacy over the deficit of presidentialism of the executive branch. Adrian Vermuele (2016) makes it clear that the administrative state is the law’s greatest triumph after the weakening of the separation of powers. This ultimately entails, that perhaps Bannon is well aware that it is not enough to destroy a democratic society from the standpoint of a sovereign executive, since it must be done from the very place where the rule of law resides, and this is where the administrative state plays a fundamental role. Bannon’s deconstructive gesture goes to the heart of the rule of law, which we have already started seeing as a check mechanism to Trump’s rampant executive unilateralism. Hence, the rumor that says that Bannon is a Leninst should be taken very seriously: Leninism seeks the destruction of the state and rule of law in order to create a dictatorship of the proletariat, which is Bannon’s civilizational response to globalization [2]. Bannon is a full-fleshed anti-institutionalist who admires not only Lenin, but also the decade of the thirties that he has called “exciting”.

At this point, it is perhaps almost unnecessary to say that Derrida’s deconstruction has little do with Bannon’s loaded attack on institutions of the welfare state. However, what is important is to note that Bannon’s articulation of deconstruction is inequivalent to Derrida, and a comparison becomes only possible if one subscribes to a transparent conceptual reservoir of the linguistic turn in order to abuse it. Thus, whenever a linguistic component is emphasized as hyperbolic of intellectual thought, the latter is suspended to favor an easy advantage in tandem with anti-politics.

Derrida emphasized that deconstruction was a condition of democracy, and that democracy could not take place without deconstruction. Democracy is really not a political concept in Derrida’s thought. It is not reducible to a tradition of “intellectual history”, and not even to the primal causation of life as predicated in the political. Such was, for Derrida, the exemplary nature of Mandela [3]. But to the extent that it solicits unconditional hospitality, it alters the alterity of the singular that is never reducible to political finality. This coming of friendship or non-enmity is another way of thinking through an infrapolitical existence. It is this demotic existence beyond the political what Bannon wants to destroy and obstruct in a move that is both fully ultra-political and non-political.

Notes

  1. K. Sebeel Rahman. Democracy against Domination. Manhattan: Oxford University Press, 2016.
  2. “Steve Bannon, Trump’s top guy, told me he was ‘A Leninst’ who wants to ‘destroy the State’. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/08/22/steve-bannon-trump-s-top-guy-told-me-he-was-a-leninist.html
  3. Jacques Derrida. The Politics of Friendship. London: Verso, 2005. P.102-106. “Admiration of Nelson Mandela, or The Laws of Reflection”, Law & Literature, Vol.26, 2014.