Carl Schmitt: Politics and Conflict
“The specific distinction to which political motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy.” With this claim, Carl Schmitt outlined one of the most incisive understandings of political thought in modern times, a theory of politics as something distinct from questions of morality (good or evil) or aesthetics (beauty and ugliness). In recent decades, there has been a resurgence of interest in the work of the Nazi jurist and political theorist. From neoconservative doctrines of the “unitary executive” to strands of leftist thought, Schmitt’s ideas have found new purchase in our contemporary political landscape. On the right—where Schmitt’s influence is most evident in the explosion of his ideas in legal arguments and briefs since the beginning of the “War on Terror”—his ideas erect a legal scaffold for an absolute hierarchical political order in which decisive executive action and order organize a powerful state apparatus. On the left, disparate thinkers like Giorgio Agamben, Chantal Mouffe, Antonio Negri, and many other “Left-Schmittians” are drawn to Schmitt’s clear demarcation of “the political” as the site where an existential enemy is defined against whom violence is possible. But nearly all share a fascination with Schmitt’s unique contribution to modern political theory: drawing on often-neglected strands of Counter-Enlightenment thought and medieval Christian theology, Schmitt articulated one of the most thorough and cogent non-Marxist critiques of the liberal order. How can we understand Schmitt’s conception of politics, sovereignty, and conflict? And, what might Schmitt’s work offer as we think about politics and political action today?
In this class, we will read several of Schmitt’s key works in their entirety, including The Concept of the Political, Political Theology, and The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, as well as key selections from later thinkers influenced by Schmitt, including Agamben, Mouffe, and Negri. We will explore questions such as: what is “the political”? What is sovereignty? What is enmity and what is war? Why do we have a state? What are the boundaries between politics and reason? Students will study key documents in the so-called [Walter] “Benjamin/Schmitt Dossier” and explore Schmitt’s influence on Frankfurt School thinkers like Otto Kirchheimer and Franz Neumann. Finally, we will ask: what, if anything, does Schmitt’s work have to say about our present political condition?
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
April 13 — May 04, 2021
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