Las lágrimas de San Pedro, El Greco (1541-1614)

Carl Schmitt: Political Theology

Instructor: Ajay Singh Chaudhary
Goethe-Institut New York
30 Irving Place
New York, NY 10003

In recent decades, there has been a surprising resurgence of interest in the work of the Nazi jurist and political theorist Carl Schmitt. From neoconservative doctrines of the “unitary executive” to many strands of non-Marxist leftist thought, Schmitt’s ideas have found new purchase in our contemporary political landscape. Schmitt was a towering figure in the Weimar period. Next to Martin Heidegger, he stands as perhaps the most important and influential thinker often associated with Nazism.  But whereas Heidegger’s work mystifies many of even his most ardent followers, Schmitt offers up lucid, shockingly original arguments in the form of short, incisive essays. 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 which all politics is enacted, or to Schmitt’s definition of the sovereign – ‘he who decides the exception’ – as marking the very condition which must be overcome. 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 a thorough, cogent, non-Marxist critique of the liberal order.

In this class, we will read several of Schmitt’s key works in their entirety, including The Concept of the PoliticalPolitical Theology, and The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, as well as key selections from later thinkers influenced by Schmitt. We will examine 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 what Giorgio Agamben hyperbolically calls the “Benjamin/Schmitt Dossier” and explore some of the controversial influence of Schmitt on Frankfurt School thinkers like Otto Kirchheimer and Franz Neumann. Finally, we will ask what, if anything, Schmitt’s work can say to the present political condition.

The Goethe-Institut New York is pleased to host Carl Schmitt: Political Theology , a class presented in collaboration with the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research as part of an ongoing partnership.

Course Schedule

Tuesday, 6:30-9:30pm
May 03 — May 24, 2016
4 weeks


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