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  • A Farewell to Schmitt:Notes on the Work of Carlo Galli
  • Adam Sitze (bio)


Theodor Adorno once defined the task of immanent critique as the reliquification, in repetition, of the "thought movement" congealed in reified philosophic concepts (1973 [1966], 97). A repetition of just this sort is the aim of Carlo Galli's monumental 936-page 1996 book Genealogia della politica: Carl Schmitt e la crisi del pensiero politico moderno (Genealogy of Politics: Carl Schmitt and the Crisis of Modern Political Thought), which has been called, with good reason, "the most complete, comprehensive, and insightful account of Schmitt's thought ever published" (Zarmanian 2006, 41). In this book, as in his writings on Schmitt more generally, Galli argues that Schmitt's accomplishment was to have opened himself to, in order to radicalize, the crises that together constitute the origin of the modern epoch. Schmitt is, on Galli's read, a specifically genealogical critic of modernity: his single-minded focus, according to Galli, was to understand this origin's curiously double-sided energy—the way in which it undermines [End Page 27] the very institutions and practices it simultaneously founds, deforms the same political forms it produces, disorders the very systems of thought to which it gives rise. By fixing his gaze on this origin, Galli explains, Schmitt realized that modern political thought (and consequently too the liberal democratic institutions and practices whose modes of self-justification it grounds and sustains) is divided against itself in a nondialectical manner. At the same time that it emerges from and even implicitly feeds upon a crisis it is incapable of resolving, modern political thought also accounts for this incapacity by suppressing the symptoms of the crisis, compensating for its own incoherence with ever more moralistic reaffirmations of the unquestionable necessity of its own explicit goals. The core problematic of Schmittian thought, Galli will consequently argue, cannot then be reduced to any one of the themes of Schmitt's various texts (the distinction between exception and norm, theology and politics, decision and discussion, friend and enemy, constituting power and constituted power, land and sea, limited and unlimited warfare, play and tragedy, and so on). It is Schmitt's discovery that all modern political forms share a common trait, a birthmark that, in turn, attests to their common origin in crisis: despite the many and various differences between modern political thinkers—indeed as the silent but generative core of those differences—the epochal unity of modern political thought derives from its distinctive doubleness, its simultaneous impossibility and necessity, or, in short, its tragicity (Galli 1986b, 146 n.4; 1996, 10; 2000a, 156 n.7; 2008a, 9, 11).1

Although, as the reader will have gathered, Galli understands Schmitt to be more than merely a Nazi ideologue or polemicist, this does not mean that Galli's reading of Schmitt is somehow therefore an apology for Schmitt designed to defend or redeem his name. Nor, however, does Galli seek to eliminate Schmitt's name from the domain of polite discourse by polemicizing against him as a public enemy of liberal democracy. Nor, finally, is Galli interested in a supposedly neutral, instrumentalist use of Schmitt as a lens for a more precise or adequate diagnosis of contemporary politics. Galli's work on Schmitt is instead a sustained attempt to critique Schmitt's political thought on its own terms, which is to say, with self-conscious reference to the hermeneutic horizon within which Schmitt understood his own writings. It [End Page 28] is the work, as Galli has recently put it, of a "non-Schmittian Schmittologist" (2010, x).

It would be difficult to overstate the systematic character of this work. Written with a tireless analytic rigor that reminded at least one reader of "the august tradition of the great philological monographs of the classics" (Preterossi 1997, 574), Galli's Genealogia engages in a "historico-critical . . . reconstruction of the internal logic of Schmittian argumentation" that accounts for every text in Schmitt's oeuvre, and that has as its aim a claim on the essence and basis of Schmittian thought as such (Galli 1996, xix-xx, xxii). But because (as we shall soon see) it is impossible to read Schmitt...


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