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  • Lessons from the Grand InquisitorCarl Schmitt and the Providential Enemy1
  • Alexander D. Barder (bio)
Kam Shapiro. Carl Schmitt and the Intensification of Politics. Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2008. Pp. 131. $60.00. ISBN: 978-0-742-53341-7
Carl Schmitt. Constitutional Theory. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 2008. Pp. 488. $29.95. ISBN: 978-0-822-34070-6

[W]e must recognize that, according to [the theologico-political] schema, any move towards immanence is also a move towards transcendence; that any attempt to explain the contours of social relations implies an internalization of unity; that any attempt to define objective, impersonal entities implies a personification of those entities. The workings of the mechanisms of incarnation ensure the imbrication of religion and politics even in areas where we thought we were dealing simply with purely religious or purely profane practices of representations.2

[Lessing's] parable is no longer an intra-Christian affair; it rather neutralizes the whole of Christianity by making it into one universal belief in God, that is, one theistic religion among the two other theistic revealed religions of Judaism and Islam. The claim "that Jesus is the Christ" becomes exchangeable; it can now be read, for example, as "Allah is great."3

In the latter of these quotations, Carl Schmitt refers to Lessing's famous parable of the ring in Nathan the Wise (1779). A dying father possesses a ring of inestimable worth that renders its owner beloved in the eyes of God. He has, however, promised the ring to each of his three sons and decides to have two more indistinguishable copies from the original made in order to fulfill his promise. The brothers naturally quarrel over who has the true ring only to be counseled by a wise judge that true fidelity to God is to act as if one possessed the true ring. Lessing's parable of the ring occurs when Saladin asks Nathan what is, among the three monotheistic religions, the true one in the eyes of God. For Lessing, the answer to such a theological question is no longer central to human life: the truth of any revealed religion is displaced by the act itself, thus rendering different faiths 'exchangeable' as Schmitt argues in the above quote. Lessing reflects the Enlightenment's great hope of neutralizing the force of religious faith (through its privatization into the self) and relying instead on the universality of man's reason for the constitution of political community.

Needless to say, Schmitt was highly critical of what he saw as the severing of the theologico-political into two distinct concepts. Early on, Schmitt argues that the neutralization of religious conceptions of truth is predicated on a conception of technology as the ultimate neutral ground. Technology permits the bracketing of incommensurable doctrines by instead relying on the mastery of nature as the basis for rational discussion and consensus between individuals over such technical matters. The adjudication of doctrines of faith becomes conceivable, giving ground to the ideas of the neutral state and the public sphere which thrives on the contestation of opinion. The affirmation of the technological, for Schmitt, pathologically mimicked the theological, relying on a persistent abstraction leading to a form of "cultural death."4 What he calls the "spirit of technicity…is still [nevertheless] spirit" but one that should be viewed as "an evil and demonic spirit…fantastic and satanic."5 Inherently boundlessness, it cannot accept any limitation in its aim at conquering human nature and the natural world. This spirit of technicity represents a false image of "the order of human things"; it rests upon an antithesis between the organic and the mechanistic, between life and death, such that every resulting friend-enemy distinction (the essence of the political for Schmitt) dehumanizes the enemy.6

Schmitt's early work (reaching from the early 1920s to his overt embrace of National Socialism in 1933), critiques this technological emphasis and its implications for jurisprudence, the state, and sovereignty. While his various polemical writings throughout this period reflect an underlying anxiety with the very project of modernity as a whole he never fully displays the nostalgic attachment to a bygone era characteristic of many...

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