Tuesday, February 28, 2006

On Centers and the missing Middle

Karl Lowith is an absolute joy. An incisive and rigorous intellect blissfully able to express itself in terse prose! He forces one to re-think. I’ll be presenting you with some of his analyses of Carl Schmitt in bits and pieces in the coming weeks. From a short essay, The Occasional Decisionism of Carl Schmitt:

"For Schmitt’s own concept of the singular essence of the political is characterized generally by the fact that it is first of all a polemical counter-concept to the romantic concept and in addition it is secularized concept derived from the theological one.

His opponent is the liberal state of the nineteenth century, whose apolitical character Schmitt understands within the context of a general tendency of the modern age toward the depoliticization of the state….Schmitt characterizes this tendency toward depoliticization as one toward neutralization as well.

Since the emancipation of the Third Estate and the formation of civil democracy and its refinement into industrial mass democracy, this neutralization of distinction which are measure-giving for politics, together with the postponement of decisions regarding these distinctions, has developed to the decisive point where it is now changing into its opposite: into a total politicization of all areas of life, even those which would appear to be the most neutral.

Thus there emerged in Marxist Russia a worker-state “which is more intensively civil[staatlich] than any state of the absolute monarchs ever was”; in Fascist Italy there emerged a corporate state which standardized not just national labor but the dopolavoro and all of spiritual life as well; and in National Socialist Germany there emerged a thoroughly organized state whose politicization extends, by means of racial laws and the like, into those areas of life which had previously been private.

But Schmitt sees the negative presupposition of this politicization in the “spiritual Nothing” that prevailed at the end of the age of neutralization…Schmitt does not believe that this new centralization of politics signifies that politics is now coming forth as the central domain and is becoming the “substance’ of the state, in place of those “spiritual spheres” in which the Europeans of the past four hundred years found “the center of their human experience [Dasein]”

Of course, [Schmitt believes that] in the course of the past four centuries the spiritual center of human existence has changed four times, from theology to metaphysics and from humanistic morality to economy and [that] the meanings of all specific concepts have shifted accordingly….But the political itself is by no means a special substantive domain, and hence it never has the prospect of being the central domain. Still Schmitt never says which specific substantive domain is foundational today, for our time.

….the central domain of life fundamentally can not be neutral; it does not become clear from which domain the total state of the twentieth century draws its spiritual power and reality….

Of course on one occasion, Schmitt distinguishes the “intellectual music of a political program” from the “irrationality” of political myth which, in the context of a “real war,” emerges out of “political activity.” But apart from the fact that it remains romantic and unclear what this “real,” true, and genuine war consists in, The Concept of the Political also provides no indication of the kind of new myth which could serve as the spiritual foundation of modern, political activity.

… Schmitt ascribes a special role to romanticism. For it is in romanticism that the problematic transition from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century takes place…. “In reality the romanticism of the nineteenth century signifies…nothing more than an intermediate, aesthetic stage between the moralism of the eighteenth and the economism of the nineteenth century, i.e., it was simply the transition by means of which all spiritual domains became aestheticized, indeed quite easily and successfully.

Carl Schmitt has an unmistakable affinity for this romanticism and its adroit political representative Adam Müller, the creator of the theory of the total state….

On Schmitt’s analysis, what is characteristic of the romantic in general is that for him anything can become the center of spiritual life, because his own existence has no middle. What is always central for the true romantic is simply his ego, which is clever and ironic but which is fundamentally unstable. “In the liberal, bourgeois world, the individuated, isolated, and emancipated individual becomes the final court of appeal, the absolute.”

But because it lacks a substantial world, this absoluteness of one’s own is an absolute Nothing. From this most extreme isolation and privatization of human existence, it is but a step to its very opposite, namely an extreme, public kind of commitment, for instance to the community of Catholic Church or to national politics, which itself then becomes a form of religious involvement.

But as long as the romantic is a romantic, the world becomes for him a mere occasion, a mere opportunity or occasio, in romantic terms a “vehicle,” “incentive[Inzitament],” and “elastic point,” for the productive activity of his ironic, scheming ego.

This romantic concept of occasio negates—as does Schmitt’s concept of decision!—“every commitment to a norm.”

Political romanticism is merely pseudopolitical, because it lacks moral seriousness and political energy….With this conception of romanticism Schmitt is now ultimately characterizing himself as well, since his own decisionism is an occasional [okkasionell] one."

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