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Concept of the Political Hardcover – Sep 1986


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 120 pages
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press (Sep 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813508215
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813508214
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.5 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,259,031 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"The best introduction to Schmitt's thought." - Mark Lilla, New York Review of Books" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Carl Schmitt (1888–1985) was a legal and political theorist and constitutional lawyer. He was the author of many books, including Political Theology, which the University of Chicago Press recently reprinted.

 

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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The French political philosopher Julien Freund has observed that "by a curious paradox the name Schmitt is surrounded by mist, and it may be asked whether this fog is not often manufactured artificially. . . . Read the first page
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A very interesting essay by Schmitt, widely considered to be his most influential work. The language is clearly dated, and the translation is a bit odd in parts (particularly regarding how Schmitt's noted are just incorporated into the text rather than footnoted). However, it is a good book and key to understanding the development of 20th century political thought in general and totalitarianism in particular.
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6 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 18 Jun 1998
Format: Paperback
Schmitt's "Concept of the Political" is one of the most famous as well as notorious books of political theory. The so-called "Crown-Attorney of the Third Reich" (Gurian) develops in this brief Essay the idea, that the Concept of the Political is the differentiation between foe and friend. States should classify people as well as other states as friend or foe, because only this asures homogenity (in innerstate matters) and security (in foreign policies). Allthough this radical alternative has often been misunderstood (Schmitt does not say, that politics always operates in this binary mode), Schmitt is fascinated by the ideology of Mussolini as well as Hitler and the NSdAP. Vice versa, the Nazis showed interests in the international lawyer: His homogenity-desiderate corresponded with their plans to exterminate "Jews". With Schmitts "Concept of the Political" these extermination-ideas were based to a "philosophical background". That led critical scholars to characterize this book as a "political, not philosophical existentialism".
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Amazon.com: 19 reviews
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
The Political as Friend-Enemy Distinction. 22 May 2006
By New Age of Barbarism - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This edition of Carl Schmitt's _Der Begriff des Politischens_ is translated by George Schwab and contains several interesting writings on Schmitt and his thought. In addition to _The Concept of the Political_ proper, this book also contains a "Foreward" by Tracy B. Strong, an "Introduction" by George Schwab, and ends with a series of notes on the book by Leo Strauss. Carl Schmitt was a legal scholar and political theorist during the time of the Third Reich who was raised in the Roman Catholic tradition. While unfortunately Schmitt joined the Nazi party, this should not prevent one from reading his otherwise important works which have much to say about the political and provide trenchant critiques of liberalism. Schmitt can be rightfully considered as one of the conservative revolutionaries, including such figures as Junger, Spengler, and Heidegger, who opposed liberalism in the period before the Second World War. Schmitt's writings were an important influence on Heidegger in particular, but have also seen a resurgence in their importance among the New Right and the Left as well. Schmitt was influenced by such political thinkers as Machiavelli, Hegel, and Hobbes, but also by Catholic counter-revolutionaries such as de Maistre and Donoso Cortes. This book lays out the essential details of his thought.

In _The Concept of the Political_, a book which profoundly criticizes liberalism, Schmitt essentially argues that the political must be understood in terms of the "friend-enemy" distinction. Schmitt explains how the state presupposes the concept of the political. In searching for a definition of the political, Schmitt explains how the state has become an absolute, total state in the twentieth century in contrast to the neutral, noninterventionist state of the nineteenth century. According to Schmitt, the political may be understood in terms of the distinction between friend and enemy, much as morality can be understood in terms of the distinction between good and evil, aesthetics in terms of the distinction between the beautiful and the ugly, economics in terms of the distinction between the profitable and the unprofitable. This distinction between friend-enemy provides the groundwork upon which Schmitt builds his concept of the political. Schmitt distinguishes the idea of the "enemy" from that understood in the private-individualistic sense as the competitor or partner in conflict in general as that of the private adversary. Schmitt offers an interesting interpretation of the dictum of Christ to "love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27) as indicating only the private enemy and not the political enemy. As proof of this, Schmitt offers the fact that Christians have not surrendered to the Muslims throughout the many centuries of conflict between the two groups. Schmitt also argues against pacifism claiming that eventually pacifism will be pushed into a "war against all war", leading ultimately to great destruction. Schmitt considers the case of the League of Nations and the reparations forced upon Germany and argues that rather than serving as a preventive against war the League of Nations has opened up new possibilities for war. Underlying all of this is the notion of the political. In addition, Schmitt contrasts "authoritarian" and "anarchistic" theories, arguing that the central difference between them is the view of human nature as fundamentally evil or good, respectively. Schmitt brings to the fore the thoughts of both Machiavelli and Hobbes on this point. Schmitt also contrasts the political to the economic, arguing against economic liberalism. Schmitt calls attention to the thinking of Fichte and Hegel, whose thought was subverted by Karl Marx. Schmitt also emphasizes the Catholic counter-revolutionaries who represented the forces of reaction such as de Maistre and Donoso Cortes. Schmitt brings out the contrast between the ideas of "freedom" and "progress" and those of "feudalism" and "reaction". Finally, Schmitt argues that a final war waged to expand economic power or a war to rid the world of war, while promoted as non-political or even anti-political will ultimately open up new ground for the friend-enemy distinction to be made yet again.

This book provides an excellent translation of one of Schmitt's most important works. The groundwork for the political understood as the friend-enemy distinction is laid out by Schmitt here. Schmitt's thinking continues to be important to many today, despite his apparent encounter with the dark side and his involvement with the Nazi regime. Schmitt would live the rest of his life in relative obscurity although he would continue to write and teach. While Schmitt disavowed his Nazi past, he also adamantly opposed the denazification procedures inflicted on Germany by the Allies. This book provides an excellent introduction to his political thought.
25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
The paradox of the enemy recognition 11 Mar 2003
By Scott - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The other reviews of this book already give the potential reader a good insight into what they are buying, and so I will comment on a fascinating conceptual tension within the book. Like all political realists (or so Schmitt would claim), Schmitt begins his theorizing from the empirical fact that "man is a dangerous and dynamic being". Schmitt allows that the nature of man may not be evil, but man's nature is inarguably problematic. Schmitt then inquires as to how man's problematic nature reveals itself conceptually. His answer is the enemy recognition. We know man is evil because he is prone to locating in the stranger, the other (that person or group who holds inimical aesthetic, religious, ethical beliefs), a potential source of violent conflict. A tension (there are many in the book!) then materializes when Schmitt speaks of the necessity of the state to make the proper enemy recognition if peace and security are to be maintained. It is of course a perilous folly if the state fails to make the proper enemy recognition (see Hindenburg's 1933 alliance with Hitler, Neville Chamberlain's appeasement, and Stalin's secret pact with Hitler for three failed enemy recognitions before WWII). But how does the state make the proper enemy recognition, and not simply needlessly multiply conflict in order to root out the enemy? Thus, the Soviet archives tell us that Stalin erroneously viewed the West as a threat (particularly a rebuilt Germany) after WWII, and so seized Eastern Europe as a buffer zone. The tension of the enemy recognition is that it is the source of all of our troubles, but yet it must be made when necessary. Sounds like the stuff of which politics is made...
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
One of the best books on political theory ever written 17 Nov 2006
By Ulrich - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Others have described the book quite well, so I simply wanted to add a corrective to Mr. Dermeval's review, which criticized Schmitt's analysis as being crudely bipolar relative to Weber. While I agree that Weber's analysis is superlative, it does not in fact contradict Schmitt's theory at all. Schmitt views "the political" as a particular process that pervades human life to varying degrees, depending upon the particular degree of friend/enemy antagonism that is involved in a given social situation. Obviously, not every judgment that involves some aspect of the political rises to the highest point of friend/enemy antagonism. Battles over health care rights, for example, are inherently less "political" in Schmittian terms than is an outright war. The health care conflict is resolved with more rational and bureaucratic elements -- for example, determining which approach will likely be lowest in total cost. Schmitt's theory takes full account of this varying intensity of the political in social life; in fact it is premised on it.

It is thus a mistake to think that the "friend/enemy" distinction is fully manifested in every judgment made by a state. Many (if not most) such judgments are apolitical decisions made on generally rational grounds, consistent with Weber's description of the state. On Schmitt's theory, such particular rational judgments are not truly (i.e. distinctively) political, even though made by a political entity. Such judgments *become* political to the extent they involve one group seizing advantage over another group, rather than a purely rational technical analysis based on accepted criteria.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The return of the repressed (irrationality) 2 July 2012
By greg taylor - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a great book but one that must be read with the greatest of care. This is so for various reasons. As some of the other reviewers have pointed out, Schmitt's book is full of words whose meaning has changed, e.g., liberalism and democracy. Secondly, Schmitt is a slippery writer. O heck, there are times when he writes deceptively. Thirdly, Schmitt assumes a lot without argument.
Finally, there is the evidence of his own life (he entered the Nazi Party within several months of publishing the 1933 edition of his book and never publicly expressed any regret about his involvement with that regime.) In that sense, we can state that his own life provides a sort of worst-case demonstration as to where his thinking leads.

I want to outline what I think Schmitt is doing in this book. Along the way I will illustrate my points above. I will then offer a few suggestions as to why Schmitt remains an attractive and useful read (the two qualities are distinct).

Schmitt's first theoretical enemy is the use of rationality in the political (more on that usage in a moment). He is opposed to any attempt to transcend the individual state, to work toward a politics that embraces all of humanity.
His concept of the political is an odd one. It comes into being on a sliding scale, a political exemplar of Hegel's dictum that changes in quantity eventually become changes in quality. At some point, a dispute begins to enter the political. It can be a religious, a moral or an economic dispute. But at some point, according to Schmitt, it starts to get existential, it starts to be perceived as an issue about a way of life. At that point, it becomes political and leaves behind the religious, the moral, etc. At it's most extreme, it leads to war and possibly the annihilation of one's way of life.
This idea is just chock full of assumptions asserted by definition. The separation of the political and the other modes of being is a case in point. Consider this quote:
"The distinction of friend and enemy...can exist theoretically and practically, without having simultaneously to draw upon all these moral, aesthetic, economic, or other distinctions" p.27.
This is also a good example of the sneaky writing I mentioned. Notice that fact that all he is saying is that the political can exist without all of them simultaneously. He says nothing about the political being able to exist without some or any of them. The distinction between the political and the other modes of being is not clear cut as he wants to make out.
So the political seems to be nothing more than the intensification of disagreement in other modes of being. Schmitt wants us to believe otherwise but, to my reading, he does not succeed.

Schmitt's other great enemy is individualism. Schmitt believes that a consistent individualism is the negation of the political. This consistency is expressed in the (classical)liberal definition of the state as a minimalist state dedicated to the purpose "of protecting individual freedom and private property" p.70. (The discussion on these pages exemplify what I mean by his historically specific usages of words like liberalism and democracy).
So what is being argued for by Schmitt is a dissolving the the line between the private and the public sphere in the state. He sees the political as based on a people, a Volk, who have a traditional way of life that need on occasion to be defended. That way of life is what justifies ultimately that state's sovereignty. The ultimate expression of that sovereignty is the expectation that the individual will sacrifice his/her life for that state if need be.
Given that reading (especially when combined with Schmitt's well-documented antisemitism), it is easy to see how he could turn to the Nazi party as a means to achieve his idea of politics.

So why read the guy? For a variety of reasons. He exemplifies one of the weaknesses of liberalism/rationalism which is that together they are corrosive of all of the larger than life visions of the human good be those visions religious or political. It seems to me that Western political philosophy is fixated on the idea of (Augustine's)"things loved in common",i.e., on a shared sense of what is the just, the true, the noble and the beautiful as the foundation of a political society, of a state. For centuries, we had a sense of that in one or the other form of Christianity but we have outgrown that. Many of those on the left were seduced by the romanticism of one or the other form of Marxism. There are many on the left today that are trying to create a new ontology to meet that need or are turning back to Christianity in order to look for tools to create that shared sense of a way of life.
Those on the right try to reimpose Christianity in one form or another(Schmitt himself turned to Catholicism,I believe) or Islam or, in some cases, they indulge themselves in a conservative post-modernism.
Me, I prefer the road that I find suggested in the writings of Claude Lefort. I prefer to believe that that a shared sense of life is a work in practice, never completed, that largely relies on rational criticism but also on faith and reliance in the democratic masses in all their glorious otherness. Schmitt, like Hobbes, like Marx, is a tool set full of insights into the difficulties of the task and of the material (recalcitrant Humanity) but he is no guide. But then there are no guides. There is simply the work that we have to do of getting on with each other.
9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
The allure of fascism 18 Jun 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Schmitt's "Concept of the Political" is one of the most famous as well as notorious books of political theory. The so-called "Crown-Attorney of the Third Reich" (Gurian) develops in this brief Essay the idea, that the Concept of the Political is the differentiation between foe and friend. States should classify people as well as other states as friend or foe, because only this asures homogenity (in innerstate matters) and security (in foreign policies). Allthough this radical alternative has often been misunderstood (Schmitt does not say, that politics always operates in this binary mode), Schmitt is fascinated by the ideology of Mussolini as well as Hitler and the NSdAP. Vice versa, the Nazis showed interests in the international lawyer: His homogenity-desiderate corresponded with their plans to exterminate "Jews". With Schmitts "Concept of the Political" these extermination-ideas were based to a "philosophical background". That led critical scholars to characterize this book as a "political, not philosophical existentialism".
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