Here is a draft of an essay on “Enmity and Tyranny” to be published in Nomos, edited by Sandy Levinson and Melissa Williams, on Conservatism. It examines the complex interplay (doubtfully quite a dialogue) between Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss and its impact on current American politics. Schmitt is often hard to read in the 1930s and in his Glossarium (the diaries prepared after World War II intentionally for posthumous publiction). There is a kind of darkness here that emanates from his writing and penetrates the reader. As a longstanding fighter against the pseudoscience of eugenics, ingredient to IQ testing, and Nazism, I thought myself pretty steeled (so far as one can be) against lethal anti-semitism. But Schmitt’s Catholic and medieval anti-semitism I found hard to absorb – it has a creepiness, an indiscriminate murderousness, and a demonism about “masks” which goes right to the gut. Even the reactionary Friedrich Stahl, whom Schmitt praises as one of his few heroes in the 1920s, turns into the “enigmatic Jew Stahl-Jolson” in 1938, an enemy to be named and obliterated.
Schmitt’s allegiance to Hitler was only part of what prompted the outbursts of the 1930s and hidden writings post-World War II. When he fell out of favor with Hitler and feared for his life, he wrote The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes in 1938 in an even more baroquely anti-semitic vein than his fulminations as Nazi Prussian State Councillor in 1936 (there, however, he fingered Jews in the legal profession for genocide, saying the literature must be “purified” by prefixing each name with “the Jew such and such.” In addition, his diary, Glossarium, whose ugliness he saved for the far future, is a masterpiece of anti-Jewish lethality. Schmitt has of course become quite popular in postmodern circles, and some of his ideas are clear-cut and interesting although usually remarkably reactionary (even so, in 1960s, having been used to "justify" the slaughter of Soviet partisans and soldiers during World War II, he ironically turned to support guerilla war against the triumph of Satan or what Strauss called, in a quasi-Nietzschean vein, the rule of the last men, “the universal and homogeneous state.” He was, oddly, quirkier politically than Leo who shuns anything leftist.
Schmitt also provides names, for instance, the “he is sovereign who rules in the state of the exception” for what has come down, via Leo’s authoritarianism, as “commander-in-chief power” in America. Once established, these tyrannical policies, as Obama’s vacillations even about a few decent and intelligent things – deciding on an actual trial for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in New York at the urging of Attorney General Holder, then spinelessly and corruptly, at the bidding of Rahm Emmanuel, reversing himself – illustrate daily, have become embedded. As Jack Balkin rightly says, this is a bipartisan “legal” regime (since Democratic as well as Republican administrations agree to throw away habeas corpus and laws against torture). Nowhere else in the Western world is there cowardice about employing the legal system to go after terrorists.
In an initial version of the essay, I was puzzled about how Schmitt’s lethal anti-semitism could have escaped Strauss. Schmitt’s Nazism seemed to make little impact on Strauss; in 1933 letters from Paris reproduced by Heinrich Meier, he fumes oddly that Schmitt accepted his criticisms of The Concept of the Political and made it more coherently reactionary, but would not acknowledge Strauss. Not revulsion or even awareness of the Nazis with their ears everywhere as Klein and Loewith warned, but scholarly hubris possesses Leo.
With the aid of William Altman and Michael Zank, however, I have since seen what might be obvious about Strauss, yet his being, a German Jew who fled Germany and Hitler at the New School seems to refute. For instance, Hannah Arendt whom Leo courted said about Strauss straightforwardly: he wanted to join a party which would not have him because he was a Jew. Strauss and Klein (a much more attractive figure) were both Nietzschean reactionaries who hated the modern world and saw it as a deteriorated offshoot of the Jewish prophets. Both hoped for its transcendance by the National Revolution even in 1934, more than a year after Hitler came to power. Klein finally saw that the essence of Nazism was anti-Jewish ideology (anti-semitism was actually the cutting edge of a more general and equally genocidal racism, for instance against Slavs and Roma). But Strauss did not see shadows in Schmitt, because he shared the same political sympathies, down to a streak of subtle anti-semitism (that in an inversion of values, characteristic of slave morality, the prophets united the words poor, holy and friend and despise the world - these were some of Nietzsche’s memorable phrases from Jenseits Gut und Boese). Strauss would have been shocked by Schmitt’s Glossarium, had it seen the light of day, or even the 1938 Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes, but the threat even to himself of Nazism, Strauss didn’t get for a long time. In 1934, Klein apologizes for his support for Hitler, and Strauss replies: “don’t be a defeatist.”
Strauss’s friend Alexandre Kojeve went to see the great thinker Schmitt during the workers and students uprising of May 1968 in Paris. and spoke contemptuously to radical German students in Berlin – Carl Schmitt was the only intelligent man in Germany. Kojeve had a happier careeras a wouldbe philosoher-tyrant and was something of a leftist, but never understood the possibilities of equal freedom in the modern world, and increasingly moved to a quasi-Straussian or Schmittian view. But he was at least the philosopher-advisor, economically speaking, to De Gaulle, who was a far more attractive statesman than Carl or Leo were drawn to.
As his May 1933 letter to Loewith reveals, Strauss himself might possibly have asked, as his student Werner Dannhauser once suggested to me: “What’s wrong with Nazism except the anti-semitism?” He was not put off by Schmitt’s anti-semitism because Strauss, too, had quite a streak of it. Following an aspect of Nietzsche, he endorsed the Kings against the prophets. His lifelong Zionism and yet arms length approach to Judaism - "the nearness of Biblical antiquity" as he speaks of it in his 1957 letter to the National Review - thus becomes clearer if more perverse. Schmitt is responsible for Strauss’s authoritarian politics in the sense of giving the names and arguments. Strauss and his political followers retail the buried Schmitt in America and reshape the American executive in a perhaps permanent, tyrannical direction. Still, a later section of the essay will suggest that Strauss’s emphasis on Machiavelli attractively counters Schmitt’s injection of racist venom into Strauss’s account of Spinoza. Here my friend Robert Howse is right that there is an important, and even admirable difference between Strauss and Schmitt. I will post the essay here in three segments.
Enmity and Tyranny[i]
The English Constitution finally has elevated the subordination of soldiers under the bourgeois as a principle of its world-outlook and in the course of the liberal 19th century disseminated it on the European continent. Civilization in the meaning of this constitutional ideal is domination of a civil, bourgeois, essentially nonsoldierly Ideal [wesentlisch nichtsoldatischen Ideale]. – Carl Schmitt, Totaler Feind, Totaler Krieg, Totaler Staat [ii]
This end of History would be most exhilarating but for the fact, that according to Kojeve, it is the participation in bloody political struggles as well as in real work or generally expressed, the negating action, which raises man above the brutes. The state through which man is said to become reasonably satisfied is, then, the state in which the basis of man’s humanity withers away or in which man loses his humanity. It is the state of Nietzsche’s ‘last man.’ – Leo Strauss, On Tyranny[iii]
Jews remain always Jews. While Communists can better themselves and change. That has nothing to do with the Nordic race, etc.. The assimilated Jew is especially the true enemy [Gerade der assimilierte Jude ist der Wahre Feind] – Schmitt, Glossarium, September 25, 1947[iv]
When you look into the abyss, the abyss looks into you – Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
This essay will argue that Leo Strauss’s politics are authoritarian and imperial or broadly speaking, reactionary, and not remotely conservative. A conservative admires the rule of law, particularly habeas corpus, and is an advocate of political and civil liberties, for example, freedom of religion and speech. In contrast, the essay will underline the influence of Carl Schmitt’s theoretically creative, if often weakly argued assertions on Strauss. Strauss’s “Notes” on The Concept of the Political do not differ from Schmitt politically, but purify his authoritarianism. Schmitt was guarded with his deferential young student; Strauss did not grasp how much Schmitt’s views of politics and law were shaped by anti-semitism, how much his “political theology” was hostile toward “me and my kind,” as Strauss would put it of Hitler.[v] But Schmitt was very interested in Hobbes and Spinoza, and fascinated by Strauss’s scholarship on them.
In an intimate spiritual exchange, as Schmitt adopted or sometimes transmogrified Strauss’s scholarship on Hobbes and Spinoza, Strauss took up Schmitt’s concepts of the “enemy,” “state of the exception,” the “great man” – a philosopher or statesman - who transforms the world, and contempt for the “rule of law.”[vi] For instance, the argument about “the state of the exception” derives, for both, from Hobbes. As early as his 1922 Political Theology, Schmitt named Hobbes’s decisionism or personalism, though as we will see, Hobbes’s conception is both more “common sense” – a favored term to describe Hobbes used by both Schmitt and Strauss – and more decent than that of his two admirers. Strauss’s commentary on Schmitt weaves the same Rightist cloth as his May 1933 letter to Loewith which avows “the principles of the Right – fascist, authoritarian, imperial” and dismisses “the childish and ridiculous inalienable rights of man.”[vii] In contrast to Schmitt’s racist vilification of Spinoza. Strauss would, however, substitute Machiavelli as the creator of the modern world.
International and constitutional lawyers like Scott Horton and Sandy Levinson have discerned a role for Schmitt in the Bush-Cheney administration’s rationales for torture of prisoners – “enemy combatants” - and lawlessness - “executive power,” some elements of which – for instance, indefinite detention at Guantanamo – remain under Obama. The first section of this essay – “Strauss’s Nietzscheanization of Schmitt” - will suggest that Strauss was a decisive intermediary for Schmitt in this relationship, nurturing similar ideas, translating away Schmitt’s Catholicism or racism, and legitimizing him on the American Right. The second section – “Strauss and Schmitt on Political Theology” shows how both fuse religion in popular culture with authoritarianism. Where Schmitt was a believing “Christian” (at least in anti-semitism), Strauss was, though steeped in Judaism, an atheist, who adopted a political or in his idiom, philosophical view of religion. Strauss hints at five esoteric ideas about the uses, for a tyrant-legislator, of the divine.[viii] But, once again ironically, their common ideas motivate – unintentionally and, what would have been horrifyingly for Strauss, exiled from Germany, if he had known - the public role of Schmitt’s “Catholic” racism in expunging Jews from the law. The third section – “`Great Men’ and Anti-Semitism: Machiavelli, Hobbes and Spinoza” – highlights a clash of interpretations over which thinker engendered modernity (unlike most theorists, neither doubted that some great man, alone, produced the reign of “the Anti-Christ” or the “last men”). Nonetheless, after World War II, Schmitt’s influence in Germany resembles that of Strauss and his political followers in Reagan’s, Bush’s and, with some attenuation, Obama’s America.[ix]
1. Strauss’s Nietzscheanization of Schmitt
Long suppressed by his literary executor Joseph Cropsey, Strauss’s May, 1933 letter to Loewith has recently achieved notoriety.[x] Though detesting Nazi anti-semitism, Strauss affirms “the principles of the Right – fascist, authoritarian, imperial,” and avers: “As long as a spark of Roman spirit [he refers to the Roman empire] glimmers in the world, there is no need to crawl to any cross, even the cross of liberalism.” Still, some followers take these sentiments as a private expression of despair at Hitler’s ascent to power, perhaps indicating Strauss’s politics at the time, but having little bearing on other writings.[xi] On the contrary, the politics of Strauss’s 1932 critique of Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political, I will suggest, are precisely those named in the letter.
Schmitt organized The Concept of the Political around a binary opposition. Great politics involves having a national enemy, preferably a great one. It divides the world between friend (one’s soldiers and allies) and enemy. The aim of politics is to drive the enemy back inside his borders or annihilate him. Politics becomes stirring when Cromwell denounces Spain or Lenin the bourgeoisie:
With regard to modern times, there are many powerful outbreaks of such enmity: there is the by no means harmless ecrasez l’infame of the eighteenth century; the fanatical hatred of Napoleon led by the German barons Stein and Kleist (“Exterminate them [the French], the Last Judgment will not ask you for your reasons”); Lenin’s annihilating sentences against bourgeois and western capitalism. All these are surpassed by Cromwell’s enmity towards Papist Spain. He says in his speech of September 17, 1656: ‘The first thing therefore, that I shall speak to is That that is the first lesson of Nature: Being and Preservation…The conservation of that, ‘namely of our National Being,’ is first to be viewed with respect to those who seek to undo it, and so make it not to be. Let us thus consider our enemies, ‘the Enemies to the very Being of these nations’ (he always repeats this “very Being’ or ‘National Being,’ and then proceeds): ‘Why, truly, your great Enemy is the Spaniard. He is a natural enemy. He is naturally so; he is naturally so throughout – by reason of that enmity that is in him against whatsoever is of God…He is ‘the natural enemy, the providential enemy,’ and he who considers him to be an ‘accidental enemy’ is ‘not well acquainted with Scripture and the things of God,’ who says; `I will put enmity between your seed and her seed.’ (Gen III: 15) With France one can make peace, not with Spain because it is a papist state, and the pope maintains peace only as long as he wishes.[xii]
In both cases - with Catholic Spain and those threatened by proletarian revolution - Schmitt’s sympathies are the opposite of what he depicts as political greatness.[xiii] Though this passage relies on Cromwell’s vigor, it also illustrates Schmitt’s passion, rhetorical fierceness, and quirkiness.
For each individual, according to Schmitt, the realm of politics is the realm of mortality, and thus, serious. Alone in this opposition, an individual may be asked to give his life. Interestingly, this is the sole mention of individuals by Schmitt or Strauss in this exchange: only states and statesmen, not ordinary individuals, have value.
Mesmerized by Heidegger, Strauss also draws on the reactionary argument of Sein und Zeit (Being and Time - 1927). Ordinary mortality, says Heidegger brilliantly, is somebody’s else’s, falls into the alienated realm of “the One” [das Man]. But authentic being-toward-death involves facing one’s own mortality and choosing the possibility - soldiering for the Fatherland - which is available to one’s generation.[xiv] Heidegger’s existentialism is often believed to be concerned with mortal individuals as opposed to Hegel’s dialectical “world-spirit.” But Heidegger is concerned only with the death of the individual soldier, whereas Hegel focuses on each individual’s free will and insight into a regime that upholds each person’s equal public and private freedoms. In Heidegger (and Strauss and Schmitt), fascism reeks of death.[xv]
Heidegger’s notion of historicity and authentic being-towards-death cohere with Schmitt’s Concept of the Political. In 1933, both joined the ascendant Nazis, a course from which Strauss, who admired the Nazis, was forbidden as a Jew. This is perhaps hard for a 21st century American, distant from the1930s German Right, to absorb.[xvi] Ironically, Strauss and his friend Jacob Klein were Nietzschean Jews, detesting democracy and the last men, who glimpsed in the National Revolution, a transformative order. Nietzsche was hostile to gutter Anti-Semiterei – Strauss had to hide his Jewishness and interest in philosophy in public and would not have sympathized with Nietzsche but for his rejection of some features of anti-semitism - yut blamed the Jewish prophets for the modern age.[xvii] The Jewish inversion of values, Nietzsche argued, had identified the word “poor” with “holy” and “friend.”[xviii] In his 1932 Geistige Lage der Gegenwart (Spiritual Situation of the Present), Strauss embroidered Nietzsche from the Right:
The end of this struggle is the complete rejection of tradition neither merely of its answers, nor merely of its questions, but of its possibilities: the pillars on which our tradition rested; prophets and Socrates/Plato have been torn down since Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s partisanship for the kings and against the prophets, for the sophists and against Socrates – Jesus neither merely no God, nor a swindler, nor a genius, but an idiot. Rejected are the theorein and ‘Good-Evil’ – Nietzsche, as the last enlightener.
Through Nietzsche, tradition has been shaken at its roots. It has completely lost its self-evident truth. We are left in this world without any authority, without any direction.”
He continues insistently: “and even so, the Bible: we can no longer assume that the Prophets are right; we must earnestly ask whether the kings are not right’.[xix]
Writing to Strauss, June 19-20, 1934, more than a year after Hitler had come to power, Klein finally understood that the essence of Nazism was anti-semitism (he had not yet surmised that it was to murder Jews). Klein first notes that he had once had a view much like Strauss does now – seeing in National Socialism an antidote to the last men, that he had even suggested this view to Strauss, and wanted to correct his serious errror. He now sees National Socialism as an inverted Judaism without God, and imagines that it will be but another (horrible for Jews) version of modernity.
It’s necessary for me to correct an error I’ve made repeatedly; it concerns National-Socialism…
I previously believed that it constituted part of that general and necessary movement that, having emerged from ‘liberalism,’ had at the same time had a dialectical [aufhebende] tendency to abolish it. In the framework of this movement, anti-Semitism also had its own place and an increasingly well-defined basis. All things considered, however, it constituted only one—though hardly adventitious—sideshow [Nebenerscheinung]. I expressed this thought, in a letter to you earlier this year. But this is simply not true.
National Socialism has basically only one principle: its anti-Semitism. Everything else is basically not national-socialist: it is entirely external imitation of Russian and Italian matters, beginning with the head-gear of the Hitler Youth and ending with certain senseless propositions relevant to Germany that have nothing whatsoever to do with what is actually happening. With respect to these imitations, National Socialism is certainly also part of that general movement. But it is only linked in order to vitiate it. That which concerns anti-Semitism, on the other hand, involves a matter of greater scope. It is actually the first decisive struggle [der erste entscheidende Kampf] between what has long since borne the name of God and godlessness. About this there can be no doubt. The battle is decisive precisely because it gives itself a battleground determined by Judaism. National Socialism is ‘perverted Judaism,’ nothing else: Judaism without God, i.e. a true contradiction in terms.”[xx]
On June 23, 1934, Strauss responds startlingly that he is repelled by Klein’s “defeatism.” Even in mid-1934, more than a year after Hitler came to power, he was unwilling to hear of the Nazis that they were virulently anti-Jewish. He still looks to a dialectical, imitation Hegelian Aufhebung of modernity embodied in the National Revolution (this affectation of triads is Strauss’s sole gesture at Hegel). Repelled by God, Jewish or Christian, Strauss offers the Nietzschean thought about Klein’s vision of National Socialism as “perverted Judaism”: only if the whole modern world is. Why the Nazis would then be an “Aufhebung” of this world is unclear (of course, the genocide does transcend, as Strauss finally notices in “What is Political Philosophy?,” the defects of the Weimar republic).
Note that Strauss does not see German modernity as mainly a secularization of Christianity (Weber’s view about the ghosts of Protestant vocation[xxi]); instead, he focuses on the Jewish prophets. Strauss preferred the kings to the prophets. And though one could try to reduce this statement merely to context, a local thought, not something Strauss deeply believed, the two had obviously corresponded and thought about these issues. It seems a deliberate response to Klein’s serious remark.
Now to your general remarks, which surprised—not to say repelled—me through their defeatist tone. That one learns from events is good—but it does not follow that one can say what’s correct through them. And that is what you’re doing, it seems to me. There is absolutely no excuse ‘to crawl to the cross,’ I mean to speak of ‘God.’ And even if we were confined again in the ghetto and thereby compelled to go to the Synagogue and uphold the entire Law, we would do it as Philosophers, i.e. with an unspoken but nevertheless decisive reservation. I have considered the problem of the replacement of the civil state by the communities (Kehillah) in the last year and seen that this in principle changes nothing for our kind although almost everything in outward form. That Revelation and Philosophy as opposed to Sophistry—i.e. as opposed to the whole of modern Philosophy—are united, I dispute as little as you. But that changes nothing as concerns the fundamental difference between Philosophy and Revelation: Philosophy is possibly under one roof with belief, prayers, and preaching but can never combine into one.
Philosophy and revelations, Strauss says, are a conjunction, not opposites.[xxii] They exist “under one roof” in diverse potentials of authoritarian “theological-political” rule: using a God to persuade believers to go along with otherwise controversial proposals or to coerce those who do not. He continues:
That National Socialism is perverted Judaism I would admit. But only in the same sense in which I admit this description for the whole modern world—National-Socialism is only the last word in ‘secularization,’ i.e. the belief in the harmony that produces itself from itself or the reign of passion and feeling or in the sovereignty of the Volk.[xxiii]
Strauss’s quasi-Nietzschean sympathies for Nazism lingered at least until the onset of World War II. These reactionary attitudes provided a screen for the racism of Schmitt which otherwise would probably not have entirely escaped Strauss. When the horror of the genocide finally broke through to the stunningly resistant Strauss, he renounced any identification with the Germans.[xxiv]
Sketching the intimate relation of Schmitt’s and Heidegger’s thinking for Strauss will clarify his eccentric form of reaction as – the idea is startling - a pro-Nazi Jew. For Schmitt, the choice for Hitler and war had obeyed a commandment of faith to make a commitment. For Heidegger, becoming a Nazi was a sign of existential care, of authentic being in the world. Schmitt’s Nazism stemmed from a Catholic sense that the world has become mechanical under Protestant influence, ruled by technology.[xxv] Analogously, Heidegger powerfully criticized the dominance of technology. As a lapsed Catholic, Heidegger spoke in a quasi-Catholic idiom.
Dismissive of Nietzsche,[xxvi] Schmitt views the decadence or secularization of culture as the rise of the anti-Christ; in a Nietzschean vein, Strauss sees it as the realm of the “last men” (in a Heideggerian idiom, he might also have seen it as the inauthentic realm of the “One”). Since Nietzsche derides Christianity as a projection of slave morality and Schmitt was a reactionary Catholic, Schmitt had no inclination to reword himself as Nietzsche (that is a flaw in Heinrich Meier’s thesis about the “conversation” between Schmitt and Strauss). But Schmitt’s “Catholicism” is deadly and belligerent. Schmitt is an inventor of perspectives; Strauss is mainly a brilliant, reactionary scholar. Nonetheless, many kinships exist between Schmitt and Nietzschean reaction, feeding into Strauss’s four refinements of Schmitt: 1) on the primacy of “the political,” 2) on revulsion for the “last men” 3) on the centrality of authoritarian rule, and 4) on imperialism and great-power rivalry. I will consider and offer a critical perspective on each of these claims.
First, speaking within a prevailing neo-Kantian paradigm, Schmitt treats the idea of friends and enemies, characteristic of politics, as but one of many spheres of culture. In contrast, in a letter of September 4, 1932, Strauss suggests that mortal political combat is the primary opposition which subordinates the others:
The ultimate foundation of the Right is the principle of the natural evil of man; because man is by nature evil, he therefore needs dominion. But dominion can be established, that is men can be unified only in a unity against - against other men. Every association of men is necessarily a separation from other men. The tendency to separate (and therewith the grouping of humanity into friends and enemies) is given with human nature. It is destiny, period.[xxvii]
Strauss follows Hobbes’s vision of a state of nature in which each man – innocently evil – seeks his own benefit, including self-protection, and sometimes kills others to gain it. He distinguishes natural evil from spiritual wickedness which, as we will see, is Schmitt’s central, overlapping point.
Defenders of Strauss, such as Heinrich Meier, emphasize that Strauss had yet to move into the Greeks, to “become Strauss.” They insist on Strauss’s idea of a political philosophy which decodes esoteric meanings, for instance in Plato and his followers. But that view could be consistent with Strauss’s and Schmitt’s common view of the political which clashes with the Greeks. Strauss and Schmitt deny in politics what Aristotle, Socrates and Plato affirm: a common good. Politics, for the former, is primarily about war, not even about the commonality forged by defending oneself and one’s country against aggression. In a Catholic idiom, Schmitt’s rhetoric initially seems to appeal to just war: surely, the enemy might aggress against one’s people. But only one of two parties can, in fact, be an aggressor. Ironically, Schmitt later “unmasks” oppressive claims about humanity or justice, notably those of the World War I victors.[xxviii] But this “unmasking of the motivations” of others disguises his own motivations and masks, which are passionate but often surpassingly immoral.
In a further irony, at this time, Strauss’s vision is that of Polemarchos in book 1 of Plato’s Republic – that justice is helping friends and harming enemies. Polemarchos invokes Simonides – Xenophon’s protagonist in his Hiero - as the proponent of this view. (331d) Socrates shows that such a policy – Strauss’s in 1932 - is that of tyrants like Periander and Xerxes (336a). Socrates also questions Thrasymachus’ contention that “justice is nothing but the advantage of the stronger,” a variant of Polemarchos’s view. But as Socrates elicits, it is hard to identify one’s true friends and enemies. More importantly, what happens when “the stronger” mistakes his “advantage”? (339c-e) Some idea of a common good – what, in fact, upholds the freedom and security of most citizens – is an antidote in Socrates, Plato and Aristotle to Schmitt’s and Strauss’s dogged focus on enmity.[xxix]
Beyond this, is the “political” solely the purview of the “statesman” or authoritarian “decider”? Consider great examples of resistance to injustice like Henry David Thoreau saying “no” to a Constitution which sanctioned slavery and to the U.S. seizure of large parts of Mexico, or Martin Luther King’s campaign of civil disobedience to integrate downtown Birmingham stores against the urging to “wait, wait” of some white clergymen. King and his followers, one might say, illustrate the power of decision (and in that sense, resemble Schmitt’s sovereign, although Schmitt excludes all but a Fuehrer from decision[xxx]). In the words of Pericles, deliberation before war marked Athenian democracy; Athenians sought words and conflicts of opinion before they reached fateful decisions. Athenian assemblies were not the bourgeois, parliamentary “talk shops” derided by Schmitt (una clase discutidora as he invokes his fellow Catholic reactionary, Donoso Cortes[xxxi]). In 1922 for Schmitt, only the monarch or tyrant’s edict is sovereign; in his initial phase of engagement with Hobbes, he wants the Leviathan to “decide” and crush independent thought. To recall another of Strauss’s contemporaries, Schmitt is the anti-Hannah Arendt.[xxxii] Thoreau, King and Athenian democrats are true examples of the political. Schmitt’s and Strauss’s ostensible “political” is the authoritarian, anti-political rule of a single man.[xxxiii]
Second, Strauss sharpens Schmitt’s intimation of a possible death of belligerent “politics.” Strauss derives from Nietzsche’s story of the “last men” a vision of warrior nobility. Living with the nearness of death, a warrior looks up at the night sky and sees the stars. In contrast, the “last men,” “flea beetles,” huddle against each other, and blink. Theirs is no longer a human stature. Such insects highlight the coming “Uebermensch.” Throughout his life, Strauss reiterates this image; he invokes it to scorn “the universal and homogenous state,” that is, peace, freedom and individuality, to which he imagines, following Heidegger, both the Soviet Union and the U.S. tend.[xxxiv] Strauss never says exactly what he disagrees with in modern freedom and individuality. For the triumph of the Uebermensch at a “sacrifice of millions” means the sacrifice of the freedom, wellbeing and individuality of human beings.[xxxv]
In his posthumously published “Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism,” Strauss extols Nietzsche’s vision, allowing his own esoteric views to appear:
in contradistinction to the European conservatives, [Nietzsche] saw that conservatism as such is doomed. For all merely defensive positions are doomed. The future was with democracy and nationalism. And both were regarded by Nietzsche as incompatible with what he saw to be the task of the twentieth century. He saw the twentieth century to be the age of world wars, leading up to planetary rule. If man were to have a future, this rule would have to be exercised by a united Europe. And the enormous task of such an iron age could not possibly be discharged, he thought, by weak and unstable governments based on democratic public opinion. The new situation required the emergence of a new aristocracy...The invisible rulers of that possible future would be the philosophers of the future. It is certainly not an overstatement to say that no one has ever spoken so greatly and so nobly of what a philosopher is than Nietzsche.[xxxvi]
In this passage, the putative “greatness” of Nietzsche’s speech has to do with the rule by “invisible philosophers” over a war-devastated, race-dominated world. To Strauss, this is “noble”; others might find it monstrous. Invoking parable instead of argument, Strauss oddly prefers worldwide race war to peace, freedom and individuality.[xxxvii]
Schmitt’s vision of the “Antichrist” of secular or supposedly “Jewish” modernity emerges from his peculiar Catholicism (Nazism, to which Schmitt fiercely adhered, restored neither Catholicism nor religiosity). To hold off Satan and extend history, Schmitt emphasizes each unique choice of an “enemy” as a “catechon.” [xxxviii] On one level, he regards Satan as realized in modern culture. On another, one fully realized in his Nazism and Glossarium (his post-World War II diaries), he sees the Anti-Christ as incarnate in “Jews” and the “law.” Still his public idiom in The Concept of the Political coincides with Strauss’s belligerent vision as an alternative to the “last men” and can be reworded, in these central respects, as Nietzschean.[xxxix] As Strauss emphasizes, Nietzsche opposed gutter anti-semitism (Antisemiterei) and would very likely not have become a Nazi though “there is an undeniable kinship between Nietzsche’s thought and fascism.” Yet once again, his notion that Jews created the vision of the poor – an anti-life, “slave morality” filled with irrational “resentment” and leading to Christianity, democracy and socialism - is not far.[xl] How easily a Nietzschean idiom can “mask” pure anti-semitism is underlined, however, by Strauss’s unwitting translation of this (at this time perhaps not fully consciously worked out) aspect of Schmitt.
For Schmitt, individuals may “entertain” themselves; they will no longer risk violent death:
If the distinction between friend and enemy ceases even as a mere possibility, there will only be a politics-free weltanschauung, culture, civilization, economy, morals, law, art, entertainment, etc. but there will be neither politics nor the state.
Strauss fixates on “entertainment”: “We have emphasized the word ‘entertainment’ because Schmitt does everything to make entertainment nearly disappear in a series of man’s serious pursuits above all, the ‘etc.’ that immediately follows ‘entertainment” glosses over the fact that ‘entertainment’ is really the ultimate term in the series, its finis ultimus.”[xli]
On behalf of war, Strauss abhors this “world of entertainment”: “it is impossible to mention politics and the state in the same breath as ‘entertainment’; politics and the state are the only guarantee against the world’s becoming a world of entertainment, a world of amusement, a world without seriousness.”[xlii]
Schmitt only hints at this antipathy:
A definitely pacified globe would be a world without politics. In such a world there could be various, perhaps very interesting, oppositions and contrasts, competitions and intrigues of all kinds, but no opposition on the basis of which it could sensibly be demanded of men that they sacrifice their lives. [xliii]
In contrast, Strauss brings out the Nietzschean sense of an inferior species, huddling under the rope stretched for the emergence of an acrobatic “Uebermensch.” One might name these “Notes” Strauss’s Nietzscheanization of Schmitt. But their common idea of a “great leader,” provoking or creating crises, and launching (apocalyptic) aggression is, in itself. unattractive. Further though he had soldiered in World War I, Strauss is heedless about the horrific slaughters, with a special penchant for children, of subsequent wars:
Here, too what Schmitt concedes to the pacifists’ ideal state of affairs, what he finds striking about it, is its capacity to be interesting and entertaining; here, too, he takes pains to hide the criticism contained in the observation ‘perhaps very interesting.’ He does not, of course, wish to call into doubt whether the world without politics is interesting; if he is convinced of anything, it is that the apolitical world is very interesting (‘competitions and intrigues of all sorts’); the ‘perhaps’ only questions, but certainly does question, whether this capacity to be interesting can claim the interest of a human being worthy of the name.[xliv]
Strauss speaks of Schmitt’s nausea over this possibility, a use which captures a reactionary existentialist sense of the term. Sartre and left existentialists, who have more concern for individuals and freedom, also have a “nausea” for bourgeois life, as does Marcuse, another student of Heidegger, for “one-dimensional man.” In considering death, Heidegger translates Marx’s commodity fetishism, Weber’s formal rationalization of the world, and Lukacs’ reification into falling into “the one,” a specific historical critique into an ontological “Sein zum Tode” and the putrefying historicity of “being toward death” of a soldier, a fascist soldier, out of which Strauss’s (and Schmitt’s) notion of the political takes flight. Strauss would later abhor Heidegger’s anti-semitism. But he cleaved to Heidegger’s rejection of ethics as beneath humans even though, he contradictorily, noted that Nazism made Weimar democracy look like a golden age.[xlv] He meant this critique of Heidegger primarily about Jews and the war-making of a “resentful, provincial German empire.”[xlvi] But he did not reexamine Heidegger’s characterization of ethics or think about what makes an ethical view attractive to others.
In contrast, theorists such as Hegel or John Rawls, who value the integrity of ethics,[xlvii] the life and equal liberties of each person, rightly reject Heidegger’s, Schmitt’s and Strauss’s denial of ethics. Now Schmitt’s fierce “moral” position is a kind of Catholicism, a virtue ethics, focused on revelation, obedience, courage, hope, and humility.[xlviii] But Schmitt’s is the “dark” Church (as in the Inquisition, genocide of indigenous people in the New World, slavery, and fascism). He even praises the “Marian”-like conduct of the Spanish conquistadors in the Americas.[xlix] But ethically speaking, such assertions of “character” do not take one far. For supposing we imagine an obedient and humble (not to mention efficient) Goering - Schmitt’s protector – or Schmitt himself. Do such character traits perfume the actions of candidate Nazi “Epimetheuses,” ascetic “Christians” who, eyes raised to heaven, pull the switches on the gas chamber? Catholicism condemns murder. Catholic just war theory emphasizes self-defense against aggression. Can Schmitt’s defense of any war or enmity be called moral? In what sense is it Catholic?
In a 1941 lecture on “German Nihilism,” Strauss, too, speaks misleadingly of the “morals” involved in a “decent young atheist’ despising the “last men.”[l] But such “morals” leads to the nihilistic destruction, once again in Nietzsche’s phrase, of “millions.” This is an example of Strauss’s altering a word to mean its opposite.[li] The terms amoral – sneering from on high - and in practice, often evil characterize this reactionary, Imperial vision. Admirably affirming the “decent “Anglo-Saxon empire” during World War II, Strauss was temporarily saved from his political vision.
But is there an ethical view which focuses parochially on the life of a national community and permits the murder of others? Which makes, as Strauss later insisted, a genuine “morality” for people “of one’s own kind” in contrast to a supposedly empty, cosmopolitan morality? Are European or Jewish children really more valuable than African, Indian, Palestinian, “heathen” children?[lii] Nietzsche suggests that there is slave morality – the morals Schmitt and Strauss denounce – and master morality. Master morality involves the sacrifice, once again, of myriad humans so that the Uebermensch may unfold as sipo matador, his tendrils seeking the sun high above the Malaysian forest on which he is a parasite. Nietzsche pathethically avers that exploitation is life.[liii] Before fascism, Nietzsche uses the term “morals” polemically; in his Nazi activity, Schmitt carries the term to a limit of individual and public degradation. Sadly, Strauss mirrored or refined Schmitt’s ideas. Though Strauss fiercely rejected Nazi murderousness toward Jews, he continued to use the word “morals” in an ethically incoherent, Nietzschean vein.[liv]
To underline another important difference between Strauss and Schmitt, however, The Concept of the Political does not – except for mentioning Lenin - develop the idea of internal or civil war. It articulates no idea of a racially pure or “homogeneous” community[lv] and barely hints at an internal enemy, though if politics is about enmity, then the notion of an internal enemy for the Right - say “Bolsheviks,” unions and “Jews” - is not far from Schmitt’s idiom and would soon become primary. For Schmitt, once again, “Jews” or the “Anti-Christ” are equivalent to “the last men”; his post-World War II Glossarium proclaims: “The assimilated Jew is especially the true enemy.”
Third, Strauss notes that the main animus in Schmitt’s view is anarchy, not peace, his main passion authoritarianism, not war. The “anarchist dogs with their fangs bared,” in Nietzsche’s phrase, threaten Europe.[lvi] Against anarchy, the Catholic Schmitt and the Nietzschean Strauss emphasize authoritarian rule:
In attempting to analyze your text more thoroughly, one gets the impression that the polemic against the Left, a polemic that at first glance appears completely unified, collapses into two incompatible or at least heterogeneous lines of thought. The opposition between Left and Right is presented 1) as the opposition between internationalist pacifism and bellicose nationalism and 2) as the opposition between anarchistic and authoritarian society. No proof is needed to show that in themselves these two oppositions do not coincide. In my review I have explained why the second opposition (anarchy versus authority) appears to me the more radical and in the final analysis the only opposition that comes into consideration.[lvii]
Despite Strauss’s intelligent differentiation of these two dimensions of argument, these Rightists favor both tyranny and war.
Strauss’s comments do not mention Schmitt’s 1922 Politische Theologie (Political Theology) which dwells on authoritarian sovereignty and “the state of exception.” “He is sovereign,” says Schmitt in its opening sentence, “who decides in the exceptional situation.”[Souveraen ist, wer ueber den Ausnahmezustand entscheidet]. German authoritarian regimes, those of Bruening, von Papen, Schleicher, and Hitler, both created and responded to a crisis, the death of the Weimar Republic. Strauss does not directly engage Schmitt’s decisionism - in a reference to Hobbes, Schmitt invents this term in Political Theology - or notion of the exception. As Schmitt puts it,
The classical representative of the decisionist type (if I may be permitted to coin this word) is Thomas Hobbes. The peculiar nature of this type explains why it and not the other type (an impersonal conception featuring norms) discovered the classic formulation of this antithesis: auctoritas, non veritas facit legem [authority, not truth, makes laws]. The contrast of auctoritas and veritas is more radical and precise than Frederick Julius Stahl’s contrast: authority, not majority. Hobbes also advanced a decisive argument that connected this type of decisionism with personalism and rejected all attempts to substitute an abstractly valid order for a concrete sovereignty of the state.[lviii]
Three points clarify Strauss’s agreement with Schmitt on this point. First, as Karl Loewith notes, Schmitt deals with a state of exception without endorsing the universal or the rule of law.[lix] Ironically though a “legal” theorist, Schmitt exhibits persistent revulsion for the law. As he says in Political Theology, the “exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle [Wunder] in theology.”[lx] In his 1934 “Der Fuehrer Schuetzt das Recht,” (the Fuehrer Protects the Law), defending Hitler’s slaughter of the leaders of the S.A. (Sturmabteilung) and thousands of others, Schmitt avers, valid law springs only from the life of the people. In a state of the exception, to confront or protect oneself against an enemy, authoritarian decision creates such law. Such unique, authoritative “acts” exist in despite of liberalism, as an alternative or (fascist) enemy of liberalism:
In truth the Fuehrer’s deed was pure jurisdiction [Gerichtsbarkeit]. It did not understand justice but was itself the highest justice…The Fuehrer’s jurisdiction springs from the same source of law that all law of every people flows from. In the highest need [the state of exception] the highest law prepares itself and the highest grade of juridical development of this law appears. All law stems from the law of life of a people [Alles Recht stammt aus dem Lebensrecht des Volkes].[lxi]
Nothing Strauss says at this time about laws or the rule of law disagrees with Schmitt’s vision of decision and the state of the exception.[lxii]
Second, Strauss commends authoritarianism at least in dangerous or “exceptional” situations. It is one meaning of his and his followers saying that liberals do not take evil, for instance, the dangers of the Soviet enemy, seriously. To take enmity seriously, for Schmitt and Strauss, one needs a great leader who can act, setting the law aside. For America, Strauss’s students like Robert Goldwin and Herbert Storing emphasize “executive power” and celebrate arbitrary Presidential decisions in war like Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus or Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s concentration camps for Japanese-Americans (for others, these decisions seem counterproductive as well as immoral).[lxiii] Strauss and his political followers Americanize Schmitt’s ideas. But Schmitt bears a special animus toward the American Constitution:
It is precisely the exception that makes relevant the subject of sovereignty, that is the whole question of sovereignty. The precise details of an emergency cannot be anticipated, nor can one spell out what must take place in such a case, especially when it is truly a matter of extreme emergency and of how it is to be eliminated….If such action is not subject to controls, if it is not hampered in some way by checks and balances as is the case in a liberal constitution, then it is clear who the sovereign is....Although he stands outside the normally valid legal system, he nevertheless belongs to it, for it is he who must decide whether the constitution is to be suspended in its entirety.[lxiv]
Richard Cheney and John Yoo as well as Straussians like Harvey Mansfield and William Kristol made exactly this extreme authoritarian argument.[lxv]
Third, as Strauss does not seem aware, Schmitt’s Catholicism emphasized Jews, the adherents of law, as murderers of Jesus. In his posthumously published Glossarium for December 2, 1948, Schmitt would exempt Pontius Pilate:
The crucifixion of Christ was an event hors la loi [outside the law]. Who placed the Holy one hors la loi ? The interplay of Jews and pagans. Pilate was not active as a judge in regards to Jesus; he did not sentence Him to death, but only handed him over to the administrative measure of crucifixion, under pressure from the Jews. I see no death-sentence tenor in the text of the Gospels. Rex Judaeorum is no sentencing tenor. Pilate was no judge.[lxvi]
Schmitt’s argument darkens. If the crucifixion was “outside the law,” why does Schmitt (also) condemn the “Jews’” dogmatic “adherence to the law”? [lxvii] (Why is Jesus’s murder not thought of as a particular lawless act?) To the standard anti-semitic condemnation of adherence to “law” Schmitt adds a charge of “ritual murder”:
The murder of Christ was a ritual murder [Der Mord an Christus war ein Ritualmord]. At the center of Christian belief stands a belief that our eon opened by a ritual murder…The son is ritually slaughtered (like Isaac), the father is simply killed…Beginning of Christianity: Acts of the Apostles chapter 7: You have murdered the successor.[lxviii]
Christ for Schmitt was a unique event. Salvation appears in history – calling on believers to act against the “enemy.” In this context, this political interesting term reveals bizarre theological significance. Christ (Hitler) and anti-semitic classification and murder are the “state of the exception”; Jews and “the law” the “Anti-Christ” that must be defeated. Schmitt’s politics and sociology mirror – and are rooted in – an irrational, murderous “theology.” Ironically, Strauss and his followers, except Heinrich Meier, never understood that this was the public significance of Schmitt’s “concept of the political.” In the post-World War II era, preparing Glossarium for posthumous publication, Schmitt was silent about his anti-semitism. For a long time, Strauss shunned the horror of Germany.[lxix] Despite the provocation of genocide, Strauss never reexamined the Nazi vision he had Nietzscheanized.
Still, Schmitt’s “state of the exception” is a useful concept in political science. Cold War American sociology and political science start from Max Weber’s ethically reductionist thought that a state controls a “monopoly of the legitimate use of force within a territory.” Weber, a Nietzschean, also refers to an enlivening “charismatic” authority, a view not far from that of his student, Schmitt.[lxx] Schmitt thinks about a state in crisis, in a state of emergency, and seeks where the “sovereign” power of decision lies. His account spells out the importance of Article 48 in the Weimar constitution (Schmitt recommended the use of that article to ban Nazis and Communists, a recommendation that, when rediscovered, led to his downfall as Prussian State Councilor in 1936). As a Constitutional institution, Article 48 weakened the Reichstag and invited, in difficult circumstances, the subversion of Weimar.[lxxi] Nonetheless, in considering these cases, Schmitt improves on Weber (with respect to the law – even Weber’s category of legal and “bureaucratic” authority – however, he is silent and decadent). Particularly in today’s America, one can see why some Weberians and postmodernists might be inclined to see Schmitt’s alternative – or a Weberian conception modified by Schmitt - as more precise.
Yet this argument of Schmitt’s has a fatal weakness. Once the rule of law is sacrificed, for instance, in the regime of the Fuehrer, what will restore it? Why should the state of emergency and war not become a permanent tyranny (perhaps even the very tyrant Strauss fears at the end of On Tyranny?) In addition, once disenchanted with Hitler circa 1938, Schmitt’s argument provides no way to resist him. Now, in a revolutionary situation where the old power is at odds with itself, popular resistance may overthrow it (as the Soviet-client regimes fell in Eastern Europe in 1989). But the “state of exception” and an unending series of mere “decisions,” as Schmitt does not recognize, may become a norm, even the banal norm, of a new regime. Put differently, Schmitt’s concept of the political promises an alluring (for reactionaries) vision of enmity, emergency and authoritarian decision, but very likely issues in the ordinary though murderous dictatorships of, say, Franco, Salazar, Pinochet, and perhaps Hitler (if the Nazis had defeated Russia and achieved the “Grossraum” – regional empire - that Schmitt envisioned as the post-nation-state unit of a new international nomos/“law”).
Fourth, from Weber, Strauss learned the importance of great power rivalry between empires (this point is a derived or secondary Nietzschanism about war). [lxxii] Looking at politics and sociology from the standpoint of great power rivalry, Weber was a parliamentary democrat, even supporting the Social Democratic Party, as an instrument to make Germany a Herrenvolk: “I have always looked at politics solely from a national standpoint, not only external politics but all politics. By this alone I orient my party allegiance.”[lxxiii] Though Weber died in 1920, the idea of a popular “revolution” to make Germany an international master-race would become sinister (for the colonized, it always was). England was the empire “on which the sun never set.” As a “have not” nation, the German empire rose against Great Britain. Transposing Carlyle, Weber articulated a German nationalism for the unending future:
‘Thousands of years have passed before thou couldst enter life, and thousands of years to come wait to see what thou wilt do with this thy life.’ I do not know if as Carlyle believed a single man can or will place himself in his actions upon the sounding board of this sentiment. But a nation must do so if its existence in history is to be of lasting value.[lxxiv]
Weber’s passion for parliamentary democracy and dominant role in post-World War II American sociology and political science has obscured his making of sociology subordinate to international rivalry as well as his racism.[lxxv] Akin to the Right, a Weberian vision helped instigate Strauss’s refinement of Schmitt’s concept of the enemy and “the exception.” [lxxvi] Thus, starting from war and power rivalry and with the important exception that law plays no role, Schmitt’s theory can be seen to modify Weber’s all the way down. Even Schmitt’s failed apology for the Nazi annexation of Czechoslovakia – the Reich Protectorate of Moravia and Bohemia – and his notion of the “Grossraeume” of three or four empires are modifications of Weber’s vision.
In the early 1920s, however, Strauss reported to Franz Rosenszweig, the Jewish existentialist theologian,[lxxvii] on being mesmerized by Heidegger compared to whom Weber – whom he had admired - was but “an orphan child.”[lxxviii] But across his peregrinations on Heidegger’s path to a reading of the Greeks, Strauss retained Weber’s imperial vision of politics, and sometimes reverted to a Weberian idiom (Weber’s defense of parliamentary democracy and his quasi-Nietzschean opposition to anti-semitism, however, differentiate him sharply from Schmitt).[lxxix] Aside from anti-semitism, Heidegger had a politics similar to Strauss’s, but did not articulate it in this way (in the 1930s, he phrased his sycophancy to Hitler, support for German withdrawal from the League of Nations, and opposition to technology in terms of German “authenticity,” not imperial rule). Ironically, Strauss would later bar his students from reading the “great philosopher,” Heidegger, but against Carl Schmitt, whose concepts had possessed him, Strauss left them unaware.[lxxx]
In his 1933 letter to Loewith, Strauss affirmed the “Principles of the Right, fascist, authoritarian, imperial.” Since its recent release, some followers of Strauss try to dismiss the letter as “unimportant.”[lxxxi] But note that Strauss’s refinement of Schmitt coheres with and gives force to this letter.
[i] Thanks to William Altman, Peter Minowitz, Tracy Strong, Robert Howse and Sanford Levinson for comments.
[ii] Carl Schmitt, Positionen und Begriffe in Kampf mit Weimer-Genf-Versailles, 1923-1939. Berlin:Duncker & Humblot, 1940, 1988, p. 272.
[iii] Strauss “Restatement” in On Tyranny (University of Chicago, 1948, 2000), p. 208.
[iv] Schmitt, Glossarium: Aufzeichnungen der Jahre 1947-1951 , ed. Eberhard Freiherr von Medem (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1991), p. 18.
[v] Writing this phrase in his May, 1933 letter to Loewith, Strauss had no sense of the murderousness of Hitler.
[vi] Strauss also imbibed Schmitt’s 1922 impression of “the soberness of Hobbes’s common sense.”
[vii] Strauss, Gesammelte Schriften , ed. Heinrich and Wiebke Meier, 3:624-25.
[viii] Strauss insisted on esoteric meanings in the works of medieval and ancient political philosophers; the very density and difficulty of his own writing strongly suggests the existence of such messages within it.
[ix] I distinguish these from some of his academic followers like Nathan Tarcov and Bill Galston, who oppose the Iraq War, and Michael Zuckert who condemns the Patriot Act.
[x] Cropsey prevented non-Straussian researchers from looking at Strauss’s papers in Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago, for instance his colleague Stephen Holmes, insisting that some letters might be “misunderstood.” I discuss this issue in the introduction to a special section on Strauss, Constellations, March 2009.
[xi] On a panel I organized about the letter at the American Political Science Association, 2007, Catherine Zuckert spoke of it as “unimportant.” See the video at democratic-individuality.blogspot.com, July 2009. But it is actually the theme of much of Strauss’s writing. See my “Leo Strauss: the courage to destroy” and “Leo Strauss’s 1923 celebration of ‘pagan-fascism,’” democratic-individuality.blogspot.com, August, 2009 and January, 2010.
[xii] Schmitt, The Concept of the Political (University of Chicago, 1996), pp. 67-68.
[xiii] Ironically, contra Cromwell, France, too, was a Catholic state. Schmitt’s quirkiness is often a passion for deceiving surface readers and offering esoterica.
[xiv] Heidegger, Sein und Zeit,Gesamtausgabe, bd. 2 (Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 1977), Zweiter Abschnitt, Erstes Kapitel “Das moegliche Ganzsein des Daseins and das Sein zum Tode” and Fuenftes Kapitel, “Zeitlichkeit und Geschichtlichkeit.”
[xv] Heidegger’s speeches on behalf of Hitler’s withdrawal from the League of Nations are particularly instructive in this regard; “individuals” choose their Germanic being by assenting to the Fuehrer.
Strauss fantasized that nuclear war could also be an alternative to the age of the “last men” and that it might be good for history to cycle through again from its primitive beginnings. See my “Seceding from the last men: Leo Strauss’s fascination for nuclear war at http://democratic-individuality.blogspot.com/2009/11/seceding-from-last-men-strausss.html and “John Mearsheimer on the Germanic formation of Leo Strauss,” http://democratic-individuality.blogspot.com/2010/02/john-mearsheimer-on-germanic-formation.html.
[xvi] See my “Shadings - `they consider me a ‘Nazi’ here’ – Leo Strauss, July 3, 1933.” “Only a reactionary fool would say: ‘there are no women philosophers’” and “the clashing visions of Arendt and Strauss,” democratic-individualtiy.blogspot.com, ,
[xvii] Nietzsche is far subtler psychologically than Strauss makes out. As Hilary Putnam has pointed out to me, “How they strut about in a hundred masquerades, as youths, men, graybeards, fathers, citizens, priests, officials, merchants, mindful solely of their comedy and not at all of themselves . . . this eternal becoming is a lying puppet-play in beholding which man forgets himself, the actual distraction which disperses the individual to the four winds.” Schopenauer as Educator, ch. 4.
[xviii] Nietzsche, Jenseits Gut und Boese (Stuttgart: Alfred Kroener Verlag, 1921), paragraph 195. .
[xix] Strauss, GS 2:389; the translation is by Michael Zank; h/t William Altman
[xx] Strauss, GS, 3:512-13. Translation by William Altman.
[xxi] Strauss admired Weber until he was blown away by listening to Heidegger. But Weber fought anti-semitism. See my “Max Weber: a hero in fighting German anti-semitism” at http://democratic-individuality.blogspot.com/2009/09/max-weber-hero-in-fighting-german-anti.html.
[xxii] See my “Using a God for politics: a note on the conjunction Athens and Jerusalem,” Dec. 8, 2009 at http://democratic-individuality.blogspot.com/2009/12/using-god-for-politics-note-on.html
[xxiii] Strauss, GS 3:516-17; trans. William Altman. Scott Horton and Eugene Sheppard, both of whom aptly translated Strauss’s May 1933 letter to Karl Loewith, misunderstood the phrase “meskine Unwesen.” The latter refers to the usuriousness of current reality (“meskine” refers to Shylock or Fagin) and not to Hitler. I too made this error initially – Strauss, a German Jew and exile from Germany, could not be – a Nazi) which Michael Zank identified. These 1934 letters are a smoking gun about Strauss’s startling, counterintuitive political sympathies.
[xxiv] Strauss, “The Reeducation of the Axis Powers,” The Review of Politics, Oct. 26, 2007.
[xxv] Schmitt, Roman Catholicitism and Political Form, (orig. 1923) trans. G.L. Ulmen (Ct: Greenwood, 1996), pp. 10, 12-3. As a student of Max Weber’s, he responds powerfully to The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. His argument that Catholics have a different relation to the soil than Protestants, who can live anywhere prefigures Nazi “blood and soil,” of course, for Protestant peasants.
[xxvi] Meier, Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss: the Hidden Dialogue, trans. J. Louis Lomax, p. 65, n. 73.
[xxvii] Reproduced in ibid, p. 125.
[xxviii] Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, pp. 36-37.
[xxix] One might also question the psychological and ethical necessity of “enmity,” of manufacturing enemies.
[xxx] In the 1960s, he would celebrate guerilla revolt against “globalization” or “the universal and homogeneous state” (Strauss) in a potentially less authoritarian vein.
[xxxi] Schmitt, Political Theology, trans. George Schwab (Chicago, 1985), p. 59
[xxxii] To put it in her idiom from On Violence, Schmitt and Strauss dread a common power and revere violence against the enemy.
[xxxiii] Today Richard Cheney and John Yoo speak of “enemy combatants” who may be detained and tortured (short of death or “organ failure”) beyond any law. International law against torture, particularly the Geneva Conventions, signed by the United States technically refers to “prisoners of war.” The Supremacy Clause; Article 6, section 2 of the Constitution makes treatises endorsed by the United States the highest law of the land.
[xxxiv] Strauss, On Tyranny, p. 27. It is also the last word in his essay on Plato’s Minos in Liberalism Ancient and Modern, p. .
[xxxv] Nietzsche, Will to Power, par 964, 862.
[xxxvi] Ibid, pp. 40-41. To Loewith on June 23, 1935 (at age 36), Strauss wrote: “I can only say that Nietzsche so dominated and enchanted me [mich…so beherrscht und bezaubert hat] between my 22nd and 30th years, that I literally believed…every word that I understood of him.” Gesammelte Schriften, 3:648.
[xxxvii] Echoing Nazi conquests in the late 1930s, Schmitt would envision new imperial units of international “law,” “the Grossraeume” including a Germany swollen with eating Czechoslovakia and Poland, to replace fictively equal nation states. He would then speak of a Nomos der Erde, the Greek word for law supposedly supplanting diminished, merely positive “laws.” The German “Grossraum” would assume a (temporary) equality with the British empire, the Soviet empire, the American empire, and the like (Schmitt’s imagination, however, did not quite keep pace with Hitler’s appetite…).
[xxxviii] Meier, Lesson, 160-72.
[xxxix] Today, the “last men” has become a cliche of many academic as well as political Straussians, for instance, Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man.
[xl] Strauss, “An Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism” in Thomas Pangle, ed., The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism (Chicago, 1989), p. 31. Saying that Nietzsche “naturally would not have sided with Hitler [unlike Heidegger]. Yet there is an undeniable kinship between Nietzsche’s thought and fascism,” Strauss subtly identifies with Nietzsche. At the time, he probably identified with Heidegger’s rejection of his teacher Ernst Cassirer and his call for a “repeat” of World War I. See William Altman, “The Alpine Limits of Jewish Thought,” Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy, Volume 17, Number 1, 2009 , pp. 1-46.
[xli] Strauss, “Notes” in Meier, Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss. Trans. J. Louis Lomax (University of Chicago, 1995) p. 111. [Cited hereafter as Carl Schmitt]
[xlii] Ibid, p. 112.
[xliii] Meier brings out Schmitt’s indictment of bourgeois civilization in his first writing on Theodore Daeubler: “The achievement of vast material wealth, which arose from the general preoccupation with means and calculation was strange. Men have become poor devils; ‘they know everything and believe nothing.’ They are interested in everything and enthusiastic about nothing. They understand everything; their scholars register in history, in nature, in men’s own souls. They are judges of character, psychologists, and sociologists, and in the end, they write a sociology of sociology. Wherever something does not go completely smoothly, an astute and deft analysis or a purposive organization is able to remedy the incommodity. Even the poor of this age, the wretched multitude, which is nothing but ‘ a shadow that hobbles off to work,’ millions who yearn for freedom, prove themselves to be children of this spirit, which reduced everything to a formula of its consciousness and admits of no mysteries and no exuberance of soul. They wanted heaven on earth, heaven as the result of trade and industry, a heaven that is really supposed to be here on earth, in Berlin, Paris, or New York, a heaven with swimming facilities, automobiles, and club chairs, a heaven in which the holy book would be a timetable. They did not want a God of love and grace…After all the most important and last things have already been secularized.” Meier, Lesson of Carl Schmitt, p. 3. Strauss has a parallel invocation of Nietzsche, which even substitutes some Schmitt: “The morning prayer has been replaced by the reading of the morning paper…” “Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism” in Strauss, Rebirth, p. 31.
[xliv] Strauss, “Notes” in Meier, op. cit., p. 112.
[xlv] This may, however, be an exoteric or surface judgment of Strauss’s. His student, Werner Dannhauser, once said to me, slightly tipsily, at a party at Cornell many years ago: “What’s wrong with National Socialism, except the anti-semitism?” Strauss and Jacob Klein, “A Giving of Accounts,” St. John’s, 1973. Strauss, What is Political Philosophy and other essays, (Free Press, 1959), p. 55 .
[xlvi] Strauss, “The Reeducation of the Axis Powers.” Review of Politics, fall, 2007.
[xlvii] I coin this term in Democratic Individuality, ch. 1. Marx joins Rawls and Oakeshott in opposing this reactionary vision.
[xlviii] Meier, The Lesson of Carl Schmitt, (University of Chicago, 1998), p. 20 [cited hereafter as Lesson]. Subtle within a reactionary universe of discourse, Meier is oblivious to the questions that others who take ethics seriously would raise about his account.
[xlix] Offering no comment, Meier, Lesson, p. 166, endorses this claim: “the piety of the Spanish explorers and conquerors [bore] the sacred image of their historical deeds within the image of Mary, the immaculate virgin and mother of God.”
[l] David Janssens and Daniel Tanguay, eds., "German Nihilism, Leo Strauss," Interpretation 26 (1999): 353–78.
[li] Commenting on book 6 in The Action and Argument of Plato’s Laws, (University of Chicago, 1973), p. 87, Strauss speaks of the highest form of “equality,” that of the superior man who rules by himself. But this is, of course, the highest form of inequality.
[lii] Strauss’s vision is hideously embodied in the rabbis, linked to the Israeli Defense Forces, who advocate even the killing of “gentile” children. The darkness here is unbroken. See my “A rabbi licenses the murder of babies,” http://democratic-individuality.blogspot.com/2009/12/rabbi-licenses-murder-of-babies.html .
[liii] Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, par. 258-259, is a brilliant psychologist. But denying injustice, he makes real protest against oppression mere “resentment.”
[liv] Gilbert, Democratic Individuality (Cambridge University Press, 1990), ch. 1.
[lv] Schmitt, 1926 introduction, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, trans. Ellen Kennedy (MIT Press, 1985), pp. 8-14.
[lvi] Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, par. 202.
[lvii] Strauss to Schmitt, September 4, 1932, in Meier, Carl Schmitt, pp. 124-25.
[lviii] Schmitt, Political Theology, p. 33.
[lix] Karl Loewith, “The Occasional Decisionism of Carl Schmitt” in Loewith and Richard Wolin, eds., Martin Heidegger & European Nihilism (Columbia, 1995), pp. 142-43.
[lx] Schmitt, Political Theology, p. 36. Unlike Strauss, Schmitt believed in miracles
[lxi] Schmitt, “Der Fuehrer schuetzt das Recht” from Schmitt, Positionen und Begriffe, pp. 228-29.
[lxii] Strauss offers the exoteric thought in On Tyranny , p. 193 that unwise leaders are better governed by laws. But his more powerful argument directly afterwards calls for nihilistic revolt against the “universal and homogeneous state.”
[lxiii] There is plainly more to be said for Lincoln’s decision perhaps blocking rather than creating sympathy for enemy action than Roosevelt’s degraded racism.
[lxiv] Schmitt, Political Theology, p. 7. In Constitutional Dictatorship, chs. xiv-xviii, Rossiter stresses the way Lincoln and Roosevelt cleaved to the Constitution. Compared to Britain and other democracies in similar emergencies, they kept in mind the restoration of the rule of law. In contrast, Schmitt’s and Strauss’s emphasis is on tyranny.
[lxv] Obama has worked more with Congress and eliminated some forms of torture. But he has protected the top figures in the Bush-Cheney administration from prosecution for war crimes, left the rule of law in limbo, and maintained claims of extra or illegal Presidential power “in the state of the exception.”
[lxvi] Glossarium, p. 208.
[lxvii] The Christian interpretation of the theological difference of Christ and the Jews here becomes ornamented with additional anti-semitic and inconsistent claims about Christ’s murder.
[lxviii] Ibid, 313.
[lxix] In his 1941 lecture “http://democratic-individuality.blogspot.com/2009/08/leo-strauss-courage-to-destroy.html,” he says that he is not German and that Jews should take no interest in Germany. But in his speech on “Nihilism,” he differentiates true nihilists and, potentially, national socialists from Hitler’s vulgar nihilism. See my Leo Strauss: the courage to destroy http://democratic-individuality.blogspot.com/2009/08/leo-strauss-courage-to-destroy.html. This distinction also appears in Heidegger about the time, Strauss reports, – after twenty years – when Strauss began to interest himself in the “great philosopher of our time” again.
[lxx] “Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart, this nullity imagines itself the greatest thing that civilization has produced.” These are the last men. Gilbert, Democratic Individuality, ch. 9.
[lxxi] Rossiter, op. cit., chs. iii-v.
[lxxii] The last four chapters of Gilbert, Democratic Individuality explore Weber’s imperialism and racism in relation to his social theory.
[lxxiii] Weber, Gesammelte Politische Schriften (Mohr, 1958), pp. 279, 152, 14. He named himself: “he only is a national politician [nationaler Politiker] who looks at internal politics from the standpoint of inevitable adaptation [Anpassung] to external political tasks.” (p. 282)
[lxxiv] H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, ed., From Max Weber (Oxford, 1948), pp. 385, 135.
[lxxv] His concept of status incorporated the inferiority of Poles in Germany and blacks in the United States. Gilbert, Democratic Individuality, pp. 403-05.
[lxxvi] Both Schmitt and Strauss moved in more reactionary circles than Weber. In a July 10, 1933 letter from Paris which Schmitt, having become Prussian State Councilor, did not answer, Strauss begs for an introduction to the French fascist, Charles Maurras:
“Meanwhile I have been somewhat occupied with Maurras. The parallels to Hobbes – one can probably not speak of dependence – are striking. I would be very glad if I could speak to him. Would you be in a position and willing to write me a few lines by way of an introduction to him? I should be deeply indebted to you if you could do so.” (Meier, Carl Schmitt, p. 128.)
Maurras led Action Francaise, a French reactionary party, and, like Schmitt and Strauss, would later support Hitler.
[lxxvii] With the nearness of mortality, Rosenszweig sent a draft of The Star of Redemption from the trenches of Macedonia in letters to his mother.
[lxxviii] As a liberal admirer of Weber, Stephen Holmes finds this phrase revolting (conversation, July, 2006).
[lxxix] Gilbert, Democratic Individuality, chs. 9-12. I stress an aspect of Weber’s thesis that capitalism arises from Protestant innerwordly asceticism which Weber does not mention: to combat Sombart’s anti-semitic notion that it comes from “soulless Jews, baked under the Oriental sun.” See also my Max Weber: a hero of fighting anti-semitism at democratic-individuality.blogspot.com. Curiously, Weber’s silence parallels Strauss’s later celebration of Machiavelli as causing the modern world without mentioning its opponent: Schmitt’s racist vilification of Spinoza.
[lxxx] I am indebted for this story to Catherine Zuckert (phone conversation, November, 2006).
[lxxxi] The word is Catherine Zuckert’s on a panel I organized on the letter at the American Political Science Association, 2007.