Know your Schmitt: a godfather of truth and the spectre of Nazism

Huysmans, Jef (1999). Know your Schmitt: a godfather of truth and the spectre of Nazism. Review of International Studies, 25(2) pp. 323–328.



In a recent article in the Review of International Studies Hans-Karl Pichler argues that Hans Morgenthau's intellectual universe was saturated by 'typically European philosophical problems' which he transferred to an American political context. He shows this by looking at how Morgenthau tried to overcome the value determinacy of social science, as pointed out by Weber, by grounding his political realist theory in a Schmittean understanding of the political, which defines war–the friend/enemy distinction–as the essence of the political and founds it anthropologically in the evil, dangerous nature of human beings.2 I have a problem with the article because Schmitt emerges as just a serious political theorist, which he indeed was. But he was also more than an important political theorist. He was a member of the Nazi party between 1933 and 1936 explicitly providing legal justifications for the Nazi regime and its policies, thus becoming for some the Kronjurist of the Nazis. In that period also anti-Semitic references started appearing in his work. Since then his name and work have carried the spectre of Nazism and by implication of the Holocaust with them. This spectre is nowhere sensed in Pichler's analysis. It does not seem to have any grip on Pichler's narrative. I think this is unfortunate because I believe this spectre should always haunt any invoking of Schmitt or Schmittean understandings of the political. The reason is not to silence discussions about his understanding of the political, but rather to render normative questions about the ethico-political project his concept of the political incorporates as the kernel of any working with or on Schmitt's ideas.

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