I read this book for my Readings in Fascism class at the CUNY Graduate Center. Yep, I signed up for eight weeks of Nazis and other authoritarians. The last week we get to Trump.
It was my turn to lead the class discussion (on Blackboard!). This is what I wrote:
Background (from Gale Biography in Context and Wikipedia)
Carl Schmitt lived from 1888-1985 and was born and raised Catholic in a Protestant town (population probably in the 6000s) in a politically engaged family. He was not rich, but his academic excellence afforded him access to quality secondary education and postsecondary work in jurisprudence completed in 1914. He volunteered for WWI, but due to a back injury spend the war in Munich, working as a censor. Next he took an academic position in Bonn and established himself as a champion of the right and Weimar constitution. The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy was first published in 1923, and Schmitt joined the Nazi party in 1933. He is identified as an influential and controversial legal theorist. One of his primary influences was Max Weber, and in turn he influenced Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, and Franz Neumann (who we are reading for Thursday).
Schmitt's writing is more grounded in scholarship, engaging with other thinkers, with a seven-page bibliography, than the writers we read last week: Chamberlain, Rosenberg, and Spengler. I found some of his arguments to be sound, but that I could not always follow him to his conclusions.
Part I Democracy and Parliamentarianism
Schmitt questions whether parliamentarianism is necessarily democracy. He refers to a "flood of democracy against which there has been no dam since 1789" and posits that German proponents of a worker-led democracy are "protagonists," as if they are characters in a novel. He approaches the concept of democracy as if it is not what seems like obviously linked to liberalism and freedom, but a false equality, in which members of the minority have to adopt the majority belief or cease to be considered. "It belongs to the essence of democracy that every and all decisions which are taken are only valid for those who themselves decide."
He argues that the system of checks and balances: legislature and justice are incompatible with the executive. He introduces the idea of a capitalist playing the role of a monarch where subordinate participation is possible, but...different.
His issue, which he brings up, but does not explore in great detail here, is that "the masses are sociologically and psychologically heterogeneous." It seems to me that he is saying that a true democracy is impossible to achieve, so why bother?
As opposed to Spengler, he both questions science and uses the word "evolution" uncritically. When he writes "Thus a citizen never really gives his consent to a specific content but rather in abstracto to the result that evolves out of the general will, and he votes only so that the votes out of which one can know this general will can be calculated," there is an implied sneer at the quantification of voting. He further explores human identities, equating them with "the justice of the law" and a qualitative posture. He does not see voting as particularly empowering, especially when citizens are voting for the people who will do the significant voting, and concludes that the will of millions of voters is no more the will of the people than "a single individual who has the will of the people even without a ballot."
All in all he is cynical about democracy. Democracy will self-destruct when faced with "the formation of the will." "Radical" democrats when outvoted will have to decide whether to cede or fight. The people in charge can manipulate people with the powers at their disposal: military, education, and propaganda. To me, those are fair points, but then his logic becomes hard to follow. "...dictatorship is not antithetical to democracy. Even during a transitional period dominated by the dictator, a democratic identity can still exist and the will of the people can still be the exclusive criterion."
In addition to challenging the roles of the legislature and judiciary, he also questions the role of a constitution in a democracy. He ends the section again stating that dictatorship is not antithetical to democracy, but while he has written extensively about parliamentarianism, he has not not written concretely about dictatorship.
Part II The Principles of Parliamentarism
Here Schmitt expands on the ideas he brought up in part I about the non-executive branches of government and the role of the constitution in a democracy. He deems popular voting for parliamentarians who will do all the important voting to be anti-democratic justifying an "antiparliamentarian Caesarism," referring to the Roman also favored by Spengler. The popular voter has fewer "particles of reason" than those charged with bringing "public power under their control." The reasonable people are guaranteed to their position by rational notions of "free competition and a preestablished harmony."
Proponents of parliamentary democracy are also proponents of freedom of the press, discussion, and openness. Schmitt considers these to be more or less the same. He mocks free speechers' supposed belief that abuse of the press is unthinkable and further that the press is powerful enough to bring down a tyrant.
He bring up a perceived contradiction at the end of his exploration of openness, in that proponents of parliamentary democracy are equally in favor of transparency for their representatives as secret ballot for popular voters.
In the third section, "The concept of law and legislation in parliamentarianism" of this part, per Bodin, Schmitt identifies the sovereign's role as deciding when to follow law and when an exception is warranted. He, citing Locke, does not take into account that leaders are fallible and potentially even unreasonable. He does consider popular exercises of power: political demonstrations, political media, and even parliamentary debate to be useless.
Again, Schmitt provides solid citations and arguments, but few concrete examples--no data--to bolster them.
Part III Dictatorship in Marxist Thought
Rationalism is a key concept in this section, one that could be critiqued for its subjectivity: whose reason? To that end, he refers to contemporaneous socialism as having gone from utopia (whose) to science (Marxist science in metaphysics!).
He opens the Marxist science section saying "Only when it was scientifically formulated did socialism believe itself in possession of an essentially infallible truth, and just at that moment it claimed the right to use force." The Soviet Union was nascent at the time of the writing, so I'm not clear on whether Schmitt is writing theoretically, or about Bolshevism, or Leninism or Marxist theory or what (acknowledging my ignorance, and the fact that I didn't do much secondary research to prepare for this discussion).
Focusing on science, Schmitt writes that "bourgeois social philosophers" do not think that one can "deal with historical events in the same way that astronomy can calculate the movements of the stars." I'm not clear on if Schmitt is positing that there is a "natural-scientific method," (natural sciences being life and physical that emphasize empirical and quantitative methods) or if he's saying Marx proffers or eschews such a method to "turn the laws of nature to mankind's advantage." I am further confused about how he gets to following eighteenth century enlightenment with the conclusion that "The result must be, as with all rationalisms, a dictatorship of the leading rationalists."
In this part Schmitt further explores education as a democratic concept and identifies the forcing of "the free to be unfree" as an educational dictatorship." Could he be saying that is a good thing? Maybe, because he goes on to discuss Weitgeist, and the idea that spirit of a people is not a sudden and unified development, that there is a leadership with "the right to act because it possess correct knowledge and consciousness," which seems to me to be in keeping with the German nationalist sentiments of the writers from last week.
On page 61, ⅘ of the way through the book, Schmitt refers to Marx as a Jewish prophet and cites Marx's "moral pathos." He summarizes Marx and Bolshevism in this part before moving on to the next part, where he looks at anarchism.
Part IV Irrationalist Theories of the Direct Use of Force
Schmitt claims that a Marxist dictatorship of the proletariat "clamors" for the use of force, comparing it to the Jacobin Reign of Terror. The comparison to Stalin may or may not be apt, but the idea of a clamor for force is one to question.
Schmitt goes on to examine Bakunin and Proudhon and anarchism's "battle against every sort of systemic unity" including the "metaphysical centralism of belief in God." (Why do all of our authors talk so much about the metaphysical?) He puts forth the anti-rational anarchist argument that art is more important to humankind than science.
He likens a general strike more or less to proletarian terrorism as a "monstrous catastrophe" that would "subvert the whole of social and economic life." He then goes on to use variations on the word "coward" three times in the next paragraph, about "the monstrosity of cowardly intellectualism," "the metaphysical cowardice of discursive liberalism," and "the cowardly shyness of the bourgeoisie." Using a derivation of "monster," also for the third time, this time taking two paragraphs to do so, referring to "revolutionary excitement and the expectation of monstrous catastrophes…"
Getting back to the general strike, Schmitt, theorizes that parliamentary democracy would destroy the proletariat's traditional weaponry. Nearing the end of the book, he takes up difference--"conceptions of race and descent" and how these factors of shared culture/difference from others create a national unity, rather than a class consciousness. He posits that "a common spiritual enemy can also produce the most remarkable agreements." It is 1923, and he is hinting at who and what that national enemy might be.
Are the CEOs the new kings?
How can democracy exist in a dictatorship?
Is a constitution necessary in a democracy?
Is true democracy possible in a society that can't fit under the village tree? Is fascism inevitable?
Does democracy rely on capitalism?
Is the use of force always fascist?
Is school a dictatorship? Are there checks and balances?
Are US detention camps on a continuum with Nazi concentration camps?