Book Reviews, Charles, European History, Law, Political Discussion & Analysis, Post-Liberalism
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The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy (Carl Schmitt)

Ah, Carl Schmitt, Carl Schmitt! No man like him exists today. Political philosophy in our time is, and for many decades past has been, largely the domain of intellectual pygmies and outright morons; the age of gold has degenerated into the age of brass, or of plastic with yellow paint. Schmitt is dead, but his work is not, and this, one of his series of books published during the early Weimar period in Germany, illuminates much of our own present condition. That’s not to say The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy is an easy read. Like much of Schmitt’s writing, it is somewhat elliptical, alternating great insight with moments of “where are we going with this?” But the payoff is worth the effort.

This is the only translation in English, done in 1985, of the 1926 (second) edition of Schmitt’s Die geistesgeschichtliche Lage des heutigen Parlamentarismus, first published in 1923. The word “crisis” does not appear in the original German title; rather, the term used is roughly “spiritual-historical situation,” in the non-religious sense of “spiritual,” for which there is no equivalent English word (but there is in Hungarian, lelki, as my mother never tires of reminding me). Moreover, it’s a bit strange that the German word for “parliamentarianism” was translated as “parliamentary democracy,” given that Schmitt spends a good portion of the book distinguishing parliamentarianism and democracy.

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To be sure Schmitt saw fatal problems, if not yet precisely a crisis, in the foundation of the German parliamentary system. Schmitt does mention a crisis of parliamentarianism within the text, but he means that not in the sense of an existential crisis of the nation (although famously much of Schmitt’s political thought revolved around what a sovereign might do, legitimately or not, in such a crisis) but in the sense of unbridgeable contradictions having surfaced in what was once thought to be a clearly-defined system. He says the same of both democracy and the modern liberal state, which is why one of his aims is to explore alternatives to played-out systems of the time. Whether he saw a crisis in his day or not, it is certain Schmitt would be horrified, but not surprised, at the utter degradation of today’s politics. But the wreckage of liberal democracy we see all around us is merely the inevitable end state of the contradictions and debilities Schmitt analyzes in this book.

It is hard for us to recapture the degree to which the Western European ruling classes in the early twentieth century worshipped the parliamentary system, and had faith that the end of political organization had arrived, just needing a little polishing here and adjustment there. After a century of struggle against monarchy and aristocracy, it seemed to most elites as if history had evolved to a modern system that truly represented the nation (though there were more than a few dissenters, mostly outside the elites, some of whom Schmitt covers in this book). Schmitt is famous in part because he broke that spell, and soundly spanked parliamentarianism, in its then-existent form, as outdated and inadequate for the challenges facing Germany. Parliamentarianism was an integral manifestation of liberalism, however, so Schmitt’s criticism went deeper than mere political form, or the mechanisms of political decision making. Schmitt thereby heralded both the looming troubles of the decades immediately following this work, and the troubles that have resurfaced after the end of the Cold War.

The translator, Ellen Kennedy, offers an excellent and lengthy Introduction. The edition she translates begins with a Preface, in which Schmitt responds to criticism of the first edition by one Richard Thoma, a law professor, who accused Schmitt of crypto-papism and a lust for dictatorship, which are pretty much the stock attacks on Schmitt to this day (although his Catholicism assumed less importance in his later thought than it had occupied in his earliest works). Despite Thoma’s attack, this book is in fact a turn away from the focus on dictatorship and the imposition of good government by a sovereign above the people, found in three earlier books (Political Romanticism; The Dictator; and Political Theology), towards a more favorable view of popular sovereignty. Nonetheless, the Preface, putatively a response to Thoma, actually most clearly pulls together the threads of Schmitt’s claim in the rest of the book that parliamentarianism is contradictory to democracy, and should be re-read after the book in order to grasp the practical realities of Schmitt’s theoretical analysis.

Schmitt’s original Introduction outlines his project. He notes that since the inception of the parliamentary system, it has been intermittently criticized, despite its general acceptance. Some criticism comes from those who would restore the absolutism of monarchy. More importantly, in the world of the Germany of 1923 (almost all of Schmitt’s focus is Germany, occasionally touching on France, but mostly for theory, not practice), were criticisms from those on the Left who desired some form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and those on the Right who desired some form of corporatism. Although he acknowledges many and varied currents criticizing parliamentary theory and, even more, practice, Schmitt’s purpose is not to himself critique the parliamentary system, even if that’s the effect of much of what he says. He rather wants to “find the ultimate core of the institution of modern parliament,” which he regards as being very different from its original conception and practice. “[T]he institution itself has lost its moral and intellectual foundation and only remains standing through sheer mechanical perseverance as an empty apparatus.” To understand why this is, Schmitt tells us, we must clearly define and distinguish parliamentarianism and related concepts, “such as democracy, liberalism, individualism, and rationalism.” He wants to “shift away from tactical and technical questions to intellectual principles and a starting point that does not once again lead to a dead end.” He wants to offer a positive way forward, by examining the system and alternatives, not merely carp about problems in the politics of his society.

Taking the bull by the horns, the first chapter tackles democracy. Legitimacy is associated, Schmitt says, with democracy, and legitimacy at the time Schmitt wrote meant recognizing the people’s right to self-determination. Popular sovereignty had been the wave of the nineteenth century, it “appeared to have the self-evidence of an irresistible advancing and expanding force.” It seemed allied to “liberalism and freedom”—but was not, because democracy is only an organizational form without content. Only by linking democracy with another concept, such as social or economic relationships, or a national will, or national homogeneity, does democracy acquire content, and even then the content can be wholly inconsistent from place to place, depending on the characteristics and heterogeneity of the population. (In fact, in the Preface, Schmitt denies that a more than nominally heterogenous polity, to the extent it extends the franchise across different groups in society, can be a democracy at all, something modern America is proving him correct about. Schmitt’s focus in other works on the inherency of enmity in any polity also suggests democracy is never workable, as does his point that political equality of all, which he regards as “irresponsible stupidity, leading to the worst chaos, and therefore to even worse injustice,” is “a liberal, not a democratic, idea,” but those are topics for another day.)

What then are the core realities of democracy? First, the actual will of each citizen, however he votes, is the same as the result obtained through majority vote. Failure to vote with the majority merely shows a voter has mistaken the general will. There is therefore “an identity between law and the people’s will.” Second, “all democratic arguments rest logically on a series of identities,” including “the identity of governed and governing . . . the identity of the people with their representatives . . . and finally an identity of the quantitative (the numerical majority or unanimity) with the qualitative (the justice of the laws).”

Of course, these identities are theoretical and never fully realized in practice, and the single most significant problem for theorists of democracy is that the will of the people as expressed may be deceived or malformed, in which case it is the minority which actually represents the will of the people. Thus democratic methods can be used to defeat or destroy democracy itself (Schmitt gives the example of newly-enfranchised women voters who commonly voted for authoritarian government), and if a theorist with power believes that democracy has, in itself, “self-sufficient value,” this cannot be permitted. This problem was identified since the Levellers of 1649, who as a result wanted to restrict power and voting to the “well-affected.” The “solution” usually adopted is that the people must be educated to know their true will, and such education will be conducted, if necessary, by a dictatorship, one that nonetheless remains democratic, because the will of the people is still the exclusive criterion of what is democratic, and the will of the people is thereby being correctly revealed. This is the key identity, that of democracy with the real will of the people, and the aim of every modern political power of every stripe, from royalists to Bolsheviks (with the exception of Italian Fascism, Schmitt notes) is to achieve that identity with itself. The ongoing problem of democracy is that it is impossible to disprove this “Jacobin argument” that the minority is qualitatively the legitimate representative of the will of the people if they have not yet been adequately informed and educated.

Next, of the principles of parliamentarianism—what are its “ultimate intellectual foundations”? Crucially, parliamentarianism is not democracy; it is not popular sovereignty in its pure form, and does not contain the core realities, the identities, Schmitt identifies in democracy. Schmitt notes that a representative of a parliamentary system is not, or should not be, a direct representative; he more than once cites Article 21 of the Weimar constitution, “members are representatives of the whole people; they are only responsible to their own consciences and not bound by any instructions.” (Although Schmitt does not mention it, not infrequently you hear this view ascribed to Edmund Burke, in his speech to the electors of Bristol, but according to Schmitt, this is the very essence of parliamentarianism, and nothing new.) Counterposed to this is not only the sometimes-found idea that representatives should, in fact, reflect the desires of constituents, but also the party system, which constrains parliamentarians from making individuated decisions.

What justifies the parliamentary system? The oldest, and once standard, justification for parliamentary rule is expediency—if a polity contains many people, an “elected committee of responsible people” can make decisions for the whole. This appears democratic, an extension of an assembly on the village green, but it is not, for “If for practical and technical reasons the representatives of the people can decide instead of the people themselves, then certainly a single trusted representative could also decide in the name of the same people. Without ceasing to be democratic, the argument would justify an antiparliamentary Caesarism.” So it would.

Then what is the justification for parliamentary rule? Schmitt identifies the modern “liberal rationalist” justification as the “dynamic-dialectic, that is, in a process of confrontation of differences and opinions, from which the real political will results. The essence of parliament is therefore public deliberation of argument and counterargument, public debate and public discussion, parley, and all this without taking democracy into account.” This is merely an extension of the broader liberal idea that the free market, competition, “will produce harmony,” and that truth is “a mere function of the eternal competition of opinion.” Such competition manifests in two principles which are, at root, contradictory—the paramount importance of openness, particularly of the press, allowing public opinion to surface and compete, and the division of powers, another type of competition, but one that thwarts the democratic will, because parliament, the fruit of openness, as a result only has legislative, not plenary, power. In Western thought, division of powers has become synonymous with constitutionalism (and dictatorship is a suspension of the division of powers), yet this is actually a retrenchment from Enlightenment rationalism, which posited the general will as the touchstone of proper governmental authority.

This contradiction exists because the division of powers is inherent in the intellectual distinction between legislation and executive action. Schmitt repeats his famous formulation, the first sentence of Political Theology, “Sovereign is whoever decides what constitutes an exception”; the division of powers is a pushback against this reality. Law, the absolute norm, is distinct from authority, the active application of the law. Seeking context for these abstractions, Schmitt surveys a wide range of thinkers, from Aristotle to James Madison, noting that the closer a system came to true Enlightenment rationalism, the more this key distinction was denied and the more parliament, the legislative power, became unitarily supreme. But to the extent the executive has power, openness and discussion do not determine its actions; here the idea of rationalism based on openness reaches its limit.

For decades, Schmitt says, openness and discussion “seemed to be essential and indispensable. What was to be secured through the balance guaranteed by openness and discussion was nothing less than truth and justice itself.” Society was to achieve “discussion in place of force.” In practice, however, “the reality of parliamentary and party political life and public convictions are today far removed from such beliefs.” Parliament is a facade; all real work is done in committees or in parties, far from public view and public discussion; thus parliament “is losing its rationale.” “Small and exclusive committees of parties or of party coalitions make their decisions behind closed doors, and what representatives of the big capitalist interest groups agree to in the smallest committees is more important for the fate of millions of people, perhaps, than any political decision.” To the extent public opinion, or the sovereignty of the people, is valued, society is worse off than under “the cabinet politics of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.” Equally corrosively for the theoretical principles of parliamentarianism, modern mass action techniques, such as radio, have “made argumentative public discussion an empty formality.” “There are certainly not many people today who want to renounce the old liberal freedoms, particularly freedom of speech and the press. But on the European continent there are not many more who believe that these freedoms still exist where they could actually endanger the real holders of power.” Zing. (It’s certainly no better today. Nobody would say that any modern Western system is one revolving around rational discourse. To enunciate the idea is to refute it.) “[P]arliament, as it developed in the nineteenth century, has also lost its previous foundation and its meaning.” Thus, by implication, parliament has a crisis of legitimacy for, after all, any number of other forms of government could allow the same type of system, forms that did not falsely claim to implement popular sovereignty—such as, let’s say, Mussolini’s corporatism.

So what does that mean? What can replace the empty shell of parliamentarianism? Rather than talk of Mussolini, Schmitt turns to two great currents of his age that both claimed to represent the general will: Marxism and anarcho-syndicalism. Schmitt never mentions it, but none of this analysis in the second half of the book was abstract in the years leading up to 1923; great currents rocked the German scene, of which these two held pride of place, with violent Communist rebellion and general strikes in many big cities, all capped by hyperinflation and the destruction of much of the German middle class. Mussolini had marched on Rome in 1922. Thus, Schmitt knew perfectly well that his bloodless analysis had real world implications and consequences, and these real-world events no doubt dictated the choice of what he would analyze.

He first examines Marxism, something about which he thought a great deal and analysis of which appears in several of his books (one reason Schmitt is still widely read on the Left). Marxism is the inheritor of the “Jacobin argument” about democracy, where open discussion fails to produce the correct result and must therefore be adjusted. Marxism casts itself not only as rational but also scientific (up to a point; only “vulgar Marxism” is unaware of historical contingency), and follows this to its logical conclusion, that force, rather than education, is necessary to achieve the sovereign will of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Schmitt outlines the relationship, or contradiction, of Marxism with parliamentarianism; much of what he says seems uncontroversial, but I believe this was the first time much of this analysis was done, including discussing the consequences of Hegelianism for Marxism (at least Schmitt offers no footnotes, which are extensive elsewhere in this book), and what we think today of Marxism as related to true, parliamentary-type popular sovereignty springs largely from Schmitt’s thoughts. Most importantly, in 1923, it was Marxism that seemed poised to sweep away parliamentarianism with dictatorship; Schmitt could not see the German future, and the Weimar Republic, despite its troubles, was not yet at death’s door, but the Communists were the most threatening opponent. The practical point Schmitt makes is that “A new theory of the direct use of force arose in opposition to the absolute rationalism of an educational dictatorship and to the relative rationalism of the division of powers.”

Then Schmitt turns to another alternative, anarcho-syndicalism. Here he focuses on Georges Sorel’s Reflections on Violence, with nods to Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Mikhail Bakunin. These thinkers reject the dictatorship of reason, which received its purest manifestation in Marxism, one reason the Marxists hated the anarchists (while still having much in common with them, just as Oliver Cromwell did with the Levellers, yet he destroyed them). Sorel’s anarcho-syndicalism was based on “a theory of myth” based on “absolute rationalism,” which rejects the “relative rationalism” of “balancing, public discussion, and parliamentarianism.” Liberal democracy, the engine of parliamentarianism, is merely “demagogic plutocracy,” a worn-out system lacking the power of true myth. That power can only be found in the proletariat, through their use of their great weapon, the general strike, a chthonic upheaval not based on political theory but on the needs and demands of the workers. Such power is focused, through “the social theory of myth,” to “create an image of the enemy that was capable of intensifying all the emotions of hatred and contempt.” (I wonder if a general strike is possible in America today? It would seem not, in our low-trust, Zoom-capable, handout-oriented society, but maybe it will come back into fashion if something unites normal Americans against our ruling class.)

This line of thought leads to enthusiasm for a final, decisive battle, for a political myth reified to the benefit of the whole polity. Here Schmitt adduces as a parallel one of his heroes, Juan Donoso-Cortes, Spanish mid-nineteenth-century reactionary monarchist. “All the Spaniard’s thoughts were focused on the great battle . . . the terrible catastrophe that lay ahead, which only the metaphysical cowardice of discursive liberalism could deny was coming.” Both Donoso-Cortes and Sorel rejected all the principles of parliamentarianism, and loathed the bourgeoisie, just from opposite directions. Sorel inherited Donoso-Cortes’s battle mindset; “Every rationalist interpretation falsifies the immediacy of life.” Sorel’s “great battle will not be the work of an academic strategy, but an ‘accumulation of heroic exploits’ and a release of the ‘individualistic forces within the rebelling mass.’ ” (Curiously for us today, this refracts the thought of ascendant currents on the American Right, exemplified by Bronze Age Pervert, as those begin to sweep away the tired remnants of twentieth-century American conservatism, which conserved nothing at all.) The result, for Sorel, is not the dictatorship that characterizes Marxism, but the “immediate life” of the masses, of which the France of 1793 is an exemplar.

Not that Schmitt thinks much of Sorel as a logical thinker. He notes that Sorel was far more similar to Marx than he liked to believe, and he claims that Sorel, obsessed with the bourgeoisie, had followed the bourgeoisie into “economic-technical rationalism,” whether he intended to or not. The proletariat “will be forced, through the superior power of the production mechanism, into a rationalism and mechanistic outlook that is empty of myth.” The inevitable way out of this is to turn to a national myth, and Schmitt explicitly predicts that “all of [this] tends toward a national rather than a class consciousness today.” (One example he gives is the cohesion during the Irish Easter Rising of 1919 between socialists and Irish nationalists, an episode of rebellion, or civil war, I know little about but intend to turn to, as I continue my study of little Western wars with great relevance to today.) He also again obliquely adduces Italian Fascism, noting that “wherever it comes to an open confrontation of the two myths [class and nation], such as in Italy, the national myth has until today always been victorious.” He points out that until Mussolini, the Italians seemed devoted to the “democratic and constitutional parliamentary tradition [and] appeared to be completely dominated by the ideology of Anglo-Saxon liberalism.” Not so much anymore, in 1923. Schmitt therefore predicts the continued resurgence of myth and, through that, myriad alternatives to parliamentarianism, not just Fascism.

“Every epoch of political and state thought has conceptions which appear evident to it in a specific sense and, even if also with many misunderstandings and mythologizing, are, without anything further, plausible to great masses.” Schmitt said this in the context of the nineteenth century being the great century of movement toward democracy, toward popular rule, and we instinctively think of democracy as self-evident and dictated by the arrow of history, because we have absorbed this history and we have been so indoctrinated. But the principle is wholly independent of democracy, and wholly applicable to a system, say Foundationalism, that is an enemy of democracy. How does a political conception become self-evident, though? Well, for the Germans, a new one became self-evident a decade after this book, and although it didn’t work out for the Germans, it wholly absorbed the great masses of Germany, and completely unexpectedly so. I predict the same thing will happen to us, though with an entirely different political philosophy, that is also distinct from democracy and parliamentarianism, neither of which has improved with age since Schmitt wrote this book.

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  1. Vxxc says

    “if something unites normal Americans against our ruling class.“

    That was Trump, he failed, its over.
    They’ll not rally again, why should they?

    Show me the dog normal Americans have in any political fight today, or since 2020?
    Other than governors lifting COVID restrictions. They don’t. The people are watching a struggle of psychopaths and their familiars and staying out of it, with good reason. One thing to watch a cage match, another to enter the cage.

    The people sir are no party and will be no party, they are only part of the spoils or in the way. The people are the 19th century Irish and their replacements; Sheep.
    Sheep replaced the troublesome Irish peasants in the 19th century. You may hear this called Famine, which was method not cause.

    The people are quite exhausted by politics and by ideas. There will be no true mass movement. People power played out.

    The man of destiny will be the one who can pay and rally, lead soldiers to victory. He’ll probably have selfish motives and so will his Troops. On the other hand this dramatically lessens the carnage. Its also normal human history. Probably for the best.

  2. agent00F says

    This post and blog in general overemphasizes the defining role of narratives and ideology in society. Which isn’t to say they aren’t important for rationalizing social relationships and motives, but rather they serve (rather transparently) self-interests which actually define what is done.

    For example, consider the basic viewpoint of whether bin Laden and jihadism was “good” or “bad”, which I’m sure the author here and those like him have spend some time analyzing in their way. Yet it’s obvious to any objective observers that bin Laden was a heroic freedom fighter when he was killing the state enemy and akin to hitler when he turned that focus to “us”. So clearly all that analysis was just a way of rationalizing a simple realignment in interests, and it’s evident that these social narratives formed are infinitely flexible, which is what provides them power over obstinate factual reality. Human lives are largely dominated by these social narratives, for another example the biblical flood, once considered Truth with a cap T with heretics burned at the stake, but now in a different point in history when that’s not amenable it’s some sort of allegory tale, with no adherent the wiser at the complete 180. Again infinitely flexible to serve prevailing expedient interests.

    The same is true for this outlook on parliamentary democracy. Is it good or bad or whatever? Rather depends on whichever application aligns with the typically transparent interests of any given political author. If we’re seriously talking Hegelian/Marxist history, the empirical question should be whether a people deserve any given democracy as matter of causality, which would require some scientific/quantitative arguments, not just rhetorical stories.

    • Charles Haywood says

      This, while it contains some truth, is a puerile analysis. The idea that men’s interests intersect with principle, or narrative, is not news. See, e.g., the Old Testament. The puerility lies not in noticing that, but in believing you have discovered something new, or that interests are all there is. Marxism is, of course, the main modern current of this type of puerility.

      • agent00F says

        I didn’t claim to bring some novel insight, just simple observation which is often lacking. In any case it’s only puerile if you don’t believe reality works on the basis of empirical causality. Which is rather amusing given the simple fact near all of modernity rests on empirical rather than ideological achievements.

        But it’s true that the human thought process probably evolved in order to tell narratives to create social relationships, which was relatively advantageous starting a million years ago (and didn’t move the needle much until said modernity), and that is why we can’t help but keep creating these story in lieu of actually understanding nature.

        As another example in our said democracy: the reply to 9/11 with afghanistan/iraq. All very easy to understand through simple empirical observation, when low caste muslims dare to kill 3k high born white westerners it demands disproportionate retribution (to the empirical tune of about 100:1) to maintain the global power structure. Everyone can trivially understand how this retribution works with the mafia (lowly shopkeeper kills mob don), or why a low level employee embarrassing some exec isn’t met with embarrassment in return but rather termination, but our minds are compelled to create narratives of ideology or whatnot to rationalize rather straightforward behavior. Notice the NYT/Wapo/etc “media of record” would never carry the accurate empirical explanation of such matters, because media caters to its american audience whose interests are to moralize itself as “good”, even if everyone perfectly understands the hegemonic power dynamics.

        Again, the rhyme and reason behind human behavior isn’t hard to grasp to any dispassionate observer, and arguably so easy that everyone perfectly understands their self-interested role in it (eg fellow shopkeepers or lowly employees), which is similarly why those for whom each narrative is for will go to the mattresses to protect them.

  3. Feher Peter says

    Having just read all of your Carl Schmitt reviews, and as someone who is studying Schmitt as well, I have to say they are very well done, presenting his thoughts with great comparisons to today’s situation. Congratulations!

    Now, with regards to parliamentarianism specifically, I think Schmitt correctly identified its ethos as that of debate and compromise, which was echoed by the Founding Fathers and by earlier British jurists as well. Jonathan Sumption(who is also notable for being the loudest voice against the pandemic restrictions in the UK and calling them illegitimate and open to be disrespected, which carries some wieght since he is a former Supreme Court Justice), for instance, argued that Parliament was the essence of good governance, precisely because it allowed laws to be born out of debate, compromise and competing interests. He considered political parties to be similar vehicles of uniting interests, putting this at the basis of his arguments against going over the separation of powers by activist judges and the Supreme Court(in UK&US alike), with the crux being that „a ruling, just like a referendum, can only allow for a yes or a no decision; a win or lose. Parliament, allowing for compromise, can deliver moderate results, that do not go into such extremes”. Needless to say, he probably didn’t really catch the friend-enemy distinction, although one would expect more from a scholar of the Hundred Years’ War…(his otherwise good critique, especially of the increasing authority of the European Court of Human Rights, is available here:

    As for Schmitt’s work, before turning to the myth and the katechon, I think it’s worth pointing out that Schmitt corresponded extensively with Hans Kelsen, the leading positivist jurist and author of Austrian Constitution, in wake of the 1932 Preussenschlag. In their correspondence, Schmitt argued that the guarantor of the rule of law was the President, and no constitutional review of his decree was needed, on the basis of article 48 and on the basis of public legitimacy(since the scandal revolved around the revocation of an opposition Minister-President of Prussia by Chancellor von Papen, based on ReichsPresident Hindenburg’s decree), while Kelsen argued that the Constitutional Court must review the decision and judge its legality in accordance with the Constitution, which was to be expected from a paragon of positivism like him(he also pioneered, among others, the concept of the legal pyramid, which puts the legal norms in a hierarchy, with the grundnorm/basic law/constitution at the top, being the „benchmark” by which all other laws are to be judged). If you want to read more on this(and, seeing that you were trained as a lawyer, as I am, I recommend you do), you may check Lars Vinx’s translation of the correspondence in English, The Guardian of the Constitution, here: (although at that price I’d recommend you check the pdf on the Cambridge website, if you don’t mind reading ebooks, that is).

    Turning to the political myth, Schmitt is again correct that national consciousness triumphed over the class-based one, but, while this was true then, I’m not sure it would today, in the age of cosmopolitan anywheres(Zoom-capable, handout-oriented, as you say), where they find identity, if at all, in their „lifestyle”, thinking that there is a consciousness that they are all individuals. Those who would support a national myth seem to be there, as was evidenced by multiple election results, but their potential is yet to be fully realized, and their financial means are well below the cosmpolitans’, reducing their possible influence(which wasn’t the case during Mussolini’s rise to power, when it was the middle class that coalesced around the national myth, eventually co-opting disaffected liberals of the upper-class and proletarians of the lower-class, following the disaster of the Bienio Rosso). An interesting claim on political myth and fiction is also the one made by Sri Aurobindo, an Indian philosopher and scholar of the Bhagavad Gita, who studied Western philosophy extensively before rejecting it in favor of his native Hindu one, that Western society was founded on social convention, which became based on fiction as time eroded the its foundation, and that it was the push for truth that came with the renewed skepticism of the Enlightenment that began the process of deconstruction and lead to the growth of individualism, as autonomy and truth were increasingly seen as superior values. His prediction, writing around 1917, was that any future regime would aim to establish a rational convention, and ordain the individual’s life in full, as the individual would see his identity as part of the collective, and collectivism wwould become the rule du jour(he probably meant something like Islamic theocracy in Iran or in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan: no distinction is made between public and private life, everything is regulated and respected according to Qur’an, since everything is theological. Maybe one could make an analogy here with the Left and its claim that everything is political, thus explaining the unholy alliance between Islam and Leftists? Not sure, but worth exploring. Aurobindo’s essay is here:

    Finally, with regards to the katechon, the protector and guardian against the Antichrist, I recommend you check, and possibly review, Reflections of a Russian Statesman by Konstantin Pobedonostsev(, who, perhaps due to being highly knowledgeable of Western culture(even keeping up with British, German and French newspapers, admittedly) deployed extensive efforts to keep Western influence out of Russia, and instead build a state that relied on a strong aristocracy inspired by Orthodox Christianity. An antithesis of Peter the Great in many ways, he was completely against the parliamentary system, since it could never represent the will of the people, he argued, due to people never managing to unite to a common will beyond a simplistic message or a few words, which also meant they would never comprehend the actions of representatives to full extent, thus failing to hold them accountable. At ballot box, after all, the vote might be informed by neighbors, village priest, or some other reason that has nothing to do with actual policy. From his witnessing of village life and pub discussions in rural Russia(where Slavic paganism was still alive and strong during the reign of Peter the Great, people’s Christian faith being extremely fickle and theologically uninformed), it was clear to Pobedonostsev that the masses couldn’t rule themselves, much less properly elect representatives. This also meant to him that there was greater corruption under parliamentarianism since representatives were accountable truly to financial interests, in Pobedonostsev’s eyes, making the whole system a farce. He is, thus, much more pessimistic than Schmitt, precisely because he is highly cynical of human potential(he seems closer to Le Bon on this, but he extends his crowd mentality even to individuals acting and thinking on their own), making Pobedonostsev opposed even to concepts such as freedom of the press or allowing true opposition. It is remarks like these that made him be perceived as highly odious in Russia, with Vladislav Surkov, one of Putin’s close aides, vehemently rejecting and protesting the comparison to him. As with the other works, if you don’t mind ebooks, you may also want to check it out in the Web Aechive, where it’s been scanned since the original translation(1898) is out of copyright:

    Thank you and I hope my comment, despite its length, it’s as enlivening as ever. To my defence, if I had more time, it would have been shorter.


    • Charles Haywood says

      Thank you for the lengthy and insightful comments! Nothing really to add, but I am about to work my way through the other three of Schmitt’s earlier works I mention here, beginning with Political Romanticism, and so will look at this when I write them up. I will buy a copy of the Kelsen-Schmitt correspondence; I am collecting printed volumes of every Schmitt writing translated into English (an expensive endeavor); Vinx has done several. I have a copy of Pobedonostsev’s book, which has been recommended to me before. It seems very interesting, but like a lot of things, I simply haven’t prioritized it. Maybe someday soon!

      • Feher Peter says

        You’re welcome, and I also thank you for your reviews and writings here. It’s been quite a few times now that your reviews of leftwing work saved me the pain of reading it, while also providing the lessons I would have aimed for. Honestly, if your physical library somehow ends up deficient, rest assured, for you’ve already made a great service through the reviewing you’ve done.

        It is indeed an expensive endeavor to collect all those works, although that pales in comparison if you’re adding the non-translated works as well. Vinx has done a great job of bringing Schmitt’s work to light for English speakers, and so far the translation is very good, and well annotated. I recommend it because it’s very rewarding to see positivism demolished in its gaps(Kelsen somehow missed that even Cambaceres, as he was working on the Code Napoleon, argued that the judge should be the servant of equity before being the servant of the law, thus allowing judicial interpretation within certain protective limits), although not everyone leaves with the same lessons in mind. I’m reminded here of the discussion I had with my professor when I had my exam and I chose to analyze Schmitt, as he was arguing that, in these debates, Schmitt lacked moral fiber and showed careerism of the worst kind, while Kelsen stayed true to principle and supported the „democratic order” of Weimar and the „rule of law”…no comment.

        The advantage with Pobedonostsev is all his thought is nicely condensed in about 300 pages, and it’s not a difficult read, being written as a pamphlet/reaction. Some Dostoyevsky influences are present as well, but he’s mostly arguing against Western influences, and for conserving Russian society as it was, with his argument for change being some undoing of Peter the Great’s reform on church, in order to give it a greater role in governance. What’s worth keeping in mind is that his system was ultimately too fragile for the shocks to come, namely in 1905 and 1917, with the establishment of parliament and the impossibility of continuation of war, despite Allies’ key victories and American entry, culminating in deposition of monarchy and then rise of Bolsheviks. Whether his construction was just outmaneuvered by history or it was inherently problematic is an interesting discussion, but his thoughts are a good starter, I reckon, for seeing what we should discard from present society, or to what degree, since how much of the trunk should be cut isn’t settled yet.


  4. agent00F says

    > Maybe one could make an analogy here with the Left and its claim that everything is political, thus explaining the unholy alliance between Islam and Leftists?

    Except everything IS “political” in the social space, so far as any society has managed to develop. For example, consider what actually happens when you read the paper or such. The popular view is this process is used to consume facts & information about the world, which makes the Gell-Mann effect or Fox News for that matter, wherein we continue to consume the info despite its inaccuracy a mystery. To gain the insight to dissolve that mystery, observe this consumption is of social narratives so that its consumers can effectively communicate, eg NYT readers to each other, same for Fox, the bible, this book, etc. Any correlation to factual accuracy might be (selectively) appreciated but secondary at best. As another perfect eg. “the alliance between leftists and islam” signals for effective communication between those who find such narratives appealing. Again, this communication is hardly done for the purposes of conveying accurate info but the ingrained evolutionary advantage of tribe-building & such. Even within the ivory tower where everyone’s job is ostensibly academic scholarship there’s still substantial remnants of the human condition.

    As to whether better is possible, that clearly depends on whether the consumers in question will ever find value past immediate innate interests, which isn’t obvious but rather depends on details of education and material conditions.

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