Schmitt Redux

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ALAN WOLFE MARCH 4, 2009

Schmitt Redux

My thanks go to Damon Linker for his concise thoughts on why I was correct to write about Carl Schmitt, the Nazi political philosopher, in my book The Future of Liberalism. I too have wondered why conservative sensibilities are so easily offended on this point. Reading John Yoo is like overhearing Schmitt translated into English.

Pride of place for taking offense goes to Jonah Goldberg. I hope Jonah decides to read my book rather than rely on reviews. He might learn a few things.        

One is that I explicitly argue that Schmitt's anti-Semitism and hatred of America makes him unappealing to neoconservatives, especially including Straussians. Although Strauss knew Schmitt, and from time to time wrote things in defense of executive prerogative, Straussians are not Schmittians. Many paleoconservatives, by contrast, are, and I discuss them in the book.

Second, Goldberg has never acknowledged that when I write about Schmitt, I actually spend as much time dealing with his influence on the left as on the right. Unless one understands that I am defending liberalism not only against conservatism but all of its ideological opponents, one cannot understand me.

Third, Goldberg made his mark by attacking liberals for their fascist sensibilities, making it difficult for him to feign outrage about linking the ideas of any of today's thinkers to the totalitarians of another era.

Finally, Goldberg needs to learn more about his own side. Unlike leftists such as Jacques Derrida and Paul de Man, he writes in Liberal Fascism, "all major conservative schools of thought trace themselves back to the champions of the Enlightenment." May I remind him that James Burnham was inspired by anti-Enlightenment thinkers such as Mosca, Pareto, and Michels? Surely Goldberg is aware of H. L. Menken's championing of Nietzsche, as he mentions it in another part of his book. Goldberg describes Edmund Burke as an Enlightenment figure, but another conservative, Russell Kirk, wrote that Burke "was not a man of the Enlightenment, but a Christian, much read in Aristotle, Cicero, the Fathers of the Church, the Schoolmen (including Aquinas) and the great English divines." I have no idea whether Goldberg has read Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue, a book attractive to many religious conservatives, so he may not be familiar with its passionate attack on the Enlightenment.

The point is that Carl Schmitt is attractive to many contemporary thinkers who hate liberalism, and even though many can be found on the left, an equal share can be located on the right. One difference, though, remains: Leftist Schmittians such as Giorgio Agamben and Chantal Mouffe never made it to the White House.

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posted in: alan wolfe, business, entertainment, environment, health, politics, carl schmitt, jonah goldberg

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