Carl Schmitt Today

As I have for almost ten years, today I finished my semester with Carl Schmitt’s Concept of the Political (1928/32). When I last taught Schmitt we were gearing up for the presidential elections last fall. He is even more appropriate today than he was then.

For those not familiar with Schmitt or why his thought has proved so enduring, consider this. Let us suppose that you are a political entity that wishes to reach a compromise with other political entities with whose principles you differ. Now let us suppose that among the entities with which you must compromise is a political entity committed to the principle of never compromising. Which of you will win?

Carl Schmitt is well worth the read, so don’t take this summary as sufficient. Nevertheless the logic holds infallibly.

When Barrack Hussein Obama was elected in 2008, the Republican leadership staked its future on the principle: never compromise. And they won. Moreover, even should voters punish them in 2018 for sticking by this principle, their electoral defeat will itself reinforce the principle of no compromise. They will have lost. But their principle will remain intact. When, by contrast, Alisha Kramer beat Jon Ossoff in the Georgia special election, it prompted Democrats everywhere to nod their heads in agreement with Tim Ryan (D-OH): “Our brand is worse than Trump.” Representative Ryan, in essence, was declaring: “I am ready to compromise. I am ready to boot Nancy Pelosi. I am ready to concede defeat. And more.” Thus the brilliance of “never compromise.”

On a less polemical more inquisitive level, we can ask how we have reached a point — politically, institutionally — where a sufficient number of voters no longer trust in the validity of the U.S. Constitution. We knew — we have known for some time — that the U.S. Constitution does not command universal allegiance. Indeed, upon its first publication it generated a groundswell of opposition: the anti-Federalists. These anti-Federalists have never disappeared. Indeed, in 1861 they provoked a bloody and costly war. They were defeated not by compromise, but by guns and ammunition. They objected again in 1939 — see yesterday’s blog — and, again, they were defeated (see WWII). They objected again — in 1964 and 1965. And, again, they were defeated: not with arguments, but with force. The anti-Federalists — those fundamentally opposed, in principle, to the 1783 U.S. Constitution — are now in the majority. And this was Carl Schmitt’s point. The “political” — those opposed to compromise — always win in the end.

Let us suppose, however, that we spread our wealth out with sufficient breadth and depth. Let us suppose that all of those workers made redundant by innovation were not simply retrained — because, in most instances, this is not possible — but were instead sustained; because their memory, experience, know-how, their lives are not redundant. Let us suppose that they are free to enroll in courses at their local community college or university; to continue to learn and grow. And let us suppose that they are relieved of the fear that so many of the feel.

This is not a natural process. The market will not produce it on its own. It must be won through hard work. And, while it undeniably generates huge efficiencies, it is not for the efficiencies that we value it.

When we redraw our strategic outline for the next decade, we must not ignore “the political”; these folks will not ever be placated. But we also must not forget the overall goal. We believe in life; they don’t. We believe in growth; they don’t. We believe in the future; they don’t. Tim Ryan is wrong. We are right. That is the political.

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