Carl Schmitt was a controversial German catholic intellectual and legal theoretician with ties to the Nazi ideology and party.
Schmitt was born as the son of a businessman in Plettenberg,
Westphalia on July 11, 1888; he studied state theory and law in Berlin,
Munich and Strassburg and took his graduation and State promotion
exams in Strassburg in 1915.
In 1921, Schmitt became a professor at the university of Greifswald,
where he published his essay “Die Diktatur” (“On Dictatorship”),
in which he discussed the foundations of the newly-established Weimar
Republic, emphasising the office of the Reichspräsident. Although
most Anglo-American scholars rate The Concept of the Political
as occupying a central place in Schmitts work, this may simply
be the result of the historical fact that this work was the first of
Schmitts essays to be published in English. In many important
ways, On Dictatorship is equally important, as its central
theme presages much of Schmitts later work. For Schmitt, a strong
dictator could embody the will of the people more effectively than any
legislative body, as it can be decisive, whereas parliaments inevitably
involve discussion and compromise:
If the constitution of a state is democratic, then every exceptional
negation of democratic principles, every exercise of state power independent
of the approval of the majority, can be called dictatorship.
States must rule, and rule must be exercised decisively. For Schmitt,
every government capable of decisive action must include a dictatorial
element within its constitution. Thus, in “Die Diktatur,”
we find Schmitt's judgement that dictatorships can be more meaningfully
democratic than democracies.
This was followed by another essay in 1922, titled “Politische
Theologie” (“Political Theology”); in it, Schmitt, who
at the time was working as a professor at the University of Bonn, further
substantiated his authoritarian theories, effectively denying free will
based on a catholic world view. Another year later, Schmitt defended
emerging totalitarian power structures in his paper “Die geistesgeschichtliche
Lage des heutigen Parlamentarismus” (roughly: “The Thought-Historical
Situation of Today's Parliamentarianism”).
Schmitt changed universities in 1926, when he became
professor for law at the Hochschule für Politik in Berlin, and
again in 1932, when he accepted a position in Cologne. It was in Cologne,
too, that he wrote another paper, “Der Begriff des Politischen”
(“The Concept of the Political”), in which he developed his
controversial state law theories. Apart from his academic funtions,
Schmitt was counsel for the Reich government in the case “Preussen
contra Reich” when the SPD led Prussian government disputed its
dismissal by the right-wing von Papen government. One of the counsels
for the Prussian government was Hermann Heller. In German history, this
sad struggle leading to the de facto destruction of federalism in the
Weimar republic is known as the 'Preussenschlag'.
Schmitt's theories in this paper were later used by
the Nazis for an ideological foundation of their dictatorship, and Schmitt
was later accused of having justified the “Führer” state
with regard to legal philosophy. In fact, Schmitt, who became a professor
at the University of Berlin in 1933 (a position he held until the end
War II) joined the NSDAP on May 1, 1933; he quickly was appointed “preußischer
Staatsrat” by Hermann
Göring and became the president of the
“Vereinigung nationalsozialistischer Juristen” (“Union
of National-Socialist Jurists”) in November.
Half a year later, in June 1934, Schmitt became editor
in chief for the professional newspaper “Deutsche Juristen-Zeitung”
(“German jurisprudents' newspaper”); in July 1934, he justified
the political murders of the Night
of the Long Knives as the “highest form of administrative justice”
(“höchste Form administrativer Justiz”).
Schmitt presented himself as a radical anti-semite
and also was the chairman of a law teachers' convention in Berlin in
October 1936, where he demanded that German law be cleansed from the
“Jewish spirit” (“jüdischem Geist”); nevertheless,
two months later, in December, the SS publication “Das schwarze Korps” accused Schmitt
of being an opportunist and called his anti-semitism
a mere mock-up, citing earlier statements
in which he criticised the Nazi's racial
theories. After this, Schmitt soon lost all
of his prominent offices, and retreated from
his position as a leading Nazi jurist, although
he remained as a professor in Berlin.
In 1945, Schmitt was captured by the American forces; after spending
more than a year in an internment camp, he returned to his home town
of Plettenberg following his release in 1946. Despite being isolated
in the scientific and political community, he continued to study international
law from the 1950s on.