Childhood & Early Life
Carl Schmitt was born into a Roman Catholic family in Plettenberg, Westphalia, German Empire, on 11 July 1888. His parents were originally from the Eifel region and had moved to Plettenberg to pursue business.
He studied law and graduated from Strasbourg in 1915. The thesis for his doctorate was titled ‘On Guilt and Types of Guilt.’ He volunteered to join the army the following year and also earned his habilitation at Strasbourg during the same period with a thesis on ‘The Value of the State and the Significance of the Individual.’ He then taught at various business schools and universities in Germany.
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In 1921, as a professor at the ‘University of Greifswald,’ he published his essays on dictatorship in which he talked about the foundation of the newly established ‘Weimar Republic,’ emphasising the role of the German head of state. He believed that power vested in the president to declare a state of emergency made him a dictator.
While working as a professor at the ‘University of Bonn’ in 1922, he wrote a book titled ‘Political Theology,’ which further emphasised on the importance of authoritarian rule and supported the emergence of totalitarian power.
He finally became a professor at the Handelshochschule in Berlin in 1926, where he wrote his best known works, including ‘The Concept of the Political’ in 1932. There are various interpretations of this book. However, it is generally agreed that his work was an attempt to achieve state unity by defining politics as the most important and relevant factor of a state to differentiate between friend and foe.
Besides academics, he also worked as a counsel for the Reich government for the case in which the ‘Social Democratic Party’ controlled government of the state of Prussia disputed its suspension by the right-wing Reich government of Franz von Papen in 1932. The court ruled the suspension as unlawful but gave the right to install a commissar to the Reich. This de facto put an end to federalism in the Weimar republic.
He joined the ‘Nazi Party’ in May 1933 and supported the burning of books written by Jewish authors that were considered anti-German. He was soon made the State Councillor for Prussia by Hermann Goring and later became president of the ‘Union of National- Socialist Jurists.’
Schmitt became a professor at the ‘University of Berlin’ where he presented his views in support of Nazi dictatorship and the concept of an authoritarian Fuhrer state. He continued as a professor at Berlin till the end of ‘World War II.’
He was appointed editor-in-chief of the Nazi journal for lawyers in June 1934, through which he justified the political murders under the authority of Hitler, referred to as the ‘Night of the Long Knives.’ He was openly anti-Semitic and advocated that Jews should be marginalised.
In 1936, he became chairman of law teachers at a convention in Berlin where he advocated that German law should cleanse the Jewish spirit. He demanded that any Jewish publication should be marked with a symbol to differentiate it from mainstream literature.
However, the Schutzstaffel (SS) accused him of being an opportunist and projecting a false front to appease the Nazis. Following which he resigned from his position as ‘Reich Professional Group Leader,’ but continued as a professor at the University of Berlin and his title ‘Prussian State Councillor.’
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He was captured by the Americans in 1945 and spent more than a year in an internment camp before he returned to his house in Plettenberg. He was unrepentant about the role that he played in creating the Nazi state and withstood all attempts of de-nazification.
Although he was kept away from the academic mainstream, he continued his studies of international law. He interacted with the younger generation and gave lectures to advocate new partisan warfare, calling the ‘Spanish Civil War’ a ‘War of National Liberation against International Communism’ in his book ‘Theory of the Partisan.’
In what is considered to be one of his final works ‘The Nomos of the Earth,’ published in 1950, he describes the origin of the Eurocentric global order and its contribution to civilization. He defended the role played by Europe in creating international law that restricted conflict between other sovereign states.
His ‘Theory of the Partisan,’ which originated from his lectures delivered in 1962, addresses the transformation of warfare post the Eurocentric era and the emergence of terrorism as a new theory of war and enmity in the 21st century.
Carl Schmitt wrote a number of articles and books in German language. A few of his books that have been translated into English include ‘Political Romanticism’ (1919), ‘Dictatorship from the Origin of the Modern Concept of Sovereignty to Proletarian Class Struggle’ (1921), ‘Constitutional Theory’ (1928), ’The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy’ (1923), ‘The Concept of the Political’ (1932), ‘Legality and Legitimacy’ (1932), ‘Land and Sea’ (1942), ‘The Nomos of the Earth’ (1950), and ‘Theory of the Partisan’ (1963).
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1916, he married a Serbian woman named Pavla Dorotic, who pretended to be a countess. The couple later divorced, but their marriage was not annulled by the church. He married for a second time again to a Serbian woman Duska Todorovic, in 1926, for which he was excommunicated from the church.
He was a devoted Catholic till his breakaway from the church. Subsequently he became an atheist with extreme political views. He began to describe Catholics as displaced from reality.
He had a daughter, Anima Schmitt de Otero, from his second marriage. She later married a Spanish law professor, who helped her translate several of her father’s works to Spanish.
Carl Schmitt died on April 7, 1985 and was laid to rest in Plettenberg. His works continue to influence both left and right wing philosophy even today.
Schmitt’s thoughts on politics were influenced by Leo Strauss who also influenced several Americans, including former White House advisor William Kristol and The New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Schmitt believed that free trade was not to promote peace, but a form of exploitation.
Schmitt and Heidegger were German academia purged the Jewish universities of what they called Jewish thought.