This important new book places Carl Schmitt’s critique of liberal political theory in a broader historical context than is usually done. His belief in the centrality of the European state since the seventeenth century derives from various sources, including medieval (Scholastic) theology and nineteenth century (post-Hegelian) social and political theory. Schmitt’s famed ‘political theology’ aims at justifying the necessity of a strong secular state as the safeguard of a political community against the encroachment of legally protected interest groups that shield themselves behind pre-political rights. William Rasch neither condemns nor champions Schmitt’s various attacks on liberalism, but does insist that the tension between ‘society’ as the realm of individual rights to pursue private pleasures and the ‘state’ as the placeholder for something traditionally called the common good is a conundrum that is as important now as it was during the Weimar era in Germany. Reappraisal of some of the pillars of liberal dogma are as much in order as are fears of their demise.
Introduction / Part I: Political Theology / Introduction to Part One / 1. Concrete Reason / 2. Modernity and Its Discontents / 3. Sovereignty / Part II: State versus Society / Introduction to Part Two / 4. Theorizing State and Society / 5. Liberalism / 6. Democracy / 7. Ethical State, Total State / Conclusion / Works Cited / Index
William Rasch is Professor of Germanic Studies at Indiana University. He has published extensively on the German intellectual tradition – philosophy, social theory, political theory – concentrating on the work of Niklas Luhmann, Carl Schmitt, and aspects of German Idealism. He is the author of Sovereignty and its Discontents: On the Primacy of Conflict and the Structure of the Political (2004) and Niklas Luhmann’s Modernity: The Paradoxes of Differentiation (2000), as well as editor of several volumes.
If the “respectful agonistic” politics celebrated by William Connolly, Chantal Mouffe and others seems increasingly a fading dream, where is one to look? William Rasch has written a bold and challenging book, engaging Carl Schmitt on the level of the foundation of his thought rather than the edifice erected upon it. For Rasch, Schmitt makes four important critical stances. First is a reliance on concrete reason, unassisted by any transcendental support. Secondly, the basic quality of human beings is neither good nor evil but is a problem – hence it is political. Rights, therefore, are not pre-political: the question is as to their author. And lastly, discussion cannot be the road to consensus. This book makes a very strong case for the importance of Carl Schmitt in our times.