Reviewed by Steven T. Ostovich , College of St. Scholastica, DULUTH, MN 55811
Carl Schmitt is a scandal and a puzzle. Schmitt rose to prominence as a legal scholar during the constitutional struggles of the Weimar Republic. He joined the Nazi Party in 1933 and despite losing influence in the purges of the late 1930s remained a party member until 1945. Imprisoned and examined by the allies after the war, Schmitt was not prosecuted for his wartime activities but was banned from teaching. He lived until 1985 and influenced a generation of German (and other) political theorists across the political spectrum through private contacts and seminars.
Interest in Schmitt has mushroomed in post-1989 Europe and in the United States after the translation of several of his works into English. Readings of Schmitt vary widely, however, as interpreters try to reconcile his insightful political theory with his Nazi association. Some scholars simply ignore Schmitt's writing after 1933 and focus on his anti-liberalism in the 1920s. Others separate Schmitt's work from his person and treat his Nazism as an opportunistic peccadillo. Still others excoriate Schmitt and his existential decisionism as enduringly dangerous.
Heinrich Meier offers an interpretation of Schmitt that is almost unique. The four essays in this book carry forward the project Meier began in Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss: The Hidden Dialogue (University of Chicago Press, 1995). For Meier, the key to understanding Schmitt is the latter's "political theology." Schmitt claims in his 1922 book, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Teaching of Sovereignty that, "All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts" (36). Meier interprets this to mean political concepts must be submitted to the test of adequacy to God's revelation and delineates the role of revelation as a methodological principle in Schmitt. In so doing he challenges both the blindness towards theology in much of the scholarly world and the denial (at least until recently) of Schmitt's significance by contemporary political theologians.
Meier's sensitivity to Schmitt's political theology is helpful. It enables Meier to avoid a common misreading of Schmitt as a political realist that misses the importance of eschatology in his work. The theological base also allows Meier to trace both the continuity and developments in Schmitt's thought over time. For example, Schmitt's early concept of the political is as a human activity parallel to art and economics in making distinctions, friend versus enemy in the case of politics. Later politics becomes "total" in providing the conceptual framework for understanding what is essential to being human. For Meier, this development responds to the absolute demand of faith, that is, the change reflects Schmitt's political theology.
Meier's theological reading of Schmitt also presents problems, however. Meier places Schmitt's political theology in the context of Kierkegaard's "Either/Or." This turns Schmitt into a political fideist and leads Meier to overemphasize the role of obedience in Schmitt's thought. It also makes Schmitt, a Roman Catholic in practice and thought, into a Protestant. As a consequence Meier underestimates the importance of the principle of representation in Schmitt's metaphysical grounding for the political. These problems can be traced to Meier's lack of sophistication regarding (political) theology; he does not engage in a sustained manner the work of J. B. Metz, Juergen Moltmann, Dorothee Soelle, or any more recent political theologian. For Meier, theology is irrational in contrast to the rational political philosophy of someone like Leo Strauss. He does not seem aware of the possibility that theology can be critical as it is political.
These essays offer a challenging interpretation of Schmitt rather than an introduction to Schmitt's thought. Meier presumes familiarity with Schmitt's writings and with Schmitt scholarship and offers a sustained argument for the direction such scholarship should take. The translation is good, although the publisher has chosen not to translate the extensive quotes in French, Latin, and other languages into English. There is no bibliography. The book is useful and stimulating for those interested in the history of "political theology" and twentieth century German legal, political, and theological history, as well as in Carl Schmitt.