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The Contours of Conservative Politics: Schmitt and Strauss on Hobbes

Ömür Birler
Middle East Technical University
Ömür Birler
Middle East Technical University
Open Panel

Abstract

The contemporary students of political theory are struck by several sources of criticisms directed against modern liberalism. While the first source, familiar to all of us by the use of numerous prefix ‘post’, has created much sensation and debate, the second source, namely conservatism, has made a silent and not-so-welcomed entry to the academic circles. Among the representatives of conservative political thought two figures have come to forefront: Leo Strauss and Carl Schmitt. Different in their political outlooks, Strauss and Schmitt share a common inspiration: their fascination with works of Thomas Hobbes and in particular his magnum opus, Leviathan. What brings these two thinkers together is the fact that for both of them Leviathan represents the demise of the contemporary politics. By creating a new egalitarian morality, as Strauss claims, and by allowing the existence of private sphere and thus weakening the sovereign, as Schmitt criticizes, Hobbes and his liberalism has brought about the inevitable the crisis of modernity. Nevertheless more interesting than both thinkers’ criticisms of Hobbes is their rejection of Hobbes as a mechanistic philosopher of nature. Neither Strauss nor Schmitt take Hobbes as philosopher of nature and they both intentionally neglect the contractarian aspect of this political philosophy. For Strauss Hobbes is primarily a philosopher of morality, while for Schmitt Leviathan is a book on political authority. This paper argues that the denial of nature is the defining element of contemporary conservatism. Both Strauss and Schmitt simultaneously reject the role of nature in Hobbes’s philosophy and criticize his liberalism precisely and yet tacitly for his conception of nature. In other words, this paper suggests that the limit of contemporary conservatism is where the liberal conception of nature begins. Therefore in inquiry to the role of nature in conservative politics is essential to develop a progressive political agenda.