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Political Values and the Value of the Political in Carl Schmitt

Political Theory
Realism
Normative Theory
Attila Gyulai
Centre for Social Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Attila Gyulai
Centre for Social Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Abstract

The role of Carl Schmitt in the history of realist thought is obvious and disputed at the same time. On the one hand, Schmitt is considered as one of the originators of contemporary realism most notably by arguing for the irreducible nature of the political domain and by defining conflict as the ineliminable foundation of politics. On the other hand, Schmitt seems to fall beyond the scope of interest of contemporary realism inasmuch as he is considered to be too close to Realpolitik failing to provide political justification for political actions. In other words, Schmitt seems to be a borderline case for contemporary realism insofar as he helps us understanding how and why politics should be regarded as something specific but there is little to learn from him when it comes to political normativity. In light of this ambiguity, this paper revisits Schmitt’s seminal works as well as some of his lesser-known writings to address a Schmittian account of political normativity. In particular, the following issues will be raised. First, it will be asked why, following Schmitt, is better to have politics than not. That is, beyond the instrumental value of politics understood as allowing us to maintain political structures under the circumstances of disagreement, what has Schmitt to say about the substantial value of politics that led him fiercely attacking any depoliticizing attempts. Second, looking closely to Hans Morgenthau’s 1933 criticism of Schmitt, the concept of political value will be discussed to argue that Morgenthau was wrong when explained the friend enemy distinction in terms of usefulness regarding a pre-existing political goal. Third, rejecting the concept of a specifically political normativity, contemporary “moralist” critics of realists often refer – mostly as a caricature – to the self-interest of the political actor as a measure of political action because, according to them, it undermines any idea of normativity. By shifting the focus from the political actor as a private person pursuing self-interest to the political actor as a political unit pursuing self-interest, the concept of sovereignty will be discussed whether it can be a base level of political normativity.