Monday, July 19, 2010

Some very short and incomplete thoughts on Schmitt and Heidegger

In the May/June issue of Radical Philosophy, Stuart Elden had an article entitled, "Reading Schmitt Geopolitically". It's a smart and provocative article, and I hope most of you take the time to read it. I read it when it first came out, and wanted to respond. The problem (and also one of the strong points of the article) is that it tends to be specific to the use of Schmitt by political geographers, and basically the only political geographers I have read are Harvey, Elden, and Shapiro. So, I certainly assume that Elden has a better sense of what is going on in those circles than I. But I recently saw that a new English translation of Schmitt's Dictatorship is coming out, and I've decided to come back to some of the things I was thinking when I first read Stuart Elden's article. To clarify, this post isn't a response to Elden in particular, but rather about my own generic experiences with the way people have adopted Heidegger and Schmitt.

As we all know both Heidegger and Schmitt were members of the National Socialist party. The degree to which they were down for the whole genocide and pure fascism part will remain heavily debated by biographers, historians, and the rest of us. However, we know both of them had reactionary, far-right politics. For those of us who hold radical, left-wing political positions I think both Heidegger's and Schmitt's political involvement should give us pause. So often discussions of Heidegger's Nazism tends to revolve around two questions: What is the essence of Nazism (the Naziness of Nazism), and did Heidegger actually support or reject this essence? The other question tends to be some variation of if the whole Nazi thing is just an ad hom, and if his philosophical corpus should at all be treated differently because of his political commitments (or his political lapses, in the terminology of some of his defenders)? The debates around Heidegger have been raging for decades now, but Schmitt is a relatively new beast. Departments that are comfortable with teaching Heidegger have a far more uneven relationship with Carl Schmitt. For example, a professor in the philosophy department at Duquesne recently told a friend that their faculty have been having debates if they should even teach Schmitt. Perhaps this uncomfortableness comes from a belief that the answers to the questions of Heidegger's Nazism are far more clear cut with Schmitt. Regardless of the reason, the unease is far from universal and new scholarship into Schmitt continues at a rapid rate, and I am certainly one of those who have read largely of Schmitt's work and found it useful. For me it comes down to how Schmitt, and for that matter Heidegger, are being read.
Schmitt remains an obvious far right thinker, and radicals should approach his work with that fact in mind. A certain critical distance will be necessary when engaging with Schmitt, certainly at his solutions, but even at his problematics. I occasionally fear that Schmitt will start being read less and less with a critical distance, in other words he will be more and more like Heidegger. My hope is that the debate around reading and engaging Schmitt might start provoking more a critical distance by those engaging Heidegger. Though Stuart Elden and I seem to disagree about the importance of actually reading and engaging Schmitt, we share a concern that certain thinkers are beginning to read Schmitt with little of that distance.