From the liberal state’s flailing degradation of its popular legitimacy, to the emergence of governance by permanent emergency, to the radical polarization of politics, to the birth of post-modernism and the dominance of identity: Schmitt foreshadowed all of these things. Indeed, to read Schmitt in 2023 can easily present the alluring feeling of having opened a hidden dialogue willing to honestly diagnose the undercurrents so obviously raging beneath the chaos, absurdity, and official obfuscations of a Weimar America.
Even more significantly – but far less well known or understood – Schmitt was among the first to truly wrestle with how we should collectively respond to the arrival of what he labeled the “Age of Technicity,” in which, in a disenchanted world, technology now threatened to dominate Man. But his proposed solution would in the end only help birth the modern techno-nihilist total state and provoke a cataclysm of violence.
To read Schmitt seriously is to flirt with the abyss. It is both to see hard truths revealed and to listen to the false whispers of a snake. Nonetheless, or therefore, I believe Schmitt is truly a symbolic man of our moment – just perhaps not in the way either his newfound admirers or long-time detractors, right and left alike, have necessarily thought through.
Schmitt published his most well-known and influential work, The Concept of the Political, in 1927 (revising it for republication in 1932). From its opening line – “The concept of the state presupposes the concept of the political” – Schmitt seeks to define what “the political,” and therefore the business of the political state, actually is. His answer is straightforward: the political is no less and no more than distinguishing between one’s friends and one’s enemies (emphasis added).