Carl Schmitt and Literature

Eduardo Berliner, Apparition (Manifestation), 2016.


Commentary on the newly published book by Andreas Höfele

Andreas Höfele's book is the first general presentation of Carl Schmitt's relations with literature. In this sense, Andreas Höfele reconstructs Carl Schmitt's intellectual biography. We will highlight, below, only the books that had an impact on legal symbolism.


Poet Theodor Daubler and the Kingdom of Antichrist

The opposition evidenced by the poet Daubler around the antichrist gains relevance from a liberalism of the Enlightenment, that is, from the secularization of original sin and the happiness of a celestial pseudo-kingdom.

Carl Schmitt reflects on the figure of Daubler in the light of the work Northern lights (the dawn), through which the theme of the antichrist gains relevance, as some relevant passages glimpse, such as the sermon of Saint Ephraim, which states that the arrival of the Antichrist will provoke the apostasy of countless individuals before the definitive victory of Christ.

It is in this figure of the man of dialogue, of calm, peaceful rent and a supposedly honest “humanist”, that Carl Schmitt will look for an opponent. It becomes, before a man who will please everyone and who will satisfy the claim for transcendence through conversations about spirituality, a so-called “religion of humanity”, that is, a “tolerance” transformed into indifference, that the aforementioned “enemy” reveals its form.


The magic bishop Hugo Ball and the Catholic essence in Carl Schmitt

Hugo Ball's book review, Carl Schmitts Politische Theologie, showed the influence of Carl Schmitt around the conception of the philosophy of law, which could be considered a triumph of the German language and legality, with a precision superior to that of Kant and more rigorous, in the field of ideas, than a Spanish inquisitor. Hugo Ball states, “He experiences time in the form of awareness of his gift.”

Both authors opposed, above all, the modern “reality”, due to which they saw a common enemy. Carl Schmitt's interpreters often downplay or even mention the rapprochement between the authors, which took place on September 9, 1924, despite the mutual influence that arose from such conversation, so that the seriousness of Carl Schmitt as a thinker of Realpolitik remains intact in the face of Hugo Ball's eccentric character.

With specific regard to Catholicism, Hugo Ball reinforced the idea that Catholicism would be the only force capable of opposing the disintegration of tradition and, in Carl Schmitt, he found its essence, through which he represented a drastic reformulation between rationalization and the irrational that consumed him.


Schmitt's Othello Complex

In his trajectory, Andreas Höfele presents the relationship between Othello and Desdemona as a mirror of Carl Schmitt's anxieties.

The figure of the Moorish, daughter of a senator, did not allow him to create ties with her, after all, the marriage was nothing more, in his view, than a civil contract, which was consolidated, in his case, in the year 1926. The annulment of the divorce referring to his first marriage to Pavla Dorotić, a Croatian who pretended to be a countess, did not occur, therefore, when he married his second wife, Duška Todorović, he would have been excommunicated due to the non-dissolution of the first.

Carl Schmitt was faced with the situation in which he loved his wife, but there was, on the other hand, a charlatan Desdemona who took over his assets.


The Christian Epimetheus according to the poet Konrad Weiss

As a mythological figure, Epimetheus is not just a simpleton. It can be described as expressing genuine faith. Unlike his brother, Epimetheus does not challenge the gods. Instead, he accepts your gifts willingly and dutifully no matter what.

Carl Schmitt was considered, by Weiss, the “Christian Epimetheus”, that is, given the significance of his own destiny, his vision of history and the political implications, this specific countermodern figuration gains prominence when he adheres to Nazism, due to the opening from Pandora's box. The result was the later admission of guilt, which does not mean a simple figure, but expresses a genuine faith added to a fatalistic form from the historical-political point of view.


Schmitt as the prisoner of Benito Cereno's slave uprising

In the work of Herman Melville, Benito Cereno he is subjected to the power of the revolting slaves, a situation in which his power of speech is removed. When Carl Schmitt assumes the role of Benito Cereno, he finds himself facing a judisches Kampfsymbol, a symbol before which the insincerity of the statements present there can no longer be attested, after all, it would be possible to affirm that there was coercion for him to act in a certain way.

There would be the possibility, then, of considering that there was an attempt by Carl Schmitt to excuse himself from what happened in the Nazi regime, in the face of the post-war period, but it is not restricted to that. The myth of Epimetheus is a central piece for understanding the multiple interpretative layers established by Carl Schmitt.


Schmitt in Leviathan's Belly

This legal symbolism, around the figure of Leviathan, refers to the dispute between Carl Schmitt and Walter Benjamin regarding the interpretation of Hamlet, by William Shakespeare.

For Walter Benjamin, it is the pinnacle of Christian baroque drama, pregnant with allegory and mourning with the messianic hope of Fortinbrás, the king of Denmark.

On the other hand, Carl Schmitt understands that there is no Christianity in the barbarian Shakespeare, except against the Jew Shylock.

Hamlet, then, is no longer medieval Christian, but neither is he modern in the continental European sense of the Rule of Law and doubt hangs over this modern legal life of Europeans or the insular life of pirate ship sovereignty.

William Shakespeare, therefore, is outside European legal history, as there is no legal sovereignty, but only an economy more powerful than the post-Westphalian continental one.


Against Blumenberg's Pagan Interpretation of Goethe's World

In your autobiography Aus meinem Leben: Dichtung und Wahrheit (From My Life: Poetry and Truth), one of the volumes announces itself with a dictum of great perplexity: nemo contra deum nisi Deus ipse. Latin necessarily throws him into ambiguity, from which the most dedicated philological efforts have not been able to rescue him, efforts that end up overlapping text and life, poetry and truth, in an elliptical effect that only intensified the pregnancy of the phrase.

In the wake of his first clash with Carl Schmitt, on the occasion of the publication of the first edition of Die Legitimität der Neuzeit [The legitimacy of modernity], to which Carl Schmitt responded in the second volume of his Political Theology, Hans Blumenberg devoted the entire fourth part of the book Arbeit am Mythos to the riddle from Dichtung und Wahrheit. In the second volume of Political Theology, Carl Schmitt makes use of the phrase when interpreting the intrinsic relationship to the trinity, as a response to the challenge of Gnosticism.

For Gnosticism, the God of the Old Testament was identified with the demiurge of Hellenism, the evil god responsible for the inadequacy of humans to the world, to their existence deprived of any providence. Jesus, in turn, would correspond to the true God, who would bring about the destruction of the artificial world, as well as the defeat of the demiurge. To the extent that the trinity – as well as other dogmas constituting patristics, such as that of original sin – is configured as an occupation of the position of response offered by Gnosticism, by appropriating its materials, the relationship between the hypostases can only be one war relationship – something consecrated by Goethe’s dictum, in which on one e god necessarily refer to one God. This is Carl Schmitt's interpretation.

In his thoughtful response, Hans Blumenberg disputes Carl Schmitt's proposed reference to the terms on one e god, seeing there the artistic paganism characteristic of the German poet. At the same time, it indicates the latent persistence of the mythological, in the manner of the dynamics of reoccupations, reoccupations being, for Hans Blumenberg, the essential way in which history takes place. As explored in the previous book, Die Legitimität der Neuzeit, the dynamics of reoccupations contest a substantialist perspective of history, which would be at the root of Carl Schmitt's political theology, as well as in his challenge to the legitimacy of public law in late modernity.

From the exchange of letters, it is known that Schmitt did not agree with the interpretation of his position as implying a substantialist understanding of history. Likewise, he remained unconvinced about Hans Blumenberg's interpretation of Goethe's dictum. It should be noted, in any case, that Goethe opens the late magnum oeuvre of the author, Der Nomos der Erde (The Names of the Earth), to then give way to Johann Jakob Bachofen. The enigmas behind the force and use of these mythic-literary fragments by the author will continue to demand the attention of scholars for decades to come. Höfele is a good safe haven, consolidating what was already known, and marking how much remains to be investigated.

*Ari Marcelo Solon He is a professor at the Faculty of Law at USP. Author, among others, of books, Paths of philosophy and science of law: German connection in the development of justice (Prisms).


Andreas Hofele. Carl Schmitt and his Literature. Berlin, Duncker & Humblot, 2022, 523 pages.

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