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Religion and political form: Carl Schmitt's genealogy of politics as critique of Jürgen Habermas's post-secular discourse

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2013


Jürgen Habermas's post-secular account is rapidly attracting attention in many fields as a theoretical framework through which to reconsider the role of religion in contemporary societies. This work seeks to go beyond Habermas's conceptualisation by placing the post-secular discourse within a broader genealogy of the relationships between space, religion, and politics. Drawing on the work of Carl Schmitt, the aim of this article is to contrast the artificial separation between private and public, religious and secular, state and church, and the logic of inclusion/exclusion on which modernity was established. Revisiting this genealogy is also crucial to illustrating, in light of Schmitt's political theory, the problems underlying Habermas's proposal, emphasising its hidden homogenising and universalist logic in an attempt to offer an alternative reflection on the contribution of religious and cultural pluralism within Western democracies.

Copyright © British International Studies Association 2012

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1 Aristotle, The Politics, II, 1261a (23–25), trans. Barnes, Jonathan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 31Google Scholar.

2 de Beauvoir, Simone, ‘Must We Burn Sade?’, in Dinnage, Paul (ed.), The Marquis De Sade (London: John Calder, 1962), pp. 12–3Google Scholar.

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5 In contrast, see Habermas, ‘Notes on Post-Secular’, p. 17.

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10 Ibid., p. 29. See also Habermas, Jürgen, ‘On the Relations between the Secular Liberal State and Religion’, in de Vries, Hent and Sullivan, Lawrence E. (eds), Political Theologies. Public Religion in a Post-Secular World (New York: Fordham University Press, 2006), pp. 251–60Google Scholar.

11 Habermas, ‘Notes on Post-Secular’, p. 28.

12 Ibid., p. 29.

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25 John 18:36.

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28 As Schmitt put it: ‘each time the forces of history cause a new breach, the surge of new energies brings new lands and new seas into the visual field of human awareness, the spaces of historical existence undergo a corresponding change. Hence, new criteria appear, alongside new dimensions of political and historical activity, new sciences, new social systems; nations are born or reborn. This redeployment may be so profound and so sudden that it alters not only man's outlook, standards and criteria, but also the very contents of the notion of space. It is in that context that one may talk of a spatial revolution. Actually, all important changes in history more often than not imply a new perception of space. The true core of the global mutation, political, economic and cultural, lies in it.’ Schmitt, Carl, Land and Sea, trans. Draghici, Simona (Corvallis, OR: Plutarch Press, 1997 [orig. pub. 1954]), p. 29Google Scholar.

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34 ‘In the struggle of opposing interests and coalitions, absolute monarchy made the decision and thereby created the unity of the state.’ Schmitt, Political Theology, pp. 48–9.

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37 Gary L. Ulmen, Introduction, in Schmitt, Roman Catholicism, p. xvii.

38 Schmitt emphasises the substantial difference between Repräsentation (the unity of the public sphere) and Vertretung (private subjectivities and interests into the public sphere) in this way: ‘Representation is not a normative event, a process, and a procedure. It is, rather, something existential. To represent means to make an invisible being visible and present through a publicly present one.… Representation can occur only in the public sphere. There is no representation that occurs in secret and between two people, and no representation that would be a “private matter”. In this regard, all concepts and ideas are excluded that are essentially part of the spheres of the private, of private law, and of the merely economic.… A parliament has representative character only so long as one believes that its actual activity lies in the public sphere.’ Schmitt, Carl, Constitutional Theory, trans. and ed. Seitzer, Jeffrey (London: Duke University Press, 2008 [orig. pub. 1928]), pp. 242–3, emphasis in originalCrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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40 Ibid., p. 21.

41 Galli, Lo sguardo di Giano, p. 65. This is precisely the point that Habermas misses when he declares that his new post-secular genealogy ‘renders futile the alternative presented by Carl Schmitt and Hans Blumenberg. In its political and spiritual forms, modernity is not a mere result of secularization’ nor ‘a mere separation from the theological heritage to which it remains in opposition’. Habermas, ‘A Post-Secular World Society?’, p. 6.

42 Galli, Lo sguardo di Giano, p. 67.

43 Schmitt, Political Theology II, p. 72.

44 Schmitt, Political Theology, p. 36.

45 See Hobbes, Thomas, Leviathan, ed. Rogers, G. A. J. and Schuhmann, Karl, 2 vols (London: Continuum, 2005[orig. pub. 1651]), part II, chap. 29 (18–31), p. 256Google Scholar. In Hobbes's system, which according to Schmitt has conceptually ‘completed’ the Reformation, there is still openness to transcendence (even though this ‘openness’ to the sphere of the sacred is used instrumentally). See also Schmitt, Carl, ‘Die vollendete Reformation. Bemerkungen und Hinweise zu neuen Leviathan-Interpretationen’, Der Staat. Zeitschrift fur Staatslehre, offentliches Recht und Verfassungsgeschichte, 4:1 (1965), pp. 5169Google Scholar.

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47 Ibid., p. 21.

48 Ibid., p. 32.

49 Ibid., p. 13.

50 ‘In civitate constituta, legum naturæ interpretatio non a doctoribus et scriptoribus moralis philosopiæ dependent, sed ab authoritate civitatis. Doctrinæ quidem veræ esse possunt; sed authoritas, non veritas, facit legem’. Hobbes, Thomas, Leviathan, sive de materia, forma, et postestate civitatis ecclesiasticæ et civilis (Aalen: Scientia, 1961 [orig. pub. 1668]), p. 202Google Scholar. ‘The Interpretation of Lawes of Nature, in a Common-wealth, dependeth not on the books of Morall Philosophy. The Authority of writers, without the Authority of the Common-wealth, maketh not their opinion Law, be they never so true.’ Hobbes, Leviathan, part 2, chap. 26 (29–32), p. 218.

51 Schmitt, Carl, Der Begriff des Politischen. Text von 1932 mit einem Vorwort und drei Corollarien (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1963), p. 122Google Scholar. A translation of Schmitt's account of ‘Hobbes's crystal’ is in Galli, Political Spaces, pp. 225–7.

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58 Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, p. 53.

59 Schmitt, ‘Ethic of State’, pp. 196–7.

60 Schmitt, Carl, State, Movement, People. The Triadic Structure of the Political Unity, trans. Draghici, Simona (Corvallis, OR: Plutarch Press, 2001 [orig. pub. 1933])Google Scholar. But more extensively, see Schmitt, Constitutional Theory, pp. 255–69.

61 Max Weber, ‘Politics as Vocation’, From Max Weber, p. 78.

62 Schmitt, Der Begriff des Politischen, p. 10.

63 See Schmitt, Carl, ‘Gespräch über den Neuen Raum’, in Aa.Vv., Estudios de derecho internacional. Homenaje al Profesor Camilo Barcia Trelles (Santiago de Compostela: Universidad de Santiago, 1958), pp. 263–82Google Scholar.

64 Schmitt, Der Begriff des Politischen, p. 11, author's translation.

65 See Schmitt, Carl, ‘Die legale Weltrevolution. Politischer Mehrwert als Prämie auf juristische Legalität und Superlegalität’, Der Staat, 3 (1978), pp. 321–39Google Scholar.

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67 See Schmitt, Carl, ‘Three Possibilities for a Christian Conception of History’, Telos, 147 (2009), pp. 167–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

68 This perspective is developed by Galli, Political Spaces.

69 See Habermas, Jürgen, The Postnational Constellation. Political Essays, ed. Pensky, Max (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2001)Google Scholar.

70 Habermas, ‘A Post-Secular World Society?’, p. 9, emphasis in original.

71 Habermas, ‘A Post-Secular World Society?’, p. 12.

72 Chantal Mouffe, ‘Carl Schmitt and the Paradox of Liberal Democracy’, The Challenge of Carl Schmitt, p. 46.

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75 For a similar critique, see Reder, Michael, ‘How Far Can Reason and Faith Be Distinguished?’, in Habermas, Jürgenet al., An Awareness of What is Missing. Faith and Reason in a Post-secular Age (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010), pp. 3650Google Scholar.

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79 Schmitt, ‘Ethic of State’, p. 207.

80 Ibid.

81 Ibid., p. 201.

82 Ibid.

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85 Jaspers, The Perennial Scope of Philosophy, pp. 180–1, my emphasis.

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87 Ibid.

88 Aristotle, The Politics, I, 1252a, p. 11.

89 Ibid., II, 1261a, p. 31.

90 Aristotle, De Intepretatione, in The New Aristotle Reader, ed. Ackrill, J. L. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987), chap. 4, 17a (3–4), p. 14Google Scholar.

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92 Huxley, Aldous, The Perennial Philosophy (London: Fontana Books, 1961 [orig. pub. 1946]), p. 9Google Scholar.

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94 Schmitt, ‘Ethic of State’, p. 206.

95 Jaspers, The Perennial Scope of Philosophy, p. 182.