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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.

3 Habermas, Jürgen, ‘Notes on Post-Secular Society’, New Perspectives Quarterly, 25:4 (2008), p. 20, emphasis in originalCrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 This is not the place for a discussion of the ‘(de)secularization debate’ for which see the double special issue After Secularization’, Hedgehog Review, 8:1/2 (2006)Google Scholar. For a recent empirical analysis, see Norris, Pippa and Inglehart, Ronald, Sacred and Secular. Religion and Politics Worldwide (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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

6 Ibid., p. 21.

7 See Taylor, Charleset al., Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994)Google Scholar.

8 Habermas, Jürgen and Ratzinger, Joseph, The Dialectic of Secularization. On Reason and Religion (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2006)Google Scholar.

9 Habermas, ‘Notes on Post-Secular’, p. 29.

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.

13 See Petito, Fabio and Hatzopoulos, Pavlos (eds), Religion in International Relations: The Return from Exile (New York: Palgrave, 2003)Google Scholar.

14 See, for example, Badie, Bertrand, La fin des territoires. Essai sur le désordre international et sur l'utilité sociale du respect (Paris: Fayard, 1995)Google Scholar.

15 For a discussion of other post-secular accounts, see Sigurdson, Ola, ‘Beyond Secularism? Towards a Post-Secular Political Theology’, Modern Theology, 26:2 (2010), pp. 177–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 It goes without saying that this intellectual trajectory has been followed by many authors: Weber, Voegelin, and Kantorowicz, among others. However, as I shall explain, Schmitt's work offers a unique perspective of the immanence/transcendence split.

17 Schmitt, Carl, Political Theology. Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, trans. Schwab, George (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985 [orig. pub. 1922])Google Scholar.

18 Plato, The Republic, V, 462b, trans. Griffith, Tom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), p. 160Google Scholar.

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20 See de Santillana, Giorgio, The Origins of Scientific Thought. From Anaximander to Proclus. 600 B.C. to 500 A.D. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961)Google Scholar.

21 Galli, Carlo, Political Spaces and Global War (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), p. 9Google Scholar. See also Mumford, Lewis, The City in History. Its Origins, Its Transformation, and Its Prospects (New York: Harcourt, 1989), pp. 94157Google Scholar.

22 Girard, René, Violence and the Sacred, trans. Gregory, Patrick (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1977), pp. 1142Google Scholar.

23 Schmitt, Carl, Roman Catholicism and Political Form, ed. Ulmen, Gary L. (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996 [orig. pub. 1923]), p. 19Google Scholar.

24 Carl Schmitt, ‘The Visibility of the Church: A Scholastic Consideration’, in Roman Catholicism, p. 51.

25 John 18:36.

26 Schmitt, ‘The Visibility’, p. 56.

27 In my reading of Schmitt I follow the important work by Galli, Carlo, Genealogia della politica. Carl Schmitt e la crisi del pensiero politico moderno (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1996)Google Scholar.

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.

29 Koyré, Alexandre, From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1957)Google Scholar.

30 Schmitt, Land and Sea, chap. 12. Galli, Political Spaces, pp. 16–20.

31 Ibid., p. 17.

32 Weber, Max, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (London: Routledge, 2010 [orig. pub. 1930])Google Scholar.

33 Schmitt, Carl, Political Theology II. The Myth of the Closure of any Political Theology (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010 [orig. pub. 1970]), p. 114, emphasis in originalGoogle Scholar.

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.

35 Schmitt, Carl, ‘The Age of Neutralizations and Depoliticizations’, trans. Konzett, Matthias and McCormick, John P., The Concept of the Political, ed. Schwab, George (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007 [orig. pub. 1932]), p. 89CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

36 Schmitt, Political Theology II, pp. 114–15. In contrast, see also Schmitt, Carl, The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europaeum, trans. Ulmen, Gary L. (New York, NY: Telos Press, 2003 [orig. pub. 1950]), pp. 121–6Google Scholar.

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.

39 Schmitt, Roman Catholicism, pp. 7–8.

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.

46 Schmitt, Political Theology, p. 28 and 13.

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.

52 Galli, Carlo, Lo sguardo di Giano. Saggi su Carl Schmitt (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2008), p. 21Google Scholar.

53 Schmitt, The Nomos, p. 59ff.

54 See Schmitt, Carl, Die Tyrannei der Werte. Dritte, korrigierte Auflage (Berlin: Dunker & Humblot, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

55 Schmitt, Carl, ‘Ethic of State and Pluralistic State’, in Mouffe, Chantal (ed.), The Challenge of Carl Schmitt (London: Verso, 1999 [orig. pub. 1930]), p. 198Google Scholar.

56 Schmitt, Carl, Legality and Legitimacy, trans. Seitzer, Jeffrey (London: Duke University Press, 2004 [orig. pub. 1932])CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

57 Schmitt, ‘Ethic of State’, p. 203.

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.

66 Schmitt, Land and Sea, p. 58.

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.

73 Delanty, Gerard, ‘Habermas and Occidental Rationalism: The Politics of Identity, Social Learning and the Cultural Limits of Moral Universalism’, Sociological Theory, 15:1 (1998), p. 30CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

74 Schmitt, ‘Ethic of State’, p. 205.

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.

76 Hirschman, Albert O., Exit, Voice and Loyalty (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970)Google Scholar.

77 Böckenförde, Ernst W., ‘The Rise of the State as a Process of Secularisation’, State, Society and Liberty: Studies in Political Theory and Constitutional Law, trans. Underwood, J. A. (New York: Berg, 1991), p. 44Google Scholar.

78 Jürgen Habermas, ‘Prepolitical Foundations of the Democratic Constitutional State?’, in Habermas and Ratzinger, The Dialectics of Secularization, p. 28.

79 Schmitt, ‘Ethic of State’, p. 207.

80 Ibid.

81 Ibid., p. 201.

82 Ibid.

83 Jaspers, Karl, The Perennial Scope of Philosophy, trans. Manheim, Ralph (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1968), p. 94, emphasis addedGoogle Scholar.

84 Galli, Carlo (ed.), Multiculturalismo. Ideologie e sfide (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2006), p. 15Google Scholar.

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

86 Mouffe, ‘Carl Schmitt and the Paradox of Liberal Democracy’, p. 51.

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.

91 Mouffe, Carl Schmitt and the Paradox of Liberal Democracy, p. 51.

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

93 See the magisterial work by Berman, Harold J., Faith and Order. The Reconciliation of Law and Religion (Atlanta: Scholar Press, 1993)Google Scholar; and more recently, Prodi, Paolo, Una storia della giustizia. Dal pluralismo dei fori al moderno dualismo tra coscienza e diritto (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2000)Google Scholar.

94 Schmitt, ‘Ethic of State’, p. 206.

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

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