Commitment




[…] Don Quixote [is] a romantic political figure, but not a political romantic.

Instead of seeing the higher harmony, he was capable of seeing the difference between right and wrong and of making a decision in favor of what seemed right to him, a capacity that the political romantic lacks […]

[…] the ability to make a decision between right and wrong […] is the principle of every political energy […] Where political activity begins, political romanticism ends […] Romantic activity […] is a contradiction in terms. 

Any relationship to a legal or moral judgment would be incongruous […] and every norm would seem to be an antiromantic tyranny. A legal or a moral decision would be senseless and it would inevitably destroy romanticism. This is why the romantic is not in a position to deliberately take sides and make a decision.

On romantic grounds, he cannot even decisively reject the theory of the state that proceeds from the view that man is "evil by nature.” Even if many romantics find this theory uncongenial, there is still the possibility of romanticizing this wicked person, the “beast,” as long as he only remains sufficiently remote.

From the standpoint of romanticism, what is at stake is something higher than a decision.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p. 116, 124, 147, 160




Strauss too perceives an inner insincerity and a subjective tyranny in the romantic. He explains it […] in terms of the inner uncertainty in a conflict between antagonistic forces.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p.151

The Aesthetic Life




Although it may not seem so at first glance, there is a sense in which liberalism has facilitated Winnicott’s ideal of creative living. We can see it more clearly if we look through the lens of Schmitt’s critique of the romantic.

Schmitt characterises the romantic (i.e. the artist) as a sort of Peter Pan, someone who evades all determinisms and commitments, and remains untethered at all times. The romantic retains the right to question everything and commit to nothing, and so is in many ways the ideal liberal - the free, atomised, and autonomous individual.
 



The subject who is limited to its own experience and who, in spite of this, wants to develop a productivity because it prefers not to give up the pretension of meaning something as a subject attempts to shape its experience in an artistic fashion.

This is the psychic fact that is the basis of an interest that is only aesthetic.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p.103
 



Every political activity — regardless of whether its content is merely the technique of conquest, the claim or the expansion of political power, or whether it rests on a legal or a moral decision – conflicts with the essentially aesthetic nature of the romantic.

Because the concrete point around which the romantic novel develops is always merely occasional, everything can become romantic. In such a world, all political or religious distinctions are dissolved into an interesting ambiguity.

The king is a romantic figure as well as the anarchist conspirator, and the caliph of Baghdad is no less romantic than the patriarch of Jerusalem. Here everything can be substituted for everything else.

[…] the connection between subjectivism and sensualism that is exhibited in Greek sophistry also nullified all objectivity and made substantive argument into a capricious productivity of the subject. The orator felt no other sense of responsibility than that of speaking well, and he knew no other satisfaction than the pleasure taken in the well-executed, artistic form of his speech.

The essential contradiction of the romantic — which, especially in political romanticism, justifies the impression of inner untruthfulness - is that the romantic, in the organic passivity that belongs to his occasionalist structure, wants to be productive without becoming active.

[…] it is linked with the half lyrical, half intellectualistic accompaniment of the activity of another person […] following political events with marginal character glosses, catch phrases, viewpoints, emphases and antitheses, allusions and permutational comparisons, often agitated and excited, but always without making its own decision and assuming its own responsibility and risk.

Political activity is not possible in this way. But criticism is, which can discuss everything and inflate it ideologically, revolution as well as restoration, war and peace, nationalism and internationalism, imperialism and its renunciation.

Here as well, its method was the occasionalist departure from the domain to which the disputed opposition belongs, from the domain of the political into the higher domain.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p.158-9




Regardless of whether the final and inclusive member of the sequence is called God or the state, the ego or history, the idea or organic development, the result is invariably that all activity of the individual person consists in the fact that he is a “sympathetic fellow traveler.”

Even when Müller and Schlegel call the age evil and juxtapose the good principle to an evil one, this is not to be understood as a moral decision. They do not propose to take sides, which everyone has to do who speaks of good and evil in the moral sense and distinguishes right from wrong.

[…] So how did he arrive at his rejection? The same way he arrives at affirmations. They are accompanying emotional states with which he sympathetically follows historical development, because he is really interested only in feeling and poetry.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p. 122-3
 



[…] they do not mean that the author wants to make up his mind in the usual sense and set to work in the external world. 

This is something he simply could not do without realizing his unlimited possibilities in a limited reality, without emerging from his subjectivistic creativity and concerning himself with the mechanism of cause and effect or with normative ties.

He could not make up his mind without relinquishing his superior irony; in other words, without giving up his romantic situation. The romantic wants to do nothing except experience and paraphrase his experience in an emotionally impressive fashion.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p.100

The Right Conditions





In the liberal bourgeois world, the detached, isolated, and emancipated individual becomes the middle point, the court of last resort, the absolute.

Naturally the illusion of being God could be maintained only in pantheistic or panentheistic sentiments. In psychological reality, therefore, it combined with other, less subjectivistic affects. The subject always claimed, however, that his experience was the only thing of interest. 

This claim can be realized only in a bourgeois order based on rules. Otherwise the "external conditions" for the undisturbed occupation with one's own mood are not satisfied. Psychologically and historically, romanticism is a product of bourgeois security. 

One could fail to recognize this only as long as one committed the error of considering as romanticism itself things that happen to be favorite romantic objects, such as chivalry and the Middle Ages - in other words, sundry themes and occasions of the romantic interest. A robber knight can be a romantic figure, but he is not a romantic. The Middle Ages is a powerfully romanticised complex, but it is not romantic.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p. 99



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Mundane Metaphysics





Today, many varieties of metaphysical attitude exist in a secularized form. To a great extent, it holds true that different and, indeed, mundane factors have taken the place of God: humanity, the nation, the individual, historical development, or even life as life for its own sake, in its complete spiritual emptiness and mere dynamic.

This does not mean that the attitude is no longer metaphysical. The thought and feeling of every person always retain a certain metaphysical character. Metaphysics is something that is unavoidable, and - as Otto von Gierke has aptly remarked - we cannot escape it by relinquishing our awareness of it.

What human beings regard as the ultimate, absolute authority, however, certainly can change, and God can be replaced by mundane and worldly factors. I call this secularization.

That is the issue here, not the equally significant but comparatively superficial cases that directly impress themselves on the historical and sociological observer: for example, the fact that the Church is replaced by the theater, the religious is treated as material for a drama or an opera, and the house of God is treated as a museum; the fact that in modern society the artist, at least in relation to his public, sociologically avails himself of certain functions of the priest, often in a comically deformed manner, and turns a stream of emotions that belong to the priest onto the genius of his own private person; the fact that a poetry arises that lives off cultic and liturgical aftereffects and reminiscences that it squanders away into the profane — and also a music, of which Baudelaire said, in a phrase almost apocalyptic, that it undermines heaven.

The transformations in the metaphysical sphere lie even deeper than such forms of secularization [...] Here, ever new factors appear as absolute authorities, even though the metaphysical structure and attitude remain.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p. 17-18



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The Romantic Attitude





The romantic attitude is most clearly characterised by means of a singular concept, that of the occasio. This concept can be rendered in terms of ideas such as occasion, opportunity, and perhaps also chance.

It negates the concept of causa, in other words, the force of a calculable causality, and thus also every binding norm. It is a disintegrative concept. This is because everything that gives consistency and order to life and to what takes place – regardless of whether it is the mechanical calculability of the causal, or a purposive or normative nexus — is incompatible with the idea of the merely occasional. Wherever the opportune and the accidental become principles, an immense preeminence over such binding forces arises.

Romanticism is subjectified occasionalism. In other words, in the romantic, the romantic subject treats the world as an occasion and an opportunity for his romantic productivity [...] an occasional relationship to the world is essential to it.

Instead of God, however, the romantic subject occupies the central position and makes the world and everything that occurs in it into a mere occasion. Because the final authority is shifted from God to the genius of the “ego," the entire foreground changes, and that which is genuinely occasionalistic appears in a pristine fashion.

It is true that the old philosophers of occasionalism, such as Malebranche, also possessed the disintegrative concept of the occasio. However, they recovered law and order in God, the objective absolute. And in the same way, a certain objectivity and cohesion always remain possible whenever another objective authority, like the state, takes the place of God in such an occasionalist attitude.

It is different, however, when the isolated and emancipated individual brings his occasional attitude to realization. Only now does the occasional display the total consistency of its repudiation of all consistency. Only now can everything really become the occasion for everything else. Only now does everything that will happen and all sequential order become incalculable in a fantastic manner, which is precisely the immense attraction of this attitude.

That is because this attitude makes it possible to take any concrete point as a departure and stray into the infinite and the incomprehensible - either in an emotionally fervent fashion or in a demonically malicious fashion, depending upon the individuality of the particular romantic. 

A world that is ever new arises from ever new opportunities. But it is always a world that is only occasional, a world without substance and functional cohesion, without a fixed direction, without consistency and definition, without decision, without a final court of appeal, continuing into infinity and led only by the magic hand of chance.

In this world, the romantic can make everything into the vehicle of his romantic interest; he can have the illusion, which here as well may be harmless or perfidious, that the world is only an occasion.

In every other intellectual sphere, including that of everyday reality, this attitude would immediately become ridiculous and impossible. In the romantic, on the other hand, a special aesthetic achievement takes place: Between the point of concrete reality that serves as an incidental occasion and the creative romantic, an interesting, colorful world arises that often has an amazing aesthetic attraction. We can assent to it aesthetically, but taking it seriously in a moral or objective fashion would call for an ironic mode of treatment.

It is only in an individualistically disintegrated society that the aesthetically productive subject could shift the intellectual center into itself, only in a bourgeois world that isolates the individual in the domain of the intellectual, makes the individual its own point of reference, and imposes upon it the entire burden that otherwise was hierarchically distributed among different functions in a social order.

In this society, it is left to the private individual to be his own priest. But not only that. Because of the central significance and consistency of the religious, it is also left to him to be his own poet, his own philosopher, his own king, and his own master builder in the cathedral of his personality. 

The ultimate roots of romanticism and the romantic phenomenon lie in the private priesthood.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p. 16-20




The decision however, — the complete incompatibility of the romantic with any moral, legal, or political standard — follows only from the structure of the romantic as an occasionalist consent oriented to aesthetic productivity.

Here experience is no doubt in quest of an artistic expression, but not logical-conceptual or moral-normative clarity. This is why the romantic lacks any sense of the limits of the efficacy of the state as well as the limits of the individual.

Adam Müller's amoral appreciation of everything and its opposite; his passion for mediating everywhere; his "cosmic tolerance," which so alarmed Gentz because in that case "there is no longer anything that one could love and honestly hate”; his effeminate passivity, to which he knew how to bend the aversion of Burke, de Maistre, and Bonald for artificial “fabrication”; and his emotional pantheism, which is basically always in agreement with everything and approves of everything - all this can probably be explained in an individual-psychological fashion as well, as a consequence of his feminine and vegetative nature.

For romantic aestheticism, however, all these factors amounted to the appropriate psychic and physical disposition. That is because they referred the subject entirely to its own emotional states and to the aesthetic productivity that is satisfied with the elaboration of affect.

Müller can do nothing but pursue an occupation with himself, regardless of whether he is engaging in astrology (or today in psychoanalysis, or at some future point perhaps in astrology again) or composing his rejection of the aestheticism of others. He was always ready to surrender himself. Nevertheless, he at least wanted to extract portentous words and images from the emotional state of surrender. This was his activity.

For the rest, he stood with his material at the immediate disposal of every powerful suggestion. Because he was without his own center of gravity and was not constrained by matter-of-fact experience and his own responsibility, the consistency of the view that impressed him at any given time easily carried him to the extremes of its program.

He can understand everything and approve it at his pleasure. That is because everything can become material for his work of aesthetic formation.

The master of the Lehre vom Gegensatz was incapable of seeing any polarity except that of an aesthetic contrast. Neither logical distinctions, nor moral value judgments, nor political decisions are possible for him. The most important source of political vitality, the belief in justice and an indignation over injustice, does not exist for him.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p. 127-9
 


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Innovation and Endurance





In every field, economic, political, and cultural, Athens welcomed the new and was ready for any adventure.

After the defeat of Persia at Salamis, Athens could not return to the old ways. Taking immediate advantage of the fleet which had been built up for the war, she went on to establish her commercial empire in the eastern Mediterranean. When the tribute from the alliance was no longer needed for war, it was used to build the wonderful temples and statues. Philosophers and poets were honored for attacking the old, traditional ways of life.

But her glories were comparatively short-lived. She was always weakened from within by the numerous Class I individuals who were constantly forming factions, plotting with internal or external enemies, and organizing rebellions […]

Sparta, in extreme contrast, was a nation where Class II residues were wholly predominant both in the general population and in the élite.

Innovation in Sparta was a crime; everything was regulated by ancient custom and religion and time-sanctified tradition. The individual counted for nothing, the group for all. Adventure was always to be distrusted. From these roots Sparta derived a tremendous power of endurance when faced with adversity.

But she always stopped short of anything spectacular. She produced no philosophy, no liquid wealth, and little art. She never tried to establish a great empire. Her own armies went home after the Persians were defeated.

In spite of defeats and crushing hardships, she finally conquered in the Peloponnesian Wars; but in the 4th century, when the conditions of life and warfare greatly changed, she too was lost. Because of her lack of Class I residues, Sparta could not adapt herself to new ways; so, defending the old, she perished.

The social combination that is strongest against external enemies, and at the same time able to bring about a fairly high internal level of culture and material prosperity, is that wherein (1) Class II residues are widespread and active among the masses (the non-élite); (2) the individuals with a high level of Class I residues are concentrated in the élite; (3) a fair percentage of Class II residues nevertheless still remains within the élite; (4) the élite is comparatively open, so that at least a comparatively free circulation can take place.

The meaning of this optimum combination can be translated as follows into more usual terms: (1) The masses have faith in an integrating myth or ideology, a strong sense of group solidarity, a willingness to endure physical hardship and sacrifice. (2) The best and most active brains of the community are concentrated in the élite, and ready to take advantage of whatever opportunities the historical situation presents.

[James Burnham]
The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom, p.192-3



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True Beliefs and False Beliefs





The great rationalistic dream of modern times, believing that social actions are or can be primarily logical, has taught the illusion that the True and the Good are identical, that if men knew the truth about themselves and their social and political life, then society would become ever better; and that falsehood and absurdity always hurt social welfare.

But things do not stand in that simple way. 

Sometimes the truth aids society. But often a widespread knowledge of the truth may weaken or destroy sentiments, habits, attitudes upon which the integrity of social life, above all in times of crisis, may depend.

False beliefs do sometimes produce evil social results; but they often, also, benefit the community. Again no general conclusion is possible. We must examine each concrete case, each specific truth and falsehood in its specific circumstances.

We are not, therefore, entitled to judge that it is invariably a "bad thing” that men believe derivations, ideologies, myths, formulas, these verbal constructions which from a scientific standpoint always contain a large measure of the false and the absurd.

The myths are, in the first place, a necessary ingredient of social life. A society in which they would be eliminated in favor of exclusively scientific beliefs would have nothing in common with the human societies that have existed and do exist in the real world, and is a merely imaginary fantasy.

Here once more our investigation must be concrete. Certain derivations or myths under certain circumstances are socially useful, others detrimental; when the circumstances change, so may the effects of the myths.

The doctrine of the divine right of kings is scientifically ridiculous. From this it does not follow that it would always be better if men understood that it was ridiculous, nor that a belief in it always hurts society. The democratic ideology is equally ridiculous from the point of view of scientific truth. Belief in it may, nevertheless, in one historical context greatly aid, in another gravely injure, the welfare of society.

Those who believe that all social difficulties could be overcome if the truth about society were known “recognize only one tie [obstacle] - ignorance. Ignorance being eliminated, they have no doubt that society will follow the course they think is the best […]”

Society is not so simple as a problem in mathematics, which is fully solved once ignorance is overcome. Not only is it impossible that all men should know the scientific truth about society and act in accordance with this knowledge; it is far from clear that this would improve society even if it were possible.

[James Burnham]
The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom, p.183-4



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A Balancing of Forces





Machiavelli is not so naïve as to imagine that the law can support itself.

The law is founded upon force, but the force in turn will destroy the law unless it also is bridled; but force can be bridled only by opposing force. Sociologically, therefore, the foundation of liberty is a balancing of forces, what Machiavelli calls a “mixed” government.

Since Machiavelli is neither a propagandist nor an apologist, since he is not the demagogue of any party or sect or group, he knows and says how hypocritical are the calls for a “unity” that is a mask for the suppression of all opposition, how fatally lying or wrong are all beliefs that liberty is the peculiar attribute of any single individual or group-prince or democrat, nobles or people or "multitude.”

Political freedom is the resultant of unresolved conflicts among various sections of the élite […] Only out of the continuing clash of opposing groups can liberty flow […] Freedom, in the world as it is, is thus the product of conflict and difference, not of unity and harmony.

The existence of these conflicts is in turn correlated with the interplay of diverse social forces that preserve at least a considerable degree of independence. The future of liberty will, therefore, depend upon the extent to which, whether by necessary accident or conscious design, society is kept from freezing.

In these terms we see again the danger of "idealism," utopianism, and demagogy. 

The idealists, utopians, and demagogues always tell us that justice and the good society will be achieved by the absolute triumph of their doctrine and their side. The facts show us that the absolute triumph of any side and any doctrine whatsoever can only mean tyranny.

[James Burnham]
The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom, p. 63, 100, 230



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