William Barr: The Carl Schmitt of Our Time - 2020-01-15
US Attorney General William Barr's defense of unchecked executive authority in his recent speech to the Federalist Society had an unpleasant familiarity for me. It took me back to a time in my life—during the late 1990s, as a graduate student in England, and the early 2000s, teaching political theory in the politics department at Princeton University—when I seemed to spend altogether too much time arguing over the ideas of a Nazi legal theorist notorious as the "crown jurist" of the Third Reich.
Carl Schmitt's work had then become popular in universities, and particularly in law schools, on both sides of the Atlantic. The frequent references to his "brilliance" made it evident that in the eyes of his admirers he was a bracing change from the dull liberal consensus that had taken hold in the wake of the cold war. Schmitt's ideas thrived in an air of electrifyingly willed dangerousness. Their revival wasn't intended to turn people into Nazis but to rattle the shutters of the liberal establishment.
Schmitt was supposed to be a realist. For him, laws and constitutions didn't arise from moral principles. At their basis, there was always a sovereign authority, a decision-maker. Schmitt stipulated that the essential decision was not a moral choice between good and evil but the primally political distinction between friend and enemy. And that distinction, in order to be political in the most important sense, had to generate such intense commitment that people would be prepared to die for it. He set out this view in a brief work, The Concept of the Political, in 1932. Only a few years later, he and many of his fellow Germans showed that they were prepared to kill for it. And kill and kill and kill.