Concept of the Political as Concept of Conception (Blog Comment)

(longer version of a comment left at a typically impossible discussion of Carl Schmitt at the Crooked Timber blog.)

the single most interesting question he raises, if not uniquely, then signally, is the constitutional paradox of the constituting/constituted power. That still deserves consideration.

I agree with this observation, and I’ve read all of JCH’s comments on this thread with interest, while recognizing the difficulty and perhaps the impossibility of what he’s trying to do here – among other things trying to defend an interest in “the enemy” to the enemy’s committed enemies. (THE ENEMY was the title that Gopal Balakrishnan gave to his very useful intellectual biography of Schmitt, published in 2000[1 ]). Quite often, this very difficult if not impossible exercise coincides with another difficult impossibility: of trying to do philosophy on a blog comment thread.

It is just a bit more than merely ironic that those perplexed by the theory of the primacy for politics of the friend-enemy distinction so frequently and perhaps universally operate from friend-enemy presumptions in their discussion, or most typically in their refusal of actual discussion, of the same concept. That this problem would tend to recur is one strong implication of the theory underlying Schmitt’s “Concept of the Political.” A second or corollary implication is that this concept of the political implies a politicization of the concept, and finally collapses into or is revealed to rely upon, is an argument or the argument on, the concept of concepts at all. The question of the sovereign decision ex nihilo turns out to be a form of the more general and more basic question of existence ex nihilo – another form of the “why is there something and not nothing?” and another form of the “why am I bothering to offer a comment on a blog thread?” or “why am I declining to continue this discussion?”

(At CT I ended the comment there, but I’ll choose here to continue a bit further:)

The explicability of the (any) decision (including the omission or refusal of decision) is inherent in the decision as a potential, but its not being entirely known or knowable, its character not yet having been determined, is what differentiates the decision as decision, or subjective experience/experience of subjectivity or of freedom of the will in the moment of decision (presence as self-presence at all), from that which is to be decided upon and the moment of decision, as concretely the result (result of results) of all decisions already made. “Who has not sat in suspense before his heart’s curtain?”

The poet implies that we all have had that experience. One might suggest further that “to be at all as a ‘who'” means to be in such suspense. It is in that moment that who one is or we are or we are/always were/are-going-to-be-henceforth is revealed to us, that we reveal ourselves to ourselves, as though from nothing – applying Schmitt’s formulation regarding the sovereign decision. Only afterwards, precisely as in the judgment of a crime or in the larger “court of history,” the individual’s or society’s or blog-thread-commenter’s or the universe’s true character having been revealed, does explanation including causal explanation become possible, though satisfaction, or the decision to be satisfied, necessarily and without exception takes a similar form (as necessity, as the exception). As was quite apparent to Kant and as we all know, but as we always eventually decide to suppress precisely in order to get on with life, the full explanation of the criminal’s or the enemy’s or our own conduct would eventually vacate the notion of any meaningful decision at all. My bad childhood produced my bad behavior. My bad education produced this incoherent blog comment. My loneliness and self-destructive tendencies explain why I am leaving why I did not leave this comment in full at this that forum full of mainly unsympathetic and even hostile interlocutors. Such totalities of explanation/explanatory totalities, or the position of complete determinism, eliminates subjectivity. They tell us that there never was nor ever is or can be a meaningful decision at all: There was the effect of causes, and the illusion of volition and meaning. Things did things to things, that is all (determinism as physicalist reductionism/eliminationism).

Naturally, inevitably, we or I refuse to accept this concept that has no meaningful spot for us or me, or, to say the same thing, we or I may at most pretend to accept this meaninglessness as meaningful: Either way, the origin of the self appears to be its own self-origination as though from nothing, in this instance in direct confrontation with the thought of its/my own nothingness: I insist on myself, on this now as not yet explicable, as still to be determined. For example, I might take the decision, and make what seems to me a fully reasonable decision, and what may turn out to be or to seem a fully explicable one, but without offering or being able to offer reason or explanation to myself or others, to stop here.


  1. The Enemy: An Intellectual Portrait of Carl Schmitt []

Home Page  Public Email  Twitter  Facebook  YouTube  Github   

Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001; WordPress theme and plugin configuring and developing since 2004 or so; a lifelong freelancer, not associated nor to be associated with any company, publication, party, university, church, or other institution. 

Posts in this series

0 comments on “Concept of the Political as Concept of Conception (Blog Comment)

Commenting at CK MacLeod's

We are determined to encourage thoughtful discussion, so please be respectful to others. We also provide a set of Commenting Options - comment/commenter highlighting and ignoring, and commenter archives that you can access by clicking the commenter options button (). Go to our Commenting Guidelines page for more details, including how to report offensive and spam commenting.

    1 Pings/Trackbacks for "Concept of the Political as Concept of Conception (Blog Comment)"
    1. […] initial comment extended at this blog,  as well as subsequent discussion involving commenters john c. halasz, geo, William Timberman, and […]

    Commenter Ignore Button by CK's Plug-Ins

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



    Noted & Quoted

    TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

    For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

    The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

    Comment →

    Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

    Comment →

    [E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

    Comment →
    CK's WP Plugins


    Extraordinary Comments

    CK's WP Plugins