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 []

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