04 February 2011

Carl Schmitt

Tyler Cowen linked to a New Republic article about political thought in China

The first point is that the Chinese take politics really seriously — something that looks strange to those of us who live in democracies, where politics is mostly fantasy, and goes some way to explaining the Chinese regime's unnecessarily serious take on such idiocies as the Nobel Peace Prize.

More interesting, to me, is the summary of the thinking of Carl Schmitt.

"Schmitt assumed the priority of conflict: Man is a political creature, in the sense that his most defining characteristic is the ability to distinguish friend and adversary... If you have nothing to say about war, you have nothing to say about politics. There is, he wrote, 'absolutely no liberal politics, only a liberal critique of politics'"

That last point is what tore me away, finally, from classical liberalism. You can establish, as the libertarians have done, that politics is basically harmful — that it would be better if it did not exist. That is true, and it gives useful insights. But by itself, it doesn't actually get rid of politics, any more than declaring any other crime to be a crime gets rid of it. Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away. We would be better off without politics, but classical liberalism offers no way to achieve that, and I suspect it is not possible. If I am resigned to living in a world with politics, the question of what form of politics is least bad presents itself, and classical liberalism supplies no answers.

Schmitt, who I was not previously aware of, did not merely point out the problem with liberalism. He did something about it. Specifically, he joined the Nazi party.

Fascism is a fairly obvious answer to the problems of liberal democracy. Get rid of the liars, the elections, the corrupt influences of guild, agency and business, and lets just have a Leader who makes the decisions and is answerable to nobody but God and history. That's pretty much what I've been saying for a while — am I a fascist?

That's a tough enough question that I've been sitting on this draft for several weeks while I work it out. Clearly, I'm not far away — certainly not far enough to be respectable. I want quite a few of the things the Fascists want. But then, when people sit around spouting political theories, they frequently want much the same things: prosperity, security, personal freedom... it's means, rather than ends, that cause most disagreements.

The easy answer is "No, fascism is way too democratic for me", because fascism relies on a mass party, which is a form of demotism even if there aren't necessarily regular fair elections. But that's a bit glib, given that I don't have a clear path forward, and it's possible that in some circumstances fascism could be a path to something I would approve of.

The real answer is that arguing about theories of government in the abstract is meaningless and irrelevant. If I did not believe that, I would still be a libertarian. I am not likely to actively support any real fascist movement, because I am a passivist, not an activist. If I supported fascism I would be committing politics, and becoming part of the problem. When the time is right for a responsible government to exist, there will be no need for a movement with supporters, because the people will acquiesce in the new regime as they now acquiesce in democracy. The new order will not be imposed by an ideological struggle, but by a straightforward business transaction, which at the time will seem inevitable and even minor.

I am not saying the new order is inevitable — just that if it happens it will become inevitable first. Any order that is installed by a struggle is obviously political, and therefore doomed.

[Update: fixed link, corrected source to New Republic, not National Review. Thanks Kalim Kassam]

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