Sunday 20 April 2008

Carl Schmitt on politics, capitalism, and the Catholic Church

“The Catholic Church is a complex of opposites, a complexio oppositorum. There appears to be no antithesis it does not embrace…. Ultimately, most important is that this limitless ambiguity combines with the most precise dogmatism and a will to decision as it culminates in the doctrine of papal infallibility.

“From the standpoint of the political idea of Catholicism, the essence of the Roman-Catholic complexio oppositorum lies in a specific, formal superiority over the matter of human life such as no other imperium has ever known…. This formal character of Roman Catholicism is based on a strict realization of the principle of representation, the particularity of which is most evident in its antithesis to the economic-technical thinking dominant today….

“The Church requires a political form. Without it there is nothing to correspond to its intrinsically representative conduct. The domination of ‘capital’ behind the scenes [of modern politics] is still no form, though it can undermine an existing political form and make it an empty façade. Should it succeed, it will have ‘depoliticized’ the state completely. Should economic thinking succeed in realizing its utopian goal and in bringing about an absolutely unpolitical condition of human society, the Church would remain the only agency of political thinking and political form. Then the Church would have a stupendous monopoly: its hierarchy would be nearer the political domination of the world than in the Middle Ages.”

—Carl Schmitt, Roman Catholicism and Political Form, trans. G. L. Umen (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1996), pp. 7-8, 25.


Danny said...

Now if I am not mistaken Schmitt had something of an on again off again relationship with the Catholic Church. That is, I do not believe he stood by some of the sentiments expressed in Roman Catholicism and Political Form a few years later after it was written.

Nonetheless, this does show you the power of political theology and, I believe, raises concerns about the political turn theology has taken over the last decade.

Anonymous said...

The pope, aka the vicar of Christ, arrived in New York yesterday and was given a right royal welcome with the best of everything, courtesy of the money lenders.

Nevermind that Jesus was born in a stable, rode into town (alone) on a donkey, threw the money-lenders out of the temple, and was executed by the ruling imperial power with the approval of the then (Jewish) ecclesiastical and secular establishment.

None of the catholic triumphalists seem to be capable of seeing the paradoxical grotequeness of it all.

Anonymous said...

I kinda like the guy (da pope).

He said, "Luther wasn't such a bad egg after all."

- Steve Matin

Agnikan said...

Emptiness is not different from form.
Empire is not different from marginalization.

Anonymous said...

While in Schmitt's day it may have seemed easier for the church to be an agent of capital which could work behind the scenes of legitimized political authority to de-politicize the state, the current world has already achieved that with the church of consumption, headed up by neo-liberal multinational corporations which, in a global political economic sense, function in a similar way to that of the medieval catholic church. Within the last couple decades we have been able to recognize that state politics is, for the most part, a facade. Actual authority only really exists in those countries which host and harbour the real power wielding capital machines, the corporations. I'm not really anti-globalism, or anti-corporation, but to ignore the facts about international political agency as it exists in the face of these forces would be a disservice to what the church can actually do in the world. In any case, it would take some pretty smooth maneuvering to argue that the church 'should' become a super-state political-economic agent, regardless of whether or not it 'can'. The 'should', however, I will leave up to the theologians. I'm only a political scientist.


Ben Myers said...

Yes, Bryn — and even Schmitt wasn't suggesting that the church "should" aspire to this kind of power. In the sentence that immediately follows, he goes on to say that the church, according to its own identity, cannot wish for this kind of power. But I can't help feeling that some political theologies today would like to redefine the church's identity in a way that makes such power theologically valid and desirable: as though the proper alternative to the monster of capitalism was the monster of a new Christendom!

Anonymous said...

Hi Ben - Which political theologies would those be? I don't ask as a challenge, but I am interested in pursuing the topic a bit more. I'm going to be studying at Regent College in Vancouver come September, and while I am familiar with many of the theologians discussed on this blog, I'm interested in reconciling their ideas with my own background in political science. I'm really into O'donovan right now, but would like to add to my summer reading list before I start my masters. Thanks so much,


Anonymous said...

Didn't Jesus choose a human form, hmmm? Did He not adapt, but still maintain full Divinity and full Humanity? At the same time?

Of course, being God and all, that's pretty easy. Perhaps...just maybe, like Ben suggested - The Church adapts to the monsters of any particular cultural epoch?

While still maintaining its identity?

Hmmmmm, questions, questions...

Anonymous said...

While adopting human form, Jesus certainly did not adopt the legalistic, pharisaic, cultural epoch. If he did, would he have opposed the pharisees so much? The role of church, as in many ways was the role of Jesus, is to facilitate the rendering unto God what is God's while being a redeeming force in the world that renders unto caesar what is caesar's.

Also, as the body of christ, are we not to no longer conform to the patterns of this world? To be in the world but not of the world? As such, it seems to me that the church must co-exist with the "monsters", not adapt to them or even become them.

Not that I have all the answers though...what do you think?

Anonymous said...

I think therefore I am. ;)

You can flog me later for being blatantly lazy, and plagaristic, too!

No, but to address your particular insight - while Jesus did take on "human" form as we now know it, he did not adopt behaviors to blend in culturally - he "stuck to his guns", interfaced and communed with humans as a human (while still being God, of course) on the turf given to them, and didn't use the ultimate ace up the sleeve when He was on the Cross. He could have done whatever He wanted to get down, but nooooooooo.

He chose to accept death. He took it, and faced it head on.

That's - quite simply, beautifully amazing. The essence of grace perhaps? I don't know either.

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