Carl Schmitt And Leo Strauss: Victims Of The Political Concept

Carl Schmitt

In keeping with our previous discussions of contemporary European New Right authors, one name often discussed as an ENR influence, the German political theorist Carl Schmitt, can be highlighted. Carl Schmitt (1888-1985) is mostly remembered for his understanding of a political theory grounded in the distinction between a nation and its common enemy, and abstractly, as the perennial friend-enemy dichotomy. For Schmitt, the political (in his sense) was fundamental, and in fact subsumed all other social-cultural manifestations. We encounter his mature thinking principally within the pages of The Concept of the Political (with The Age of Neutralizations and Depoliticizations), and it is probably safe to say that it is both the work most often read as an introduction to his thinking, and the one most often cited in general commentary. The Concept of the Political is a rather brief work, about 80 pages, originally published in 1927, followed in 1932 by an amended second edition, and, in 1933, a third revision. The current American edition from University of Chicago Press includes Leo Strauss' Notes on the Concept of the Political, written in 1932.

When approaching Carl Schmitt it is almost expected that a writer qualify whatever follows. In a recent (2011) edition of Schmitt's Political Romanticism, Graham McAleer wants to know, “Who was Carl Schmitt?” In response we find it possible to choose one, or perhaps all: an arch-revolutionary, a Catholic conservative, a fascist, or simply an opportunist. 1 As to be expected, Schmitt's case is remarkable for the animosity afforded not only him, personally, but at least as much an animosity directed toward his stated conception of the political, a grounding counter to our time's prevailing liberalism (liberalism taken in a 17th century philosophical and later Enlightenment derived sense, and also a more modern social-totalitarian sense). The former animosity is, of course, most attributable to Schmitt's clerking for the National Socialists, the extent of which has been openly, if not always honestly, debated. However, as with another contemporary German thinker, Martin Heidegger, this association alone will serve in many minds to forever sully both his name and his scholarship, and make whatever he wrote unworthy of serious review. This would be unfortunate because whatever else he may have been, un-serious was not an attributable characteristic.

The present overview does not turn one way or the other on Carl Schmitt's questionable day-job, and by analogy one might, perhaps, think it unfortunate that he was not a supporter of ally Stalin, or simply a hack apologist for a brutal regime, such as Edgar Snow. In that case no one would ever have much minded, since we all understand that either Russian Soviet, or Chinese Communism, started with good intentions, but somehow became misguided, and along the way maybe simply misunderstood as their principals moved toward the starvation and murder of millions of innocents. Such associations, however, hold out at least the possibility of forgiveness—in our liberal world it can't be otherwise. So much the worse for Schmitt, as we face the self-evident social fact that National Socialism was, and will always be, the greatest political evil. And those associated with its particular kind of evil can never be reclaimed, or rehabilitated, we are not inclined to think. At the same time we must conclude this historical episode by pointing out that after a year in prison, and after interrogations, etc., the Allied Nuremberg tribunals could find nothing particularly egregious to hang on Schmitt (or for him to hang on), and he was subsequently released under his own recognizance. 2 Nihil obstat.

Heinrich Meier serves as Professor of Philosophy at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich, Germany, and also as Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago. His Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss, The Hidden Dialog (University of Chicago Press, revised paper edition, 1996) was originally published in German, but has since been translated into English, along with other major languages, including Chinese. His study highlights the intellectual tragedy of the political, where friend and enemy are really more alike than not, but who are nevertheless forced by the very political conceptions that they attempt to uncover, into abandoning whatever common ground they once had.

Meier shows how Schmitt's greatest intellectual “collaborator,” the German Jewish political thinker, Leo Strauss, influenced his thinking in ways that allowed his views to mature apart from any concrete personal interaction—a collaboration not localized, but one separated by distance engendered by political enmity. Professor Meier demonstrates how Schmitt understood and embraced his intellectual colleague's critique, in spite of Schmitt's participation in events, and Strauss' removal from them. In fine, the two nevertheless engaged in an “esoteric” or, as Meier puts it, a hidden dialog.

This ostensibly unlikely pairing (ostensible only if one forgets what each was attempting to explicate—that is, the nature of the political) manifests outwardly in other peculiar similarities. Like Schmitt, Leo Strauss himself brought on an almost uncontrolled, passionate vehemence among many observers, both from the political left and right. Strauss is often viewed as the “father” of American neoconservatism, and is typically held by certain anti-neocons in almost an Aristophanean-Socratic fashion: in other words, as a corrupter of the young and impressionable, and the destroyer of tradition. Among the left he exists as the Siva of modern liberalism. One notable example among many that we may cite is the extreme effect Strauss had on libertarian economist (and sometimes “philosopher of freedom”) Murray Rothbard, who, in a more charitable moment, called Strauss' methodology “incredibly absurd.” 3 Rothbard's judgment, of course, turned in part on Strauss' explication of “esoteric writing,” an idea made (in)famous in Persecution and the Art of Writing. Here, the chief idea is that due to external cultural (political, social, religious) exigencies, authors attempting to confront heretical (and hence dangerous) questions must write carefully, and must often disguise their real intentions in order to avoid trouble. But is this really such an odd supposition?

Heinrich Meier demonstrates how Carl Schmitt, due to his own exigencies, was unable to exoterically collaborate with Leo Strauss, but at the same time used Strauss' criticisms to modify and refine his own thinking. Meier undertakes a textual analysis of the Concept's three revisions, and shows how, esoterically, the revisions fit nicely with Strauss' Notes. Background is established by three letters Strauss wrote to Schmitt. In a letter dated March 1932, Strauss offers his “most heartfelt thanks” for the former's support. In September 1932 Strauss discusses specific problems he found within Schmitt's essay, while in July of 1933 Strauss wrote to Schmitt inquiring whether the latter would offer an introduction allowing Strauss to participate in a critical edition of the works of Thomas Hobbes. All letters were unanswered, yet Schmitt kept them throughout his life.

In other correspondence (italics in original), a friend to Strauss wrote,

“Whether C. Schm. can answer at all is the question! I regard his present position as absolutely impossible. I do not know if you have the picture. Regarding that, too, I will write in my next letter, which I will not send via Germany.”

Later, the friend writes,

“Regarding C.S., it can be said that he is joining the crowd in an inexcusable way. In the official position he holds, no doubt he cannot very well answer...And I would certainly not write to him again.”

For his own part, Strauss (May, 1935) wrote that Schmitt, “meanwhile had become a National Socialist,” and could “adduce the mitigating circumstances that after all he could not possibly allow himself to acknowledge his dependence on a Jew.”

Nevertheless, there can be no mistake about the relationship. Professor Meier writes of communication from Schmitt's friend, jurist Gunther Krauss. Krauss, in 1932-33, worked with Schmitt,

“on a dissertation on the Protestant ecclesiastical lawyer Rudoph Sohm; later, Krauss was Schmitt's assistant at the University of Berlin. In 1988 he informed me that Schmitt, referring to the Notes, had commented: You've got to read that. He saw through me and X-rayed me as nobody else has.”

It is from this setting, then, that Dr. Meier discusses in detail how Schmitt acknowledged, if not his dependence, at least his intellectual debt to the political enemy, the Jew, Leo Strauss.




1. Political Romanticism, Transaction Publishers, 2011, ix.

2. A brief introduction to Schmitt at Nuremberg can be found here: and

3. Murray N. Rothbard vs. The Philosophers: Unpublished Writings on Hayek, Mises, Strauss, and Polanyi, Ludwig von Mises Institute, p. 96. Rothbard's critique is hardly scholarly, but more a polemic. At the same time, one may reasonably question Rothbard's own philosophical acumen. For a brief insight into Rothbard as philosopher one may investigate the blog of a real philosopher: The point is not to debate the issue of Rothbard, but only to offer an example of the kind of effect that the topic of Leo Strauss sometimes engenders.

Indeed, no doubt

..."social contract theory....elitarian anthropology.....jewish spirit.....unitary executive theory".....      

In Kappert's world these kinds of abstractions seem to count for...'factual real world observations'.  They lead him to the absurd conclusions that Wolfowitz, Fukuyama, Huntington and Kagan would be (a) "followers" of Carl Schmitt and (b) "love dictators".  When confronted with contrary EVIDENCE  (for example, Fukuyama's book with his 'End of History'- thesis), Kappert simply ignores it and continues with these ridiculous assertions.

So, in Kappert we are facing a typical specimen of contemporary (Western) fundamentalism, i.e. belief without any uncertainty or belief that is not open to counter-evidence.  To paraphrase Allan (not to be confused with Harold) Bloom, it represents the "closing" of the Western Mind.  Of Course, Bloom's title was "The Closing of The American Mind". His purpose was to show how higher education has failed democracy, and how American democracy has unwittingly played host to vulgarized Continental European ideas of nihilism and despair, of relativism disguised as tolerance.   It is on that basis, i.e. Kappert's preconceived theoretical/ideological  notions and his refusal to make factual empirical observatons, that I am fairly confident that he too would have been a "Ja-nazi" (as opposed to a "Muss-nazi")  in a different time period.  He flows with the Zeitgeist of the moment.

still no doubt

Even if I am accused of being polemic, my views show another angle on the discussed personalities. I try to stick to facts.
The time of Thomas Hobbes: His social contract theory develops the era of Absolutism (= one man with all power), pretty close to what later is called 'dictatorship'. He also engaged in psychological phenomena like 'consciousness', denying the existence of 'free will' and outed himself as adept of determinism. Thus, a superman, like Leviathan, is welcome to lead humanity.
Leo Strauss, although born in Germany, always regarded himself as member of the 'Jewish Nation',  underlining his elitarian anthropology. On social matters, he can be considered the opposite of Max Weber. It must be said, too, that Strauss defended the classical-greek 'right of nature' (which is not 'individual right'!), and consequently favoured the power of the elite over the masses, in search for 'the best'.
Any similarity of Hobbes' and Strauss' theories with ideologies and policies we usually call 'fascist' seem to be obvious.
As to Carl Schmitt, he joined the NSDAP in May 1933, a few month after Hitler came to power. His concept of 'auctoritas' was perfectly applied by the Nazis. He justified political murders and supported the authority of the Führer, as 'the leader defends the law'. Schmitt presented himself as a radical anti-jewish and also was the chairman of a law teachers' convention in Berlin in October 1936, where he demanded that German law be cleansed of the "jewish spirit", going so far as to demand that all publications by Jewish scientists should henceforth be marked with a small symbol. After the war, he refused every attempt at de-nazification which effectively barred him from positions in academia. In 1957, his daughter married the prominent Spanish fascist Alfonso Otero Valera.
His legacy includes the unitary executive theory to justify highly controversial policies in the 'war on terror' — such as introducing unlawful combatant status which purportedly would eliminate protection by the Geneva Conventions, enhanced interrogation techniques, etc.
His followers include Wolfowitz, Fukuyama, Huntington and Kagan.

@ Michael Presley

Thank you for your article, it made me think.

And thanks to kappert I can add my 5 cts.

Kappert complains in spirit that Schmitt and Strauss don't spend any tears on the victims of the wars and are actually applauding the dictators.

This is a normal kappertonian reaction and not only from our kappert alone.

First of all consider the historical environment of the 2 authors. They came out of nearly feudal times and after a brief socialist disaster in the Weimar Republic, together with an enthousiastically worldwide supported "new-dawn-communism" in Russia, the normal desire of those thinkers was for intelligent "change".

Schmitt knew also that the war was atrocious but he didn't consider shedding tears about it was his calling. He considered the changes that war was producing as more important. The changes were indeed astronomical, economical, scientific and political.

It is true that the second world war finished the job of liquidating the old feudal systems. It also opened a window for the desired "democracy". What the 2 thinkers didn't expect was the turn around by their beloved "elites" into "soft dictatorships"

Let's face it, today we have the soft dictatorships of the parties which, in a musical chair game, change regularly at the top but apply the exact same policies as the other parties and above all keep themselves in power.

We have a "pseudo-democracy" today in practically every "democratic" country. On top of that we have a technocracy developping in Europe, in total disrespect of all democratic principles.

I suppose the 2 thinkers would hope for a new war today to clean up this new mess.

I even think we are not even far from it. 


This is one of the main reasons I want to see the outcome in a divided Belgium, praying God that independant Flanders leaves the European Union and starts its own original democratic society. The world would gain enormously by such an example. That's why the powers that be aren't too happy about the Belgian split.

some @s and further comments

I thank everyone for the interesting comments for which I want to make brief reply:

@ Dr. Bertonneau

Contra Viereck, I would question his statement that Schmitt was a key founder of National Socialism. Without knowing exactly what Viereck could mean, such an attribution misreads Schmitt's influence and position.


Your arguments could probably be addressed if I understood them better, but in-between your polemics it is difficult to know where to begin.

To speak of “dictators” in the context of the late 16th to mid 17th century is wrongheaded. These were times of kings and constitutional monarchies. This certainly leaves out Hobbes. To remark that Strauss “loved” dictators requires some sort of attribution. I certainly never read anything he wrote that suggests as much (although I've not read everything from his pen).

The idea that man is a “dangerous being” was never an idea unique to Hobbes, and whatever one believes regarding man’s nature, his dangerousness cannot be denied. We must also understand that for Hobbes, this was not taken in the moral sense, as evil contrasted with good. Strauss explains that man, for Hobbes, was evil in the sense of being dangerous as opposed to not dangerous, that is, as evil likened to that of the animal.

“Hobbes had to understand evil as innocent “evil” because he denied sin; and he had to deny sin because he did not recognize any primary obligation of man that takes precedence over every claim qua justified claim, because he understood man as by nature free, that is, without obligation; for Hobbes, therefore, the fundamental political fact was natural right as the justified claim of the individual, and Hobbes conceived of obligation as a subsequent [that is, after the establishment of the civil covenant—mp] restriction upon that claim.” [Notes #26, italics in original.]

For Hobbes, the problem was how to formulate the best way to remove the danger—the formation of the artificial man, the leviathan.

For his part, Leo Strauss was concerned with the crisis of liberalism, and its attendant unchecked freedom. As we see, political freedom is ultimately freedom from obligation toward the social order, a freedom based on natural right, usually divorced from natural law. From his perspective, Hobbes was the first liberal inasmuch as Hobbesian philosophy was founded upon the right of nature, an individual right. But, as Strauss points out, Hobbes’ political goal was directed toward peace. Thus, in the Notes, Strauss argues that Hobbes’ philosophy was the negation of the political (taken in Schmitt’s sense).

At the same time, nations qua nations remain within nature. That is to say, nations exist in relation to each other as man related to man before the civil covenant. Schmitt argued against the idea of a general world state (or at least he was agnostic toward its possible founding). Inasmuch as the liberal idea of a world state would deprecate the political, man would henceforth be doomed to forever participating in mere entertainment.


You are right that the topic is “rather esoteric,” but that does not mean it has no relevance. Indeed, Schmitt argued that for an enemy to exist in a meaningful way, they had to be an authentic enemy—that is, an enemy that could threaten one’s way of life if not his life itself. In Part 5 Schmitt writes:

"The justification of war does not reside in its being fought for ideals or norms of justice, but in its being fought against a real enemy." In 6: “Humanity as such cannot wage war because it has no enemy, at least not on this planet. When a state fights its political enemy in the name of humanity, it is not a war for the sake of humanity, but a war wherein a particular state seeks to usurp a universal concept against its military opponent.”

One can look at the current wars and reasonably question whether the present military actions would even exist in a Scmittian political universe. That, is, if Schmitt’s ideas were taken as a ground for action, we might actually have more peace than is presently the case since our current enemies are rather chimerical.

Finally, when speaking of Leo Strauss, it is important to separate the man from the so-called Straussians. Whether Strauss would have ever countenanced ideas that today are put forth in his name is questionable. Strauss was a teacher, and not a politician. He was likewise not a clerk; as far as I know he stayed clear of contemporary politics (although he was said to be a Zionist). Often I hear people speaking about our “Straussian foreign policy,” and wonder if those making these claims have ever read his books? Again, I have not read everything he ever wrote, but I’ve yet to come upon the chapter where he suggests that we democratize Iraq, or build schools in Afghanistan while simultaneously fighting Taliban.

@ traveller

Thanks for the kind words.


Much Doubt

The subject of Carl Schmitt and his "grausamen Krieg" may be an interesting topic for historians to pursue, but it strikes me as rather esoteric and of little immediate relevance today.   Perhaps, it is more useful to refute Kappert's indirect assertion that the "Strauss Kindergarten" would be "fond of dictators".  He defines that Kindergarten as follows:......."P(O)dhoretz, Kristol, Wolfowitz, Bloom, Fukuyama, Huntington, Kagan".   His assertion is truly ridiculous regarding any of these gentlemen. 

The neocons in the group are perhaps best known among the general public today for their insistance on removing Saddam Hussein and his Baath tiranny in Iraq.  Surely, they must love Kappert's mind that is!   And Wolfowitz had to give up his World Bank Presidency, under the pressure of a cabal (consisting largely of Western lefties in cahoots with Third World potentates), because he started linking anti-corruption measures with World Bank 'assistance'.  Fukuyama is perhaps most famous for his "The End of History" book, in which he explained that Western liberal democracy represents the best political system, coupled with the rather naive notion that the whole world was moving towards adopting such a system. Of course, this happened in the wake of the temporary euphoria after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and today Fukyama has largely abandoned that naivete.   Kagan is extremely good at describing the world as it is: Putin as the new Russian Czar, China's CCP power monopoly, African and muslim dictators galore, latin caudillos, etc...But Kappert is not interested in making empirical observations, he prefers to live in a fantasyworld full of presumed "altruistic" leaders (read dictators).  Finally, with regard to Huntington, Kappert's ridiculous assertion is about as valid as declaring Bill Clinton ...celibate! 

Thomas Bertonneau makes an interesting distinction between (A) "Ja-Nazis" and (B) "Muss-Nazis" in the 1930-40's.  Given Kappert's inability to make factual real-world observatiions, and his obstinate adherence to pre-conceived and naive ideological positions, I have no doubt that in a different time he would have been in the A category.    If one replaces the historical term "nazi" by the more contemporary "fellow traveller" one gets the picture.   

no doubt

Schmitt was convinced, just like Hobbes, that Man is a dangerous being, and he loved it. War between groups/nations appeared to him as 'natural order'. He was a convinced Nazi, as he wrote in 1942, at the peak of Nazi domination, that "der neue Nomos unseres Planeten unaufhaltsam und unwiderstehlich wachse. Nur im ,Kampf' kann er entstehen. Viele werden darin nur Tod und Zerstörung erblicken. Manche glauben das Ende der Welt zu erblicken. In Wirklichkeit erleben wir nur das Ende des bisherigen Verhältnisses von Land und Meer ... Auch in dem grausamen Krieg alter und neuer Kräfte entstehen gerechte Maße und bilden sich sinnvolle Proportionen."
This glorification/purification of war received its continuity in Huntington, who declared that un-organized states, that is 'uncivilized' in the protestant line of thinking, cannot lead themselves and will end as colonies, protectorates by states capable to organizational-technical achievements. All three, Schmitt, Strauss and Hobbes denied the 'nature of altruism' and hailed the 'savage-nature of Man'. The logically derived political leitmotiv sounds 'auctoritas non veritas facit legem' – power, not truth, makes the law.
I have no doubt, that Schmitt, Strauss and Hobbes were quite fond of dictators. The followers, the Strauss-Kindergarten (Pedhoretz, Kristol, Wolfowitz, Bloom, Fukuyama, Huntington, Kagan) continue this line of thinking.

I was curious whether Peter

I was curious whether Peter Viereck made any reference to Carl Schmitt in Metapolitics (1941; revised edition, 2004), his study of Nazism (chiefly)as the screwiest type of German Romanticism in application under psychopaths to the governance of a nation-state.  

I could locate only one.  Viereck writes: “Following are examples of key founders of Nazism whose most burning ambition, before they entered politics, was in spheres of art and inspirational philosophy.  Hitler: painting of romantic landscapes, architecture.  Goebbels: drama, novel, poetry.  Rosenberg: architecture, philosophy.  Eckart: poetry, drama.  Baldur von Schirach [:] poetry, philosophy.  Funk [:] music.  C. Schmitt: philosophy.”  The list goes on for a few names, but I cut it off at Schmitt.  

That Nazism borrows a plethora of motifs from Romanticism, either the specifically German variety or from the general trans-national variety, is beyond dispute.

Schmitt’s interest in the concept of auctoritas, which endeared him the Nazis, is not necessarily condemning; the clerical authoritarian regimes of inter-war Hungary and Austria incorporated this notion, or its equivalent, without crossing the moral line into ideological, homicidal praxis.  One way of looking at Schmitt, at which Michael Presley points, is to see him as a naïf, who initially, uncritically saw in the National Socialists what he wanted to see.  

The Leo Strauss connection is quite interesting because it is plausibly (if faintly) dissident and confessional and self-correcting.  An imprecise but useful parallel might be Richard Strauss’ continued collaboration with his librettist Hugo von Hoffmannsthal for the opera Arabella in 1933; Strauss also insisted on keeping the Jewish librettist’s name on the program when Arabella and the pre-1933 operas were performed in German and (after 1938) Austrian opera houses during the Nazi period.  

Again the pianist Elly Ney, known as “Hitler’s pianist” because of her strong pro-Party position, insisted on speaking publicly about her debt to her Jewish piano teachers, who she credited with bridging the eras between Beethoven’s generation and her own.  There is a remarkable Reichs Rundfunk recording of her in interview in 1944 where she is forthright about uttering the names of the Jewish non-persons who helped her hone her art when she was a music student.  

Viereck’s inclusion of Schmitt’s name in his list might, in context, be spasmodic; there is, in any case, no further mention of Schmitt in Viereck’s study.  Was Schmitt a Ja-Nazi or a Muss-Nazi?  Or was he at first a Ja-Nazi and later, having precipitated himself in the trap, a Muss-Nazi?  In light of Meier’s thesis, perhaps the latter is the case.

@ Michael Presley

2 people who were impossibly connected, so there is still hope that mankind can survive.

Thank you Mr. Presley