In the Spring issue of American Affairs, Blake Smith writes at length about Carl Schmitt’s “The Tyranny of Values,” the title essay of the collection The Tyranny of Values and Other Texts, published by Telos Press. Edited by Russell A. Berman and Samuel Garrett Zeitlin, translated by Samuel Garrett Zeitlin, and with a preface by David Pan, Schmitt’s The Tyranny of Values and Other Texts is now available for purchase in our online store. Save 20% off the list price by using the coupon code BOOKS20 during the checkout process.
An excerpt from the review:
To those familiar with his most famous writings, it may seem that Carl Schmitt is an enemy of liberalism. In texts such as The Concept of the Political (1932) and Legality and Legitimacy (1932), Schmitt critiqued the Weimar Republic and the liberal tradition, the weaknesses of which Weimar seemed to embody. Liberalism, Schmitt argued, depends on systematic neutralizations—fictions by which all individuals and points of view are imagined to be equal, and by which the confrontations of political life seem to be transformed into peaceful, rule-governed debates with open-ended, undetermined outcomes. His writings during the Nazi era endorsed a new understanding of politics in which such deceptive procedures are replaced by the decisions of a charismatic leader who acts on behalf of a homogeneous people against its internal and external foes. Radicals of the Right and Left have found inspiration in Schmitt’s analysis of liberalism and calls for moving beyond it to a realistic and engaged theory that recognizes the insuperable conflicts at the heart of politics.
In his 1960 essay “The Tyranny of Values,” however, Schmitt reconsidered liberalism. He pleaded for a neutral legal order that at least pretended to respect all points of view and disguised the violent, terrifying nature of the political. Politics, he argued, should not impose “values” (Werte) on individuals, but should offer just the sort of value-neutral (Wertfrei) legal order and neutralizing fictions he had criticized in his Weimar-era writings. Schmitt based this argument both on a historical account of the idea of “values” and on a psychological account of what it is like to be a human being creating and imposing values in the world.
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