Germanic Languages | Seminar in German Literature
G825 | 2832-2833 | William Rasch

G825:  Seminar in German Literature (4/3 CR)  William Rasch
Topic: Sovereignty: Carl Schmitt and His Critics

Sections: 2832 (4 cr)
2833 (3 cr)
02:30P-03:45P/ MW
WH 108

email: wrasch


Carl Schmitt (1888-1985) was the contentious and controversial
German legal and political theorist whose most famous works were
written during the period between the two world wars.  Because of
his perceived conservative authoritarianism, his support of the
Nazis during the first few years of their rule, and because of his
distasteful self-pity and refusal to repent in the prescribed way
after the war (i.e., through de-nazification), Schmitt’s work was
ignored until an unlikely and largely leftist rehabilitation of some
of his central ideas began in the 1980s.  In a review of an English-
language edition of Schmitt’s Concept of the Political, philosopher
Robert E. Pippin states: “Besides the critique of any hope for
rationality as a foundation for political life, besides a renewed
interest in the ineliminable role of power or in the friend/enemy
distinction or in ‘political theology,’ besides a deep new concern
with the ever growing reliance on technology and technologically
organized administrations, one could list several other, now very
important themes that were treated in the work of Schmitt and have
reintroduced him into contemporary discussions.”  Indeed, the
Schmittian theme of the hour seems to be sovereignty, whether
discussed theoretically by philosophers like Giorgio Agamben or
practically and politically by those who wonder about the future of
the regions of the world labeled Iraq and Afghanistan, not to
mention Europe.  Thus, as the recent explosion of references to and
examinations of Schmitt testifies, his work and his concerns are
again very much on the table and open to debate.

This course, then, will be that “table,” and we will engage in
debates about how best to define the aims of the political, how best
to assess the nature and value of liberalism, how best to evaluate
the notion of sovereignty, once thought to be a dead relic of
political history but now resurrected as nemesis and, perhaps,
promise, and finally, how best to asses the new world order, its
purported benefits as well as its apparent drawbacks.

We will read all or parts of five books and two articles by Schmitt
(in ENGLISH translation) as well as samplings from the relevant
political-theoretical tradition (e.g., Hobbes, Locke, Mill),
Schmitt’s approximate contemporaries (e.g., Sorel, Lukács,
Benjamin), and political theorists who are our contemporaries (e.g.,
Agamben, Foucault, Habermas, Hardt & Negri, Luhmann, Milbank,
Mouffe).  To encourage enrollment by graduate students in a variety
of disciplines (such as history, philosophy, and political science,
in addition to the language and literature departments) class (which
meets M and W) will be conducted in English, though those who are
able to read Schmitt’s direct and powerful prose in the original
German are encouraged to do so.  Students may choose to write four 5-
7-page papers during the course of the semester or one seminar paper
due the beginning of May.