The priority of form in Carl Schmitt's early theological perspective
Cooney, Theresa Ann
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This dissertation offers new insights into Carl Schmitt's early Catholic thought, especially Die Sichtbarkeit der Kirche and Römischer Katholizismus und politische Form. Focusing on the concept of "form," I examine Schmitt's idiosyncratic usage of the term, its theological underpinnings, and the implication of Schmitt's early Catholic thought for understanding his place in the history of mid-20th-century political thought. Schmitt is best known as a political theorist of "decisionism" and "the exception," who favors the extra-legal, irrational, and existential in shaping "the political." His theory arises from theological commitments later obscured by his association with the Nazis. I argue that Schmitt's theological perspective and his concept of form reinforce one another by elevating a particular brand of personalist, juridical rationality that establishes the basis of a polemic against the irrational in political and religious life. Placing Schmitt's concept of political form in dialogue with his Catholic public intellectualism, I explore Schmitt's early attempts to overcome the form/substance dichotomy in political theory through his use of theological constructs. Beginning with responses of other high-profile Catholic intellectuals to Sichtbarkeit and Römischer Katholizismus, I find that concerns with political form, representation, and the threats of the "mechanization" of liberal bureaucracy and anarchic atheism were shared by Schmitt's peers. Through an analysis of Schmitt's early articulations of the relationship between form and substance--in his strictly legal and political writings and in his Catholic writings--I demonstrate that Schmitt emphasizes public belief, community, political action, and "personalist" representation as conditions of a viable social life. Close reading of Schmitt's theological inquiry shows that his characterization of God, Christ, human nature, and the earthly and divine kingdoms fits his understanding of political form and human sovereignty. I argue that Schmitt's theological perspective is both humanized and rendered problematic by his privileging of "form," a concept that benefits from his theological perspective, while also being hindered by it.