Why Carl Schmitt?
David Dyzenhaus
The surge of interest among Anglo-American scholars in Weimar politi-
cal and legal theory is easily explained. In the developed democracies
of the West, the role of the state in public life-indeed, the very future
of the state-is in question while in much of the rest of the world new
experiments in democracy are taking place under conditions of great
instability. The short but vivid experiment in democracy of Weimar at-
tracted the intense attention of a number of brilliant social, legal, and
political theorists, many of whom were deeply involved in practical
politics. In particular, they worked within that field of German legal
and political theory - Staatslehre-which is as difficult to translate as
its main object of study-the Rechtsstaat. "Theory of the state" and
"rule of law" are respectively the nearest English equivalents. But they
do not go a long way to capture a field devoted to a quest to understand
the proper role in public life of the state bound by the rule of law, a
field which rejects any strict academic division between legal studies,
political, social, and economic theory, and philosophy.
In short, Anglo-American scholars now perceive the need to develop
a Staatslehre. And so increasing interest in the Weimar practitioners of
Staatslehre is no surprise.
Among these practitioners, Carl Schmitt gets the most attention and
this collection of essays is part of that trend, one which is at the
least perplexing, even disturbing when one considers the bare facts of
Schmitt's life and theory.
Schmitt was born in
into a Catholic family and, after school, fol-
lowed a conventional German academic path in law. By the late
he had established a considerable reputation as an innovative scholar of
law and political culture, a reputation sealed by the publication in
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