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The Enemy: An Intellectual Portrait of Carl Schmitt

“A book which everyone interested in modern political theory should read.”—Michael Mann

The writings of Carl Schmitt form what is arguably the most disconcerting, original, and yet still unfamiliar body of twentieth-century political thought. In the English-speaking world, he is terra incognita, a name associated with Nazism, the author of a largely untranslated oeuvre forming no recognizable system, coming to us from a disturbing place and time in the form of fragments.

The Enemy is a comprehensive reconstruction and analysis of all of Schmitt’s major works—his books, articles and pamphlets from 1919 to 1950—presented in an arresting narrative form. The revelation of his work is that, unlike mainstream Nazi ideology, Schmitt makes a strong philosophical claim for the necessity of confrontational politics within a democratic system; a claim that has resonance in today’s hegemony of consensual politics.

Reviews

  • “Carl Schmitt is probably the major twentieth-century political theorist whose work remains internationally unknown. Balakrishnan’s comprehensive and sophisticated intellectual biography should rectify this. Here is a book which everyone interested in modern political theory should read.”
  • The Enemy is one of the most brilliant and systematic studies of Schmitt’s extremely difficult intellectual contribution. Gopal Balakrishnan never forgets Schmitt’s hateful political choices. Yet one cannot deny that people of diametrically opposite political allegiances have been influenced by Schmitt’s thought. I think that The Enemy will be acclaimed not only by ‘Schmittians’, right and left, but also by decided critics of the German thinker as the most important recent contribution to the understanding of his work.”
  • “To many, not only on the right, Schmitt’s astringency, depth and realism will seem preferable to the conventional and nauseating politics of the Cooks and the Blairs. But to those influenced even a slightest degree by Schmitt, a worrying question must remain ... in the international realm, whether it is conceived as a global order or as an arena for competition between independent nations, is there ultimately no rule but that imposed by the strongest enemy? ... If Carl Schmitt together with Gopal Balakrishnan help us to edge our way towards thinking about this troubling position, then Balakrishnan’s effort will not have been in vain.”

Blog

  • Post-fascism: a mutation still underway

    This interview with Enzo Traverso was first published in L'humanité. Translated by David Broder. 


    June 2015 press conference of far right 'Europe of Nations and Freedom' bloc within European Parliament. 

    In his Les Nouveaux Visages du Fascisme, historian Enzo Traverso analyses the mutations of the European far Right movements that have emerged from "the fascist matrix."1 According to Traverso, the Left has to "offer political perspectives again" in order to occupy "the immense void" that is today being filled by both jihadism and a "post-fascism" that excludes Muslims.

    Are Europe’s far-Right movements (the AfD in Germany, the Front National in France, Jobbik in Hungary…) adopting the same codes as fascism or Nazism?

    Enzo Traverso: First of all, these movements do share common traits, including their rejection of the European Union, their xenophobia and their racism, in particular in its Islamophobic dimension. Beyond these markers, we can see notable differences. There are clearly neo-fascist or neo-Nazi movements, like Golden Dawn in Greece, Jobbik in Hungary, etc., whose radicalism is often linked to the extent of the crisis, even if in Greece the rise of Syriza did put a lid on this dynamic. As for France, the Front National does have a fascist matrix, and there are certainly neo-fascists in the party, but its discourse is no longer fascist. After all, it has made a considerable effort at ideological mutation, and that is one of the keys to its success. If it still advanced neo-fascist arguments it would not get a hearing, and could certainly not hope to reach the second round of the presidential election.

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  • Trump and the Present Crisis

    This piece will appear in Salvage issue 4, which can be pre-ordered here



    Donald Trump’s election to the US Presidency produced shock and disbelief for liberals, progressives, and leftists around the world. Here, in the US, it has been accompanied by a collective nausea that refuses to pass. Even many who recognize the impoverished mythos of America’s democratic perfectibility and exceptionalism mourn the passing of something they never believed. That said, there is a tendency to over-read what an election means in a backward looking way. But elections do not provide us with a diagnostic of a country; they are voter mobilization projects (conducted, in the main, by elites). The interpretation of the results, their meaning and mandate, retains a character of political positioning, even score settling, after the fact. The desire to parse and explain what enabled the disastrous outcome of a Trump Presidency with Republican Party control of the US government is understandable. Most of the early analysis, however, neglects longer term accounting for how we got here, and thus contributes to our collective disorientation.

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  • Benedict Anderson on 'mapping the terrain' of nationalism

    "Nationalism has been ‘around’ on the face of the globe for, at the very least, two centuries. Long enough, one might think, for it to be reliably and generally understood. But it is hard to think of any political phenomenon which remains so puzzling and about which there is less analytic consensus" — in this essay, taken from the Introduction to Mapping the Nation, Benedict Anderson makes sense of some of the difficulties in ‘mapping the terrain’ of nationalism, as well as looking at theorists (including feminist scholarship) who have brought new meaning to this important area of political study.

    Benedict Anderson's ground-breaking study of nationalism, Imagined Communities, is out this week in a new edition, and available at a 40% discount through Saturday, October 15th.


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Other books by Gopal Balakrishnan