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Backstage Politics

Carl Schmitt and the political



Carl Schmitt spoke about the political by defining it. Now, it’s time to put it in a broader perspective.




Today, I want to speak to you about the political, Carl Schmitt, and my view on this. Yes, I’ve been talking about Schmitt for much time with this long series of more than 15 episodes. I could keep talking about Schmitt for centuries, but that’s not my intention. Rather I want to go over the core idea of the political in Schmitt’s thought and bring it into my perspective. So, on this occasion I’m going to summarize the Schmitt’s concept of the political to set out my point of view about politics, and how the Schmitt’s notion of the political works in it.


Carl Schmitt and the political


Schmitt considered the distinction between friend and enemy the dichotomy of the political. Other fields, such as aesthetics, economics, and so on, have their particular dichotomies. However, the distinction between friend and enemy is exclusive of the political. Besides, any other dichotomy can become political insofar as it gathers people in friends and enemies. Hence, social differences may become political when they transform social relations in antagonistic terms.

Schmitt’s notion of the political explains very well how specific identities become political. Being catholic or protestant, black or white, worker or employer may become a political matter that mobilizes people in the public sphere by gathering them in different and hostile groups. That explains the aggressive dimension of politics and its confrontational dynamic. In this context, identities become an existential question insofar as others’ identities are perceived as the negation of your identity. As a result, conflicts arise, and people get involved in these quarrels that politicize them. That entails a process in which social relations reorganized following a political criterion. People gather in friends and enemies, and consequently, society witnesses how this distinction shakes its foundations.  The reason is that the political involves an intense dissociation between groups that spreads across the whole society.

In addition to all of this, I have to stress that the politicization of identities has profound consequences in the way politics works. That’s quite clear when we see how passions stir-up conflict. In this regard, when identities become political, they redefine in new terms the confrontation between groups. Insofar as it represents an existential matter, it resorts to passions that play a fundamental role in people’s political mobilization. However, leave it for now, and let’s focus on one more thing related to Schmitt’s notion of the political. I refer to the expansive nature of the political in modern times. We shouldn’t forget that Schmitt defined the political in the State, and, in this way, he linked it with the scope of this institution. By this, I mean that modern politics tends to include everything in the range of the political, that is, to politicize everything. Insofar as the State has expanded its powers and manages a vast amount of different matters, the political includes anything because the State brought it into the public sphere. Hence, nothing is beyond the reach of the political. That also links with the concept of total State that Schmitt set forth, and I spoke about in another episode.


Politics as a play


The political, in the terms Schmitt defined it, makes politics a drama. In this way, everything in politics becomes a fiery and permanent struggle against those who represent an existential threat, namely, the negation of their identity. Conflict turns out to be the general rule in social relations insofar as they become political. Inevitably, that has dramatic consequences. Aside from that gloomy dimension of politics, I want to discuss here how Schmitt’s notion of the political works in my conceptualization of politics.

There are several conceptualizations about how politics works. I’m going to mention them in order to differentiate them from my contribution. So, there are authors that consider politics as a machine. It means a set of springs, levers, cogs, and gears working together. Then, politics works following deterministic rules that conduct events. Another perspective considers politics as a living organism. In this perspective, political structures are like organisms that develop new organs to satisfy specific needs. At the same time, they extract resources from their surroundings. There is also an economic perspective that considers politics as a market. In this way, every actor behaves rationally in this sphere because they pursue their interest. One more point of view considers politics as a game. It depends on each author what sort of game it is. Still, it involves the existence of a set of rules, different sides, and a competition in which everybody wants to win.

Here is my view on this. I consider politics as a play. In this metaphor, there is a dramatic plot, and it involves the existence of opposing sides that fight each other. Why play and not a movie? In the play, you can’t repeat the scene, and that resembles real life. So, the play involves the performance of a drama that organizes actors in groups of people that develop conflicts and confrontations. In this way, the distinction between friend and enemy plays a crucial role. That shows us how this analogy works. Besides, in politics, there is also a script, a stage, a public, and so on, that articulates the course of action.

I have to add one more thing regarding the performance of the play. We all know that every actor plays a particular role, and that’s not real because we are watching a play. Yet, politics is not fiction. Despite that, every actor does their best to look realistic in their performance. Does it change anything? No, because when the public is watching a play, there is something I call innocence. I refer to the viewer when they watch a play. It takes them back to the state of innocence and ingenuity of their childhood when everything was new and unknown. That psychological mechanism works when a viewer watches a play the first time. It makes them believe what they are watching.

This analogy fits much better than former metaphors. Naturally, politics is real, and what happens in this realm is serious. Nevertheless, every actor performs a specific role on the political stage. They have to be convincing to attain support from the public. That’s the general rule even when they conceal their real intentions. It explains the use of social masks, as many actors use in their performance on stage. In this respect, I want to recall the Japanese Noh theatre. The warriors of Japan’s feudal period scorned all manner of artistic expression except for Noh theatre, which is the only art form they recognized. The reason for this was because they viewed other styles of art as mere pretenses, whose true nature was to repeat a predetermined set of actions again and again. In contrast, each performance in Noh theatre is meant to be unique. The mental energy that instills in them starts to be exceeding similar to that of actual events.

It is the same in politics when we witness how actors perform their parts. No matter if they truly believe in what they are doing, only how they perform their role in the play. In this regard, the dissociation between friend and enemy contributes to making politics credible for the audience. Indeed, this distinction is present in the script of any political drama, and it articulates the dynamic of events. Then, the political defines the essence of politics and makes the public sphere work in the same terms as a play.


Question of the day


Question of the day! What is politics for you? Post your opinion in the comments section below, and I’ll check it out.

Bibliography used:

Schmitt, Carl, The Concept of the Political

Vallès, Josep M., Ciencia Política: Una introducción

Bobbio, Norberto, Democracy and dictatorship

Easton, David, A Systems Analysis of Political Life


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