Conforming Carl Schmitt

Central Connecticut State Universirty

Conforming Carl Schmitt

Elitist Controlling the Mob

Dan Whalen




A look at how Carl Schmitt conformed to what Hannah Arendt had in mind as a member of the elite allying with the mob within a totalitarian movement,




Hannah Arendt and Carl Schmitt are two on different sides of the political and philosophical spectrum.  Even with these differences they make arguments that parallel each other.  They were and still are considered intellectual elites.  This is important because when Arendt in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism she speaks of an alliance between the mob, the disgruntled lower classes, and the elite, the intellectual.  In essence she is pointing the finger at those like Carl Schmitt.

It is interesting to point out that Arendt feels that the intellectual elite is part of the reason a totalitarian movement is able to grab a foot hold within in a country. She fails to disclose that she is part of the intellectual elite, but a Marxist bias does come out in her writing.  This is not to be confused with her critique of Stalinism.

The term elite is a broad term that can mean almost anything, but Schmitt does support her claim of an attraction between the intellectual elite and the mob as a clue to understanding the totalitarian movement[i].  He does seem to lean towards a totalitarian style government.  Schmitt says “A state standing above society could be called universal but not total, as the term is under stood nowadays[ii].”  This can be seen as a whitewash of what totalitarianism is, making totalitarianism seem as if it can be better than what it is known of being.  It places him on “the terrifying roster of distinguished men whom totalitarianism can count among its sympathizers, fellow-travelers, and inscribed party members[iii].”  Whitewash maybe to weak of a word, but what he is saying that within a totalitarian regime there will be a sense of universality that will be all in inclusive.  Everyone will be better off and equal within the state based on his theory.  It would be the Utopia Sir Thomas More[iv] wrote about, giving all those within the state the social and economic justice they are seeking.  This gives the mob Arendt speaks about hope if the message is relayed to them correctly.

The mob, whipped up in a frenzy unleashing its terror, well have to have an enemy, some entity that has denied them social and economic justice or is the way of it.  Schmitt would admit, “The actual participants can correctly recognize, understand, and judge the concrete situation and settle the extreme case of the conflict… Emotionally the enemy is easily treated as being evil.[v]”  How ever as Arendt points out “the European status quo was still the most serious threat to the ambitions of the mob.[vi]”  An enemy foreign or domestic would have to be created.  The concept of the domestic enemy does not elude Schmitt; he wrote “as the state is a political entity this requirement for the internal peace compels it in critical situations to decide also upon the domestic enemy.[vii]”  As for the Nazis there was not a shortage of people to be labeled as an enemy.  The enemy is the scapegoat of the totalitarian regime to distract the populous from the shortcomings and mistakes made by the regime.  Schmitt notes, “the distinction of friend and enemy denotes the utmost degree of intensity of a union or separation[viii]” and “without having simultaneously to draw upon all those moral, aesthetic, economic, or other distinctions[ix].”  The elite and the mobs “preference for terrorism over all other forms of political activity[x]” means they need an enemy so weak that there is little possibility for them, the enemy, to have any desire to fight back or resist.  This is why the Nazis chose the Jews within Germany, because their first enemy, the Communists, fought back.  As Germany occupied territory other groups became domestic enemies based on that territory, for example the Gypsies in Hungary[xi].  Also common for a totalitarian regime is an ideological enemy, for Stalin it was the United States.  The enemy is important not only for propaganda purposes but for their “desire to see the ruin of this whole world of fake security, fake culture, and fake life.[xii]”  The enemy is opposed to the realness of the totalitarian regime and its virtues.

With upheaval caused the mob under control from the elite is what causes both entities to form “an alliance because of their common antipathy toward the state[xiii]” and the elites “smugness of spurious respectability gave way to anarchic despair[xiv].”  The newfound status of the intellectual elite supersedes “the fact that their lives prior to their political careers had been failures, naïvely held against them by the more respectable leaders of the old parties.[xv]”  To have these new successful careers they need the mob to whip up support by any means necessary.  An example of which would be how Mafia heads, not to be confused with the mob Arendt is speaking of, transcend their lack of education to acquire wealth and power through brute force.  The mobs violence “become(s) a kind of philosophy through which to express frustration, resentment, and blind hatred, a kind of political expressionism[xvi]” which is the fuel the elite needs to push forward their platform which would other wise be quashed by the wealthy elite.  Plus the intellectual elite needs to use the mob because unlike the wealthy elite who have money and power they can use to garner influence within the political establishment.  Intellectual elite really cannot garner influence in the same manner.  Writing papers and journal articles can only do so much and hardly leave the realm of academia.  The sphere of influence is not that large, but with the power of the mob the sphere grows and expands into a stratum of society it had not reached before.  As it grows it is reinforced by means like propaganda, even if the messages meaning is distorted.

As I wrote this one story kept popping in my head and that was The Cave by Plato.  Reasoning being perception is everything because we all see things differently.   The intellectual elite would know this and in knowing this would know how to exploit it.  That is why the allegory of The Cave is so important.   The mob would be more or less the people bound in the cave and the intellectual elite are the people behind the mob projecting images on to the cave wall.  The only difference is the mob does not break free and see the light.  The mob is forever trapped in an

endless cycle, forever doing the bidding of the intellectual elite.   It is like the slogan “Stupid people in mass can be a very dangerous thing.”   The slogan was referring to the election of George W. Bush, but it’s meaning is timeless.   The mob is in effect mindless, lacking direction, until the intellectual elite gives it a mind.   That is why the alliance is needed between them and so important for both parties.   Carl Schmitt is, for lack of a better word, the poster child of the elite that Arendt is describing.  She to fits in that group, but to the other extreme.














End Notes

[i] Arendt,Hannah. The Origins of Totalitrianism, (New York: Schocken, 2004): 433

[ii] Schmitt,Carl. The Concept of the Political, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996): 24

[iii] Arendt,Hannah. The Origins of Totalitrianism, (New York: Schocken, 2004): 432

[iv] For this paper I will refer to Thomas More as Sir Thomas More and not St. Thomas More .  Referring to him as Saint gives the meaning of my words a religious context that is not desired.  Although Schmitt does reference religion in his text I reframed from using religion in my paper.

[v] Schmitt,Carl. The Concept of the Political, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996): 27

[vi] Arendt,Hannah. The Origins of Totalitrianism, (New York: Schocken, 2004): 436

[vii] Schmitt,Carl. The Concept of the Political, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996): 46

[viii] Schmitt,Carl. The Concept of the Political, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996): 26


[ix] Schmitt,Carl. The Concept of the Political, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996): 27

[x] Arendt,Hannah. The Origins of Totalitrianism, (New York: Schocken, 2004): 439

[xi] It is well known that the Nazi’s also had Gypsies and homosexuals among other groups in the concentration camps.   My Grandmother, a German born in Hungary, would rail against the Gypsies.  Other members of her, she came to the United States during the First World War, family that came after the Second World War felt the Gypsies were more of a threat than Jews because Gypsies never laid roots in the manner other Europeans had.  This was exploited by the Nazi occupation force to build support among the local population.

[xii] Arendt,Hannah. The Origins of Totalitrianism, (New York: Schocken, 2004): 435

[xiii] Schmitt,Carl. The Concept of the Political, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996): 41

[xiv] Arendt,Hannah. The Origins of Totalitrianism, (New York: Schocken, 2004): 433

[xv] Arendt,Hannah. The Origins of Totalitrianism, (New York: Schocken, 2004)  : 434

[xvi] Arendt,Hannah. The Origins of Totalitrianism, (New York: Schocken, 2004) : 439

Works Cited

Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism: Introduction by Samantha Power. New York: Schocken, 2004.

Schmitt, Carl. The Concept of the Political. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1996.


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