John Keane | Democracy and Civil Society
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Democracy and Civil Society

Democracy and Civil Society

Paperback: 260 pages
Publisher: University of Westminster Press; Revised edition (1998)
Languages: English
ISBN-10: 1859190596
ISBN-13: 978-1859190593

Dictatorship and the Decline of Parliament Carl Schmitt’s Theory of Political Sovereignty

Nowadays the representative system is associated with the republican form of state. But originally it arose in monarchies, wherever the monarch, representing the unity of the state, opposed the estates, representing the diverse private interests which had to be rewoven constantly into a unified whole. This dualism is basic for the system of representative government. In modern political life it appears in the polarity of ‘state’ and ‘society’, of the unity and diversity of interests of a people.
~ Otto Hintze

The Age of Liberalism
The representative assembly, or parliament as it is called most often, is one of the oldest, most commonplace and – for the socialist tradition – most controversial democratic institutions. Suspicion of parliament is certainly not confined to the socialist tradition. The modern history of parliament – the ultimate political symbol of peaceful compromise and quiet agreement – have been littered with bitter conflicts, paralysis and open violence. In the early decades of this century, these trends reached something of a climax. With the Bolshevik Revolution, the severe political crises that followed in the aftermath of the First World War, and the rise of syndicalism and fascism, parliament appeared to have little or no future. This period saw not only the first successful government. It also witnessed a deep loss of confidence in the spirit of parliamentarism among its closest supporters, many of whom publicly lamented the declining legitimacy and effectiveness of representative assemblies.’

Carl Schmitt, whose political writings are little known outside his native Germany, was undoubtedly the shrewdest and most controversial European critic of parliament during this period. His writings on parliament directly address the subject of civil society and the state. They cast serious doubts on the capacity of parliament to regulate the relations of power within and between civil society and the state. Schmitt’s rejection of parliament raises fundamental political questions concerning state sovereignty, civil war, dictatorship and the future of democracy, and these in turn have a strikingly contemporary ring about them. For these reasons, his writings on parliament deserve careful reconsideration, freed from the highly personalised and bitter reaction the typically evoke in West Germany today.

Schmitt situates his criticism of parliament within a wider account of the grip of liberalism upon nineteenth-century European politics. The essence of modern liberalism, in his view, is its deep antipathy to state power. In its struggle against the arcane power of absolutist states, liberalism developed a deeply negative distrust of political power without, however, defining a positive political view of its own. Liberalism admits the need for state and governmental power – suitably subdivided into legislative, executive and judicial branches – but only inasmuch as it serves the specific purpose of enhancing individuals’ freedom within civil society. Every transgression by political rulers of their properly limited prerogatives is therefore denounced by liberals as tyranny, as eo ipso evil and unjust. Click here to continue reading