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Jerry Z. Muller: What Jacob Taubes Saw in Carl Schmitt

Friday, Nov 22, 2019, 11:00 AM

Jerry Z. Muller

Washington D.C.

What Jacob Taubes Saw in Carl Schmitt

Jacob Taubes’ fascination with Carl Schmitt had several sources. The first was Schmitt’s contention that there were inextricable links between theology and politics, first presented in his Politische Theologie of 1922, and reasserted in the decades thereafter. The links between these realms lay close to the heart of Taubes’ concerns as well, going back to the period of his graduate education in Zurich. Another motivation was Taubes’ desire to understand why intellectuals of Schmitt’s stature had been willing to support the Nazi regime. Then there was Schmitt’s erudition: the range of his knowledge in intellectual history, in fields well beyond law, and his willingness to point scholars to forgotten debates of relevance to their own scholarship. Another was a shared antipathy to liberal, bourgeois normality: Schmitt was fascinated by the “state of exception” (Ausnahmezustand), that is circumstances in which that normality broke down, and so was Taubes. Taubes, like Schmitt, found liberalism mundane; both were interested in politics as drama and intensity. Another factor, difficult to evaluate but impossible to overlook, was that in many of the circles in which Taubes travelled (though not all), his professed admiration for Schmitt served to scandalize and thus to cement Taubes’ reputation as a dangerous “bad boy.” Last but not least was Taubes’ conviction that Schmitt was among the great thinkers of the age, in whose company he was eager to find himself.

Jerry Z. Muller is Professor of History at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he has taught since receiving his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1984. He is the author of six books. His books and articles most relevant to this conference include The Other God that Failed: Hans Freyer and the Deradicalization of German Conservatism (1987); “Carl Schmitt, Hans Freyer, and the Radical Conservative Critique of Liberal Democracy in the Weimar Republic,” History of Political Thought (Winter, 1991); Carl Schmitt, “When Parliament Cannot be Sovereign,” (translation of excerpts from Der Hüter der Verfassung) in Conservatism: An Anthology of Social and Political Thought From David Hume to the Present (1997); “Reisender in Ideen: Jacob Taubes zwischen New York, Jerusalem, Berlin und Paris,” in Monika Boll and Raphael Gross (ed.), “Ich staune, dass Sie in dieser Luft atmen können”: Deutsch-jüdische Intellektuelle in Deutschland nach 1945 (2013); “‘I Am Impossible: An Exchange between Jacob Taubes and Arthur A. Cohen,” Jewish Review of Books (Summer, 2017). His life-and-times biography, Jacob Taubes: Merchant of Ideas and Apostle of Transgression is to be published by Princeton University Press, and in German translation by Suhrkamp.

The event will be held in English