Bringing Carl Schmitt into the world

This week, I read Schmitt’s Political Theology II and was reminded of the epic labors that are necessary to bring a text of Carl Schmitt into the world. First of all, although most of his works are quite short, each one must be packaged separately, in its own attractive volume. Each must be outfitted with its own translator’s introduction, indicating the ways in which the translator tried and ultimately failed to capture the unique nuances of Schmitt’s German, as well as a historical introduction situating the text at hand in Schmitt’s career, in the political circumstances that gave rise to it, and in the history of the political as such. In some cases, more than one such introduction may be necessary. Each short text is then equipped with a full scholarly apparatus, including an index.

It’s amazing how much packaging is necessary even for one text of Carl Schmitt to come into the world. This is especially remarkable given how short the texts generally are — I read Political Theology II in a day, for example — which would seem to invite publishers to save effort by packaging them together. Indeed, my estimate is that the amount of Schmitt that is already translated into English would fit, if shorn of the obligatory introductory guidance and apparatus, into a space of around 400 pages.

Think how much labor this would save! Instead of multiple 20-page essays situating each text in its historical context, a single essay could briefly relate them all to their context. Instead of being told how a given text fits into Schmitt’s thought, one could have a representative sample ready-to-hand and come to one’s own conclusions. Instead of having a superfluous index for every short volume, one could have a unified index allowing cross-referencing of key concepts and figures.

Such a setup would be worthy of an important legal theorist with an enduring influence, rather than, say, a trend that publishers were trying to milk for all its worth.


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