Schmitt, Hamlet, and Aesthetic Idlers

In his essay “Political Aesthetics: Carl Schmitt on Hamlet,” David Pan puts forward an interpretation of the relationship between aesthetics and politics in Schmitt’s discussion of Hamlet. Today the question about the relationship of aesthetics and politics in the thought of German jurist is a widely discussed topic. According to one interpretation, which is best represented by a sentence of Jürgen Habermas, “Carl Schmitt’s polemical discussion of political Romanticism conceals the aestheticizing oscillations of his own political thought.” But according to Schmitt’s self-understanding, this interpretation could not be further from the truth.

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Models of Representation in Carl Schmitt

As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, Charles Kollmer looks at Stephanie Frank’s “Re-imagining the Public Sphere: Malebranche, Schmitt’s Hamlet, and the Lost Theater of Sovereignty,” from Telos 153 (Winter 2010).

In “Re-imagining the Public Sphere: Malebranche, Schmitt’s Hamlet, and the Lost Theater of Sovereignty,” Stephanie Frank outlines a compelling approach to Carl Schmitt’s complex oeuvre. She sets out to rectify a common mistake made in existing treatments of Schmitt; in studies of Schmitt’s early work Roman Catholicism and Political Form (1923), scholars tend to rely on a later work, Constitutional Theory (1928), as an explanatory crutch. Both texts model representation, but a conflation of their respective models obscures how Schmitt’s project changes between the works. As a corrective, Frank traces the nuances of Roman Catholicism‘s model back to the influence of seventeenth-century theologian Malebranche, who in turn influenced the eighteenth-century revolutionary Abbé Sieyès. By grounding Roman Catholicism in this historical context, Frank not only sidesteps the circularity of her colleagues’ interpretations but also lays the groundwork for a persuasive reading of Schmitt’s turn to aesthetics in Hamlet or Hecuba (1956).

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