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.

16 thoughts on “Bringing Carl Schmitt into the world

  1. “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.”

    I get your general point and obviously agree. However, I’d be very impressed if you could fit Nomos, Constitutional Theory and Dictatorship in a single volume.

  2. Phew, I’m glad someone mentioned Constitutional Theory! But you’re right about PTII — I read the whole thing in about 45 minutes, and for the life of me I couldn’t fathom why they’d ever wanted to translate it.

  3. I wonder if some of it has to do with the suspicion with which Schmitt is held… in order to get a revival off the ground, apologias are deemed necessary… at least that’s the feel one gets from reading a lot of the introductions. There’s also the benefit similar to T&T Clark’s student edition of Barth’s Dogmatics… one can carry them around pretty easily.

    As much as umpteen slim volumes are a publisher’s way to milk his current popularity, buying a bunch of separate texts from Chicago, Telos, or Polity beats trying to track down an expensive used hardback from Greenwood Press. I’d be happy for Roman Catholicism to come out in some fancy paperback decked out with intros and index, so long as it was priced a little more reasonably.

  4. Evan, Roman Catholicism is available under the title The Idea of Representation in a really cheap edition from some obscure press. They normally have it in stock at the Co-op, so your dream could come true by the end of the day!

    Ben, I found it to be reasonably amusing as a passive-aggressive critique of Peterson (and it’s pretty convincing on those grounds) — but the deep mysteries that the introducers found in it eluded me. My instinct is that it just is what it appears to be: a harsh response to a critic.

  5. Aw man, I’ve always wanted to get a copy of Roman Catholicism too — had no idea about this alternative edition. But I can’t seem to track it down online — I don’t suppose anyone has a link…?

  6. Huh… somehow I didn’t even think to make the connection. Thanks for mentioning it! I take it these are those ugly photocopied & stapled volumes from Plutarch Press? I recall that the translator of the Greenwood edition had some nasty things to say about this “unofficial” translation. Worth getting and looking at for this reason alone, I suppose!

  7. …another facet of the publishers’ orchestrated aura of the Schmitt corpus: not only is our 120 page, heavily editorialized essay worth its own packaging. It’s also not that 120 page heavily editorialized version of the exact same essay.

  8. in germany you cannot even afford those goddamn vols, cheapest is 18 (50 pages) and generally 25 or more euros. What about Nancy or Agamben? In europe, if you are a proper name, you can publish an article as a book. If there is one thing I like about analytic phi (probably this is the only thing) many of the texts are articles, accessible and there is a more dialogical milieu. Homo Sacer’s 4th vol is 78 pages with kindergarten fonts and priced 16 bucks. ridiculous.

  9. Hi

    I agree with what you say, but having just gone through the process of publishing some new Schmitt translations, I suspect cost may be a consideration! The Berlin publishers of the original volume initially demanded a VERY large number of Euros per page of the original for the right to translate. Given that the retail price does not increase in ratio with the number of pages, smaller volumes may be the safest bet financially!

    We only went for two chapters from Schmitt, but these are not too much smaller than one of his lesser books..



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