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Carl Schmidt and the New Right

by Bernd Reismann
The intellectual New Right may be more a loose network of persons, political projects, publications and publishers than an organization or party. Carl Schmidt defined democracy as the "identity of ruler and ruled, commanding and obedient." He reinterpreted democracy and started from the unity and homogeneity of the people's will with the state. Pluralism and parliamentary democracy are delegitimated with plebiscites.

By Bernd Reismann

[This reading sample of a 2005 seminar paper is translated from the German on the Internet, Translator’s note on political theory: The state isn't a business or a housewife but can contract debts to help present and future generations. The state lives in eternal life since it will not disappear. Unlike a plutocracy or oligarchy, a democracy should serve public interests and not be overtaken by private or special interests. $18 trillion of taxpayer money bailed out "too-big-to-fail banks." Private risk became a public risk. The state revenue crisis is really a tax avoidance problem. The bank crisis mutated into the state debt crisis. More at and www,]

The political current of the new Right described by political scientist Wolfgang Gessenharter as a “hinge” between the democratic and right-wing extremist spectrum has its seminal anti-democratic thinker in the time of the Weimar republic [1]. Carl Schmidt and his ideas about politics and homogeneity serve as models of thought and argumentation for this political current. To what extent are the rules of the political current of the “conservative revolution” of the Weimar era including Carl Schmitt found in the New Right?

Terms like “decisionism,” “homogeneity,” “friend-enemy thinking” and “ethno-pluralism” should be analyzed and not only Carl Schmitt’s understanding of politics and the state and the New Right interpretations today. How the New Right interprets Carl Schmidt and why Schmitt’s inheritance and the conservative revolution appear again in Germany should be investigated.

In its understanding of politics, decisionism turns against the ideas of the Enlightenment and in its core amounts to an authoritarian conception of the state. Schmitt’s demands at the time of the Weimar Republic emerge again today almost unchanged in the New Right spectrum.

Pluralism- and parliamentarism-criticism are central in Schmittian theory. These ideas are very important for the New Right as core elements of the conservative revolution to theoretically support its anti-democratic efforts.

The idea of ethno-pluralism should be explained. This word-creation (neologism) of the New Right is largely based on Carl Schmitt’s homogeneity ideas, his friend-enemy thinking and rejection of universal human rights…

1. The New Right

Definition s of the term “New Right” differ both in their wording and their content. Adherents of the New Right understand themselves as current supporters of the conservative revolution of the Weimar Republic. [2] This short but concise definition is helpful by making clear the reference to the conservative revolution…

Ingeborg Villinger subdivides the New Right into two groups, the “degraded” and the “privileged.” [3]… An anti-foreigner attitude and a homogeneous social-psychological model are common to both groups. The only difference is the readiness for violence of the “degraded.” For the “privileged,” the call for a strong state is given special emphasis. Authority and order should be restored or guaranteed in the sign of a homogenous value horizon. [4] In Vollinger’s definition, the New Right ready for violence and the New Right not ready for violence must be distinguished. The intellectual claim of those not ready for violence, particularly their ideological borrowings from the conservative revolution is often cut short.

On the other hand, Wolfgang Gessenharter refers exclusively to the intellectual aspect of the New Right. According to his definition, the intellectual New Right […] is in no way an organization or even a party. Rather, it is a loose network of persons, political projects, […] publications and publishers. Their goal is to affect the political culture of Germany in its balancing orientation and gain political primacy this way. [5] Gessenharter’s definition shows the New Right is influential in its political ambitions [6] comparable with the conservative revolution. In addition, Gessenharter describes the intellectual New Right as an ideological, personnel, and organizational “hinge” between democratic conservatism and manifest right-wing extremism. [7] The New Right is an intermediary realm that dynamically couples together the right-wing extremist spectrum.

“The New Right is an intellectual current within right-wing extremism that refers to anti-democratic theoreticians of the Weimar Republic and the conservative revolution. It would push back the pluralism of an “open society,” move homogeneity concepts and the ethnic-national collective into the center of politics and strives to influence public opinion.” [9] In contrast to Gessenharter, the New Right is included in the spectrum of right-wing extremism… Since the definition also speaks of “pushing back” pluralism, homogeneity ideas and the ethnic-national collective, it helps describe the relation between Carl Schmitt and the New Right.

2. The New Right’s reference to Carl Schmitt

2.1 Identity instead of representative democracy

Carl Schmitt defined his conception of democracy as “…the identity of ruler and ruled, governing and governed, commanding and obedient.” [10] Thus, he did not criticize the term democracy but reinterpreted it. Schmitt starts from the unity and homogeneity of the people’s will and its absolute identity with the will of the government and the state. [11] A representative democracy with its political groups, opinions, interests and goals opposes the homogeneity of the will of the people and the government. In this way of looking at things, democracy sees a unity of will in which state and the people are united in the rule of the people. Democracy is not based on a majority principle. Consequently,
Politics is developed and conceived from a metaphysical will of the people and is not made by individuals vested with rights. [12] Therefore, parliamentarianism seems undemocratic in its core. On the other hand, a dictatorship based on ethnic and political homogeneity is democratic since the will of the ruler and the ruled agree in it. The rejection of the Weimar republic by nearly all supporters of the conservative revolution and not only by Schmitt is very clear in this understanding of democracy.

Schmitt’s statements are interesting for the camp of the New Right since they postulate the identity of the governing and the governed and homogeneity of society as a prerequisite of democracy. Advocates of the New Right appeal to Schmitt in unmasking German democracy as undemocratic. [13] A parliamentary system with conflicting interests and a political style oriented in finding consensus contradicts the notion of democracy as homogeneity and uniform will.

Strengthening plebiscite elements in Germany is the demand of the New Right spokesperson. Followers of the democratic constitutional state urge a stronger participation of the people in political decision-making processes. Therefore, the New Right demand for plebiscites must be seen on the backdrop of their basic political attitudes. The New Right plebiscite demands have an instrumental-political character. Removing the place of the party and the parliament and annulling separation of powers, a supporting principle of the constitutional state are central. [15] Such demands go beyond the direct election of a president who will make important political decisions. The people only consist of a mass expressing acclamation and no longer come-of-age individuals. [16]

Carl Schmidt supports the New Right demand for a strong president. Schmitt urged more powers for the Weimar Reich-president that made him a sovereign dictator. In a trivializing way, he described the power concentration in one person as a “neutral power” that only takes sides for the state. [17]

Therefore, the New Right sees the plebiscite as the proper instrument for overcoming and de-legitimating parliamentary democracy. The goal is creating an identity democracy based on ethnic and political homogeneity. [18]…


[1] Vgl.: Pfeiffer, Thomas. Avantgarde und Brücke. In: Gessenharter, Wolfgang; Pfeiffer, Thomas (Hrsg.). Die Neue Rechte – eine Gefahr für die Demokratie? Wiesbaden 2004. S. 52.
[2] Vgl.: Pfahl-Traughber, Armin. Die Erben der „Konservativen Revolution“. In: Gessenharter, Wolfgang; Fröchling, Helmut (Hrsg.). Rechtsextremismus und Neue Rechte in Deutschland. Neuvermessung eines politisch-ideologischen Raums. Opladen 1998. S. 81.
[3] Vgl.: Villinger, Ingeborg. Die Neue Rechte: Opfermythos, symbolische Macht der Institutionen und die kulturelle Praxis des Fremden. In: Schweer, Martin K.W. (Hrsg.). Die Neue Rechte. Eine Herausforderung für Forschung und Praxis. Frankfurt am Main 2003. S. 59.
[4] Vgl.: ibid
[5] Vgl.: Gessenharter, Die Neue Rechte – eine Gefahr für die Demokratie, a.a.O., S. 33.
[6] Vgl.: Pfeiffer, Thomas. Avantgarde und Brücke. In: Gessenharter, Die Neue Rechte – eine Gefahr für die Demokratie, a.a.O., S. 54.
[7] Vgl.: Gessenharter, Die Neue Rechte – eine Gefahr für die Demokratie, a.a.O., S. 33.
[8] Vgl.: Pfeiffer, Thomas. Avantgarde und Brücke. In: Gessenharter, Die Neue Rechte – eine Gefahr für die Demokratie, a.a.O., S. 53.
[9] Vgl.: Gessenharter, Die Neue Rechte – eine Gefahr für die Demokratie, a.a.O., S. 52.
[10] Vgl.: Schmitt, Carl. Die geistesgeschichtliche Lage des heutigen Parlamentarismus. München/Leipzig 1923. S. 231.
[11] Vgl.: Pfahl-Traughber, Armin. „Konservative Revolution“ und „Neue Rechte“. Rechtsextremistische Intellektuelle gegen den demokratischen Verfassungsstaat. Opladen 1998.
S. 73.
[12] Vgl.: ibid.
[13] Vgl.: Kunze, Klaus; Schwab, Jürgen, Nordbruch, Claus, in: Pfahl-Traughber, Armin. Die „Umwertung der Werte“ als Strategie einer „Kulturrevolution“. In: Gessenharter, Die Neue Rechte – eine Gefahr für die Demokratie, a.a.O., S.88ff.
[14] Vgl.: Pfahl-Traughber, Armin. Die „Umwertung der Werte“ als Strategie einer „Kulturrevolution“. In: Gessenharter, Die Neue Rechte – eine Gefahr für die Demokratie, a.a.O., S.89.
[15] Vgl.: a.a.O., S.90
[16] Vgl.: ibid
[17] Vgl.: Mehring, Reinhard. Carl Schmitt zur Einführung. Hamburg 2001. S. 52ff.
[18] Vgl.: Mehring, a.a.O., S. 91.
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