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Looking Carl Schmitt in the Mirror


An amazing new bit of Schmittiana has surfaced. Carl Schmitt had his professional apogee seventy years ago, and he’s been dead since 1985, but a lot of interesting material about his life has come to the surface over the course of the last three years. In a sense you could say that Schmitt has never been more influential than he is right now.

First we had discoveries based on archival materials and his diaries and journals, some of which I discuss here. The upshot of those materials is simple: Carl Schmitt was a deep believer in the political utility of stabbed-in-the-back rhetoric. If he were advising George W. Bush on speeches today, he’d be giving the same advice that William Kristol is.

But Thursday’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung carried still more stunning news. Review of the papers of Rudolf Augstein, the famous founder-editor of German’s gadfly newsmagazine, Der Spiegel, revealed a surprising and close relationship between Augstein and Schmitt. It was launched by Augstein’s troubles with Konrad Adenauer over a story in which Spiegel disclosed flight arrangements concluded with the French Government to assist the Bonn Administration in the event of a Russian invasion of Germany. The publication had helped shape Spiegel’s reputation as a source for inside state security scoops, but der Alte, as Adenauer was called, was reduced to a raging tantrum: he ordered the confiscation of the issue and threatened to throw Augstein and other Spiegel editors into jail. Augstein decided to seek out Schmitt for advice on how to avert this showdown:

The concrete reason for Augstein’s whistlestop visit in Plettenberg [Schmitt’s home town] was the seizure of an issue of “Spiegel” in connection with a matter which trailed about a former agent of the French secret service named Hans-Konrad Schmeißer. Citing Schmeißer, the newsmagazine had reported on July 9, 1952 that a subcabinet official, Herbert Blankenhorn, Adenauer’s personal assistant and now a department head in the Foreign Office, had at the chancellor’s behest supplied French agents with classified information. In response, French authorities had promised that Blankenhorn and Adenauer’s own family would be safely transported to Spain in the event of a Russian invasion. Beyond this, “Spiegel” reported, Blankenhorn attempted in 1949 to secure about 800,000 DM for the Christian Democrat’s electoral coffers.

Because of this and other reproaches, Adenauer called the publication, then sited in Hanover, a “rag.” He filed a criminal complaint with malicious libel and slander charges against Schmeißer, the responsible editors as well as the publisher, Augstein. The chancellor also expeditiously arranged to have the entire production of “Spiegel” issue No. 28, which had already been disseminated, seized by the police all across Germany. According to the decree issued by the District Court in Bonn, the article contained serious attacks against the federal chancellor and other “highly placed political personages,” justifying the seizure of the publication against the prospect of a “judgment rendered against the persons who bear criminal law responsibility for the content of the publication.”

Augstein viewed the seizure as a massive attack upon freedom of the press; legally the action hobbled about “on tipsy legs,” as he wrote in “Spiegel” issue No. 29 of 1952. When his appeal was rejected by the intermediate appellate court in Hanover, Augstein contemplated—for the first time in his career—a constitutional complaint. And that is what led him, in search of advice, to Carl Schmitt. Augstein anticipated a “relatively friendly perspective” from Schmitt, the political theologian and theorist of decision-making—in any event, that’s what the young journalist wrote Schmitt on July 30, 1952. That may be a bit surprising, since Schmitt vehemently defended the authoritarian press policies of the National Socialists in his theoretical writings some twenty years earlier and had indicated that “even a liberal state” exercises censorship.

It seems that Schmitt rendered two opinions for Augstein, both of which appear to have been lost and that Schmitt had some requests of his own for Augstein—he wanted the publisher’s help working his way back into the field of academic writing.

The Schmitt-Augstein collaboration provides a number of surprises. Augstein has always been placed in a left-leaning niche in the world of the German press, but this shows him to be very pragmatic and more of a muckraker than a lefty. And who would have thought of Schmitt as a defender of the free press? It’s a shame those two opinions have gone missing—I’m sure they’d make interesting reading.

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