Constitutional Failure

Carl Schmitt in Weimar

Constitutional Failure

Book Pages: 272 Illustrations: 6 b&w photos Published: September 2004

Author: Ellen Kennedy

History > European History, Law > Legal History, Politics > Political Theory

Constitutional Failure is a major contribution to studies of the German political philosopher Carl Schmitt (1888–1985), the Weimar Republic, and the relationship of constitutionalism, political economy, and democracy. An internationally renowned scholar of Weimar legal theory, Ellen Kennedy brought Schmitt’s neglected work to the attention of English-speaking readers with her highly regarded translations of his work and studies of its place in twentieth-century political theory. In this eagerly awaited book, she tracks Schmitt’s contribution to the canon of Western political philosophy during its most difficult and dangerous moment—the time of Weimar Germany and the Third Reich—demonstrating the centrality of his thought to understandings of the modern constitutional state and its precarious economic and social foundations.

Kennedy reveals how Schmitt’s argument for a strong but neutral state supported the maximization of market freedom at the cost of the political constitution. She argues that the major fault lines of Weimar liberalism—emergency powers, the courts as “defenders of the constitution,” mass mobilization of anti-liberal politics, ethnic-identity politics, a culture of resentment and contested legitimacy—are not exceptions within the liberal-democratic orders of the West, but central to them. Contending that Schmitt’s thought remains vital today because liberal norms are inadequate to the political challenges facing constitutional systems as diverse as those of Eastern Europe and the United States, Kennedy develops a compelling, rigorous argument that unsettles many assumptions about liberalism, democracy, and dictatorship.


“[S]he does nothing else than transform our understanding of Schmitt.” — Andreas Kalyvas , Perspectives on Politics

“Without a doubt, Schmitt’s works are of interest to scholars from across the political spectrum and are clearly relevant to the discourse regarding liberalism and totalitarianism engendered by German émigrés such as Hannah Arendt and Leo Strauss.” — John Francis Burke, Perspectives on Political Science

"Constitutional Failure serves as an excellent starting point for further investigation and contextualization. . . . Kennedy['s] . . . comparative approach is both detailed and lucid, and any study on Schmitt's thought between 1933 and 1945 will be unable to avoid her discussion." — Christian J. Emden , H-German, H-Net Reviews

"[A]lthough the work is subtitled 'Carl Schmitt in Weimar,' it would be a mistake to categorize Constitutional Failure as just another study of Schmitt's political philosophy. Instead, following Schmitt's own understanding of how to do philosophy, Kennedy situates his ideas in a much larger political and historical context, showing us how and why Schmitt's work should be important to any student of constitutional government." — John E. Finn , Law and Politics Book Review

"[R]ich and complex. . . . Kennedy's analysis of Schmitt's work displays a thorough and impressive command of both the primary and secondary literature surrounding Schmitt, his contemporary colleagues and his critics. . . . [A] must for any graduate library." — Troy Paddock , History: Reviews of New Books

"Ellen Kennedy has long been acknowledged as one of the foremost interpreters of the writings of Carl Schmitt. . . . This book represents an ideal introduction to and engagement with the real complexities of Schmitt's thought, and seeks neither to demonize nor to offer apologia, but instead gives a fair-minded historical engagement based on the evidence available." — Duncan Kelly, Review of Politics

“Ellen Kennedy connects the theoretical and practical aspects of Schmitt’s writings in an unprecedented way. Scholars have endlessly speculated about the relationship between the ambiguous content of Schmitt’s thought and the undeniable facts surrounding his political actions: Kennedy is on much firmer ground than any other English-language scholar in bringing the two together.” — John P. McCormick, author of Carl Schmitt’s Critique of Liberalism: Against Politics as Technology

“Constitutional Failure provides a useful antidote for the talk dominant today of deliberative democracy, procedures, and dialogue, and so contributes in important ways to contemporary political theory as well as to an understanding of Carl Schmitt.” — David Dyzenhaus, editor of Law as Politics: Carl Schmitt’s Critique of Liberalism


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Ellen Kennedy is Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. Among her books are The Bundesbank: Germany’s Central Bank in the International Monetary System; Freedom and the Open Society: Henri Bergson’s Contribution to Political Philosophy; and the English translation of Carl Schmitt’s Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

1. In the Dark Years: 1933–1945 11

2. The Sovereign Moment: Sources of Schmitt’s Theory of tIntroduction 1
he State 38

3. Norm and Exception: Carl Schmitt’s Concept of Sovereignty 54

4. The Political and Its Theory 92

5. Constitutional Theory 119

6. Constitutional Failure 154

Afterword 184

Notes 189

Bibliographic Note 237

Index 239
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3243-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3230-5
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