How (not) to resurrect the body politic: the racist bias in Carl Schmitt's theory of sovereignty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Carl Schmitt's 1927/1932 definition of the political domain as one based on the distinction between ‘friend’ and ‘foe’ (Freund v. Feind) has exercised political scientists, philosophers and historians to this day, not least on account of Schmitt's role before and during the Third Reich and his alleged influence on post-war German and West European political thought. In his 1938 book The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes, which built on Hobbes's version of the ancient body politic concept, Schmitt tried to underpin this distinction with a depiction of the ‘political physiology’ of the state. However, as his subtitle Meaning and Failure of a Political Symbol indicated, he was forced to admit that such a notion—and thus also its theoretical or practical ‘resurrection’ in the twentieth century—was not feasible. Musolff argues that Schmitt's friend–foe distinction, his emphatic notion of national sovereignty and his pronounced antisemitism are integral parts of a thought-system steeped in body imagery. However, rather than providing a basis for a new ‘concept of the political’, the state–body metaphor reveals the blind spot of Schmitt's vision of the sovereign nation state, which made it vulnerable to totalitarian interpretations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)453-468
Number of pages16
JournalPatterns of Prejudice
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Cite this