Monografiaväitöskirja (G4)

The Autonomy of the Political and the Authority of the State

Alaotsikko: Carl Schmitt and the de-politicisation of the economy

Julkaisun tekijät: Brunila Tuukka

Kustantaja: Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki

Paikka: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences

Julkaisuvuosi: 2023

ISBN: 978-951-51-7089-7

eISBN: 978-951-51-7090-3



This thesis focuses on Carl Schmitt’s political theory of the strong state and the way his own concept of the political justifies strong coercive methods to depoliticise the economy. According to Schmitt, the strong state should have the legitimate capacity to counter democratisation of the economy and limit the possibility of social movements from “confounding” (Verwirrung) or “confusing” (Vermischung) the state and economy. Unlike many, who argue that Schmitt was in this extent (an economic) liberal, as he sought to uphold a distinction between politics and economy, I argue that behind Schmitt’s institutional distinction between state and economy lies an explicitly antiliberal conceptual distinction between the political and social. It is the task of this conceptual distinction to justify strong coercive means to counter socialist demands for economic justice. The distinction is anti-socialist or antidemocratic as it tries limit the “uncontrollable” expansion of the state into the economy by establishing the autonomy of the political from the economy. This enables him to accuse democratic forces of illegitimately “politicising” the economy in a way that contradicts this necessary autonomy. On the other hand, the distinction is anti-liberal as it does not argue for the autonomy of the economy, but its relative dependence on the strong state to uphold social order necessary for capitalist system of production. I have decided to use the term “authoritarian distinction” to define Schmitt’s conceptual distinction and its normative implications. The authoritarian distinction between the political and social is not simply a conceptual distinction but it establishes a normative basis for re-organising the relationship between the state and economy. In order to flesh out the specific nature of Schmitt’s authoritarian distinction, I have connected his thought with other theories of sovereignty and how they support the state’s authoritarian relationship with the economy.

The thesis has three objectives. First, I want to develop a form of analysis of Schmitt’s work that connects his theoretical work with political struggle. To engage in political theory and conceptual work means to take part in politics. The concept of the political is no different, and it cannot be detached from political and normative entailments as it seeks to transform the way we perceive politics. In contrast to those who argue that Schmitt’s work on the concept of the political can be abstracted from his own political objectives, I analyse his conceptual work in tandem with his texts that explicitly engage in the politics of his time. On the basis of this analysis, I show that Schmitt’s abstract work takes part in the class struggle that was prevalent in the Weimar Republic. The conceptual distinction between the political and social is at the heart of his attempt to authorise exceptional measures to counter the labour movement of his time.

Second, it is far too often that all distinction of the state and economy are reduced to analyses of liberalism. This has meant that Schmitt, too, has been claimed to adhere to a version of liberalism simply because his theory justifies limiting the politicisation of the economy. To me it seems that the focus on the liberal side of de-politicisation has produced a very one-sided narrative. In order to argue this, I discuss to an extent other theorists of sovereignty, namely Hobbes and Rousseau, and point out that even they sought to establish a distinction between the state and economy in a way that contradicts liberalism but still leaves capitalist means of production intact. To reduce Hobbes or Schmitt to a role of a precursor to liberalism means to look aside the specific nature of their theory – and, for that matter, the specificity of liberalism. Furthermore, I discuss to an extent how both liberals and these various theories of sovereignty are similar in so far as they accept the modern development of the economy as its separate sphere from politics.

Third, I want to criticise the recent attempts to appropriate Schmitt’s concept of the political on the left. Many have argued that Schmitt’s concept of the political as autonomous to the social is useful in overcoming traditional Marxism and use for radicalising democracy. However, my thesis suggests that this strategy needs to be problematised, as Schmitt’s conceptual distinction cannot be separated from his anti-democratic and -socialist economic policies. In the future, I hope to further explore this need to re-think the relationship between the political and social, and whether or not we should return to a more standard Marxist understanding of this relationship.

Ladattava julkaisu

This is an electronic reprint of the original article.
This reprint may differ from the original in pagination and typographic detail. Please cite the original version.

Last updated on 2023-23-01 at 12:01