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Public and Private Responsibility: Christianity and Politics in Carl Schmitt's the Concept of the Political.

Abstract: This essay explores the relationship between political realism and Christian faith by reading Carl Schmitt's The Concept of the Political against St. Augustine's The City of God. The author stresses the public/private binary as the crucial concept for analysis. After rejecting the viability of political realism with Christianity, the author draws upon Jacques Derrida's The Gift of Death to outline a different possibility for the coexistence of Christianity and politics.

The enemy in the political sense need not be hated personally, and in the private sphere only does it make sense to loves one's enemy ...

--Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political

For if it is as a result of examining this concept [of responsibility] alone that the Christian event--sin, gift of infinite love linked to the experience of death--appears necessary, does that not mean that Christianity alone has made possible access to an authentic responsibility throughout history, responsibility as history and as history of Europe?

--Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death

What follows is first a consideration of the public/private separation in Carl Schmitt's The Concept of the Political (1927), read against an understanding of the same terms developed in Augustine's The City of God. Even though Augustine and Schmitt employ the public/private trope in different contexts, I hope to show that there is a specific sense in which Schmitt contorts what these terms mean for Augustine in order to fit his political realism within the limits of Christian theology. I argue that an analysis of responsibility figured in public/private terms produces an incompatibility with orthodox Christianity and Schmittian (realist) politics. It is not, then, merely that Schmitt's Christianity and his politics are not able to keep clear of each other (a point noted by many scholars), but that Schmitt's political theory is not consistent with his religious faith. This leaves the relationship between Christianity and politics, as drawn from this textual pool, open for an analysis that rejects as a starting point the viability of political realism with Christian beliefs.

By rejecting the viability of political realism with Christian beliefs, I am not rejecting theologico-political dialogue, but rather seeking to open it up. I ask the question: If Christianity and politics are concepts with different (but inescapably intertwined) histories, then what can be done to think the relationship between the two? The Christian worldview includes activity in the public sphere as part of its theology, so the secular demand for strict separation of church and state is, on some level, an unrealistic expectation that will only be frustrated. So is it possible to accept a Christian worldview while still affirming what Jurgen Habermas termed religion's "non-exclusive place within a universal discourse" (qtd. in Borradori 31)? Through a reading of Jacques Derrida's The Gift of Death, I argue that it is both the impossibility and necessity of responsibility, a concept understood in part by what Christianity has offered the world of thought, which allows a space for Christianity and politics to coexist.

In The Concept of the Political, Schmitt defines the term "political" as the distinction or identification of friend and enemy on the state level. In other words, the political is the process of naming other states as friends or, crucially, as enemies against which one can declare war (26). According to Schmitt, few attempts had been made at this historical moment to clearly define the realm of the political. This proves problematic for him because the absence of a political definition in the face of liberalism weakens the function of the state. For Schmitt, when "state" collapses in liberal enlightened Europe, economic interests and universal humanist ethics rule (22, 23; 76, 77). He argues, for example, that "an imperialism based on pure economic power will naturally attempt to sustain a worldwide condition which enables it to apply and manage, unmolested, its economic means" (78). This economic logic disables a people's ability to recognize the enemy as enemy, as the collective other who is fundamentally opposed to one's way of life (27, 33, 35).

Because of this reality of capitalist liberalism, Schmitt argues, a clear concept of the political must be enunciated in order to protect the domain of war, and the decision to wage it, from the logic of an economy or of an intellectual debate that would seek to universally define the human (70). The state must have a finite, and clarified, role: a specific function and a reason for existence. The state exists, according to Schmitt, based on its authority and ability to decide who is friend and who is enemy, and to take such action as the identification of friends and enemies requires--including the decision of when to wage war. For Schmitt, the political decision occurs when the state "can correctly recognize, understand, and judge ... whether the adversary intends to negate his opponent's way of life and therefore must be repulsed or fought in order to preserve one's own form of existence" (27). Schmitt does not create a precise set of criteria for the moment of the decision. His project in The Concept of the Political is to define what the political fundamentally is: an ability to identify, as a sovereign state, "an existential threat to one's own way of life," and to do it in such a way as not to extinguish life over something like economic gain, which for Schmitt is "sinister and crazy" (48, 49). (1)

Schmitt's goal is not to create a moral dictum in regards to war, but rather legitimate cause, which again is left open for the sovereign state to name. To clear a space for sovereignty, Schmitt employs a separation of distinct realms, such as the economic, the moral, etc., as well as the separation of the public and private sphere. The political is for Schmitt wholly within the public sphere. And while Schmitt maintains the separation of politics and morality, there is a sense in which his political definition seems to proclaim moral superiority, which Leo Strauss understood as early as 1932. (2) If killing through economic sanction is sinister and crazy, what is killing through hand-to-hand combat, or killing on a battlefield with clearly delineated lines? The answer lies not in the definition of the political, nor quite in the active naming of the other as enemy who threatens a collective's way of life, but in the construction of the way of life being threatened--something that Schmitt does not acknowledge. Schmitt tries to keep his political sphere clean of moral, aesthetic, economic, and religious considerations. He argues that the political can "exist theoretically and practically, without having simultaneously to draw upon all those moral, aesthetic, economic, or other distinctions" (27). Yet he demonstrates how economic or religious motivations can legitimately contribute to the political process: "Every religious, moral, economic, ethical, or other antithesis transforms into a political one if it is sufficiently strong to group human beings effectively according to friend and enemy" (37). So in Schmitt's political realm, a collectivity must draw upon some aspect of the social (public) in order to define itself politically. Schmitt writes that what constitutes a way of life can "transform" into the political without retaining any trace of the original constitutive element. Furthermore, "the political is the most intense and extreme antagonism"; it is thus accorded a primacy of origin (29). It follows that whatever informs the political contains the kernel of antagonism, through a sovereignty that is for Schmitt given (Strong xiv).

Following this analysis, the question then becomes not whether Schmitt's critique of liberalism is feasible, but which kernel might fuel the concept of the political as Schmitt's political. What is Schmitt's vested interest--who or what does his theory seek to serve or represent? I turn to the historical examples Schmitt offers up as moments of political decisions in order to demonstrate what is for Schmitt essential. Near the end of his essay, Schmitt exemplifies Oliver Cromwell's address delivered to England in 1656:

Why, truly, your great Enemy is the Spaniard. He is a natural enemy. He is naturally so; he is naturally so throughout--by reason of that enmity that is in him against whatsoever is of God. "Whatsoever is of God" which is in you, or which may be in you ... [he who considers the Spaniard to be an] "accidental enemy" [is] "not well acquainted with Scripture and the things of God" (qtd. in Schmitt 68) (3)

The enemy here is identified as an enemy either of God or of what God has put in the Englishman as English. The Scriptures themselves will inform the Englishman, if only he would look, that the Spaniard is fundamentally other, the stranger with whom one must fight to the death. For Schmitt, Cromwell's speech (grounded in an essentialist-religious argument) represents the "high point" of politics, when "the enemy is, in concrete clarity, recognized as the enemy" (67). (4) It is more than by chance that Schmitt selects as an example of a proper political decision one that grounds itself in religious essentialism. He does not mention his Christian faith in The Concept of the Political, but Schmitt's motivations are of interest because they provide an opportunity to analyze and evaluate one specific, and well-known, articulation of the theologico-political: political realism?

In order to engage Schmitt at the intersection of Christianity and political theory, a reading of St. Augustine becomes important. Writing shortly after the fall of Rome, St. Augustine of Hippo first conceived of The City of God as a response to accusations that Christians were to blame for Rome's fall. Yet Augustine's discussion of these temporal events is itself contextualized within a narrative of eternal, spiritual significance. Augustine thematizes his spiritual narrative through the metaphor of "the glorious city of God" (The City of God 3). This city of God is the only city that has any real (eternal) significance to Augustine, but in order to "persuade the proud how great is the virtue of humility," and hence perhaps to lead some to recognize the eternal city, Augustine concedes that "we must speak also of the earthly city" (3). Augustine's larger aim, then, accomplished primarily in books 11-22, is "to treat of the origin, and progress, and deserved destinies" of two cities: the city of God, and the earthly city (346).

To speak of the earthly city and the city of God (and to oppose in some sense the one to the other), even though that is what The City of God does, is to belie the complexity of Augustine's argument. The names seem to suggest a clean split between the material and the spiritual: the earthly (material) and city of God (spiritual). However, the two cities "have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; [and] the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self" (City of God 477). The earthly city, first established by Cain after he kills his brother Abel, is patterned after the "love of self" instigated by Satan and the angels who followed him into hell after his expulsion from heaven (479). This original cultivation of self-love (hell), which predates or informs the "original sin" of Adam and Eve, mobilizes the possibility for Cain to form a collectivity of self-love. The "earthly city" as exemplified by Cain's city is a material mirror of hell. Separation from God through self-love is located both spiritually in hell and materially in the form of the earthly city. The signifier "earthly city" refers to both a material and a spiritual concept, so that it is opposed to the city of God not through materiality or spirituality alone but through self-love, as opposed to love for God, in any circumstance.

What, then, of the Christians on earth? They, like Abel (who did not build a city) are "sojourners"--their home is not on earth, though they live on earth for a time. Drawing on Paul's allegorical reinterpretation of Abraham's sons Ishmael and Isaac, "the one by a bond maid, the other by a free woman" Augustine names Jerusalem as "a symbol and foreshadowing image of this [godly] city" (479). The temporal figure of ancient Jerusalem reminds Christians that the city of God, for them, is "to be" and not present on earth. Although only one short-lived material city among all the cities of the earth represents the city of God, it is nonetheless a material ground for the spiritual city of God, so that once again the material/spiritual difference is inessential. The spiritual realm predates the material realm, while choices made in the material feed into and affect the spiritual. In other words, for the Christian, "the city of the saints is above, although here below it begets citizens" (479). These citizens are not born to God, though. Citizens of earth are born "by nature vitiated by sin" and require the grace of God to repair them to the godly city in due time. The earth belongs more to Satan than to God, which is why the earthly city in general refers to self-love (hell) and the Christian is likened to Abel, a "sojourner" who reserves a small space for the love of God on earth. The complexity of the cities and the spiritual/material divide is such that Augustine must at one point clarify "that there are not four cities or societies--two, namely, of angels, and as many of men--but rather two in all, one composed of the good, the other of the wicked, angels or men indifferently" (380). The distinguishing factor between the earthly city and the city of God is the difference between a love of self and a love of God, irrespective of matter or form.

This analysis of some of the essential tenets of Augustine's theology demonstrates where religion and Schmitt's political concept intersect. Augustine theorizes what is for Schmitt the social nature of Catholicism, and he could even be said to discuss the difference between what is "public" and what is "private" from a Christian-eternal perspective. Augustine develops what I consider as his theory of the public/private antitheses from within the broad framework of good and evil: the love of God as access to the public good (the City of God), and the love of self to a private good, which is another name for hell. As Augustine constructs the angelic realm, "some steadfastly continued in that which was the common good of all, namely, in God Himself ... others, being enamored of their own power, as if they could be their own good, lapsed to this private good of their own" (380). Several analogous antitheses mark the differences of the trope "public/private": love of God/love of self; city of God/city of Earth; heaven/hell; good/evil; public good/private good; public/private. The love of God grants access to the city of God, which is heaven and a public good, and indeed both good and public. The love of self belongs to the city of Earth, the citizenship of which terminates in hell, which was created by the private good cultivated by fallen angels. Private good is actually both private and evil; a falling away from the "good which is alone simple, and therefore alone unchangeable, and this is God" (354). (6) In the allegory of Ishmael and Isaac alluded to earlier, Isaac represents "the children of the free city, who dwell together in everlasting peace, in which self-love and self-will have no place, but a ministering love that rejoices in the common joy of all, of many hearts makes one, that is to say, secures a perfect concord" (481). Furthermore, the public, shared, social nature of the city of God, and the metaphor of the city itself, is not accidental, or a matter of personal preference, "For how could the city of God either take a beginning or be developed, or attain its proper destiny, if the life of the saints were not a social life?" (680).

While Christians on earth are sojourners in one sense, then, they are nonetheless expected to be social beings. In fact, City of God would posit the Christian society as the true social: the public good that comes from community with God. Schmitt shares this view. G. L. Ulmen notes in his introduction to Roman Catholicism and Political Form, Schmitt's 1923 essay, that this lesser-known work of Schmitt's "is directed against inwardness ... essentially, it is an argument against abandoning the world. Since the Church, as the unseen body of Christ, became visible, 'no visible man should leave the visible world to its own devices'" (xiii). This observation of Ulmen's opens up the opportunity to examine Schmitt's relation to his religious faith and to the spark of his critique against liberalism in the early-mid-twentieth century inasmuch as his Concept of the Political is never very far from his Christianity. Schmitt becomes an exemplary thinker for an analysis of Christianity and politics because of the theologico-political nature of his work. He attempts to define the political in light of, and within the narrative of, his Christian faith.

Schmitt's view of the world is at odds with secular rational modernity, and therefore aligned with the familiar reason/faith or Athens/Jerusalem opposition. His position is to argue for the Christian concept of public space. He writes that, "The juridical foundation of the Catholic Church on the public sphere contrasts with liberalism's foundation on the private sphere" (RC 29). (7) Schmitt himself explains that privatization "has its origin in religion. The first right of the individual in the sense of the bourgeois social order was the freedom of religion ... If religion is a private matter, it also follows that privacy is revered. The two are inseparable. Private property is thus revered precisely because it is a private matter" (28). (8) For Schmitt, capitalist liberalism makes the mistake of privileging the private (and thus structuring itself on nothing less than religion). In fact, the privatization of religion creates a secularized "religion" of privacy (28). The public sphere, the common man, gives way to the private sphere and the private man.

Yet it is on this point, the use of the public/private trope, that Schmitt's theory is not consistent to the Christianity at least partly responsible for the construction of his theory. According to his political definition, the political belongs wholly within the public sphere. When Schmitt has to reconcile his theory with his theology in terms of biblical injunction, however, he must resort to a translator's sleight of hand. In claiming that "an enemy exists only when, at least potentially, one fighting collectivity of people confronts a similar collectivity" Schmitt contrasts the public enemy with the "private adversary whom one hates" (28). He takes care to point out that Christ's biblical commandment to "Love your enemies" (Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27) was originally written with the Latin word "inimicus," meaning "private enemy." Inability on the part of the modern European subject to recognize this, for Schmitt, is a problem of translation. He explains that the German translation--and this is true in English too--drops this more specific kind of enemy, so that when Christ says "love your enemies" in German or English he is saying in Latin, "love your private enemies." Schmitt affirms that the real, concrete, existential enemy as identified by a political decision is actually the "hostis," which is the Latin word for a public enemy, and not "inimicus," the private enemy with whom one might merely have interpersonal conflict. This private enemy is, according to Schmitt's translation, the only enemy Christ mentions. Thus Schmitt defines his political concept as both wholly public, and, while not religious, still safe within the confines of Catholic responsibility.

Schmitt's understanding of Christianity is that it provides useful instruction for interpersonal issues with neighbors, tax collectors, and the like, but not for conflict between collectivities. Christ "certainly does not mean that one should love and support the enemies of one's own people" (29). So in an interesting twist on the public/private distinction of Augustine, Schmitt wants to separate the private from the public and favor the public, but only inasmuch as the public is concerned with making a political decision. In his reading of the Bible, Schmitt asks that we use Christ to help us sort out private affairs, but to subjugate Catholicism to the greater force of the political. Yet if the private-religious is a denigrated term, antithetical to both rational Catholicism and the concept of the political, then why does Schmitt relegate Christ's commandment to that private sphere?

Following Augustine, "private" names what needs to be given to Christ. It is not Christ that needs to be given over to the private realm by humanity but humanity which must give up its private self to the public good. Abnegation of self and the recognition of God's good allow one to take part in the social, public life of the city of God. Private refers to the falling away from or the lack of good. As Augustine would conceive of it, this act of giving up oneself to God is both sacrificial and restorative--one gives up the private life, its rights, privileges, and pleasures, in order to return to the proper form to which one properly belongs, and to participate in God's public and social good. Schmitt also names as private what one must give to Christ, but in doing so he changes the act. He uses his translation work to give Christ one thing (the private realm) in order to keep something else (the concept of the political) outside of what is submitted to Christ. His "act of giving" becomes not an act of giving, but of withholding; he withholds the political from relationship to Christ, and from Christian responsibility. In an Augustinian sense, he privatizes the very concept he wishes to keep in the public realm by attributing a proper end to politics outside of submission to Christ.

Close analysis reveals that Schmitt's attempt to merge Christian doctrine with political realism fails. As Jacques Derrida explains in The Gift of Death, when Christ says, "love your enemy" in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, he quotes from the Torah, in Leviticus 19, which commands the Jewish people to "love thy neighbor as thyself." According to Derrida, Leviticus employs the Hebrew words "congenere," meaning fellow creature, and "'amith" translated as same people or nation, to define the neighbor, so that the Hebraic term for neighbor cannot be reduced to the private sphere in the sense that the Latin does. In Derrida's words, then, "the sphere of the political in Schmitt's sense is already in play" in this commandment (104). Derrida's interjection of the Hebraic into this exchange of Western ideas serves as a reminder that however much Christianity is indebted to Greek thought, it is also connected to Judaism and to a line of thinking that is not traditionally Western. It is in this more comprehensive understanding--for Augustine is grounding his discussion of the City of God in texts from the Hebrew Bible as well as from Greek philosophical modes of thought--that Christianity remains suggestive in the public sphere and opens up, or keeps open, a discussion of the intersection of religion and politics.

Following a line of thinking that argues for critical engagement with the intersection of religion and politics, then, I wish to pursue a return of Christianity to the political. "Return" has at least two different senses here. The first is a return to the question of Christianity and politics after an analysis of Schmitt. Because Schmitt's politics are not consistent with orthodox Christianity, what "Christian politics" could mean has not been properly addressed by the assumption of political realism's compatibility with Christianity. At the same time, a return reiterates that the polls is not a Christian concept, and that the two are not automatically reconciled to the same logic--one must return to the point where they are merged, to interrogate their joining, in order to outline, perhaps, a new path. This latter turn is the one I will address in order to arrive back at the first.

When I speak of religion, I speak of it, following Derrida, as responsibility ("religion presumes access to the responsibility of a free self," Gift of Death 2). Responsibility, prior to the terms deconstruction, is the space wherein one hears a call: "the call to explain oneself, one's actions or one's thoughts, to respond to the other and answer for oneself before the other" (3). Furthermore, The Gift of Death, which informs my discussion of the logics of the polis and of Christianity, focuses on Christianity--as the religion of European responsibility--and as the religion relevant to the concept of responsibility and the discussion of the theologico-political in the West.

The Gift of Death begins with a close analysis and reading of Polish philosopher Jan Patocka's Heretical Essays on the Philosophy of History. According to Derrida, Patocka's work offers a thesis on religions "origin and essence":
 A distinction is to be made between the demonic on the one hand
 which confuses the limits among the animal, the human, and the
 and which retains an affinity with mystery ... [and] the secret or
 the sacred)
 and responsibility on the other. (2)

The word "secret" in the beginning of The Gift of Death refers to two different types of secrets (6). The first is the one in Patocka's thesis quoted above; the secret of a demonism that confuses boundaries, or the secret of the first mystery. Responsibility attempts to break away from this mystery by differentiating between oneself and the call from the other as the distinct other's call. The second is the secret of history, or the secret of responsibility as historically bound. Derrida explains that in the history of responsibility (as religion), responsibility itself is considered ahistorical or universal (5). Yet the history of responsibility betrays the ways in which responsibility is historically bound.

What The Gift of Death provides is a tracing of the history of responsibility. It takes stock in its first chapter of the three mysteries of the orgiastic/demonic, the Platonic, and the Christian (10). Prior to the Christian event, Plato attempts to deliver philosophy from the first mystery, the orgiastic/demonic, through a process of internalization (7, 8). Using the allegory of the cave, Plato converts mystery from an outer to an inner experience. Whereas before mystery is the darkness without, the lack of sight or recognition of truth, and a confusion between boundaries of self, now the mystery "is the movement by which the immortality of the soul is affirmed" (11). As Patocka explains, "It is, for the first time in history, an immortality of the individual, since it is interior" (qtd. in GD 12). Established in the movement from exterior to interior then is both the individual and immortality--both the boundary of selfhood and a preliminary notion of a call to responsibility. The individual must take on (be responsible to) his or her own death. Philosophy is, according to the Phaedo, "the attentive anticipation of death" (12). Yet mystery is still present in Platonism because the triumph over death, or the dialectic of philosophy that puts one into relation with the immortal Good, "retains the traces of the struggle" (16). Essential to the triumph is the identification of a clear front: what is the triumph, and what is being triumphed over? The question of the front is an important one for Schmitt, concerned as he is by liberalism's doing away with the possibility of clearly identifying the enemy.

For Derrida, the triumphant aftermath of the polemos or more specifically war-like struggle is an "experience of the gift of death" in that one must both kill one's enemy (give them death) and give one's own life in sacrifice for one's country (17). At the same time, to give life, and thus to accept the gift of death, only in order to receive life back through triumph (I give my life to my country, but I defeat my opponent and come back from the brink of death victorious), returns one to the demonic/orgiastic, because the celebration of victory which remembers the struggle enacts a kind of maniacal experience of "the joy of survival, or 'superexistence'" (18). This Platonic conversion of mystery from the outside to the inside retains the mystery it surpasses in that it celebrates the mortality it has given up (18). What Derrida articulates here is that Schmitt's desire for a clearly identified front, and celebration of a struggle, returns us not to Christianity but to the Platonic.

In his continued analysis of the history of responsibility, Derrida refers to the Platonic incorporation of mystery from the outside to the inside as the conversion from the first (orgiastic/demonic) mystery to the second (Platonic). Connecting the three mysteries of the orgiastic/demonic, the Platonic, and the Christian are two conversions, the first of which (the Platonic) I have just described. It is this first where Schmitt's theory returns us to. For Derrida, however, the second conversion in the movement toward analyzing the history of European responsibility "seems to be intimately tied to the properly Christian event of another secret, or more precisely of a mystery, the mysterium tremendum: the terrifying mystery, the dread, fear and trembling of the Christian in the experience of the sacrificial gift" (6; emphasis Derrida's). (9) The mysterium tremendum, or the fear and trembling before God and before the sacrifice that God grants to humanity, which is missing in Schmitt, marks the transformation from the Platonic to the Christian.

Following Patocka, this transformation is essential because the Christian event trumps the Platonic. Platonic responsibility "will never become pure and authentic" as Derrida explains via an interpretation of Patocka, because the structure of secrecy--the secret of the first mystery--"keeps that mystery hidden, incorporated, concealed but alive" (20). For Patocka, Christianity improves the Platonic incorporation by means of a reversal, whereby "the orgiastic is not eliminated but disciplined, enslaved" (qtd. in GD 19). Derrida, on the other hand, wonders if the new Christianization of responsibility represses, rather than reverses, the Platonic incorporation of the demonic in a way that is perhaps more fundamental to Christianity than Patocka acknowledges. This repression is political (21) because Platonism--a Platonism that is philosophical and political, as evidenced both by the analogous relationship between triumph over death in philosophy and war, and in the governance the Good has over the polis--persists in Christianity. Christianity fails to admit this historical precedence.

Patocka argues that "Platonic rationalism ... continues to secretly influence Christian conceptions" (qtd. in GD 24). This statement echoes the Platonic influence on Schmitt's theologico-political. Because of this secret influence, the question of responsibility "has not yet received an adequate thematic development within the perspective of Christianity" (qtd. in GD 25). What Patocka offers with this statement is the understanding that the precondition for the coexistence of Christianity and politics has not yet been articulated. The primary difference here between Patocka and Derrida is that, as Derrida explains, when Patocka "speaks of an inadequate thematization he seems to appeal to some ultimate adequacy of thematization that could be accomplished" (27). Derrida opposes this viewpoint because responsibility deconstructs itself. In one instance, responsibility must be given up to a certain extent of knowledge; without some process of informing oneself, of having reasons for making decisions, etc., one cannot be responsible. At the same time, in this same instance, responsibility, if enacted in the decision made through knowledge alone, is no longer responsibility but the "technical deployment of a cognitive apparatus" (24). Responsibility must assume some risk. This is the aporia of responsibility, that it must take place outside of absolute knowledge.

After working alongside Patocka for nearly half of Gift, Derrida explicitly states why he chooses Patocka to help him think through responsibility: "[Patocka's] essay involves a genealogy of ... Europe-responsibility through the decoding of a certain history of mysteries, of their incorporation and their repression" (48). The transformative aspect of Christianity, for both thinkers, is "the properly Christian event of another secret" (6). Where Platonism attempts to internalize responsibility, making it a process of philosophy, of contemplation, of a being-toward-death, Christianity introduces a new mystery, one that is both external and internal. It is internal because it is still a secret: the relationship with God is an internal experience, one that can never be externally verified or observed. It is also external, though, because it is now a subjective relationship to another, the Other, as goodness and as the giver of the sacrificial gift. There is now an Other which predates and potentially foregrounds other-ness. The structure of other-ness was thought of in Greek philosophy, but the contemplation of mystery was limited to objectivity and a being-toward-death (philosophy) that did not involve the gaze of another. Christianity thinks other-ness through differently: being-toward-death involves an Other, and a gift.

Derrida argues that "the question of whether this discourse on the gift and on the gift of death is or is not a discourse on sacrifice and on dying for the other ... concerns the very essence or future of European politics" (33). To explain Derrida's concept of the gift and move toward naming what Christianity contributes to the genealogy of responsibility requires a discussion of both the goodness that gives and why the gift is the gift of death. Derrida, following Heidegger, marks death as "that which nobody else can undergo or confront in my place" (41). (10) Therefore, what makes me me is "given by death" (41). At the same time, this givenness of death is also what calls me to responsibility, for it is in the irreplaceability and inevitability of both my death and the death of the other that calls me out of orgiastic mystery (non-responsibility, non-being-toward-death). For the Christian, then, responsibility is born out of relation to the Other. The givenness of death is given from the immortal Good, now God, to the created. The subjectifying of mystery, "God," binds the self into a relationship with this giver of goodness who gives each person the gift of death, which is a gift that each person must receive for themselves--no one else can take this gift from them or for them. (11) And in Christianity there is Christ and the Revelation--the sacrifice of Christ, and the gift of death given by Christ that transcends the givenness of death (and becomes the gift of eternal life).

The gift is the condition for responsibility, yet it is also the condition whereby responsibility becomes irresponsibility. Derrida notes that the disparity between mortal and immortal, even without the revealed cause or originary sin of Christianity, equates responsibility to guilt. Because only infinite love can forget itself in its act of giving in order to move outside of calculation (as calculation would negate the giftedness of a gift), the mortal is in disproportion to his or her ability to engage in the act of responsibility. One's own singularity is constituted of death and hence finitude, which makes one unequal to the gift, given of infinitude, that constitutes the very givenness of death. Because responsibility is then unequal to itself, as Derrida notes, "one is never responsible enough" (51). This phrasing introduces Derrida's deconstruction of the concept of responsibility. Through a reading of the story of Abraham and Isaac which draws on Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling, Derrida highlights the impossible tension between duty to God and duty to humanity. For Derrida the extraordinary paradox of the sacrifice of Isaac exemplifies "the most common and everyday experience of responsibility" (67). The relationship one has with God is the relationship one has with the other--and it is a relationship of response-ibility, of obligation to answer the call from which responsibility originates. However, I cannot answer this call without the risk or potential of abandoning my own (my own family, my own friends, etc.; those who do not seem as others but are so in the Derridean sense) in the same way that God required Abraham to abandon his own family and people. Absolute responsibility forbids general responsibility (Kierkegaard's ethical sphere) because absolute responsibility precedes the general and takes precedence over the general. Here Derrida asks us to remember what is "too often forgotten by the moralizing moralists and good consciences who preach to us with assurance ... about the sense of ethical or political responsibility": responsibility is an impossible paradox (67). With this Derrida challenges the particular order of Christianity that proclaims absolute, ahistorical moral truths and would posit the other as the "evildoer" or as belonging to the "axis of evil." Such an understanding of responsibility fails to take into account the way in which responsibility is inadequate to itself. Derrida's argument, and the discussion of it here, rejects any stable concept of responsibility that would ground in faith the ability to prescribe with certain knowledge what the moral choice in any given situation "is" or should be for another.

If Christianity cannot be said to adequately thematize responsibility, in opposition to Patocka, this does not mean that Derrida rejects responsibility or that Christianity has only offered a gift whereby responsibility becomes meaningless. On the contrary, and as a crucial moment in the introduction/return of Christianity to politics, the gift is also the condition for a responsibility that does not differentiate between neighbor and foreigner, between this other and that other. The gift, understood because of Christianity, offers a new way of thinking about how one relates to the other--a way that Schmitt's Christian Realism does not account for. Derrida argues that responsibility is possible only "on the condition that the Good no longer be a transcendental objective, a relation between objective things, but the relation to the other, a response to the other; an experience of personal goodness and a movement of intention" (50). Responsibility isn't fully expressed in Platonic thought, whereas Christianity provides the opportunity by which responsibility becomes deconstructible: both possible and impossible, and for Derrida (unlike for Patocka) irreducibly inadequate to itself as a concept. "Personal goodness" and "a movement of intention" imply the subjective other. What has happened to responsibility in Christianity is that the introduction of the Other as structuring otherness broadens "responsibility" beyond "responsibility to those who are like me, and not to the other who is unlike me." The Platonic argument that Schmitt follows, one that would identify certain others as enemies and "naturally so" has no Goodness as giving goodness to trace otherness back to. Unlike the objective Good, which does not qualify as an(other), God as other is two crucial things: wholly other, and a goodness that gives.

Schmitt's work, read from this angle, outlines a practical way of understanding the limitation of the polis' notion of responsibility when he tries to draw a line from Christ's words ("love thy enemy") back to Greek thought, eliding the Hebraic thinking that Christ necessarily draws from when he quotes the Torah. Greek thought does distinguish between enemy and foe in the manner Schmitt suggests, most cogently in the Republic where Plato speaks of inter-Hellenic (private) conflict as "discord" and Hellenic-Barbarian conflict ("those who are by nature enemies") as war (The Concept of the Political 29n.) Platonic political theory would seem to distinguish different kinds of others, so that there are similar others with whom one has disputes, and other others who are natural enemies. There are then degrees of otherness and hence degrees of responsibility to the other, with the greater degree of responsibility being accorded to those who are seemingly more similar than different or inimical.

In drawing distinctions from the Platonic understanding of responsibility instead of responsibility as it can be understood through a reading of the Christian conversion, the Schmittian argument for making the friend/enemy distinction disintegrates. Originary responsibility comprises both the impossibility of responsibility and the necessity of some form of it: awareness of the other proceeds not from an objective Good, a non-other, but the Other, from whom all others as singularities must receive the givenness of death. God as wholly other is both the necessity and the impossibility of responsibility, both the call and the inability to fully discharge responsibility to answer the call. For Kierkegaard, the difference between human duty and duty to God is great. It is God's call to Abraham to be responsible to him, God, that puts Abraham in conflict with the general duty he has to all the others, the others that to him are not others--his son, his wife, etc. Yet again for Derrida, this difference is what is faced every day. From out of the Christianization of responsibility, Derrida introduces the phrase tout autre est tout autre--"every other (one) is every (bit) other," as a key for understanding the other as both different and the same: every other is equally other, every other is wholly and completely other, and every other shares this complete otherness.

Derrida notes that "The trembling of the formula 'every other (one) is every (bit) other' can also be reproduced. It can do so to the extent of replacing one of the 'every others' with God: 'Every other (one) is God,' or 'God is every (bit) other'" (87). Derrida's preliminary argument for the first substitution, "every other (one) is God," rests on the similarity of all others, God and humans, as wholly other. This substitution can also be located in a Christianity opposed to Schmitt's realist politics. In Matt. 25:31-46, Christ pronounces judgment via a litmus test of responsibility to the other. He affirms the righteous as such based on their treatment of him:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. (v. 35, 36)

The unrighteous he condemns for not doing the same. Yet both parties are ignorant of their encounter with Christ and ask him to explain. (12) He answers that the physical needs of strangers, even those with the lowest social standing, are equivalent to the needs of Christ. Taking care of the other is the same thing as caring for Christ, and ignoring the need of the other is the same as denying Christ. In this way the otherness of the other is equally other in all situations. The formulation "every other (one) is God" is not a statement of pantheism, but a statement of the sameness of difference that both levels and heightens what responsibility means.

The understanding of every other (one) as/is every (bit) other shows that responsibility can never be fully responsible. Furthermore, it demonstrates that realist political theory as articulated by Schmitt does not even consider responsibility at all, advancing as it does a Christian responsibility to humanity through a version of responsibility that is pre-Christian and ignorant as to how responsibility becomes both inadequate and necessary. In this respect, the notion that a nation's so-called political interests should be "protected" regardless of the cost to the other, with retribution cast in Christian terms, is antithetical not just to Christian responsibility but a deconstructed responsibility as Christianity has contributed to its definition. As Derrida demonstrates, Christianity's gift to European responsibility is (in addition to the original Hebraic meaning of the term "neighbor" which the Latin effaces) to understand that "neighbor" as Schmitt defines the term accedes to a larger conception of the other. What may be most compelling here is the idea that relation to the other cannot be separated or placed in spheres, with the religious over here and the political over there, or with some others in one place (the private) and the other others placed elsewhere (the public). The one is too bound to the other for that.


Augustine. The City of God. Trans. Marcus Dods. New York: Modern Library, 1993.

Borradori, Giovanna. Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida. New York: U of Chicago P, 2004.

Derrida, Jacques. The Gift of Death. Trans. David Willis. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995.

Meier, Heinrich. Carl Schmitt & Leo Strauss: The Hidden Dialogue. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995.

Schmitt Carl. The Concept of the Political. [1927, 2nd ed. 1932]. Trans. George Schwab. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996.

--. Roman Catholicism and Political Form. Trans. G. L. Ulmen. Westport: Greenwood P, 1996.

--. "The Visibility of the Church." Appendix. Roman Catholicism and Political Form. Trans. G. L. Ulmen. Westport: Greenwood P, 1996.

Strauss, Leo. "Notes on The Concept of the Political." The Concept of the Political. Trans. George Schwab. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996.

Strong, Tracy. Forward. The Concept of the Political. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2001.

Ulmen, G. L. Introduction. Roman Catholicism and Political Form. By Carl Schmitt. Trans. G. L. Ulmen. Westport: Greenwood P, 1996.


(1) Schmitt appears to use the word "existential" not in a Sartean sense, but as a form of "existence." His understanding of the political is that it is a real category: "The friend, enemy, and combat concepts receive their real meaning precisely because they refer to the real possibility of physical killing" (33).

(2) For Strauss' early critique of Schmitt, see "Notes on ..." immediately following U of Chicago P's The Concept of the Political, especially paras. 1 and 27.

(3) Bracketed words and italics are Schmitt's, as his citation of Cromwell is a mix of direct quote and paraphrase.

(4) The fact that Cromwell's England was Protestant and Spain Catholic provides a moment for emphasizing Schmitt's thesis. Schmitt is a Catholic, and he develops some anti-Protestant sentiment in some of his writings, but his concern here is not for the morality or superiority of Catholicism over Protestantism. If one identifies the other as hostile to one's own way of life, then one has correctly applied Schmitt's theory; hence his approving account of Cromwell here. Moral judgments may come after the fact, but the moment of decisionism is (supposedly) amoral, areligious, etc.

(5) Schmitt's Catholic-Christian faith and its relationship to his political theology is well documented. For a particularly in-depth exploration of Schmitt's relationship to and understanding of the Catholic church, in addition to Schmitt's 1917 essay "The Visibility of the Church" see Heinrich Meier's Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss, especially Chapter VII (pages 72-87).

(6) In this sense, then, the "private" monastic or anchoritic lives, for example, are not really private in Augustine's use of the word here. Yet, the tension as to whether a withdrawal from the human social network is Christian or not is a complicated question that raises conflicts within Augustine's own text. See City of God (680-85 for Augustine's discussion of the pitfalls and pain of human social life.

(7) The private sphere has long been linked to the Protestant Reformation--an interesting difference in Christianity to which Schmitt is attentive.

(8) This origin is linked for Schmitt to Protestantism, which is a separate but related antagonism of his liberal critique.

(9) All emphases in quotes are Derrida's from this point forward unless otherwise stated.

(10) As Derrida explains, one can die for the other, as a delay, but every one must die eventually. That is what is being emphasized here as irreplaceable.

(11) This is a Heideggerian argument: One can cause another to die, but one cannot take that singular experience of death--she who receives death can only receive it for herself, regardless of the circumstance of death.

(12) The ignorance or forgetfulness of the righteous group in regard to reward is discussed by Derrida in the final pages of The Gift of Death, even though he does not quote this passage from Matthew. See pp. 96-115.

William S. Durden

Clark College
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Author:Durden, William S.
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Date:Jun 22, 2011
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