The Führer as source of “supreme justice” in the German Reich: Carl Schmitt’s essay of 1st August, 1934
Legal-political philosopher Carl Schmitt is often described as the “crown jurist of the Third Reich” by modern commentators, an appellation supposedly first coined by the German-American scholar of totalitarianism, Waldemar Gurian. Schmitt’s actual relationship with the Reich is contentious – there are plenty today who claim that his support for the National Socialist regime was opportunistic, that there is evidence he attempted to defend and support the Weimar constitution during its long period of gradual breakdown. Others counter these claims by pointing directly to works such as Schmitt’s Dictatorship, or to his Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, arguing that they demonstrate an implicit fascist sympathy through their critique of the fundamentals of liberal parliamentarism and their advocacy for authoritarian forms of governance as an essential tool in statecraft. Whatever the reality behind Schmitt’s complex philosophical ideas, it is indisputable that he was part of the Conservative-Revolutionary intellectual milieu and that he fell behind the National Socialist regime after Hitler’s accession to the Chancellorship in 1933. Schmitt spent the early years of the new Reich attempting to provide its governance with a solid juridical-philosophical foundation, something he was assisted in by the prominent appointments he attained within the new regime – including leading positions within the Prussian State Council, the Academy of German Law, and the National Socialist Lawyers’ League. The article below is a prime example of Schmitt’s writings from this period. Published in the prestigious legal journal Deutsche Juristen-Zeitung less than a month after the final death-spasms of the Night of the Long Knives and Hitler’s speech justifying the purge, “The Führer Protects the Law” sees Schmitt putting forth a legal justification for the extra-judicial killings of Röhm, Schleicher, Gregor Strasser, and numerous other real, potential, or imagined opponents of the regime. It is a juridical argument for Führerprinzip, positing the Führer’s legal role as that of both supreme judge and the supreme source of the Volk’s collective sense of justice; as such it makes for an inestimable contribution to fascist theory.
The Führer Protects the Law
On Adolf Hitler’s Reichstag Address of 13th July, 1934
State Attorney, Prof. Dr. Carl Schmitt, Berlin
At the German Jurists’ Annual Convention, held in Leipzig on October 3rd 1933, the Führer spoke about state and law. He elaborated the distinction between substantial law, which is not divorced from morality and justice, and the empty legality of false neutrality. He also delineated the inner contradictions of the Weimar system, which destroyed itself through this neutral legality and thereby handed itself over to its enemies. To this he added the sentence: “This must be a warning for us.”
In his speech to the Reichstag, delivered on July 13th 1934, which was addressed to the entire German Volk, the Führer invoked yet another historical lesson. The powerful German Reich founded by Bismarck collapsed during the world war because it lacked the strength “to activate statutes pertaining to war” in the decisive moment. The civil bureaucracy, devoid of all political instincts and paralyzed by the logic of the liberal constitutional state, could not muster the courage to treat mutineers and enemies of the state properly under the law. Anyone today who were to read the report on the public plenary session held October 9th 1917, in volume 310 of the Reichstag-Drucksachen [official record], will be appalled, and will understand the Führer’s warning. The Reichs-government reported that the ringleaders of the mutinying sailors were negotiating with members of the Reichstag affiliated with the Independent Socialist Party.
The German Reichstag answered with loud indignation that one cannot curtail a party’s constitutional right to campaign in the army, and that there was no conclusive evidence for high treason in this case. Well, only one year later the Independent Socialists threw this conclusive evidence in our face. The German Volk withstood an onslaught by the entire world with unprecedented bravery and with tremendous sacrifice for four years. But its political leadership woefully failed in the fight against the poisoning of the German Volk and the undermining of German law and its sense of honor. Still to this day we are atoning for the paralyses and hesitations of the German government during the world war.
All moral outrage over the disgrace of such a collapse accumulated in Adolf Hitler and became in him the thriving force of a political act [Tat]. The experiences and warnings of the history of this German calamity live on in him. Most people fear the severity of such warnings and prefer to escape into an evasive and compensatory superficiality. But the Führer takes seriously [macht Ernst] the teachings of German history. This endows him with the right and power to found a new state and order. Continue reading