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Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty Paperback

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 116 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (January 15, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226738892
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226738895
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 6.7 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,725 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Political Theology is about the nature, and thus about the prerogatives, of sovereign political authority in the West.... It is perhaps the piece that best serves as an introduction to Schmitt's thought." - from the Foreword by Tracy B. Strong"

Language Notes

Text: English, German (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Amol Shelat on July 14, 2006
Format: Paperback
After many years, Carl Schmitt's works have finally reached the shores of the English-speaking world. Having been isolated by much of the scholarly community due to his complicity and support for Nazi Germany, it is only in recent decades that his works have garnered interest.


Political Theology, like many of his most famous works, was written during a prolific period of his life in Weimar Germany. Indeed, this book bears the marks and concerns of the fragile political system in which he lived. Disenchanted with parliamentary democracy and the legal reasoning of his time, Schmitt develops in this book a devastatingly sharp critique of liberal democracy and legal normativism--a critque which has become very pertinent to our current political climate (2006).

In place of this, Schmitt probes into the historical and ideological framework of the state and politics so as to discover its essential characteristics, which he argues is defined and circumscribed by the exception. In short, the exception is a moment of true decision by a soveriegn, by which the legal norm is created. For, as the famous opening lines of the book proclaim, "Sovereign is he who decides on the exception."

Translation and Introduction

Now, George Schwab has done an excellent translation of this work so as to make it clear and readable. As such, I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in Carl Schmitt, early 20th century political theory, Weimar Germany, or recent political works by Giorgio Agamben and Chantal Mouffe. Moreover, I also recommend reading the foreword and introduction, which provide a clear and succint overview of Schmitt's political theory.

Lastly, Schmitt's works are not very accessible to a quick reading.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Signs and Wonders on October 1, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book was becoming too influential to remain out of print for long, and its first sentence alone --"sovereign is he who decides on the exception"-- has likely been cited by more scholars than have ever actually read the second sentence. Still, though influenced by second-hand readings of Schmitt, most scholars manage to get quite a bit right about Schmitt's thesis, if only because it is simple, aphoristic and open-ended. Whatever its merits-- and there are many-- there is much to take exception with in Schmitt's book and in the concepts it has influenced. The notion of "the exception" requires particularly rigorous clarification because it has too often been elevated to the political-theological realm, been imbued with a fierce alterity or normless negativity, and sometime de-secularized as an equivalent of a miracle. Part of this is conflation of two senses of "exceptional": (1) "Norm vs. exception", which is a juridical distinction; and (2) the notion of "ordinary vs. extraordinary," which is more of a cultural or aesthetic distinction. The first of these-- the more banal definition-- is the one that is relevant to legal issues [OED: "The action of excepting (a person or thing, a particular case) from the scope of a proposition, rule, etc.; the state or fact of being so excepted. Something abnormal or unusual; contrasted with the rule"]. In political-theological terms, however, "The exception in jurisprudence is analogous the miracle in theology." Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters On The Concept Of Sovereignty (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985), 36. This is fine as an analogy, but Schmitt-- elsewhere rigorous about separating politics, aesthetics, economics, etc.-- here drags "the miracle" back into the juridical realm.Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Steiner VINE VOICE on October 5, 2012
Format: Paperback
Carl Schmitt was an early 20th century Jurist and legal scholar who developed a number of the most significant concepts of political theory. In Political Theology, Schmitt accomplishes two basic things: first, he develops the concept of Sovereignty which has come to dominate modern considerations of law and security. Namely, Schmitt articulates the Sovereign in terms of having the authority to decide on "the State of Exception." The State of Exception has come to be an extremely important concept among Critical Theorists today, particularly in the work of Agamben. Additionally, Schmitt argues that modern political concepts are ultimately "Secularized Theological Concepts," particularly the ultimate power of the Sovereign. Schmitt's politics is informed by the prioritization of security over freedom, and his Hobbesian world view permeates his specific interpretations of the legal and political World Situation in the difficult years of the Weimar period. Despite his nefarious participation in National Socialism, Schmitt's thought remains an important resource and reference point for contemporary political thought.
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Bruce P. Barten on May 5, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It is such a cheap shot to pick on intellectual pretenses which fit so well the practices of Germany in the twentieth century that I am tempted to start with what was so frightening that the globe was expected to panic if people found out that peckerwood Wilson had a stroke on September 25, 1919, as he was trying to say:

We will not allow Germany . . .

A few years later, Political Theology by Carl Schmitt was published in the original German. An English translation was published in 1985, when there was less reason for Americans to panic. Then in 2005 Tracy B. Strong had some comments to add about key themes that make death camps one of the ideas which made Germans seem so weird to ordinary people. Understanding whiplash is easiest for those who can picture the collective thinking of millions of people weho profoundly hate anything that is not ordinary. At this point, the worst thing that could happen to this book would be a result of falling into the hands of readers who imagine that a confederacy will be able to make its way from Gettysburg to a green zone by clinging to a flassh bang gravy train monetary incestuality.

As a holy Samson anachronism, for a thousand years I have been resisting therapy whenever those who have been victorious in a political matter wish to turn my life around. I believe Carl Schmitt is concerned about the collective thiking of society when he considers a radical party taking over a government which attempts to have security and order by declaring that anyone who does not conform to the norms of a legal system is criminal and needs to be wiped out for domestic peace to prevail.
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