Carl Schmitt: The Unity of the World
An essay by Carl Schmitt, originally published in 1952. Original translation by yours truly.
The unity of the world of which I speak here is not the general biological unity of the human race, nor is it the kind of self-evident Ecumene which, despite all the antagonisms among men, has somehow existed in some form at all times. Nor is it the unity of world traffic, world trade, the Universal Postal Union, or the like, but something more difficult. It is the unity of the organization of human power which is to plan, direct and dominate the whole Earth and all mankind. It is a question of the great problem of whether the Earth is ready today for a single center of political power.
The One and the Unity are a difficult problem right down to mathematics. In theology, philosophy, morality and politics this problem of unity grows to monstrous proportions. It is not useless to recall the many difficult sides of the problem of unity, given the superficiality of the catchwords that are common today. All questions, even those of pure physics, today unexpectedly quickly turn into fundamental problems. In questions of human order, however, unity often confronts us as an absolute value. We imagine unity as concord and unanimity, as peace and good order. We think of the Gospel of the One Shepherd and the One Sheepfold and speak of the Una Sancta. Consequently, may we assert abstractly and generally that unity is better than multiplicity?
Absolutely not. Unity, abstractly speaking, can be as much an increase of evil as of good. Not every shepherd is a good shepherd and not every unity is an Una Sancta. Not every well-functioning, centralistic organization corresponds to the model of human order merely because of its unity. The kingdom of Satan is also a kind of unity, and Christ himself meant this unified kingdom of evil when he spoke of the Devil and Beelzebub. The attempt to build the Tower of Babel was also an attempt at unity. In view of some modern forms of organized unity, we may even say that Babylonian confusion may be better than Babylonian unity.
The desire for a well-functioning global unity of the world corresponds to today's prevailing, technical-industrial worldview. Technical development irresistibly leads to new organizations and centralizations. If technology and not politics is really the destiny of mankind, then the problem of unity can be considered solved.
For more than a hundred years, all good observers have noticed that modern technology by itself brings about a unity of the world. Already in 1848, during the first European civil war, this was certain. The Marxist doctrine lives on this realization. But this is not a specifically Marxist observation. We could also quote here Donoso Cortés, who was under the impression of the same experience. In his speech of January 4, 1849, he describes the tremendous power machine that irresistibly, without regard to good or evil, makes every ruler ever more powerful. Here Donoso sketches the picture of an all-devouring Leviathan, to which modern technology provides a thousand new hands, eyes and ears, and against whose power, multiplied a thousandfold by technology, any attempt at control or counterbalance seems helpless and absurd.
The thinkers and observers of 1848 were under the impression of the railroad, the steamboat and the telegraph. They had in mind a technology that was still bound to rails and wires, a technology that today seems primitive and puny to every child. What was the technology of 1848 compared to the possibilities of today's airplane, electric waves, and atomic energy? For the way of thinking of a technician, the Earth is closer to its unity today in comparison with the year 1848 by as much as traffic and means of transport are faster today than then, or as the penetrating power of the means of destruction exceeds today that of then. As a result, the Earth has become smaller to the same extent. The planet is shrinking, and for the technocrat the establishment of the unity of the world would be a trifle, opposed today only by some old-fashioned reactionaries.
For millions of people today, this is absolutely self-evident. For them, however, it is not only self-evident, but at the same time it is the core of a certain worldview and thus also of a certain idea of the unity of the world, a real belief and a real myth. This is not only the pseudo-religion of the great masses of industrialized countries. Ruling classes, in whose hands the decisions of world politics lie, are also dominated by this image of a technical-industrial unity of the world. We need only recall the important doctrine promulgated in 1932 by Henry L. Stimson, then Secretary of State of the United States of America. Stimson explained the meaning of his doctrine in a speech on June 11, 1941. His argument contains a real creed. He said that the Earth is no larger today than it was in 1861, at the outbreak of the War of Secession, the United States of America, which even then was too small for the opposition between Northern and Southern states. The Earth, Stimson asserted in 1941, is too small today for two opposing systems.
Let us dwell for a moment on this important statement by the famous originator of the Stimson Doctrine. It is not only of practical importance as an expression of the conviction of a leading politician of the strongest world power. It is also surprising from a philosophical and metaphysical point of view. Of course, it does not intend to be philosophical or metaphysical. It is probably meant in a purely positive-pragmatic sense. But that is precisely what makes it all the more philosophical. An outstanding American politician decides, with an involuntary metaphysical force, for the political unity of the world, while until recently a philosophical pluralism seemed to determine the actual worldview of North America. For pragmatism, the philosophy until then of typically American thinkers like William James, was consciously pluralistic. It rejected the idea of a unity of the world as unfashionable and saw true modern philosophy in the plurality of possible worldviews, even in the plurality of truths and loyalties. In the course of thirty years, during a single human generation, the richest country in the world, with the strongest war potential on Earth, went from pluralism to unity.
Thus, the unity of the world seems to be the most natural thing in the world.
However, the political reality today does not present the picture of a unity, but of a duality, and an unsettling duality at that. Two huge partners are hostile to each other, forming the antithesis of West and East, of capitalism and communism, contradictory economic systems, conflicting ideologies, and completely different, heterogeneous types of ruling classes and groups. Their enmity is expressed in a mixture of cold and open war, war of nerves and war of arms, diplomatic war of notes, conferences and propaganda. The dualism of two fronts emerges here as a clear distinction between friend and foe.
If unity in itself is something good, duality in itself is something evil and dangerous. Binarius numerus infamis, says Thomas Aquinas. The duality of the contemporary world is indeed in itself evil and dangerous. The tension is felt by everyone as intolerable, as a transitional state unsustainable in itself. The intolerability of such dualistic tension urges a decision from within. Perhaps the tension nevertheless lasts longer than most people expect. The pace of historical events has a different measure than the nerves of human individuals, and world politics takes little account of the individual's need for happiness. Nevertheless, we cannot escape the question of where the resolution of the dualistic tension is headed.
For the general tendency towards the technical-industrial unity of the world, today's duality is only a transition to unity, the last round in the great struggle for the unity of the world. This would mean that the survivor of today's world duality would be the only master of the world tomorrow. The victor would realize the unity of the world, of course under his point of view and according to his ideas. His elites would represent the type of the new man. They would plan and organize according to their political, economic and moral ideas and goals. Whoever believes in a technical-industrial unity of the world, which is already taken for granted today, should remain aware of this consequence and should keep in mind the image of the One Prince of the World quite concretely.
But the final global unity, which would occur through a complete victory of one partner over the other, is by no means the only conceivable way to end the tension of today's duality. The fronts of today's West and today's East form a dilemma in which the entire contemporary world is by no means exhausted. The either-or of today's duality of the world is much too narrow for the whole humanity to be absorbed in it. Both hostile camps of today's West and today's East taken together are still far from being the whole of mankind. We have just quoted the statement of the American Secretary of State Stimson in 1941, according to which the whole Earth today is no larger than the United States of America at the outbreak of the War of Secession in 1861. To this statement it was replied years ago that the whole Earth will always be larger than the United States of America. Let us add that it will always be bigger than the present Communist East and even than both of them together. No matter how small the Earth has become, it will always represent much more than the sum of the points of view and horizons under which the alternative of today's world dualism is posed. In other words, there is still a third factor, and probably not only one, but several such third factors.
The purpose here is not to discuss the many different possibilities that are conceivable and practical. That would result in a political discussion of questions such as the position and significance of China or India or Europe, the British Commonwealth, the Hispano-Lusitanian world, the Arab bloc, and perhaps other, unexpected approaches to a plurality of great spaces. As soon as a third force appears, the way to a majority of third forces opens very quickly, and it does not remain with the simple number of three. For here the dialectic of all human power is revealed, which is never limitless, but involuntarily promotes the forces which will one day set the limit to it. Each of the two opponents of primitive world dualism has an interest in drawing others to his side, in protecting the weaker and promoting them against the other, thereby possibly promoting them against himself. Here, too, it is in the nature of these manifold bearers of a third force that they exploit the opposites of the two great partners for themselves and do not need to be overwhelmingly strong themselves in order to hold their own.
I am not speaking here of neutrality or neutralism. It is misleading to confuse the problem of the third force with that of neutrality or neutralism, however much they may touch and occasionally overlap. The possibility of a third power means, numerically, not a simple trinity, but a multiplicity, the breaking up of a real pluralism. This means, at the same time, the possibility of a balance of powers, a balance of several great spaces, which create among themselves a new international law, on a new level and with new dimensions, but also with some analogies to the European international law of the 18th and 19th centuries, which was also based on a balance of several powers and thus received its structure. In the Ius publicum europaeum, too, there was a unity of the world. It was Eurocentric, but it was not the central power of a single master of the world. Its structure was pluralistic and allowed for the coexistence of several political magnitudes that could consider each other not as criminals but as bearers of autonomous orders.
The hostile duality of the world is therefore as close to a trinity and therefore to a plurality as to a final unity. The odd numbers - three, five etc. - have the preference here, because they are more likely to create a balance than the even numbers. This means at the same time that they make peace more possible. It is quite conceivable that today's duality is closer to such a plurality than to a final unity and that most combinations of the "one world" prove to be hasty.
The hostile tension, which belongs to the duality, presupposes dialectically a commonality and with it again a unity. The Iron Curtain would be meaningless and no one would bother to organize it if it were only to separate internally unrelated spaces from one another. The interpretation of the Iron Curtain given by Rudolf Kaßner (Merkur, April 1951) means the separation of existence and non-existence, of existence and idea. It presupposes, however, that on the horizontal, the political level the separation takes place within a common ideology. The common ground lies in the world and history view of both partners of world dualism. Just as the world struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism, between Jesuitism and Calvinism in the 16th and 17th centuries presupposed the commonality of Christianity, and only this unity produced the terrible enmity, so today the unity of a historical-philosophical self-interpretation underlies the duality.
Our diagnosis of the present world situation would be incomplete if it ignored the historical self-interpretation of the partners of world dualism. Only there is to be found the unity which makes their duality dialectically possible. More than any other quantity, self-interpretation is an element of the world situation today. Faced with the problem of the unity of the world, every historically acting person is forced to make both a diagnosis and a prognosis, which does not concern mere facts. Even the most sober political calculator interprets the statistical information he receives, interpreting it in a historico-philosophical sense. All people who plan today and try to bring large masses behind their planning are engaging in form of philosophy of history. The problem of the unity of the Earth and that of today's world dualism thus becomes a problem of the historical-philosophical interpretation of the world.
At all times people have been led by religious, moral or scientific convictions, which also contained certain ideas about the course of history. But the age of planning is in a special sense that of the philosophy of history. Whoever plans today must at once supply the people whom he seeks to bring behind his planning with a tangible philosophy of history. In this respect, the philosophy of history has an extremely practical and effective meaning today. It is an indispensable part of the planning process.
This obviously applies to today's Communist East. The East has a firm goal directed to the unity of the Earth and its submission to the world-historically legitimized Prince of this World. Its idea of unity is based on the doctrine of dialectical materialism, which has been elevated to a collectivist creed in all forms. Dialectical materialism, the core of Marxism, is - in a specific and even exclusive way - philosophy of history. It preserves the structure of the philosophy of Hegel, i.e., of the only developed historical-philosophical system of world history so far. Now this Hegelian philosophy is apparently idealistic; it sees the goal of mankind in the unity of the spirit returning to itself and the absolute idea, not in the material unity of an electrified Earth. But the methodical core, the dialectical movement of world history, can also be put into the service of a materialistic conception of the world. The opposition of materialism and idealism becomes insignificant when all matter becomes radiation and all radiation becomes matter.
All the many plans of the East, beginning with the first famous five-year plan, the almost mythical Pyatiletka of 1928, have their superiority over other plans in that they are constructed into a dialectical movement that is to lead to the unity of the world. This is neither ontology nor moral philosophy, but the assertion of the correctly recognized, quite concrete course of the historical development in which we stand today. Marxism - and with it the whole official credo of the Communist East - is philosophy of history in the most intensive degree. This is the basis of its fascinating effect, which forces even the opponent of this system to reflect on his own historical situation and his own conception of history when he comes into contact with this dangerous enemy. Here, in the East, the connection between the unity of the world and concrete philosophy of history is palpable.
What does today's West, led by the United States of America, have to counter this philosophy of history? It certainly does not have such a closed, unified worldview. Today, Arnold Toynbee, the scientific advisor employed at the UN, is probably the best-known philosopher of history in the West. His theory is, of course, not an official credo, but his view and perhaps even more his mood are nevertheless to a great extent symptomatic of the world-historical self-interpretation of leading strata and elites of the Anglo-Saxon West. This is in any case remarkable, given the great importance attached to the view of history held by leading groups.
And what is the historical picture that emerges from the work of the famous English historian? We do not need to repeat here the often presented content of his work. The decisive point is that, according to Toynbee, a number of advanced civilizations of mankind arise, grow, break apart and pass away, and that in our present civilization we may console ourselves with being able to become Christian again and actually still have a lot of time ahead of us, in view of the enormous periods of time with which history, as Toynbee conceives it, tends to work. This is a weak consolation, which does not even give a specifically Christian view of history. Add to this the fact that many Anglo-Saxon scholars see the rapid population increase in the Eastern world as the real cause of war and have nothing to offer as a remedy but birth control, and the West's historical self-interpretation appears weak and feeble. After all, it would be bad if behind the dualism of today's world there was nothing else than the opposition of birth control and animus procreandi, so that every newborn child would immediately be born as an aggressor and would be included in the system of modern criminalizations.
I do not wish to offend any admirer of Toynbee or Julian Huxley by saying this. Furthermore, I do know the criticisms and doubts about the ideology of progress that have been expressed by leading Anglo-Saxon writers. But all this does not alter the overall ideological picture of a West whose core, insofar as it still has world-historical force, is also historical-philosophical, namely the Saint-Simonist historical philosophy of industrial progress and planned humanity, with all its numerous variations and popularizations from Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer to the perhaps more skeptical writers of today.
The great masses of the industrialized West and especially of the United States of America have an infinitely simple and massive philosophy of history. They carry on the faith in progress of the 19th century in a crude form, without caring for the refinements of cultured Englishmen. These masses have a religion of technicity, and every technical progress appears to them at the same time as a perfection of man himself, as a direct step to the earthly paradise of the one world. Their evolutionist creed constructs a straight line of the ascent of mankind. Man, biologically and by nature an exceedingly weak and needy being, creates for himself through technology a new world in which he is the strongest, even the sole being. The dangerous question, in whose hands the tremendous power over other humans is concentrated, which is necessarily connected with this increase of technical means, must not be asked.
This is unchanged the old belief in progress and infinite perfectibility, but increased by modern technology. It was born in the Enlightenment of the 18th century. At that time, in the 18th century, it was still the philosophical belief of some leading groups and elites. In the 19th century, it became the creed of Western positivism and scientism. Its first prophets were Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte, its most successful missionary to the Anglo-Saxon world Herbert Spencer. Today, in the 20th century, a doubt has long since taken root among the intelligentsia, the doubt whether technical, moral and other progress form a unity at all. The intelligentsia is gripped by the paralyzing realization that people have become more powerful through the new technical means, but by no means morally better. It is the realization of a discrepancy of technical and moral progress. Goethe expressed this very simply in the sentence: Nothing destroys man like an increase in his power which is not connected with an increase in his goodness.
But the masses do not ask for such doubts and probably perceive the splintering of the concept of progress only as sophistical disquisitions of a decadent intelligentsia. They stick to their ideal of a mechanized world. This is the same ideal of a unity of the world that Lenin proclaimed when he spoke of the unity of the electrified Earth. Eastern and Western beliefs merge here. Both claim to be true humanity, true democracy. Indeed, they both come from the same source, the philosophy of history of the 18th and 19th centuries. The unity that underlies the duality becomes visible here.
West and East are today separated by an Iron Curtain. But the waves and corpuscles of a common philosophy of history penetrate through the curtain and form the incomprehensible unity, through which today's world duality is dialectically made possible. The enemies meet in a self-interpretation of their world-historical situation.
Does it follow from this invisible commonality of a philosophical view of history, piercing the Iron Curtain, that today's dualism is closer to the final unity of the world than to a new plurality?
If there were no other view of history for us today than the philosophical program of the last two centuries, the question of the unity of the world would indeed have been decided long ago. Then also the duality of today's world situation could be nothing else than the transition to the planetary unity of pure technicity. This would be the unity which, although it makes sense to the great masses as a kind of earthly paradise, is already frightening many an Anglo-Saxon intellectual today, because he recognizes or at least senses the aforementioned fragmentation of the concept of progress and the discrepancy between technical and moral progress. Everyone sees that moral progress follows different paths than technical progress, both among the rulers who plan and make use of modern science, and among the elites and the masses who hope for the great harvest festival of planning. The planetary unity of such an organized mankind was already felt more than hundred years ago as a nightmare. The nightmare has increased in the meantime in the same measure as the technical means of human power have increased. All the more difficult becomes the question which we have just asked and which we repeat: Does the imminent political unity of the world follow from the unity of the historical-philosophical worldview? Does it follow from it that the present duality is only the last stage before unity?
I don't believe it because I don't believe in the truth of this historical-philosophical worldview. If we note that both today's East and today's West are determined by a philosophy of history, and that both the leading and planning elites and the masses they employ want to be above all on the side of things to come, we must add that the term "philosophy of history" here has an exceedingly concise and specific sense. This philosophy of history, namely, whose commonality pervades the Iron Curtain, is more philosophy than history. This still needs a word of clarification.
In a vague and general sense, any general conception of history, any view of history, any grand interpretation of the past, and any grand expectation of a future may be called a "philosophy of history." In this imprecise sense, for example, the pagan conception of an eternal, infinitely repeating cycle of the elements, a cyclical recurrence of all events, would also be philosophy of history. A religious conception of history would also be philosophy of history, and even the Jews, who await the Messiah, or the Christians, who await the return of the triumphant Christ, would then be doing philosophy of history. That would be a neutralization of the terms, a bad confusion and in the last result downright a falsification.
The philosophy of history, which we are concerned with here and which we have diagnosed as the common foundation of today's duality, is a component of human planning, and indeed of planning based on a typically philosophical interpretation of history. It is philosophical in the very concrete sense given to the word philosophy by the 18th century Enlightenment. It is made concrete by the fact that a certain class of intelligentsia denies the claims to leadership of other elites. This philosophy claims the monopoly of intelligence and scientificity. In the word "philosophy of history" the accent is on philosophy, namely on a historically and sociologically quite specific manifestation of philosophy, which asks and answers its own questions, rejects foreign questions and calls all questions posed by others unphilosophical, unscientific, unfashionable and historically outdated. Accordingly, philosophy of history means not only the opposition to any theology of history, but furthermore also the opposition to any view of history that does not submit to its monopoly of scientificity.
In this sense, Voltaire was the first philosopher of history. His philosophy of history made Bossuet's theology of history unfashionable. With the French Revolution the great effectiveness of the specifically philosophical philosophy of history sets in. Law is now what serves progress, crime what stops it. The philosophy of history becomes historically powerful. It glorifies the one who is right in its sense and criminalizes the one who falls behind. It gives courage to global planning. However, it soon turns out that it is not the philosophers who plan, but the planners who use science and intelligence. The East, in particular, has seized Hegel's philosophy of history no differently than it has seized the atomic bomb and other products of Western intelligence in order to realize the unity of the world in the sense of its planning.
But as the Earth remains greater than the dilemma of dualistic questioning, so history remains stronger than any philosophy of history, and therefore I consider the present duality of the world not as a preliminary stage of its unity, but as a passage to a new multiplicity.
Originally published as "Die Einheit der Welt" in Merkur, no. 47, January 1952.