The Challenge of Carl Schmitt: Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and International Law
European University Institute
Max Weber Program and Department of History and Civilization
29-30 June 2009
Cappella, Villa Schifanoia
San Domenico di Fiesole, Italy
The German jurist Carl Schmitt (1888–1985) has earned the reputation of being one of the most notorious and influential political thinkers of the twentieth century. After rising to prominence during the 1920s, he served as a close adviser to conservative nationalist politicians during the end phase of the Weimar Republic, and afterwards played a prominent role in legitimating the early legal regime of Nazi Germany.
Schmitt’s critique of the international rule of law, first framed during the interwar period, has come to be regarded as one of the most devastating attacks on modern liberal democracy. In spite of his morally compromised career, Schmitt has continued to exert a profound—and some would argue worrying—influence on German and European intellectual life, and his legal and political thought has helped to shape the development of critical legal realism in North America.
In the post-Cold War environment, Schmitt’s thought has also become a standard point of reference for scholars who grapple with the challenges of a new international rule of law and with the problems that beset liberal approaches to international relations. Critics of Western exceptionalism, global capitalism and the Anglo-American rule of law have frequently cited Schmitt’s ideas, in particular his claim that the language of humanitarianism only serves to mask pure power interests. At the same time, those who wish to defend the expansion of the Western human rights tradition have found themselves compelled to address Schmitt’s work.
This conference will subject Schmitt’s intellectual legacy to critical examination; each participant will present a 50-minute paper addressing specific aspects of Schmitt’s work in relation to just war, human rights regimes, humanitarian intervention and the global rule of law.
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