Sunday, September 16, 2007

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy: on "the prerogative of a leader"?

Another Charismatic 'Extralegal' Thinker?
(Image from Wikipedia)

I'm still trudging through Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy's tome, Out of Revolution: Autobiography of Western Man, and I've just read a passage that could have come from Carl Schmitt's thoughts in his writings on "political theology" concerning the primary characteristic of "the leader":
"Sovereign is he who decides on the exception." (Schmitt, Political Theology)
Rosenstock-Huessy also presents the necessity for a 'commanding' leader during times when a population faces an existential threat:
In such times the prerogative of a leader is indispensable. Without his iron grip on the country all standards would become debatable, doubtful and dissolved. The dilution of faith caused by the emergency forces upon the leader the responsibility of uttering the cry of alarm and commanding, brutally and harshly.

We can even say that he who commands efficiently in such times is or makes himself the leader, even though legal procedure may not take account of him. Timely prerogative creates and restores actual government, legalizes conquest and force. To be sure, the legitimation of brute force is never to be found in its external success. Tyranny remains tyranny, and iniquity is never bleached into the genuine white of sacred authority. Nay, the test of domination is not "success" in an abstract sense, that of a man's being called Emperor or President or leader by intimidated slaves. It is the success in this emergency, and in this particular emergency only. In one special and definite emergency the new government will rise or the old government will be regenerated. Its test, then, is this particular emergency. If it succeeds in its fight against this enemy, this dilution of faith and standards, this famine, people will feel gratified and support or tolerate it in spite of all its other faults. (page 384)
I'm not especially well-read in Schmitt's views on the supposed extralegal political authority necessary for the state to act decisively in legally murky situations. I suppose that there's a genuine issue here in that states are confronted by unexpected circumstances in which decisions must be made despite the state having no clear legal authority to act. Reasoning clearly on this, however, has been tainted ever since Germany's experience of National Socialism (Nazism), for Schmitt's thinking was used by the German state to legitimize Hitler's acts -- and fully with Schmitt's approval, too.

Rosenstock-Huessy, being ethnically Jewish, was no fan of Hitler. I don't know what he thought of Schmitt, but I doubt that he was drawing directly upon Schmitt's writings. Rather, the seeming parallels may stem from a more general movement of thought about sources of political authority. One need only recall Max Weber's analysis of the "charismatic authority" vested in an extraordinary leader to see that various thinkers of the early 20th century were struggling with the issues of legality, legitimacy, and leadership in connection with circumstances of emergency.

I have no special insight on this issue and merely post this out of a curiosity that might bear fruit under the care of others with more knowledge than I.

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At 1:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wasn't one of the complaints about Gilgamesh that "dammit he rings the tocsin at odd hours?"

Exercising the "perogative" perhaps might be a source of complaint, too it might be too doggone convenient.


At 2:07 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Maybe, JK. Rosenstock-Huessy might have been complaining ... or grudgingly accepting a necessity. I know too little to say.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see I may be inviting a quarrel here but I muddle on. You give the Nazi example.

Lincoln suspended habeus corpus. Roosevelt interned the Japanese.

Both parties of the (mostly) current members of the US Congress by their vote to empower the leader to put the US on a National Emergency status: invoked and put into action "The War Powers Act".

In the two former examples only history records that the "leader" acted without the law. In the singular latter only history shall render a judgment as to whether the leader acted within. JK makes no judgment.

But given the choice - JK accepts the leaders' choices with some hesitancy. Both the Lincoln and Roosevelt proclamations were widely and publicly dispersed. In this ongoing, current emergency JK feels that the Patriot Act shall be a crown of thorns.


At 2:37 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK, that's why I acknowledged:

"I suppose that there's a genuine issue here in that states are confronted by unexpected circumstances in which decisions must be made despite the state having no clear legal authority to act."

What I found intriguing was that this view was broader than just that of Schmitt -- as the Weber mention was also meant to suggest.

Probably, I didn't express myself clearly, and to mention Nazis is tantamount to poisoning the well even if one doesn't intend such, so I'll have to be clearer in future such postings.

Jeffery Hodges

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