Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, first published in 1923 and revised in 1926, has had a persistently controversial place in German thought.
Described both as the "Hobbes of our age" and as "the philosophical godfather of Nazism," Carl Schmitt was a brilliant and controversial political theorist whose doctrine of political leadership and critique of liberal democratic ideals and institutions distinguish him as one of the most original contributors to the theory of modern politics. Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, first published in 1923 and revised in 1926, has had a persistently controversial place in German thought. The introduction to this new translation places the book in proper historical context and provides a useful guide to several aspects of Weimar political culture.The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy offers a powerful criticism of the inconsistencies of representative democracy. It argues that the original, liberal underpinnings of parliamentarism have been lost and have been increasingly perceived to be so. In this situation democratic institutions have become relics that continue to exist more from inertia than from conviction. Schmitt argues that the will that determines the outcome in democratic societies is a particular rather than a general will, and parliamentary openness functions only as an antechamber for special interests. With the bourgeoisie morally enfeebled and the socialist labor movement devoid of any genuine democratic theory, there was a clear shift toward more authoritarian forms of government. Accordingly, Schmitt concludes his essay by analyzing the roles of myth, irrationality, and violence in politics. Richard Thoma, a leading exponent of parliamentary government, reviewed Schmitt's book in 1925, portraying it as a direct attack on the Weimar Republic's democratic institutions. Increasingly, however, the problems Schmitt identified in the balance of liberal institutions and democratic principles have been recognized as fundamental. Because Schmitt's ruthlessly systematic attack on liberal democracy has remained unanswered and largely ignored, his perceptive analysis remains an intellectual force to be reckoned with. The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy is included in the series Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought, edited by Thomas McCarthy.