By the account of Leo Strauss himself, in his 1962 “Preface to the English Translation” of Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, Strauss’s encounter with the thought of the German philosopher Carl Schmitt had a significant impact on Strauss’s thought. Having read and thought through Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political, Strauss began to “wonder whether the self-destruction of reason was not the inevitable outcome of modern rationalism as distinguished from pre-modern rationalism, especially Jewish-medieval rationalism and its classical (Aristotelian and Platonic) foundation.”
Strauss wrote about the 1932 edition of Schmitt’s book in his seminal essay “Comments on Der Bergriff Des Politischen by Carl Schmitt,” an essay that he appended to the English translation of Spinoza’s Critique. Strauss characterized his essay on Schmitt as the first written expression of his “change in orientation,” and stated that this was “not entirely by accident.” Strauss subsequently emigrated from Germany while Schmitt went on to become an ardent Nazi.
Schmitt joined the Nazi party on May 1, 1933 and was quickly appointed “preußischer Staatsrat” by Hermann Göring. He became the president of the “Vereinigung nationalsozialistischer Juristen” (“Union of National-Socialist Jurists”) the following November. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy briefly recaps a few of the highlights of Schmitt’s post-1932 philosophical career:
Schmitt quickly obtained an influential position in the legal profession and came to be perceived as the “Crown Jurist” of National Socialism. (Rüthers 1990; Mehring 2009, 304-436) He devoted himself, with undue enthusiasm, to such tasks as the defence of Hitler’s extra-judicial killings of political opponents (PB 227-32) and the purging of German jurisprudence of Jewish influence (Gross 2007; Mehring 2009, 358-80).
It therefore comes as something of a shock to find, according to Harvey Mansfield in “Is the imperial presidency inevitable?,” that Professors Eric Posner (University of Chicago Law School) and Adrian Vermeule (Harvard Law School) “offer with somewhat alarming confidence the ‘Weimar and Nazi jurist’ Carl Schmitt as their candidate to succeed James Madison for the honor of theorist of the Constitution.” The bland headline that the New York Times Book Review gives to Mansfield’s assessment of Posner and Vermeule’s new book conceals the fireworks within.