Similar War Theories of Hobbes and Schmitt

1. Introduction
Currently, I’m researching Thomas Hobbes’s (1588-1679) Leviathan (1651) for a book I’m writing. I noticed that Hobbes’s theory of war in one chapter of Leviathan (Book I, 13) resembles that of one of his closest followers, Carl Schmitt (1888-1985), the controversial German jurist. Schmitt discussed war in numerous places. But the theory of war most similar to Hobbes is contained in his classic essay The Concept of the Political (1927). 

What united both authors was the conviction that war really wasn’t about military conflict as such. It was more a state of mind, of which war offered a ‘limiting case.’ This common view supported their broader philosophical outlooks, both of which were divergent. 

2. Hobbes and Civil War

Hobbes’s main concern is justifying peace and order. To achieve this he contrasts a state of anarchy to one of peace. In the state of nature all men pursue their separate interests and run the risk of clashing with one another. Although Hobbes does discuss the right of sovereigns to make foreign war in numerous passages of Leviathan (e.g. kings are in a “posture of war” with one another (L, I, 13))global conflicts are an afterthought to which Hobbes offers little insight. By far, Hobbes’s leading concern is with the possibility of civil war, the language of which is nihilistic. Warfare is part and parcel of a pre-political condition which occurs when there is no common guardian standing over men and is synonymous with civil war. But the thrust of Hobbes’s polemic with respect to the state of nature is directed against liberty which he says runs counter to law. War is merely another phenomenon which occurs when men are free. 

3. Schmitt and the Political

For Schmitt, war is a ‘given’ whenever there are political units who distinguish each other according to his celebrated friend/enemy criterion. As opposed to many other political thinkers who portray politics as servicing a common good, Schmitt’s concept of politics is inherently sectarian; war thus appears as a natural element of politics. 

Unlike Hobbes, Schmitt never contemplates the idea that there could ever be a state of total anarchy. Even civil war involves well-identified groups (CP, 32). He always sees organization as emerging with respect to war, and this is also true with respect to groups who are outwardly ‘anti-war.’

If pacifist hostility toward war were so strong as to drive pacifists into a war against nonpacifists, in a war against war, that would prove that pacifism truly possesses political energy because it is sufficiently strong to group men according to friend and enemy (CP, 36).

4. Comparative Similarity

While Schmitt doesn’t construct a fictional state of nature, he agrees with Hobbes that the looming threat of war motivates man’s behaviour in critical ways. Let’s compare passages from both Hobbes and Schmitt. 

For war consisteth not in battle only, or the act of fighting, but in a tract of time, wherein the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known (L, I, 13).

War is neither the aim nor the purpose nor even the very content of politics. But as an ever present possibility it is the leading presupposition which determines in a characteristic way human action and thinking and thereby creates a specifically political behavior (CP, 34).

These examples reveal the key similarity. For Hobbes and Schmitt, war is not the fact of actual fighting but an aggressive suspiciousness and preparedness for conflict. People are battle-ready, even if not at war. Military conflict doesn’t have independent meaning although it forms a critical element in their outlooks. Hobbesian or Schmittian philosophy sans guerre would be incomprehensible but it would be wrong to see them as reducing politics to militarism. War is the most important consideration for men or political entities but it is subordinate to either (a) the will of man to live at liberty, for Hobbes, or (b) the natural tendency of groups, for Schmitt, to live within the political domain. 

5. Radical Differences 

War is vital to both theories as a perspective but in radically different ways. War for Hobbes is a ‘floor’ to which men can sink in the absence of fear with respect to a common power. Even those who know little of Hobbes have probably read the following lament concerning war in a news article.

In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short (L, I, 13).

War is merely destruction and uncertainty for Hobbes. His theory recognizes war but is concerned with removing its spectre. By contrast, war for Schmitt is the climax of human existence.

There always are concrete human groupings which fight other concrete human groupings … The high points of politics are simultaneously the moments in which the enemy is, in concrete clarity, recognized as the enemy (CP, 67).

Whereas Hobbes consistently views war as offering a window into man’s psychological deficiencies, Schmitt shows little interest in exploring this aspect. War is an ongoing political reality and is accepted as a given. Men are inherently political; war comes with political territory and is reduced to a means. Schmitt has no interest in abolishing war, forms a realistic view of its existence, and at times glorifies it. Hobbes generally conceptualizes war as a nihilistic condition and he condemns it.  

6. Conclusion

It is perhaps not surprising that Schmitt shows a Hobbesian influence in his assessment of war. His theory of authoritarianism, for example, is largely Hobbesian. Yet Schmitt’s concept of politics is radically dissimilar to Hobbes but the two men yet find common ground in using and conceptualizing war in near identical ways within their variant philosophies. 

The History of an End

I have just published my latest book, Controversy and Crisis, the Question Concerning the Unquestioned in Ibn Khaldun, Machiavelli and Carl Schmitt

The idea in the book is that politics can be understood as a dialectic of what I call the unquestioned and questions. 

By unquestioned we can think of the sacred in religion, or the reverence shown to a person in a monarchy or principles such as the rule of law or popularity in a republic.When this authority is largely unquestioned, we say it enjoys legitimacy. 

Invariably any unquestioned source of power benefits some people and discriminates against others. Those others then ask questions of established power. These others are arranged into groups but frame their objections to power in moral terms. As is said in the book “Politics is social manoeuvring disguised as ethics.

To avoid revolution, those in authority must rationalize their power and fortify themselves. While this avoids revolution it also means that their grip on public affairs is weakened. The process is continually repeated. There is controversy and crisis, there are responses to controversy and crisis, disaster is averted, the cycle starts again. At some stage the balancing act between maintaining power and pretending that power doesn’t exist, that it’s just natural, reaches a fatal point and there is usurpation, overthrow, and revolution. 

Western and Islamic philosophers, both of whom are steeped in the Greek tradition, have generally explored the idea that politics, controversies, and crises, can be ended. They have believed in the unquestioned. The general ideological, intellectual, sociological, and historical trends of the last several centuries can all be categorized in a box marked: The end of controversy and crisis.

A famous exposition was given bythe celebrated neo–conservative philosopher Francis Fukuyama (b. 1952) who captured a prevailing mood in his book The End of History And the Last Man (1992). He admitted to the imperfections of liberal democracy, but was convinced that it yet was the best way to balance competing and conflicting principles such as liberty and equality. 

Not surprisingly, endimg history has been accompanied by a desire to end all forms of domination by humans over other humans (i.e. an ending of authority). The words ‘crisis’ and ‘controversy’ may still be used, but they will inaccurately depict situations that will more precisely be.described as events that are slight wrinkles on the fabric of the ‘new’ history. 

The three intellectuals who form the focus of my new publication rebelled against this tradition. Ibn Khaldun, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Carl Schmitt were realists. They did not seek to make  controversy and crisis history. They appreciated that authority would want to make itself unquestioned but they were also aware that such policies were ultimately fatal. 

For Ibn Khaldun, imprudent taxation was the fatal mistake, for Machiavelli, it was allowing corruption to set into a political system, and for Schmitt the death-blow was when the sovereign refused to take vital decisions. 

As an example, let’s look at Ibn Khaldun. He applied a five step model of dynastic power with the concept of ‘asabiyyah – loosely translated as group–feeling or group–ethic – at its heart. 

Step 1: Once a dynasty loses ‘asabiyyah, it is overtaken by a rival with greater ‘asabiyyah

Step 2: The insurgents are foreign and thus their usurpation is controversial. To rationalize their power and make the dynasty unquestioned the incumbents first consolidate their rule. This is accomplished largely through just dealings and light burdens being placed on the populace. 

Step 3: Then, the dynasty purges itself of its former supporters and finds new clients who will support it. This is to avoid crises stemming from internal power struggles.

Step 4: Later, the demands of the court outstrip those of fair and equitable dealings. More laws, taxes, and intrusions are needed to de–personalize power but are also products of an inner corruption and decadence. 

Step 5: Finally, the dynasty is ripe for overthrow and can no longer call on the same store of zeal as its competitor who overthrows it.

For Ibn Khaldun, but also in different ways for Machiavelli and Schmitt, its not the end of history, but the end of a world. They asked disturbing and important questions about politics, questions that are especially relevant today because we are aware that history has not ended.

New Book Released!

Its been a long, hard slog but finally I have put my 5th book out there into the publishing ether. My new work – entitled “Controversy and Crisis: The Question Concerning the Unquestioned in Ibn Khaldun, Machiavelli, and Carl Schmitt” has seen the light of Kindle. I focus on three of the greatest philosophers in human history and set them in opposition to the broad swathe of Muslim, Christian, and other intellectuals who have sought to ‘end history’ through politics. In the book, I argue that Ibn Khaldun, Machiavelli, and Carl Schmitt, adopted a realistic approach to politics which yet was formal and did not deprecate civilized life. They were anarchists, but not nihilists. The book consistently explores themes of judgement, authority, revolution, establishment, and uncertainty to produce a compelling narrative. And its great value to buy as well!

The Question Concerning Ibn Khaldun, Machiavelli, and Carl Schmitt

Sometime next month (February 2018) I am planning to publish my fifth book. Here is some info presented as a conversation I am having with myself (I do that a lot!).  

What is the name of the book?  Controversy and Crisis: The Question Concerning the Unquestioned in Ibn Khaldun, Machiavlli, and Carl Schmitt.

What is it about? It’s about how Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) and Carl Schmitt (1888-1985) rebelled against the political establishment in their thinking and about how right I think they were. I’m kinda shoe-horning my own beliefs into theirs but being faithful to their philosophy.

Explain the book in terms of the title: Key words are ‘question’ and ‘unquestioned.’ Every political authority – assuming it is the real authority – tries to remove questions from its rule. But under any form of government you will have losers and winners. The losers will question authority with the hopes of gaining power themselves. Invariably, authority must constantly adapt to changing political shifts and try to make itself unquestioned. So there are ‘controversies’ and ‘crises.’ The triumvirate are called upon to describe this basic phenomenon in politics.

Many writers on politics have addressed controversies and crises. How do your so-called ‘triumvirate’ differ from the pack?  Most other authors on political matters would approach the challenge of political disputes in two ways; either (a) disputes will always exist but can be domesticated, or (b) disputes can be done away with. Our triumvirate not only integrated questions into their discourse but they recognized the value of controversies and crises as a permanent and necessary feature of politics.

Who is the audience for the book? A well-educated readership, but not an academic one. I have tried to make the book as accessible as possible but it will be a challenging read in places. So, a mature audience who is prepared to read a few pages, put the book down and absorb what I’ve said, read on a bit more, etc …

Roughly how long is it? At the moment it is a little less than 250 pages, standard book size, about 250 words per page. It is relatively short.

Price? No one buys my books so I usually sell them at cost price, about $8.50 for paperback and 99 c for e-books.

This has been me in conversation with me. Further details over the next few weeks. I should have two more books after this out in quick succession as well. Stay tuned. 

New Book Announcement: Carl Schmitt, Ibn Khaldun, Politics, and Economics



Following up on the previous books I have authored, I am now working on a new book which both explores the political and politico-economic thought of two of the greatest thinkers in history, Carl Schmitt (1888-1985) and Ibn Khaldun (1338-1408), and which will furthermore attempt to build on the work of these two great thinkers with respect to the realist and existential nature of their philosophy.


Here is a brief synopsis:

Overview: Ibn Khaldun, who was born in Spain but lived mostly in North Africa, was a dominant thinker within the Western Islamic world. His book Al Muqadimmah, released around 1400 CE, is a sweeping masterpiece, replete with theories of history, sociology, culture, and economics. It is by far the most advanced book of its kind for the time it was written, and its breadth of vision was probably not matched in Europe until the Enlightenment.

The Andalusian scholar is especially renowned for developing a theory of political history that was groundbreaking. Central for his interpretation of political dynamics was the concept of ‘Asabiyyah, loosely translated as ‘group-feeling.’ Economics also held a central place in Ibn Khaldun’s overall world-view. His theories on economics were novel and Adam Smith very much re-stated arguments of Ibn Khaldun for European audiences in the late 18th century. As well as his fundamental economic theories, Ibn Khaldun perceived the interface of economics and politics as crucial. A polity derived strength and fostered its own downfall by the way it managed both public finances and the clients who were drawn to the rulers for financial reasons.


Centuries after Ibn Khaldun, in the 20th century, a giant of European realist philosophy emerged. Carl Schmitt, who was trained as a jurist, increasingly gained notoriety in the 1920s for his seeming disparagement of the youthful Weimar republic. During the first half of his career, Schmitt’s reputation underwent a shift (or even a sea-change) from one of notoriety to that of permanent infamy for his association with the National Socialist movement. Even without his support for the National Socialists, Schmitt likely would still be reviled by many progressives for his critiques of liberalism. He argued that liberalism is inconsistent with a truly political representation, an authoritarian form of government (which Schmitt appeared to support), and Schmitt even put forward the charge that liberalism was an intellectual movement running counter to democratic theory. Despite serving as Crown Jurist of the Third Reich and despite his anti-liberalism, Schmitt’s prescient insights were rehabilitated a few decades after WWII and he began to be appreciated once more by thinkers across the political spectrum. Today, his reputation remains sullied by his political leanings but he is also widely respected as someone who identified the precise nature of political challenges facing modern nation-states.


Like Ibn Khaldun, Schmitt made serious contributions to many fields of study, one of those being a celebrated discourse in The Concept of the Political (1927). Furthermore, Schmitt also produced a critique concerning the interaction of economics with politics although, unlike Ibn Khaldun, he didn’t formulate an economic theory per se, i.e. formulate speculations concerning the creation and distribution of wealth. And, interestingly, somewhat of a tenuous link does exist between Schmitt and the earlier Islamic tradition: Schmitt’s student Leo Strauss – who produced a stunning critique of The Concept of the Political, an analysis which went so far as to shock and surprise Schmitt – used the age of Islamic philosophy as a reference point for his own criticisms of modern Western thought, with both Strauss and the Medieval Muslim and Jewish philosophers taking Plato as their point of departure. Strauss had been deeply affected by Schmitt’s contemplations on politics and argued that a pre-modern, i.e. a Medieval Islamo-Judaic philosophy, was key to grasping human existence as instantiated in political life.


Preliminary Outline of the Book: In these days of heightened tension between Western Christendom and Islam, this project will aim to compare and contrast both the political and economic thought of Carl Schmitt and Ibn Khaldun. Both characterized politics as an attrition-based and conflictual field of study that had at its core irreducible group dynamics. Both can be said to have approached politics existentially and realistically.

Furthermore, both philosophers shared a genuine concern regarding the infiltration of economics into the political sphere, with Ibn Khaldun even formulating a theory of political economy. However, while Ibn Khaldun’s economic theories have often been examined, Schmitt’s own speculations on how the economic intersects with the political has often taken a back seat to other sources of the ‘dilution’ of the political, such sources of dilution being, for example, liberalism, communism, or technology.

As well as exploring how the two thinkers conceptualized political history and the role of economics within politics, the study will both serve to critique liberalism (the intellectual movement which brings economics to the foreground of politics) and determine how Ibn Khaldun and Schmitt can help us to conceptualize a truly group-based politics. This aspect of the study is vital because politics for the last several hundred years in the Western tradition has been dominated by an individualism which portrays humans as only needing a State to tend to their material needs and wants, and, above all, to provide security (security being the real essence of the State). This view is in opposition to that of humans integrally being part of a political fabric, or perhaps even being the fabric itself. Let it be said that it is the assumption of the author that the individualism of liberalism is fundamentally an incorrect approach to politics and treats solitary humans, as opposed to groups, as the objects of political science and philosophy.


Aims: Why write a book about two thinkers separated by such a historical gulf? I am writing this book out of a conviction that the liberal ideal of individualism mediated by a strong yet non-interventionist state ignores the genuine need of humans to realise themselves within a group and have found from my research that Ibn Khaldun and Carl Schmitt are two thinkers who can provide the intellectual foundation for an alternative to the misleading dilemmas and contradictions of liberalism. Also, we need to build on the foundations offered by Schmitt and Ibn Khaldun to both critique modern liberalism and construct a genuine political theory based on the theories of the two thinkers.

Therefore, this study has several aims:

1)     To compare and contrast how Ibn Khaldun and Schmitt perceived group dynamics and its projection into the political sphere.

2)     To also compare and contrast how both thinkers perceived the interaction of economics and politics.

3)     To identify whether a common theme emerges, one that can help us produce a general theory of politics and/or the interface between politics and economics.

4)     Criticize the theories of both and see where improvements can be made so as to promote a genuinely politicized group-ethic.

5)     Characterize challenges faced by the political theories of both; Schmitt met the obstacle of liberal individualism while for Ibn Khaldun it is of interest to probe how his theories were contextualized within the framework of the Muslim believer’s association within the broader religious community and the believer’s need for personal salvation.

6)     Critique individualism using the theories of both marquee exponents of group-feeling.

7)     Produce a political theory where Schmitt and Ibn Khaldun provide the ‘point of departure.’

Concluding Remarks: It is expected that the study will be released possibly a year from todays date, i.e. sometime around the end of 2017. In the meantime, I will strive to keep visitors to this blog abreast of any research and developments.