Chinese intellectuals and Carl Schmitt

Two notes on Chinese establishment intellectuals’ ever tighter embrace of the theories of the key supporter of the Nazis, the law professor Carl Schmitt, infamous for enthusiastically making up legal arguments to defend Hitler’s extra-judicial killings of political opponents.

  1. Jackson T. Reinhardt writes about “Totalitarian Friendship: Carl Schmitt in Contemporary China,” Inquiries, 2020, Vol. 12 No. 07.

Reinhardt highlights the literary scholar Zhang Xudong as one of the leading Chinese proponents of Schmitt, the authoritarian theorist of state power — and of the people as unanimously submitting to its self-appointed “Leadership,” the Communist Party:

” … literary theorist Zhang Xudong […] believes that it is impossible for China to construct an organic and particular cultural politics for China in “a [political] space delimited by Western universal values such as science, democracy, and liberty,” because Chinese cultural identity “often appears as an inferior mode [in Western discourse].” Zhang’s Chinese cultural politics is the reaffirmation of “Chinese subjectivity” which is “self-sufficient and not delimited by Western modernity.” The main content of this cultural politic is Schmittian homogeneity. To Zhang, Western values of market and political liberalism make “the genuine ideal of social equality in China… [impossible to] be realized.” This social equality occurs by aligning establishing and aligning a homogeneous character of the citizens in relation towards the state. Zhang concludes that only with the governing leadership of the Chinese Communist Party is China able to foster this egalitarian vision.” (Zhang is a Professor of Comparative Literature and East Asian Studies at NYU. His involvement in a censorship incident in a journal he edited, Frontiers of Literary Studies in China, was discussed on MCLC in late April 2019, in a thread on “Censorship in Chinese Studies.” The censorship, and Zhang’s defense of it, later led to Brill’s termination of publishing the journal).

  1. In a highly interesting thread on twitter, Sebastian Veg writes about the recent speech in Hong Kong by Peking University law professor Chen Duanhong, who was invited by the HK authorities to speak on the PRC “constitution day”, which he did, drawing on Carl Schmitt to welcome and justify the recent oppressive “National security” law. The thread in 12 parts is here.

Veg describes Chen as one of China’s most prominent Schmittian thinkers, and notes that the speech, titled “National/State Security and the Constitution,” “contains Chen’s most purely Schmittian pronouncement to date: ‘Without exaggeration, we may say that exclusiveness and the friend-enemy distinction is the essence of loyalty to the state & constitution’

The reduction of everybody to (the regime’s) “friends and enemies” is of course, as Jason Stanley points out in How Fascism Works: A Warning for the U.S., a hallmark of fascists everywhere. Indeed Chinese fascists/communists have no tolerance or patience for any diversity of opinion, or of identities. Indeed, this gross, but fundamentally characteristic intolerance (cf. my article in the Toronto Globe and Mail) is what we see both in the current regime’s cowardly suppression of Chinese cultural life, such as in the forced confession spectacles coerced by torture from Chinese intellectuals; as well as in the rape of Hong Kong, which targets the territory’s former status as a zone of liberty and freedom of expression; and even more in the ongoing genocide in Xinjiang, which the same regime is carrying out to exterminate the indigenous people’s native identity.

Further, the deepening enamoration of Chinese intellectuals with fascism, not least Communist establishment intellectuals like the ones mentioned here, is a highly interesting (and worrisome) example of the global phenomenon of the convergence of extremist left and extremist right (and of Communism and Fascism), which is currently playing out both in China, and beyond.


Magnus Fiskesjö,

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