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The Challenge of Carl Schmitt: Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and International Law


MWP & HEC Conference

European University Institute
29-30 June 2009


The German jurist Carl Schmitt (1888–1985) has earned a reputation as one of the most notorious and influential political thinkers of the twentieth century. After rising to prominence during the 1920s, he served as a close adviser to conservative nationalist politicians during the end phase of the Weimar Republic, and afterwards played a prominent role in legitimating the early legal regime of Nazi Germany.

Schmitt’s critique of the international rule of law, first framed during the interwar period, has come to be regarded as one of the most devastating attacks on modern liberal democracy. In spite of his morally compromised career, Schmitt has continued to exert a profound—and some would argue worrying—influence on German and European intellectual life, and his legal and political thought has helped to shape the development of critical legal realism in North America.

In the post-Cold War environment, Schmitt’s thought has also become a standard point of reference for scholars who grapple with the challenges of a new international rule of law and with the problems that beset liberal approaches to international relations. Critics of Western exceptionalism, global capitalism and the Anglo-American rule of law have frequently cited Schmitt’s ideas, in particular his claim that the language of humanitarianism only serves to mask pure power interests. At the same time, those who wish to defend the expansion of the Western human rights tradition have found themselves compelled to address Schmitt’s work.

This conference, scheduled for June 29-30, 2009, will subject Schmitt’s intellectual legacy to critical examination; each participant will present a 50-minute paper addressing specific aspects of Schmitt’s work in relation to just war, human rights regimes, humanitarian intervention and the global rule of law.



EUI Organizing Committee:

Susan Karr, Max Weber Fellow, HEC

Joshua Derman, Max Weber Fellow, HEC

Karin Tilmans, Coordinator of the Max Weber Programme

Page last updated on 18 August 2017

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