from Herodotus to globalisation


The basic intellectual problem is this: once you have defined the central issue of politics as the preservation of liberty within a political community, absolutism, fascism and religious fundamentalism can easily present themselves as phenomena of essentially negative interest. Yet fascism, for example, produced, in the writings of Carl Schmitt, a theorist of considerable power who provided a searing critique of parliamentary democracy. His definition of politics saw liberty as a distraction and revolved instead around the friend/foe distinction. One may disagree with this, but one has to take it seriously. Yet Ryan’s treatment of fascism and Nazism remains trapped within an older historiography that sees the most important thing about these movements as their irrationalism. Today most historians would regard their challenge to interwar liberalism as much more serious than this “irrationalism thesis” acknowledges. And as a result it seems downright odd to have a history of political thought that does not engage more fully with some of Schmitt’s ideas.

more from Mark Mazower at Prospect Magazine here.