Carl Schmitt, Leo Strauss Meet the Hipster

Carl Schmitt has to be understood as a guy obsessed about order. As a young conservative intellectual in the Weimar Republic he was concerned with the question how a modern state derives its legitimacy, as the influence of religion and the church had waned, monarchies had been overthrown, no consensus and self-conception of democracy had been established and (bourgeois, capitalistic) democracy was under siege from left and right – in such a turbulent age it was actually no mean question about how the modern state could actually be grounded. After the Nazis took power, Schmitt became a member of the NSDAP and although his career suffered a major setback already in 1936, he remained „Kronjurist“ of the Third Reich. After the defeat of the Reich he ruminated, somehow enigmatically, about himself and his role in history (with important writings that expose the core of his thinking been published posthumeously). At the core, Schmitt was a conservative Catholic and his central obsession was that human action had to be grounded in the divine relevation, i.e. in the law of God. He opposed relativism, liberalism and modernity and held antisemitic views. One of his best-known concepts is that the political is about the relationship between friend and foe, and therein an autonomous, and primary, sphere of human existence. In a modern, „pacified“, democratic world, the primacy of the political would easily be forgotten, but could easily break into reality again, as a principal, fundamental conflict within the community (or between communities) of what is, fundamentally, right and what is wrong (respectively about who is friend and who is foe). As tensions mount, the sovereign could call for emergency rule (and, to Schmitt, he is the actual sovereign who can impose emergency rule). Schuh once called Schmnitt a „razor-sharp“ thinker: that is actually what he was – with the apparent consequence that Schmitt was rather not very vocal when it came to think about nuances and that plurality and vagueness are things that make up reality as well (also he was not very vocal when it came to depict what a friend is, but concentrated on outlining the qualities of the foe). In such respects, liberal, postmodern thinking is a nemesis on Schmitt – but Schmitt is also a nemesis for the liberal and postmodern approach. At any rate, Schmitt was a relevant and original political thinker – and when Kojève visited Germany once he said that he would only go to Plettenberg, as Schmitt was the only person in Germany worthy of intellectual conversation. When he was examined after the second World War about his collusion with Nazism, Schmitt describd himself to be an „intellectual adventurer“.

Leo Strauss has to be understood as someone concerned about the role of philosophy and the philosopher vs the realm of the political. That is, in fact, the central question of the oeuvre of Strauss. The political/public realm is where faith and opinions (and, notably, interests) dominate and complexity is not very well understood nor welcomed – the zeal of philosophy is to find out and establish truth (which the public sphere of course also wants and needs), hence the relation between the philosopher and the political is a potentially conflictual one: And Strauss` work mainly elaborates on that conflict in its many facets. Strauss placed great emphasis on the hermeneutic principle that a thinker has to be understood the way he understood himself – and not be abused as a toy to underline one´s own peculiar opinion. Likewise, Strauss also considered the philosopher, and the role of philosophy in the political realm, as one of questioning authority in order to search for truth, to escape from a Plato´s cave of wrong our outdated concepts and perceptions – therein, Strauss also had some reservations against political philosophy as establishing conclusive theory (that somehow longs for totalitarianism of itself and may be supportive to authority) but rather was affirmative of philosophy as a permanent questioning: Socrates was an important figure for Strauss. Strauss´ works were comments on other philosophers and he refuted „originality“ in favor of adressing the great and everlasting questions and truths which are, therefore, anonymous (he said that the gravity of a thinker does not lie in his originality but in his capability to adress the great fundamental questions). Like Schmitt, Strauss was a conservative who opposed liberalism and modernity in favor of divine revelation which alone can be absolute guidance for human action. Law also had to be based on natural law, a sentiment that includes elitism. As a community is made out of individuals of different talent, Strauss voices for a meritocracy of the most talented individuals, of „gentlemen“, as democracy leads to populism and decline – the philospher is not wanted by the hostile and envious masses, so the spirit of the philosopher has to be institutionalised by enlightened leaders. The American neoconservatives drew some inspiration from Strauss, although also Strauss, like Schmitt, is a more comphrehensive guy. Strauss commented on Schmitt´s book about the political as realm of distinction between friend and foe, largely favorable (Strauss was a Jew and Schmitt a Nazi at that time) and tried a synthesis with Hobbes´ political philosophy (i.e. that order has to be imposed on a state of virtual anarchy among humans). Both Schmitt and Strauss saw conflicts between men as something unavoidable and profound, as inescapable and out of man´s control, hence as something „metaphysical“.

The hipster cannot be adequately understood. Despite it is being claimed that this phenomenon with its allegedly striking appearance is the big thing of our time (although his heyday he may have already had in the past of the last decade), I cannot sense it so easily. I deliberately walked through hipsteresque places like Neubau or the Museumsquartier recently again, and then there is also the Brunnenmarkt or the Karmelitermarkt and stuff, and although it is frequently quite fancy there, I cannot see stereotypical hipsters (supposedly with beards, undercuts etc.) there, nor even bobos (Vienna is, of course, not a hipster capital like Berlin or, as they say, Portland, Oregon, but if I understand this correct we are talking about a cultural phenomenon that has allegedly spread at least over the Western world). Of course, I do not see hipsters, nor people in general, I only see Buddhas when I look into the world =“> And it annoys me how negativistic people are of each other: Georg opens a new bar and S. and O. and, and, and… spread negativity: Look at the shitty bobo bar! – although it is a quite casual bar and not specifically boboesque! Such a thing happens all the time among humans! – Of course, upon reflection, I also do not feel completely at home in diverse fancy places, although they are not hipsteresque to me; as far as I can see it is where a younger and relatively educated audience dwells, which, however, cannot be subsumed to be bobo or hipster – with the indication that the bobo and the hipster do not actually exist. I find it sad that I do not have a true overview over the social realm, but if someone claims he has, it might just be a hallucination, for instance people complaining about other people, that they are under par where, in reality, they just do not conform to their worldview, the old generation complaining about the youth, and the like… What I hear about the young generation is that they are indeed unpolitical and quite focused about their career and their looks and their lifestyle. It is not a rebellious but quite conformist youth (which doesn´t mean that such a thing would be completely wrong). Bertl, who is a bit older than me but studies at the university now claims there isn´t much to conversate with the youngsters: Though they are pessimistic about the future, they are optimistic about their personal future (which might be accurate) and, in general, „bei denen geht´s um nichts mehr“. They are not rebels, do not adress society at all, like we did, they are private and bourgeois and they do not have any message to tell. – Then there is this thing called hipster black metal! I also cannot sense the vital ingredients of metal – like obscurity, challenging attitude, schizotypal creativity, antisocial stance, outsiderdom and individuality et al. – in there. It is (hipsteresque) independent musicians that have conquered some metal style but do not transport a metal message! It is, obviously, about individuality, but not about an obscure and rebellious, truly schizotypal individuality of the outsider! It does happen at some fancy, elitist margins of society, not outside society, like a concert of a true band like Rotten Sound or Brutal Truth. Hence, it is not actually a metal culture. (Note also that the hipster does not want to be a hipster and when he asked whether he is one, he will decline.)

If we try to understand the hipster however, we refer to the common narrative of the hipster being someone who tries to pronounce his fancy individuality in a millenial age. He is, and wants to be, socially included as well as excluded. In reality, he is socially included and has no desire for true outsiderdom although usually comes up with such a style as a means of elitist, dandyesque destinction. He is avant-gardist as he longs to be the first to spot new, fancy trends and he wants to be cool. He usually does not create art but longs to work in the „creative industry“ and likes to see himself rather like a curator or an initiated consumer of art. He embraces both high and (supposedly) low level art and culture, is heterogenous and eclectic, but not as a natural manifestation of true creativity but as a means of distinction. He opposes the „mainstream“, not because of the void it carries but because he wants to be special. He is not very political and career-motivated – which need not be a bad thing, but often is. He is flexible and, actually, gas-like, as he does not stick to anything in substance and everything becomes exchangeable and disposable to him and he does away with things when they cease to be regarded as „cool“. As he is not fundamentalist, he is ironic – in a likeable way as irony is intelligent, resisitant to a totalitarian and absolutist sentiment and pluralistic, and unlikeable as it runs against true commitment and true intelligence which is about sorting the real thing out. Despite his ironic attitude, the hipster may be quite arrogant or at least blasé (like the avant-gardist or dandy, but without creating true elite culture). He cares about quality of food and may open up fancy restaurants (which is also a plus) but may not care much about animal rights. Sociologically, the hipster may be interpreted as an expression of a homogenisation of society because of increasingly blurred traditional (class) distinctions and stratifications (i.e. the hipster actually being bourgeois, bohemian and exploited proletarian all alike) while, however, distinctions and stratifications are still in place (and are, on the one hand, denied, but also fiercely affirmed and established by the hipster). In terms of gender the somehow feminine/androgynous appearance of the hipster signifies the softening of traditional gender roles. Someone has said, with his zeal for individuality, the hipster is an expression that true individuality is less and less common (or more and more difficult to achieve, or that true or aristocratic individuality or genius is not what is wanted in our time). – As far as I can see there are friendly hipster (?) bars/shops etc. with extremely friendly hipsters (usually females) as well as there are arrogant and unfriendly ones. I recently read a book by Philipp Ikrath (Die Hipster) in which he ruminated that the hipster (who is a youngster now but may occupy positions of power in society in the future i.e. be the coming ruling class and therefore is a relevant object to study) with his non-binding nature is the end of all politics – as solidified positions do not really matter anymore and everything becomes exchangeable, politics in the traditional (and, maybe, any) sense loses its meaning or at least significance. And that was the main motive for writing this note as it sprang to my mind how this would relate to a view on politics as we have it with Schmitt (and Strauss)! 

To philosophise about the hipster, Ikrath comes up with Richard Rorty´s ideal type of the ironic. Opposed to the metaphysicist, who sticks to a concept of absolute truth that governs it all and of life being subjected to subjugate to that absolute truth, including the possibility of personal sacrifice, the ironic denies that there ever is such an absolute truth. Which does not mean that the ironic is a nihilist, just that he would refute absolutist claims. The ironic is constructivistic, embraces plurality and is lenient and tolerant. He is aware of the relativity of all being, and there is no „jargon der eigentlichkeit“ as something the metaphysicist strives for so deeply. Irony works against usurpation and absorption (Vereinnahmung), also against oneself´s possible claims of usurpation, on the other hand there may be a loss of standards, liability, resposibility and true commitment. So much for the philosophy of/about the hipster.

Think of, now, how especially Carl Schmitt would react and what he would do if confronted with someone like the hipster! – I had to smile into myself when I read Ikrath´s book, and the rumination that the hipster is the end of all politics: Indeed, Schmitt with his pronouced (and, I guess, somehow narcissistic and edgy) friend-foe dichotomy and his admiration for hard and sharp decisions! How would he try to grasp the hipster when the hipster is evaporating, or just innocently smiling to him, like a different life form, and then innocently escape like a colourful and innocent butterfly from Schmitt´s angry and nervous grasp, with his latent indecisiveness and not actually knowing pronounced friend and foe demarcations as he embraces everything that is cool at the moment and just opposes anything that is uncool, without regard to the substance so that things are all the time in flux? Schmitt was vocal against „the Romantic“ i.e. a kind of aetheste who is fond of the colourful multifacetedness of the world and his own genius subjectivity that embraces this colourful multifacetedness without, however, engaging into the realm of authentic decisions (i.e. the realm of politics) – there is some allusion to the hipster in there. While such an existence may be pleasant for itself and intense, the political life is actually more intense since it is about profound decisions. In general, the self-empowerment of man is to Schmitt the original sin, and through his eyes the constructivistic hipster with his genius subjectivity may be a false replacement of the true God (again, without however possibly the hipster ever coming up with such an idea and therefore being very confused about Schmitt). Schmitt and Strauss are „metaphysicists“ par excellence and directly opposed to the ironic (hipster). Both were opposed to modernity and the state of bourgeois „security“, i.e. that life has become merely a quest for a pleasant, consumerist life. Both thought that would deprive man of his true inner essence, and of his nobility. A central idea/sentiment of Schmitt was that there should be space for the „anspruchsvolle moralische Entscheidung“ (sophisticated/challenging ethical decision) in which the individual reveals his competence and nobility. Unfortunately, in the case of Schmitt his „anspruchsvolle ethische Entscheidung“ was joining the NSDAP, and his quest for a „Jargon der Eigentlichkeit“ made him, and others like Heidegger or Marinetti, prone to suspect that „authenticity“ and profoundness in Nazism/fascism because they thought that within modernist „confusion“ it is a „real“ thing. Strauss will not be likely to view the hipster as an elitist „gentleman“ who should govern, I guess he would be unhappy about the hipster, yet probably more interesting and open-minded in what he would have to say about the hipster. If I am correct, Schmitt admitted that modern democracy and the Weimar Republic in fact weren´t so bad after all. And, under neoliberalism, the hipster does not actually live in a state of „security“.

A Guide to Fucking Hipster Girls

A while ago I started to write my fourth work of literature, „Die Reise nach Süden“ (Journey to the South) which is about a dream-like scenario in which I, the genius writer, am commissioned by transcendent authorities to go to Ebelsberg/exurbia of the town in the south to teach the people there „the word“, some kind of ominous lesson (I have not yet figured out, and I also stopped writing on it soon thereafter since time and the book market isn´t ripe for a work like the Journey anyway – and me neither (since the message probably will be my final conclusion about life at all which I have not reached so far)). In this place, people live in three blocks of flats, there is an eternal day; it is, allegedly, the end of culture and the triumph of pleasant civilisation, where nothing meaningful about man can be said and no meaningful culture and art is possible anymore. An allusion that may be to Nietzsche´s „last man“ (and Schmitt, Strauss and others say respectively on that behalf), a type of man whose goal is to live a pleasant life, in a levelled, homogenous society, and who is culturally impotent since he does not want to transcend himself anymore and to bring sacrifices to his art; a human being that has lost his connex to a greater cause, or to a great other (be it God, the nation, communism or transcendant art), solely revolving around himself and harmless self-actualisation devoid of true substance, as the triumph of Western enlightenment (people from more collectivist societies may critisise it from a collectivist sentiment). You have „Ich-Verpanzerung“, that Schmitt depsises (and human subjectivity, for itself, if it does not relate to something bigger than itself, is actually in a number of cases quite feeble). – Nietzsche however said that the last man will be a kind of negative of the overman, and in the realm of the last man there will be the incipit Zarathustra. Let us assume that the overman will be a genius subjectivity that embraces the colourful multifacetedness of the world (the „Romantic“, as described by Schmitt) and will be above politics, yet also able of „anspruchsvolle moralische Entscheidung“ as he embodies the quasi-divine law, as he naturally sticks to what is right and opposes what is wrong, socratically, as he does not have a particular ideology and is an ironic as well as a metaphysicist all alike (since the relative and the absolute mirror each other in a multifaceted and occasionally contradictory realm of being and absolute moral asks for some moral relativism, etc.) (Kierkegaard, an overman, was both a staunch metaphysicist as well as a distinct ironic, which confused people so much that they slightly began to understand him only thirty years after his death). Concerning real dichotomies and the question of friend and foe he will acknowledge that in the human realm and as a motive and movens in history you have both (as probably metaphysical categories, as Schmitt said), but he will, as the wise man, and as the Weltgeist (= as the virtual fulfillment of history) never speak himself out of hostility (as Kojève wrote in letter to Schmitt (without however going as far as to reflect that question on the overman). He will stabilise himself in his own complexity and, as he embraces all otherness, he will be his own Great Other within himself.

Neither the hipster nor the metaphysicist nor the ironic nor the overman are completely there in reality, they are some kind of abstractions and ideal types with which we can philosophise about relationships between things and write casual-serious notes like this one.