The Mysterious Meeting between Carl Schmitt and Josef Redlich
16 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2019 Last revised: 25 Apr 2019
Date Written: March 1, 2019
In 1934, Carl Schmitt, then the crown jurist of the Third Reich, writes in an essay titled National Socialist Legal Thought about “[a] conversation with a world-famous, world travelled, experienced scholar of more than seventy years of age from the United States [which] belongs to the major experiences and encounters I have had as a jurist in the service of National Socialism.” Schmitt never revealed the identity of the scholar whom he met. Based on Schmitt’s diaries, I reveal that the scholar whom Schmitt met was Josef Redlich. Born to a Jewish family in 1869, Redlich was the Fairchild Professor of Comparative Public Law at Harvard Law School at the time he met Schmitt in 1931. According to Schmitt’s 1934 essay, the conversation focused on insights relating to the indeterminacy of legal norms as well as on a nihilist understanding of the era. Yet Schmitt drew conclusions from the encounter which hardly correspond to Redlich’s views. My essay first puts the ideas that Schmitt adopted from his encounter with the “American scholar” in the context of the era. Second, I examine Schmitt’s diaries as well as other relevant materials in order to prove that Redlich is the scholar whom Schmitt met. In the process, I exclude Roscoe Pound, the Dean of Harvard Law School at that time, who was the previous “prime suspect” for this encounter with Schmitt. Even after my discovery of the identity of the scholar to whom Schmitt refers in his essay, the story of Schmitt and Redlich’s encounter remains mysterious: the ideas of a scholar of Jewish decent, who believed in an Austrian multi-national, federal state, inspired and played a profound role in the formulation of a blatantly antisemitic essay promoting National Socialist legal thought by the crown jurist of the Nazi regime. After examining the contradictions between Redlich and Schmitt’s positions, I offer an explanation for why Schmitt viewed this encounter as so influential on his road to National Socialism.
Keywords: Josef Redlich, Carl Schmitt, National Socialism, Nazi, Nihilism, Legal Realism, Roscoe Pound, Indeterminacy
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