Book Review of JMC Fellow Sam Zeitlin’s Schmitt Translation

JMC Fellow Sam Zeitlin’s (University of California, Berkley) translation of Carl Schmit’s Land and Sea: A World-Historical Meditation (Telos Press) was recently reviewed by Aaron Zack in the Claremont Review of Books.

“Anchors Away”


America rules the waves. We send our forces where we want, when we want. But, for the first time since WWII, we will soon face a technologically advanced, massively wealthy, determined adversary. Today China tests us in the South and East China Seas. Given China’s trading interests, the challenge is unlikely to end there. China will not accept America’s naval hegemony, and America will not accept China’s. Understanding the Chinese challenge requires asking questions about sea power we haven’t had to ask for 70 years.

Telos Press’s new edition of Carl Schmitt’s Land und Meer: Eine weltgeschichtliche Betrachtung (Land and Sea: A World-Historical Meditation) provides an essential guide for understanding sea power. Schmitt (1888-1985) was a brilliant, creative, and psychologically damaged lawyer and political theorist. As a Catholic Rhinelander from a modest background, he was a political and social outsider in the Prussian, Protestant-dominated Wilhelmine Reich. The open, liberal—and crisis-ridden—Weimar Republic, with its radical parties, private militia, and political violence, provided Schmitt with both an opportunity and a purpose. Schmitt challenged the liberal-constitutional state’s capacity to respond to internal challenges and sought to ‘repoliticize’ the ‘depoliticized’ liberal legal polity, by reminding his fellow citizens of the inescapable distinction between “friend and enemy.”

Schmitt supported a federal executive strong enough to forestall Weimar’s political disintegration at the hands of anti-republican Nazis and Communists. He associated with conservative, aristocratic soldiers and politicians, who hoped to use—and control—the Nazis. But having legally entered government, the Nazis utilized both extra-legal terror and legal manipulation to sweep away restraints. Schmitt joined the party in May 1933—three months after Hitler came to power—and actively promoted its odious, anti-Semitic laws and propaganda. If one sups with the devil, one must have a very long spoon. Schmitt’s was too short. Aligned with Hermann Göring, Schmitt was resented as an opportunist and threatened by lawyers associated with Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich. Forced from office in 1936—Göring’s influence protected him from a worse fate—he continued teaching at the University of Berlin. As Hitler increasingly ruled by fiat, Schmitt turned from domestic legal and political theory and focused his formidable intellect on international politics and law.

Land and Sea is Schmitt’s “history of the battle of sea powers against land powers and of land powers against sea powers.” Humans, he notes, are by nature land dwellers. We call our planet “Earth,” though water covers most of its surface. Our natural attachment to a particular portion of the planet is integral to the healthy, conservative values of family, nation, and the moral order.

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