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German Studies Lecture Series: “A Tiger's Leap into the Past” – Correspondences of Carl Schmitt and Jacob Taubes”

Lecture by Martin Treml, Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung Berlin
Between 1977 and 1980, after two decades of a intense, mutual, yet indirect acknowledgment, Jacob Taubes, philosopher of religion and rabbinically trained Jew, exchanged with Carl Schmitt, Nazi crown jurist and theorist of the state of exception, letters and postcards. Taubes as well as Schmitt are often regarded as charlatans and demonic manipulators, but both of them are also remembered by many as some of the intellectually and spiritually most fascinating figures they ever encountered. In any case, there is no doubt that Taubes has made major contributions to the scholarship of apocalyptic thinking and messianic gnosticism. He has taken both fields from the mere study of historical phenomena to a penetrating investigation into the dialectics of secularization and resacralization, into what is constitutive for what we call “religion.” In a similar way, Schmitt can be credited with fundamental insights into the relationship of theology and the study of law, between decision-making and the persistent difference between friend and enemy.
The intellectual dialogue between Taubes and Schmitt constituted by their correspondence took place before the background of a political, but also academic state of crisis in West Germany. The aftershocks of the late 1960s student movement were still evident in most
if not all of the country’s institutions and discourses. And the history of the shoah threw its dark shadow on their conversations. How could a Jewish survivor and someone, who had at least been temporarily involved into Nazi anti-Semitism, talk and write to each other?   
An answer may be found in Taubes’s and Schmitt’s discussions about ardent questions of political theology, such as Saint Paul as the first illiberal Jew, Thomas Hobbes as the thinker of world civil war avant la lettre, Erik Peterson and Leo Strauss as sharp critics of the work of Schmitt, and Walter Benjamin as a mutual reference point. All of these intersect with the central concerns of their respective thinking: the certainty of a liberating revelation; Catholicism as universal form; apocalyptical sentiment; the enduring power of the katechon versus the cold space of decision; the Bible as common ground beyond all difference.
The basis for this lecture has been given by the Taubes and Schmitt letters, which have been published by a team of historians, philosophers, and philologists in Germany in 2011. The lecturer is among them. These letters will be presented to a Stanford audience for the first time.



Tuesday, December 2, 2014. 12:00 PM




Department of German Studies