New Books, 9/25/17

Marilynne Robinson’s newest collection of essays.

An appreciation and reconstruction of Elizabeth Anscombe’s moral philosophy.

Hugh Trevor-Roper’s writings about Nazi Germany.

The late Umberto Eco has decided to release a posthumous collection of essays.

Bob Pasnau’s book on epistemology.

A new book on premodern biblical exegesis.

Gabriel Reynolds’s book on the biblical foundations of the Quran.

Roger Scruton has written yet another book about conservatism.

Peter Green’s Odyssey translation is now forthcoming, following his Iliad.

More essays: Joseph Epstein’s.

Neo-Aristotelian perspectives on modern science, edited by Bill Simpson, Rob Koons, and Nicholas Teh.


Josef Pieper on Carl Schmitt

Now that I’ve had the honor of appearing in the pages of the Catholic Herald, writing on the second volume of Josef Pieper’s autobiography, I thought I’d share an excerpt from the first volume, No One Could Have Known:

At this time Carl Schmitt was also a frequent guest in Schranz’s house. Naturally I knew the “Third Reich’s constitutional lawyer” as (to his irritation) he was called, from my days as a law student. “Sovereign is he who gives judgment in the exceptional case”—phrases such as that were not easily forgotten. But until now I had not got to know the man any more closely. I was well aware of the inconceivably flagrant anti-Semitic statements he had made in the first years of the Nazi regime, and I did not see how any argument could justify them. Suddenly, however, he was sharply attacked in an article on constitutional issues in the Schwarzes Korps, the weekly paper of the SS, which threw him from the saddle. Overnight he had been dismissed from all Party offices. Since then, Dr. Schranz said, one could talk sensibly to him once again. —It was in fact a delight to his sparkling conversation. I immediately understood the fascination, for good and evil, that must have radiated from this academic teacher. But to attack his polished theses one needed considerable courage in facing banality. On the very first evening I asked him why, in his book on “the concept of the political” he had not written a syllable about the bonum commune, since the whole meaning of politics surely lay in the realization of the common good. He retorted sharply: “Anyone who speaks of the bonum commune is intent on deception.” Of course it was no answer; but it had the effect of initially disarming his opponent.

This man’s cynical attitude toward the world could probably be traced back to his earliest experiences. “ ‘Elite’? —That is a group of people who have the highest incomes and pay no taxes!” He seemed to delight in such formulations. He practically never spoke about his own experiences. Only once did he turn to me, as if he felt I needed enlightening in these matters, and say: “I know them all, these brown-shirted powers-that-be. Don’t imagine that any of them gives a fig for the famous Weltanschauung when it comes to holding power!” He also loved continually to apply irony to the “merely academic-humanistic world” as he mockingly put it; he had nothing but scorn for people who study the history of ideas and who, for instance, think they can interpret the “teaching” of the Stoa without adverting to the fact that a man like Seneca lived continually in danger of his life at Nero’s court and formulated his “philosophy” in that setting. I think that Carl Schmitt’s real strength lay in depicting such concrete historical situations. One unforgettable night, for instance, somewhat affected by our host’s excellent wine, he spoke of the difference between land and sea, between the law of the offshore and the law governing things found on terra firma; between a land fortress, which can honorably hoist a white flag, and a warship which, though landlubbers may regard it as a “floating fortress”, can never capitulate like fortresses on land, but only has the choice between victory or annihilation.

On the whole, however, these discussions never banished the uneasy feeling that what was interesting was given priority over what was true. I recalled the old dictum that the truth that nourishes and the brilliance of formulations seem to be incompatible. —All the same, when I heard of the witty elegance with which Carl Schmitt had managed to get himself an early release from internment after the war, it struck me as the kind of tribute that intellectual superiority—however “purely formal” it may be—can appropriately exact. Before the Russian commission he maintained that his allegedly Nazi past would have to be understood after the pattern of von Pettenkofer’s experiment. The examining officer, although apparently an educated man, naturally had no idea what he was talking about. Around the beginning of the century Max von Pettenkofer, a German scientist, put forward the thesis that infectious diseases were not caused by the bacillus alone; what was decisive was the human being’s susceptibility to disease. To prove this thesis, he drank a glass of water containing a whole culture of the cholera bacillus—and indeed, remained in good health, Carl Schmitt’s conclusion was this: “You see, I did the same thing. I have drunk the Nazi bacillus, but it did not infect me!”—which, of course, if it were true, would really and truly have made his conduct inexcusable. But they laughed in bewilderment and agreed to his release. That is, assuming the story was not invented and put about by Carl Schmitt himself.

Evidently even today (1968) the octogenarian has hardly changed. In the latest edition of the German Who’s Who one reads that his “hobby” is collecting “unusual rhymes and unreal conditional clauses”. I am afraid that that, too, is more “interesting” than true.

New Books, 9/13/17

Anthony Kaldellis and Niketas Siniossoglou have put together what looks like an amazing resource: the Cambridge Intellectual History of Byzantium.

Diarmaid Maculloch has attempted to write, currently for UK readers only, a rehabilition of the evil tyrant Edward VI.

Scalia Speaks, a collection of the late justice’s speeches, edited by his 8th child Christopher and his former law clerk Ed Whalen.

Nino and Me, a memoir of the Bryan Garner’s friendship with the late justice.

Chris Wickham’s OUP volume on medieval Rome is being released in paperback.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is releasing an essay collection, vaguely organized around the years of the Obama presidency.

Ron Chernow’s next effort will be a gigantic (1,100 pages) biography of Grant.

Some autobiographies: Joe Biden, Gucci Mane, and Russell Brand.

Gordon Wood’s new book studies the relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Charles Darwin is the subject of A.N. Wilson’s next critical biography.

And another biography: this doorstop treatment of FDR.

Yet another collection of Martin Amis’s shorter writings.

New Books, 9/12/17

The Clerk of Oxford, Eleanor Parker, has written a book on the Vikings in England. Thomas Williams has also written one on the same topic.

The Carl Schmitt publishing industry continues apace with its next title Ex Captivitate Salus: Experiences, 1945 – 47.

Terry Eagleton’s next short book is apparently about the crucifixion.

A book about suppressing the Jesuits.

Adrian Goldsworthy’s next book will discuss Hadrian’s Wall.

Another big book about Islamic Spain.

It appears the sad ghost of Meister Eckhart will continue to haunt us for the foreseeable future.

The more-affordable paperback edition of this volume on Aristotle’s influence on St. Thomas’s theology is due out soon.

Another massive N.T. Wright book about Paul: this one’s the biography.

A book about the early modern European efforts to learn about and translate Islamic texts.

And what is Aleppo?

Jörg Rüpke’s big history of Roman religion has been translated.

The title here sort of says it all: Before Voltaire: The French Origins of “Newtonian” Mechanics, 1680-1715

There seem to be lots of new pop histories of the War of the Roses out this decade. Here’s another.

Here is a book about the Amazons—yes, the warrior women.