Towards a Republican Political Theology

David Selby (Visiting Scholar, Rhetoric)

"Towards a Republican Political Theology: Alexis de Tocqueville as Critic of Carl Schmitt"

This paper puts the early works of Carl Schmitt in the context of Catholic traditions of legal thought. First, I trace Carl Schmitt’s notion of the decision to its historical origins in Ultramontane political thought, especially the works of Joseph de Maistre and Donoso Cortez. Second, I look at an alternate Catholic juridical tradition known as Jansenism. Jansenists focused on the role of Church Councils in consenting to dogma, imagined the Early Church in republican terms, and even thought of papal infallibility as analogous to political Absolutism. Although these strictly republican traditions are no longer vibrant within the Catholic Church, their political thought was characterized by a sophisticated legal critique of decisionism from within the boundaries of political theology. In the third and final section of the paper, I seek to update this republican political theology through the works of Alexis de Tocqueville. This criticism, I argue, can admit Schmitt’s existential notion of the state while also maintaining that his notions of legality and parliamentary governance miss the necessary role that these institutions play in the creation of legitimacy itself.