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Singularity and Repetition in Carl Schmitt’s Vision of History

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Despite the problematic political positions he adopted during his life span, the work of Carl Schmitt contains a fascinating argument in favour of ‘the political’, which is understood as a plural symbolic space composed of friends and enemies who reciprocally recognise each other. Schmitt’s struggle for the political is a struggle for a public spirit which accounts for this plurality. One of the terrains on which Schmitt wages this struggle is that of historical meaning. The image of history is crucial for the political, as it is one level on which the relation between enemies is symbolised. In this paper, Schmitt’s polemic for a political conception of history, which gives the enemy and the defeated their due place as political subjects, will be reconstructed. Central to Schmitt’s endeavour is the attempt to think historical singularity, against the notion of repetition in history, against the understanding of history as a reservoir of ‘lessons’ and against ideologies of progress. Through his polemic, a profane and sober image of history appears which stresses singularity, relative contingency and openness, and the pluralisation of social temporalities. The enigmatic notion of the katechon will play a crucial role in providing a very minimal but crucial form of historical meaning for such a political conception of history.

Affiliations: 1: Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies, KULeuven, Email:


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