In the summer of 1981, the historian, writer and journalist Eberhard Straub had a conversation with the then 93-year-old Carl Schmitt. The unpublished conversation was recorded on tape and is made available here in excerpts. A complete reproduction of the conversation is not possible due to the insufficient recording quality of many passages.
© Carl-Schmitt-Gesellschaft e.V.
Sound clips and transcription
“I want to start with a challenging sentence. If you ask me what I am and who I am, I will answer you: I am a lawyer by profession and essence, not a professional revolutionary. That’s kind of a primal enmity, so to speak. [ES: Between revolution and the lawyers] Yes, and that is a kind of difficulty of the profession itself, which lawyers don’t like to talk about. But I’ve met many, very good lawyers, and especially those who conduct large lawsuits with political and financial backgrounds will have this experience of the extent to which the profession of a lawyer is something quite independent.”
“The lawyer as a profession is suspicious and suspect to every politician as a profession. On the other hand it goes of course never without a minimum of right as long as at all thus human understanding …”
Conscience and Hugo Ball
[ES: But can’t the jurist become a revolutionary, against his will, or …?]
“He is, after all … He becomes it of his own accord and he also catches himself. Now I wanted to add a sentence here … the word of the profession of a lawyer.
I actually first became aware of this through a man who was not a lawyer but who, because of his Catholic background, had a great deal of formal understanding of forms and processes in the sense of a regulated procedure. The regulated procedure … a minimum of regulated procedure remains into the most bitter … into the most bitter dispute. And enemy is not a term that is inhuman, but on the contrary: humanity stops when enemy and friend are sorted and replaced by any, that is utopias or illusions of humanity. So this word that I just wanted to quote … Only the man who spoke it and formulated it and thereby impressed me deeply and also <…?> was Hugo Ball the Dadaist. An amazing, enigmatic man who is simply muzzled, so to speak, by the brand, the pointed brand of Dadaism … one of the deepest and most significant people I have met in my life. This Hugo Ball has coined a sentence which is important to me here in this context, not true, it concerned me but it applies to what I understand under lawyers 〈〉 <?>. He, this Carl Schmitt, Hugo Ball said, not true, Carl Schmitt is a man who experiences his time in the conscience form of his talent. I repeat: He experiences his time in the knowledge form of his talent, the conscience form not knowledge form. The form of knowledge that belongs to the legal talent has a relation to the conscience. This is so specific, as with hardly anyone else … I would still take theologians, as far as they are not lawyers, aside. So the sentence from which I start, if I want to speak of myself at all and answer a serious question seriously is this sentence: in the conscience form of his endowment he experiences his time. Every talent has its specific form of conscience. Also the artist, the painter, as soon as he has a profession <?>, the doctor of course, also the craftsmen … there is no abstract human conscience. This word form of conscience is one of the most beautiful and most fruitful coinages that I have encountered in my life. And I apply it to my profession as a lawyer.”
“… I’ve always had a weakness for the heuristic and interpretive value of fables, can make the difficulties, human things, the humanly inexpressible things they can make more, how shall I say, expressible, or accessible to language, by expressing them from animals, which do not speak. This is a monstrous subject – the fable … and Lafontaine is one of the most brilliant minds of the whole western <…>. One needs only once to compare a fable of Lafontaine with a fable of Lessing. There one sees the weakness. [Error] <paltry…irrelevance>. After all, he translated fables by Lafontaine and he toned them down because he was not up to the terrible, how shall I say, force, of this inexorable realization.”
I once made a verse. “At midnight a superhuman meets you, a true animal angry, indignant and shouting, he asks me what time it is. I say it is seven o’clock. So he shouts: You deceitful plant, only an hour ago you said it was six.”
So the constitution as it is now …. comes from constitutional law <?>… although it never became acute. The thesis of Hauriou <?>: Every constitution has an untouchable core. It would be simply madness to hand it over to random parliamentary majorities. In a multi-party state with changing coalitions…then practically Mr. Genscher decides again whether what is armed.
Order in the terms
So the old [Hugo] am Zehnhoff summed up his judgment of me <…?/there> when he said, as he once said and also told others, “I have never in my long life known a man who has so much order in his concepts and so much disorder in his private circumstances.”