History of Political Thought 34 (1):114-142 (2013)

Psychological failure to legislate norms from a state of normative nil is the core sceptical case that German philosophy had left unsolved, and that after Kant was handed over to each new generation of philosophers, until it exploded with great force in debates that spanned the 1910s. This article seeks to provide a context for Carl Schmitt's statement that `nobody could ever describe a single person's intentions as a norm', and to link this kind of normative scepticism with Schmitt's later notion of `exception'. In the face of several attempts to dismiss Schmitt's theory in light of his personal and professional allegiance to the Nazis, this article appeals to the possibility of consilium pravorum, the idea that one can learn from someone whose ideas or actions are despicable. Schmitt distinguishes himself (especially in his early works before 1922) for both his normative scepticism and his willingness to interrogate premises that contemporary political philosophy seems to have left unexamined
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