And/Or

by Carl Schmitt
1943

I read a phrase yesterday which started me thinking. This morning I have decided that our decadence causes certain symptoms and that the symptoms aggravate the disease. The phrase was: “We need a religion of life instead of one of definitions.”

Now anyone would have thought that a normal man is in possession of his faculties could accommodate both “life” and “definitions” in his religion—but no, it is our symptom today that we must have one extreme theory “instead” of another extreme theory. Today the world must either be run by Masculinists or Feminists; we must teach by rote and formulae in our schools or take the only other alternative: abolish all learning by heart and “induce” the child gradually into the light of understanding. Although we probably would do both things naturally, we must not. Nothing will satisfy today but doing exclusively one or the other—or rather fighting over the theory.

In art, we must be amorphous expressionists or academic and admire Raphael. It is outside the question that Greco admired and even imitated Raphael—no attempt at rapprochement between Greco and Raphael must be allowed. We must either “take vitamins” or perish without them. Anyone who eats for the fun of it as did his forefathers for forty million years is not exclusive enough to be really intelligent. We must have sweetness and light or else bitterness and darkness; we must have freedom from everything or abolish authority and slavery; a completely mechanized and efficient man or a backward and superstitious moron.

Is it just the American mind which is so direct and simple or has this sort of simplicity eaten up the whole world?

When out fellow men are so immersed in means that they can admit of nothing but the exclusion of ends and origins—when “truth” is pursued at the complete exclusion of beauty and goodness, and when wealth alone is valid to the exclusion of all else, it would seem that only catastrophe would bring man to his senses. For, only the humiliated and impoverished man is capable of those inclusions which make him once more human. Only the proud and wealthy may so easily choose and exclude: choose so many of the wrong things and exclude so much of the good.

What we need today is religion of life and a religion of definitions. One that is very lively and very definite.

© Copyright 2010 Carl Schmitt Foundation