The Forgotten Man—Carl Schmitt—Part I

by Donald Powell
The Catholic Worker, November 1934

If, as James Joyce suggests, the supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life it has sprung, then Carl Schmitt is a great artist. He may or may not be: but of this I am certain: he is a great man.

The artist is, of course, a crazy fellow. He seeks perfection even while his reason tells him that his powers are finite and that he cannot achieve it. Perhaps he realizes part of his vision, but he want sit all. He is a mystic who never sees his God—Truth, Beauty and Goodness—whole. The only reason that society does not segregate him in asylums, along with other anti-social humans, is that he is not immediately dangerous to life or property.

The Artist

Here and there I note an exception, chiefly during civilizations which were pagan or Catholic, but the artist is the true forgotten man. Society remembers him only after he dies. For the artist must be in constant revolt against civilization, and particularly an industrial civilization. The atrophied emotional content of the bourgeois is not for him. He breaks his lances against it, and starves.

I recall the first time I saw Schmitt. Several of us had gathered to discuss social justice. I remember his stating that social justice could be obtained only by starting with the individual; that is, when the individual was just, society was just, and that the Catholic could do the most by example. Which means, in effect, that Catholics must be converted to Catholicism before attempting to convert non-Catholics to it.

The Last Catholic

Since our initial meeting, there have been innumerable discussions, during which his Bergsonian emphasis on the intuition and my intellectual skepticism have resulted in much juicy argument. But I have no place for the argument here. I am interested only in presenting a picture of Carl Schmitt: artist, forgotten man, Catholic, almost in truth, the last Catholic.

The crazy man is a fellow of medium height, with a shock of dark brown hair, light brown eyes (Pan’s eyes) and a deeply lined face. He looks, and is, ill-nourished. When painting he gets pains in the back of his neck and in his back and becomes so keyed up that he cannot eat. But he still worries the canvas with his brushes and fingers until at least part of his vision is realized. He is just that crazy.

Worse: he has a crazy wife. Proof: she has ten children. “Carlo,” I said, “you are not so much, the woods are full or artists, but your wife is a miracle.” She is just that: a natural woman in an unnatural world, a woman of charm, unfailing tact and fine sensibilities. Schmitt, of coarser mold, a man, must make great demands upon her, but I have never found her wanting. The answer is, naturally, after sixteen years of married life and ten children, she is still in love with her husband. She is a miracle all right, but perhaps her husband is a miracle worker.

Of her ten youngsters, the first nine were boys and the last a girl.

Real Children

I have told several of my respectable friends about these children and have watched the expressions of wonder, amazement, and even horror come to their faces. The more respectable they are, the more horrified they are.

I have eaten with the Schmitts and seen the youngsters in their bunks, one on top of the other, shipwise. I have seen them at play. I envy and love the whole flock of them: Carlo, Gertrude, the boys and the girl, dirty faces, dirty diapers and all. There is love within this family; it was built on love and survives through love.


Carlo once told me that I had a well-developed sense of injustice but a not so well developed sense of justice, and I agree with him. Like all the Celts, I may not know what justice is, but injustice makes me see read and want to do battle.

And if in what I am about to say, I am unjust to my fellow-Catholics, it is because my sense of injustice overwhelms my sense of justice.

Part II

© Copyright 2011 Carl Schmitt Foundation