De Maistre’s modern politonomy. by Gerardo Muñoz

The conservative Spanish political theorist Jesus Fueyo used to say that given that politics is not strictly a science, it always requires an attitude to vest the political. This holds true especially for the reactionary tradition given their sharp and distinctive rhetorical style, which at times it can outweigh the substantive orientation of its principles, doctrines, and immediate commitments. The attitude towards the political defines and frames the energy of the political, and it helps to define a politonomy, or the laws of its political conception. This is particularly relevant in Joseph De Maistre’s work, who doctrinally was a monarchist, legitimist, and, if we are to take Isaiah Berlin’s words, also a dogmatic precursor of fascism [1]. For a classical liberal like Berlin, De Maistre’s critique of liberalism all things considered (contractualism, deism, separation of powers, public deliberation, and individual civil liberties) amounted to a fascist threat. This reading crosses the line towards doctrinal and substance but it says little about its politonomy. On the contrary, what surprises (even today, as I was rereading some of his works) about De Maistre is the recurrent emphases on political autonomy, which automatically puts him in the modernist camp against doctrinal theologians and otherworldly moralists who do not truly classify as counterrevolutionaries. But insofar as the counterrevolution presupposes the revolutionary event, we are inhabiting the modern epoch. Furthermore, and as Francis Oakley has shown, even De Maistre’s classical ultramontane book The Pope (1819) emphases the authority of the pope against history, tradition, and the conciliarist structure of the Church [2]. In this sense, De Maistre taken politonomically is no different from Hamilton’s energetic executive or the sovereign decisionism that put an end to the confessional state.

In fact, De Maistre’ conception of politics measures itself against a “metaphysics of politics” which he links to German universality of the modern subject and Protestantism. Against all ideal types, for De Maistre politics is always best understood as politonomy; that is, a second order political authority that validates itself against the insecurity, unpredictability, and radical disorder of the modern revolutionary times [3]. For the counterrevolutionary position to take hold, the volatile modern reality of the political needs first to be accepted as well as the positivist emergence of modern constitutionalism. Indeed, De Maistre’s critique of written constitutions in the “Essay on the Generative Principle of Political Constitutions” is leveled against the assumption that text is all there is to preserve order and institutional arrangement.

De Maistre argues that there is also an unwritten dimension that functions to preserve authority and genealogical force of the political regarding who has the last word in all matters of public decisions (something not too strange in contemporary jurisprudence). Of course the function of the unwritten for De Maistre has a divine origine but its assignment is to control the proliferation of discussion that weakens institutional authority, thus pouring a war over the meaning of words (this was the same problem that Hobbes confronted regarding interpretation). De Maistre’s attack against textualism and incredulity of the written text of positive law was exerted in the name of a defense of a sovereign transcendence as the sole guardian of the institutional stability [4]. This is why De Maistre defends a combination of traditional unwritten Common Law with sovereign rule guarding institutional continuity. The politonomic condition elucidates that institutional arrangement is proper to a concrete order, and not doctrinally about the Church regarding secular temporal matters. This is why the Pope enjoys sovereign immunity from the doctrinal production of the Church that allows for the emerge of politonomy.

In a way this becomes even more obvious from what at first appears as De Maistre’s most controversial and antimodern treatise Letters on the Spanish Inquisition, where he takes neither the role of the theologian nor of Hispanic monarchic providence, but rather that of modern autonomy of the political conditioned by civil power: “…any great political disorder – any attack against the body of the state – be prevented or repelled by the adoption of energetic means” [5]. Notwithstanding the different ends, this is not very different from The Federalist’s conception of executive power as energetic for second order of institutional threats. What’s more, emptying all christological substances of the Inquisition, De Maistre defines its practice from a politonomical viewpoint: “The Inquisition in its origin was an institution demanded and reestablished by the King of Spain, under very difficult and extraordinary circumstances…under control, not of the priesthood, but of the civil and royal authority” [6]. For De Maistre even a religious and clearly antimodern institution like the Inquisition was a first a political institution that was required to obey the “lawful and written will of the Sovereign” [7].

This polarity also attests to De Maistre’s politonomy: in a context where positive sola scriptura triumphed, he recommended the internal genealogical control and sovereign decisionism; whereas in monarchical Spain where no revolution had taken place, the Inquisition had to respond to norms, written laws, and civil power. This could explain at least two things: on the one hand, why De Maistre’s political philosophy was discarded and regarded with suspicious by Hispanic royalists and Carlists; and secondly, why De Maistre understood political economy in his text on commerce and state regulation regarding grain trade in Geneva [8]. Here one can see how the structure of politonomy aims at regulating the constant friction of norm and the exception in a specific institutional arrangements. To return to our starting point: the reactive attitude towards subjective politics was also modern insofar as it breaks radically with the classical view of politics that understood itself as oriented towards the good, the virtuous, and equity balancing (epikeia). If modern politics opens as an abyssal fracture, then politonomy is always the management of a catastrophic, fallen, and demonic dimension of politics. Thoroughly consistent with the dialectic of the modern epoch and its oppositorum, politics becomes destiny precisely because religious sacrifice has ceased to guarantee social order in the temporal kingdom. Politonomy emergences as the formal science of the second-best; that is, an effective way, by all means necessary, of administrating aversion given that “sovereignty is always taken and never given” [9].




1. Isaiah Berlin. “Joseph De Maistre and the Origins of Fascism”, in The Crooked Timber of Humanity (Princeton U Press, 1990), 91.

2. Francis Oakley. The Conciliarist Tradition Constitutionalism in the Catholic Church (Oxford U Press, 2003). 201. 

3. Joseph De Maistre. “Essay on the Generative Principle of Political Constitutions and Other Human Institutions”, in Major Works, Vol.1 (Imperium Press, 2021). 4. 

4. Ibid., 42-43. 

5. Joseph De Maistre. On the Spanish Inquisition (Imperium Press, 2022). 6

6. Ibid., 18.

7. Ibid., 49.

8. Joseph de Maistre. “Report on the commerce of grain between Carauge and Geneva”, in The More Moderate Side of Joseph de Maistre (McGill Queen U Press, 2005), 230. 

9. Joseph de Maistre. St. Petersburg Dialogues (McGill Queen U Press, 1993), 263.

Two comments on Pedro Caminos’ essay on Vermeule normative framework. by Gerardo Muñoz

In a forthcoming dossier on “common good constitutionalism” at the journal of the Universidad del Salvador (Buenos Aires), edited by the good offices of Guillermo Jensen, there is a featuring essay, “El concepto de marco normative en la obra de Adrian Vermeule”, by Pedro A. Caminos that makes an original attempt to read Vermeule’s legal theory from strong jurisprudential position, and it does so by suggesting that the ‘marginalization’ of the judiciary and the transformation of the administrative state (the Chevron paradigm) implies a normative framework, analogous to Martin Loughlin’s superlegality or Fernando Atria’s common norms (I would be tempted to also add to this list Scott Shapiro’s conception of law as planning). Although I agree with the normative framework in both scope and design of the constitutional theory, there are two underlying elements that I would slightly challenge for further discussion. The first element concerns the notion of tyranny, and the second one to the allocation of “politics” in administrative framework

First, towards the end of the essay, Caminos cites Robert Alexy’s rendition of the Radbruch formula in which no positive law can be tyrannical (or unjust) or it ceases to be legitimate law from an external perspective. For Alexy the conditions of intelligibility must answer not only to internal rules of recognition as positivism would have it, but, more fundamentally, to the challenge of the participant perspective, which is external to the rule of recognition. The problem with the Alexian antipositivist stance in Vermeule’s normative framework is that it would seem to come to a halt if the institutional design is constructed as “second best” safeguards for administrative decision-making. Indeed, the second-best optimizing rule is the same thesis defended in The Exeuctive Unbound (2010), which suggested that ultimate concerns for tyranny (trypanophobia) could ultimately serve the master that it seeks to prevent. To some extent the administrative state – if read from the internal point of view of executive power – is best understood as the optimizing and taming of presidential power through the normative framework. Now, it is true that in “common good constitutionalism” the emphasis against tyranny is counterposed by an objective morality proper to the ragion di stato, which explains why the “second best” optimizing rule is silently replaced by the determinatio that defines the construction zone of the praetorian decision making. The nuances here are important: whereas second-best optimizing rule has no moral purposiveness; the determinatio is by nature a moral discriminatory principle (ius). Whereas the Bartolist jurisprudence aims to tame the privately infused tyrannical forces for good government; the unbounded executive does not fear tyranny as long as it controls the immanent force of administration [1].

Secondly, Caminos derives from the normative framework the construction of a common legal space in which disagreements could flourish. And Caminos sees this as consistent with Schmitt’s concept of the political as the distinction between friend and enemy. But so far as the notion of enmity in The Concept of the Political moves through different determinations, it is an open question as to which determination are allocated or relevant to the normative framework. However, if what defines the “reasonable arbitrariness” of administrative adjudication is predominantly informed by cost & benefit analysis, it would seem that it is value rather than the political distinction the distinctive feature of its logic. This makes sense given the jurisdictional supremacy of the administrative state, which subsumed the legislation into the normative framework. As Carl Schmitt predicted it in his Tyranny of Values, in this context function of the legislator becomes that of a tailor of suturing and producing new mediations for value stratification [2]. But could one conceive the concept of the political within the values of administrative rationality? At the end of his essay, Caminos himself seems to think otherwise, and suggests that normative framework allows for a new conception of political friendship. Of course, in the regime of value administration friendship is defined first and foremost by those are “valued” or “devalued”. Ultimately, this would be strange conception of “friendship”, since, as De Maistre showed, the friend is always outside the margin of utility, and thus constituted outside value [3]. Hence the difficulty for an alleged new politics of friendship: either the concrete friendship is diluted into a “fellow man” (blurring the specificity of friendship) or embracing as friends only those that share common values that can be imposed to non-friends, but who are not recognized as formal “enemies”. This second variant is most definitely the common good ideal type. In either case, friendship and politics become two poles in the procedural organization of values: a hellish reality notwithstanding appearing as a ‘friendly’ paradise of values.




1. Adrian Vermeule. Common Good Constitutionalism (Polity, 2022), 27-28.

2.Carl Schmitt. La tiranía de los valores (Hydra Editorial, 2012), 147.

3. Joseph De Maistre writes: “¿Qué es un amigo? Lo más inútil del mundo para la fortuna. Para empezar, nunca se tiene más de uno y siempre es el mismo; lo mismo valdría para un matrimonio. No hay nada que sea verdaderamente más útil que los conocidos, porque se pueden tener muchos y, cuantos más se tengan, más se multiplican las posibilidades en cuanto a su utilidad.”, in El mayor enemigo de Europa y otros textos escogidos (El Paseo, 2020), 212.

Homo Homini Clericus: el agustianismo de Carl Schmitt. por Gerardo Muñoz

La opinión generalizada de Carl Schmitt como “pensador católico” muchas veces termina siendo una proyección que generaliza una cuestión que merece ser puntual. Desde luego, se piensa con razón que el catolicismo político de Schmitt está descontado, puesto que al final Schmitt había sido acosado con ese epíteto por el diario nacionalsocialista Das Schwarze Korps, escribió el ensayo Catolicismo Romano y Forma Política (1923), y hasta había defendido una teología política católica ante el teólogo alemán más importante del siglo veinte, Erik Peterson. Pero lo cierto es que esto debe ser refinado, puesto que a diferencia de lo que entendemos por “intelectual católico”, Schmitt no buscaba restituir una supremacía de la teología cristiana por encima de la práctica jurídica, política, o institucional, sino más bien atender a la teología como fuente en el debate de la secularización que comenzaba con el “primer proceso moderno” de la revolución francesa. Como se puede ver en Glossarium, Carl Schmitt no tenía la mejor opinión del “sacerdote”, figura central para la autoridad dogmática católica. En una entrada de 1955, Schmitt escribía:

“Un anticlerical me dice: Cuídese de los sacerdotes: todo sacerdote está ansioso de poder y de dominar y dispone de viejos trucos para someter a las personas. Yo: Muy bien, ¿pero por qué me lo dice? Hace tiempo que lo sé. Solo percibo, cuando le oigo decirlo así, que toda persona es un sacerdote. Quizá sea el resultado del sacerdocio universal. Homo homini clericus” [1].

Una denuncia que en su forma denunciaba al sacerdocio como un verdadero “lobo” del hombre, parafraseando a Hobbes. Esto deja claro que Schmitt jamás aceptaría la definición del jurista romano Ulpiano sobre el “jurista como verdadero sacerdote de la ley” como quiere la common law y el bonum comune, hoy en forma secularizada del “juez hércules” en plena posesión de “principios morales” para llegar a un veredicto correcto. El “sacerdocio universal”, por lo tanto, era sine qua non de la tendencia iusmoralista universal que ya se instalaba después de la segunda guerra mundial. Como sabemos, Schmitt asociaba el derecho moderno del cual él era un “representante existencial” como una neutralización absoluta de la autoridad de los teólogos y de los sacerdotes, de ahí que en Ex captivate salus podía citar a Alberico Gentile: «Silente theologi in munere alieno!» El catolicismo político de Schmitt, por lo tanto, no implicaba hacer de jueces nuevos sacerdotes, ni hacer del sacerdote un nuevo juez interpretativista.

Esto explica porqué Schmitt carecía de razones “teológicas” para argumentar su “teología política”, ya que el principio suficiente de los teólogos le parecía una voluntad de parte de arrogantes y “mentirosos à la Peterson que nos han echado en cara que la doctrina de la Trinidad no permite una teología política…” [2]. Si entendemos la disputa Schmitt-Peterson como una polémica no tanto por la “veracidad de principios teológicos”, estamos en mejores condiciones de entender el catolicismo sui generis de Schmitt, para quien el catolicismo no es una moral natural (como lo es para el derecho natural), sino más bien una forma institucional concreta. En un sentido de fondo, Schmitt no estaría en desacuerdo con Peterson sobre la centralidad de San Agustín en la leyenda de la teología política como génesis de la división de poderes. Solo que Schmitt entendía que la “teología politica” recogía la dimensión insondable y contingente al interior de una forma abierta a la conflictividad (stasis). Por lo tanto, la “arrogancia” del teólogo consiste en establecer razones deontológicas absolutas entre dogma y política; mientras que para Schmitt la institucionalidad jurídica, en la medida en que posee una autoridad concreta, debe decidir incluso sobre la naturaleza de dogma porque el derecho es una práctica autónoma. En cualquier caso, aquí vemos que el meta-principio de la “separabilidad” del derecho moderno hace de Schmitt un pensador heredero de Agustín más que un adversario armado con una supuesta “clausura teológica-política”.

No nos debe sorprender, entonces, que el propio Schmitt se reconozca en San Agustín en Glossarium: “Vestrum scelus, meus somnus erit. Este es mi cristianismo. Sal 40.6, San Agustín, De Civitate Dei, XVII” [3]. Schmitt citaba de La Ciudad de Dios: “Lo que es daño para vosotros es sueño para mi”; esto es, justamente porque hay pecado original, no puede existir una arbitrariedad o ejercicio del mal en “nombre de un bien” sin caer en un puro gnosticismo. Esto, por supuesto, es consistente con la enseñanza defendida décadas antes en Catolicismo romano y forma política. Cabría preguntar, entonces: ¿por qué Schmitt, si estaba contra la supremacía del sacerdocio y el dogma católico rescataba la tradición “contrarrevolucionaria” en su Teología Política? ¿No lamentaba el propio De Maistre en su tratado sobre el principio generativo de las constituciones que la autoridad del sacerdote había sido aniquilada por la fuerza revolucionaria del jacobinismo?

Desde luego, pero no era la figura del sacerdocio ni del papado lo que rescata Schmitt de contramodernos como De Maistre, sino más bien lo central era el principio formal de cierre ante la apertura de la revolución moderna cuyo efecto en la legalidad institucional sería letal. En su concepción del sacerdote, De Maistre aparecía invertir la crisis que ya había acontecido en la crisis autorativa moderna mediante la cual la conspiratio de la comunidad cristiana deviene en una conjuratio como criminalización y administración del pecado, como lo estudia Paolo Prodi [4]. Para Schmitt, en cambio, si el arcano teológico puede ofrecer algo – y este es el nervio central de Teología Política II – es la función de una forma política concreta (κατέχον) capaz de frenar la criminalización absoluta del enemigo. (Y claro, por eso Donoso Cortés tampoco conocía un κατέχον, dice repetidamente Schmitt en varios lados). Sin embargo, ¿qué pasa cuando la forma política del positivismo jurídico entra en crisis? Aquí, ya lo advertía Schmitt, cada hombre se convierte en un sacerdote del hombre arrojado a la más feroz batalla de valores para la cual, ciertamente, no hay mediación política.



1. Carl Schmitt. Glossarium: Anotaciones desde 1947 hasta 1958 (El Paseo Editorial, 2021), 492.

2. Ibíd., 487

3. Ibíd., 466.

4. Joseph De Maistre. “Essay on the Generative Principle of Political Constitutions and Other Human Institutions”, en Major Works, Vol.1 (Imperium Press, 2021), 116.