The Rise of the Homme Machine: Carl Schmitt’s Critique of Biotechnology and Utopias

AuthorVille Suuronen
Date01 October 2020
Published date01 October 2020
DOI10.1177/0090591719890831
Subject MatterArticles
https://doi.org/10.1177/0090591719890831
Political Theory
2020, Vol. 48(5) 615 –643
© The Author(s) 2019
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DOI: 10.1177/0090591719890831
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Article
The Rise of the Homme
Machine: Carl Schmitt’s
Critique of Biotechnology
and Utopias
Ville Suuronen1
Abstract
This essay argues that Carl Schmitt’s postwar writings offer an original
critique of biotechnology and utopian thinking. Examining the classics of
utopian literature from Plato to Thomas More and Aldous Huxley, Schmitt
illustrates the rise of utopianism that aims to transform human nature and even
produce an artificial “human-machine.” Schmitt discovers a counterimage to
the emerging era of biotechnology from a katechontic form of Christianity
and maintains that human beings must recognize their shared humanity in
God, warning us that without a realm of transcendence, the enemy no longer
offers an existential mirror but begins to incarnate foreign values, which
must be destroyed completely. By comparing Schmitt with Michel Foucault
and Donna Haraway, it is also argued that Schmitt’s thinking unlocks a novel
path to exploring the meaning and histories of biopolitics and posthumanism.
From a Schmittian perspective, Foucault’s depiction of biopolitics appears
as a mere prelude to the coming age of biotechnology that will lead us
into a posthuman era. Demonstrating interesting contrasts with Haraway’s
utopian vision of the cyborg, it is maintained that Schmitt’s thinking offers a
distinctively conservative-Christian critique of posthumanism.
1Centre of Excellence in Law, Identity, and the European Narratives, University of Helsinki,
Helsinki, Finland
Corresponding Author:
Ville Suuronen, Doctoral Candidate, Centre of Excellence in Law, Identity, and the European
Narratives, University of Helsinki, Siltavuorenpenger 1, EUROSTORIE, Helsinki, 00170,
Finland.
Email: ville.a.suuronen@gmail.com
890831PTXXXX10.1177/0090591719890831Political TheorySuuronen
research-article2019
616 Political Theory 48(5)
Keywords
Carl Schmitt, technology, biopolitics, posthumanism, Michel Foucault, Donna
Haraway
Introduction
In a series of diary entries from the 1920s, Carl Schmitt paints a striking pic-
ture about the immense biotechnological revolution of the future. This revo-
lution that becomes possible with “the receding of natural limits” will alter
not only the human condition but also the human organism itself. With the
“technical completion” of modernity and with the “fanaticism of immanence”
that describes this era, Schmitt envisions the development of “a machine born
as a human being” (Menschgeborene Maschine): “Ultimately, a miserable
shred of the human being (elender Fetzen von Mensch) clings to the wonder-
ful machine.”1
However, Schmitt’s very interesting remarks concerning biotechnology
remain largely undeveloped throughout the Weimar era,2 and this theme is
missing entirely from his Nazi-era works. Perhaps it is only the devastating
technological destruction of World War II that brings Schmitt’s focus back to
this issue. Be as it may, in his Glossarium, a kind of “thought diary” that
Schmitt kept from 1947 to 1958, Schmitt suddenly begins to address the
“burning question concerning the meaning (Sinn) of modern technology and
the machine”3 in a very detailed fashion. This essay argues that Schmitt’s
postwar works, especially his Glossarium, develop an original and thus far
neglected account of biotechnology and that this account opens a new way of
reading Schmitt’s postwar thought.4
Despite the popularity of Schmitt’s writings in recent decades,5 his post-
war thought has often been interpreted in reductive terms. A broader discus-
sion about Schmitt’s postwar thought only developed after 9/11, when
Schmitt’s narrative about the development and downfall of modern interna-
tional relations and law in Der Nomos der Erde (1950) provided a fruitful
scheme for understanding what seemed like a global state of exception.6 The
focus has remained almost unanimously on Schmitt’s analysis concerning the
ius publicum Europaeum, emerging gradually during the age of discovery,
solidified in the treaties of Westphalia (1648) and Utrecht (1713), and ulti-
mately falling apart with World War I. Through two extensive arguments, this
article aims to broaden and shift the focus of debate around Schmitt’s later
oeuvre.
First, I maintain that Schmitt’s postwar works provide an original histori-
cal and philosophical account of the gradual intertwining of technology,
human biology, and political strategies. I begin retrieving this account through

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