Responsible Populism: Carl Schmitt's Constitutional Doctrine



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Despite extensive commentary on Carl Schmitt, the relationship of his constitutional and political theory to constitutional democracy remains deeply contested. Unlike discussions that uncover an anti-liberal or an anti-democratic Schmitt, this dissertation draws from his works a defense of representative government and discerns within them a balancing act between protection of basic rights, through separation of powers, and the desires of a political community expressed through plebiscitary procedures. My dissertation supports this claim by examining his descriptions of constitution and democracy, focusing on three texts from the Weimar period: Verfassungslehre, Volksentscheid und Volksbegehren and Der Hüter der Verfassung. According to Schmitt, the people achieves its democratic form through the political unity established by constitutional substance. Based on the substantial acceptance of liberal rights and institutional constraints on the state’s use of power, it supervises representatives and settles disputes between the different branches in government. On the other hand, despite the existence and application of plebiscitary democracy in the Weimar Constitution, especially as an effective check on government, representatives have a reciprocal responsibility to protect this same substance by obstructing the reckless deployment of the ‘people’ through popular initiatives. Consequently, constitutional democracy mediates the claims of both the individual and the collective within the state. Schmitt’s discussions on constitutional democracy are germane to our current concerns about populism because they show that neither the expression of popular participatory democracy, nor the establishment of a stronger executive authority are incompatible with a healthy liberal democracy. Instead, what is required today is a proper articulation of what counts as constitutional substance in Western democracies, as well as a reevaluation of political responsibility under a system of separation of powers.



Schmitt, Carl, Constitutions, Referendum, Representation, Democracy, Substance, Liberalism, Judicial review