Carl Schmitt. “The Other Hegel-Line: Hans Freyer on His 70th Birthday”*

Translated by James L. Kelley
independent scholar

Volume 15, 2024

The Hegel-Dilthey-Freyer line is a distinctive feature [Zug] of the European physiognomy, an integral aspect of Europe’s present life, and also a spiritual reality [geistige Wirklichkeit]. It is of much greater import than superficial party-formations or other such ramshackle schemes.1 We Europeans cannot abstract from our historical consciousness. Our countenance is disfigured when we lose sight of this feature [Zug].2 Even if we strain every nerve to become like Rilke’s leaping gnat,3 or Rossini’s thieving magpie,4 we remain inextricably tied to the past and the future, and are thus denied the succor of a flight from history.

Hans Freyer has written two books since World War II: Weltgeschichte Europas5 and Theorie des gegenwärtigen Zeitalters.6 The stance he articulated therein is the endpoint of the line [of Hegel interpretation] to which we have alluded. This is both Freyer’s fame and our honor. He was the first to rise above all the superficial, cheaply-won historical parallels, and to adequately express our situation’s unrepeatable singularity: that today’s Europe no longer must defend itself from foreign invasions, as in the days of the Persians, Carthaginians, Saracens and Tartars, but rather, the European Spirit’s own progeny must face each other as East and West.7 This remains the basis for all further reflection and every further determination concerning Europe. Thus, Freyer’s two books remain standard works for our time. Just as Oskar Spengler gave us the first riposte to the post-World War I situation, so were Hans Freyer’s two books the first post-World War II response.8 This says nothing about any similarity or dissimilarity between the two authors and their thought-world [Gedenkenwelt]: The only intention is to bring to mind these writers’ exalted world-historical position.

A thinker such as Freyer, so salient in a line inaugurated by Hegel, has to endure the most intense hostility [intersivster Feindschaft]. This is because another line, one that also begins with Hegel, ends with Lenin and Stalin, and this line claims a monopoly on Hegel interpretation, which for them has become a source of their intellectual prestige, indeed, of their historical legitimization. Here the struggle to lay claim to Hegel spills out beyond the schoolroom and enters the realm of historical forces. Arthur Rimbaud’s words apply here: The struggle of Spirits [Geister] is as brutal as the bloodiest battle.9 Nietzsche, in a fit of rage, declaimed: Hegel is the great delayer on Germany’s path to atheism.10 Every hastener of this path, however, will be of one mind regarding a man like Hans Freyer, who writes in his works about the katechon of 2nd Thessalonians, which is the force that temporarily restrains the diabolical power, along with the most egregious accelerators along the route to the abyss [Abgrund].11 Everything that has been deemed “conservative” since the 19th century (and which calls itself so) is surpassed and outmaneuvered by this notion of a katechon found in Freyer’s world-history [Weltgeschichte]. 

Here we tread upon dangerous ground. Here the pat Cartesian phrase is concretized: “I think, therefore I am” takes on more-and-more of an existentialist mien [Züge], until the statement’s situation-determinedness is fully elaborated: I think, therefore I am; I have enemies, therefore I am likewise [an enemy]. Freyer does not shun hostility; on the contrary, he calls it “a most virile relationship.”12 And so it is. But in the subsidiary sphere, the description of which is Freyer’s high achievement, everything is obscured and the traction of frank hostility [Feindschaft] is slackened. Enemies no longer exist, only vermin, saboteurs, and traitors who are eliminated openly or underhandedly, procedurally or noiselessly.


  • Originally published as “Die andere Hegel-Linie,” Christ und Welt (25 July, 1957), p. 2.
  1. Schmitt makes a distinction between substantive and superficial “partying-off” (Carl Schmitt and Joachim Schickel, “Dialogue on the Partisan,” 175-199 in Carl Schmitt, The Tyranny of Values and Other Texts, trans. Samuel Garrett Zeitlin [Candor, NY: Telos, 2018]), p. 193. Substantive party-formations, unlike superficial party-formations, are based upon friend-enemy distinctions. See Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, expanded ed., trans. George Schwab (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007 [1932]), pp. 25-27, 37-38. ↩︎
  2. Schmitt is here using the semantic field of physiognomy to liken the “Linie,” or line of Hegel interpretation, to a physiognomic line. Europe’s face, Schmitt is saying, is crossed by a Hegelian physiognomic line, the latter being thus integral to the Continent’s development. ↩︎
  3. The reference is to Rilke’s eighth Duino Elegy: “Oh, blessed are the tiny creatures / who stay in the womb that bore them forever; / oh the joy of the gnat that can still leap within, / even on its wedding day; for the womb is all!” (ln. 52-55; translation from Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies and The Sonnets to Orpheus, trans. A. Poulin, Jr. [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977], pp. 57-59). ↩︎
  4. The “thieving magpie” is the bird who caused Ninetta to be imprisoned by pilfering a fork and spoon in Gioachino Rossini’s La gazza ladra, an opera semiseria that premiered in 1817 (English translation: Gioachino Rossini, La gazza ladra. The Thieving Magpie: A Semi-Serious Opera…. New York: J.M. Elliott, 1833). On La gazza ladra as an example of “rescue opera,” see Warren Roberts, Rossini and Post-Napoleonic Europe (Rochester, NY, and Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: University of Rochester Press, 2015), pp. 95-123. ↩︎
  5. Hans Freyer, Weltgeschichte Europas, 2 vols. (Wiesbaden: Dietrich, 1948). ↩︎
  6. Hans Freyer, Theorie des gegenwärtigen Zeitalters (Stuttgart: Deutsche Varlagsanstalt, 1955). ↩︎
  7. On this notion of an historically decisive East-West European dichotomy, see Carl Schmitt, “La tension planetaria entre oriente y occidente y la oposición entre tierra y mar,” Revista de Estudios Políticos, 81-82: 3-28. The article has been translated into English as “The Planetary Tension Between Orient and Occident and the Opposition Between Land and Sea,” Política Común, 5 (2014), (Accessed 30 November, 2020). ↩︎
  8. C.S. is referring to Oswald Spengler’s Der Untergang des Abendlandes (Wien: Verlag Braumüller), the first volume of which appeared in the summer of 1918, and was subtitled Gestalt und Wirklichkeit (Wien: Verlag Braumüller). The second volume, subtitled Welhistorische Perspektiven (Munich: C.H. Beck), appeared in 1923. In Schmitt’s original, the word “response” appears in English: “Wie nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg Oskar Spengler die erste Antwort gab, so waren nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg die Bücher Hans Freyers der erste ‘response.’” ↩︎
  9. Schmitt is paraphrasing (or, it could be argued, quoting) Arthur Rimbaud, Une saison en enfer (Bruxelles: Alliance Typographique, 1873), p. 52: “Le combat spirituel est aussi brutal que la bataille d’hommes…”. ↩︎
  10. Schmitt is paraphrasing Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science [1887], trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1974), p. 306-307: “…[O]ne might charge…the Germans…that they delayed [the] triumph of atheism…. Hegel in particular was its delayer par excellence, with his grandiose attempt to persuade us of the divinity of existence, appealing as a last resort to our sixth sense, ‘the historical sense’.” ↩︎
  11. 2 Thessalonians 2.6-2.7: “And you know what is now restraining him (to katechon), so that he may be revealed when his time comes. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it (o katechon) is removed” (New Revised Standard Version Bible). On Schmitt’s notion of katechon, see Julia Hell, “Katechon: Carl Schmitt’s Imperial Theology and the Ruins of the Future,” The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory, 84.4 (2009), pp. 283-326; and Jens Meierhenrich and Oliver Simons, “A Fanatic of Order in an Epoch of Confusing Turmoil: The Political, Legal, and Cultural Thought of Carl Schmitt,” 3-70 in The Oxford Handbook of Carl Schmitt, eds. Jens Meierhenrich and Oliver Simons (Oxford: Oxford Universiy Press, 2016), pp. 46-49. ↩︎
  12. Hans Freyer, Theorie des gegenwärtigen Zeitalters (Stuttgart: Deutsche Varlagsanstalt, 1955), p. 136. ↩︎

Works cited

  • Freyer, Hans Theorie des gegenwärtigen Zeitalters. Stuttgart: Deutsche Varlagsanstalt, 1955.
  • —. Weltgeschichte Europas, 2 vols. Wiesbaden: Dietrich, 1948.
  • Hell, Julia. “Katechon: Carl Schmitt’s Imperial Theology and the Ruins of the Future.” The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory, 84.4, 2009.
  • Meierhenrich, Jens, and Oliver Simons. “A Fanatic of Order in an Epoch of Confusing Turmoil: The Political, Legal, and Cultural Thought of Carl Schmitt.” The Oxford Handbook of Carl Schmitt, edited by Jens Meierhenrich and Oliver Simons. Oxford: Oxford Universiy Press, 2016, pp. 3-70.
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Gay Science. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1974 (1887).
  • Rilke, Reiner Maria. Duino Elegies and The Sonnets to Orpheus. Translated by A. Poulin, Jr. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977.
  • Roberts, Warren. Rossini and Post-Napoleonic Europe. Rochester, NY, and Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: University of Rochester Press, 2015.
  • Rossini, Gioachino. The Thieving Magpie: A Semi-Serious Opera in Two Acts. New York: J.M. Eliot, 1833.
  • Schmitt, Carl. Schwab, George. The Concept of the Political. Translated by George Schwab. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007 (1932).
  • —. “The Planetary Tension Between Orient and Occident and the Opposition Between Land and Sea.” Política Común, vol. 5, 2014.
  • —. The Tyranny of Values and Other Texts. Translated by Samuel Garrett Zeitlin. Candor, NY: Telos, 2018.
  • Spengler, Oswald. Der Untergang des Abendlandes. Wien: Verlag Braumüller, 1918.
  • —. Welhistorische Perspektiven. Munich: C.H. Beck, 1923.