“Many of our enemies and most of our friends seem to think that a peasant is a man whose end in life is to raise vegetables. That is the definition of a truck gardener. A peasant is a man whose end in life is to raise a family, and to do that, it is usually necessary to raise vegetables, or hell, or both.” —Carl Schmitt, 1932
Carl Schmitt was a family man. He was also an artist. But first of all Carl Schmitt considered himself a peasant.
Schmitt readily admitted that the word ‘peasant’ is troublesome—even offensive—to our modern egalitarian sensibilities. “The trouble seems to lie in the word itself,” he writes, “deliberately corrupted by the crowd who wrote our school-books.”
Schmitt’s remedy was to understand this word not primarily in social or economic terms—as a class of men doomed to hopeless slavery to their greedy masters—but in a different way altogether, as “those whose destiny it is to make.”
In Schmitt’s triune hierarchy, a man is either prince, middle class, or peasant. The prince concerns himself with ends. His function is to “be wise, judge, decide” (toward what is this society ordered? What is our best good?) The middle class occupies himself with the means. He must “understand, exchange, produce” (what things are necessary to accomplish those goals? How do we get from here to there?) But it is the special province of the peasant to occupy himself with the origins of things. In Schmitt’s vision, the peasant’s role is ever to “intuitively envision, act, create.”
Along with the “fine-artist” like himself, he counted among peasants “the individual farmer, the mother of children,” the last with the conviction that “only family life can produce people.” Peasants, then, do not rule or set policy as does the prince, nor do they manufacture things to trade or sell, or provide services, as do the middle-class. Peasants cooperate with nature to create something entirely new—a work of art, a field of wheat, a child.
If, as we have seen, Schmitt saw his calling as an artist to be strictly subordinate to his role as father, at a more fundamental level they were expressions of the same impulse, to “originate,” to cultivate.
Paradoxically, he considered his role as originator to be a “high fatherhood which makes an aristocracy,” where “priority of birth, a long memory and experience of the place” form “the base of culture and religion. It is the point where body and soul become one.” We will cultivate this thought in our next post.