“A state of disintegration may be said to obtain when ‘off the record’ and ‘on the record’ are completely at odds. Civilization presupposes that the two are at least on speaking terms.” (1946)
“The crux of all [Christian] civilization is literally the cross of Christ, which is symbolized by the characteristic form of the Gothic—in the diagonals which go to make up the roofs and towers, the buttresses and the very folds of the garments of the carved and painted saints and kings.” (1922)
“A statement to those who are unaware that we are dying of world lunacy: No one can imagine a civilization in the last agonies of avarice which would differ in any way from ours.” (1950)
Carl Schmitt’s son Jacob has written extensively on his father’s life, work, and aesthetic philosophy. This excerpt discusses Schmitt’s awakening to the unique contribution of Rome not simply to world culture in general, but the interiority which is vital to any authentic endeavor in the arts.
While on a second honeymoon in 1934, after visiting Dalmatia and the little towns of Korčula, Split, and Dubrovnik along the Adriatic where he had visited as a student, Schmitt continued to Venice, Florence, and Rome. One afternoon, while sketching the gigantic ruins of Septimius Severus palace in Rome, he once again was reminded of the significance of place. Nowhere, he recounts in his notes, had he found as here in Rome, a sense of permanency and interior quietude. This “realization” was first experienced during his student years in Italy, but here and now, in the Eternal City, he found a more profound, conscious realization of it—a sense of what he first called “interior being.”
His mind went back to the time when these ancient ruins, the Theater of Marcellus, the Baths of Caracalla, and the still-standing Pantheon, were built with massive archways and vaulted ceilings that soared to the heavens with a glorious spacious interiors—what he later called the form of interior space.
These magnificent interior structures were created by and signified, in his mind, an interior, personal maturity not seen in any previous age. Here in Rome, he thought, was what the true Renaissance was seeking—the manifestation of a full human person who recognized the superiority of an interior, familial life over the social, political life endemic of the Grecian contribution. Rome had turned inside out all that it had absorbed from the idealized, aesthetic Grecian culture. It had unified all the scattered Grecian city-states into the one centralized political system of Rome—Urbe et Orbe (the city of Rome and the whole world).
Thus, for Schmitt, the Roman sense for interior space became a more inclusive realization and expression of reality. It had the advantage of an interior vision of seeing things from the “inside out” rather than from the Platonic-Grecian idealized vision of looking “on” or “at” things from the “outside in.” This was a more personal development without which no true perfection in anything could be developed. Here was the central aspect of his aesthetic dramatic stage more fully realized.
No wonder, he thought, that this interior form of the Roman Republic was able to permeate, absorb, and inform the then-known world. No wonder Peter and Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, found themselves in Rome transforming this personal, pagan, interior maturity—first prepared for by the realization of the hidden interior nature of reality found in Aristotelian thought—into an interior Christo-centric reality.
“All spiritual activity, or religion, is like a storage battery which illuminates the imagination and produces a culture. Hence all humanism, all paganism—all art—is a reaction away from religion (but not an evil reaction). Unless the ancestors of a man or a nation have by means of moral progress and contemplation stored up powerful energy in the batteries, no life, or no epoch would be outstanding in the production of beauty.” (October 1941)