by Hamadi Redissi*
Critical reading of Hatem M’rad’s book: The opposite is driving in Tunisia. Around Carl Schmitt, Tunis, Cérès, 2022.
It is rare that the Tunisian revolution is analyzed using the resources of political theory. Even less know the thought of Carl Schmitt, a controversial legal philosopher who for a period compromised with Nazism. Schmitt, by M’rad’s admission, is anti-liberal, anti-communist, nationalist, statist, Catholic (italics are by the author). What is “curious, even paradoxical” M’rad recognizes from the beginning is the choice of an author known under what is called “decisionism” (the decision deferred to the legitimate authority that has made) to think of a revolution/transition by nature uncertain, “marked, he says, by an indecision as dazzling as it is symptomatic”. Revolution/transition is a process, decisionism describes things as they are. The transition is democratic, Schmitt has reservations about parliamentary democracy. Here’s the problem. The thesis: the system after January 14 goes from “under-decision” or “under-authority” to “over-decision” or “over-authority” after July 25, 2022; in short, from impotence to omnipotence.
During the first phase of the transition (first part), the sub-authority of the transition is characterized by “intense enmity” between Islamists and secularists. This is the central element (Chapter 1). Enmity refers to the “essence of the political” for Schmitt: the distinction between “friend” and “enemy”, both involved in an existential struggle of life and death. Conflict and violence are inherent in politics, contrary to the depoliticized and contractual liberal vision. Existential conflict between individuals or between societies? The question remains unsettled. But in Tunisia these “irreconcilable enemies” cooperated and cooperated. But without actually ceasing to hate each other, as can be seen through the voluntary code word “Echaab Yurid”, reactivating the dividing line (friend vs. enemy) in a context of “over-decision”. Second element: hostility to parliament and representative democracy. Schmitt is fundamentally hostile to parliamentary democracy, with two major defects: it breaks the unity of the state and hinders the direct expression of the will of the people. It lacks “homogeneity” or “identity” between state and people, which is conducive to decision-making by a single authority (decisionism). At this level, the author describes the impotence of the parliament that arose from the revolution and the setbacks of a partitocratic democracy (Chapters 2 and 3). Third element, “constitutional decisionism” (Chapter 4). It is the sovereign who determines the constitution, and the constitutional order is not a set of norms that arise from each other. Here Schmitt stands out from the normativism of Kelsen, the prisoner of a tautology: the norm is valid because it validates. For Schmitt, it is the state that sets the norm and not the other way around. The National Constituent Assembly was the authority involved plenitudo potestatis, the abundance of power, a veritable “sovereign dictatorship” to use a Schmittian term. She could do anything. Inappropriately, it creates a divided state, a divided authority and not a state uniting “the state, auctoritas and empire”. This creates a need for “decisive leadership” (Chapter 6). When Saïd fails to embody it, he pulls off his coup d’état. We are entering the second phase of the state of emergency super authority (part two).
At the heart of the demonstration, the state of emergency on July 25. First chapter of the second part, it is the longest and the most successful. “A Schmittian moment”? M’rad refers to the books The dictatorship (1921) and Political theology (1923) by Schmitt to distinguish between “commission dictatorship” and “sovereign dictatorship”: the one temporarily suspends the law in order to re-establish the constitutional order, the other establishes a new sovereign order altogether! M’rad reviews the historical experiences, which he compares with the concrete case. WHO’s in charge? The sovereign. The paradox of the state of exception: the sovereign is both within the legal order and outside it. Specificity of the “Schimmittian moment” in Tunisia: Saïed embodies suspended and restored law; it is both within and outside the legal order. It adopts and applies the law while outside the normative system. His words “have the force of law, without law”. The scene is now familiar: application of Article 80 is unusual, including violations of applicable law. It is. But if we are in a sovereign dictatorship, why consider that if this moment continues, it “risks leading to the end of the democratic moment”. Especially since the typological essay on Tunisian dictators elegantly makes him “a Romano-ethical dictator” (Chapter 2). M’rad dissects the Saïed “system”. He engages in the discussion of his “righteousness,” his “mystique” of authority, his “revenge” as opposed to reason. There is a risk of shifting from the pluralist state to the “total state” through the “preconstitutive power” now overtaken by the constitutional referendum (Chapter 4). Schmittian decisionism must pass a final test: the sovereign people. This is not an easy task. Pure or radical decisionism distrusts the people (as it distrusts democracy and liberalism) and leaves the decision to a unified authority, the sovereign, in this case the state. How do you make the “decision” return to the people without the principle of unity being etiolated in small fragments of people? Schmitt tempers pure decisionism with the theory of the institution, which he owes to Hauriou. Equipped with organs and functions, the institution expresses an idea. Producer of norms, the state is the institution of institutions. Saïed was able to give the impression of giving back to the people the sovereignty that had been taken from them. Indeed, he “exercises unusually limited power in the name of the people”. But this people divided into small pieces of people cannot be found. M’rad evokes, without openly confronting it, the populist hypothesis that is so significant in political life. And he does not discuss the works attributed to him. M’rad concentrates on Saïed’s excesses, calls for the right to rebel against oppression and invokes the “golden mean” so characteristic of the Tunisian political tradition. In conclusion, the author returns to the original question. Why Schmidt? Because it rehabilitates politics in a transition dominated by legalism. Tunisia indeed needed a decision-making power, but “legal and democratic”. How is Schmitt’s decisionism useful for understanding transition? Because it reveals how this transition is characterized by “determination” in everything. Nothing has been set in stone from January 14th until today. Even Saïed is “undecided”. Too indecisive. And why is M’rad writing a thoughtful book about Schmitt? The answer is given by the author himself indirectly by having R. Aron speak, who spoke of the “authentic intellectual satisfaction” one experiences in confronting great minds.