Deciding in times of uncertainty

By Hamadi Redissi*

Critical reading of Hatem M’rad’s book: The opposite drifts in Tunisia. Around Carl Schmitt, Tunis, Cérès, 2022.

It is rare that the Tunisian revolution is analyzed by the resources of political theory. Even less by the thought of Carl Schmitt, a controversial jurist-philosopher who compromised for a time with Nazism. Schmitt, by M’rad’s admission, is anti-liberal, anti-communist, nationalist, statist, catholic (the italics are by the author). What is “curious, even paradoxical” recognizes M’rad from the outset, is the choice of an author known by what is called “decisionism” (the decision deferred to the legitimate authority which has taken) to think about 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 post-January 14 system 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 marked by “intense enmity” between Islamists and secularists. This is the central element (chapter 1). Animosity refers to the “essence of the political” in Schmitt: the distinction between “friend” and “enemy”, both engaged in an existential life-and-death struggle. Conflict and violence are inherent in politics, contrary to the depoliticized and contractualist liberal vision. Existential opposition between individuals or between communities? The question remains unresolved. Yet in Tunisia, these “irreconcilable enemies” cooperated and collaborated. But without actually ceasing to hate each other, as can be seen through the voluntarist watchword “Echaab Yurid” which reactivates 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 it obstructs the direct expression of the will of the people. It lacks “homogeneity” or “identity” between State and people, conducive to decision-making by a single authority (decisionism). At this level, the author describes the impotence of the parliament that emerged 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 decides on the constitution, and the constitutional order is not a set of norms deriving from each other. Schmitt stands out here from the normativism of Kelsen, 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 precisely the authority with the plenitudo potestatis, the plenitude of powers, a veritable “sovereign dictatorship” to use a Schmittian concept. She could do anything. Inopportunely, it sets up a disunited state, a split authority and not a state that unites “the state, the auctoritas and the imperium”. It creates a need for “decisive leadership” (chapter 6). Failing to embody it, Saïd carries out his coup de force. We enter the second phase of the super-authority of the state of exception (second part).

At the heart of the demonstration, the state of exception of 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”: one temporarily suspends the law with a view to re-establishing the constitutional order, the other establishes a new sovereign order altogether! M’rad reviews the historical experiences that he compares to the specific case. Who’s deciding ? 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 inside and outside the legal order. It enacts and applies the law, while being outside the normative system. His word “has the force of law, without law”. The scene is now familiar: recourse to article 80 is exceptional, including violations of the law in force. That 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 the discussion on his “justicialism”, his “mystique” of authority, his “spirit of revenge” contrary to reason. There is a risk of shifting from the pluralist state to the “total state” through the “pre-constituent 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 entrusts the decision to a united authority, the Sovereign, in this case the State. How to make so that the “decision” returns to the people without that the principle of unit is etiolated in small fragments of people? Schmitt tempers pure decisionism with the theory of the institution that he owes to Hauriou. Endowed 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 of which they had been stripped. In fact, “he exercises exceptionally 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, so significant in political life. And he does not discuss the works devoted to him. M’rad concentrates on the excesses of Saïed, calls for the right to revolt against oppression and pleads 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 decisionism but “legal and democratic”. How is Schmitt’s decisionism useful for understanding transition? Because it reveals how this transition is marked by “indecision” in everything. Nothing has been set in stone from January 14 to the present day. Even Saïed is “undecided”. Overly indecisive. And why is M’rad writing a thought-provoking book on Schmitt? The answer is provided by the author himself indirectly, by making R. Aron speak, who said of the “authentic intellectual satisfaction” one experiences in confronting great minds.

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