In this series, we introduce the researchers of the Centre of Excellence in Law, Identity and the European Narratives.

Ville Suuronen is a PhD student in EuroStorie’s subproject 1, Law and the Uses of the Past. He has a background in philosophy and his expertise lies in political theory and intellectual history. In his doctoral dissertation he examines and compares the political theories of Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) and Carl Schmitt (1888–1985).

Ville began studying philosophy at the University of Jyväskylä in 2010. After spending three semesters in Germany at the universities of Leipzig (2012–2013) and Bonn (2014), Ville graduated in 2015 with a minor in political science. Having always been especially interested in political philosophy, Ville wrote his master’s thesis on Hannah Arendt, focusing especially on the relation of Arendt’s political thought to the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. After graduation, Ville began writing his doctoral dissertation, receiving a grant from the Alfred Kordelin Foundation to pursue his doctoral studies. After reconfiguring his dissertational project toward a more historically oriented study, Ville moved to the University of Helsinki and started working in EuroStorie in April 2018.

In his article-based dissertation, Ville aims to offer new perspectives in understanding the political theories of Arendt and Schmitt, and through detailed comparative accounts tackle current political issues by thinking with and against both theoreticians. These two modern classics of political theory offer a fertile ground for comparison, says Ville. Although the backgrounds, lives and political theories of Arendt and Schmitt are, more often than not, radically opposed to each other, they also display surprising similarities in analyzing the key political issues of the twentieth-century.

While Arendt was Jewish, born into a liberal-minded family in Germany, and became a political theorist after attaining her education in the tradition of Western philosophy under the guidance of Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers, Schmitt grew up in a conservative Catholic milieu and made his name as a Lawyer and as a political theorist. As Arendt was forced to flee from Nazi Germany in 1933, first to France and later to the United States, Schmitt would join the Nazi Party during the same year and was seen by some as the “crown jurist” of the new state.

Schmitt, almost a generation older than Arendt, wrote his most important works during the continuous Weimar-crisis, which became the defining experience of his central works. In such works as Die Diktatur (1921), Politische Theologie (1922), Die Geistesgeschichtliche Lage des heutigen Parlamentarismus (1923), Der Begriff des Politischen (1927/1932/1933) and Verfassungslehre (1928), Schmitt outlined his critical understanding of the early twentieth-century political constellation defined by the signing of the Versailles Treaty, the newly established Weimar Republic as well as a new kind of an international status quo born with the fragile League of Nations.

In contrast, Arendt’s rise to prominence began much later and from a different historical context.  With the publications of The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) and The Human Condition (1958), which analyzed totalitarian governments as entirely new political phenomena and Western intellectual history from the perspective of the active life, vita activa, Arendt established herself as an original critic of Western modernity. While Schmitt would become known especially for his radical critique of liberalism and for his definition of the political as the relation between a friend and an enemy, the main thrust of Arendt’s approach was in her amor mundi; in her search for the lost treasure of human plurality and political action in a universe increasingly defined by what she called worldlessness.

Although Schmitt would go on to publish such major works as Der Nomos der Erde (1950) and Theorie des Partisanen (1963), offering a compelling analysis of the birth and destruction of the European balance of powers as it existed from the Westphalian Treaty (1648) to the First World War, for a long time, Schmitt became excluded from main-stream academia. In contrast, the most important years of Arendt’s academic career came after the war, and in addition to the works mentioned above, she would go on to explore the various side of Western intellectual and political history, including the American and French revolutions in On Revolution (1963), the nature of political evil in her controversial Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963) as well as analyzing the various capacities of human thought in the posthumous The Life of the Mind (1977/1978).

During the last two decades the work of both Arendt and Schmitt has risen to a new prominence and one can legitimately speak of a renaissance in relation to both thinkers. In comparing these two different figures from new perspectives, Ville is especially interested in the way both Arendt and Schmitt read the tradition of Western thought and understand our shared political history; how both thinkers develop narratives of the past in order to criticize the present. Ville aims to show that both Arendt’s and Schmitt’s political theories take their bearings from a systematic encounter with Western intellectual and political history:  While Arendt was famously fascinated with the polis of Ancient Greece, the transformations of politics in the Roman era and of the way this tradition was handed down all the way in to the modern age via Christianity, Schmitt – while also remaining attentive to the importance of the Greek, Roman and Christian periods – was always intrigued by the birth and destruction of the jus publicum Europaeum, the European public law and balance of powers in the modern age. Whereas Arendt relied on such figures as Socrates, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Duns Scotus, Montesquieu, Tocqueville, Kant, Heidegger and Benjamin in her critical discussion with history, Schmitt would form his own counter-revolutionary canon, sympathizing notably with Bodin, Hobbes, Donoso Cortés, Joseph de Maistre, Louis de Bonald and Maurice Hauriou among others. Beyond exploring Schmitt and Arendt as intellectual historians, in contrasting Arendt’s and Schmitt’s understanding of modernity, Ville’s dissertation also aims to show that both thinkers develop original narratives about the intrusion of life as a biological fact into the core of politics in the modern era.

Furthermore, Ville explores how Arendt’s and Schmitt’s narratives of history and critiques of modernity become intertwined into their differing visions of a new international political order, which starts to take shape during the twentieth-century. Reacting to the decline of the nation-state, both Arendt and Schmitt envision a political pluriverse in which political action is no longer bound to the monopoly of ethnically homogenous nation-states. While Arendt aims to counter the horrors of totalitarianism by developing her famous concept of the “right to have rights” and by pleading for a radically democratic and critically federalist notion of a thinly cosmopolitan politics, Schmitt develops a geopolitical perspective in which the world would become divided into different culturally homogeneous “large spaces,” or Grossräume.

Ville emphasizes that his doctoral dissertation arises from the conviction that the ideas of Arendt and Schmitt remain topical in the face of today’s political crisis. "While Schmitt’s radically anti-universalistic and anti-liberal thinking offers a fruitful ground for understanding the logic and narratives which lie behind the current rise of right-wing populism virtually everywhere in Europe, Arendt’s thought offers a timely vision of a politics based on human plurality and a critical plea for the inclusion of difference and otherness.  Both Schmitt and Arendt emerge as thinkers who provide topical counter-narratives for today’s liberal Europe, whose fragile unity is founded almost solely upon the rule of free markets: The political theories of both thinkers – although in absolutely different ways – take their bearings from the idea that no political community can be based solely on economic interests of the market. Common political action must always be something more than mere promotion of private interests.” Read from today’s context, Ville is convinced that Arendt and Schmitt force us to reconsider the very idea of Europe as a political entity.

During the academic year of 2018–2019 Ville worked as a visiting scholar at the Barnard College of Columbia University, where his visit was sponsored by Professor Ayten Gündoğdu. Ville’s research visit was made possible by the ASLA-Fulbright Scholarship. Ville recently published the article "Resisting Biopolitics: Hannah Arendt as a Thinker of Automation, Social Rights, and Basic Income" in the journal Alternatives: Global, Local, Political.

You can find Ville Suuronen's latest publications in Tuhat.