Monday, December 14, 2015

"A Forgotten Thinker On Nation-States vs. Empire"

This was written by Paul Gottfried and was originally from Telos magazine.

Karl Schmitt.

What Schmitt refers to as "the friend/enemy distinction" ("enemy" meaning "evil") refers to our narcissism: we're good; they're bad. Since they're bad it's okay to murder them. We scapegoat them; we human sacrifice them. And the worst of it happens when the government gets involved, because all government is based on force - which ultimately means death.

Look at those who were absolutely convinced Geoge Bush was going to utterly destroy America, and after them, those who are convinced Yomama is going to do the same thing. But we're still here, albeit with some pretty serious problems that started long before both of them. But we're still here.

Tribes have always referred to themselves as "the People" or "All Humans." Countries do that same thing - "the Fatherland," "the Motherland"..."Homeland Security." Anyone not part of the Fatherland or Motherland or Homeland...subhuman or non-human. Okay to kill them.

This "friend/enemy" in politics has been around since probably forever, and it's why politics does so little good. I remember that one letter writer once sent a letter to Thomas Jefferson referring to him as an "infernal villun." Thomas Jefferson?

It has always amazed me how so many people think government is their friend and instead blame massive destruction on everything but governments - religion, for example.

The article starts here.

In The Concept of the Political (a tract that first appeared in 1927 and was then published in English in 1976 by Rutgers University) Schmitt explains that the friend/enemy distinction is a necessary feature of all political communities. Indeed what defines the “political” as opposed to other human activities is the intensity of feeling toward friends and enemies, or toward one’s own and those perceived as hostile outsiders.

This feeling does not cease to exist in the absence of nation-states. Schmitt argued that friend/enemy distinctions had characterized ancient communities and would likely persist in the more and more ideological environment in which nation-states had grown weaker. The European state system, beginning with the end of the Thirty Years War, had in fact provided the immense service of taming the “political.”

The subsequent assaults on that system of nation-states, with their specific and limited geopolitical interests, made the Western world a more feverishly political one, a point that Schmitt develops in his postwar magnum opus Nomos der Erde (now being translated for Telos Press by Gary Ulmen). From the French Revolution on, wars were being increasingly fought over moral doctrines - most recently over claims to be representing “human rights.” Such a tendency has replicated the mistakes of the Age of Religious Wars. It turned armed force from a means to achieve limited territorial goals, when diplomatic resources fail, to a crusade for universal goodness against a demonized enemy.

A related idea treated by Schmitt is the tendency toward a universal state (a “New World Order”?). Such a tendency seemed closely linked to Anglo-American hegemony, a theme that Schmitt took up in his commentaries during and after the Second World War.

German historians in the early twentieth century had typically drawn comparisons between, on the one side, Germany and Sparta and, on the other, England (and later the U.S.) and Athens - between what they saw as disciplined land powers and mercantile, expansive naval ones.

The Anglo-American powers, which relied on naval might, had less of a sense of territorial limits than landed states. Sea-based powers had evolved into empires, from the Athenians onward.

But while Schmitt falls back, at least indirectly, on this already belabored comparison, he also brings up the more telling point: Americans aspire to a world state because they make universal claims for their way of life. They view “liberal democracy” as something they are morally bound to export.

They are pushed by ideology, as well as by the nature of their power, toward a universal friend/enemy distinction. Although in the forties and fifties Schmitt hoped that the devastated nation-state system would be replaced by a new “political pluralism,” the creation of spheres of control by regional powers, he also doubted this would work.

The post-World War II period brought with it polarization between the Communist bloc and the anti-Communists, led by the U.S. Schmitt clearly feared and detested the Communists. But he also distrusted the American side for personal and analytic reasons. From September 1945 until May 1947, Schmitt had been a prisoner of the American occupational forces in Germany. Though released on the grounds that he played no significant role as a Nazi ideologue, he was traumatized by the experience.

Throughout the internment he had been asked to give evidence of his belief in liberal democracy. Unlike the Soviets, in whose zone of occupation he had resided for a while, the Americans seemed to be ideologically driven and not merely vengeful conquerors.

Schmitt came to dread American globalism more deeply than its Soviet form, which he thought to be primitive military despotism allied with Western intellectual faddishness. In the end, he welcomed the “bipolarity” of the Cold War, seeing in Soviet power a means of limiting American “human rights” crusades.

A learned critic of American expansionists, Schmitt did perceive the by-now inescapably ideological character of American politics. In the post-Cold War era, despite the irritation he arouses among American imperialists, his commentaries seem fresher and more relevant than ever before.

1 comment:

Mindstorm said... - most Soviets were too simpleminded or too disillusioned to care about ideology. That doesn't mean that their occupation was better in comparison.