Archive for April, 2009


In 16th century Western Europe, an eternal conflict between church and state is instigated. There is a search for neutral sphere, a sphere that is free of conflict, where there is relative agreement and finally peace is restored. It is 17th century Europe finds a neutral sphere in the form of enlightenment, rationality and universal reasoning. Human beings made rationality as a means to stay with each other. After some period neutral this neutral sphere is found inadequate as this neutral sphere was also found to produce conflict. Europe’s next search for neutral sphere starts in 18th century an age characterized as age of romanticism where humanitarian ethics and morality were supposed to constitute the neutral sphere. Once again the search for neutral sphere is ruptured. In 19th century Carl Schmitt comes with an idea of political. For Schmitt world without war is world without politics, world without politics is world without enmity and world without enmity is without human beings. For Schmitt humans never understood what politics is but what is political. Schmitt’s world is divided into categorical friend and foe. According to Schmitt if you can’t define enemy you cant define self. Everything in world for Schmitt is therefore political. The central idea in the idea of friendship in western thought is based on non instrumental relationship. Schmittian world is based on instrumental relationship. Potentially possibility of having an enemy is infinite. Politics for Schmitt is a matter of conflict and war, and the true criterion of the political is the enemy. Who one’s political friends are is determined only in the encounter with the enemy, and they are valued only insofar as they allow for success in the resulting war. Schmitt’s account of political authority, in particular, rests on an almost Hegelian understanding of the individual’s relation to the community and one’s own mortality. The friend/enemy criterion defines a particular form of life, one in which group identity is valued above physical existence.

This Schmittian world of friend and foe dichotomy has lucid relevance in contemporary era. Despite Schmitt’s position despite of its evident problems, it is superior to various rulers or groups or individuals who have always shied away from  defining their enemies e.g. Bush, Wolfowitz, Modi, MIM , Khomeini , Ashcroft. This is because Schmitt condemns the idea of waging war for profit and recognizes that such wars will often be disguised as moral crusades waged against the inhuman; and he acknowledges that claiming to fight a war for humanity denies one’s enemies their humanity, leaving them open to torture and even extermination. The example that I will try to explore is politics of American self assertion after 9/11 in schmittian sense.

“Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists” . (George W. Bush)

“The war is considered to constitute the absolute last stand of humanity. Such a war is necessarily unusually intense and inhuman because, by transcending the limits of the political framework, it simultaneously degrades the enemy into moral and other categories and is forced to make of him a monster that must not only be repulsed but also utterly destroyed. In other words, he is no longer an enemy who must only be compelled to retreat into his borders”. (Carl Schmitt)

Derrida suggested that a critical reading of Schmitt could help to understand 9/11 and what continues to follow it. Derrida’s concept of suicidal autoimmunity, – ‘that strange behavior where a living being, in quasi-suicidal fashion, ‘itself’ works to destroy its own protection, to immunize itself against its ‘own’ immunity’ – provides a useful perspective on some of the potential consequences of a continuously shifting, pragmatic response to the need for this negatively grounded US identity to continually re-situate itself opposition to others. Derrida referred to the recurring tendency of US foreign policy to base itself on this logic of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ as doubly suicidal.

Here enemy is, was Islam and Islam’s enemy becomes America’s friend. For Schmitt you need to justify your position while defining enemy like America’s War against terrorism. Historically speaking also in schmittian terms Wilson’s aim to expand US authority to a global scale, to make the world safe for democracy’, required the obedience of Congress to send the country to war on the grounds that world peace and democracy needed protecting. Here the problem is not defining enemy your enemy in schmittian sense. America tries not to define enemy directly and justifies its position by demonizing the image of enemy. As Edward Said remarks in his book Orientalism, Palestinian and Islamic men are often portrayed in popular media as dead, dying, or murderous. This trope of the violent Middle-Eastern man perpetuates the idea that Palestinian men will only respond to violent measures.

After 9/11 Bush administration, responded to the attacks in a moralistic and deeply unhelpful manner, calling for a war to rid the world of evil. Here two categories us and them are created, us v/s them. This fits well with Hobbes’s account of sovereignty

“In which the sovereign ‘‘personates’’ the community, and where person plays upon its theatrical roots as the mask that identities a play’s character: a multitude of men, are made One Person, when they are by one man, or one Person, represented. . . . For it is the Unity of the Representer, not the Unity of the Represented, that make the Person One’’ (Hobbes)

We see ourselves in the person who represents us (sovereign power). In America, only the president represents all Americans. As Bush has put it too, either you are with us, or you are with the terrorist’s. Therefore Islam is constructed as antithesis of west. As for Schmitt an enemy exists only when, at least potentially, one fighting collectivity of people confronts a similar collectivity. In this case Islam represents one collectivity and west other collectivity. The decision the sovereign makes in naming the threat and the enemy is one that declares a state of emergency. Schmitt says “the sovereign is he who decides on the state of exception”

In this sense Bush administration echoes Schmitt’s borderline concept of sovereignty. There are many resemblances of schmittian ideas in his political theology, the concept of the political and Bush administration’s posture since 9/11 like emphasis upon the unity of the community, in America the homeland since September 11, 2001, us and them etc.