Sunday, 31 May 2009

Carl Schmitt

You know, I shouldn't be surprised when a Nazi political theorist turns out to be genocidally racist, should I? But I'm working with Carl Schmitt's The Nomos of the Earth at the moment, for Chapter Three, and it's making me feel a bit sick.*

In 16th and 17th century international law... great areas of freedom were designated as conflict zones in the struggle over the distribution of a new world. As a practical justification, one could argue that the designation of a conflict zone at once freed the area on this side of the line – a sphere of peace and order ruled by European public law – from the immediate threat of those events ‘beyond the line’... The designation of a conflict zone outside Europe contributed also to the bracketing of European wars, which is its meaning and its justification in international law (pp.97-98).

A couple of pages later (p.100):

A rationalization, humanization, and legalization – a bracketing – of war was achieved against this background of global lines. At least with respect to continental land war in European international law, this was achieved by limiting war to a military relation between states.

I keep finding it really hard to believe that he actually means that the territorial dispossession and genocide of indigenous peoples in America, Asia and Australia was a good thing because it 'humanized' war in Europe. But he really, really does mean that. I mean, he really does. And his translator is all like 'hey, this book is awesome' rather than 'there's some good theory in here, but remember you have to completely invert the ethical thrust of the argument'. I just.

(All quotes from Carl Schmitt, The Nomos of the Earth, trans. G L Ulmen [New York: Telos Press, 2006 (2003)], originally written in Berlin 1942-45 and first published, as far as I can make out, in 1950).

*Una, we talked about this last time I was in Cambridge and we talked about whether humankind should TAKE TO THE STARS in the manner of Sylvia Engdahl - you'll be pleased to hear that Schmitt doesn't think that'll work, which is making me think that maybe it will:

The traditional Eurocentric order of international law is foundering now, as is the old nomos of the earth. This order arose from a legendary and unforeseen discovery of a new world, from an unrepeateable historical event. Only in fantastic parallels can one imagine a modern recurrence, such as men on their way to the moon discovering a new and hitherto unknown planet that could be exploited freely and utilized effectively to relieve their struggles on earth. The question of a new nomos of the earth will not be answered with such fantasies... Human thinking again must be directed to the elemental orders of its terrestrial being here and now. We seek to understand the normative order of the earth.


Una McCormack said...

it 'humanized' war in EuropeThe Eastern Front being of course a byword for civilized human interaction.

whether humankind should TAKE TO THE STARSThat quotation is fascinating, hideously so. Because of course we-in-the-West have not yet really had that unrepeatable historical event, discovering a new world. We only imagined that we had and could make that fantasy real (and continue to play with it unthinkingly: see MammothFail).

Oh, and have you read Le Guin's Searoad? Because the opening paragraph of the longest story in it ('Hernes') deprogrammes this kind of thinking in thirteen - count them: THIRTEEN - lines of text. (Can supply copy at need.)

Ika said...

The Eastern Front being of course a byword for civilized human interaction.To be fair to Schmitt (curses curses wot am I saing), he thinks it all started to go wrong around 1890, when Europe stopped being the centre of the earth and people started believing in 'humanity'. So probably the First World War proves his point la la.

we-in-the-West have not yet really had that unrepeatable historical event, discovering a new worldYes! Yes! Yes! MammothFail and also Patrick Ness! (Did you see, someone linked to a post by the mammoth lady [whose name I forget] on an archived email list, where she said that the Native Americans had 'prepared the land for human occupation'? WORDS FAIL ME.)

I have not read Searoad and apparently I must so YESPLEASE. (And then we will owe you a parcel of things.)

Una McCormack said...

So probably the First World War proves his point la la.*ponders* Ah! Crimean War.

"The mammoth lady" an excellent name and so she shall be forever. Yes, that was a very revealing statement. I read some interesting information about the newsgroup where it all happened, which sounded a very nasty place where it became impossible for Right Thinking Folk to raise issues like this.

Will pop Searoad in the post. The whole book is terrific, 'Hernes' in particular (her Virginia Woolf homage).

UKLG ponders the ethics of the fantasy of eradicating the current population of the west coast of America in order to make way for her utopia in Always Coming Home. As ever anticipating us.