Thursday, March 23, 2023

#82 / Carl Schmitt: The Friend-Enemy Distinction


That is Carl Schmitt on the right, shown with Ernst Jünger. Schmitt was one of the political theorists who provided the intellectual scaffolding that permitted the construction of the Nazi state. Jünger was a Nazi, too, and served as an army captain in occupied Paris.  
According to Wikipedia, by 1943 Jünger had "turned decisively against Nazi totalitarianism and its goal of world conquest, a change manifested in his work 'Der Friede' (The Peace). Jünger was dismissed from the army in 1944 after he was indirectly implicated with fellow officers who had plotted to kill Hitler." 
So, in the picture shown above, the guy with the Nazi uniform is the "good guy." Schmitt, it appears, was not, and never became, a "good guy." 

I think I knew the names of both Schmitt and Jünger, but I can't say I really knew anything about them. I was alerted to the continuing influence of Schmitt's thinking by Roger Berkowitz, the Founder and Academic Director of The Hannah Arendt Center, at Bard College. In a recent posting to Amor Mundi, the weekly newsletter of the Hannah Arendt Center, Berkowitz references the "Friend/Enemy" theory of politics advanced by Schmitt. Berkowitz linked his own brief comment to an extensive discussion by N.S. Lyons, who produces a blog called "The Upheaval."

I was happy to find out about "The Upheaval," since it is a blog that explores "the shared upheavals of our era, including technological and cultural change, the ideological revolution consuming the West, the rise of China, and the crisis of liberalism." I am definitely interested in these topics, so I have now signed up for one more blog! You can sign up for "The Upheaval," too, if you are of a mind to, by clicking right here
Getting back to Schmitt, "The Upheaval" discusses his career and thinking at length. If you are willing to spend a little time doing so, you can find out a lot about Schmitt from Lyons' blog posting titled," The Temptations of Carl Schmitt." According to Lyons, Schmitt was not only a political theorist, but the "Crown Jurist of the Third Reich," and Lyons says that Schmitt's thinking has, today, "returned to center stage."
From the liberal state’s flailing degradation of its popular legitimacy, to the emergence of governance by permanent emergency, to the radical polarization of politics, to the birth of post-modernism and the dominance of identity: Schmitt foreshadowed all of these things. Indeed, to read Schmitt in 2023 can easily present the alluring feeling of having opened a hidden dialogue willing to honestly diagnose the undercurrents so obviously raging beneath the chaos, absurdity, and official obfuscations of a Weimar America.

Even more significantly – but far less well known or understood – Schmitt was among the first to truly wrestle with how we should collectively respond to the arrival of what he labeled the “Age of Technicity,” in which, in a disenchanted world, technology now threatened to dominate Man. But his proposed solution would in the end only help birth the modern techno-nihilist total state and provoke a cataclysm of violence.

To read Schmitt seriously is to flirt with the abyss. It is both to see hard truths revealed and to listen to the false whispers of a snake. Nonetheless, or therefore, I believe Schmitt is truly a symbolic man of our moment – just perhaps not in the way either his newfound admirers or long-time detractors, right and left alike, have necessarily thought through. 
Lyons goes on to say the following, outlining the fundamental basis of Schmitt's political philosophy:

Schmitt published his most well-known and influential work, The Concept of the Political, in 1927 (revising it for republication in 1932). From its opening line – “The concept of the state presupposes the concept of the political” – Schmitt seeks to define what “the political,” and therefore the business of the political state, actually is. His answer is straightforward: the political is no less and no more than distinguishing between one’s friends and one’s enemies (emphasis added).
MY concept of the political (well, I admit that it's really Abraham Lincoln's concept of the political), is that "the political" is our collective effort to establish, and to make use of, a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people." ALL the people - my favorite and much-repeated expression being, "we are all in this together." 
This is different from Schmitt's idea, stated this way by Lyons: "the concept of the state presupposes the concept of the political because the state as an organized political entity decides for itself the friend-enemy distinction.”  

A look at modern warfare (let's think Ukraine) makes clear what this idea of the political means in practice. Friends are supported. Enemies are obliterated. That principle is at work, today, at every political level, including, Lyons' blog suggests, at the national level, in the United States of America. That is really the political conversation now underway. Do we want to base our politics on that Friend/Enemy" distinction - and justify and celebrate the extirpation of "the enemy"? Or, are we going to seek out ways to maintain a politics based on the idea that we are "all in this together"? That seems to be the central question facing our politics today.

What is it that they have been known to say on Fox TV?
You Decide!

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