Jon Beasley-Murray

The Common Enemy: Tyrants and Pirates
Written in ¡¸¡o, Carl Schmitt’s foreword to
The Nomos of the Earth ends with the statement
that ‘‘The earth has been promised to the peace-
makers. The idea of a new nomos of the earth
belongs only to them.’’
The rest of the book,
however, resonates with the fear that the Second
World War has merely ushered in a period of
interminable warfare. Indeed, Schmitt seems to
anticipate the analysis of Michael Hardt and
Antonio Negri, that ‘‘war is becoming a gen-
eral phenomenon, global and interminable’’ in
the constitution of limitless sovereignty they
term ‘‘Empire.’’
Schmitt, too, in heralding a
new nomos, a new global division and order,
sees the possibility that ‘‘the dualism of East
and West’’ might be ‘‘only the last stage before
an ultimate, complete unity of the world—the
last round, the final step, so to speak, in the
terrible rings to a new nomos of the earth’’
(¡¡q). In this coming arrangement of powers
and forces, war is always on or just over the
horizon as the territorial securities of land and
sea are threatened by their envelopment in an
airspace appropriated militarily and politically
by an ascendant United States. At the very
least, even the possibility of the appropriation of
The South Atlantic Quarterly ¡oq:z, Spring zoo¡.
Copyright © zoo¡ by Duke University Press.
218 Jon Beasley-Murray
airspace heralds a period of new, more deadly and more disconcerting,
forms of war.
We find ourselves therefore with a typology of war, and a typology of dis-
courses onand justifications for war, establishing a historical narrative char-
acterized by a series of shifts: most importantly for Schmitt, from land war
to sea war and then air war; and the construction, then possible derogation,
of the jus publicum Europaeum as a mechanism to regulate war and so also
interstate relations. The Nomos of the Earth presents as European civiliza-
tion’s great achievement what Schmitt terms the ‘‘bracketing’’ of war, its
management and rationalization, such that ‘‘an international legal order’’
arose, ‘‘based on the liquidation of civil war and on the bracketing of war
(in that it transformed war into a duel between European states),’’ which
therefore ‘‘legitimated a realmof relative reason. The equality of sovereigns
made them equally legal partners in war and prevented military methods
of annihilation’’ (¡qz). This achievement is nowthreatened, however, by the
spatial transformations that give us a new world order, a new nomos of the
earth, which brings with it technological changes but also a fundamentally
different character to armed conflict, for instance in the ‘‘purely destructive
character of modern air war’’ (¡zo).
Schmitt’s sympathies are thus fundamentally with Carl von Clausewitz:
war is, or rather should be, the continuation of politics by other means. The
corollary to this is Schmitt’s famous proposition that politics itself should
be envisaged as a form of bellicose antagonism between friend and enemy.
These propositions, as Hardt and Negri also observe, are to distinguish war
and politics even as they relate one to the other: Clausewitz’s ‘‘notion is
based, first of all, on the idea that war and politics are in principle sepa-
rate and different.’’
Schmitt’s definition of politics balances, by bracketing
off, Clausewitz’s conception of war. Yet such an equilibrium is precarious
at best, even during the period of European ascendancy and dominance.
Schmitt’s fundamental concern is with the historical and technological con-
ditions of possibility for Clausewitzian warfare. The ethical stance that gov-
erns Schmitt’s position is the belief that warfare fought justly, or as a rule-
governed exercise, is what enables peace and what legitimates the European
state. Schmitt recognizes that the politicization of warfare—its transforma-
tion into a separate and distinct activity—is not a given; he also recognizes,
unsentimentally, that the price to be paid for such a politicization or hege-
monization is the establishment of an absolute limit, a constitutive outside,
beyond which lies the foe, the enemy beyond reason whose only conceiv-
Tyrants and Pirates 219
able fate is annihilation. The culmination of inter-European agreements to
manage and bracket warfare was the Congo conference of ¡88q–8¡, whose
result was ‘‘the Congo Act—a remarkable final document of the continu-
ing belief in civilization, progress, and free trade’’ (z¡6). The price paid was
an absolute division between European and non-European violence in that,
for Otto von Bismarck, the German host of the conference, ‘‘there would
be grave consequences if natives became involved in disputes between the
civilized powers’’ (z¡¸).
Schmitt traces the increasing permeability of this absolute limit between
the civilized and noncivilized, and the consequent collapse of the European
spatial order: soon ‘‘Europe was no longer the sacral center of the earth’’
and ‘‘in this confusion, the old nomos of the earth determined by Europe
dissolved’’ (zz6). Sven Lindqvist, from a different but complementary per-
spective, describes in rather more detail the historical transition from an
equilibrium underpinned by a clear division between inter-European war
and colonial war, to increasing confusion as the methods and technology
of colonial police actions were imported into the European theater. Aerial
bombing (itself a continuation of the colonial practice of gunboat diplo-
macy, shelling port cities from a safe distance offshore) was instrumental
in this shift. Bombing was embedded first in colonial relations of power:
‘‘Bombs were a means of civilization. Those of us who were already civi-
lized would not be bombed. Thus the bombing inTripoli did not worry most
This was ¡¸¡z. When, twenty-five years later, Guernica is repre-
sented as the first great atrocity of modern war, this is because it was an
instance of civilization turning its bombs on itself: ‘‘Bombing natives was
considered quite natural. The Italians did it in Libya, the French did it in
Morocco, and the British did it throughout the Middle East, in India, and
East Africa . . . only Guernica went down in history. Because Guernica lies
in Europe. In Guernica, we were the ones who died.’’ Here ‘‘the lawlessness
of the wars outside Europe [seeped] into wars between Europeans.’’
ThoughSchmitt does not share Lindqvist’s moral condemnationof either
colonialismor colonial warfare, theirs is a common problem: with the aban-
donment of the European system of international regulation, and the con-
comitant rise of the newmethods of war when it is the air that is the subject
of appropriation, an airspace that envelops land and sea alike, war is now
more horrific than ever. The clear division between Europe and its others
has dissolved, but rather than expanding liberalism and prosperity to the
periphery, this dissolution brings with it the threat that we could all now
220 Jon Beasley-Murray
be subject to colonial violence. And though Schmitt identifies this devel-
opment with American ascendancy, surely there is also the suggestion of a
rueful regret at Blitzkrieg in his description of ‘‘low-flying pilots [that] dive
down and then fly up and away; [they] execute their destructive function,
thenimmediately leave the scene’’ (¡zo). Inthis transactionof death, what is
absent is anexchange or evena relationbetweensubjects who canrecognize
each other: both parties, on the ground or in the air, confront an unknow-
able foe. It is not your enemy, or my enemy; it is a common enemy. The
enemy becomes abstract for both sides: Hardt and Negri point out that in
the so-called War on Terror, Empire nowfaces enemies that are ‘‘not merely
elusive but completely abstract.’’
Surely the same is also true for those who
find themselves on the receiving end of Empire’s actions, victims of bombs
dropped from planes whose vapor trails alone can be seen, ¡o,ooo feet up
in the Afghan sky.
Yet this is not the first appearance of the common enemy. Even within
modernity, and within (or at least not quite without) the European inter-
state system, there were always conflicts that disrupted the laws of mutu-
ality and recognition governing war as duel between sovereigns. The com-
mon enemy has its own history, which Schmitt, in what is almost an aside,
traces through the figures of the tyrant and the pirate: ‘‘For the order of the
land, the tyrant was the common enemy, just as, for the order of the sea,
the pirate was the enemy of the human race’’ (6¡). Whereas the concept of
tyranny refers to a structure of power within given borders, the concept
of piracy invokes a refusal to accept borders or territorial limits. Thinking
tyranny enables an analytic of the exercise of state power within a given
polity; thinking piracy threatens the authority of states at their geographical
The Tyrant
InThe Nomos of the Earth, at least, Schmitt has less to say about tyranny than
about piracy. A full discussion of the concept in Schmitt’s thought would
require more detailed comparison with his theories of dictatorship, but one
could summarize by suggesting that the tyrant is the nonexceptional dicta-
tor: whereas the dictator overturns the constitution for a limited period, to
reestablish and to protect it during a ‘‘state of exception,’’ the tyrant main-
tains his power for an indefinite period, normalizing his rule and deter-
mined to habituate the people to it. The dictator invokes the exception to
uphold the norm; the tyrant attempts to normalize exceptionality.
Tyrants and Pirates 221
Arguably, therefore, the current tendency toward interminable war also
sees the institution of a form of imperial tyranny. Alternatively, one could
examine the extent to which all sovereignty is tyranny, insofar as all state
power is no more (but no less) than normalized exceptionality. In ‘‘Society
Must Be Defended,’’ Michel Foucault traces the history of such a discourse on
sovereignty: one that suggests that war is already interminable, if unrecog-
nized as such. Against the contractual model emphasized by Schmitt, and
against the Clausewitzian separation of spheres, Foucault uncovers an ago-
nistic model that rejoins the discourses of war and politics. He observes
that, with the formation of nation-states, ‘‘a society completely permeated
by warlike relations was gradually replaced by a State endowed withmilitary
but stresses that war continues withinconstitutional arrange-
ments. War is never fully bracketed off. Hence Foucault’s interest in ‘‘a cer-
tain type of discourse about relations between society and war[, one that]
made war the permanent basis of all the institutions of power.’’
The bulk
of ‘‘Society Must Be Defended’’ is devoted to an analysis and genealogy of this
discourse—as a mode of thought that is radically ambivalent, underlying
both Marxism and fascism (if not Schmitt’s fascism), but that is in the end
preferable perhaps to ‘‘the juridical model of sovereignty’’ when it comes
to ‘‘a concrete analysis of power relations.’’
This is a discourse that seeks
to identify or construct a common enemy internal to the polity. It assumes
neither the constitution nor its suspension, but rather an ongoing struggle
between constituent and constituted power.
From the perspective that Foucault outlines, the basis or model for all
war is the civil war. War is not best seen as an activity carried out by and
between states (or even, for that matter, by and between warlords, chief-
tains, or clans), for war preexists the state, and indeed preexists also the
other elements (subject, law) that are takenas a priori for the juridical model
of sovereignty. War preexists the constitution of society; but also, and pace
Hobbes, it lingers on within constituted societies, rather than being ban-
ished to the margins by some social contract.
By contrast, more conventional theories of war, and more traditional po-
litical discourses onwar, tend to see civil war as exceptional, as a particularly
troublesome deviation from a standard model. Even the term civil war cap-
tures some of this confusion, implying as it does the contradictory copres-
ence of civility and violence. In practice, and perhaps especially when faced
with partisan uprisings or guerrilla insurgency, states tend to deny the re-
ality of civil war, to reimpose a vision of juridical sovereignty. As Schmitt
argues, such conflicts involving nonstate actors are reconfigured or reinter-
222 Jon Beasley-Murray
preted in terms of the state. Either they are seen as wars of secession or wars
of independence, or they are proxy wars, wars betweenstates translated into
another key for which conflict is explained by reference to outside agita-
tors (Communists, foreigners) rather than to elements internal to the social
order. The juridical model therefore attempts to reinterpret internal distur-
bance in terms of a war between external states or between entities that
could become states. Thus the state reimposes a sense of its ownlegitimacy.
By contrast, the tradition that Foucault outlines, in which society is ana-
lyzed in terms of a fault line between illegitimate power and unresolved
grievance, depends on the analytic of tyranny and so common enmity. It is
not so much that two states are in a relation of antagonism, as that there is
something rotten in the state form itself, such that power comes to seem
nothing more than an imposition fromabove. But perhaps even the concept
of ‘‘civil war’’ does not go far enough; perhaps it assumes too much, in pre-
supposing that the fundamental division lies within the polity. Surely there
are social conflicts that are best seen as precivil wars, wars for which the
boundaries of civility are not given but are themselves at stake, produced in
and throughthe conflict itself. Here the actors that will have beeninplay are
discovered or revealed only after the cessation of hostilities, because they
are created within the conflict itself.
Unlike Foucault, in short, Schmitt passes over the creativity of war,
its ability to provide a new optic or framework for interpretation: in and
through conflict, tyrants continue to rise and fall. The tyrant, furthermore,
calls forth the insurgent, the partisan, the common that faces the tyrant as
enemy. Yet howcan we be sure that this commonality does not itself resolve
into tyranny? The tyrant inspires new tyrants, new state forms, as much as
he calls forth other modes of community. The common too often is reduced
to a Stalin, Pol Pot, or Abimael Guzmán as much as it is incarnated in an
Augusto Sandino or a Subcomandante Marcos (or whichever other insurgent
we might choose to support).
The Pirate
If the tyrant is the figure of state power at its limit, a state power that allows
no movement, that is pure fixity and asphyxiation, the pirate, though also a
common enemy of the human, is in some sense the tyrant’s opposite num-
ber. The pirate inhabits a space beyond the social, certainly beyond the ter-
ritorial claims of terrestrial states. In Schmitt’s words, he is a ‘‘daring adven-
Tyrants and Pirates 223
turer’’ (q¡): the pirate thrives on novelty and difference, while the tyrant
insists on habituation to the existent same. Piracy is criminalized as states
attempt to impose their order on the unruly, ever-unpredictable sea. It was
with the rise of ‘‘the great sea empires, maritime nations’’ that ‘‘the pirate
was declared to be an enemy of the human race’’ (qq).
Piracy has been celebrated, by contrast, by the likes of Marcus Rediker
and Peter Linebaugh, whose work The Many-Headed Hydra revels in the
accounts of the ‘‘motley’’ crews of pirates, dissenters, mutineers, and other
renegades in the Anglo-American North Atlantic of the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries.
They point out that, while the tyrant produces the
common by antithesis (in the insurgent) or is a grotesque image of a territo-
rialized, habituated common, the pirate incarnates the common, or a form
of countercommonality that is also an adventurous experiment in com-
munity. For Rediker and Linebaugh, piracy represents an Exodus, a line
of flight from wage labor and hierarchy, and the opportunity to construct
experimental modes of social organization. Piracy, in short, offers a utopian
possibility that the state declares has to be criminalizedandannihilatedpour
encourager les autres. Rediker’s more recent Villains of All Nations claims that
eighteenth-century pirates fostered a ‘‘radical democratic social order and
culture’’ that had to be eliminated to ensure the continuing survival and
profitability of the Atlantic slave trade.
In line with Schmitt’s understand-
ing of maritime space, Rediker emphasizes the ways in which piracy flour-
ished in the oceanic context: ‘‘The pirate’s image was closely related to the
space he occupied—the sea, a distant place full of dangers, a site of frequent
disaster. . . . The disciplinary network that underlay the social order thus
had a weak presence at sea.’’
It is clear how Rediker and Linebaugh have
been influenced by Deleuze and Guattari and autonomist interest in the
nomad, or the subject of refusal, whose relation to space is one of mobility
rather than territoriality, the line rather than the fixed point.
Historically, however, the question of piracy is still more interesting than
either Schmitt or Rediker and Linebaugh will allow. What soon becomes
apparent is the slippage between piracy and state action throughout the
period of Atlantic colonization. Just as the Pinzóns, Columbus’s collabora-
tors and cosponsors in his ¡q¸z voyage, had an element of piracy in their
background, so in the age of the Elizabethan freebooters, figures such as Sir
Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake operated on both sides of the margin
separating state policy from reckless adventurism. Hardt and Negri briefly
refer to the ‘‘equivocal’’ nature of the relationship ‘‘between Queen Eliza-
224 Jon Beasley-Murray
beth and the pirates of the Atlantic in the sixteenth century’’ and imply that
the golden age of piracy (analyzed by Rediker) can be considered the revolt
of mercenary forces fostered by imperial powers.
Throughout the seven-
teenth and early eighteenth centuries, however, it was a thin and uncertain
line that separated the freebooting encouraged by provincial governors and
the social evil or common enemy soon to be articulated by the imperial cen-
ter. Moreover, as the myriad popular and mass-culture representations of
piracy fromCaptain Hook to Johnny Depp reveal, the struggles of this com-
monenemy have long resonatedat the very heart evenof animperial culture
industry such as Hollywood. Piracy, in short, cannot be simply demarcated
as a constituent exterior to the civilized state.
More generally, are not the state’s appropriation and reutilization of het-
erodox modes of conflict, fromthe pirate raid to special forces, the points at
which the state itself becomes piratical? The pirate is not the colonial other;
the pirate inhabits andcrosses the permeable membrane that divides enemy
from foe, civilization from its other. In other words, the concept of the
pirate is, like the partisan, still indifferent, still ambivalent. And the ambiva-
lence of piracy is all the sharper if we consider the similarities between
the modern pirate and postmodern terrorist: even Rediker admits that ‘‘in
truth, pirates were terrorists of a sort,’’ andthis identificationis hardly much
attenuated by his insistence that theirs was ‘‘a terror of the weak against
the strong.’’
Charles Glass, indeed, noting the contemporary rise of pirate
activity inthe Malacca Straits andelsewhere, suggests that piracy andterror-
ism may soon converge: ‘‘The business [of piracy] has become too lucrative
to leave to amateurs, and the targets are too tempting to assume terrorists
will ignore them.’’
He concludes with the following warning: ‘‘Afghani-
stan, Iraq, Colombia, the city ghettos of the Western world and the frontier
badlands of Russia are more restive than ever. So are the Oceans.’’
Following Schmitt’s promptings (if not his own leanings), it would seem
worth considering further tyranny and piracy as archetypes of the common
enemy that now prevails within the postmodern, imperial order. The com-
mon undoes careful distinctions between war and politics. The common
undoes hegemony and its separation of civil society from subaltern out-
side. But to announce posthegemony is not to renounce analysis. There is
no single ‘‘common’’; nor, it seems to me, are there any easy ways to pre-
dict the fate of commonality: it may lead equally to a mirror tyranny or to
the suicide bomber as to the precarious utopian communities imagined of
either insurgents or those who sail beneath the Jolly Roger. But perhaps
Tyrants and Pirates 225
only commonality can provide modes of habitation and conviviality in an
era of interminable warfare.
¡ Carl Schmitt, The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of the Jus Publicum Euro-
paeum, trans. G. L. Ulmen (NewYork: Telos, zoo¡), ¡¸. Further citations of this edition
appear in the text.
z Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire
(New York: Penguin, zooq), ¡.
¡ Ibid., 6.
q Sven Lindqvist, A History of Bombing, trans. Linda Haverty Rugg (London: Granta,
zoo¡), 8z.
¡ Ibid., ¡6o, q¸.
6 Hardt and Negri, Multitude, ¡o–¡¡.
; Michel Foucault, ‘‘Society Must Be Defended’’: Lectures at the Collège de France, –,
trans. David Macey (London: Penguin, zoo¡), z6;.
8 Ibid.
¸ Ibid., z6q.
¡o Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra: The Hidden History of the
Revolutionary Atlantic (London: Verso, zooo).
¡¡ Marcus Rediker, Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age (Boston: Beacon,
zooq), 8z.
¡z Ibid., ¡¡q, ¡¡6.
¡¡ Hardt and Negri, Multitude, q8.
¡q Rediker, Villains of All Nations, ¡–6.
¡¡ Charles Glass, ‘‘The New Piracy,’’ London Review of Books, December ¡8, zoo¡, ¡.
¡6 Ibid., ;.

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