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THE POLITICAL ONTOLOGY OF CARL SCHMITT
by MICHAEL MARDER
Schmitt. Title. Carl. No part of this book may be reproduced. paper) 1. cm. JC263. 11 York Road.2010 The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc 80 Maiden Lane. 1888–1985—Criticism and interpretation. NY 10038 The Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd The Tower Building. Includes index.com Copyright © 2010 by Michael Marder All rights reserved. 2. paper) ISBN-10: 0-8264-6595-1 (hardcover : alk. London SE1 7NX www. Chennai. 1980– Groundless existence : the political ontology of Carl Schmitt / by Michael Marder. mechanical. photocopying.continuumbooks. or otherwise. ISBN-13: 978-0-8264-6595-5 (hardcover : alk. India Printed and bound in the United States of America by Thomson-Shore. recording. Michael. or transmitted.092—dc22 ISBN: HB: 978-0-8264-6595-5 2009051356 Typeset by Newgen Imaging Systems Pvt Ltd. p. stored in a retrieval system. without the written permission of the publishers. Political science— Philosophy. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Marder. in any form or by any means. electronic. Inc .S34M368 2010 320. New York. I.
Marina and Lev .For my mother and brother.
Carl Schmitt. Diffamierungen.Ich habe die Escavessaden des Schicksals erfahren. from “Song of the Sexagenerian” translated by G. Und alles ist durch mich hindurchgegangen. Siege und Niederlagen. L. Regimewechsel und Rohrbrüche. Through it all I have passed. Inflationen und Deflationen. Ausbombungen. Carl Schmitt. internment and solitary confinement. Hunger und Kälte. Ulmen . Lager und Einzelhaft. Inflations and deflations. bombings. broken regimes and broken pipes. Defamations. And through me it all has passed. Durch alles das bin ich hindurchgegangen. “Gesang des Sechzigjährigen” I have experienced the tribulations of fate. Revolutionen und Restaurationen. Victories and defeats. revolutions and restorations. Hunger and cold.
Contents Acknowledgments List of Abbreviations: The Works of Carl Schmitt Introduction On the Possibility of a Non-Objectivist Political Ontology ix xi 1 Chapter 1 PART I THE ELEMENTS Geometry of the Exception: The Point and the Line To the Point! Beyond the Line The Extremism of the Middle Point The Point of the Political The Danger: Unavoidability of Risk A Taxonomy of Risk Whence Political Risk? The Anthropological minus the Economic Risky Recognitions Risky Decisions The Non-Ground: From the Concept of the Political to the Event of Politics A Philosophical Primer: Snapshots of the Event in Heidegger and Derrida There is No Such Thing as the “Political Sphere”! Schmitt’s Anti-Economism Revisited: Nomos/Appropriation. Politics/Expropriation How to Remain Faithful to the Event of Politics? 13 15 20 27 32 38 39 44 49 54 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 60 61 62 70 75 vii .
Multiculturalism. . Constitutional Details The Fragility of the Status and the Irreducibility of the Political Chapter 6 Political Reduction to Constitutive Subjectivity Schmitt and Husserl: From the Crisis The Ontology of Political Will P.: On Political Consciousness PART III ON THE GROUND Chapter 7 Living Forms: Culture. PART II THE CRITIQUE Chapter 5 Metonymic Abuses of Modernity In the Name of the Law . . and Complexio Oppositorum Disentangling Complexio Oppositorum The Living Forms of Politics A Virtuous Circle: The Mutual Invigoration of Culture and Politics Multiculturalism: A New Complexio Oppositorum? Chapter 8 Political Hermeneutics: The Necessity of Interpretation Schmitt and Gadamer: Decision and Interpretation Politics as Interpretation Interpreting the Meaning of the Political Political Theology as a Hermeneutic Endeavor 84 84 85 92 94 103 105 113 118 126 126 130 141 149 149 153 159 162 170 170 175 179 183 . . Constitutional Unity.viii CONTENTS Chapter 4 Politics in Question Prelude: Questioning the Question Posing the Question Interlude: Yes or No? In Place of a Response . .S.
Sem ti. Members of the editorial group at Telos Press. substantially enriching Chapter 8 of the present study. não conseguia. have been exceptionally enthusiastic about the project. Joseph Bendersky. I am also thankful to the Acquisitions Editor at Continuum Books. My discussions with Rebecca Comay (University of Toronto) were crucial for the formulations of “the event of politics” in Chapter 3 of the book. Finally. Santiago Zabala shared his sharp insights on hermeneutics. Washington.Acknowledgments At the earliest stages of its composition. David Pan. um enorme obrigado à minha querida Patrícia. it was in the context of his seminar on “Carl Schmitt and Contemporary Political Theory” at the New School for Social Research in Spring 2005 that the idea of Groundless Existence was born. Marie-Claire Antoine. as well as the publisher of Telos. parts of which appeared on the pages of this indispensable academic journal. while the exchanges with Alexandre Franco de Sá gave me new perspectives on Schmitt’s legal philosophy. including Russell Berman. Mary Piccone. DC September 2009 ix . this book benefited from the comments of Hubertus Buchstein (Greifswald University). who has been unwavering in her support for Groundless Existence.
in a special section on Carl Schmitt. 2010). “From the Concept of the Political to the Event of Politics” was included in Telos 147. and 7 appeared as articles in the journal Telos.” “Carl Schmitt and the Risk of the Political” was featured in Telos. in a special issue on “Culture and Politics in Carl Schmitt.” which I edited in Summer 2009 (pp. pp. a special issue on “Carl Schmitt and the Event. 5–24. . 3. Finally. “Carl Schmitt’s ‘Cosmopolitan Restaurant’: Culture. Spring 2008.x ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Note: Modified versions of Chapters 2. 142. and the Complexio Oppositorum” was published in Telos. Multiculturalism. 29–47. Fall 2005. 132. 55–76). IL: Northwestern University Press. pp. a version of Chapter 8 will appear as a chapter in a collection edited by Santiago Zabala & Jeff Malpas and titled Consequences of Hermeneutics (Evanston.
LL: Legality and Legitimacy. Expanded Edition. CPD: The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy. trans. LS: Land and Sea. G. D: Die Diktatur: Von den Anfängen des modernen Souveränitätsgedankens bis zum proletarischen Klassenkampf (Munich and Leipzig. trans. J. trans. DC: Plutarch Press.List of Abbreviations: The Works of Carl Schmitt The Concept of the Political. 2002). 2007). Seitzer (Durham. Schwab and E. Draghici (Corvallis: Plutarch Press. L. Oakes (Cambridge and London: MIT Press. 1997). Kennedy (Cambridge and London: MIT Press. J. CT: Constitutional Theory. Ulmen (New York: Telos Press. 2006). trans. NC and London: Duke University Press. G: Glossarium: Aufzeichnungen der Jahre 1947–1951. 1991). Draghici (Washington. G. 2008). NC and London: Duke University Press. 1991). CT and London: Greenwood Press. Schwab (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. Seitzer (Durham. E. Hilfstein (Westport. trans. Freiherr von Medem (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot. 1986). ed. trans. E. 1996). S. trans. 2004). 2003). PR: Political Romanticism. CP: xi . G. S. EC: Ex Captivitate Salus: Efahrungen der Zeit 1945/47 (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot. HH: Hamlet or Hecuba: The Irruption of Time into the Play. G. 1921). trans. NE: The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of Jus Publicum Europaeum. trans. LST: The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes.
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
PT: PTII: RC: TP:
Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, trans. G. Schwab (London and Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985). Political Theology II: The Myth of the Closure of Any Political Theology (London and New York: Polity, 2008). Roman Catholicism and Political Form, trans. G. L. Ulmen (Westport, CT and London: Greenwood Press, 1996). “Theory of the Partisan: Intermediate Commentary on the Concept of the Political (1963),” trans. G. L. Ulmen, Telos 127, Spring 2004, pp. 11–78.
Introduction On the Possibility of a Non-Objectivist Political Ontology
Spring 1947 witnessed a momentous set of events: the recurrent interrogations of Carl Schmitt (1888–1985) by his American captors at Nuremberg. The triptych of the transcripts of these examinations, gathered in the first special issue of the journal Telos (Summer 1987) devoted entirely to the German political thinker, gives the reader a vivid insight into Schmitt’s apologia in the course of which he was prompted to respond to the charges of providing a theoretical justification for Hitler’s Grossraum policy and of collaborating in preparation of the wars of aggression. The questioning by Robert Kempner bordered on the absurd, requesting the defendant to write up constitutional opinions and essay-form responses to the incriminations. But, more than anything, at the dusk of Western metaphysics, it inverted the judicial scene that occurred at the inception of this philosophical tradition: the trial of Socrates. What Schmitt went through was not a public trial—he was never formally charged with the allegations set before him, nor was he tried by his compatriots, nor was he sentenced to death as a result. While Socrates was accused, chiefly, of subverting the Athenian polis, Schmitt faced the charges of supporting and collaborating with the Nazi state. In the first case, the philosopher appeared to be a threat to public order, at odds with the democratic authorities of the day; in the second case, the political thinker was presented as the handmaid of Hitler’s regime, the agent who laid the groundwork for a new order. Whereas the fault of Socrates was, in a nutshell, that he dangerously exceeded the legal and custom-bound particularities of his city-state (trumpeting philosophy as a universal vocation), the crime of Schmitt was that, whether directly or indirectly, he aided and abetted German expansionism and its wars of aggression against what is universally human.
These differences are symptomatic of the epochal contrasts between ancient Greece and Nazi Germany—the contrasts thinkers like Heidegger preferred to see as the closest of affinities—as well as between the beginning and the end of Western metaphysics, when the Platonic politics of truth, guided by the eternal, objective light of Ideas, is supplanted by postmetaphysical political thought, deriving its meaning from the concreteness of human existence. The Socratic subversion is a metaphysical embrace of the world of pure thought at the expense of all historical contingencies; the Schmittian sedition consists in a series of post-metaphysical interventions described as occasionalist, if not opportunist. All too often, however, Schmitt has been read, precisely, as a political metaphysician, even by commentators as perceptive as Jacques Derrida. In a curious and bitterly ironic remark during the April 1947 interrogations, Schmitt reflected on the reception of his thought in response to Kempner’s assurance that he would examine the requested legal opinion of the former “very closely.” “I am happy to have found a reader once again,” Schmitt quipped, “In general, my writings have been read very poorly. I fear the superficial reader.”1 This reproach, addressed not solely to the immediate interrogator, rings true over the decades that have passed since then and is as fresh for us as it was over sixty years ago, partly because the 1947 interrogations have never really ended but have been leading posthumous existence years after the author’s death, and partly because Schmitt’s fears turned out to be warranted. What would it mean to read him “very closely” and in a way that is not superficial? Would there be any space left for a metaphysical interpretation were this demand satisfied? And, if not, which alternative intellectual resources and traditions could assist us in living up to such a demand? The recent resurgence of interest in Schmitt, among those on the Left and on the Right alike, that has made of him a prophet heralding the decline of classical Liberalism, leaves one reluctant to join the fray, even if it is to add a dissenting voice. Faced with the avalanche of “Schmitt scholarship” in the late twentieth- and early twenty-first centuries, the goal of those who study his works should be to say less, rather than more, to subtract from the interpretive sediments that which suppresses and suffocates the original thinking of the political as political. To a certain extent, Schmitt’s preferred strategy of “the safety of silence,” die Sicherheit des Schweigens,2 ought to be transformed into the reticence of interpretation. This does not mean that we should ignore the rich history of reception, on both sides of the Atlantic, of writings that prove to be more and more relevant and influential today; what I am advocating is a reduction of this mass of primary
and secondary sources, to the political philosophical architecture they sketch out. While Schmitt’s fundamental concepts of the sovereign decision, the state of exception, and the friend-enemy distinction, to name but a few, have become common currency in contemporary practical and theoretical analyses of texts and concrete political situations, their philosophical underpinnings and, more importantly, the impulse that gave birth to them have been largely ignored. The standard approach to the study of the genesis of these concepts is broadly historical, in that it pays painstaking attention to the context and circumstances of their emergence in the chaos of Weimar Germany, for example, prompting Schmitt to write an extensive critique of liberal constitutionalism collated in his influential Verfassunglehre (Constitutional Theory). The historicist methodology is, certainly, justified by the overtly polemical nature of his texts, by his professional training as a jurist, and by his insistently negative estimation of philosophy in general and of metaphysics in particular. One could even argue that, in the disparate writings stretching over a significant portion of the twentieth century, Schmitt produced neither political philosophy, nor political thought, in a conventional sense, but an engaged and somewhat fragmentary practical theory of politics. This argument, however, does a major disservice to what are, perhaps, the most ground-breaking political ideas of the past century, for at least three reasons. First, it treats their intuitions as mere reactions to historical circumstances; second, it is willing to concede to them an extremely limited scope of relevance, conditioned by the extent to which our situation is still that of Schmitt (or is, at least, analogously so); and, third, it veils the deeper motivations for his interventions in political thought and practice. To say less about these interventions is to distill from them the political philosophical architecture that definitively sets aside the classical Aristotelian foundations for the thinking of the political and that refuses to impose a prefabricated form onto the content of political life, which alone bestows meaning on what has been correctly identified as the practical theory of politics. This non-Aristotelian architectonics does not amount to a system of thought but to an ontology that inquires into the uniquely political mode of being, the ultimate goal of Schmitt’s analyses, which I will elucidate with reference to his writings of the early and late periods alike. Some will object, straightaway, that the emphasis on ontology is incongruous with political theology, which, instead of restricting the political sphere to a static systemic arrangement, considers it in the flux of its becoming—not of Being—as a history of secularization. The above objection will hold little sway as soon as we acknowledge that it revolves around a vague
” leveling and equalizing the electoral processes. Describing these mutilated experiences. more precisely. namely. the friend. one cannot afford to neglect this latter tier of politics. to his theory of identity worked out in Logical Investigations. from which flesh-and-blood human beings have been either evacuated by a theoretical sleight of hand or rendered purely hypothetical. with recourse to the “real possibility” that would impart a new sense of vitality. or. whose very humanness is defined by the possibility of undergoing it.3 the latter acknowledges his indebtedness to the early work of the former. then. and so on. thereby inadvertently undermining themselves. The descriptive and the critical trajectories of Schmitt’s thought combine to form the second facet of his political ontology—an applied hermeneutical phenomenology.4 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE understanding of ontology and an even more tentative grasp of what the real target of Schmitt’s criticism is. The new political ontology is not so much the ontology of power but of political subjectivity and. which enriches our appreciation of the discussions of democratic identification in The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy and Legality and Legitimacy. the objectivist-metaphysical ontology of impersonal political structures and institutions. and—let it be stated already—suffocate raw political experiences. to de-sediment. lacking any predetermined structures. is complemented by a rigorous phenomenological reduction that strives to disclose the experiential sources of the political buried beneath multiple institutional strata and sealed by the bureaucratization and reification of the political. incompatible with the endorsement of a totalitarian state. of being-with and being-against others (I ask the reader to indulge me with this preliminary recoding of the friend-enemy distinction in onto-phenomenological terms). politics is an experience— and the most intense one at that—of human beings. hence. to reactivate. The non-normative description of political experience does not bar a meditation on the ways in which political structures overlay. predicate themselves on. . to collective existence. in Constitutional Theory. Schmitt wishes. In other words. Although the relation between political existence and institutions is largely negative. while political ontology is an inquiry into this experiential field. and to reorient them toward the future. in harmony with the phenomenological objectives of the late Edmund Husserl. norms. the “deadening” of life in modernity. The interpretation of human collective existence. or ground-rules. of the concrete existence of embodied figures populating Schmitt’s oeuvre: the sovereign. But it is not only the critical-reductive inclination that unites Husserl and Schmitt against the bureaucratization and. To sum up. as in John Rawls’s conjectures about the “veil of ignorance. the partisan. the enemy. hence.
to a certain extent. though only temporarily. but. . in his private diaries. Lefort successfully applied the phenomenological categories of his master. the former imposed on it a historical stricture of the proletarian collectivity that both trivialized other agonistic subjectivities and outlived. without ever filling the ontological void of democracy. for instance. instead. he came to the quintessentially Schmittian insight that the political distinction between “us” and “them” is built into political ontology from which the Third is absent. despite overt declarations of allegiance to materialism. by Slavoj Žižek. phenomenology and existentialism. Schmitt often registered his impatience with. foregrounds the most amorphous phenomenological concept of flesh. favored. The advantage of a existential-phenomenological political ontology is that it is capable of balancing a critical analysis of institutions and a descriptive characterization of subjective experiences. diametrically opposed to Lefort’s theoretical shortcoming: where the latter chose an extremely abstract level of analysis for his political ontology. The problem with Sartre is. which Merleau-Ponty. therefore. Tackling the disincarnation of the political as a consequence of the French Revolution. Maurice Merleau-Ponty.7 Nevertheless. this empty place. it is rather unfortunate that Lefort’s keen phenomenological sensibility is too abstract and totalizing.6 In turn.5 place an exclusive emphasis on the subject. Among its adherents we might single out. Most contemporary applications of political ontology are still shackled to the objectivist metaphysics of those structures and forces that are observable from “a bird’s eye-view” and are a posteriori accessible in the experience of actual political subjects.Introduction 5 non-objectivist political ontology is an existential-phenomenological reinvention of political philosophy with an eye to the lived experience of politics and its corrosion in modernity. in addition to Schmitt. To be sure. Given this promising conclusion. dialectical or otherwise. the “Us-object” that struggles to cast off the neutralizing. its historical relevance. oppressive Third and to constitute itself as a “We-subject” is nothing but the class-consciousness of the oppressed. two twentieth-century French theorists: Claude Lefort and Jean-Paul Sartre.4 Other uses of the term. because it lacks an existential dimension. idealizing it. Sartre explored the political implications of both phenomenology and existentialism with reference to a particular political subject: the working class. if not a disdain toward. too. At the core of the argument is the idea that the democratic body politic constitutes itself without a stable embodiment and that the participants in the democratic contest desire to occupy. toward a philosophical analysis of democracy. Marrying Hegelian Marxism and Heideggerianism in Being and Nothingness.
“live always in anticipation of a radical change that at its core may be unattainable .”9 What Löwith and Richard Wolin in his footsteps omit is that.”11 It is true that one should not harbor the hope that “a lasting or stable politics” could come into being on the existentialphenomenological grounds of subjective political existence. Wolin’s extension of this faulty argument to Schmitt’s writings is under a patently wrong impression that the existential preoccupation with wholeness results in political totalitarianism. to a constructive theory of the political. And yet.6 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE In the postwar notebooks. in light of the ecstatic character of existence that does not coincide with itself due to its temporal lag behind (thrownness) and being ahead of (projection) itself. And.”8 Martin Heidegger’s “ontological-existential method of interpretation” in Being and Time receives the appellation Kitschig-banal and “ethical-characteristic” (G 109–110). in the same notes collected in Glossarium. It is not a matter of phenomenology. doubts will arise regarding the relevance of the proposed methodology. That Schmitt underestimated the influence of phenomenology and existentialism on his own thinking has been noted by his contemporaries. who concludes that. Even if we are to entertain the hypothesis that Schmitt’s political thought comes into sharper relief against an extensive existential-phenomenological background.10 Much ink and paper could have been saved were Heidegger’s existentialism and its consequences properly understood in terms of the impossibility of totalizing human existence in its temporal openness. a decisionism that shifts the capacity for ‘Being-as-a-whole’ of the Dasein which is always on its own to the ‘totality’ of the state which is always one’s own. for it gives us a foretaste of Schmitt’s political ontology free from transcendentalist and objectivist-metaphysical . this impossibility is not entirely negative. “But the ‘I’ is not the friend.” writes Michael Gillespie. specifically. in the course of human existence. he calls Heidegger “my dear friend and my honored enemy” (G 263). nor is the ‘non-I’ the enemy. They are thus not likely to be the source of a lasting or stable politics. except in the moment of death. . . this capacity is never actualized. such as Karl Löwith. he writes. Heidegger is mindful of how impossible such a project would be. “Existentialism and phenomenology. but they are likely to be a continuing voice of dissatisfaction with politics in its everyday incarnations. “It is no accident if Heidegger’s existential ontology corresponds to a political ‘decisionism’ in Carl Schmitt. Although the construction of the totality is the nagging obsession of Being and Time. it is a matter of the accumulations of power in which one must assert oneself.
the Schmittian “voice of dissatisfaction” with what goes under the name of politics in liberal modernity. likewise belongs in this geometry of the exception. hinges on the fact that—unlike economics. the elements of which are discussed in Part I of this book. where the sovereign decision is made prior to and outside of these delineations. saturates all political actions and phenomena in Schmitt’s writings. take the form of a question: being put in question by the enemy as the first step toward political subjecthood and viewing the enemy as the shape of our own question. for instance) with extreme uncertainty that liberal administrative escapism tries to eliminate by subjugating substantive questions to procedural exigencies (Chapter 2). the political may be understood as their de. finally. Casting existence and the human figure itself in terms of an open-ended question without a definitive. It also inflects all political decisions and recognitions (of the enemy.or expropriation. It. The second part of Groundless Existence matches the pattern identified by Michael Gillespie. essentialist answer completes the vital elements of Schmitt’s non-objectivist political ontology (Chapter 4). The groundlessness of the political is poignantly expressed in the hopelessness of the partisan.” at which a certain quantity of antagonism qualitatively transforms and politicizes all other domains of human activity. morality. The devaluation of the transcendental grounding for politics. The “purity” of the political. perspicaciously observed by Mathias Schmitz. who takes the risk of radical action and fights in the face of the overwhelming odds of defeat.Introduction 7 prejudices. Chapter 1 conceives of nomos. Chapter 3 conceives of the event central to Schmitt’s political philosophy on the model of Derrida’s anti-metaphysical event of expropriation. as opposed to the exceptional point of the political. in that it presents a phenomenological critique of politics. and the law in terms of limiting lines and boundaries. rather. The difference and non-identity that inhabit the core of political identity. in the existential sense of the term. which is but a quantitative intensity of antagonism. The precariousness of the point detached from the line is rife with risk that. What I call “the metonymic abuses of . ungrounds all other realms of human action. To ascertain that politics is ultimately grounded in concrete life and in collective existence is to deny that its foundations depend on any preset legal or normative parameters. Further accentuating the groundlessness of the political. Setting the stage for this inquiry. norms. and so on—it does not have a proper domain of its own. and since the possibility of politicization inheres in them. What Schmitt calls “the point of the political.12 wakes us up to a postfoundational political ontology.
by means of political-phenomenological reduction. which I explore in the following chapter on “political reduction to constitutive subjectivity. that pile layer upon layer of impersonal and dead political existence. this critical exercise is not fixated on a purely negative assessment of all actually existing and potentially plausible political arrangements but boasts a positive and constructive side. A reinvigorated multiculturalism. these living forms of political existence owe their vivacity to their provenance from collective life that imparts to them its own plasticity and fluidity. In sum.” “emergency. In Chapter 7. Schmitt’s enterprise boils down to clearing away. which is necessarily . nor project culturally specific attitudes and beliefs onto the contrived sphere of universality. It is deeply erroneous to draw a strict line of demarcation between the active constitution-making capacity and the passive routine of interpretation. and. It would not have been sufficient to outline the contours of Schmittian ontology and to recast his critique of political modernity in phenomenological terms without demonstrating how this ontology could inform political life in its actuality. I locate the living and substantive form in politics by rethinking multiculturalism on the basis of complexio oppositorum (the complex of opposites) that determines the political form of Catholicism in Schmitt’s early work. at the same time. forgotten and lost underneath them (Chapter 5). to deplore those judges. such as “danger.” In doing so. but will grow out of a tense and agonistic negotiation of cultural coexistence. whose historico-polemical potential has expired. inspired by Schmitt. more specifically. and of legitimacy by legality—are the substitutions of an empty and formal part for the whole. they are the products of postreductive attempts at theorizing the subjects. In contrast to Gillespie’s thesis. one fails to realize that every interpretation is already an existential decision. however obscured. The same sort of fluidity pertains to politics as a hermeneutic endeavor. whereby changes in political existence precipitate new determinations and interpretations of the vague evaluative concepts. refusing to synthesize the radically pluralistic arrangement in one concept. will neither predelineate the terrain for political engagements. I contend that the categories “political will” and “political consciousness” are much more than mere metaphysical vestiges. who determine every political constellation (Chapter 6).” and so on. of the constitution by constitutional laws as well as by the bourgeois constitutional framework.” Here. these reified and oppressive strata in order to leave enough breathing space for the subjectivity that invests them with meaning (animates or activates them) and that is.8 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE modernity”—including the metonymization of the political by the state. whom certain American politicians dub “activist.
Summer 1987. surpass the depth and the scope of Being as such. The multiplication of political interpretations self-legitimated by sovereign decisions denies the validity of positive legality. The most blatant example of this approach is Colin Wright. In the House of the Hangman: The Agonies of the German Defeat (1943– 1949) (Evanston. often transgressing the norm (Chapter 8). in turn. 4. far from constituting an ontically circumscribed region. “I will retreat into the security of silence” (qtd. 2161. Dasein—for whom alone the meaning of Being presents itself as a question. Jeffrey Olick. Likewise. in PTII 1). where the hermeneutical decisions of concrete subjects “activate” the impersonal legal and political structures. The collapse of the old transcendental certainties and the indefinite proliferation of hermeneutical acts in their place are signs of the postmetaphysical situation. Notes 1. 3. the entwined “royal roads” to political ontology that. and International Relations: Politics as Ontology (Cambridge.”13 Political hermeneutics. Since the law does not—indeed. Schmitt will have subscribed to the claim that the hermeneutics of Being is not yet fully conscious of itself as the interpretation of the political relying. Agents. since. Transcript No. since Being gives itself to a particular kind of being— the existent human being. cannot—interpret and apply itself. p. “hermeneutics is not a philosophy but the enunciation of historical existence itself in the age of the end of metaphysics. on the one hand. Political phenomenology and political existentialism are.Introduction 9 active. and existentialism. . and the transhistorical truth of natural law. and reconstituting. transformative. Structures. does much more than enunciate the intensely political nature of historical existence.” in Telos 72. thus. MA: Cambridge University Press. on phenomenology and existentialism: phenomenology. 105. 306. its boldness lies in the subsumption of the question concerning the meaning of Being—ontology as a whole—under the question of the specific meaning of the political. IL: University of Chicago Press. CT 265. With Nietzschean flair. interpretation becomes one of the most crucial loci of the political. 2006). on the other. “Interrogation of Carl Schmitt by Robert Kempner (III). in keeping with Heidegger’s philosophy. 2005). since it is only through the appearing of individual beings that Being discloses itself. answering Kempner’s question regarding his plans for the future. p. in the end of the last interrogation. in the words of Gianni Vattimo. Schmitt replies. 2.
Richard Wolin. 113. 2005). 2006). 9. Slavoj Žižek. Gianni Vattimo. 1992). and the Total State. “The Search for Immediacy and the Problem of Political Life. ed. For a helpful analysis on Lefort’s phenomenologically inspired political philosophy. p. Mathias Schmitz. 2000). 1965). MA and Oxford. Martin Heidegger and European Nihilism (New York: Columbia University Press. 45. 11. ed. Political Existentialism. The Philosophy of Claude Lefort: Interpreting the Political (Evanston.10 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE 5. S. 2002). p. 2005). Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology (London and New York: Routledge. 215. 13. “Carl Schmitt. Poststructuralism. “The Age of Interpretation. Karl Löwith. 8. Die Freund-Feind-Theorie Carl Schmitts: Entwurf und Entfaltung (Köln: Westdeutsche Verlag. 12. The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Center of Political Ontology (London and New York: Verso. Michael Allen Gillespie. Jean-Paul Sartre. p. ed. Wolin (New York: Columbia University Press. 7.” in A Companion to Phenomenology and Existentialism. Quoted in Gopal Balakrishnan.” in The Future of Religion. The Enemy: An Intellectual Portrait of Carl Schmitt (London and New York: Verso. p. 6. 1969). UK: Blackwell. 543–544. 10. 418.” in The Terms of Cultural Criticism: The Frankfurt School. . Existentialism. 1995). see Bernard Flynn’s. Zabala (New York: Columbia University Press. pp. IL: Northwestern University Press. Hubert Dreyfus and Mark Wrathall (Malden.
PART I THE ELEMENTS .
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on the other. concomitantly. not to mention the very architectonics of Schmittian ontology. Before proceeding. in terms of a relation between the point and the line comprised of an infinite number of points? Schmitt’s texts. what if it were possible to recast crucial political concepts. amity lines. such as the decision on the exception and the political itself. one might ask. that come together in a kind of political topography.1 Geometry of the Exception: The Point and the Line In what way. For. and borderlines. to breathe life into 13 .” It will take time for the spatial order of the earth to become substantive (inhalt-erfüllten). a few warnings should serve as the markers of the frontiers within which the spatial aspects of political ontology might be situated. l’esprit géometrique (TP 69). the new planetary consciousness instantiated in global linear thinking (globales Liniendenken) is still too shallow. Schmitt announces that he is weary of the abstraction inhering in the geometrical spirit. these questions take too much for granted when it comes to geometry and politics. after all. imperfectly overlapping the geometrical and geopolitical spatialities. points of ascription. “with divisions drawn more or less geometrically: more geometrico. On at least three occasions. on the one hand. With the emergence of the first global lines. lines of division and isolation. points of indifference. is geometry relevant to the theory of the political built on existential and phenomenological foundations? Is it not far-fetched to appeal to this exact mathematical discipline in an effort to illuminate the messy reality and the lived experience of being-together with and against others? Appropriate as they might be. to fill in the bare outlines of the nascent geometrical abstraction (NE 86). decisive or crucial points. abound in references to extreme and terminal points. for instance. and. middle points.
it resonates with Husserl’s investigations on the phenomenological origins of geometry in the subjective experience of lived space. The geometricist impulse of the early modern philosophers who belong to the metaphysical stage of de-politicization. rendered incapable of any matter-of-fact experience as a result of their raison raisonnante” who “try to form the world according to the axioms of their political geometry” (PR 28).g. In a cunning. The unity of order and orientation in law (Recht) discussed in the first chapter of The Nomos . Far from being a solution. the liberal Rechtsstaat) in favor of subjective sovereignty. and the line—the rule. Besides politicizing geometry in the conventional sense of the term by grafting it onto the acts of measuring and parceling the earth. the vulgarly scientific and expressly “modern” approach to politics. in this attunement. wherein the decision on the exception abides. But that is not to say that the geometrical endeavor is simply synonymous with abstraction. The overall project of The Nomos of the Earth is in sync with the Greek sense of geo-metria. flesh-and-blood world of political experience.. earth-bound signification of nomos. to “[n]arcisstic dogmatists.14 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE that political consciousness. geometrical notions are thus transformed into the ideal molds for the phenomenological.1 It appeals to the promoters of politics set apart from the world of experience. the impulse that led Baruch Spinoza to announce that his Ethics is Ordine Geometrico Demonstrata— “demonstrated in geometrical order”—right in the title of the book. the measurement of the earth.2 the dry and ethereal concept of procedural justice originates from its tangible instantiation in the practical measurement and division of the earth that inflects the “root meaning” of nomos. the fault lines between Schmitt’s modernism and anti-modernism will pass through his opposition to the formal geometrical thinking and his equally strong insistence on the spatial dimensions of political existence. as much as to ethics. dematerializing inversion. Schmitt enunciates a uniquely political geometry. Only a concrete geometrical consciousness prior to the machinations of objectivation is capable of operating with the primordial. in which the point represents the exception. is a part of the problem: the meaning of the political withdraws from the modern grasp enthralled with calculations and a rational metaphysics that prides itself on having rid itself of its metaphysical origins. is alien to Schmitt. and. While the genesis of the idea of a triangle lies in our encounters with concrete triangular things in the world only subsequently idealized and objectivated through repeated comparisons. Such weariness is understandable in the context of Schmitt’s philosophy that eschews abstract and “objective” political forms (e. whose object is the planet itself.
punctuates. it probes the political space below the linearity of globalization and appropriation. . On the other hand. as opposed to the global linear thinking that has defined globalization since the first “discoveries” of the New World. on the function of lines in Schmitt’s work. I urge the reader to refrain from smiling at the strange and. no rule. We do not. On the one hand. the utopian project of liberalism. more concretely. redraws the line. especially. given that Schmitt neither accentuates nor thematizes the point left at the threshold of the perceptible and scattered throughout his textual output. without precluding the possibility of a certain disordering disorientation resulting from the act of deconstituting or dissolving the line back into the points it articulated. Under the influence of this elementary geometrical tenet. conversely. exposing their micrological. as Schmitt might have put it—which is immensely treacherous and uncertain and which. corresponds to the radical thinking of the political. thereby. which both makes up and exceeds the line. This is not surprising. And. for instance. the other—intrinsically political) converge.. and. stands for an obstinate reminder that continuity lives off a repression of ruptures or. scornful toward the phenomenological principles of political topology. that any given nomos (i. impossible endeavor of “point thinking”—Punktdenken. the original decision for the partitioning of the earth that summoned nomos into being.e. alone. To the Point! Although much has been written on spatiality and.3 commentators have paid virtually no attention to the invocations of the point (Punkt) that pepper his texts. non-objective conditions of possibility comparable to the points that constitute the line. it undoes. any given linear juridical order and orientation) destines to oblivion the point that existed before the line. A great deal of uncertainty spawned by Punktdenken is attributable to the fact that point thinking involves two necessary and necessarily contradictory steps. hear of such a thing as the global point thinking. perhaps. no clear and precise demarcation of boundaries can do away with the disorder and the exception that persist in the irrepressible potentiality of the point.Geometry of the Exception: The Point and The Line 15 of the Earth is the place where the two geometries (one of them politicized. The line and the law are not simple unities but products of an aligned multitude of points and decisions that lend to them their coherence. is to fabricate a disembedded linearity of law devoid of lacunae and points of rupture for sovereignty.
which is but a geographic representation disengaged from the life-world of human beings. in the last instance. finally. the soil: the firm line and nomos that flourishes from it can always fall back on the earth for their onto-phenomeno-political support. the American line of isolation. is further exacerbated by the extension of linearity to the whole planet. Comparable qualitative leaps and punctuations will.” die Maße und Regeln. henceforth. . and extranormative character. the English and French line of agonism and. for human conduct (NE 42) that. This exceptional determination. are the acts of appropriation consonant with the most elemental sense of nomos as well as the “standards and rules. will generate the abstractions of normativity forgetful of their grounding in the earth. a rupture. overrides the earth and the soil that bore the first lines of nomic demarcation. the extension of linearity is. in an equal measure. the point is absolved from all relationality even as it negatively mediates the self-relatedness of space. therefore. mimics the accomplishments of decision-making.16 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE To compensate for the normative groundlessness of its origination. this performative declaration that is not buoyed up by anything but itself. qualitative difference” of space from itself. It punctuates that which it extends. whose image appears thanks to “a headlong leap into the nothingness [ein Absturz in das Nichts] of a universality lacking any grounding” (NE 237). much later. The repression of the concrete similarly isolated by Husserl as the cause of the crisis plaguing European sciences and collective consciousness. this extra-normative eruption. accompany every attempt at redrawing the global lines and remaking the international order governed successively by the Spanish and Portuguese line of division.5 Akin to the decision that signals the end of indeterminacy and asserts its independence from infinite deliberations and rationalizations. The budding cold and uninhabitable abstraction of globality. a “headlong leap into the nothingness” that. strangely. unbounded. It is. unstable. unhinging and ungrounding the line removed from its material support in the soil. Such thinking is not predelineated or predictable because it precedes the line and dialectically accomplishes the first spatial negation of space. the line appeals. to definite divisions (bestimmte Einteilungen) and demarcations engraved in the literal ground. “a determinate. as Hegel defines it. aptly illustrates the sovereign decision on the exception in Political Theology. which Schmitt conjures up in protest to the modern predicament of rootlessness and displacement. in the headlong leaps of reordering that “point thinking” becomes apparent in its discontinuous.4 Rooted in such solidity. Yet.
to . in that there is no abstract geometrical space without the experience of spatiality and there is no experience of spatiality without an embodied orientation. the most superficial starting point for substantive ascription. despite the juristic delusions that see in the state “the terminal point of ascription [der Endpunkt der Zurechnung].”7 It plays an important role in Husserlian phenomenology. which constitute the essence of juristic consideration. into the place of the terminal point. The object of criticism in this passage is Hans Kelsen’s legal theory of imputation that uses the category “point of ascription. a discerning critic will identify its irremediable flaw: positivist legal theory inverts the order of dependence when it interpolates the state. undergirds the entire juridical system constructed upon it. This ‘point’ [Dieser ‘Punkt’] is simultaneously an ‘order that cannot be further derived’” (PT 19). non-derived point of ascription is the ground of legitimation for the rest of the political edifice. as a legal order. and non-transcendental parameters for human actions and remains radically dependent upon the subject whose orientation infuses it with significance. too. If the legal order really exists in and as a unity with orientation (toward the land or the sea and within these spatial domains). The irony of Kelsen’s blunder does not escape him when he calls the conclusion that “a point must be an order as well as a system” an “interesting mathematical myth [der interessanten mathematischen Mythologie]”6 (PT 20). as a bridge between two component parts of the legal norm. then it both lays out the historical. the “basic norm” (Grundnorm) that. for there is a blatant contradiction in the quiet squaring of the point’s “simplicity” with the system’s complexity. emanates from nothingness” (PT 31–32). which is why he surrounds the word Punkt in Dieser ‘Punkt’ with quotation marks. . at least in that genealogical inquiry which uncovers the non-normative origination of normativity in the sovereign decision. legality is the most derived construct and.Geometry of the Exception: The Point and The Line 17 The point condensed from empty space geometrically mirrors the instant of the decision on the exception. In the logic of Kant’s Copernican turn. Interrupting this liberal idyll. as it does in the thought of Søren Kierkegaard. To Schmitt. the point at which the ascriptions. It cannot be ascribed to any preexisting legal or political structures.” Zurechnungspunkt. an initial mapping of the things in the world as what is above and below. Atlas-like. besides making a mad leap. As such. changeable. which. subjective orientation creates an objective order and signals “an ability to define the position of the objects by means of a subjective distinction. the legislative state is not the source-point but something like a plane or the compound surface of the political. ‘can stop’. “[l]ooked at normatively . . therefore. the offense and the sanction. The terminal.
at least. The point’s indeterminate determination presides over everything that takes place in this essentially unstable political ontology. after the objective world of legality in which one had oriented oneself has collapsed. however basic they might be. in orienting. . creation out of (what. ist) in the realm of law and right. determines “what is” (was . but a subjective distinction spliced into the world of objects. the point verges on the erasure of the line or. then the point signals the possibility of expropriation. as well as the Kantian difference between the empirical and the transcendental subjects. which. awaits a theoretical elaboration. to the groundless existence of sovereign decisions. impotent to grant meaningful signposts for human action. A miraculous phenomenalization of empty space. To get back to the point from the positivist labyrinthine confusion one would need to reduce the lines and norms of the juridical order. A crisis. therefore. . The sovereign decision in Schmitt is the absolutely modern subjective distinction. Only a crisis of objectivity makes the nothingness of subjectivity and sovereignty palpable as what (or who) remains. Even in the face of its subsumption in the line. disturbs the workings of appropriation from within. the point preserves this explosive potential. between the isolated case of the exception and the non-formality of the logic that foregrounds it. be it economic or political. The underivable point turns into the catchword of existential political ontology.” and so the “nothingness” attributed to the decision on the exception does not entail a positive metaphysical or mythological entity. A point of ascription cannot be derived from a norm” (PT 32). from the normative standpoint. or their normative ordering. a condensation of something out of the spatial or legal vacuum. amounts to nothing identifiable in “reality. . it operates on the model of creatio ex nihilo. a genuine “point of ascription first determines [bestimmt] what a norm is and what normative rightness is [was eine Norm und was normative Richtigkeit ist]. Hovering between the most precise determination and utter indeterminacy. already plays the role of a historically induced reduction. According to Schmitt’s polemic co-optation of Kelsen’s thesis. It fi rst orients us toward and. between a single coordinate and the infinity of spatial extension it at once dialectically negates and condenses. on the suspension of linearity.8 Within the objective order. considering that it constitutes the line and. nevertheless. in the wake of the upheaval. negatively or reductively. modern subjectivity. If the line traced on the ground enables the mechanisms of appropriation. by means of which it is possible to define the position of political objects. appears to be) nothing.18 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE the right and to the left of my body. which is all the more grave.
The normalization of the exception may. albeit groundless. lines. As we shall see time and again. His uneasy “anti-modern modernism” should not escape those who wish to cultivate a reading of his work that would be more nuanced than an oversimplified but all too common image of Schmitt-as-a-German-reactionary would permit. The contention that the legal norm is strong enough wholly to incorporate the exception is a building block in the ideal construction of the bourgeois Rechtsstaat. . at any moment. in the line. and Husserl (phenomenological reduction). and points of ascription to the founding. on a command?” (PT 20). in his appeal to political subjectivity and in his insistence on the negative. reductive method of retrieving the positive nature of pouvoir constituant. nor can it be influenced. In the second volume of Hegel’s Encyclopaedia. The negation of the negation generates the line that annuls but also maintains and elevates the point infinitely reflected into itself. so. Philosophy of Nature. the point negates itself in relation to itself as an other (or in relation to another point). revert to the exceptionalization of the norm. von) it (PT 15). What liberal apologists disregard . Schmitt is fighting political modernity with its own weapons forged in the thought of Kant (the Copernican turn). That various ascriptions “rest” on the point (which is itself active. . maintains it in a sublated form. restless. Let us revisit the dialectical reading of geometry in order to ascertain how the reduction of the line culminates in the point of the political. Hegel (dialectical negation). and the political-phenomenological reduction of the founded planes. In Schmittian terms. and lives off (leibt . preserves. the reversal of the Hegelian Aufhebung. just as the point dialectically negates—that is to say cancels. positive determination is accessible only negatively. and elevates— indeterminate spatiality. as the lines of Right are undone into the points of sovereign decision-making. As a result. either for the purpose or necessity of political existence” (CT 174).Geometry of the Exception: The Point and The Line 19 Schmitt recovers the theoretical and practical significance of the decisive point through the desublimation of the line. for which “at no point is the system ruptured. the normalization of the exception in the norm does not do away with the exception but keeps it dormant. level of the decision’s “positive determination”: “On what does the intellectual necessity and objectivity of the various ascriptions with the various points of ascription rest [beruht] if it does not rest on a positive determination. and devoid of a substratum that could support them) does not betoken a systemic hierarchy of political ontology but the subjective groundwork of the objective order. the groundwork that is not of one piece with the system erected upon it. by way of a reductive criticism of the founded abstractions and empty procedures that accumulate in political orders and institutions.
Beyond the Line Grenz (border). The powers of negation are unequal and heterogeneous in the point that antecedes the line and in the line that negates. . by the transgressability of the line that marks it: “Bounds [Grenzen] . A manifest lop-sidedness plagues what will have been the dialectical thesis and antithesis of the decision and the norm: when the latter prevails. the Derridian “broken articulations”9). always presuppose a space outside a certain definite place and enclosing it. the hinges (brisures. the dialectic of the exception and the norm has no resolution and cannot move to a higher plane of the rule of law.20 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE is a straightforward geometrical axiom. on the border. remains exceptional and non-synthetic to the extent that it stands on the brink of undoing the line into a set of disparate points. Regardless of what the proponents of abstract legalism might believe. is Kant’s word for the positive lines. if such a thing is conceivable. Seen in this light. The bizarre liberal adherence to the non-derived simplicity of the line is. between the line and the point and in the state of perpetual readiness to reduce the one to the other. a mirror image of Kelsen’s equally eccentric and anti-geometrical idea of the systematicity of the point. Grenzbegriff. The points of decision-making are the bonds as much as they are the fissures. therefore. precisely. the point. which lies beyond and is. limits [Schränken] . thus. the latter is altogether destroyed (PT 12). it augurs the state of exception—that dangerous point. of the legal order that hangs in the balance of all political decisions. in contrast to the purely negative limits (Schränken) unrelated to exteriority. in a word. even where it concurs with the norm and deems the situation at hand to be normal. As a concept “pertaining to the outermost sphere [äußersten Sphäre]” (PT 5) of political praxis and thought (the sphere that. The border is defined by its two-sidedness and. but when the former gains the upper hand. including those that reaffirm the normalcy of the situation. at the same time inwardly and outwardly directed. . according to which any line consists of an infinite number of points and is thus constituted as ruptured and discontinuous by them. the former is confined to a bare minimum. is about to divest itself of its sphericality and to get condensed into a point). The possibility of the sovereign decision on the exception. the absolute barriers that cannot be overcome. yet cannot continue to exist without. included in the line. simultaneously. it will be remembered. deposits this concept. that define and enable what they encircle. at a distance from every plane and every system. Schmitt’s specification of sovereignty as a “borderline” concept.
Schmitt consistently advocates for the extreme politics of the exception.”10 More intriguing still is the Schmittian borderline concept that necessitates not a simple crossing of the line but the transgression of linearity as such and the subsequent inauguration of the “outermost sphere. where the line is either erased or altogether non-existent. the politics on or of the edge that tends toward the outermost point and sphere. the concrete geo-phenomenological principle of taking possession. to which corresponds the most extreme. In a veiled argument against Aristotle. in which the relations between independent states play themselves out and. This borderline concept. that gave “free rein for looting.” jenseits der Linie. The unlimited right of appropriation. is sovereignty. on the one hand. on the other. leaving the logic of linearity and mediation behind. to the state of nature that becomes a receptacle for everything that happens on the international arena. The anarchy of the sea—the element of freedom— will symbolically correspond. “outermost point” (äußersten Punkte) of the political. to revolutionary upheavals within a given polity. especially to English ‘privateers’” (NE 93) took place in the realm of absolute freedom negatively construed as the freedom from determination and legal interference. for Schmitt. . It might be tempting to conclude that the undertakings “beyond the line.” not to be confused with an empty political space free of concrete points and determinations. passes into total expropriation there. Greatly facilitated by the fact that “firm lines cannot be engraved [keine festen Linien eingraben]” on the sea (NE 42). While Kant recognizes the unsustainable nature of such anarchic “liberty. but are mere negations which affect a quantity so far as it is not absolutely complete. where the quantitative increase in antagonism yields the qualitative formation of friend-enemy groupings (CP 29). which is an offshoot of the freedom of the sea. “an empty space.11 The borderline concept falls beyond the line but refuses to vacate of all determinacy the space it opens up. where acts beyond the line were perpetrated in the absence of the law.” for which he offers the palliative of the categorical imperative. this interpretation envisions an undifferentiated spatiality both literally and metaphorically expressed in the vast and lawless marine expanses stridently contrasted to the nomological stability of the land. That is why the “energies of sea power [England] stood on the side of the revolution” (LST 79). where the point is not sublated into the line.Geometry of the Exception: The Point and The Line 21 do not require this. of sorts” (LST 49). who looked for the ideal political regime in aristocracy since it occupied the middling and moderate position between the excesses of monarchy and democracy. Hegel sees in unrestrained freedom the logical outcome of the march of Terror in the aftermath of the French Revolution.
Second. legality from the license to use force freely and ruthlessly in the area “that the line set aside” (NE 94).22 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE Neither as determinant as the line nor as void of determination as abstract spatiality. inhuman or non-human. Such naïveté gives birth to eschatological hope. moralischen und politischen Bewertungen bleibt. merited to be counted as.” as much as the “two-sided” concept of the human.14 The self-production. without any regard . The bracketing (rationalization and humanization) of war within the lines of legality is achievable exclusively thanks to its unbracketing and the unleashing of total. and in a somewhat circular fashion. die diesseits der Linie anerkannt sind]” (NE 94) burgeoned from specific legal. and civility of law and morality that are valid within European borders. the point’s “indeterminate determination” is what is missing from this account of the devolution of linearity in the state of exception. in fact. transformed into the determining points of reference for the construction of European “values” and “history. a specific area where the European legal order does not apply. The permanent state of war beyond the line guarantees the peace. a particular political decision taken on this side of the line consecrates. and political values recognized on this side of the line [was ‘jenseits der Linie’ geschieht. moreover. in the same stroke. or what in the introduction to Political Theology II Schmitt terms “auto-composition” (PTII 34). The realm of absolute freedom of “[e]verything that occurred beyond the line [and] remained outside the legal. security. and political processes well within the confines of jus publicum Europaeum. by extension the empty discourse of human rights) that crucially requires a denigrated other for its construction and to demand the suspension of boundaries and limits that still define it. the permanent state of exception created by the acts of European sovereignty is not a limit but the Kantian boundary that positively and reciprocally determines everything locked within the lines of legality and right.13 It is naïve to work toward an absolutization of the abstract ideal of humanity (and. But the freedom entailed in the unlimited use of force is itself handed over to a double determination. by setting aside. It has been.12 “Everything that occurred [geschieht] beyond the line. “the content of which is an homo absconditus who produces himself and. historical are. produces the conditions for his own possibility” (PTII 54). moral. enmity at the point where European public law ceases. moral. but a geopolitical projection of the European fantasy or dread. depending on the perspective one adopts. It is indisputable that amity lines dividing the Old World from the New separated. stricto sensu. therefore. of the human as human. beyond the continental frontiers.” the happenings that have not. in the eyes of Europeans. überhaupt außerhalb der rechtlichen. First.
Although decisions on the exception galvanize sovereignty. The relegation of the New World to the realm “beyond the line. The changes in global linear thinking bear out this claim. as Ludwig Feuerbach correctly noted. In contrast to Giorgio Agamben’s appropriation of the state of exception. demoted whole groups and continents to the precariousness of bare life. On the hither side of the line. often in direct opposition to the past acts of sovereignty that. In the state of exception. The unintended outcome of the suspension of the law that energizes the apparatus of legality on this side of the line is the extension of sovereignty and. is placed in a limbo on the hither side. abstract humanism is.17 Stated more generally. at once.” where unlimited. if not beastly) and super-human (divine) others is. the most widespread ideological expression of this principle. The bourgeois reverie of the “self-made man” is. self-drawn—line. perhaps. as it were. thus. offers a simplistic and materialistic solution to the “Münchhausen problem” in philosophy—the problem of how spirit elevates itself.16 I believe that the Midas touch of sovereignty entails its infinite selfreplication at the unstable point expelled outside the normative lines of Right and. the point absolved from the mechanisms of legality and subject to raw force mimetically assumes sovereignty and propagates new lines of Right that contest and overwrite the old ones. as a self-given—better yet. they do so groundlessly. which. a permutation of traditional theology. extralegal appropriation is condoned. in which pure sovereignty confronts and directly forces itself upon bare life. in a sort of enabling violence. of a new determination of the exception to everything that.15 The essence of atheism and of secular mentality. and the ideals of peace-freedomjustice from the condition of bondage and war in which the Old World is hopelessly mired (NE 289). covered in blood. or everyone who. the old global lines must be traced back to the very point they have . that is to say. the aspiration and the principle of modern selfconsciousness that refuses to heed what Nietzsche has to say on the subject of humanity. which is not codetermined by everything that falls outside of it. undergoes an almost symmetrical inversion in the drawing of the “line of the elect” (Auserwähltheitslinie) that separates the American continent from Europe. new decisions on the exception will be made.Geometry of the Exception: The Point and The Line 23 to its constitutive sub-human (animal. tarnished from its very origins. consequently. positing the human as the new god. allows for its ceaseless contestation. by its own bootstraps. based on an impermanent foundation that may suddenly cave in under the feet of old sovereigns who have become too complacent and taken solace in glorifying the seemingly indestructible status quo. more broadly.
at the Leninist stage. thereby. threaten the linearity and the “whole structure” they are fighting against. with the main difference being that partisans stagger between the sovereign decision on the exception and their confinement to the exception as such. This time. The “irregular space of partisan warfare” is tantamount to the state of exception. resigned bare life. More will need to be said on the subject of this “center” that shares more traits with the excessiveness of the logical “excluded middle” than with the middling and moderate stance adopted by Aristotle. the line beyond which humanity is consumed in the abyss of wild animality is the onto-metaphysical and political boundary set in place in order to restrain. “challenges not only a line [nicht nur eine Linie]. just as ‘beyond the line’ man confronts other men as a wild animal [als wildes Tier]” (NE 95). also. 62). in which the partisan is the “center-point [Mittelpunkt] of a new way to make war. but the whole structure [Gebände] of the political and social order” (TP 48). as I have referred to it elsewhere. Taking on the risk of a hopeless fight and understanding the stakes of not being recognized as. nor being accorded the dignity of.24 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE propelled into the uncharted territory beyond themselves for a fresh nomos to spring forth. Rather than a bastion of tamed. as much as . the hypothetical construction of the human in the Hobbesian state of nature should produce an alternative. Such is. “beastly” kind of sovereignty. in the manner of the Katechon. beastly sovereignty that colludes with the sovereign decision on the exception at the point of extra-legality.18 Every venture that transgresses the nomic line encounters “man” as “nothing but a wolf among other men. the emergent sovereign agents bestow alternative meanings on the world now phenomenologically remapped in accordance with the experience of their new political bodies. impassive. whose meaning and goal was the destruction of the existing social order” (TP 61. the predicament of the partisan or guerilla fighter who. the exceptional point engenders a new sovereign agency. these political subjects place themselves beyond the line and. partaking of both extremes. Be this as it may. an enemy combatant (the experience of the Guantanomo Bay detainees is only the latest exemplification of this). In keeping with the first two examples—the American line of the elect and the partisan challenge—of the nascent sovereign decisions made beyond the line in defiance of the already existing demarcations that denigrated them in the first place. As in the most recent restitching of the nomos of the earth that has ended in the now overripe pax americana. the animalized state of nature. so that the world as a whole cannot remain the same as it was before these acts of resignification.
while the human is an animal. albeit an ensouled one. and the thingly-machinic. Or. that Hobbes does not—indeed. rather. since Aristotle. confers on us our humanness by transforming “wolves into citizens” (LST 31). myth not only has a stronger purchase on truth than any species of modern nominalism. enacting a deconstruction of objectivist metaphysics. but also muthos is the truth of the discourse that pertains fully to logos and that. the beastly. because. which is supposed to be more terrifying than its own awesome glory. The modern state is an impoverished myth. then. This is but one instance of the innumerable categorial transgressions between the human. should we say. from a diametrically opposed side. never excludes the scenario of sliding back into the prepolitical pandemonium.” It should be clear. likewise since Aristotle. a machine expected to run on its own thanks to the magic of legal self-administration. they amount to what I term “mythical criticism”—the indictment of the nominalist-empiricist distinctions between “the human. which erases their borders and in which they fuse.” “the animal. between the thing. however. In its totality.” One is admitted into this seductive mechanism only on the condition of being forever deprived of the right to resist the . Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan. insofar as the animal is. gloire shining with the borrowed light of the subdued chaos.Geometry of the Exception: The Point and The Line 25 the state of exception which it allegorically duplicates. it has contained and anticipated its own transgression. the “superhuman” figure of the mortal god. cannot— explicitly inscribe the anarchic point into “the irresistible and overpowering huge machine of the state. a thing. and the political animal (the human). the divine. a mythical body robbed of its sovereign soul. with the supplement of the political? If this is so. It is the generic nightmare of the political state that establishes itself at a distance from this threat of disorder but. The critique of modernity from the standpoint of myth should not appear strange from the perspective of Schmitt’s presentiment that the wholly modern notion of the state is but the shell that remains of the full mythical body.19 teems with overly active agents who confront one another as though they were disparate points scattered outside the confines of the law. in which Schmitt revels while reading Hobbes. passing into one another. that the line erases itself. calls itself “metaphysical. at the same time. The point of animality exiled outside human borders reciprocally determines the metaphysical content of “man. the living thing (the animal).” and “the thing” by the mythical totality of the Leviathan. for the first time.” even as. As a whole. at the same time. myth is condensed into a disruptive point that erases the onto-metaphysical lines drawn.
in the dialectical scheme of things. for a certain time. The u-topia or the placelessness of the point of departure for the right of resistance implies that this point is impossible to attain within the state: it would cease to border on the absurd only in a different landscape of signification. instead. A noncompromising choice pertains to the moment just before the birth of the Leviathan: either right without resistance. a transmogrification of political space as a whole. In a more colloquial sense of “utopia. or resistance without right. Schmitt suggests. location. a change of political topology. . The state of exception is this explosive discharge of the point. chaos. successful resistance translates into a ground-shift. in that . . the Behemoth. and anarchy: There are no points of departure for a right to resist . instead. The inapplicability of constitutional limitations should not give us the impression that the exceptional point of the political represents an exuberant positivity and unlimited freedom. the line is the negation of the negation that both cancels out and maintains the points comprising it. refusing to elevate the line into a higher plane by means of another negation. for Hobbes. so that the limitation of political action . It has no place whatsoever in the space governed by the irresistible and overpowering huge machine of the state. one that is no longer or not yet shaped by the Leviathan. or the state of nature. with which Hobbes himself was painfully familiar. when statutory norms are “set aside . . It has no starting point. since it is subject to the indeterminate determinations enumerated above. then Schmitt’s quasi-geometrical approach to politics follows Hegel no further.” this aporetic right is but a liberal daydream meant to make the mechanicity of the administrative state more tolerable. . and viewpoint: It is “utopian” in the true sense of that word. wherein it has been deactivated. That is not to say that there will be no disturbances of state order.26 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE Leviathan by siding with the other beast of the abyss. nor does it mean that the “mortal god” can withstand the dissolutions of political unity into the chaotic state of nature already visible in the broken mirror of civil war. does not apply for this period” (CT 156). either the political state. a suspension of the negation proper to linearity and a release of the active political point from the limits. . If. not a rearrangement of points and lines within the old spatiality. (LST 46)20 The points of departure for the right to resist are absent from the terrain performatively created by the acts of the Leviathan. that symbolizes revolutionary upheavals. that. Schmitt recommends. The simple fact that the sovereign decides on the exception puts a provisional end to indeterminacy. .
in general. Schmitt responds: No global line in the sense of raya. like all existence. usually taken as the . . . Indifferenzpunkt.Geometry of the Exception: The Point and The Line 27 every sovereign determination falls short of preventing the fluctuations of political existence. WTO) is misplaced. amity line. or the line of the Western Hemisphere .21 Beyond the line— the point: the dispersion of the state of nature and the New World. but only space [Keine globale Linie. sondern überhaupt keine Linie mehr. Amity line oder Linie der westlichen Hemisphäre . . however. The center regulates. Insofar as Schmitt takes interest in the middle point. . as well as in the juridical vindication of the “hierarchical order that is legally valid in the state [and that] rests on the premise that authorization and competences emanate from the uniform central point [einheitlichen Mittelpunkt] to the lowest point” (PT 19). no line whatsoever. resembling the splitting of the unitary point. He takes the side of the French counter-revolutionary philosopher Louis de Bonald against Friedrich Schelling’s Naturphilosophie and expresses his preference for the moral disjunctions (moralische Disjunktionen) of the “either-or” type over the polarities (Polaritäten) that can be dialectically manipulated into an indifference point (Indifferenzpunkt) or synthesized into the higher third (PT 54–55). exchange their extremism for the diluted authority it delegates. and mediates between the extremes that. the extralegality of the partisan and wild animality.g. and. And beyond the point—post-atomic space. This statement obtains in a conventional geometrical way of thinking. privileges the virtual and the possible and is always ahead of itself and of the static legal-political order. No attempt to redraw the global lines will eliminate them entirely: “new amity lines [neue Freudnschaftslinien] will be drawn beyond [jenseits] which atomic and hydrogen bombs will fall” to keep the promise of peace and security within them (NE 49). in turn. he does not assign to it the power of moderation but the sort of excessiveness that forecloses all dialectical mediations. That is why the hope for a borderless cosmopolitanism oblivious to the space and the exceptional points beyond the neo-liberal lines of Right (e. which. Asking himself in one of his diaries which “line” will become predominant after the atomic explosion. the explosions of atomic and hydrogen bombs. im Sinne der Raya. moderates. sondern ein Raum]. (G 180–181) The Extremism of the Middle Point Nothing could be further away from the border or the edge than the middle point..
28 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE center or the place of equilibrium. in this torsion. as a result. das ist der Nullpunkt der reinen Indifferenz [Homo Homini Homo. from the vantage point of the political. consequently. and ends with the escapism of “self-negation in order to arrive at [positive] positions” (RC 9). a by-product of the absolute and intrinsic value of the human. as they face the choice between either the risk of a hopeless fight that desperately holds onto the shreds of political being or a quiet resignation and a soft descent into political nothingness. and refused the modicum of respect that goes along with the status of the enemy.” which could potentially precipitate the need for political decision-making. Although. extreme nihilism. the self-exclusion of partisans from the sphere of Right charges with incontrovertible gravity Bonald’s statement that. where Homo Homini Homo. The exclusion. criminalized. The line from Bonald cited by Schmitt—“Je me trouve constamment entre deux abîmes. the fantasy of a sutured “real cleavage. But it is resourceless in the face of the either-or disjunctions that lack a middle ground and. indeed. this figure is at the centerstage or in the middle point (“our sure point of reference [Richtpunkt]. Schmitt’s own designation of the partisan as the “center-point [Mittelpunkt] of a new way to make war” might be interpreted. thus. from the perspective of state order. the partisan is less than nothing. converted into yet another abyss. reigns supreme. this is the null-point of pure indifference]” (G 8222)—and where. Man is Man to Man—“Homo Homini Homo. not a point of rupture but. The missing middle between the “either” and the “or” that do not converge under any circumstances is the logical excluded middle transplanted into existential spatiality. It is the by-product of a fictitious humanism. on the contrary. in terms of a point excluded from everywhere. expelled beyond the furthest margins and peripheries. The coveted indifference point is.” passes through the moment of “profound indecision. maintain their oppositionality and non-indifference. je marche toujours entre l’être et le néant”23—turns the “I” itself into this middle point torn between two abysses and. An absence of middle ground does not bar the existence of a groundless and disjunctive midpoint where decisions and other existential attributes come into their own.” as Schmitt writes) that “frees us from general genealogies of the philosophy . risks sliding into an idle metaphysical speculation. in this sense.” a point miraculously converted into a line. The partisans alone can rightly locate themselves between two precipices. relieves the polarities of their antagonistic relation. As Schmitt reiterates in Roman Catholicism. the search for the indifference point of a polarity starts with a “real cleavage” of “an antithesis that calls for a synthesis. or. otherwise.
The concept of private law serves as a lever and the notion of private property forms the center of the globe [das Zentrum des Globes]. From this polarity [polaren Seiten] they attempt to annihilate the political as a domain [as eine Sphäre] of conquering power and repression [Gewalt. The extraction of the point from the line stages a clash between the purely economic principle of appropriation and the act of political expropriation. and from Mao to Salan? Isn’t this somewhat despondent appeal to the “sure reference point” an attempt to transcend from within the very genealogy he has drafted?) In this disentanglement. that was a “forerunner of the modern type of economic thinking and of a political state of affairs” . modifications of the same notion. The partisan point of reference disentangles itself from “general genealogies. (If the reality of revolutionary development is non-linear or non-genealogical. how do we reconcile it with the Schmittian genealogy of the partisan that. Schmitt encrusts a miniature image of the liberation of the political. there are no existential disjunctions. the renaissance of politics from the excluded middle point. which enroots the sham contrast in metaphysical sameness. liberal thought strives to replace the political point with the stability of the economic line: [L]iberal concepts typically move between ethics (intellectuality) [Geistigkeit] and economics (trade) [Geschäft]. violence. whose poles—ethics and economics—are only the contrasting emissions from this central point [dieses Mittelpunktes]. To secure the concept of property and private property simpliciter. since these opposites are. the point is incapable of safeguarding anything. private property. in the same text. runs from Clausewitz to Lenin. to which liberal ideology has consigned it. MM]. (CP 71) In the polar contrast between ethical spirit and economic matter. in this freeing up of the point from the line that has neutralized and desiccated it. from Lenin to Mao. and with the absolutist point of indifference. Indifferenzpunkt.Geometry of the Exception: The Point and The Line 29 of history and leads us back to the reality [Wirklichkeit] of revolutionary development” (TP 45). given that it marks the moment of rupture in the linear order of limits and boundaries consecrating the right of possession.” that is to say. that is. from the tendential lines that are always more or less ideal to the extent that they represent the rays eradiating from the Sun that is the philosophy of history. The political middle point (Mittelpunkt) is doubly overwritten with the center (Zentrum) of the globe. Whereas the lines defining the order of ownership along with the entire nomos of the earth are eco-nomic. in fact. in the broad sense of being a sine qua non for the act of appropriation.
which does not coincide with those elements (power and violence) that are imputed to it. which “moved between two points [die Linie bewegte sich zwischen zwei Punkten]: from religious fanaticism to intellectual liberty. since these phenomena are not purely political. The twentieth century did not remorsefully retrieve eighteenth-century metaphysics but anachronistically read Kant after Hegel. this exclusion still retained an imprint of the political in the dualisms that did not admit a higher third and eschewed the power of mediation. contributing to their further neutralization (CP 74). instigating the unrest and the expropriating effects of the point. where the middle became wholly interchangeable with moderation. the exclusion of the excluded middle only deepens what it negates. for the simple reason that it misses its target: the political is not a sphere but the outermost point. Nineteenth-century dialectics triangulated and reconciled the polarities of the preceding century in the syntheses that diluted “the polemical punch” of the antinomies. projected Hegel onto Kant. In this process. Now. The liberal attempt to destroy the political is a priori doomed. it endures as the excluded middle between the visible and the invisible. unlike the friend-enemy distinction or the sovereign decision on the exception. De-politicization fails to do away with the political. The synthetic midpoint was the apex of de-politicization. or suspended dialectics at the threshold between the two philosophers (the best representatives of these trends were Heidegger’s Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics.30 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE (RC 16). the invisibility of spirit and the visibility of matter. the political itself is understood as a domain or a sphere (Sphäre) modeled after the globality of the economic—a deleterious misconception that we will dispute on a later occasion. . without synthesizing or falling into either disjunction. That the liberal conceptualization is misguided is already made plain by the description of the political as a realm of power and violence.24 In the vernacular of Roman Catholicism and the Political Form. the political. from dogma to criticism. On the eighteenth-century metaphysical line (Linie) of progress. the liberal master plan for the annihilation of the political is a second-degree exclusion of the excluded middle. from superstition to enlightenment. polarities. responsible for the atrophying of the point into the line of the meridian emitted from the center of the globe to its ethical and economic. even though the “restlessness of the negative” in the movement of the Notion rendered moderation itself immoderate by transmuting every middle point into an extreme thesis for the next dialectical stage. condensed in “concrete representation.” shuttles between. from darkness to light” (CP 73). spiritual and thingly.
itself located between the two empires of the Soviet Union and the United States that stand for what is metaphysically the same (hence. this standpoint is not accidental. refuses the status of the new nomos to the line connecting two points that are metaphysically the same and. What. the nationalist analogue of which is Germany. with its emphasis on the unity of order and orientation.” die grosse Entscheidung. in this passage. nor an order [Berlin liegt in der Luftlinie zwischen New York und Moskau . . then. in that it permits spirit to assemble entities under the auspices of Being. in this very move. to the beginning of The Nomos of the Earth.27 The difference is that. despite this ever-present possibility. the wholesale identification of political rebirth. too.”25 he locates spirit (Geist) in the geopolitico-metaphysical Germany. The extremism of the middle point relies on the “great decision. the convergence). reveals that Germany itself is hopelessly subsumed in the “meaningless” line. but this line gives neither an orientation. the middle place of spirit was the locus of victimization evident in the post-war reparations. flight-line. The clear allusion. Spirit is. The proximity of the Heideggerian alternative to Schmitt is unmistakable both in the timbre of the Address and in the elements of its textual economy. the extremism of the unstable and unpredictable middle point may lead us along various blind alleys and monstrous venues but. (It should be mentioned that he also rearticulated Heidegger’s idea in 1948. In the “Rectorship Address. Luftlinie] between New York and Moscow . located Germany at the point of intersection (im Schnittpunkt) of the British world interests and the French continental-European interests. . and Walter Benjamin’s variations on “the dialectics at a standstill”). is the fate of the middle point in the suspension of dialectics? Heidegger’s political extremism is embroiled in his desire to reclaim the spiritual and ontological middle point. nothing but a misnomer for the most crucial effects of Being. with the .” resorting to what Geoff Waite fittingly identified as “the old pincers or convergence theory. leading to the deployment of “new spiritual forces from this middle place [aus der Mitte]. [a]ber diese Linien ergeben keine Ortung und keine Ordnung]” (G 192). an international imposition Schmitt found reprehensible and juridically inexcusable. perhaps. . Schmitt. when he wrote that “Berlin lies in the flight path [literally. including the decision.) Admittedly. the pincers): the center of Europe. . let alone of the rebirth of the political.Geometry of the Exception: The Point and The Line 31 Derrida’s Glas. In 1925. at this crossroads. which is in the middle of the middle (hence.”26 For Heidegger. the gathering of beings into the One.
32 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE nationalist and National-Socialist legacy is indefensible. along with deciding on the friend-enemy distinction. cloak a dictatorial decision-making authority. on which it will have impressed itself at the point of the political. which “makes it possible to take any concrete . even if only in the most extreme case—and whether this point has been reached has to be decided by it—determine by itself the distinction of friend and enemy.”28 The moment of the decision is the “decisive point” (entscheidenden Punkt) that liberalism suspends “by denying that there was at all something [etwas] to be decided upon” (PT 61). A lion’s share of what is thus divided pertains to the sovereign. this people must. and those domains of human action and thought that are not classified as political. is delivered from its existential determination by the decision and handed over to a specification by the impersonal economic apparatus and the rule of law that. determines whether or not the extreme point has been reached: For as long as a people exists in the political sphere. (CP 49) In an analogy to Derrida’s deconstruction of Husserlian phenomenology. the point of the political signals a coupling of the most decisive determination and an indeterminacy of “something. pertains to the point of the political in the nominalist philosophical method of Hobbes. The Point of the Political Schmitt atomically splits the point of the political between the sovereign decision on the exception and the existential intensity of friend-enemy groupings. which is so dissimilar to the definite divisions produced by the line.” the Scholastic quodlibet ens. The form of the decision is adjourned due to the denegation of the matter (something. the established order. The point of the political is left vacant and radically inappropriable by this or that ideology because. as Schmitt soberly recognizes. “breaks into two. The indeterminacy of “something. at bottom. who “seemed to be able to construct the unity of the state from any arbitrarily given point [von jedem beliebig gegeben Punkt]” (PT 34). Below the level of liberal de-politicization. the living source-point. etwas). the Augenblick of politicization. it is always on the verge—or at the point—of immanent transcendence puncturing the status quo. as much as in Romantic occasionalism.” The quality of determinate indetermination. detaches from itself. and—split against itself—becomes contrapuntal. who.
he.Geometry of the Exception: The Point and The Line 33 point as a departure and stray into the infinite and the incomprehensible” (PR 19). once the unity of the state or any other totality dissolves back into the point from which it was attained.. . the point becomes metonymically interchangeable with the whole (e. “from every ‘domain’ the point of the political is reached [vom jedem ‘Sachgebiet’ aus der Punkt des Politischen . For a polemical instant. melting into pure intensities of antagonistic affect not to be confused with hatred. I will reread. again. yet it cannot hold onto such determinations of the totality without turning into the most rigid of lines. The non-dialectical intersections of the singular and the universal will be justified retrospectively. stricto sensu. non-political. makes every line into a vector lacking a teleological actualization in any particular regime or nomological order. Schmitt uses the same German verb erreichen. as the possibility inherent in what is. alludes to the determinate indetermination of the point. suffice it to say that the notion of the political in Schmitt is existentially understood as the politicizability of human existence. this dense statement from The Concept of the Political. When Schmitt marvels at the fact that. the unstable point. and indeterminacy.g. the precision of which derives from very “loose” origins (“every ‘domain’”). “potentially attainable from every standpoint” (PTII 44). the most common and the most exceptional “thing. erreicht ist]” (CP 62) as soon as the antagonisms structuring these domains surpass a certain threshold necessary for the formulation of the friend-enemy distinction. shortly. rather.” he writes. when the bourgeois model of legality presents itself as the source of all legitimacy in the struggle against the old aristocracy or when undocumented immigrants in France are championed as the oppressed in the fight for their rights). meaning “to arrive” or “to reach.” For now. the point and the line are not frozen in space. at the same time. underlining the word “domain. “It would be an indication. in practice and not just in Hobbesian theory. The conjunction of determinacy. at whatever point of departure for this movement. In this political geometry. makes the political. . and in the political-theological totality of spirit and matter.” in his explanation of what happens when these trajectories do not come to fruition in the point but are arrested halfway. The momentary incarnation of the universal in the singular dispenses with dialectical mediations and reflects the contemporary logic of the political. at the precise threshold where antagonisms are politicized. “that these counterforces had not reached the decisive point of the political [den entscheidenden Punkt des Politischen nicht erreicht haben] if they turned out to be not sufficiently powerful to prevent .” the point to which all lines of human existence tend and at which they terminate.
independent of all actualizations.29) The extreme point of the political that exudes existential possibilities cannot be surpassed once and for all in any temporarily hypostatized oppositional grouping or sovereign decision. the conscious seizing of one’s finitude. in denen der Feind in konkreter Deutlichkeit als Feind erblickt wird]” (CP 67). (“What always matters is only the possibility of conflict.31 The living present of the political. their . That the oppositions structuring non-political domains do not reach the point of the political.” Schmitt reminds us in the same paragraph. for instance. Such high points are not dialectically negated in a line. would not have been altered and. becomes problematic in contemporary politics for reasons that are both contingent and necessary. of the other. would have continued to be oriented by futural possibilities. finally. and great. calculated and is intended to accentuate the concrete clarity and lucidity with which the enemy figure is apprehended.34 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE a war contrary to their interests or principles” (CP 39). which stands above this substance. Since no one substantialization of the political is adequate. Were they to be successful and to “become the new substance of the political entity [die neue Substanz der politischen Einheit]” (CP 39). 30 The wordplay on Augenblick (the moment or. literally. the blink of an eye) and erblicken (to see or to spot) is. breathes life and meaning into politics. in concrete clarity. where the figure of the enemy becomes phenomenally accessible: “The high points of big politics are simultaneously the moments in which the enemy is. the existential form.”32 But it is this phenomenality that. is the very possibility of possibility that. The possibility of non-arrival and. the impossible. certainly. of the alien. is a disparate multiplicity of pointed moments in a properly existential dispersion. in contrast to potentiality. are not granted recognition as enemies. for Schmitt. where the strange phenomenologization of the enemy. even though their politicization remains possible. does not epitomize a latent form of actuality. on the contrary. The partisans. while in Heidegger it is the instant of resoluteness. the point is dispersed into a multiplicity of points. is not an accidental deficiency but the existential aporia of politicizability. thus. The phenomenological Augenblick in Husserl is the moment of pure and living present when I hear myself speak at the source of inner psychic life. they form the mountain peaks of Nietzsche’s “monumental history” with its demand that every “summit of such long-ago moment [Augenblick] shall be for me still living. spotted as the enemy [Die Höhepunkte der großen Politik sind zugleich die Augenblicke. bright.
2. Immanuel Kant. 6. pp. p. Paragraph 256. 31. G. That is why Deleuze and Guattari’s wager on “the lines of flight” in A Thousand Plateaus is doomed from the start. p. then the core of the political turns into the indwelling of risk. H. Notes 1. 4. in Ideas I. Luiza Odysseos. Being Part Two of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences. 239. in which this recognition is structurally impossible. Edmund Husserl. F. “What is Orientation in Thinking?. ed. Pangle (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. Leo Strauss. Translation modified. ed. 1989). not on listing a series of romantic objects or themes: “The definition of . W. 1998. “On Classical Political Philosophy. 2002). “Law without Place: Topology and Decision. Reiss (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Liberal War and the Crisis of Global Order. 2007). pp. Studien zur Arithmetik und Geometrie: Texte aus dem Nachlaß (1886–1901) (Berlin: Springer-Verlag. 2004. See. 8.” in Law and Critique 9 (2). §72. Hegel.” in The International Thought of Carl Schmitt: Terror. As for a broader significance of geometry. constituted as a ‘geometry of mental processes’ ” (p. 49. Miler (Oxford: Clarendon Press). T. is a product of the dissolution of concrete contours that used to define the conventional enemy. When the linearity of the outlines melts into an infinite number of antagonistic points.” in The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism: An Introduction to the Thought of Leo Strauss. “Lines in the Sand: Enmity as a Structuring Principle. 3. A. or non-phenomenality in the midst of pure presence and the possibility of death that. William Rasch. No line can flee from the definitive order it first originates.Geometry of the Exception: The Point and The Line 35 criminalization by the authorities deadens the political existence that had come to life thanks to their actions. Jari Kauppinen. “Crossing the Line? Carl Schmitt on the Spaceless Universalism of Cosmopolitanism and the War on Terror. 5. V. Petito (London: Routledge. invisibility. the Augenblick of pure phenomenality lapses into its literal sense and signifies the blink of an eye: a gaping absence. More irreparably still. 225–248. p. Philosophy of Nature. Odysseos and F. ed. 2005. 1970). trans. for example. when the refusal to recognize the enemy is rendered obsolete by the circumstances. Husserl asks “whether a phenomenology must be. 161). Cf.” in Political Writings. Questions of Line and Literature. when the figureless foe appears to be omnipresent.” in South Atlantic Quarterly 104 (2). haunts the encounter with the enemy as the flipside of political life. L. partisan invisibility in the age of absolute enmity. or can be. 253–262. Following Derrida’s Speech and Phenomena. Such dissolution is entirely consistent with the internal critique of presence and visibility in non-political phenomenology. incidentally. 7. In Political Romanticism Schmitt’s methodology hinges on the identification of the romantic subject.
pp. 37). the partisan ends up outside this bracketing [Hegung]” (TP 16–17). . trans. pp. Beck (New York: Bobbs-Merrill. [Thomas Hobbes. 93–108]: Our key task is to think right and line together . the point is symbolic of postfoundationalism in political theory and praxis. Agamben: “The state of nature and the state of exception are nothing but two sides of a single topological process” (Homo Sacer. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. . Even the murderer. when “war remains fundamentally bracketed. 88. 15. trans. . 2008). L. 18. 1996). governmental. HellerRoazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. must be treated as a human being” [Carl Schmitt. trans. from the Middle Ages or from a ruin. which he replaces with the taxonomy of legislative. “Bacon said the Indians were ‘proscribed by nature itself ’ as cannibals. 17. . 3).] 15. 65 and ff ). Giorgio Agamben. 13. G. So. at least as long as he lives. Of Grammatology. 14. the Introduction to Legality and Legitimacy titled “The Legislative State System of Legality Compared to Other State Types (Jurisdiction. See Jacques Derrida. because the idea of humanity is two-sided and often lends itself to a surprising dialectic” (NE 103). “The Legal World Revolution. Simply put. Refer to my essay. administrative. “Taming the Beast: The Other Tradition in Political Theory. 12. 47–60. he sufficiently declared thereby his will (and therefore tacitly covenanted) to stand to what the major part should ordayne: and therefore if he refuse to stand thereto. the section titled “La Brisure” (p. 9. 352. . 10. Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. December 2006. “Humanity as such and as a whole has no enemies.” in Mosaic 39 (4). Leviathan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. There is no reason to doubt that lines and . Schmitt abandons not only Aristotle’s ideal of moderation but also the tripartite classification of political regimes. and therefore unjustly. 66. he does contrary to the Covenant. p. Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. Immanuel Kant. 1998).36 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE the romantic cannot proceed from any object or theme that is perceived as romantic. W. On the contrary. 11. Cf. [W]e cannot exclude a real possibility of redrawing the lines of right . or make Protestation against any of their Decrees. p. p. p.” Telos 72. 19. By no means is it paradoxical that none other than humanists and humanitarians put forward such inhuman arguments. 1950). Martin Heidegger. 1997). and Administrative States)” in LL 3–14. This is one of the argumentative threads in my interpretation of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right titled “Given the Right—Of Giving (in Hegel’s Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts)” [Epoché 12. and jurisdiction states. . . Everyone belongs to humanity. p. C. Governmental. 123] 21. Towards the Definition of Philosophy (London and New York: Continuum. D. also. it should proceed from the romantic subject” (p. Summer 1987. 20. Indeed. 16. Fall 2007. Hence. The third main consequence of the institution of the Commonwealth includes the following clause: For he voluntarily entered into the Congregation of them that were assembled. p.
and re-marcation. p. That is because the emphasis on the existential notion of possibility—“What matters is only the possibility of conflict”—complicates the neat distinction between the normative and the ontological. 199). 1989). that lines and rights ought to be impervious to interrogation. 32. 131. however. Michael Marder. and chaotic. by arguing that Schmitt did not advocate war as a normative ideal but phenomenologically described what happens in the case of war. Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question. present. as well as Paul Tillich’s Kairos. p. 2001)] recognizes the conceptual connection between Heidegger’s moment of decisive resoluteness and Schmitt’s “moment of decision. “I find myself constantly between two abysses. Just as the existential conception disrupts the binary symmetry of the normative and the actual. J. 40. 23. This is not to say. trans. nor entirely ideal. 30. in PT 55). Bennington and R. by insisting on the distinction between a normative approach and an ontological approach to the political. Carl Schmitt. p. trans. 29. Schmitt cites the same sentence from Vitoria in NE 95 and PTII 54. 45. 104. (p. 28. but neither is it the actual. “Heidegger. p. It would be too facile to respond. The possible is not the normative Idea (in the Kantian sense) that should guide our conduct. Geoff Waite. 24. and objectifiable “reality” of war. R. 2009). The Event of the Thing: Derrida’s Post-Deconstructive Realism (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Schmitt. . Friedrich Nietzsche. that is. Strauss: The Hidden Monologue. 1940). Spring 2008. in retrospect. “The absolute prince and his ‘mercantilism’ were the forerunners of the modern type of economic thinking and of a political state of affairs situated somewhere in the indifference point between dictatorship and anarchy” (RC 16). Translation modified. undifferentiated. 1997). 31. 68. and other such “moments” traceable back to the philosophy of Kierkegaard (p. Untimely Meditations. to Schmitt’s interrogators at Nuremburg. G.Geometry of the Exception: The Point and The Line rights are indispensable to a world that is not entirely awry. Bowlby (Chicago and London: Chicago University Press.” in Cultural Critique 69. 27. critique.” Augenblick der Entscheidung. Rüdiger Safranski [Ein Meister aus Deutschland: Heidegger und seine Zeit (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag. Positionen und Begriffe: im Kampf mit Weimer-Genf-Versaille. p. 1923– 1939 (Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt. I walk always between being and nothingness” (qtd. 26. 25. Hollingdale (Cambridge and Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. or. Strict ontological necessity puts their irreversible erasure out of question. who tried to ascertain his direct responsibility for war crimes. so Schmitt’s concept of the political that hinges upon politicizability as a result of the shifting intensities of friend-enemy groupings is neither purely descriptive. Conserving Esotericism to Justify the High Hand of Violence. Quoted in Derrida. 107) 37 22.
Before extracting the highly promising.3 This claim would inscribe risk within a narrow range of significance. I wish to adumbrate the scope of such a task. it is enough to cast a glance at a few of these disciplines to detect the unifying.2 Yet. “risk” comes to the forefront of research and of human life in late modernity. One might conclude. invocations of risk in Schmitt’s writings. is capable of grasping “risk” as an aneconomic. On the one hand. Only an existential political theory. such as the one we find in Schmitt’s writings. the humanities.2 The Danger: Unavoidability of Risk The trope of risk holds an enormous potential for the development of the social sciences.4 and. a distinctly political theory of risk that would break free from “zero-sum game” mentality is lacking. From the work of Ulrich Beck in sociology.1 Without claiming to compile a representative sample. on the other hand. it could be argued that this trope restores a certain “spiciness” to Schmitt’s theory of the political by way of bringing into a greater relief its distinguishing existential and experiential components. given the modern reactionary understanding of risk in a strictly economic context that impinges upon the more general sense of the term. is not fortuitous. that is. attribute to it a much broader import. This gap. to “the fourth dimension” of “the desire of philosophy” explored by Alain Badiou. but still invisible thread that binds them. albeit somewhat marginal. without trying to diminish its intensity. that risk is one of the organizing concepts for the category of the political. without shying away from the uncertainty and permanent instability associated with it. to Susan Strange’s ground-breaking book in heterodox economics. I propose to carve out an approach that does not coincide 38 . despite the forays of these and other authors into the themes that touch upon public policy and political philosophy. and the emergent supra-disciplinary field exceeding these traditional designations. thus. incalculable possibility and of handling it riskily. I insist.
A Taxonomy of Risk Schmitt constructs his taxonomy of risk in Theory of the Partisan. frustrated by their inability to exploit the effects of such risk. For them. then. sever one’s conatus essendi (the Spinozan “tie to being”). dangers.or sub-human. the “general” and the “pregnant” (TP 30). at the same time. The general sense of risk permeates the situation of peril that is socially diffuse. the partisans do not anticipate a restoration of normalcy and security—at least not for themselves—and because they willingly assume the danger instead of evading it. A destabilizing and. relegate the enemy to the status of a non.” The partisans who entertain “the risk of a hopeless fight. where the vague promise of security warrants a perpetuation and an intensification of danger and insecurity for others (e. (We might note that “dangers and difficulties at sea” is one . and difficulties. and throw oneself headlong into the future with its uncertainties. Often. or in the harnessing of the fear and trembling one feels when boarding a bus in Israel and translating these affects into votes for right-wing hardliners. know themselves to be “that cannon fodder used by great world powers for their armed conflicts” (TP 14).The Danger: Unavoidability of Risk 39 with either of these positions but considers some of the Schmittian contributions to political theory with reference to risk. It is.. Resisting the dissolution of the concept into an all-purpose.” he differentiates between two modalities of risk. the Iraqi civilian population). The pregnant sense of risk they experience cannot be manipulated because. with this. and that gives a negative impetus to its participants. The former mode entails the “insecurity and danger” that permeate the zone of a military conflict. enabling factor in the politics of recognition and decision-making. emptied out construct “that blurs all borders.g. the kind of risk that is amenable to political management and manipulation skillfully exercised in the US-led War on Terror.” conversely. that does not depend on the will of those involved in it. the “enlightened” Western leaders portray those who take it at their own peril and that of the others as barbarically disrespectful toward the absolute value of human life and. in a state devoid of hope. which is more than a mere theoretical ingredient and less than a conceptual cornerstone. it cultivates existential possibilities that populate the field of the political. the terrorist—could avoid risk-avoidance. it is inconceivable that someone—a risktaking partisan and its contemporary avatar. when “the area’s entire population turns out to be involved in a risky situation” (TP 28). who want to avoid it even at the cost of their own “rights” and “freedoms.
and veers on the side of the political. nor illegal. in the first case.40 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE of the earliest semantic layers of “risk” in Antiquity. Political risk.” the formula before us draws a sharp division between the two senses of the term.” as Lenin derisively put it. then. Where X (the partisan) and Z (telluric goals) remain constant across the dividing line. It is this renunciation of Right and of rights—the legal passivity of partisan subjects not precluding an active exercise of their political will—that renders their actions so potent and dangerous. and lines that have defined Right ever since Kant and Hegel in German philosophy. lived outside the order of legality. what instigates partisan activity is the total renunciation of rights in the spirit of juridical passivity and in an extreme reaction that overflows the distinction between the active and the passive subjective comportments. It forms an experiential supplement to the “point of the political. are neither legal. is what we subject ourselves to when we step outside the bounds. and insurance compensations balance out the losses or the injustices. X risks Y for the sake of Z:5 in addition to corroborating the intentional specificity of risk. but it is not to be conflated with the pessimist or fatalist attitudes toward politics that mark the contemporary nihilism of political nonparticipation.]. having refused to keep away from peril or to navigate around the extremes in an attempt to negotiate a safe middle route between the threat of biological death and the certainty of political annihilation in an emergency situation. Partisans risk their lives in the full knowledge that these lives.) The partisan runs aground in the turbulence and uncertainty of the political. the Nietzschean dichotomy of self-affirmation and ressentiment. as opposed to the more diffuse associations of “threat” and “dangerousness. The differences between the two usages of risk run much deeper still.” where to risk oneself is not just to live on the edge but to step over the line and the threshold. exposes himself personally to the danger and also takes into account the eventual negative consequences of his actions. . limits. The pregnant sense of risk diverges entirely from the juridico-economic logic. to thrust oneself into the abyss. The pregnant sense of risk condenses in itself the experience of groundlessness. Y varies so that. it stands . to sneer at the arts of navigation and negotiation that are indispensable to the politics of “small tricks. At the same time that the partisan “acts in a risky way [in diesem Sinne riskant handeln .” he explicitly becomes the uninsurable par excellence and cannot appeal to the principles of justice—“so that he cannot consider it an injustice when these consequences hit him” (TP 29). where reparations. and we will be able to gauge some of them if we pay close attention to the formal structure of the concept to which they belong. In an apparent paradox. but extralegal. . settlements.
simultaneously. But. an analysis “which would discriminate within the sphere of means themselves. while his nation-state expects his loyalty and. the risking and the risked coalesce. With prognostic accuracy. In “Critique of Violence. police functionaries share the partisan experiences of risk in the more “pregnant” sense of hopelessness.”6 Although their extralegal status that was converted into the means. on the one hand. To be more precise. personal exposure to danger. the gap between the two meanings of risk amounts to the grammatical distinction between risk as a noun and as a verb. offered as a convenient target for various factions within the devastated polity and for the opposing parties to the overall conflict.” a text to which Schmitt will implicitly respond in Political Theology. in the barely perceptible—to the point of nearly merging with the background against which it stands—figure of those who put themselves at stake both as living beings and as legal subjects (TP 31). it symbolizes the partisan. in the hands of the partisans (TP 21) makes all references to law obsolete. insofar as “the occupying power expects him to maintain security and tranquility. Schmitt pinpoints the dangers that a “police functionary” in the occupied territory faces. and inescapable responsibility. telluric attachment. concomitantly. nota bene. Another implication of Schmitt’s meditation on risk has to do with the age-old discussion of means and ends. the most insecure part of the general population. The pregnant sense of the concept will elude us unless we acknowledge the doubling of the risking and of the risked in the same figure and the sort of active passivity of those who identify. in the second. if not the weapon. there is also the unnamed third category of risk lurking in the same text. Stated in a somewhat drier academic manner.The Danger: Unavoidability of Risk 41 for the population at large. which is what the partisans violate. will hold him responsible for his actions” (TP 29). without regard for the ends they serve. A scrupulous deconstructive study could readily utilize such theoretical semi-obscurity and pull on the loose third thread in the nascent taxonomy until it disclosed the disavowed conditions of possibility for the relative clarity of the other two strands. the newly constituted Iraqi army and police forces find themselves in this very predicament. Over forty years after the first formulation of Theory of the Partisan. Schmitt’s theory takes to heart the emphasis . after the war. On the other hand and despite frequently operating on the opposite side of the barricades. with the subject and with the object of risk. They form. advocating. Benjamin contextualizes the means-ends relationship within the discourses of natural and positive law. In the partisan figure. local police functionaries live on the cusp of two overtly mentioned classes of risk. and.
which. in keeping with the second etymological channel of the same word. a severing of the relation between the two. thus. Akin to the “rootlessness of the romantic” (PR 51). the means-ends relationship and calculative rationality are drained of their meaning. in that the conceptualization of truth as a gamble leaves space for the unpredictable and the incalculable. . they are ultramodern insofar as they are uprooted. extralegality. which they spearhead.42 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE on pure means severed from the ends: those who risk themselves turn themselves. the linkage of means and ends is accomplished through an undecidable wager. or root. in the Latin permutation of risicus or resecare. the ancient Greek word riza. the total engagement of the civilian population. consequently. In light of the overwhelming odds of failure that inform partisan struggles from the outset. and correspond to one of the etymological outlets of risk.” The wager is. the logic of pure means. as the embodiments of extra-legality. defensive goals tie the partisans to the earth. How does this stand with the partisans? Their wager is decidable with regard to its telluric attachment and the haunting “hopelessness” of the actively passive fighters. give a voice to the ideals of enrootedness they fight for. a deracination that cannot recover its organic origins in the soil (the object of a painfully nostalgic yearning) and that. The reflection on the ends becomes necessary only there where risk refers to the odds of the action’s realization or non-realization in the overall political means-ends schema. They are cut off from the land they defend. and active passivity are inextricably tied together. and the escalation of hostilities to the level of absolute enmity consistent with the emphasis on pure means and incalculability (TP 74). as well as the unleashing of traditional warfare by the ubiquitous and irregular partisan force. translates the logic of the cut into the force of absolute negativity. Telluric. and subjected to groundless existence thanks to the political risk they assume.8 But. in contradistinction to the Catholics indirectly portrayed in Roman Catholicism as the partisans of the soil with “their own ‘terrisme’” (RC 10). The fusion of the old nomos and anomie in the risky behavior of partisans is attributable to a massive shift from the institutional to the existential conception and practice of the political. Along the lines of Badiou’s philosophy of the event. into such pure means in the struggle against the occupying force. the modern predicament of the partisan is that of a cut root.”7 This linkage is. at the same time. means “to cut. also undecidable due to the immanent destruction of telluric attachment. mobilized with the help of the latest technologies. The partisan wager combines in itself nothing less than the original nomos and the modern anomie of the earth. In the pregnant sense of risk. “a supplement committed to chance.
But the most remarkable twist in this transition is the denial of the partisans’ political standing by their enemies who criminalize them and depict them as vandals or. consistent with the existential-phenomenological commitments of Husserl and Heidegger.” of a possible closure and ineliminable finitude factored into the political. from their perspective. in the official de-politicization of those who are not recognized as the political subjects that they are in the most intense way imaginable.9 The totally politicized population saturated with the experience of general risk is forced to choose sides. political subjectivity is reified as a result of withholding the political designation from the criminalized partisans. criminalization means that the criminals are denied their status as subjects and are treated as “objects to be rendered harmless and prosecuted” (NE 153). their existence is temporally oriented toward the future. is the lived corollary to the formal sense of existential possibility that. Risk. adding to the sentiment of hopelessness. But. While this depiction is a belated attempt to compensate for the incapacity of the powers that be to manage and manipulate risk in the “pregnant” sense of the term. The futurity of risk fits well into the general pattern of Schmitt’s notion of the political. As soon as it is gained. but whatever slips its grasp poses “disturbing and confusing prekaritäten [risks]” (NE 202). bearing in its deepest reserves a new model of subjectivity. literally.” For them. worse. as inhuman (TP 31). and so on. its outcome is a topsy-turvy view of the political. would have been responsible for the political choice. The state. from the standpoint of their lived experience.The Danger: Unavoidability of Risk 43 Not coincidentally. at least in the work of the latter thinker. Something like a collective political subjectivity thrives in such precarious conditions. legal protections. one might say. The most blatant effect of political risk lies in the criminalization of those who assume it. The futurity of “no future. in which possibility functions as one of the leitmotifs. looms . the most lucid theoretical articulation of risk appears in Theory of the Partisan that proclaims the end of traditional state politics and places its bets on new. no other sphere to which they could retreat from the no-man’s-land of the political to which they are “existentially bound”10 and from which they are officially excluded. otherwise. that is to say. there is. to be sure. puts us face-to-face with our finitude and the inevitability of our impending death. non-state actors. Despite the absence of hope from partisan lives. At the extreme. who have renounced in advance their right to receive a just treatment. exerts a neutralizing influence on political life. to discriminate friends from enemies in the absence of an acknowledged sovereign power that. they have switched to a mode of being single-mindedly focused on the political and inflected by “pregnant risk.
Schmitt enumerates the strict criteria delimiting the non-conceptual scope of partisanship: irregularity. We could dispute this approach. he writes. the salto mortale. heightened intensity of political engagement.12 Hence. Rather than foreclosing the future. increased mobility. terminal future. Whence Political Risk? The Anthropological minus the Economic In Schmitt’s view. defensive figure. now in the guise of that which passively moves or motivates the partisan and now in the guise of absolute enmity and the prospects of total annihilation it portends. He then becomes his own partisan” (TP 23). and the telluric comportment (TP 22.13 While a venture capitalist may play the role of an economic guerilla fighter. in an abstractly general treatment of the concept of the partisan. that value must perform in order to pass from the “body” of the commodity to the “body” of money in the first metamorphosis (C-M). Immediately qualifying this observation with the assertion that it only makes sense in a deplorably “indefinite symbolization. exchange and speculation are two risky and contingent. one of the preconditions for the injection of “risk” into political discourse is wresting this category from the economic domain. 23).44 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE on Schmitt’s horizon. at his own risk [eigene Gefahr]. and if he is courageous. of course. alternatively. But what about piracy? At the furthest remove from the center of financial speculation. Economic instability is greatly exacerbated in financial speculation.” or. that “a consistent individualist is one who fights for himself. It is conceivable. ways of relating to the future. value is cut loose from its use-value component) and where profits are made on short-term investments and on the minutest variations of stock prices. Schmitt finds himself on the verge of concurring that economic behavior may be risky. though undoubtedly economic. At times. the clandestine . rapidly entering and exiting the market in the pursuit of “hit-and-run” interest. the essence of political temporality is a finite.11 The risk inherent in any exchange is the foundation of Marxist crisis theory. the risk of a hopeless fight and the advance renunciation of the rights of guerilla fighters invest the futural modality of time with existential gravity. where the non-monetary commodity presumably disappears (or else. there is always a chance that the process will not resume after the last metamorphosis (M-C’) of a given cycle. situated on the fringes of the economic. he is hardly a telluric. in addition to the leap. Whereas the structure of political subjectivity is temporal. by pointing out that the process of exchange C-M-C’ (commodity-money-commodity) in Marx’s Capital is far from certain.
even as. Later on Schmitt will regret this careless use of “risk. of necessity. excluded. while others face bankruptcy. nonetheless. though for a different reason: there isn’t a linear progression from the buccaneers of early capitalism to venture capitalists. but endanger their investments. Economic risk-taking does not at all invalidate the philosophers’ conclusion. in the sixteenth century. and yet. In light of the recent resurgence of piracy off the coast of Africa and elsewhere on high seas. per definitionem. let alone the rejection of legal rights. wage-laborers come very close to the experience of risk in the pregnant sense of the term. The only difference is that some pay with their lives for their actions.14 That the bourgeois individual may be defined. First. the middle-high-German Rysigo names a daring economic venture undertaken in the hopes of success. comprised of wage-laborers who sell the only commodity in their possession. Against the background of his taxonomy of risk. Schmitt’s caution with regard to the economic is largely justified. and still others pass the costs of their daring speculations on consumer debt to taxpayers. stocks.The Danger: Unavoidability of Risk 45 prototype of a venture capitalist—the pirate described in The Nomos of the Earth—was someone who “proceeded at [his] own risk (in the most dangerous sense of the word) and did not feel bound to any state” (NE 174). hinting at the unexplored potential of his implicit “risk theory” that puts flesh on the bones of the concept of the political. Rousseau and Hegel. at the extreme. their labor power.’ today I would like to correct this terminological error” (TP 30). indeed. . by the fear of violent death is an idea uniting political philosophers as different as Hobbes and Locke. This “other part of the economic” is a blind spot glossed over by Schmitt’s anti-economism. this error should. Uprooted and plunged into a risky position of selling nothing less than a part of themselves under the threat of being demoted to the industrial reserve army. Whether in the center or on the margins of the global economic system. rather. But consider the other part of the economic domain. the contemporary pirates are the anachronistic appendages of capitalist globalization. The risking and the risked merge here. be corrected.” which is. Second. mindful of its complex maritime etymology: “If even once I characterized the pirates and the buccaneers of early capitalism as ‘partisans of the sea. and other assets offered from the “uncontrollably risky” position of selling. capitalists abstain from the risk of a hopeless fight. A whole range of risks that fall under the heading of general risk may be taken on the economic arena. but the pregnant sense of the term is. The emergence of corporations with “limited responsibility” introduces the safeguards that are supposed to prevent any such personal risks. risk accompanies economic activity in today’s world. capitalists do not risk themselves (at least not directly).
the restlessness of constant reinvestment and reproduction of capital keeps capitalists on the treadmill of a free market. . (CP 62–63) Heinrich Meier. thinks that the “bourgeois has already been ‘sentenced’ insofar as he wants to avoid decision and seeks salvation” in the riskless private sphere. Is the Schmittian reading of . that a member of the bourgeoisie cannot afford to rest “in the possession of his private property. He is a man who finds his compensation for his political nullity in the fruits of freedom and enrichment and above all in the total security of its use. but his derivation of political risk by way of anthropological mediations and thanks to the evacuation of risk from the economic domain. But the plausibility of the apolitical nature of the bourgeoisie is questionable even in Hegelian dialectics. . Schmitt encounters “the first polemically political definition of the bourgeois” negatively related to risktaking: The bourgeois is an individual who does not want to leave the apolitical riskless private sphere [die Sphäre des unpolitisch risikolos-Privaten].” is neither truly political. the placeholder for bourgeois activity and a transitional stage between the family and the state in the order of Sittlichkeit. The evidence in support of this claim is subtle. from the position of relative exteriority. Sifting through the list of Hegel’s innovations in political philosophy. such that the three adjectives.46 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE The pivotal methodological maneuver. He rests in the possession of his private property . furthermore.” as the superseded landed aristocracy did. Schmitt goes so far as to restrict economics to the private.15 The point is well taken. one of the few commentators who has not glossed over this passage. riskless.”16 given that the overall sense of the Hegelian gesture. nor fully private. taken to be interchangeable. the political sub-distinction between the public enemy (hostis) and the private one (inimicus). The first clue is the positive appraisal of Hegel’s definition as “polemically political. would safeguard. is to deny the political traits of the bourgeoisie. where civil society. or “ethical life. apolitical sphere. and hence the very possibility of a distinctively political economy. and few commentators have paid attention to it in discussing the Schmittian reading of Hegel in The Concept of the Political. but much more is at stake here than simple decision-avoidance on the part of the bourgeois. Instead. as it is understood by Schmitt. is not Schmitt’s cautious restriction of the semantic reach of the term. not to be missed behind the torrent of details and nuances.17 It is self-evident.
with the material interest of the human creature. Finally. to an extent. in that it is not risky and in that it reduces risk to the likelihood of failure (the crisis) in the nuts and bolts of the state-economic machinery (LST 45). indicts calculative rationality as detrimental to human life. The risk of political inequality does not decrease in response to any palliative. through a particular decision. the most economic of political concepts. the answer to the question whether man is a dangerous being or not. a risky or a harmless [ein riskantes ode rein harmlos nicht-riskantes] creature. and ultimately non-equalizable allocation of sovereignty. but a foil for molding the relation between the economic and the political? The clues continue to abound when. the anthropological . But would this criticism still be valid if economic theory were to challenge its traditional confines and to examine its subjects closer and in more detail than utility-maximizing units? Be this as it may. The next stage of the argument enjoins us to substitute the risklessness of the economic with the riskiness of the anthropological. rather. uneconomic.The Danger: Unavoidability of Risk 47 Hegel. in principle. It is at least imaginable that such unevenness can be ironed out as a result of financial redistribution and that. he. For Schmitt. Even though economic rationality encourages and. at the very outset of the critique of parliamentary democracy. and for that reason at least the possibility and the risk of inequality” (CPD 9). corrective measures. that is to say. such as the rule of law. (CP 58) The question does not announce itself within the limits of economic reflection concerned with utility and profitability. Alternatively. The risky possibility (Möglichkeit) of inequality has nothing in common with the potentialities of economic unevenness in the distribution of wealth. equalizable by monetary means. Schmitt does not point an accusing finger at the concept of economic equality per se. itself heterogeneous and hierarchical because of the differentiation between the higher-constitutional and the lower-ordinary courts and systems of legalities. it would not prevent the numerical actualization of equality. as opposed to “the conception of man” as such. The problematic or unproblematic conception of man is decisive for the presupposition of every further political consideration. in the end. equality. predicates itself on major inequalities. then. these are. political inequality that. may generate equality in the substantive sense hinges on the qualitative. sheds all ties to risk that are now reserved only for its opposite: “Equality is only interesting and valuable politically so long as it has substance.
In response to his interrogator’s question. economically or politically. Taking the side of the risky conception of the human.” harmlos. in Plessner and in Schmitt. polemical.”18 This is why. therefore. “Yes. such undetermined beings? Management and administration. while for Nietzsche. the futurity of the human is eradicated along with the existential risk in the process of objectively determining the distance-making being. and “harmless. to “de-distance” humans. if I may borrow Heidegger’s expression. and regularization.” nicht-riskantes. But. foregrounds the general sense of the term. That the onto-epistemological openness may welcome the futurity of the “no future. In Chapter 4. on others and. that a political decision may imperceptibly pass into economic administration—none of this invalidates or contradicts . venture. somewhat enigmatically. that a risk taken once may spell out the end of subsequent risk-taking. refuses to rest on the laurels of unexamined and examined presuppositions alike. Schmitt’s political philosophy has attracted both leftists and right-wing theorists who also assume the risk. thanks to which it receives the capacity to make promises. to convert the subjects of the political into objects of statistical manipulation. for whom human beings are not determined by any objective factors but are defined. to determine them by bridging their constitutive distance. based on their capacity to create distance (CP 60). regardless of his flirtation with Nazism that led to this questioning.) Much of political theorizing is a comet tail of this elementary anthropological decision.” as it happens in the case of the partisan or in the abovementioned Nazi embroilment. How would it be possible to manage. I will come back to the role of questioning in preventing this modern transformation that makes human beings harmless by rendering them predictable. the promising animals come to have a future. culturing. The latter word bears on the effects of risk. The ontological facet of the “problematic conception of man” as a question without a corresponding answer matches the epistemological dimension of a fluid. “You have the blood of an intellectual adventurer?” posed in the Spring of 1947. or absence thereof. Schmitt answers. or harmless. German philosopher Helmuth Plessner. the human is not a harmless creature but becomes one at the end of a long and grueling disciplining. taming. conceptualizing the state and market economy as machines that run by themselves. in the best traditions of a rigorous phenomenological reduction. the other of “risky” is both “non-risky. Schmitt approvingly cites his contemporary.48 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE alternative is a Bonaldian either-or disjunction: the human is either risky. As Nietzsche would have it in On the Genealogy of Morality. I assume the risk. that is how thoughts and knowledge develop. (Within the economy of the quotation. and ultimately non-dogmatic theorization that.
from the economic into the political. but also construes the latter in terms of this possibility at the boiling point of extreme antagonism. de-sedimenting force that reverses the objectification of the human and that keeps the political alive by preventing its complacent addition to the list of other public spheres of activity. appear insurmountable. or that. with this requirement. If the concept of the political rests on the articulation of friend-enemy distinctions. We will do well to recall that Schmitt not only envisages the possibility of a counter-transformation. let alone to recognize. Neither a purely quantitative. risk (in the pregnant sense of the word) is the reductive. Risky Recognitions Any basic dictionary of Hegelian. thought is bound to include “recognition” among its entries. Despite everything Lenin has done to institutionalize economic rationalism in Soviet Union. conversely. it is succumbing to calculative economic rationality. while the mix of two types of risk. What is the fate of recognition when it is applied to the human figure that is undetermined and unfathomable? If the enemy is the other. then how is it possible to identify. the deeply political inheritor of Hegel (CP 63) who paved the way for this transformation. To extend the purview of Schmitt’s “risk theory” is to argue that the index for the completion or incompletion of politicization in various domains of human activity is the type of risk besetting each concrete antagonism that shapes them. at first blush. would signal either that the movement of politicization is well on its way. certain difficulties arise that. The radical openness of risk would have been a seductive but ultimately inane slogan if it did not keep itself open even to the possibility of its own closure. for instance. more concretely. the unrest of the political is the moment of Aufhebung that raises the intensity of antagonism to a substantially different level. But. nor a strictly qualitative shift. if there are any? . it still performs much theoretical work behind the scenes. Although this notion does not enjoy the same privileged status in Schmitt’s political theory. alterity? And. The vital sign of the political would be the presence of risk in the pregnant sense. then it must account for the mechanisms of identifying friends and enemies. which we have discovered in the figure of the police functionary who collaborates with the occupying power. what are the criteria for political recognition—that is. as well as liberal. At its most decisive.The Danger: Unavoidability of Risk 49 the methodological radicality of espousing the groundless anthropological underpinnings of the political. Schmitt does not lose his esteem for the partisan Lenin.
sublime. in order to gain a free line of fire.20 The consensus is that the enemy functions as a perceptual figure. The apparition of the enemy figure. Thanks to the desire for recognition. still identical to what has always been determined under this name. overflowing the finite representational capacity of human beings. each looks intently at his enemy. unlimited in time and in space. since they do not prompt the opponents to strategize for the end of hostilities but stem out the prospects of a future reconciliation that may follow the standoff and impregnate it with the spirit of active hopelessness. The former thinker vividly pictures the encounter with the enemy: “Disdain” is to be taken literally. interrupting the view of the enemy. the recognition of that which fits into the determinate figural contours and the bare fact of looking fine-tune and moderate . the enemy would gain reassuring and ultimately appeasing contours. is indebted to the vanishing of neutrality. too. according to Strauss’s interpretation that resonates with Sartre’s analysis in Being and Nothingness. Leo Strauss and Jacques Derrida lay the groundwork for the discussion of Schmittian recognition. the enemy has not yet turned into the indeterminate prototype of absolute enmity. But the swipe of the hand that prepares the unobstructed field of disjunctive vision is itself blind (“without looking at”) to that which “lingers in the middle” and contains the prospects of reconciliation. The long-term consequences of such blindness are risky in the pregnant sense. Derrida is perhaps more attentive to the impossible figure without background. Now. a figure without the neutrality of the background. In other words. The figure of the enemy would then be helpful—precisely as a figure—because of the features which allow it to be identified as such. because they would be identifiable. with the exception of the textual materials on which they elaborate. By virtue of remaining a figure.21 the disappearance of everything that stands between enemies and could soften or absorb the risk and the shock of the fatal encounter. they do not deign to notice the neutral. at the extreme. with a sweep of the hand they wave aside—without looking at—the neutral who lingers in the middle.19 Derrida. Visual recognition of the enemy enabled both by the intensity of the look and by preparatory blindness produces. The Hegelian life-and-death struggle for recognition pales in comparison with this fatal confrontation. inquires into the conditions of possibility of the encounter.50 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE From two perspectives that hardly share a common ground.
After enumerating various political identities—of “the governed and the governing. through a prior determination by the subject who recognizes this reality.” while the figure of the enemy triggers a present and immediate existential sensation of alterity as the threat of otherness.” “the state and the people. to put this bluntly. the relation to the enemy cannot evade a double indeterminacy inscribed in his blurred figure: he is not only other. do not obviate a future reconciliation. post-Kantian sensibility that processes all claims to objectivity. and it is sufficient for his nature that he is. nothing has been resolved by this conclusion because we do not yet know what Schmitt means by “identity” and how it is constructed. it would be fair to say that Derrida is closer to the later Schmitt who is apprehensive about the possibility of total annihilation.” and so on—Schmitt relates that “these identities [themselves] are not palpable reality. That is to say. The contours of this figure are “reassuring” because they enclose the enemy in the perceptual field. He thus exhibits a typical modern. The Straussian-Derridian solution does not touch upon the quandary generated by enemy recognition. logically. they are “ultimately appeasing” because they forestall absolute enmity and. It is true that. in a specially intense way existentially something different and alien [in einem besonders intensiven Sinne existenziell etwas anderes und Fremdes ist]. in the implicit phenomenology of Schmitt. whereas Strauss approximates the early. the stranger. so that in the extreme case conflicts with him are possible” (CP 27). Negatively defined. Still. the political begins with the cognitive-perceptual elimination of the neutral third—whose trace may still linger in the very contours that delimit the enemy—that. precedes the possibility of the enemy’s existential elimination. otherness and difference “themselves”? The appellation “enemy” applies to “the other. The undetectable partisan and the enemy who provokes absolute enmity . namely. etwas. but rest on a recognition of the identity” (CPD 26. anything whatsoever. emphasis added). uncompromising Schmitt of the Concept of the Political. such as the reality of an identity. Besides the consensus on the figuration of the enemy. the recognition of identity politically translated into friendship entails a series of mediations supporting the ideational representation and the subjective construction of something that will not be found in “palpable reality. However visceral and immediate.The Danger: Unavoidability of Risk 51 the risk unleashed in the Straussian interpretation. it is an alterity. not an identity. but also something indefinite. by the same token. But what remains after the reduction of the third? Is the enemy identifiable after the third has been removed from my confrontation with him? Does it. present an identity fit for recognition? And can one recognize something other than an identity.
22 The unity of the two elements is dynamic. In the felicitous moments of the regime. and puts the blame on something or someone other that (or who) could endanger this identity or.” or. proving the inconstancy of the political-phenomenological identity. Husserl. I gladly refer to E.” the actuality of psychic life. Aside from the degrees of immediacy and mediation. precisely. wherein the seeing coincides with that which is seen. as the source of governing legitimacy. the desiring with the desired. It claims the right to recognize the enemy. This is where the figure of the enemy becomes handy in a more mediated way. because the expressed does not fulfill the expression once and for all but diverges from it as soon as the seen. The only guarantees of enemy recognition are the “future returns” of preparedness for impending conflicts and. and with the state by means of complex ideological apparatuses. the desired are no longer there. in flesh and blood. and so forth. II” (CT 265). “the existence of the state” (PT 6). a more relevant cleft separates the logics of identity and non-identity. offer at best a superficial explanation of identity—a term Schmitt takes in a selfconsciously Husserlian way: “For the further justification of the word ‘identity’ . And yet. the feeling with the felt. Identity betokens. Especially in the cases of absolute enmity and the invisible enemy (but this equally applies to “the enemy” in general) there is no room for the consciousness of fulfillment because the expressed intuition—the enemy or the other as such—is not available for the expressing or signifying act that . The recognition of the former is the prerogative of the governed who identify with the people. . the temporal limits of the presence of the intuited imply that the identity of the two elements is never securely established. as a matter of fact. but recognition has nothing in the present to cling to. speaking in the terms of the theory of performativity. The sovereign decision deflects the internal risk of impermanent identification. Such is the “consciousness of fulfillment. for Husserl. in other words. Such apparatuses. except the vague sense of a future threat. . before the intuiting subject. “the dynamic unity of expression and expressed intuition. the mutual belonging in intuition of signifying acts and that which they signify. in the extreme. the synthetic unity will come undone as soon as the expression and the expressed intuition are at variance with one another. the act of recognition itself. resides within the dynamism of the identitarian unity.52 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE are the paragons of the enigmatic determinate indeterminacy characteristic of the foe in general.” so that the coincidence is translated into the regime’s legitimacy. the felt. Logische Untersuchungen. the identity of the governing and the governed results in the political “consciousness of fulfillment. externalizes the threat that. however.
ergo ungrounded. Both secrets and risks will. post-Schmittian epoch. to everything that surrounds or falls outside of it. Great powers that wrestle with one another “will be lost if they cannot correctly distinguish between friend and enemy. for the survival of these powers “there are ‘no guarantees’” (LST 49). act maliciously “behind one’s back. cabinet dealings “conducted by a few people behind closed doors” (CPD 37–38). survive and flourish in the so-called Information Age. it is the upshot of the non-transparency and obliqueness of the political. splitting the political into the visible and the invisible. Secret diplomacy complicates the recognition of friends and enemies. they are no more a part of “palpable reality” than various political identities constructed by the community of friends. and. paradoxically. The relevance of the domestic veil of secrecy to the contemporary political processes is only likely to increase in the foreseeable future. for such distinctions and.23 In colloquial terms. as it is instigated by the legitimate and fictitious concerns with national security. not just in politics but also in economics where commercial secrets and patenting of everything from computer programs to medicines give their proprietors a competitive edge in the ludicrously uneven “open markets” closed . where the principle of “openness” in the debates between various parties is but a naïve and unattainable ideal. which Strauss underscores. Once again Schmitt reiterates the idea that “[a]rcana belong to every kind of politics” including domestic. That the same ineliminable obscurity affects domestic politics becomes evident in the critique of parliamentary democracy. a withdrawal from public view. The identity within the political unit is assured by virtue of a permanent non-identity without this same unit. for example.The Danger: Unavoidability of Risk 53 aims at its blurred or non-existent contours. Misrecognition need not be understood as a deviation of representation from a separate reality it is supposed to represent. both on the national and the international arenas. reviled by every thinker of the Enlightenment. The ensuing risks of recognition assume two forms: misrecognition and non-recognition. rather. by the self-grounding. to the degree that it arises from a pronounced blindness. Its modus operandi is non-phenomenality. is the reality of our. act of recognition aimed at them. therefore. A self-grounding phenomenon is inevitably fraught with risk. The enemies are constructed performatively. one’s perceived and declared friend may furnish a presentable and reassuring façade of non-alterity and.” but. in secret diplomacy (RC 34). by implication.” or be a friend in the name alone. Already in Roman Catholicism and Political Form Schmitt expressed his adherence to arcana in politics and their manifestations. This non-transparency of the political process. since palpable reality is no longer a part of the equation. at the same time.
the Pentagon will continue to destroy and withhold the documentary evidence of torture in the outsourced camps. The actors who literally embody the great political arcana are the partisans who inhabit the “essential space of irregularity” and use secrecy and darkness as their “strongest weapons” (TP 35). Risky Decisions “Decisionism” has become something of a hallmark of the debates surrounding Schmittian political theory. fatalistic manner. Greatly magnified. then it always stands in the shadow of crisis. because its version of incalculability is tied to the dissolution of the enemy figure in the absence of appeasing. danger. It is safe to say that non-recognition brings the dynamics of misrecognition to a dramatic conclusion. outlines. much less. now classically associated with Donald Rumsfeld. The second negative corollary of recognition is non-recognition fueled by the changing patterns of visibility in the political sphere. And today’s War on Terror fought predominantly against invisible enemies has already stepped over the threshold of a lived political-phenomenological reduction. non-recognizable enemy opens the door to absolute enmity growing from the premonition. albeit negative. or submitting to them in a blind. the jaggedness of the political playing field turns into a full-blown asymmetry when the invisible partisan fights clearly identified “local police functionaries” or the occupying troops.25 But what has gone relatively unnoticed is the fact that both the political decisions and the milieu in which they are taken are pervaded by risk. while patented seeds will not yield renewable crops for the farmers who are forced to buy them every year. Even so. If the “decision on the exception is a decision in the true sense of the word” (PT 6).54 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE to everything but transnational flows of capital. beyond which an identifiable enemy figure disappears. then they are everywhere. while enmity remains. Parallel to the conduct of partisans. it does not result in the outright renunciation of legality. that if the enemies are nowhere. or the situation of “extreme peril” to which Schmitt refers on the same page.24 The risk that the latter face is more pregnant than the Schmittian “pregnant sense” of risk (if such a thing is possible). as it happened in the case of the partisans whose extralegality . codified in legal statutes. without either fleeing from them. The deficit of openness is palpable everywhere in the contemporary world. The invisible. To decide on the exception is to assume the dangers one faces. the sovereign decision is a strangely telluric. Shielded by Obama’s continuation of the Bush policies. actively passive phenomenon responding to what cannot be anticipated in advance and.
between the process of coming to a decision and the momentary act of decisionmaking.26 In addition to the general theory of risk. anti-Aristotelian either/or structure of decision-making minimizes the array of options that may have been juggled in the process of coming to a decision. and. The evasion of decision-making deferred by the interminable process of deliberation erases every clear line of demarcation between friend and enemy groupings without. The existential risk will continue to grow exponentially due to the insidious ignorance that wishes to neutralize it by means of thought and speech alone.The Danger: Unavoidability of Risk 55 became their most potent weapon—but propels the sovereign to the outer limits of the legal system. Schmitt’s critique of parliamentary democracy turns on the impatience with the fruitless discussions that only infinitely delay decisive action. paving the way for political recognition. functionally comparable to the preparatory elimination of the neutral third.” Two profound disconnects characterize this configuration: first. Schmitt is loath to equate these deferrals with actual . the political configuration of decision-making calls for a more patient and meticulous “risk analysis. attaining the point of the political. “the indecisive deracination of the political” that eschews the risks of acting and. The decision remains incalculable. deliberations. in Schmitt’s footsteps. as ridiculous as “the radiator of a modern central heating system” painted “with red flames in order to give the appearance of a blazing fire. It is. at the same time. and calculations that prepare the ground for it. their concentration on the risks of thinking and saying. The will to intellectualization yields a watered down version of existential conflict sublimated into a more refined battle of ideas. and. absolute. finally. the nullification of the political. the acts of decision-making are rife with arcana veiling the political with secrecy and non-transparency. The sundering apart of the process and the act replicates the divergence of means from ends in the gradations of partisan risk and performs Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith. in so doing. heralds the greatest risks—those of political nullification and. In the Sorelian vein. as though it obeyed the disarming magic of their words and subjective intentions. Inasmuch as they are liberated from these processes. risky in the pregnant sense of the term regardless of the field of meticulous calculations from which it takes off (PT 12). second. The bitter fruitlessness of parliamentarism is what I call. therefore.”27 The reluctance of politicians and theorists to face the real and urgent political risk.” liberating itself from the discussions. The immoderate. does not mean that the risk of doing will disappear. subjective. between the indeterminacy of the subject matter and the determinacy of the form. And yet. therefore.
thwart their self-preservation—to acknowledge the decision not to decide as a political decision and in the subsequent loss of the last vestiges of sovereignty. and the unequivocal closure of futural possibilities. on the one hand. the danger of losing parliamentary majority. in the same gesture. however. Summing up his position. he writes in The Concept of the Political: Even less can a people hope to bring about a purely moral or purely economic condition of humanity by evading every political decision. Decision-making is as irreducible as the political itself. Risk-avoidance leads to the utmost risk bordering on the guarantee of failure. is framed between. But Schmitt’s assessment applies to other contexts of liberal parliamentarism. the risk of terminating the existence of a political entity as a consequence of sovereign decision to go to war that might end in defeat. the withering away of the political. for instance. and. the latter will not thereby vanish from the world. that the impetus for political action is not selfpreservation but a decisive risk inimical to the desire for the status quo and the Spinozan conatus. The formulation of this choice in Nazi Germany of the interwar period is chilling. a simple-minded application (of which Schmitt has been accused often enough) of “natural selection” and “self-preservation. furthermore. in order to distract its practitioners from the substantial risk decided a priori. political “risk analysis” weighs particular procedural risks. The indecisive deracination of the political consists in the lack of courage—in those who reactively strive toward and. as Schmitt describes it in Constitutional Theory. or. we see that there is nothing “natural” in political selection and. If a people no longer possesses the energy or the will to maintain itself in the sphere of politics. on the other.”28 Upon closer scrutiny. which Schmitt leaves to his reader. in excess of any scales and measurements: the risk of not taking risks. at the very least. The choice. behind a wide array of parliamentary articulations and debates hides the unarticulated decision not to decide. Botched from the outset.56 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE de-politicization. where the risk of not taking risks is the default attitude . the certainty of this entity’s dissolution in the atmosphere of indecisiveness that no longer holds in reserve the sovereign recourse to jus belli (CP 38). its apocryphalization. The price paid for the selective blindness it induces is the inability to exercise political vision beyond a skillful manipulation of parliamentary and legalistic procedures. Only a weak people will disappear. (CP 53) The last sentence may smack of social Darwinism and a sort of political eugenics.
George Schwab (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. Susan Strange. 1997). 2003). 5. trans. Clemens (London and New York: Continuum. material supports and sovereignty is viewed as a dangerous and illegitimate heritage of absolutist regimes. Risk-avoidance and the quest for neutrality are so far-reaching that they endow liberalism construed as a “metaphysical system” with unity and consistency. Risikogesellschaft: Auf dem Weg in eine andere Moderne (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag. see Gayatri C.” pp. [“Notes on Carl Schmitt. at the same time as they undermine its political standing. ad nauseam. 1996)] Strauss affirms Schmitt’s “thesis of the dangerousness of man as the ultimate presupposition of the position of the political” and implies that the illumination of this presupposition restores “the seriousness of human life. 4. 2.” just like vision comprises “the seeing of the seen. In a phenomenological mode of investigation. under its influence. institutional. whether it promotes the value of social harmony sprinkled with “healthy” competition and debate (CPD 35)—liberalism adulterates political risk in the pools of moral speculation and economic enterprise. Casino Capitalism (New York: St.” and so on. 1986). In his commentary on The Concept of the Political. O. Infinite Thought: Truth and the Return to Philosophy. eloquently portrayed by Schmitt in terms of the existential “possibility of a rebirth” (LS 5) from the act of making a decision. Although I am not aware of any actual treatment of Schmitt’s political philosophy that would espouse this maximalist position. Ulrich Beck.” where the enjoyment of political influence parts ways with “the responsibility and the risk of the political [das Risiko des Politischen]” (LL 88). Whether it advocates the openness of the political field devoid of the secret. Feltham and J. it is not outside the realm of possibility. Alain Badiou. 3. 2003). . For a rather dense summary of the emergent “supra-disciplinary” field. Leo Strauss is the most prominent advocate of such an approach. we could point out something like the intentional structure of risk (which makes sense only in the pregnant sense of the term) involving “the risking of the risked. Martin’s Press. Death of a Discipline (New York: Columbia University Press. The Concept of the Political” in The Concept of the Political. his theory of the political for its dictatorial tendencies but in their excessive zeal they deprive humans of more than the thrill and excitement promised by political risk-taking: they come to negate praxis. Its parliamentary variety is the “twilight of an intermediary state. or a division of powers intended to “neutralize the concentration of power” (CPD 37). It is no wonder that liberalism failed to come up with a positive political model given that. Schmitt’s liberal opponents may lambaste. trans. 96. Notes 1.” touch—“the touching of the touched. decision-making loses its substantive. Spivak.The Danger: Unavoidability of Risk 57 ornamentally masked by discussions and debates. 101.
Carl Schmitt. see Schmitt’s remarks on taking an oath to the Constitution (CP 81. 117. Maschke (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot. 1990. and terms have a polemical meaning” (CP 30). p. Cf. For the uncertain etymology of risk. Schmitt. pp. The “neutral power” which Schmitt found “in the public service and in Reich’s president” (p. 16. G. indeed. pp. M. 1998). Number. Politics of Friendship. and New York: Oxford University Press. T.” in Le Nouveau Petit Robert (Paris: Dictionnaires le Robert. 12. 15. Fowkes (London and New York: Penguin. trans. trans. images. W. Schmitt contends that “all political concepts. Walter Benjamin. Telos 72.-W. NC: Duke University Press. Collins (London and New York: Verso. Jacques Derrida. “Notes on Carl Schmitt. 1994). 14. Oxford. Brainard (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 20. Nomos: Arbeiten aus den Jahren 1916–1969. 122–123. E. D. 62. F. 17. 13.” in Staat. Note that in the same text. Badiou. Emphasis added. Jephcott (New York: Schocken Books. pp. 635–636. Böckenförde’s [“The Concept of the Political: A Key to Understanding Carl Schmitt’s Constitutional Theory. trans. “The concrete person. Strange. S. Knox (London. p.” G. 10. Schmitt continues this line of thought. G. The Concept of the Political. 49) is. is . “Critique of Violence” in Reflections. 7. Both quotations and my discussion of recognition pertain to hostis.” 21. 1995). E. pp. 9. Hegel. trans. B. For a more diluted version of the existential bond. Casino Capitalism. Heinrich Meier. . p. indispensable but only when the population fails to reduce the risk of internal . ed. 1967). and disappeared as soon as the closed and independent territorial state appeared with its clear-cut sovereignty” (NE 202). 277. Schmitt escapes the temptation of an idealizing philosophical analysis and does not view these criteria as transhistorically valid. 106. one principle of civil society. p. esp. p. 118). 1997). trans. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. 11. 48–49] deduction of “the necessity of a ‘pouvoir neutre’ within a state” unjustifiably postulates an abstraction based on the concrete Weimar context of Verfassungslehre. 1995). Kojin Karatani.” p. 111. pp. Karl Marx. the “public enemy. describing the period of transition from feudal wars to the rise of the early modern state: “Everything that was not related to the state became unclear and precarious. ed. 8.” in Law as Politics: Carl Schmitt’s Critique of Liberalism. Strauss. . Grossraum. But the particular person is essentially so related to other particular persons that each establishes himself and finds satisfactions by means of the others. In light of this treatment. 1976).58 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE 6. p. “Gespräche über den Partisanen. Architecture as Metaphor: Language. 1998). 103–104. who is himself the object of his particular aims. The Lesson of Carl Schmitt: Four Chapters on the Distinction between Political Theology and Political Philosophy. Schmitt treats neutralization and politicization as two diametrically opposed processes. Capital I. trans. As a rule. Infinite Thought. 83. Dyzenhaus (Durham. 208. Kohso (Cambridge: MIT Press. 18. see “Risque. 19. 1978). p. 200. Money. M. 13.
35). 26. p. pp. .” in Theory and Society 19 (4). 15–26. for it is he who must decide whether the constitution needs to be suspended in its entirety” (PT 7). For a concise enunciation of this issue. 22. August 1990.The Danger: Unavoidability of Risk 59 strife and to become unified in the face of the external public enemy. 24. . 28. . 23. “Carl Schmitt. 206. and the Total State. complete invisibility is not conducive to the political. 406. p. see Paul Hirst. function as a result like a superfluous decoration. there is no surmounting the fact that the fundamental political value we are left with is naked self-preservation. Edmund Husserl. Political Existentialism.” in Telos 72. which is compatible with visibility. Summer 1987. For one of Schmitt’s earliest reflections on the political arcanum. 2001). 25.” Richard Wolin. Like complete visibility. “Carl Schmitt’s Decisionism. he nevertheless belongs to it. useless and even embarrassing. 27. Logical Investigations. Otherwise.” but not “of ” this world (RC 52). and purely abstract categories (humanity and the enemy of humanity) that render visible representations impossible equally deny the political its viability (RC 27. “Although he [the sovereign] stands outside the normally valid legal system. “Many norms of contemporary parliamentary law . Thus. refer to D 13. Schmitt’s intervention in Roman Catholicism is geared toward balancing the visibility and the invisibility of the political on the model of the Church that is “in. The administration of people by things. Volume II (New York: Routledge. “[D]espite the colorful existential rhetoric. as though someone has painted the radiator of a modern central heating system with red flames in order to give the appearance of a blazing fire” (CPD 6). “pouvoir neutre” is utterly useless and artificial.
there is. then. Third. whether this presumed transition would ever leave its point of departure. from the speculative (in the Hegelian sense) to the positively demonstrable. the title of this chapter is a promise and a contract.3 The Non-Ground: From the Concept of the Political to the Event of Politics As always. the concept of the political in Schmitt is neither sterile nor abstract. then the destination of this movement will have been already included in its point of departure in the guise of the concept of the political that does not ideally coincide with itself but anticipates its internal disarticulation by the event. a premonition of the ungraspable and the extraconceptual in the concept that remains “of the political” only inasmuch as it is not identical to itself. or whether the emergence of the event in the concept would supplant the latter from the inside. the reader might expect to be guided from the abstract sterility of the concept to the concrete level of political events as they unfold in history. but only an eventalization of the concept itself. the meaning of the event diverges from the colloquial sense of a mere historical occurrence and hinges on the thinking of Ereignis and événement—the event of appropriation and expropriation in Heidegger and Derrida.1 Let us be clear on the terms of the contract by noting that these expectations will be frustrated right from the outset for three reasons. If the second alternative applies. from a higher to a lower level of analysis. as Adorno would express it. Second. It is doubtful. 60 . a structural opening of the concept onto the event. strictly speaking. from the general to the singular. no transition from one to the other. In keeping with the titular undertaking that outlines a certain itinerary or a trajectory. First. given that it is existentially embodied and lived in a determinate enemy/friend opposition.
eigen. therefore. knowledge circulates like an empty rumor that is on everyone’s lips but belongs to no one in particular. I propose to map them on the axis running from appropriation to expropriation. translated as Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning). the initial pre-interpretation is incomplete without the appropriative grasp of understanding that. though not etymological. brings into view the second origin. There are no significant contributions to philosophy that do not proceed from this event that appropriates the first. And it is this inauthenticity of Gerede that becomes one of the sites wherein deconstruction sets itself to work in an inversion of Ereignis into the event of expropriation. alone.3 Henceforth. its derivation from eräugen (“to bring into view or come into view”2). although phenomena. since “in it the understanding appropriates understandingly that which is understood by it. sense of that which is one’s own.4 In Being and Time. largely. the event will carry ownness within itself and will elliptically mean the event of appropriation. thereby. responsible for the current interest in the notion of the event. which “is the possibility of understanding everything without previously making the thing one’s own. the phenomenological dimension of the event of appropriation. or Aristotle and. at the same time. Heidegger breaks the German word for the event into Er-eignis only to supplement its strict etymology. of “bringing into view” and. sounds. more often than not in everyday life. The paradigm cases for the two extremes of this continuum are Martin Heidegger and Jacques Derrida.”6 In the public world of “the they” (das Man). Heidegger’s second magnum opus. consciously interprets the given and draws out what is implicit in it. does not give rise to the event. Heidegger further recognizes that.”5 What this means is that. is in a position to encounter the first beginning. Most emblematically. Plato. philosophical origin born in the thought of the pre-Socratics. the displacement of .” which. Beiträge zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis).Non-Ground: From the Concept to the Event 61 A Philosophical Primer: Snapshots of the Event in Heidegger and Derrida Without denying the complexity and the heterogeneity of the contemporary philosophies of the event. which dispenses to the faculty of understanding what is its own. providing a nontranscendental condition of possibility for phenomenality is interpretation (Auslegung). and so forth. with the semantic. His codeword for the inauthentic arrest of the phenomenological hermeneutic is Gerede. who are. the incipient preunderstanding does not pass into an explicit appropriative interpretation and. where conceptual philosophy reverts into “inceptual thinking. are given to us already imbued with meaning. both thematizes and traces its own sources back to the event (Ereignis). essentially Greek. such as sights. idle talk. recapturing its origins.
delivered to the abyssal of singularity: “It is therefore in the abyss of the proper [dans l’abîme du propre] that we are going to try to recognize the impossible idiom of the signature. inappropriable) “thing. which is why Derrida drowns the difference between the proper and the improper in the indifference of immemorial expropriation by the sponge. and. Although appropriation and expropriation are not bound together by a dialectical logic of antithetical co-belonging. necessarily inappropriable. Ereignis is. what is most singular. Heidegger’s Ereignis does not grasp something definitively present but performatively creates the second beginning of philosophy in the “inceptual” leap that. therefore. porous. already factored into that which is inverted. idiomatic. thus. It follows that groundlessness. if it is one. and interiorizes everything. the sponge is certainly ‘ignoble. both. an abyssal and vertiginous bottomlessness. finds a new grounding in itself. does not entirely erase the difference between the proper and the improper but makes it unstable. in which one would find oneself in absolute proximity to oneself. at the same time. and undecidable. thus.) provided . he reveals that the most proper is. achievable from any other field (economic. In and of itself.” The event. its sheer uniqueness and utter generality. is not enough. etc. characterizes Ereignis well before its deliberate expropriation. the situation every metaphysics of presence counts upon. the latter hypostatizes a particular moment of the former. and the inflection of appropriation with the improper and the inappropriable. one of many deconstructive metaphors for writing: “Insofar as it ingests. religious.”7 Ereignis in abyss (Ereignis en abîme) seduces with “the allure of the inappropriable event [l’allure d’un événement inappropriable]”8 that indefinitely defers the situation. A simple inversion or revalorization. abyssal. There is No Such Thing as the “Political Sphere”! What presents itself as the unbounded versatility of the concept of the political.9 The paradox is that the event of appropriation is immanently expropriated by its most radical instantiation—by the absolutely proper. advances in a sequence of prudently planned steps. between the events of appropriation and expropriation. finally. to be sure.’”10 The sponge. Derrida’s argument. and idiomatic (hence. between the authentically grasped and the inauthentically pre-interpreted. absorbs.62 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE the very propriety of the proper. proper or not [du propre comme du non-propre]. and. singular. can never be claimed as one’s own because of. Its “ignobility” symbolizes the meta-impurity of the opposition between the pure and the impure. In order to prepare the stage for the inversion of the Heideggerian event. instead of landing on an already formed terrain.
Moreover. Even if we could segregate a properly political Sachgebiet. or an external economy with the spheres it inflects. what are we to make of Schmitt’s odd contention that the political parasitically inhabits other regions of human activity but lacks a domain of its own? The difficulty with Schwab’s translation is that. (CP 38) George Schwab generally translates the German Sachgebiet as “domain. Is it conceivable that a book investigating the concept of the political would deny the existence of an autonomous political sphere. precisely. and other antitheses. as it shuns clear topographical distinctions. moral. from the most varied human endeavors. extends much deeper than its overt formulations in Roman Catholicism and Political Form. where the economic represents a simple negation of the political. the concept reaches the heights of anti-foundationalism. broadly understood as a domicile. “The political can derive its energy. on countless occasions. or domain? Isn’t it the explicit task of the text at hand to delimit such a sphere. the political comes to reside in all other domains as a possibility related to the varying intensities of oppositions peculiar to them. both of which go hand-in-hand with de-politicization. and. as we shall see. since he is interested in the concept of the political. acquires that plasticity which nourishes its ability to dwell in and to transmogrify all other domains. separating it from what is not political? Or else. Schmitt defies the liberal evacuation of substance from politics and its offshoot.” Schmitt asserts. It does not describe its own substance [es bezeichnet kein eigenes Sachgebiet] but only the intensity [nur den Intensitätsgrad] of association or dissociation of human beings. the obsession with formal proceduralism. In expropriating itself. with the kind of opening unto the event that I have begun to chart above.” and does so for obvious reasons. since above a certain degree of antagonism . as a result. economic. the administration of men by things. Deprived of a playing field of its own. it expropriates the spheres it inhabits.Non-Ground: From the Concept to the Event 63 that the intensity of antagonisms within it reaches a boiling point.” but in this instance he favors its rendition as “substance. from the religious. The political fails to establish either an internal economy. field. coincides. it would not coincide with its rigorously delineated concept. I would like to emphasize this asymmetry corroborating Schmitt’s antieconomism. which. transgresses ontological boundaries. In return for giving up the right to a domain of its own. it would be erroneous to equate this or any other concept with the sphere of activity it effectively enables.
as Schmitt proposes. be it Dasein—a being who raises the question of Being—or the sovereign who gauges the levels of intensity and determines those critical points (not objectively set once and for all) where the quantitative surge in hostility accomplishes a qualitative shift toward politicization in the categories of collective existence. in the displacement of different domains of human action. mutatis mutandis. The Concept of the Political is a quest for the “specific meaning [spezifischen Sinnes]” of politics (CP 72). religious. it is to sensitize oneself to the problems of interpretation (and. demands to be counted. to challenge the assumption that one could treat Being and the political objectively. better yet. That which has no proper terrain of its own spirits away the ground of other regional ontologies that are always economic inasmuch as they form separate regions or domiciles. cultural. in one form or another. It proceeds in the spirit of Kant’s Copernican turn in modern philosophy and. The political will not shrivel to a sphere antithetically related to the economic.” an idiosyncratic expression of expropriation. circumscribed) place of its own. Schmitt inscribes his discussion of the political in a kind of negative ontology. We will find ourselves perpetually returning to this insight. but its “truth. is. just as the keywords of politics (legitimacy. or to study the “specific meaning” of the political. disrupting the routines of policing. it is not so much a group of political actors but politics in toto that stands for a “part that has no part” in the structural arrangement of human life.64 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE they cease to be moral. the “part that has no part. etc. The law does not interpret itself. first of all. is not a historical accident that befalls the political. and other associations. social. Thus. become political. the appropriative Ereignis) pertaining to whatever comes under the light of investigation and to reassert the ultimate irreducibility of the interpreter. as Heidegger does. to which the political non-sphere is not immune and to which the “homelessness” of the political attests. In Jacques Rancière’s ingenious writings.12 yet its aneconomic relation to various zones of human activity and the absence of a political topography proper should not lead us to believe that Schmitt’s thinking is sloppy or that it exhibits conceptual laxity. rethought in this light. politics occurs when the unaccounted part. As a result of this originary dislocation. De-politicization. emergency. since it is a place of that which has no (delimited. in the non-space or. To concentrate on the meaning of Being.) are not endowed with a univocal encyclopedic meaning. by implication. economic.” such as the undocumented migrant workers. More positively put. instead.11 For Schmitt. and. To the contrary. that which is purely political—the carefully distilled intensity of antagonism—is . belongs in the rich phenomenological tradition extending from Husserl to Heidegger and Derrida.
At this point. and. hence. political concepts do not spring up sui generis but derive from the theological sphere in a definite process of dislocation called “secularization. a retreat from the political back to its displaced source. and of oneself without which politics is insipid and meaningless (CP 32). a posteriori. Jacob Taubes confirms that the restoration of the source’s metaphysical purity is incompatible with the political.” The modern theory of the state—a designation that is. much narrower than the concept of the political as such—is forced to take its terms on loan from the very pre-modern theological doctrine it ridiculed and all but invalidated. which is not a domain amenable to being supplanted. the dynamic governing de-politicization as well. Along with the claim that “all political concepts. But.14 One implication of the political-existential stance is that there is no such thing as an actual political sphere because every sphere is potentially political or politicizable due to a possible increase in the intensities of association and dissociation structuring it. de-secularization. therefore. That is not to say that “possibility” does not play a crucial role in Schmitt’s theory of the political with its presupposition of the real and ever-present possibility of war (die reale Möglichkeit des Kampfes) and the prospect of the physical annihilation of the enemy.13 Schmitt substantiates the existential character of his philosophy by accentuating the possible. after the interpretive decision on the sphere’s transfiguration has been made. but the overarching principle of displacement and. if this doctrine constitutes the first of the four historical stages of neutralization and de-politicization theorized in Schmitt’s 1929 essay. First. Like Heidegger. admittedly. Thus. who posits possibility “higher than actuality” in Being and Time. in a sweeping statement. His analysis of the “gigantomachy around the word ‘pure’” leads him to . nor is it transcendentally given in the manner of Kant’s a priori conditions of possibility. then their entire succession—though it is by no means clear that this is a question of a “succession”—commences with the restoration of the origin. The fact of politicization will be retrieved only retrospectively. it would be instructive to recall Schmitt’s famous statement in Political Theology that “[a]ll significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts” (PT 38) and the one that echoes it in Political Theology II: “All de-theologized concepts carry the weight of their scientifically impure origins” (PTII 128).Non-Ground: From the Concept to the Event 65 neither empirically accessible outside the spheres it eventually transforms. and terms have a polemical meaning” (CP 30) these invocations of the theological contribute to the structural displacement of political conceptuality in two distinct ways. images.15 That is why no liberal depoliticization can do away entirely with the political. a negation of the negation.
g. The re-politicization of theological discourse is a direct outcome of its self-professed de-politicization: the theological “claim becomes politically more intense along with the degree to which theological authority claims to supersede political power” (PTII 113).” Gegenbegriffe. The polemical means are the ends of the struggle.. As Taubes states. Schmitt calls “weapons in political struggle. language.” or. In the second moment of the structural displacement of political conceptuality. “counterconcepts. to put it simply. however. not absolutely identical to itself. from the content of political life.”16 Political theology. The dislocations of the political by other concepts and by the other of the concept converge in the event both in the everyday sense of a singular happening or occurrence—of everything that may be categorized as a part of the polemical context—and in the special sense of expropriation that reduces to sheer nonsense all appeals to the “pure origination” . The claim of a domain—in this case the theological—to absolute independence renders it only more political and. situational. and that produces such strange mutations as the figure of the partisan. so to speak. even bellicose—if we are mindful of the fact that the Greek polemos alludes to war—polemical context.17 The Hegelian twist. the polemical meaning of political concepts harkens back not to other concepts. de-politicized. as Schmitt maintains in Political Theology II. battling against the neo-Kantian transcendental purity of the law divorced from what we will readily recognize as the cornerstones of phenomenology and concrete life itself: experience. “Schmitt s’est battu contre une chose: la pure théorie du droit [Schmitt fights against one thing: the pure theory of the law]. such as the theological. One literally fights armed with political concepts and distinctions that. is that the weapons are not extraneous. and history. a partisan of the impure. prosthetic implements but an expression of the one who uses them in a fight: “weapons convey the substance of the fighter himself ” (LST 85). wherein we sustain concrete confrontations with the enemies or forge alliances and association with the friends. that is faithful to the original impurity of political origins. on the other hand. but to the other of the concept that is the enemy of philosophy par excellence: the strategic. They arise. legality) shed the vestiges of the context in which they served and are enthroned as the universal content of the political. thus. The glimmer of hope for re-politicization shines when the rigid modern distinction between the church and the state gets eroded. at once politicized to the bone and criminalized. with respect to Hobbes. at times. the “winning” concepts (e. recuperates the principal stage of de-politicization (the theological) in a way that is rife with ambiguity.66 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE depict Schmitt as.
MM] of human thought and action [relativ selbständigen Sachgebieten menschlichen Denkens und Handelns]” (CP 25). to which Schmitt confines the domains transfigured by a quantitatively produced qualitative shift: The often quoted sentence of quantity transforming into quality has a thoroughly political meaning. the moral. Of course. also. in the quotation marks. in that instead of supplying a secure foundation.” It draws together extreme indeterminacy—insofar as it may be reached “from every ‘domain’ [vom jedem ‘Sachgebiet’]”—and utmost determination emanating from the exact turning point of politicization and from the particular criteria that distinguish the political from the “relatively independent endeavors [domains. it is in order to point out that. where each sphere loses its linear identity qua the theological.Non-Ground: From the Concept to the Event 67 of the political. rely on the political in the last instance. at any moment. and ceases to exist as a sphere the moment it becomes politically charged. the economic. Mirroring the transposition of the point beyond the line and the typology of risk. this reliance is exceptionally risky. therefore. and undermines a permanently valid demarcation of the variegated fields of human activity. circumscription. translation modified) The quotation marks around “Sachgebiet” that are missing from the English translation indicate the expropriation of every “domain” at the point of the political (Punkt des Politischen). an experience of groundlessness. It is an expression of the recognition that from every “domain” the point of the political is reached and with it a qualitative new intensity of human groupings [daß vom jedem “Sachgebiet” aus der Punkt des Politischen und damit eine qualitative neue Intensität menschlicher Gruppierung erreicht ist]. If Schmitt declares the relative independence of these non-political spheres. the political withholds even the least topographic supports from what is relatively independent of it. (CP 62. renders impossible its emplacement. like the point of the decision that lies at its core. the event of expropriation aporetically combines the calculable level of intensity and the incalculable threshold where all measures and measured responses outlive their relevance in the face of the “qualitatively new. economization. An imprint of the event of the political is discernable. is an instant of the greatest risk.18 The point of the political. or domestication. The political is not the most basic stratum propping up the rest of the edifice of human thought . and so on. they may undergo a process of politicization and that they.
the political does not and cannot be confined to a specific region. “Ships that sail across the sea leave no trace [hinterlassen keine Spur]. similarly to the Derridian sponge that expropriates everything it ingests. all examples. though it does have a specific meaning that revolves around the friend-enemy distinction. in the enclosure proper to a theoretical discourse. the sea lives up to the political event of radical expropriation. all facts. the politicity of the political. extra-conceptual determination of the political in Schmitt. like the political itself. and appropriations.68 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE and action. in this unhinging. In addition to this obvious lapse in his interpretive vigilance. of the specific region of that which is properly and without polemical rhetoric called the “political”. in bestowing meaning on the categories of human existence. embrace every sphere of human activity” ). The groundless character of the political is. in some measure. regional divisions. absorbs every sphere of life (as Schmitt puts it in The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes. best understood as a particular phase of nomos’s uncoupling from land-appropriation and its transposition onto the uncertainty of the sea. . the liberal-democratic model of state administration predicated on the practices of economic management. namely. Within this region. it is not hard to read between the lines who Schmitt’s enemy is and against whom his theory is formulated. or ungrounds the latter and. The French philosopher oversimplifies things when he writes that it [Schmitt’s discourse] offers a pure and rigorous conceptual theory of the political. As for the usual meta-accusation that the polemical gist of political images and concepts does not make itself known in a thinking of the political that glorifies polemics. perhaps. Notwithstanding the acute deconstructive sensibility he exhibits in The Politics of Friendship. non-political) origins. with this impropriety magnified manifold by the subversive role of the political in the expropriation of the remaining domains of human action. in Schmitt’s discourse. . unhinges. Derrida willfully forgets the impure and “improper” genealogy of the concept of the political issuing from its theological (thus. As a disruption in the ideal co-implication of order and orientation (Ordnung and Ortung).19 Needless to say. disarticulates. the anarchic spatiality of marine trace-erasure. “incessant friend-enemy disputes . all historical contents should thus issue in knowledge. Better than the land. . Derrida misses the non-regional and. ‘On the waves there is nothing but waves’” (NE 42–43). cannot be forced into a determinate system of enclosures. but a veritable earthquake that.
It is not by chance that in this. invested reading ignores not only the clearest of indications that the political does not have a particular sphere of its own but also that Schmitt has compressed and slotted metaphysics in its entirety into the second stage of neutralization and de-politicization in his 1929 text. depiction of Schmitt’s political philosophy he includes words with the heaviest metaphysical luggage. If the most basic way to transcend metaphysics is to historicize it. at any price. allergic to the logic of appropriation as such? Pursuing this line of thought. more than one hundred pages of The Politics of Friendship to be exact. this motivation has to do with what Derrida puts forth as an “interesting hypothesis. . become the last great metaphysician of politics. And to help him leave behind the last metaphysical vestiges. where Schmitt replaces Heidegger who occupies the place of Nietzsche as “the last great metaphysician” responsible for accomplishing.” according to which “Schmitt would . To peg the accuracy of the charges that Schmitt clandestinely practices a garden variety of metaphysics. how is it possible still to insist on the purity and propriety of something that lacks a particular domain and is.” that he has submitted to a stringent deconstructive analysis. “pure” and “proper.” Without further ado. the final reversal of Platonism. in spite of the existential threat stemming from the enemy. as early as in Of Grammatology and in Margins of Philosophy. the last great spokesperson of European political metaphysics.”20 The enclosure of the political concept Derrida imputes to the non-place of the political will. I am not insinuating. is partly correct in ascribing a metaphysical program to the theorist who radically expropriates the political. however. one would have to recommit Schmittian politics to the event of expropriation. then the alleged last metaphysician has passed the test of post-metaphysical thought. yet finally puts it in the service of guarding and protecting that which is one’s own for the purpose of preserving. But we will need to wait for a rather long time. . we will uncover nothing more and nothing less than Derrida’s own polemical program. before he puts his cards on the table. apparently innocent. mirror the closure (clôture) of metaphysics.21 one would need to contend with this mixed heritage. “one’s own form of existence [der eigenen Art Existenz]” (CP 27). thus. . This interested. that Schmitt is beyond reproach on the issue of metaphysics or that his grade for this test is “entirely satisfactory. disclosing the motivation for his imposition of these terms on Schmitt and for a violent imprisonment of his thought in the “enclosure proper to a theoretical discourse.” Derrida. to be fair to him.Non-Ground: From the Concept to the Event 69 In light of these corrections and rejoinders. without ever completing. perhaps.
In the course of this reconfiguration. his antieconomism reflects an anti-anti-political stance. by now.” which lacks a body. assume the task of reconfiguring the relationship between the political and the economic. The catalogue of these merciless attacks on economism would not be complete without mentioning that. an absent presence or present absence muddling the purity of philosophical constructs. the economic supplies a blueprint for the impersonal pursuit of politics drained of danger and risk. should have sufficed for the first line of the defense of Schmitt against the charges that he has smuggled a heavy metaphysical luggage into his theory of the political. given that the political is not one domain among others. perhaps.”23 which resembles the Derridian trace. at the extreme. even if Schmitt could be interpreted as advocating a proto-Arendtian autonomy or primacy of the political vis-à-vis the social and the economic. in a way that leaves direct determinations and even over-determinations behind. crucial for the continuation of the life of spirit as it might be. disembodied concepts (e. devoid of the last shreds of representation it has disbanded into the sheer presence of things (RC 20). We must. Politics/Expropriation Schmitt’s anti-economism is. on the positive side.70 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE Schmitt’s Anti-Economism Revisited: Nomos/Appropriation. In the mindset of liberal-democratic governance. along with the animal. “invisible visibility. As though this were not enough. To sum up. the economic is the final and. ostensibly free from the element of decision-making— which turns into another word for tyranny—and. his thinly veiled attack on metaphysics entails the avowal of “concrete representation” and of its corollary. I will show that the lines of demarcation between the two also pass at the heart . the most decisive stage of neutralization and depoliticization and that it is intimately tied to the despotism of technology that militates against the possibility of spiritual life. thus forestalling the possibility of political phenomenology). A mere invocation of the critique of presence. either literal or figurative. for Schmitt. an assault on everything that weakens political concepts and phenomena. “humanity.g.24 he would not have been satisfied with a simple inversion of the Marxist base-superstructure model. make up the architecture of Aristotle’s metaphysics. two facets that.22 elicit some of the bitterest scorn from Schmitt in his early work. directed against the economic predominance of things and warily moderated with the rejection of abstract. a jaded topic that fails to surprise anyone versed in the arguments of Roman Catholicism and The Concept of the Political. rather.. The notions of the human and the thing. Be this as it may.
becomes “improper. unlike the former. there are three obstacles in the path of this easy solution.25 Concretely. lends support to the conclusion that the political and the economic will not constitute an economy. and what is at first only an economically motivated class antagonism [Klassengegensatz] turns into a class struggle [Klassenkampf] of hostile groups. becomes obviously social (or more correctly. This absence of symmetry. then. (CP 62). 2. There can be no symmetry in the relation between economy and politics because. politics is the antithesis of economy. The opposition of the political and the non-political is subordinate to the antagonism that. 3. not as an ontological given. however. the ultimate receptacle of appropriation—property—is expropriated qua property. political) power. Note the refined irony of this example: the embodiment of the economic.Non-Ground: From the Concept to the Event 71 of the Heideggerian and Derridian meditations on the event of appropriation and expropriation. for example. the tacit goal of the analysis of economism is to rescue the realm of “spirit” from the predominance of things that triggers the all-too-familiar scheme of reification. As Schmitt puts it in The Concept of the Political. 1. the latter has no domain of its own and. once again. Abstractly. at the same time. propriété turns into pouvoir. characterizes the political and that erases this very opposition. The justification of colonial occupation in the writings of the sixteenth-century Spanish philosopher and jurist Francisco de Vitoria occupied a gray area between “imperium (or .” and turns into power under the sway of the political transformation. Their antithetical interrelation will be understood as thoroughly historical and polemical. This kind of expropriation does not facilitate the Hegelian synthesis of two previously antithetical terms but reveals that even the most neutralized category is amenable to a sudden politicization. consequently. does not partake of the most basic and definitive economic operation. economic property. The legal status of the non-European territory appropriated by Europeans testifies to the ambiguous mixture of the economic and the political at the origins of colonialism. the act of appropriation. Economic oppositions can become political. not even the economy of oppositional relationality and mutual negation that inheres in every antithesis. when it reaches a certain quantity. if they are filled with an appropriate intensity of antagonism.
i. to be sure. Schmitt contemplates the nomos of eco-nomy in the Materials for Constitutional Theory amassed between 1924 and 1954. to weiden (literally. Much will depend. private ownership of things” (NE 137). economy is a composite term conjoining the “nomos” and the “oikos” (the house) in a combination that is more or less tautological: “the unity of nomos is only the unity of the oikos” (NE 345).”27 By the same token. and at its most modern. So unrelenting is the tendency to omit this deepest layer that Schmitt himself drops appropriation from his critique of economy in Roman Catholicism. Before proceeding any further. it is a force of economic appropriation. Subsequent legal thinkers have ignored this distinction between political right and economic right— which corresponds to the difference between Dasein and entities other than Dasein in Heidegger—and addressed only “the acquisition of things in general” (ibid. to the point of utter repression. of the three meanings of nomos. at worst. it is a vivid example of indecision and vacillation between the political and the economic. He isolates three pertinent bases of the Greek noun. from nehmen (to take or appropriate) through teilen (to divide or distribute). and its descent into oblivion accelerates in the aftermath of the eighteenth-century Industrial Revolution. “What is the economic?” In Greek. His silence apropos of appropriation could. on the interpretation of nomos that holds the key to the unity and the essence of the economic.). a distinction that still carried some weight in early modernity. therefore. pasturage.. at best. approaches the subject matter in a meticulously philosophical manner guided by the question. The significance of the colonial omission is that the current victory of economism has been achieved at the price of erasing the complex interplay between the proprietary dominium and the non-economic imperium. but the contextual frame of the passage makes it clear that in 1923 Schmitt does . it is important to realize that Schmitt does not take for granted the meaning of economy but.72 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE jurisdictio) over human beings and the acquisition of dominium. or productive work). the political is obliged to base itself on categories other than production and consumption” (17). where he formulates its difference from the political and writes that “[b]y claiming to be something more than the economic. one that makes possible distribution and production alike in the tripartite economy of “economy. instead.e. mean that the excluded term does not explain the excess of the political over the economic. it is the most forgotten. It would be a crude error to conceptualize colonialism as a political phenomenon.26 Appropriation is the most fundamental etymological and conceptual stratum of the economic nomos.
What distinguishes production from distribution and.” The literal connotations of this term bolster the idea that the political does not have a domain of its own. i. .e.Non-Ground: From the Concept to the Event 73 not yet view the latter as anything other than a combination of production and distribution. to heedless productivism fomented by technological demands and by instrumental rationality. especially. Unsachlichkeit can also mean “unthingliness. the political entails Unsachlichkeit. In place of the old right of plunder and the primitive land-appropriations of pre-industrial times. he substituted the appropriation of the total means of production. economic rationality is at its most material. that is. At the most “founded” (to resort to a Husserlian notion). and. lends credibility to radical political economy: Marx . Conversely. The English translation of this word in terms of “a lack of objectivity” (CP 32) built into the decision-making capacity is an obvious and correct one. migrates to the blind spot of utopian socialism (Proudhon) and to the outskirts of liberalism. . ossified. its reduction to the spheres of production and distribution. alone. from appropriation is that it does not require a great deal of decision-making but dissolves this capacity into the productive technological apparatus and into the general order of things. its circumscribed realm . the question of appropriation. though another rendition is possible: in a variation on the negative determination of political immateriality.29 This more nuanced approach implies that the Schmittian onslaught against economism targets primarily those factors that trigger the impoverishment of the political potential of the economic. on the precedure of appropriation [Vorgang des Nehmens]. its proper Sachgebiet. “concerned only with things” (RC 16). yet indifferent to the act of appropriation itself. concentrates the whole weight of his attack on the expropriation of the expropriators. and superficial level of production. preoccupied with that which can be appropriated. most recently. in the recuperation of the principle of appropriation and the demand for the expropriation of the expropriators that. Parallel to the forgetting of Being in Heidegger. responsible for the event of the economic par excellence. for which the truncated and perverted sequence of the production and distribution of wealth exhausts the nature of economic reality. on the other hand..28 Marx’s ingenuity. lies in his recovery of this repressed economic stratum on the edge of its transformation into the political. which Marx deemed to be the “inner abode” and the deeply buried source of the capitalist self-valorization of value.
second. And if the political is unthingly. seeing that the struggle they are involved in is asymmetrical and takes place as an inner division within spirit.30 On this view. the world. politics. whether individual or collective. Schmitt has succumbed to an unquestioned metaphysical distinction between the spiritual (politics) and the spiritless (the economy) and has unambiguously taken sides in this artificial theoretical matrix redolent of the crudest idealism. and spiritlessness. which is always spiritual. spirit struggles with spirit. the idealist scenario is lopsided and cannot be attributed squarely to Schmitt. on the other. which it sanctions. furthermore. life with life. assuming that only a thing can be targeted by this act. And yet. and so on. As the penultimate sentence of “The Age of Neutralizations and Depoliticizations” proclaims. the political appears to be purely spiritual and immaterial only from the standpoint of economic rationality. too. the thing. the economy. life struggles not with death. . on the one hand. now transcribed not as Sachen but as Dinge. and out of the power of an integral understanding of this arises the order of human things [die Ordnung der menschlichen Dinge]. Thus far. A symptom of complexity in Schmitt’s examination of the relationship between spirit and the thing. there is never a standoff between spirit. representing the political and the economic respectively.74 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE of things (Sachen). spirit not with spiritlessness [und der Geist nicht mit der Geistlosigkeit]. The barely perceptible linguistic shift from one appellation of the thing to the other signals that the political. and. engulfing their opposite. which invites an otherwise interminable analysis: first. then it does not fall under the purview of the act of appropriation. for the sovereign and constitution-making decisions cannot be entirely diffused in an impersonal field but are concentrated in a concrete will. let alone as the point of friction between a thesis and an antithesis. is his refusal to consider it as a simple binary opposition. possesses a material. these inner splits and fissures of spirit against itself—the splits and fissures that galvanize the friend-enemy distinction constitutive of the political and that include the divergence of the political from economic rationality—result in the order of human things. the world. “thingly” dimension and. the trajectory of the argument easily falls prey to the tactical maneuvers Derrida finesses in Of Spirit that juxtaposes Heidegger’s definition of the thing as “worldless” to the world. (CP 96) I underline just two aspects of this incredibly fertile passage.
the situation ‘according to’ the event. spirit and spirit. puts it on the brink of the event. The concept of the political. at the same time. will not have been able to drive away this irreducible difference without. where the sovereign decision on the exception and the real possibility of killing and being killed by the enemy grips and unsettles us.” that germination of the subject who performatively attains the level of subjecthood by affirming his or her allegiance to the event. by implication. But the eventful expropriation of the firmly established conceptual identity infinitely postpones the moment of the concept’s final return to itself and. it permits the latter to grasp us. . administrative arrangement of Sachen. the spatiality of the political devoid of its own region or proper domain. How to Remain Faithful to the Event of Politics? In raising this question I do not have in mind what Alain Badiou terms “fidelity to the event. Der Begriff des Politischen is uncanny because. or the thing with itself and.31 Badiou’s “fidelity” still clings to the modality of the event that equally appropriates the subject and the “thinking of the situation”: “To be faithful to an event is to move within the situation that this event has supplemented. The existential concept is nothing if it is not an outlet for the event foretokening the possibility of its—and our—expropriation. spirit.” That of which it is a concept (the political) prevents its closure and absolute homecoming. by thinking . annihilating the political “itself. life and life. every stable and rigid identity of life. instead of grasping (greifen) the political. Such is the event of the thing divided against itself and. indifferent and indeterminate. and so on. awaiting that time outside of time when identity bridges and reconciles the identical and the non-identical across all the unrests and tribulations that befall Spirit in its historical instantiations. making life both interesting and dangerous.”32 The situation is the ontological superdomain. additionally. where the catalogue of what is expropriated includes. as Leo Strauss observes in his influential commentary on Schmitt. to push us to the extremity of the limit. no longer resting in the selfidentity of an inanimate entity abstractly opposed to spirit.Non-Ground: From the Concept to the Event 75 conveys that the struggle of life against life and of spirit against spirit affects the thing itself. and fatefully entwines the concept with its own expropriation. der Begriff des Politischen. It partakes of the event of politics. subject to the clash between the order of human Dinge and the impersonal. . therefore. What is the place of the concept in this framework? The Hegelian dialectical concept longs for its identity with itself. first and foremost. defers the end of the political division between friends and enemies. .
and love are differentiated and charted. bequeathed to Western philosophy by embedding the abstract principle of identity in the concrete predicament of the living desire to maintain oneself in existence.”34 Besides exhibiting a narrow understanding of expropriation as the underside of appropriation.” Returning to Schmitt. that scandalous seventeenth-century metaphysician. to political practices that concretely embrace this non-belonging? This is where his political philosophy is vulnerable before the Derridian diagnosis of its metaphysical entrenchment. though he does misconstrue the concept of expropriation as nothing but the negative mode of appropriation. Does appropriation remain the same before and after the expropriation of expropriators has taken place? I believe that it does not.33 In what follows I will advance a somewhat counterintuitive argument that. or whether this dynamics is fatefully altered and stripped of all imperialist overtones. to stay on these paths. Schmitt does not abandon the political event of expropriation. To be faithful. in the applications of his theory.” In so doing.76 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE where the paths of the fourfold event of art. he perpetuates the intellectual inheritance. science. then a doctrine such as the expropriation of expropriators is obviously the strongest imperialism because it is the most modern [offenbar stärkster. if expropriation is not taken as a reapportionment of what was previously appropriated but as a momentary paralysis of the economic order and the radical displacement of ownness as such in a way that remains faithful to the event of politics. which Spinoza. in particular.” die Expropriation der Expropriateure. “If the essence of imperialism. . weil modernster Imperialismus]. which does not belong in any particular sphere. We could say that Schmitt retreats from the structural displacement of the concept of the political and vacillates to the other extreme of the event (appropriation) when he subjects the friend-enemy distinction to the exigencies of preserving “one’s own form of existence. in the reflections on the Marxist “expropriation of the expropriators. we face a much more difficult dilemma if we ask how it is possible to harness. politics. the potential of the expropriative event that blasts open the concept of the political. Does Schmitt himself succeed in the task of transferring the ungrounded notion of the political. The misconstrual I am referring to occurs in the 1953 text on the basic questions of any social and economic order and. at the level of concrete material practices. “lies in the precedence of appropriation over distribution and production. this passage fails to ask whether the event of the expropriation of the expropriators leaves the dynamics of appropriation intact.” writes Schmitt. is to exercise the interpretive appropriation of the otherwise neutral situation thought “‘according to’ the event.
a determinate general norm (e. Schmitt places an accent on the absence of a neutral third party that could adjudicate the existential conflict with the other: “These [conflicts] can neither be decided by a previously determined general norm [in vorhaus getroffene generelle Normierung] nor by the judgment of a disinterested and therefore neutral third party [eines ‘unbeteiligten’ und daher ‘unparteiischen’ Dritten]” (CP 27). in the absence of a possibility to make this choice. cannot open an exception for the conatus. understand. without. Schmitt’s political philosophy falls on the Derridian side of the event articulated in the suspension of the “proper. the event that lives up to its name is risky in the pregnant sense. the normative and “necessarily antagonistic exclusion of concrete others. which stands for sham neutrality that surreptitiously caters to particular interests.g. and judge the concrete situation and settle the extreme case of conflict” (CP 27)—that remains existentially groundless. we are left with the “either” divorced from the “or. doesn’t Schmitt solicit support from the Spinozan conatus essendi. including the metaphysical ones?) need to be re-embedded within the framework of The Concept of the Political. from which they issue. with a predetermined program of action that is no longer political—for example.” that is to say.”36 . the existential decision will have singled out and subscribed to one of at least two options.” The exigencies of preserving “one’s own form of existence” against the threat of the enemy (in appealing to these exigencies.. proscribing a series of future existential decisions. Although the decision not to preserve this form is a dangerous one. stripping the parties to the conflict of their decision-making ability and re-establishing the primacy of the impersonal metaphysics of “substance.Non-Ground: From the Concept to the Event 77 Despite a hurried dismissal of Marxist expropriation as “the most modern” form of imperialism. as it may spell out the end of further political decisions.” In contrast to Spinoza. or the law of perseverance in one’s being. it admits even the possibility of its own closure. insofar as it hinges neither on the externality of the general norm nor on the whim of a neutral third party. Immediately before he adopts this defensive attitude. Regardless of the content of what is decided in each case. The unambiguous rejection of the norm.35 As we have seen. Schmitt cannot exempt the question concerning the preservation of one’s own form of existence from the practices of decisionmaking. Otherwise. obeying the dictate of natural law. and does he not contravene his prior adherence to the political purged of various neutralizations and depoliticizations. The decision lies exclusively with the actual participants in the conflict and their judgment—“Only the actual participants can correctly recognize. at the same time. the “natural law” of self-preservation) is reinstated only to annul the decision as such.
in that. the host’s self-expropriating openness to alterity and the desire to occupy one’s spot under the sun. objection that might arise at this point would be that no one in the right frame of mind (i.. When Schmitt derides pacifist indecision.” the autonomous choice to expropriate oneself. conversely. the very thing within it that is supposed to protect it against the other. matters whether this disappearance has come about as a result of indecision and risk-avoidance discussed in Chapter 2. in the process of defending itself from the other. And. assuming that this deliberate decision were possible.78 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE From the existential point of view. would the event of the political be an elaborate façade for a political suicide? This is the direction in which Derrida takes the thought of the event in Rogues. In the spirit of Schmitt’s political philosophy. absolute hospitality and sovereignty. not of weakness. as a concept. then the same outcome must be interpreted as a sign of strength. an entity can autonomously effectuate its own heteronomy and expose itself to alterity. certainly. crystallized in the proclamation that a “people has nothing but friends. But it. or that which keeps one fast to existence. which occasionally clashes with the letter of his texts. commentators need to tackle not only the metaphysical-nationalist but also the moral residue in the foreboding value judgment he passed on ein schwaches Volk by restricting it to instances of political fatigue that do not encompass the decision to let go of one’s form of collective existence or to disclaim its nationalist character. a sign that. negating the agonistic and uncompromising potentialities of the . Derrida illustrates how. where he exposes the aporiae haunting the binaries of heteronomy and autonomy.37 If the latter is the case. this form is renewed thanks to its self-expropriation and that the political decision remains meaningful.e. in the long run.”38 With this biological allusion. in an autonomous fashion. having the good clearly in sight) is prepared consciously to give up one’s conatus essendi. that such political exhaustion will cause a “weak people [ein schwaches Volk]” to disappear (CP 53). And. breathes life and meaning into the political decision on the form of one’s own existence. (I contend that the concept of the political is itself suicidal. what a skeptic might dub “political suicide. the different paths that have led to its actualization are crucial for its evaluation. An obvious. while the objective outcome of a decision might be the same.” he concludes. The general heading for these aporiae is “autoimmunity”: the capacity of a living entity to “destroy. having been given a choice between two distinct alternatives. and patently Spinozan. it strives toward identity and reconciliation. in an extremely disconcerting manner. or thanks to a deliberate choice not to preserve one’s own form of existence—to expropriate oneself.
political existence” and as “the principle of the dynamic emergence of political unity. . . in that it measures and assesses the changes in the former to ensure that the latter has not petrified. we will observe that it is not political existence as such but the form (Art) of this existence that is preserved or rejected in the decisive confrontation with the enemy. “concept dissolution. expropriation facilitates the “emergence” and “formation” of new unities (forms of political existence) and functions as the inalienable aspect of decisions on the constitution as a whole. after World War II and outlines the shifts of political focus from clearly identifiable state actors to irregular partisan formations. ideal. cannot erase. that is. It is necessitated by the fact that there is no proper. long after the content from which it had arisen withered away. on its part. this alteration of meaning becomes exhausted in an indefinite symbolization [allgemeinen Symbolisierung und Begriffsauflösung] . escape the fate of those unities that form and dissolve in the process of renewal? When Schmitt revisits the intuitions of his 1932 work. not in keeping with the objective and seemingly ever-present metaphysical categories but at the level of what Schmitt.) The autonomous transition to heteronomy marks the maximal sense of the event of expropriation. A regular revisiting of the decision prevents the dissociation of the content of existence from its form. the event of expropriation is diluted to its minimal sense of shedding the old form of political existence that no longer corresponds to its content in order to assume a new. If we are attentive to the fine grain of Schmitt’s text. labels “concrete life. somewhat awkwardly.” in the treatment of the figure of the partisan: In some cases. existentially substantiated form. In the process of renewal that adumbrates the living connection between the form and the content of politics. To cling to an outmoded form of existence is to keep the old status quo on artificial respiration. .” immanently changeable and abounding in futural possibilities. This minimal event of expropriation provides for a certain continuity between the second and the third “absolute meanings” of the constitution in Constitutional Theory: between the constitution as a living form or a “special type of political and social order . above all. not detachable from .Non-Ground: From the Concept to the Event 79 political which it. of the process of constantly renewed formation and emergence of this unity from a fundamental or ultimately effective power and energy” (CT 60–61). Here. nevertheless. Or. the issue is whether or not existence and. from the methodological perspective. he warns against what he calls Begriffsauflösung. The Concept of the Political. transhistorical mode of life perfectly befitting a concrete political unity once and for all. political existence is grasped existentially. Does the concept. .
And it is this self-expropriation that supplants all positive. The minimal sense of ontological expropriation is epistemologically relevant to the concept of the political as well. More importantly. whose outlines are essentially blurred. is folded into the concept of the political that refuses to insulate itself in stable identities. 69–78. The Emergency of Being: On Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. Such conceptual dissolutions are a sign of the times. and welcomes the event of politics. This disengagement. does not mark Schmitt’s political philosophy discussed in the article. Notes 1. energetic. and increased intensity of engagement. and embodied figure. 2. hence. the maximal sense of expropriation that goes along with the concept’s dissolution exceeds Schmitt’s disparaging rhetoric. autonomously effectuates its heteronomy.”39 this dissolution. which depicts the event of expropriation. greater mobility. thereby. . The result is that every nonconformist individual who acts as he sees fit can be called a partisan . Although it might appear that the concrete features of the partisan. in the emergence of a new conceptual unity. “Politics or the Political? An Historical Perspective on a Contemporary Non-Debate. On the historical background of the much debated distinction between politics and “the political. they are. I concur with Palonen that the abstract privileging of the political “provides the scholar with an excuse to retain a pro-political attitude while remaining disinterested in the actions of politicians” (p. however. constative pronouncements on political ontology with an open-ended question. 2006). .” in European Political Science 6. threaten to replace the rigorously conceptual form with an obscure. 2007. 73. which should not be ignored and would deserve a separate examination. a sign of the utmost fidelity to the concept that feeds off the logic of displacement. Richard Polt. and transgresses the boundaries of all other domains. including irregularity. lacks a clearly identifiable domain of its own. 78). (TP 22–23) The process of concept dissolution that sees the partisan turn into everything and nothing in particular is most salient at a time of transition and. permitting its form to adjust to the increasingly more significant partisan content and interspersing this period of adjustment with hyperbolic extensions and overvaluations of the partisan. With the partisan’s rise to prominence. constantly falls apart and. . channels the event of politics.” see Kari Palonen. the concept of the political expropriates itself. p. to the contrary.80 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE that ends up dissolving the original concept. pp. Far from being a mere “sign of the times.
102. 1997)] hurries to distance the latter from the former.. Derrida perpetuates this way of treating Schmitt that remains oblivious to the existential character of his political thought.” in Martin Heidegger. 6. 40. Signésponge/Signsponge. Jacob Taubes. for instance. J. 38. in Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology [trans. trans. 4. Joseph Bendersky [Carl Schmitt: Theorist for the Reich (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1999). Maly (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. Dis-Agreement: Politics and Philosophy. Alan Bass (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. G. with the excuse that political theology does not go far enough in the direction of “a rigorous deconstruction of the categories of ontotheology and politics” (p.Non-Ground: From the Concept to the Event 81 3. 28. p. 88). 148. D. Martin Heidegger. 50). 1999). 15. 14. Heidegger. 9. C. 72. 245–257. Roberts (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Ibid. As we shall see. NE 73. 1999). 5.” in Margins of Philosophy.” Parvis Emad and Kenneth Maly. trans. Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy. 17. 2003). Jean-François Lyotard [Heidegger and the ‘Jews’. 7. Emad and K. 1982). 1999). Ibid. that is to say absolutely proximate to itself (prope. H. trans. 1997)] the property of representamen “is not to be proper [propre]. Cf. “Translators’ Foreword. Maly (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.” See CP 23. See also Derrida’s “White Mythology. Emad and K. Lomax (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. trans. especially the part titled “The Flowers of Rhetoric. trans. Thus. 1984). 1995)] is right to distinguish the political from all other “relatively independent domains. p. p. Sein und Zeit. 11. J. p. p. 18. trans. 1983)] notes that this potential politicizability of every sphere is intended to combat the liberal contention that there are neutral or apolitical spheres (p. trans. proprius). See. 72). Derrida. p. R. Schmitt denounces “the nineteenth-century antitheses” that place the political on the hither side of every other sphere of human activity as evidence of “liberal depoliticization. Martin Heidegger. 117.in Ereignis has the function of stressing and putting forth the movement of eignen in -eignis. Jacques Derrida. 13. 16.” pp. 8. The represented is always already a representamen” (p. p. P. Having acknowledged a certain proximity between Schmitt and Heidegger. Michel and M. See also Giorgio Agamben. En Divergent Accord: À Propos de Carl Schmitt (Paris: Payot & Rivages. xx. Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning). Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. While Heinrich Meier [Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss: The Hidden Dialogue. p. Rand (New York: Columbia University Press. Signsponge. Jacques Rancière. p. Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Sein und Zeit (Tübingen: Verlag. “[T]he er.. 169. 12. Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning). P. trans.” he is somewhat careless in . p. Rose (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press. A. 10. 90. 1993). which is not shackled to its “Catholic” sources.
pp. it attempts. This is the position Eckard Bolsinger defends in his The Autonomy of the Political: Carl Schmitt’s and Lenin’s Political Realism (Westport. Alain Badiou.” 23. 57] does well to compare Schmitt’s critique of economic rationality with the Lukácsian notion of reification. its ‘right to self-preservation’ is the prerequisite of all further discussions. .” 28. for it can have a plethora of “derived” senses. Schmitt. Spring 1993. “Appropriation/Distribution/Production: Toward a Proper Formulation of Basic Questions of Any Social and Economic Order.” in Journal of Law and Society 34 (1). 32. It is surprising that in his essay “Tradition of the Immemorial. . the notion of the thing is a cornerstone of the Aristotelian metaphysical edifice. 19. a dimension which ought to be taken with more than one grain of salt. even if this comparison overlooks some of the complexities involved in the anti-economism of the former thinker. NE 67. March 2007. Bennington and R. 59. Agamben takes these three economic principles to be Schmitt’s articulations of the political (p. 16) dimension to it. p. 30. The semantic list of the meanings of nomos is far from exhausted here. “Appropriation/Distribution/Production. To put it briefly. that has no appropriation to accomplish. trans.. esp. P. . 27. ‘in suo esse perseverare’ (Spinoza)” (CT 76). 247. “Appropriation/Distribution/Production.” an appendix to Roman Catholicism and the Political Form. “Considered juristically. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil. p. Cf. Exception. “the political living thing. John McCormick [Carl Schmitt’s Critique of Liberalism: Against Politics as Technology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 31–45. “The Visibility of the Church: A Scholastic Consideration. Much of these reflections on the meaning of nomos are a condensed form of the systematic and monumental effort preserved in The Nomos of the Earth. Derrida. 1987). Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question. what exists as political power has value because it exists. Ibid. pp.” or. 22. p. 47–48.” trans. p. Politics of Friendship. from “a mere rule” to the opposite of phusis. Hallward (New York and London: Verso. G. In a different context. Ulmen. Only this baffling confusion allows him to separate Ur-teilung from appropriation and to call it a “taking .” p. Colin Wright [“Event or Exception? Disentangling Badiou from Schmitt. Jacques Derrida. 34. 1999). trans. 47–59.. Telos 95. 25. pp. 20. Cf. p. above all. pp. where the animal is “the living thing” and the human is “the political animal. G.” p. Consequently. 2002).82 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE attributing a “fundamental” (p. Carl Schmitt. 54–55. or Towards a Politics of the Void. 62.” included in Potentialities. Ibid.” in Theory and Event 11 (2). 2008] distances Badiou’s event from Schmitt’s exception. to maintain itself in existence. 117. Bowlby (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. Norm. 31. 41. 26. 21. 24. 112). 33. as the present analysis shows. 29. 2001). by implication. These charges are echoed by Andrew Norris in his paper “Sovereignty. Schmitt. CT and London: Greenwood Press. 63.
Dyzenhaus (Durham. Derrida). Rogues: Two Essays on Reason. instead of being a symptom of such self-undermining.-A.” in Law as Politics: Carl Schmitt’s Critique of Liberalism. Jacques Derrida. D. In his recent article. 2008. Brault (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Naas and P. For instance. as Robert Howse [“From Legitimacy to Dictatorship—and Back Again: Leo Strauss’s Critique of the Anti-Liberalism of Carl Schmitt. 174–197] imputes. Mouffe. the dissolution) of political concepts is necessary for their adjustment to a new content of such existence? After all. 38. ed. precisely. trans.Non-Ground: From the Concept to the Event 83 35. M. But what if. 125. p. 1998). Schmitt does not oppose pacifism to the natural law. when a minority group assimilates into the mainstream society. Matthias Fritsch [“Antagonism and Democratic Citizenship (Schmitt. such normativity to Schmitt.” in Research in Phenomenology 38 (2). but to the decision on whether one should maintain one’s form of existence. pp. isn’t it his contention that all concepts in the spiritual sphere are marked by an unavoidable pluralism? . indeed. 37. the relativization (and. 36. 39. p. 2005).” Schmitt writes in Constitutional Theory: “One may generally say that the concept renders itself relative and pluralistic as soon as the consciousness of political existence undermines itself ” (95). 66] claims. Preparing the ground for the argument advanced in “Theory of the Partisan. NC: Duke University Press.
in that the fragility of politics. evil. injunction. deprived of a sphere of its own. to dodge all judgments. put in question. extinguishes the questioning impulse and the promise of the political. This syntagma might also intimate to us that politics is endangered and fragile. all matters of responsibility. like human existence itself. however uncertain. It awakens. the ancient 84 . so much so that its existence is often doubtful. Too much. because of the expression’s plurivocity. placed under erasure. It should be remarked that the vigilance of the question does not consist in a desire to propagate pure indeterminacy and. emboldened by the self-righteousness of such judgments. its placement under erasure. thus. a strict closure (though not finitude). worse still. decisions and definitive pronouncements. is due to the fact that it finds a domicile.4 Politics in Question Prelude: Questioning the Question “Politics in Question”: these three words will have meant both too much and too little. In light of this last hermeneutical possibility. lacks a response. in the manner of Heidegger’s Being. in the form of the question? We could mention an additional rendition of the syntagma that sees in politics in question a questionable politics—something that Schmitt and his interpreters are acquainted with all too well. a universally valid and positive. inheres in an open-ended question that. instead. is it the case that the second interpretation tacitly draws on the first. let alone normative. that is. it slides into moralizing judgments passed on this politics as unquestionably reactionary or. its rich semantic potential tapped. for instance. the opening of the question is immediately converted into its closure that. This third possibility is a fully legitimate one until. in one breath. Or. in a suggestion that politics. an aspiration toward justice.
is ‘primarily a being capable of creating distance’ who in his . of being driven ever deeper into its abyss. to relate in a faint whisper everything that is going on between them. In a preliminary way. If. We are already abreast of the first of these: “Man. politicizes them. if it is fluid and subversive enough to politicize all other domains of human activity. When one abides in the mode of questioning.Politics in Question 85 desideratum to dispense to each her or his own. disconcerts. then. one of them poetic. hence. as we have already seen. in many guises. questioned. an existential politics. unhinges. namely. through writings of different periods). rather than turning the political into an object of inquiry or a target for interrogation. raising a question that does not come to rest in any consensual response. Unevenly distributed across the Schmittian oeuvre (one statement is cited only once. or. while the other winds like Ariadne’s thread. Posing the Question Much of Schmitt’s political thought may be positioned between two dicta. Not only do these statements pertain to disciplines and spheres of cultural production other than political philosophy. to give back to the political a groundless. temporary. endangered existence that. whom I call “my enemy” but without whom I lose my human countenance. then it is more fitting to think about it along the lines of ultimately unanswerable questions than in terms of one-dimensional replies. with the intensification of antagonisms in other spheres of human life. singular occurrence but the shape and being of the human being who is inexorably unhinged. the putting of the human subject in question is not a disturbance of a preexisting identity. the other—philosophico-anthropological. the political does not have a clearly circumscribed domain of its own. puts the existents so politicized in question. and unsettles us. in the existential wager par excellence. in their heterogeneous ways. but experiences a sense of being haunted by the question. that “politics in question” means too little because. it is her very identity. both shed light on the role of the question in political ontology. but they are also quotations that have their provenance in authors other than Schmitt. who polemically takes over their meaning and. that we experience a political-existential crisis whenever we are put into question in our very being and that this crisis is not a merely fleeting. Let us put these textual fragments side-by-side in order to allow them to communicate to one another. I suggest. it puts us in question. one does not remain in control of what is thus unleashed. more specifically. Following a hypermodern sensibility. for Plessner. And it is at this point. targeted by the other.
it served as the condition of possibility for an ongoing polemical. on account of the freedom of atheism— what Levinas terms in Totality and Infinity “created freedom” or “absolute separation”—harking back to the secular attitude woven into the fabric of theism. historical human beings. all three authors concur that human essence is existence and that the rhetorical form of the latter is a question.2 In other words. by the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. for Schmitt. from Meier to Derrida.” the lack of closure and the indeterminacy of finite human existence. (Let it be said. must maintain a high degree of plasticity and indeterminacy. or. in passing. if it is not to yield a monstrosity of yet another essentialism and belie the openness of finite existence. Alternatively: The enemy is a figure for our own question]” (G 243). according to which humans are. In the second fragment Schmitt cites the German poet Theodor Däubler. a certain “ecstatic” openness of the finite oriented by its possibilities. in rather Hegelian terms. commentators have generated a veritable exegetical genealogy of this last sentence. While. unergründlich und ‘offene Frage’ bleibt]” (CP 60). The openness of the question investing the essence of “man. a contestation that occurs at the level of concrete. a polemical . If the human being is unfathomable. the two currents of thought (that of Levinas and that of Schmitt) may share a common source in an attempt at rethinking classical theological doctrine. unfathomable. political-theological contestation of what it means to be human. an ear attuned neither to the enemy. more concretely. from the first. not at the level of humanity as an “all-embracing social ideal” (CP 55). most notably. or literally ungrounded. the genesis of identity in opposition to otherness. that Plessner’s statement powerfully resonates not only with Schmitt but also with Heidegger. “The enemy is our own question as Gestalt [Der Feind ist unsere eigene Frage als Gestalt. situated in a dialogue with God to whom they respond and whom they question. and remains ‘an open question’ [unbestimmt. I want to hear it with a slightly different ear. embodied. who may even be my enemy.) This existential definition does not call for an extreme solipsism permeating the tradition of radical humanism: the self-determination and the self-contestation of the human is. Whereas the reelaboration of this doctrine led Levinas toward an ethical philosophy of welcoming the other. therefore. that is because its determination is a self-determination1 which. is not an automatic endorsement of passive and unconditional hospitality to the other celebrated in the second half of the twentieth century. unergründlich. To be sure. nor to the figure but to the question that imparts sense to both.86 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE essence [in seinem Wesen] is undetermined. for whom human essence is nothing but existence and.
Or my brother. especially when we feel that we are clothed in the armor of the latest technologies (EC 79. the concept of the human is not anthropomorphic.” nackt. The source of the paradoxical dispensation of what makes us human. in that the enemy accomplishes. its emanation from the concept of the enemy. with a barely perceptible hermeneutical variation: Who may I finally recognize as my enemy? Manifestly. The other is revealed as my brother and the brother reveals himself as my enemy .” What this implies is that the question is the essence of the political. becomes exceptionally clear in Ex Captivitate Salus. the real work of heteronomy.” The enemy metes out to us the principle of our existence. That’s it. . moreover. First. defining the spacing around which “man” constructs himself as “a being capable of creating distance. Nor can we afford to ignore the other source of heteronomy. the human being is understood as an open question. it is as if the centerpiece of Plessner’s philosophical anthropology solicited the poetic conclusion concerning the enemy as our own question. I recognize that he can put me in question. without ever completing. The enemy is our own question as figure. of which Schmitt is keenly aware: the dimension of human corporeality. For the first time in human history. . (EC 89–90)3 Two observations are in order here. 85). then the enemy grants me my humanity—a word we should register without a tinge of humanism—by way of activating the uniquely human existential stance of finding oneself enduringly put in question. our “facticity” that makes us vulnerable—even ontologically so—and “naked. the mechanism of distantiation (including self-distantiation). The autonomy of self-determination is not the last word of the political. unhinging and maintaining undone the figure of the human conceived as “an open question. if the enemy is the only one who can put me in question and if. in that the living human being is no longer “modeled on [an abstract image of] humanity” (PTII 57). where Schmitt repeats the poetic formula.Politics in Question 87 determination of one human collectivity vis-à-vis another such collectivity. so much so that the friend-enemy distinction—the unbridgeable distance constitutive of the political—is itself constituted by him as the prototype of all difference. he alone who can put me in question [der mich in Frage stellen kann]. And who can effectively put me in question? Only myself. Insofar as I recognize him as my enemy. The full weight and the dangerousness . The other is my brother. while the political is the essence of the human.
While the enemy puts me in question. Rather. one more element needs to be added to this tangle. the enemy. I am with myself. Paradigmatically. We will. the questioning about that question which outlines the contours of the human being. I am still. the imminent threat of mortality. however errant and ephemeral. who has the exclusive right to put me in question. not inimicus (CP 29). . and hence a finite life. the existential question. The real possibility of death is preferable. the boredom and revulsion instilled in us by the decay of the dangerous and risky core of the human. the vivacity. according to Schmitt’s insistence. or already. and who doles out my identity to me does so concretely as a death-bearing adversary. In a hypothetical situation in which I find myself alone. emphatically affirms this figure. who is defined by this very act.88 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE of this non-humanist idea of the human should not escape our attention: the enemy who existentially puts me in question. even if I have the impression that it concerns only the two of us. to shift from the first-person singular to the first-person plural in this confrontation with the enemy? To be sure. fuels the liveliness. in the same way that Heidegger’s “being-toward-death” gives one a chance to live otherwise. does not glorify what it orients itself toward. Finally. no doubt. namely. The politically engaged enemy is. of my life. is treated as “our own question. An orientation toward death. in turn. a human being’s “relation ad se ipsum is not possible without a relation ad alterum” (RC 51). with my enemy. As Schmitt unambiguously specifies. in so doing. instead of denying or saying “no” to the enemy as our own question. War is the existential negation [seinsmäßige Negierung] of the enemy” (CP 33). “The friend. as the possible outcome of enmity. return to the uncanny negation that. philosophy as the meta-experience of questioning. not a private adversary: hostis. in a slight variation on Plessner’s definition of the . by maintaining distance from myself. the encounter with the political enemy is never private. he. and combat concepts receive their real meaning precisely because they refer to the real possibility of physical killing . to the certainty of nihilism. .4 Second. puts me face-toface with myself and. holding onto the promise of authenticity.” What has changed between the two invocations of the question in this dense text? What allows Schmitt to oscillate so lightly between the private and the public. along with the possibility of death it carries. does not take its cues from the hither side of life. the detour through the tangle of the enemy. a public. But the lines of demarcation between the public and the private have never been more blurred. there is a strange slippage in the passage quoted above. put into question by myself as my own enemy. in Schmittian terms.
given Schmitt’s own imprisonment at the end of World War II—the predicament in which this text was composed—and to what extent it is applicable to the human condition as such. gives us a determinate shape. but he does so by putting us in question. Schmitt tacitly makes the I interchangeable with the other who is my brother. In this calculus. the minimum number is three: there are always (1) the I. and (3) the virtual supplement of my brother who can stand in for me in the same capacity. So. when I am in a face-to-face situation with an external enemy. It is for this infinitesimal political community that the enemy represents our own question as figure. essentially hidden. civil war” (PTII 123). uproar. What is questioned . destining us to perpetual disquietude. which fosters stasis in the speculative dialectical sense of “quiescence. To say that the figure of the enemy entirely overlaps that of the question is to attest to the fact that the enemy (or the other) is invisible. at the same time. status” and. (2) myself as my own potential enemy. would derail the efforts to set the public enemy apart from the private one. movement. The slippage between “me” and “our” in Schmitt is a political reflection of the theological problem of the unity and multiplicity of the Trinity that would baffle the ancient dialecticians of the one and the many or. Further complicating things. is that the simultaneous fissuring and unity of the I. as it were.Politics in Question 89 human. expropriating us. I dispense my humanity to myself as other and bestow a measure of recognition upon myself by becoming my own enemy even in the “privacy” of my prison cell. then. and unrecognizable. The exclusive right of putting oneself in question (“Only myself ”) is immediately followed by an alternative that should have been ruled out by it (“Or my brother”).” do I preclude the possibility of absolute animosity. the enemy is the one who figures or even prefigures us. more pertinently for us. we are not two. is an afterglow of the theological paradox of the Trinity. its psychic-political makeup. It remains to be decided to what extent this train of thought is motivated by the desire to put philosophy in the service of therapeutic ends. “unrest. standpoint. nevertheless. But what does it mean to say that the enemy is “ours”? In declaring it “my own” or “our own. at least from the vantage point of those who expect a fully elaborated answer at the end of a series of questions concerning the object of inquiry. which amounts to a way of speaking about the essence of man that is exquisitely reticent and that most closely approximates not speaking about it. tranquility. It is also a way of reinforcing Plessner’s anthropologicophilosophical definition of the human. even if the enemy is mine or ours only as a question? Do I. What is clear. but already form a crowd. domesticate and appropriate this problematic figure both conceptually and experientially? Admittedly.
does not tolerate the finality of a response. superficially overlay the more basic. which defines and defies the figural form of our (the friends’) collective . Such is the “formal structure” of the abyss. on the other side of the copula in “The enemy is our own question as Gestalt. in the course of which one attempts to ward off the enemy. in discussing the figuration of the collectivity that claims the question of the enemy as its own.” Neither Däubler nor Schmitt use the word Form derived from Latin and reserved by Schmitt for the situation of war. the question inquiring into the essence of the human being discovers that the latter is an open question. “Wer bist du? Tu quis es? [Who are you?]. itself. incompatible with the presumed open-endedness of a parliamentary discussion. I have been also arguing that the line borrowed from Däubler implies that the enemy is our question as our own figure.” including “the American way of life” tirelessly elegized by George Bush in the eight years of his presidency and. what forms us is the other. That is to say. as such. which may be glimpsed when I reflectively ask myself. Who questions and who or what is questioned about makes a tremendous difference. reaches a political decision to endorse the undecidability of human nature. whether creating in us a sense of solidarity in the face of the common threat. especially because this chasm between the “who” and the “what” retraces the initial cleft between “the I” and “myself ” in the genesis of the enemy. the enemy is a concrete and embodied figure. it would be unforgivable to neglect another word rife with a vast number of semantic inflections. But. and. Gestalt. better yet.” who is my first enemy. to defend oneself from being put in question by the other. who undermines my usual. presumably. These diverse “ways of life. of questioning that animates political life and makes us human in the first place. which.90 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE about is. a formed figure—situated. The expression Existenzform translated as “a way of life” literally refers to the form of existence chosen in an almost consumerist way from among a wide array of available options. indeed a living symbol. or introducing a fissure between “the I” and “myself. who puts us in question. instead of breeding unexamined presuppositions. even though I am unable to eliminate his formed figure. The substantive distinction between the two forms of form explains why I can attempt to kill the enemy. everyday form of existence. vis-à-vis the enemy and the question. To sum up. threatened by terrorism. This word is Gestalt—figure or form. to eliminate “the existential threat to one’s own way of life [Existenzform]” (CP 49).” posing “eine abgründige Frage [an abyssal question]” (EC 9). figural form of collectivity as the source of their cultural-political nourishment. with all the risks and dangers pertaining to the courageous anthropology. a question.
but toward the possible. not of it. to interpret the formation of our question as Gestalt that deepens. avoids the real question” (CPD 4–5). as an apophantic “as. precisely. in that the “enemy is not a debating adversary [Diskussionsgegner]” (CP 28). procedural grounds. culminating in deliberative democracy. “‘Discussion’. it is bound to parliamentary procedures. It would be advisable to read the word “as. Those who narrow discussion down to polite deliberation aiming at consensus do not want to admit that one can fight with words. Like the French syndicalist George Sorel. the formative quality of the question. The romantic ideal of an endless conversation is still worse than a consensual conclusion because it covers up sovereignty. in Being and Time. . are the echoes of existence oriented not toward the actual. Every question in a deliberation merely awaits its resolution and the consensus that ensues from it. The assertion that ‘the enemy is the question as Gestalt’ views the liminal and uncanny phenomenon of the enemy as the founding figure of political life functionally homologous to the question’s animation of all philosophical pursuits. does not descriptively add anything new to the phenomenon but reveals the phenomenon’s ownmost structure—in this case. against the liberal-parliamentary inflation of speech that interrelates and reconciles all differences on preordained. deployed to safeguard political regimes against tyranny and dictatorship. Whoever characterizes every possible kind of deliberation and agreement as parliamentarism and everything else as dictatorship or tyranny . and elaborates on the question without yielding a response. or else defers the moment of coming to a decision. The avoidance of “the real question” that does not anticipate a potential answer is the prerogative of administration. “here has a particular meaning and does not simply mean negotiation. extends.” als. The very meaning of “discussion” atrophies when. as opposed to the political-existential espousal of the figure of questioning in its unfulfillable possibility. in the impoverished form of deliberation and consensus. that is.” according to Schmitt. .Politics in Question 91 existence. The existential approach to human essence might be thought of as speaking to what constitutes the human. engage in polemics. The question and Gestalt. . in the first instance. in the Heideggerian fashion. even where the outcome of such a dialogical formation is the non-ideal negation of the other through physical killing. The task of the political-phenomenological hermeneutics Schmitt clandestinely spins out of Däubler’s pithy statement is. it is an answer not yet given. The reticence of the political question may give us an impression that it abjures speech altogether. in their open-endedness and plasticity. Schmitt reacts.” which.
again. fine-tuning the details of the existing civil order. Schmitt writes about an indeterminate question posed in the course of a referendum. will treat the question lightly. even if they have a determinative will only in less definitive moments and express themselves recognizably.” which. The ensuing default decision (not to decide) is tethered. then? Are the respondents passive yea-sayers. “Today. they [the people] are nevertheless capable of and in a position for such willing and are able to say yes or no to the fundamental questions of their political existence . [T]he people can always say yes or no.”) of political irresponsibility expressed in the propensity to leave decisions to others. . consequently. for Schmitt. Perhaps. by consenting to or rejecting the proposed measures? In order to solve the puzzle of the sudden about-face that happens in the span of two or three pages in Constitutional Theory. but there is still no sense of the extreme urgency of the fundamental existential decision that is apparent in the second quotation. they protect themselves from its disconcerting power by making the minimal decision. . In the first fragment I cited. He accuses his contemporaries (“Today. above all. it is the case that the participants in a referendum are only those who vote ‘yes’” (LL 64). the differences between the two passages. . (CT 131–132) What is Schmitt’s position.92 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE Interlude: Yes or No? One of the most palpable instances of questioning in political life is the occasion of a referendum. at the affective level. On the other hand. On the one hand. Schmitt touches on the subject of referenda in Legality and Legitimacy and in Constitutional Theory displaying what seems to be a certain ambivalence with respect to the decision-making capacity of the citizens involved in them.5 to the citizens’ essentially conservative . the participants in a referendum do not permit the questions to unsettle them. consequently . or do they make their collective voice resound. consent or reject. Or. is tantamount to the same thing: “The majority of state citizens are generally inclined to leave political decisions to others and to respond to questions posed always such that the answer contains a minimum of decision” (CT 134). and their yes or no becomes all the more simple and elementary. I propose to retrace. the respondents will forego their responsibility and. the more it is a matter of a fundamental decision on their existence in its entirety. or by voting “yes. . in their capacity as citizens. with diligence.
” eroding their national consciousness. But. insofar as the fundamental questions of political existence affect the onto-existential core of those who must answer them. The questioning impulse was all but lacking in a long descriptive statement that was posed as a “question” before the voters in the first referendum. when political existence “in its entirety” is threatened. In the aftermath of the Quebec referenda of 1980 and 1995. ought to be reduced to the saying. political subjectivity is a collective response to the unflagging question of its existence. At stake in the second passage. is to run a risk.Politics in Question 93 desire for civil peace and security they associate with the status quo.” Not only is it impossible to evade them. for example. are. the desire for security often contravenes the demands of political reality and undermines itself when the default decision fails to bolster the existing order. that overflow whatever is said or written and pertain. The path of least resistance is preferable in this case. which is much more grave than that of tackling the existential question head on. This absence explains why the defeat of the separatists left the door open for another chance to put the issue before the voters in a much more decisive way. where the capacity of the people (“capable of such willing. The second question was more recognizable as such and the subsequent negative response quelled the separatist movement for the foreseeable future. precisely. the rejection of Quebec sovereignty had a tremendous impact on the collective existence of Quebecers “in its entirety. to the level of saying. It is precisely this reduction that unfolds between the two ostensibly contradictory passages: the political subject is converted from a civic personality (the citizen) to the people entrusted with the fateful decision. if we are to approximate ethical life. Guided by their partial interests. Yet. these questions of collective existence “in its entirety. Schmitt insists on the reduction of a response at a referendum to the basic political drive that precedes and animates it.6 The caveat is that. Levinas contends. instead. for better or for worse. the formulation of the issue changed. To “leave political decisions to others. From its incipience. The said. they compel the respondents to give “simple and elementary” responses.” “can always say yes or no”) to reach a political decision is unequivocally affirmed. the citizens are unable to face the basic existential question or to attune themselves to the political saying. by this threat that awakens it from a dogmatic slumber in civil society and that overflows the dogmatism of the said. yes or no.7 the living nucleus of language that bestows meaning upon the said. Nevertheless. in the fifteen years that elapsed between the two polls. a corresponding subjectivity is molded.” in these circumstance. but also such questions exceed the legal-discursive scope of their enunciation for a referendum. .
it is my own Gestalt. And so.” which exceeds all discursive constructions. . If. reiterating his favorite line from Däubler. as Schmitt stipulates. without giving me a chance to respond by verbally defending myself.” then she or he puts me in question silently. my own borders. hence. were it not for Schmitt’s thoroughgoing dedication to a questioning that does not accept the finality of any response. when. the form (Gestalt) of our own question. and.” which is identified by virtue of a sovereign decision. Still. my own Gestalt. Of course. we should consider what affirmation and negation really signify in this instance and how sovereign decisions enter into an alliance with the questioning impulse. non-argumentatively. far from eviscerating the crucial questions. I must contend with him in battle. the form of our own existence.” the mere fact or facticity of the enemy’s being. faced with the unusual nature of these replies. with the elementary response given to the all-encompassing existential question. the enemy is not a “debating adversary. The enemy stands on my own plane [steht auf meiner eigenen Ebene]. derives from the other who puts me in question simply by virtue of being my enemy. on the other hand. this meaningful silence is the saying without anything said. that is to say. He writes: The enemy is our own question as Gestalt. the apparently unmediated and intrusive stance of the enemy situated “on my own plane. is the enemy.” but is to be preserved— even nurtured—within the logic of Gestalt in which this passage is set up. The onto-existential questioning. .94 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE In Place of a Response . the basic “yes” or “no. raises the non-discursive question that simultaneously challenges and shapes my own Gestalt. in order to assure my own standard. We could end this chapter here. Schmitt revisits the issue of the genealogy of the enemy. along with my standard (Maß) and my borders (Grenze). . something to be annihilated as worthless [Unwertes vernichtet werden muß]. and which disturbs me to the core of my being. let alone engagement in a discussion. For this reason. in Theory of the Partisan. On the one hand. After all. (TP 71–72)8 The enemy-question is not to be “done away with. If we are determined as to our own Gestalt. there is nothing natural about this “being. which does not require vocalization. where does this double enemy come from? The enemy is not something to be done away with on any grounds whatsoever. only further instigates them. Resorting to Levinasian terms.
“has its own concrete existence” (CP 63). There are no victors in the field of absolute enmity because when I achieve my goal and prevail over the enemy. Mutual negation and negation in general are inconsistent with the denial of the enemy. stands accused of an immoderate idealism that. I cannot say “no” to the question raised by the enemy. paradoxically. whose horizon he forms. does not permit the tension between the I and the other to subsist in a productive and symmetrical deadlock. which is sorely missing from the idealism of absolute enmity. to erase my own figure. “This mutuality of negations. and the pacifist affirmation that there are no enemies. not existential: when we deny them. denial is always conceptual. if we judge it by Schmittian standards.’ that is a non-I created by his own I as his counterimage in a process of ideological self-alienation. needs to be kept alive so that I could face its bearer in combat without endeavoring to annihilate or negate him. not physical. I can only affirm it (as my own).” who puts him in question in the course of the splitting of the I. we deprive ourselves of the category of the enemy and put an end to an . the enemy should not be eliminated from our life-world. which threatens to eliminate the question he raises and. The two main ways of denying the enemies are their criminalization. Fichte. For Schmitt. though. I lose myself. negating him or her. even when we are locked in a potentially deadly combat. A final response to the question of the enemy causes the degeneration of all questioning impulses and the dissipation of politics into a pure negation: “absolute enmity is Fichte’s ‘own question as Gestalt. Hegel’s definition of the enemy would be much more effective in this instance. A relation such as this can only take place in the encounter between two open questions that are nothing within the purview of objective ontology and everything in the order of existence. The question. coextensively. taking leave of my figure.” Regardless of the route chosen. armed with pure negativity.” Schmitt concludes.”9 Schmitt’s depiction of Fichte as the philosopher of absolute enmity hardly conceals the process of his own self-alienation in the prison cell and the creation of the other.Politics in Question 95 that I protect in a life-and-death confrontation with the enemy. as his “own counter-image. nor become a target of absolute enmity. aiming at de-politicization. that “we are all friends. But what about the “real possibility” of killing and being killed? The annihilation Schmitt proscribes is conceptual and figural. preserving the political tension in the form of a “relation of two nothingnesses” (CP 63). since the Hegelian enemy is not only “a negated otherness” but also a participant in the mutual negation. The Nazi final solution as a response to the “Jewish question” is positively unpolitical.
they cannot be read with a purely political eye. the essence of the political. but a decision that does not tolerate the finality of determination because what it decides upon is something unstable and ultimately undecidable. therefore. But this conditional clause will not stand because these are not “two substantially separate spheres”. bringing to an end the essential undecidability of the question? Once again. As though it were not enough that sovereign decisions are incapable of arresting what they decide upon.” die Frage der Souveränität. philosophy. neutralizing their threatening figure either in misrecognizing them as friends or in treating them as outlaws who should be thrown behind bars. sovereignty itself is a question pervading the writings of “the seventeenth-century authors of natural law” and Schmitt’s own Die Diktatur. is not a “sphere” and. Political questions cannot be dealt with only politically. Only “[i]f the theological and the political are two substantially separate spheres—toto caelo different—then a political question can only be dealt with politically” (PTII 113). as “the question of the decision on the exception [die Frage nach der Entscheidung über Ausnahmefall]” (PT 9). and so forth. Observe. and anthropology. but invite the participation of theology. Schmitt’s texts are exercises in metapolitical questioning. Plessner’s anthropology. And. The answer without a question marking an uncritical mode of thinking as much as a de-politicized life takes the place of the question without an answer characteristic of the philosophical approach. Viewed in this light. that in Political Theology Schmitt treats the “question of sovereignty. we engage with them by disengaging ourselves from them. it is unfettered from any substance. rather. as a pure intensity of antagonism. a patient and meticulous analysis will shadow very closely the fracture at the heart of the philosophical question divided between two modalities: “who” and “what. among other disciplines. As long as extralegal situations ungraspable within the established legal order continue to present themselves. a sovereign decision will be needed to grapple with them. and Schmitt’s politicized existence.” sovereignty is a decision on the exception. . we strip ourselves of the form of a question (a properly human form) and. so much so that undecidability turns into the underside of sovereignty.96 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE existential engagement with them. if the enemy is our own question as Gestalt. however. the political is a secularized version of the theological. disavow ourselves. As such. What is the role of the sovereign decision in this political anthropology that favors the absolute openness of the question? And does Schmitt’s infamous decisionism invalidate the association of the question and the political. raising the question concerning the questions of sovereignty. in denying enemy. Or.” In its quiddity or “whatness.
the who-modality of the question is always nestled in its whatmodality. The who-modality that emerges from this bracketing is identical to “the whole question of sovereignty”: “It is precisely the exception that makes relevant the subject of sovereignty. the formal question of competence does not fall within the what-modality of “legal qualities. extracting. Not a mere auxiliary problem. is the one who outlives the disintegration of the legal universe. the intentionality of the question delineates a reductive itinerary from “what” the phenomenon is to “who” interprets and understands it as what it is. shaping force of Gestalt that has already announced itself in the question of the enemy. in its magnitude and significance. the issue of competence. creative.” Schmitt further specifies in the same text. where the latter philosopher proved that the “pure consciousness” of constitutive subjectivity ineluctably survives this destruction. Schmitt applies to this order Husserl’s theoretical feigning of the destruction of the world in Ideas I. the “answer” to the question. and who as a friend?. that is.10 The sovereign. “What is sovereignty?” is another question. the second question from the first and demonstrating that the essence of the political is the embodied existence of figures that correspond to the who-modality—the sovereign. “Who decides on the exception?” It is not difficult to see how Schmitt will accomplish a phenomenological reduction of this structure to the constitutive political subjectivity. the political form holds the answer. to come back to the issue of sovereignty. where the directedness. the content of the legal quality of a maxim. “The question [of sovereignty]. equal to the concept of sovereignty as a whole. If these questions cannot be answered from the content.Politics in Question 97 Now. the enemy. That is why. we might add. the question “Who may decide on the exception?” is. and so forth. a question that cannot be raised by. das heißt die Frage nach der Souveränität]” (PT 6). and much less answered from. “is that of competence. “the question is always aimed at the subject of sovereignty [immer ist die Frage auf das Subjekt der Souveränität gerichtet]” (PT 10). provided that by “form” we mean a living.” while the “response” to the query. and the best way to do so is to imagine the collapse of a legal order and to ask which authority remains in its aftermath.” Normative content needs to be bracketed (set aside. in each case. though not entirely done away with) for us to expose the subjective kernel it blanketed. To give two most telling illustrations. To answer questions of competence by referring to the material is to assume that one’s audience is a fool” (PT 33). the targeting. . “What is the concept of the political?” is “Who is recognized as an enemy. the whole question of sovereignty [Frage nach dem Subjekt der Souveränität. In other words.
for example.12 The existential evidence for sovereignty is in tandem with the political and metapolitical questions allergic to the finality of an answer. But. accomplishing a transitus de potentia ad actum. [die] Frage nach der inhaltlichen Richtigkeit. or (dare we say?) truth is no longer relevant to political life. not different from the subject who makes the decision. if the precision of the content. “The controversy always centered on the question. Alongside the question of substantive correctness stands the question of competence. Schmitt’s radical “contextualism. in turn. the questions that. a capitulation?” (PT 10).” which.” his unwillingness to entrust political life to impersonal structures and mechanisms.11 without ever being depleted in any one of these instances. what does Schmitt mean by the “proper meaning of the subject.” we have uncovered the question of the “who. In the contrast between the subject and the content of a decision and in the proper meaning of the subject lies the problem of the juristic form. at the same time. who will make the sovereign decision? How is this “propriety” to be ascertained. . (PT 34–35) The contrast he evokes is not pre-given but may be accessed exclusively through a reductive-phenomenological retrieval of the question of the “who” (the subject) occluded by the question of the “what” (the content). The only way to live up to the indefatigable source of questioning dwelling in this controversy is to flesh out the proper meaning of the subject of sovereignty with reference to the particular instances. The juristic form obtained from this contrast and involved in the question concerning the proper meaning of the subject of sovereignty is. The questions multiply. resembling a series of Russian dolls: behind the question of the “what. harbors the problem of the juristic form. who assumes authority concerning those matters for which there are no positive stipulations. Schmitt concludes that what matters for the reality of legal life is who decides.” Eigenbedeutung des Subjekts. when all objective evidence is rejected? The difficulty of ascertaining it is one of the catalysts for the controversy surrounding the question of sovereignty that lingers in the absence of a fully determinate response that would outline the objective conditions for its exercise. where the possibility of deciding on the exception is partially actualized.98 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE Setting aside the question of content and its correctness. reduce the entire legal-administrative apparatus to the deeper stratum of the political. substantive correctness. ought not to be mistaken for a failure to develop a coherent (and abstract) political philosophy. itself.
The question injures me. he writes: The enemy would then be the figure of our own question. focusing on the figure of the brother and fratricidal war. consult Derrida. in an offensive and in an offence . with blunt violence. Of Spirit. The brother or the enemy. the brother enemy. levy its taxes and establish relations abroad—in other words. not respecting the precise arrangement of the words surrounding the copula and (2) he fails to couple this citation with the crucial idea drawn from Plessner who proposes a view of the human being “originarily” constituted (not breached) by the question. On this point. Higher than actuality stands possibility. “Our comments on the preliminary conception of phenomenology have shown that what is essential in it does not lie in its actuality as a philosophical ‘movement’ [‘Richtung’: tendency. 4. 235. it is a wound within myself. 2. . The “question” in the 1980 referendum was: The Government of Quebec has made public its proposal to negotiate a new agreement with the rest of Canada. only when I am called into question by the question. . We can understand phenomenology only by seizing it as a possibility [im Ergreifen ihrer als Möglichkeit]. direction]. . 5. Sovereign Nations. 2003). For an elaboration of the affective dimension of the political in Schmitt. our own question in the figure of the enemy . the questioning form of the question. (p. do you give the Government of Quebec the mandate to negotiate the proposed agreement between Quebec and Canada? The second question asked: Do you agree that Quebec should become sovereign after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership within the scope of the bill respecting the future of Quebec and of the agreement signed on June 12. I ask it from the moment it descends upon me. Being and Time. sovereignty—and at the same time to maintain with Canada an economic association including a common currency. based on the equality of nations. this agreement would enable Quebec to acquire the exclusive power to make its laws. In The Politics of Friendship. this question that I ask because it is first of all put to me.Politics in Question 99 Notes 1. any change in political status resulting from these negotiations will only be implemented with popular approval through another referendum. 17. Carnal States (Ithaca and New York: Cornell University Press. or rather if you prefer this formulation. 38. Derrida undertakes a close reading of this passage. I pose this question only. p. p. on these terms. Ein Meister aus Deutschland. I pose it effectively. 1995? . 150) While much of the deconstructive thinking on the issue of the question motivates the current text. Safranski. p. is the question. I would suggest that Derrida is slightly careless when it comes to this figure in Schmitt’s work because (1) he treats the quotation from Däubler as reversible. When it comes to the question. . 3.” Heidegger. see Kam Schapiro. 6.
7. On the notion of “saying” that animates and underlies “the said,” refer to Emmanuel Levinas, Otherwise Than Being, or Beyond Essence, trans. A. Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1973), passim. 8. Translation modified. 9. Carl Schmitt, “Clausewitz als politische Denker,” Der Staat 6 (4), 1967, pp. 495. 10. “In these studies we shall go as far as necessary to effect the insight at which we are aiming, namely the insight that consciousness has, in itself, a being of its own which in its own absolute essence, is not touched by the phenomenological exclusion [i.e., reduction].” Husserl, Ideas I, p. 65. 11. Agamben has noted the inexhaustibility of potentiality in sovereignty in his Homo Sacer (refer esp. to pp. 61–62). In particular, his thought of inoperativeness confirms the irreducibility of the question, with its infinite potentialities, to any actual answer. 12. See Alexandre Franco de Sá, “The Event of Order in Carl Schmitt’s Thought and the Weight of the Circumstances,” in Telos 147, Summer 2009, pp. 14–33.
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Metonymic Abuses of Modernity
The experience of modernity in aesthetics, politics, and philosophy is defined by a certain purposeful and calculated minimalism. At times, in some of its most self-reflective moments, it performs a veritable autoreduction, which is more potent than a critique and which has the potential to cut through strata of metaphysical obscurities and baroque ontologies to reveal its own conditions of possibility in the most lucid way imaginable. Such is the modus operandi of modern art that, in exploring the nature of color, the trajectory of a line, and the very material from which it arises, reduces the voluptuous and sensory richness of premodern aesthetics to essential mereness or bareness. Yet, often enough, modern minimalism is more detrimental to the domain it transforms than the insidious ontometaphysical legacy of the tradition, against which it conspires. When the fourfold approach to causality Aristotle develops in Book II of Physics and Book V of Metaphysics is dramatically diminished, so that only one of its facets (the efficient cause) survives, thought itself becomes as formal and mechanistic as the shipwreck of ancient Greek philosophy washed ashore in modernity. There is no doubt that Aristotle’s structure of causality is ontologically fraught and embroiled in an outmoded hierarchical and teleological world molded by formal, material, and final causes. But the modern system of efficient causality, where all cause-effect relations take their cue from the case of a billiard ball that, having been struck, produces a predetermined result in another such ball that happens to be in its path, is not devoid of metaphysical presuppositions that shore up the emergent scientific-experimental paradigm. What passes itself off as the deontological and universal element of thinking is, indeed, the most formal and the emptiest crust of the old metaphysics that, instead of vanishing completely, perdures in modern philosophy, scarred and mutilated. Despite its
laying bare the conditions of possibility for political existence.104 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE universalist pretense. and the state appears as the incarnation of the political. I am dwelling on the fate of Aristotelian causality at some length because it is relevant to the modern experience of politics. constitutional law and the Rechtsstaat constitution denote the constitution and the constitutional regime. particularly the phenomenological reduction (epoché) that brackets the uppermost. so in the modern political order a hypostatized part stands in for the whole when bourgeois legality metonymically signifies legitimacy in general. going even further. in its own way. a specific kind of constitution. antimodern character to his political philosophy. this process goes by the name “synechdoche” (a part substituting for the whole from which it issues). disembedded. The rampant abuses of metonymy and synechdoche in modern political thought polemically raise a particular type of legitimacy. If the experience of modernity is the impoverishment of experience (be it purposeful or unintended). but also fail to see that there is an alternative to reinstating an objective political ontology. legitimate? This misguided question may be found. the mechanicity of efficient causality fails to encompass the conceptual whole and exhibits a deplorable impoverishment of thinking in modernity. one calls upon a decontextualized.” literally meaning “a change of name. is a subclass of “metonymy. Instead of harking back to Aristotle. in the arsenal of Schmitt’s critics who not only impute a reactionary. hollowed out part of the metaphysical whole to stand in for this whole in a relation of representation.or hyper-modernity that confronts the feigned minimalism of the synechdoche with a more radical minimalism that isolates the activating principles of political ontology. and one of the loci of the political to the status and the dignity of the genus.”1 Just as a partial aspect of what Aristotle understands by a “cause” comes to monopolize the modern understanding of causality as such. then the political variety of phenomenological reduction practiced by Schmitt brings this development to its logical conclusion. the metonymies—to reveal the concrete motives. Rhetorically. where. would we need to rehabilitate the teleological suppleness of Aristotelian metaphysics. . in one form or another. which. in turn. too.” whereby “the name of an attribute or a thing is substituted for the thing itself. in a way that is intended to de-legitimize their rivals. Schmitt avails himself of Husserl’s methodological innovation. and decisions that bring them forth. presuppositions. In an effort to curb the metonymic abuses of modernity. In this exercise. vacuous crusts of political reality—that is. to endorse dictatorial rule as. subjectivities. reduction plays the role of an ultra. or.
By aligning the three metonymic abuses of modernity. Schmitt excavates the special polemical intention of the original anchoring of all legitimacy in legality. legality. of a political phenomenon—that has been naturalized not without the help of that triumphant historiography which Benjamin so vividly depicted in his “Theses on the Philosophy of History. while the political metonymized by the state is the most profound and animating source. hence. anyone else. . Russia. resorting to a technique of political reduction. “Legality. Finally. shows how Schmitt chisels away its fixed and desiccated building blocks. defaced by everything that is predicated upon it.” set in its original historical context. and Zimbabwe grasp and. historicization is not a panacea against the metonymic abuses of modernity. “has the meaning and purpose of making superfluous and negating [überflüssig zu machen und zu verneinen] the legitimacy of either the monarch or the people’s plebiscitarian will” (LL 9). The non-democratic political leaders of countries such as Iran. then those regimes that do not conform to this trend are proclaimed to be the illegal and illegitimate rogue states.Metonymic Abuses of Modernity 105 In the Name of the Law . de-personalized. While the constitutive subjectivity that underpins the rest of the edifice and makes up the irreducible residue of this enterprise will be treated in the next chapter. But a mere invocation of the term’s historically situated and polemical sources dusts away the veneer of neutrality and universality it has strategically adopted in the fight against competing models of legitimacy and further augmented in the aftermath of its victory in this struggle. “dead” stratum. this chapter reconstructs the multilayered edifice of contemporary politics and. which usurps the place of legitimacy. . is the most superficial. In the vertical arrangement of various metonymies. it uncovers the still smoldering cinders of a conflict—and. if not better than.2 Where consensus has been long established. even. at the same time. the metonymy of the constitution and constitutional law is the intermediate step between the state that does not merely have but is its constitution and legitimacy assumed on the grounds of the existing constitutional order. here I point out the necessary interconnection between the structure’s building blocks. Although legality is correctly understood as the lifeless and most depersonalized crust of the modern political edifice. subscribe to the rules of the game as well as.” If “the dominant concept of legitimacy today is in fact democratic” legality (CPD 30). They stage farcical elections coupled with the intimidation and suppression of their political opponents by means . Admittedly.
put in jail). the ideal of legality negates itself. In gaining the upper hand over. and Ahmedinejad can equally appeal to the legality of the process that got them “elected” and even disavow various forms of non-democratic legitimacy.106 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE of brute force. they clamored for more—much more than the Islamic Republic was able to offer. Kas’yanov. and. PutinMedvedev. The political crisis in Zimbabwe saw Mugabe unwilling to cancel the second round of the a priori rigged elections after his sole opponent. More generally. his) personal voluntas. as it were. Mugabe. physically obliterating its adversaries. The turmoil in Iran’s “illiberal democracy” was the product of a systemic miscalculation that turned voting into a semiforbidden fruit.3 Having achieved juridical and political hegemony. metonymically identifying the dubious majority they command not with their party. making superfluous. who are then perhaps reduced to kicking their boots against the locked door” (LL 30). such that legitimacy becomes “only an expression of legality and derived from it” (LL 9). In this last case. the Russian state officials took a leaf from Schmitt’s critique of the purely legislative state. and especially Khodorkovsky legally barred from participating in the most recent Russian presidential elections (and. but with the state itself. deprives itself of all political energy and raison d’être. belying the derivation of legality from the legitimacy of a law-making action. once the voters were given a taste of it. They can declare their domestic opponents illegal to the point of “excluding them from the democratic homogeneity of the people” (LL 30). by inertia.” for nowadays not even the most autocratic head of state will admit to governing on the basis of his (most often. in which the majority can “treat partisan opponents like common criminals. Tsvingarai. it proves that metonymization is a . With the main oppositional figures. in the case of Kasparov and Khodorkovsky. the structure of legality and the abstractly universal idea of humanity that emerged in the eighteenth century as a part of the agonistic denial of feudal aristocracy (CP 55). at times. the “revolutionary” government’s insistence that it would not go even one step beyond the law in sorting out the results of the 2009 presidential election spoke volumes to the ideologically versatile deployment of legality used to shield the most despicable acts of violence and injustice perpetrated by the “law-abiding” rulers. including Kasparov. all the while consistently acting “in the name of the law. had withdrawn from the race. outlive their polemical and historical purposes and give voice to legitimacy. in a peculiarly vacuous and formal way that allows anyone who is eager to maintain the status quo to join the chorus of its supporters. Bush. The “successful” entrenchment of legality produces the first inversion in the political edifice.
in PT 22). the non-thingly and impersonal ground of legitimacy. the spiritual forces emanating from the vacuous category of the human and taking shape in the legal order of the state introduce into a wholly “modern idea” a slew of metaphysical presuppositions that are even more bizarre than the fictions of personalism.4 A dangerously innocent belief to the contrary is comparable to other instances of not taking figuratively. on which a judge sits. A blatant contemporary example of this normative imposition is Iraq. the metonymy of legality and legitimacy evidences the devolution of the decision to the default setting. the rhetoric of the rule of law claims for itself the realm of absolute spirituality. as a trope or as a metonymy. Still. To put it differently: Krabbe. as Adorno and Horkheimer . The historical decision to opt for the legislative state had been undoubtedly political. To thematize the metonymic abuses of modernity is to disenchant the rational. the extinction of antagonisms in a complex and self-contradictory whole that now allows itself to be expressed by one of its parts. . the law does not have an inherent capacity for self-interpretation. regardless of the various neutral and apolitical masks it has donned ever since. where the decision on the political form of the state has not arisen from the content of collective existence but has been dictated by normative regulative ideals and reinforced by the Allied surges. . under the rubric of legality. The ideal of the legislative state that goes so far as to affirm its equivalence to justice extends a concrete decision on the form of collective existence into an abstract norm indifferently applicable to all other political unities. The subsequent emphasis on “the rule of law” as the centerpiece of legality is misguided and absurd if one takes it literally. lacks the ability to proliferate judgments out of its wooden body. Pretending to demystify authority. (spiritual) forces” (qtd. just as the bench. wholly enlightened disenchantment that. the most reified forces of modernity are deemed to be the most spiritual ones.” Reifying machinations notwithstanding. Nonetheless. as is the case in the work of Hugo Krabbe. whether natural-unmediated (the divine right of kings) or artificial-mediated (Hobbes’s Leviathan). in his celebration of the rule of law. conversely.Metonymic Abuses of Modernity 107 sure path toward de-politicization. is heedless to the insidious mystification. which is proper to modernity itself. who declares in The Modern Idea of the State that “[w]e no longer live under the authority of persons. be they natural or artificial (legal) persons. the expressions “the Crown rules” or “the Bench decides. Schmitt explains that “laws do not rule . Whoever exercises power and government acts ‘on the basis of law’ or ‘in the name of the law’ [‘auf Grund eines Gesetzes’ oder ‘in Namen des Gesetzes’]” (LL 4). Time and again. but under the rule of law. to rid it of personalism.
phenomenality) are imaginable only in the impossible situation where the name does not verge on de-substantialized nominalism but directly expresses the essence of the thing it refers to. Based on the name—something especially baseless and debased in modernity—a tie between legality and legitimacy is forged. publicity. That is why. thereby elucidating the rhetorical dissimulation of authority in its very products. overdetermines. an aspiration toward phenomenality that would no longer keep power “invisible. its etymological connection to nomos. in names and name-giving. On the other hand. Total visibility and publicity (in a word. anonymous.”6 On the one hand.7 In spite of. Jean-Toussaint Desanti has referred to this feature of speaking “in the name of ” as speech that redoubles speech. given that the power to name has disappeared and it is no longer obvious what a name is. or thanks to. In de-mythologizing the claim that decisions are taken “in the name of the law.” that is to say. and secret” (NE 349). for Schmitt. “the ‘rule of law’ means nothing more than the rule of the offices entrusted with legislation” (186). the great arcana. Those who act “in the name of the law” skillfully exploit both extremes when they conceal personal acts of interpretation and decisions beneath the demand for a thoroughgoing openness of the legalistic procedure. without dissolving in pure presence or in pure absence. and ceremony. The hypotheses Schmitt has put forth on the subject of the name and naming in The Nomos of the Earth and related writings will be useful for our assessment of the expression “in the name of the law.108 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE would confirm. It is to negate the negation of the “iron cage” where absolute calculability and dispassionate rationality precipitate the world of Kafka’s The Process that mangles. and conceals the threads of actions (the effects) pointing back to subjective intentions and decisions. this tendency is all but stopped in its tracks. the name is a tendency to the destruction of politics that does not subsist without a certain measure of invisibility and secrecy. another level of concealment and obscurity that do not characterize other modes of legitimation. The political ideal of openness and transparency reverts into its very opposite when acts “in the name of the law” create an additional ruse and. . therefore. practices a magic of its own. the public and the intensely private. the open and the withdrawn. politics will straddle the visible and the invisible.5 Or. as Schmitt soberly notes in Constitutional Theory.” what he offers us is a palliative against the kind of fetishism that subordinates all claims of legitimacy to legality. he detects “the tendency to visibility. only to erase itself from the metonymization of the latter by the former. to which Schmitt appeals in his earlier writings.
we might add. (This ellipsis. . it sets itself to work as the vanishing mediator between the legality it evokes and the legitimacy that ought to derive from this evocation. The screen will become translucent upon a discovery of who it is that speaks and acts “in the name of . overtly. an event that “is one of the heaviest burdens that the conceptual and linguistic culture of the Occident has had to bear” (NE 342). of the people. the last affirmation of loyalty was at the heart of Medvedev’s 2008 “election campaign” in Russia. in that he swore allegiance to the course (read. is not accidental. Action “in the name of the law” interposes a screen between the sovereign political subject who delivers the decision and those who are expected to recognize its legitimacy.10 The empty name of the law.” veiling and obfuscating him. at the same time. remains essentially ambiguous. “the normative fiction of a closed system of legality [die normativistische Fiktion eines geschlossenen Legalitätssystems] emerges in a striking and undeniable opposition to the legitimacy of an instance of will that is actually present and in conformity with law [rechtmäßigen Willens]” (LL 6).” (LL 11) However absurd. for it carries on a long tradition of conceptual abuse and mistranslation.or herself in the impersonal system of legality. .9) The partitions will fall only when we reduce the formally legal superstructure to the political “life-world” of decisionmaking and polemical engagement undergirding it and. While. the administrative directives) of the Putin Plan for the country’s future development. which may be filled with any positive content whatsoever. Apropos of this contradiction.” instead of that of the king. or if one would swear an oath to measures or affirm “loyalty to administrative directives. The closure of the system of legality is an attempt to debar all remnants of political subjectivity and to accomplish the modern transformation of political form into its purely objective variety. betrayed by it. . Schmitt writes. where “the law” elliptically means positive law.11 The normative fiction born in this .8 Schmitt calls such speech a bluff when he writes that it would be obviously grotesque if one announced court decisions in the “name of a measure. With this. starting with Cicero’s rendition of the Greek nomos as the Latin lex. Schmitt’s reproach resonates with the Heideggerian analysis of Latinization that has amplified the forgetting of Being in Western philosophy. or of the law.Metonymic Abuses of Modernity 109 which both presupposes and conceals its subjective substratum. the name of the law structures one of the dominant and decisive contradictions of modern politics.
a competing model of legitimacy surfaces in this exercise as a signal that the operations of metonymization (and. A purely legalistic framework of legitimacy. at its inception. the simple and the constitution-amending majority. de-politicization) are incomplete and that the system of legality is but a synechdoche of the totality that is legitimacy. on which it can rely in the substantive decisions and actions comprising its political life. altogether detaching it from that which it names and permitting even the opposing factions in a civil . This is the argumentative core of Schmitt’s 1932 text that revels in the contradictions of the uneven. including the formula “in the name of the law” that puts the name on the side of nominalism. according to which. requires various extralegal prostheses. What. In the second half of the statement. and it is this triumph of pure objectivity that glues together legality and legitimacy in modernity. has been polemically oriented against their legitimacy. that give rise to extralegal legitimacy. seal the failure of legality that. Extraordinary lawgivers. Schmitt immanently undermines the untenable results of the legal closure.110 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE closure is that the system of legality is void of all subjective elements. after the objectivization of the political form. by implication. the excess of legitimacy subverts itself from within. Some of these prosthetic devices are equally formal and empty. be they presidential decrees or plebiscitary referenda. the instance of such a will trumps the objective and formal legalism. striated character of the legislative state. and the provisions for the “extraordinary lawgivers” (außerordentlichen Gesetzgeber). for Hegel. especially. only the law itself is sovereign and legitimate. thus contributing to the “motivational deficit” said to beleaguer contemporary democracies. then. because it marks the moment when the law is self-given at a higher level of synthesis reuniting the subject and the object of Right. with its differentiations between the higher and lower orders of legality. Even if the same legal outcome is reached in the name of the law and as a result of exercising an actual political will. In the name of the law. Instead of strengthening the existing method of legitimation. he seems to ask. do the proponents of this closed system have to say about the will (whether directly expressed at a referendum or mediated through a representative assembly) that arises in conformity with the law? Clearly. which finds itself in tandem with this law. however. This is not the case in the normative fiction. the will that actually conforms to it becomes irrelevant. The most effective way to expose the fiction of normativity is to subject it to the test of immanent criticism that does not arise from the absolute exteriority of a dissenting will but from that which concurs with the law in a non-objective fashion.
though antagonistic. Be this as it may. only to make a legalistic universe more livable and tolerable. Schmitt couched in terms of complexio oppositorum. It is in this slippage from the “highest” to the “purest” form bereft of any content whatsoever and in the subsequent inversion of the relation between legality and legitimacy that the metonymic abuse of modernity accomplishes itself. As a consequence of this parody.. The pure form is a pale reflection of complexio oppositorum. and in the worst. the highest form of legitimacy [die höchste Form der Legitimität]” (TP 70). The heyday of “occidental rationalism” is the republican version of legality that “proves to have the much stronger validity . subjugates and shapes legitimacy in its own image. rather than its absolute opposite” (LL 96). without nullifying the tensions between them. as such. at that point in history. That this arrangement is more politically viable is made plain by the persistence of antagonism between the competing models of legitimacy included in it and handed over to sovereign decision-making. hence. but in the name of the law” (EC 56). legality is at once (1) its species or subtype. unfortunately. the very form of form was different from its emaciated. Others (e.Metonymic Abuses of Modernity 111 war to “reject the right of the opponent. imitate in their flowery rhetoric the extraordinary lawgiver. Others still. delegates the messiness of the political content to legitimacy. in a word. But. [of] the rational. he hints at the fact that. revisiting Legality and Legitimacy more than a quarter of the century after the text’s initial composition. Schmitt stresses that “legality was originally an essential piece of occidental rationalism and a form of legitimacy. As a form of legitimacy. they militate against the metonymic reduction of legitimacy to legality. . in the 1920s. subject to the decision-making power. . the “highest form” is only one step away from the crudest formalism. in the best case scenario. the substantive form of form is akin to what. and (2) an integral. When. and abstract modern counterpart. where a living formation brings together the most contradictory contents. part of the whole in which it participates. the process of metonymization would have been impossible were it not for the mutation of the formal element of legality. contemporary bourgeois legality does not need a determinate political arrangement and. progressive and only modern form. a form that is still tethered to the content from which it arises and to which it returns. general. the complex of opposites. in the last instance. in that it is indifferent to the content on which it imposes itself. In this sense. the extraordinary lawgivers) are exemplars of politicalexistential richness and.g. where the inflated generality of legality passes into a pure form that. does not necessarily have . a part of a much vaster framework of legitimacy. hence. gradually severed from the content of political existence.
as a particular mode of legitimacy. the manifestation of the law in the statute delegitimates its other historical instantiations. to seize the place of the whole in an indelible metonymic displacement. This. therefore. in the word of the king. crushing the KantianHegelian dreams of reconciling freedom and legal obligation. meant to lead humanity toward emancipation. (LL 4) To recap: as a particular kind of legitimacy.112 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE to be democratic. will not transfigure the general into the universal because it is nothing but a detour from one particularity to another in a desperate effort to deny the force of performative selflegitimation to the act of sovereign decision-making. But the chain of metonymizations does not stop there. for instance. . the specific manifestation of the law is the statute. When Schmitt reveals the obfuscated presuppositions of modern legality. legality claimed for itself the niche of generality and neutrality only to legitimate a particular (“one such”) type of state. Its claim.14 it turns out that statutory law is a synechdoche of the law. The confusion of the highest and the purest. for the adventure of legitimation. connection between the two. . . . . while legal coercion. Modern political form is twice removed from that which it encompasses and dominates from the position of relative exteriority. prima facie. nonetheless. Although it is. the legislative Rechtsstaat component of the constitution “contains no state form” (CT 235). while legality is the particular justification of state coercion. does not . while the state “confined exclusively to producing law . most general form allows legality. including those that are typical . singles out a particular state type in order to confer upon it the mantle of exclusive legitimacy. banal and tautological. produce the content of the law” (PT 23). another metonymic abuse serves as a goldmine. is on the par with other systems of oppression. In this regard. as opposed to the living form of complexio oppositorum that grows from the antagonistic content itself. .13 The dictate of the law will be experienced as coercively imposed on us.” though by no means harmonious. is the difference between the systemic impulse interrelating the content and the extraneous form thrust upon it and the totalizing drive replete with an “organic.12 The fictitious generality that has no intrinsic links to any given state form. It is not difficult to guess that this type refers to the legislative state: In the general legality [allgemeinen Legalität] of all state exercise of power lies the justification of one such state type [eines solchen Staatswesens] . in nuce.
The most serious of these at the ontological level is a positivist and empiricist reduction of the constitution to constitutional law: “the constitution (as unity) and constitutional law (as detail) are tacitly rendered equivalent and confused with one another” (CT 68). undoubtedly. This conflation of the whole and its part is a monstrous synechdoche that runs parallel to. As it was the case in the metonymy of common law and positive legalism. Schmitt fails to question the dichotomy of the spirit and the letter of the text and. He will show that legality does not contain within itself the source of its own meaning. In this disparagement of the written constitution. But the point is not that Schmitt scorns writing. Constitutional Unity. rather. he is interested in the existential conditions of possibility for the textual production of the constitution thanks to the decision on the form of the state’s political life or. dissolving the existential unity of pouvoir constituant in a haphazard conglomeration of empirically identifiable. without reducing. The formal concept of the constitution becomes attached to a fundamental collection of written statutes. whereby the legality of a mere law first is made meaningful [sinnvoll]” (NE 73). but relies on the Husserlian meaning-bestowal (Sinnsgebung) by “an act of legitimacy. constitution-making power that is irreducible. It could be argued that. unobjectifiable. detect a barefaced denigration of writing: that purposeful forgetting of the signifier’s body which has been prevalent in the history of Western philosophy since its very beginnings. Schmitt’s excavation of these hidden presuppositions does not only shake up the logical bases of hegemonic political theory but also reductively aims at the deeper lived. “constitutional law” signifies a collection of disparate statutes that satisfy the demand for a written constitution (CT 69). predictably. in general. the substitution of legality for a much broader framework of legitimacy. phenomenologically.Metonymic Abuses of Modernity 113 of administrative and governmental states. in his criticism. the written statute to the “founding” stratum of the political decision presupposed in every . As we shall see. and empirically inaccessible. Derridian deconstruction will. phenomenological foundations. objective details. and often intersects with. active. prioritizes the ideality of the former over the materiality of the latter. Constitutional Details When it comes to the constitution. It is impossible to discover what constitutes the constitution as a unity. the metonymic abuses of modernity intensify to the extent that they occasion mystifications at once ontological and historical.
which would be detachable from its political existence.) with independent existence.” “political existence. we come across a reductive unearthing of the suppositions that have been conveniently covered over by the proponents of the metonymic and fetishistic “sovereignty of the constitution. the state does not have a constitution. . when the system of law aspires to take over the totality of political existence. science. functions as a sine qua non for statutory inscription. conversely. even constitutional law. may account for its unity and order. When. His “demetonymization” anchors the constitution in “political unity.” or “the existing political will. Schmitt upholds their thesis in the juridical sphere but also tries to rectify this delusion by de-metonymizing the liberal equation of the constitution and constitutional law. alone. which is to say that it is chronologically precedent to its constitutional codification.” and so restitutes to the constitution its political character that. or. gradually exhausts itself in everything that springs forth from it. I want to suggest that the political decision is prior temporally. The priority of the decision that determines the constitution in the absolute sense15 (and. at the very least. the constitution.16 Nineteenth-century thinkers variously conceded that it was only human. as something always arising anew” (CT 61)17 and. Schmitt resolves to reanimate this dying impulse in a perpetual reconstitution of the political unit “as something emerging. the constitution disintegrates. and phenomenologically. therefore. The rule of law does not adjudicate itself. does not establish itself but is. ultimately needs a political decision that is prior to it. too. again. Faced with this problem. in the absolute sense. every statute. such as. in politics as a realm of becoming. by extension. Constitution-making power renders possible the very constitutional arrangement that violates its own conditions of possibility. “The people must be present and presupposed as political unity if it is to be the subject of a constitution-making power” (CT 112). logically. or “The constitution is valid by virtue of the existing political will that establishes it” (CT 76). Here. and furnishes the founding existential layer for these founded stipulations. capital. a decision that is reached by a power or authority that exists politically” (CT 76).” suppositions. constitutional details overstep their limits and turn into a synechdoche for constitutional unity.114 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE single detail that overlays it. Given that. “For its validity as a normative regulation. the statutes that agree with it) merits theoretical consideration. or “Political existence was presupposed in this fundamental process. etc. like an artwork. all too human to credit the products of our collective thoughts and endeavors (God. in which a people acts consciously in a political manner” (CT 102). the creation of an active political subjectivity.
Once deconstituted or reduced. The technical word for the “definition of its own form of existence” is “performativity. quod est.18 More crucially still. voguish. which is the “substance of the constitution” (CT 78). This is one of the modalities of what I’ve termed “the event of politics. the essence of the constitution) in existence (the decision regarding its political form) is itself groundless. which is yet to be specified. then. or not-being-simply-present-at-hand. being-there. Constitutional Theory wears the risk associated with it as a badge of honor in asserting that the “[c]onstitution in the positive sense means essentially definition of its own form of existence” (CT 121).”19 and no reduction can accompany this . By “reconstitution. precisely. I do not mean an unavoidable change in the basic decision on the form of political life. whose essence. a reconstitution of the constitution itself. As in Husserl’s phenomenology. is existence.. quid est. because “the essence of the constitution is not contained in a statute or a norm” (CT 77) but in the political existence of the constitution-making subject. the metonymy with constitutional law is inappropriate.Metonymic Abuses of Modernity 115 but is its constitution (CT 60).” where political unities are always open to the possibility of their self-expropriation. reconstitution revisits the original political decision. with the view to reconfirming or rejecting it. the grounding of essence (say. this reductive movement terminates at the essence (Wesen) of the phenomenon in question. the decision) that undergird it. The political epoché is a reduction of metonymy and of the formal legal minimalism that narrows the constitution down to constitutional law. Now.” then. demonstrating that. As though to embrace this groundless grounding. in that it does not rely for support upon a stable metaphysical or ontological scaffold. since it is not merely adorned with the ornamental. this is a shaky construction. then Schmitt’s political philosophy echoes the Heideggerian conception of Dasein. if the essence of the constitution lies in the existential categories (e. simultaneously. Although it might sometimes call for a total overhaul of the basic principles of the old regime. For those who hold onto various essentialisms. even the very formal concepts of constitutional law appear as “essentially [wesentlich] political concepts” (LL 17). the recurrent re-activation of the original decision and the state structures it subtends is. and ultimately expendable vocabulary of existentialism but receives its critical strength from the irreducibility of the political subject.g. it should be said that Schmitt’s political ontology is essentially existential. swapping a monarchist constitution for a liberal-bourgeois once every four years. in the case of Constitution. In response to Richard Wolin. since it does not draw legitimacy outside of the subject who exists politically in a mode of being.
The second kind of constitutional metonymy is historical. a mere generalization does not suffice for the identification of the bourgeois constitution with the constitutional state.” The ideal concept renders “a certain content”—the Rechtsstaat constitution— exemplary.” Schmitt writes on the subject of conceptual indetermination. first. peaking in the ideology of nineteenth-century liberalism. at which the Schmittian epoché arrives. thus named because of a certain content). to which the title of Paragraph 4 of Constitutional Theory alludes.” (CT 169) This metonymic abuse that swaps a part of the constitutional taxonomy for the whole is yet another attempt to generalize the particular and to interject its abstract form prior to the singular instances of decision-making on behalf of the political subject. Schmitt writes: The principles of the modern. namely. in the same sense of ideality. by highlighting the metonymic abuses and flimsy . The de-substantialization of the political is. Political theory cannot move forward before resolving this difficulty. to disentangle the webs of the muddled concepts. The positive goal of political reduction is.116 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE forever precarious. facilitates its generalization. A particular type of constitution here presents itself as the constitution in general in an unabashed polemical denial of the rivaling political arrangements. that these principles are often equated with the constitution as such and “constitutional state” is given the same meaning as the “bourgeois Rechtsstaat. bourgeois-Rechtsstaat constitution correspond to the constitutional ideal of bourgeois individualism. therefore. “Ideal Concept of the Constitution (‘Constitution’ in an exemplary sense. self-referential. is irreducible. mediated through the replacement of existential ontology with an ostensibly de-ontological emphasis on normativity that projects the principles of bourgeois individualism onto the very idea of constitutionality. the process of idealization comes to its aid. Political existence. self-grounded and hence ungrounded predication any further. It deprives the constitution of its substance— the political decision—and essence that lies in the existential entity capable of making this decision. though it can be denied as soon as its fluid subjective forms and decision-making capacities are objectified. “the definition of the concept of the constitution is made more difficult by the fact that the ideal concept of the bourgeois Rechtsstaat is lumped in with the concept of the constitution” (CT 95). In contrast to the metonymy of legality and legitimacy. and contributes a recalcitrant conceptual jumble to the metonymic abuses of modern political thought. indeed. so much. “In the nineteenth century. thus.
those of the third estate constituted themselves as the constitution-making National Assembly on 17 June 1789” (CT 134). more or less directly. the metonymic and fetishistic “sovereignty of the constitution.” providing a blueprint for the Marxist theory of the proletariat as the universal class that will rise above and nullify the structure of class society. It was transformed into the decisive political subjectivity. where a singularity momentarily steps into the place of the universal. One of the three estates constituted itself as the whole in what I venture to call “a self-transcendence of the particular.) That is not to say that the three theorists indulge in the metonymic abuses of modernity.Metonymic Abuses of Modernity 117 generalizations that imbue the historically specific with an air of universality and. to which Žižek wholeheartedly subscribes. or does it claim to represent and mediate constitutionality in general? The political theories of Rancière. a kind of synechdoche. by honing conceptual specificity. in the derivation of the “absolute sense” of the constitution. bourgeoisie). since they drop the pretense of abstractly universal representation. but with the existential basis. where a part speaks. gear much of their philosophical energy toward the life-world of political existence and subjectivity. Concerning the second positive moment of reduction. chiseling away that which does not “essentially” belong to it. or else is cleverly disguised in. The fateful case of the French constitution casts new light on the issue of political representation. and (implicitly) side with Schmitt in their rejection of legalism and liberal de-politicization. camouflaged by the discourse of the universal rights and the sovereign function of the constitution-making National Assembly. (This will have been the rhetorical definition of Badiou’s event. and Žižek are united in an effort to rethink politics and representation itself as an explosive synechdoche. the cornerstone of the revolutionary French constitution. clergy.” The synechdoche of political subjectivity is. after all. for the whole? Does the ideal of the bourgeois Rechtsstaat constitution deny outright constitutional legitimacy to other political regimes. second. arguably. the groundless ground of political subjectivity and decision-making. Isn’t representation. Badiou. in which “among the commissioned representatives of the three estates (nobility. for instance. it will be remembered that the final purity of the concept does not coincide with its most abstract form (the political stands for the concrete friend-enemy distinction). nor even with the metaphysical priority of “ownness” (what is purely political has no domain of its own and expropriates all other domains). There is a marked difference between openly advocating for the synechdoche of Rancière’s . It is this basis that is sorely missing from. causing something like a short circuit in the dialectical machinery of mediations.
as the German original testifies. the state is certainly more “fundamental” than the order of legality. retains a markedly volatile status may. (NE 208) The achievement of liberal hegemony is. more precisely. Accordingly. we could say that it is an old quarrel between the Greek “pure” origin and its Latin violation that goes on in the guise of liberal constitutionalism that globalizes the stakes by laying claim to the constitution and civilization “in the European sense. The Nomos of the Earth summarizes the prereductive confusion and abusive metonymization of one constitutional type exceptionally well: At the end of the 19th century. The Fragility of the Status and the Irreducibility of the Political The final catachresis of political modernity is the consummation of the political in the concept of the state. Anticipating Schmitt’s disapproval of the tendency to latinize the Greek nomos as lex. in lieu of becoming institutionalized. Perhaps somewhat poetically. Still at the historical level. as opposed to the Germanic root in Verfassung. potentially.” This globalatinization. that the two terms are not synonymous. on the one hand. to uncover their non-identity is an undeniably political task. to which Kelsen and other legal theorists equate it. as Derrida sometimes calls it. the non-identity of liberal constitutionalism and the constitution in general is already discernable in the usage of the Latin root in Konstitutionalismus. reinvigorate political representation wrested from the procedural formalism of liberal constitutional democracies and imbued with non-metaphysical substance. until the Hague land war conventions were established. besides political reduction. on the other. but “identical” (identisch). Within the gradations of Schmittian reduction. liberal constitutionalism was synonymous with “constitution” and “civilization” in the European sense [galt der liberale Konstitutionalismus als identisch mit Verfassung und Zivilisation im europäischen Sinne]. If. A deliberately adopted rhetorical strategy of the synechdoche that. due to the synechdoche we have been considering above. for which. is one of the entrenched metonymic abuses of late modernity. in addition . and surreptitiously slipping an imperialistically generalized and abstract particularity in for the universal.118 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE “part that has no part” in the vacant place of political subjectivity. a meticulous linguistic analysis proves to be indispensable.
That does not mean. . and therefore judgeless” ethics. the claim that statehood is not a universal concept is not to be conflated with the concept’s liberal relativization. Yet. whereas the law recedes” (PT 12). however. for “it is clear that the state remains. the historicizing gesture serves the purpose of reducing this phenomenon by reconnecting it with the specificity of the “people” (or. initially motivated by the desire to dismember the unitary and sovereign body of the monarchical state. singular historical particularity of this phenomenon [Erscheinung] called ‘state’. Let us. The first sentence in The Concept of the Political—“The concept of the state presupposes the concept of the political [Der Begriff des Staates setzt den Begriff des Politischen voraus]” (CP 19)—disputes exactly such an unwarranted conclusion and sets the tone for the rest of the book that gleans the political not only from various moral. more broadly. but phenomenological. The latter does not dare historicize the state but only uncritically interprets it as one human association among.Metonymic Abuses of Modernity 119 to helping to define sovereignty. voraus. As with the notion of legality. and other antagonisms but also from the bracketing of state structures that depend upon it. not to mention the various mechanisms of naturalization that paralyze it. economic. many others. submit the phenomenological priority of the political to a practical test similar to the one that positive law underwent (and failed) in . perversely renders the defaced entity absolute again. The state is founded upon the concept of the political. and on the par with. is an instantiation of the most injurious metonymic abuse of modernity.21 Liberal relativization. then it practically reduces the legal order and shows that the state is the irreducible residue of this suspension. . the exception has an auxiliary role to play in Political Theology. the first verb in the book is “presupposes. by proxy with the abstract universality of rational normativity. the state of exception is a lawless state but it is a state nonetheless—an existential political plane for the exercise of sovereignty. or.” and the presupposition Schmitt uncovers is not merely logical. The equation “state = politics” is “erroneous and deceptive [unrichtig und irreführend]” (CP 22).” “setzt . more damningly still. Remarkably.20 Concerning the “altogether incomparable. which conditions it to the same extent as the life-world that supports the very scientific paradigms that suppress it. in our terms. that the seventeenth-century state is the first product of the age of technology (LST 34). with the constitutive political subjectivity that generates it) and by scraping off the veneer of neutrality that overlays it.” Schmitt asserts that “‘statehood’ is not a universal concept valid for all times and all peoples” (NE 127) and. that the state is axiomatically irreducible. Crudely put. as well as an outlet for “the merely normative. then.
in which a political entity does not need to be a state. it becomes decisive again for such existence. there is no reason for its members to continue obeying its decrees. are no longer able to bind their own members in such a definitive way.23 For the second test case for the reduction of the state one must look to The Concept of the Political. We might ask. where Schmitt writes that “[i]f within the state there are organized parties capable of according their members more protection than the state. Schmitt cites this hypothetical situation while contemplating Hobbes’s political philosophy that views the state as the medium wherein the citizens exchange their obedience for protection: unless the political unit is able to exercise its capacity to provide security. as long as the intensity of association and antagonism within it reaches the qualitative “boiling point” of the political. In 2007. for instance. and reduce the state to their “annex. The point. is that the enervation of the state’s protective function does not preclude a formation of other existentially intense friend-enemy groupings that assume a political character. nor is partisan activity inherently and universally more political than that of the state. Even the prerogative to declare the state of exception or to wield a real possibility of war (jus belli) is no longer the exclusive right of the state. will be interrelated with the political only thanks to a misleading synechdoche. and the individual citizen knows whom he has to obey” (CP 52). in which the political. then the latter becomes at best an annex of such parties. therefore. first: What if Theory of the Partisan as a whole were read as a reductive experiment. the implications of Schmitt’s condemnation of the contemporary state situated (and this is the mainstay of the “associationist theory of the state”) on the same level as other consensual groups are that (1) it does not have a monopoly on the political and. especially the contemporary state. when “other groups or associations. become decisive. and (3) it is amenable to being politically reactivated if. as is the case with the fighters of a party engaged in a revolutionary struggle” (TP 20).120 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE the state of exception. non-state actors. The historical creations of “a state within a state” are plentiful and well known. then the elusive locus of the political shifts to partisan. however. Rather. in the figure of the partisan. for whatever reason. survived a parenthesization of the state?22 When the policy is no longer existentially primary. from the Sicilian organized mafia to the quasi-feudal lords of the Brazilian favelas. It is not that the state is unbound from the political which it necessarily presupposes. (2) it may be identified with the overarching background of human actions and concerns as their ultima ratio (PT 25) but this inflation of the state will not vitiate the political as the first and the last non-objective ground of collective existence.” This is scrupulously in line with Schmitt’s theory. favela leaders in Rio de Janeiro issued .
even the French Revolution could be seen as a practical reduction of the state. to observe the days of mourning for their killed comrades. Making such fragility apparent. When Schmitt reiterates the etymological connection of the state and status on the first page of The Concept of the Political—“the state is a political status [Staat ist . while the constitution is the state’s formal cause. . a reduction of the state and the concomitant animation of the concept of the political marks revolutionary upheavals. provided that the latter does not stand for a bare and externally imposed form but adheres to the “absolute sense. though not of the political principle. in a more restrictive scope of the term state.) Like Hobbes. A revolutionary overthrow of monarchy negates the state. . which Schmitt favors.25 (Still. is not reserved for the state alone. bringing to a halt the unrest of the political that was responsible for its issuance in the first place. do not produce a new political formation (CT 127). thereby exceeding the role of criminals and effectively announcing the state of exception. Perhaps more obviously. While many uprisings. The rigidity of the status quo is a defense mechanism of political reaction formation—to borrow a psychoanalytic notion—that. this unrest can . (To put this statement of identity in Aristotelian vernacular. which is in truth nothing more than the Kantian “peace of the cemeteries. the political is its material cause. der politische Status] of an organized people” (CP 19)—and later on in his “intermediate commentary” on the political—“Linguistic parallels with a general term like status. are obvious” (TP 20)24—he adds luster to the theory of the state’s reducibility.” bespeaks its fragility and reducibility. who harbored no illusions with regard to the permanence of any institutional organization and who was frank about the nature of the Leviathan as a “mortal god.) The total existential embroilment of the extra-state group members in a political entity that can exact from them “the readiness to die and to unhesitatingly kill enemies” (CP 46). in Schmitt’s view. dissimulating itself in the notion of peace. das plötzlich Staat bedeuten kann].” according to which the being of the state and that of the constitution are one and the same.Metonymic Abuses of Modernity 121 a warning to the inhabitants of the city. The status is that which can and ought to be reduced after it has become stable and static.” Schmitt highlights the finitude of the state that is not dispelled by the status into which it congeals. which is inseparable from the monarchical constitution. thus confers upon them a certain political decisiveness that. a “successful revolution directly establishes a new status and eo ipso a new constitution” (CT 61) as soon as it overturns the old status quo. which can suddenly mean state [wie status. (The warning was followed by organized attacks on police stations around the city that day. notably the French Revolution.
by implication. in whose cited remarks we can also see a reduction of the state to the moment of the decision [eine Reduzierung des Staates auf das Moment der Entscheidung]. phenomenologically means that it is that postreductive residue which. tumult. to a pure [reine] decision not based on reason and discussion and not justifying itself. Fourthly. The status and. remains irreducible. derives its vitality from the political. and reveals it in its eidetic-phenomenological “purity. be it capital with its pretense of being independent from the labor power it exploits. renders it absolute. to an absolute decision created out of nothing. unlike the state. “That the state is an entity [ein Einheit] and in fact the decisive entity rests upon its political character [beruht auf seinem politischen Charakter]” (CP 44). in this instance is significant because the decision that becomes accessible at the end of the reductive trajectory is absolute and. to the contrary. Schmitt will not evade the exigencies of deconstituting or reconstituting the state and the need to overthrow the status quo that drains its political sources of their vitality. the state are essentially self-undermining entities. from this reducibility.” Reduzierung. “pure. or the state that disavows its political footing and presents itself as a neutral legal order. at the heart of the metonymy joining together the reducible state and the irreducible politics. given the other sense of the Greek stasis. meaning not just quiescence but also the exact opposite. All he shows is that this institution is neither the deepest nor the exclusive source of political life.” distilled to the existential essence of the political. indicates that the deprivation of the state’s logical and phenomenological “foundations” . which in Schmittian political-theological lingua franca corresponds to creation out of nothing. Nothing would be further from the truth than a deduction. The reduction of the state does not obliterate the principle of the political but. too. Political Theology ends with a nod of approval to French counterrevolutionary Joseph de Maistre. (PT 66) That Schmitt uses the word “reduction. As a result. or the polemical-rhetorical abuse. that is. above all. Faced with the fragility of the status. but that it. The quadruple test we have performed above confirms the catachresis.122 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE never be wholly subdued. the thesis.) The stable façade of the status hides the extreme vulnerability of everything that suppresses its sources. sets it free. of the claim that Schmitt is a closeted anarchist who celebrates the withering away or the overthrow of the state.” The fact that the decision is not based on anything else (either reason or discussion).
Metonymic Abuses of Modernity 123 simultaneously strips it of its decisiveness and. MA and London: MIT Press. for instance. R. this is concealed behind every word of Being [Macht ist . 97). and the Bench representing the judiciary. 1983)] summarizes this implicit aspect of Schmitt’s position well when he writes. 3. 9. “It must seem paradoxical to Carl Schmitt that the legitimacy of an epoch is supposed to consist in its discontinuity in relation to its pre-history” (p. “Nomos-Nahme-Name. The political underside of this veneer is. p. The Gentler Civilizer of Nations: The Rise and Fall of International Law 1870–1960 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. and sought to rule “in the name of the law. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory (London and New York: Penguin Books. The original French expression is “cette parole qui redouble parole. A. CT 238. 4. M. Siegfried Behn (Nuremberg: Glock und Lutz. “Namen nehmen: Zur Theorie des Namens bei Carl Schmitt.” MLN 122 (3). 61. 2002). 7. “[M]odern legality. This dislodgement does not annul the politicity of the political but. pp. After the dismantling of the old status. 1957). validates it as a principle of dislocation and expropriation that lacks a sphere of its own. “Power is Being. In part. a procedure. 6. See. rather. indeed. Cuddon. p. 92–105 and Thomas Schestag. 544–564. 5. p. Being itself is reducible to power. See. is the functional mode of a state bureaucracy.” 8. As he writes in his prison diaries. above all. which as the expression of reason. Being is Power.” Jean-Toussaint Desanti. this negation is produced as a temporal fissure between the “modern” and the “traditional” that is supposed to afford the modern a chance of self-founding. April 2007. even the rationalistic claim to pure legality. which has no interest in the right of its origin” (NE 82). or a legal order. 1999). he immediately adds: Even the elevation of impersonal laws to general norms. Hans Blumenberg [The Legitimacy of the Modern Age. the political is not eliminated but merely relocates elsewhere. The privileged examples of a metonymy here are legalistic-political: the Crown standing for the monarchy. even this classical human creation of 1789 did not abandon the name. On the same page. of its unity as a norm. 428]. 510. every legitimacy wants to surpass. especially. ed. for instance. 2008). exposed in every instance of the application of the law: “Legal normativity [in Schmitt’s view] hid political conflict from sight but did not make it disappear. Conflict re-emerged every time the law was to be applied” [Martti Koskenniemi. Yet. J. withdrawing. In a similar vein. the constant refrain of Constitutional Theory is that the constitution is not sovereign. Une Destin Philosophique (Paris: Hachette. pp. for Schmitt.” in Der Beständige Aufbruch: Festschrift für Erich Przywara. Notes 1. 2. to the secretive and scarcely perceptible position of the partisan. also. Wallace (Cambridge. trans.
Carr (Evanston. Eric Santner [On Creaturely Life: Rilke. in Waite. 94). inches close to the definition of self-definition as “performative”: The exemplary case. Although Schmitt. (pp. Husserl thinks that the way to tackle the crisis of objectification is to recover the non-scientific and experiential foundations of science in the life-world. 1970). so to speak. More recently. Gopal Balakrishnan considers this sense to be “meta-legal” (The Enemy. 113–114) . das steckt hinter jedem Wort vom Sein]” (qtd. IL: Northwestern University Press. 17. it is the life that has been delivered over to the space of the sovereign’s “ecstasy-belonging”. or what we might simply call “sovereign jouissance. apropos of legal positivism: “This thoroughly dominant theory was no longer conscious of its own historical and theoretical presuppositions” (LL 96). 125). Similarly. In Political Theology. Judith Butler highlights the performativity of the sovereign exception in Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (London and New York: Verso. by default. 12. 19. 15. by exposure to the peculiar “creativity” association with this threshold of law and non-law. This statement needs to be complemented by a reading of Paragraph 9 of Heidegger’s Being and Time in conjunction with Proposition 6. Sebald (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 14. 13.” I am referring to Edmund Husserl’s The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology [trans. Slavoj Žižek. D. For instance. but its modern. p. 61. translation modified). Benjamin. 2006)] has drawn inspiration from this political enlivening that comprises Schmitt’s existentialism: What I am calling creaturely life is the life that is. 11. Strauss. in The Ticklish Subject. called into being. 2004).124 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE Sein. in particular the muddle of words and concepts characteristic of 19th century jurisprudence” (NE 69). 10. imputes a national and nationalist form to political existence. this form is not the sine qua non of such existence. 15) 18.” p. p. Schmitt.” (p. Lebenswelt. ex-cited. Sein ist Macht. Mutatis mutandis. In introducing the term “the political life-world. “Heidegger. moderated conflict “in his essence as much as in his existence [sogar sein Wesen und sein Existenz]” (TP 19. of course. 137]. the partisan stands outside all bracketed.44 of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. 16. historically specific appellation. p. Schmitt clearly identifies this transformation as follows: “One thing is certain to be recognized in this modern theory of the state: The form should be transferred from the subjective to the objective” (29). is Carl Schmitt’s decisionist claim that the rule of law ultimately hinges on an abyssal act of violence (violent imposition) grounded only in itself: every positive statute to which this act refers in order to legitimize itself is self-referentially posited by this act itself. Schmitt suggests the same solution in an attempt to resolve the crises of parliamentary democracy and the subsumption of the political impulse in abstract systems of legality. This befuddlement is a part of “the confusion of legal positivism.
Metonymic Abuses of Modernity
20. Those commentators who categorize Schmitt as a “statist” are either unaware of or choose to ignore his political reduction of the state. Two examples will suffice here. 1. “Schmitt is a conspicuous representative of this statist tradition in the twentieth century; he radicalizes the antinomy between the heterogeneity of society . . . on the one hand, and the unifying force of a sovereign power . . . on the other” [Ulrich Preuss, “Political Order and Democracy: Carl Schmitt and His Influence, in The Challenge of Carl Schmitt, ed. S. Mouffe (London and New York: Verso, 1999), p. 176]. 2. The argumentative thrust of Renato Cristi’s Carl Schmitt and Authoritarian Liberalism: Strong State, Free Economy (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1998). Regarding (1), let it be said that the radicalization of the antimony between state unity and social heterogeneity fails to recognize the importance of de-politicization that permits the administrative state to subsume society itself and remains impervious to the polemical usage of the term state. 21. Carl Schmitt, “Ethic of State and Pluralistic State,” in The Challenge of Carl Schmitt, p. 196. 22. This would illustrate Susan Buck-Morss’ [“Sovereign Right and Global Left,” in Rethinking Marxism 19 (4), Fall 2007] fruitful intuition that “[s]overeign power exists before and beside the state, and can never be subsumed as immanent within it” (p. 438). 23. Despite what one might expect here, Schmitt does not frame this decisiveness in terms of the “total state” that “becomes ‘total’ out of weakness, not out of strength and power” (LL 92). We could, for instance, conceive of this re-engagement of the state along the lines of radical democracy, where the involvement of the citizens in environmental, economic, and other issues becomes an integral part of political reality. 24. See also NE 133: “every state sought to create (by means of specific treaties) a positive jus publicum Europaeum that would give it a juridical advantage by stabilizing a favorable status quo.” 25. At the level of international politics, it has the function of bracketing bellicose conflicts in the form of state wars (NE 141).
Political Reduction to Constitutive Subjectivity
Schmitt and Husserl: From the Crisis
The destruction of the state holds in store two considerable consequences for Schmittian reduction. First, the exposure of the state-politics metonymy triggers a process of politicization that continues the trend started in the disclosure of the forms of legitimacy other than legality and in the correction of the ontological and historical inflation of constitutional law in conjunction with the liberal-bourgeois constitution. The uniqueness of the final de-metonymization in comparison to the ones preceding it is that it sparks off the movement of pure politicization, in which neither legitimacy, nor the constitution, nor, for that matter, any other political element but the political as such is released into its own from the static grasp of the state. The “release” of the political is the second consequence of the Schmittian epoché. If secrecy, darkness, and silence are the partisan’s weapons, then the reduction of state structures to political principles verges on non-phenomenality and non-visibility in a clear inversion of the disingenuous liberal-bourgeois ideal of total transparency.1 Partisan inconspicuousness accounts for nothing less than a fresh start of the political, the newly found strength to hold in reserve that, in Schmitt’s view, defines every beginning. “The moment of brilliant [glanzvoller] representation,” on the contrary, “is also and at once the moment in which every link to the secret, non-apparent [geheimen, unscheinbaren] beginning is endangered” (CP 94).2 The phenomenal brilliance of representation— which, perhaps, does not apply to the early Schmittian notion of “concrete representation”—violates the non-phenomenality of the secret and drifts
Political Reduction to Constitutive Subjectivity
away from the prospects of reviving the political encoded in the word “beginning.” It is left up to the partisan to suture the silent, invisible link to the beginning.3 At the bottom of the reduced edifice, therefore, one does not encounter the Husserlian shining “thing itself,” “that which is self-evidently given,”4 but partisan obscurity that retraces the non-negative withdrawal of the political replete with that which is evidently not given, the arcana. The elusiveness and fugitive character of the post-reductive remainder will explain Schmitt’s enthusiasm for the “very beautiful sentences” in Heidegger’s Being and Time, such as “silence is the essential possibility of speech” (G 109), or his reproach directed to Machiavelli, who “spoke at all about power, making it into an object of idle chatter” (G 49). If we wanted to be more Schmittian than Schmitt himself, we would have asserted that all acts of sovereignty are esoteric and “apocryphal” (cf. CT 155), not just those undertaken in the liberal-bourgeois state that disowns the idea of sovereignty or assigns it to the impersonality of the law. The ineffable “ground” of non-phenomenality finally blurs the distinction between political theology, on the one hand, and existential political ontology, on the other, and bestows meaning on every form of collective life, while keeping itself obstinately insulated against all exegetic overtures. The remark, “[p]olitical being preceded constitution-making” (CT 102) that, in turn, was prior to the formalization of the constitution and the normative regimes of legitimation erected around it, is worthy of becoming one of the key theses of Schmitt’s unwritten onto-existential political manifesto. We reduced this structure from the top down, cataloging, at each step of the way, the metonymic abuses to which its essential elements were subjected in the “onslaught against the political [der Kampf gegen das Politische]” that describes modernity.5 It goes without saying that the fight (der Kampf) against the political is itself eminently political. But the reductive release of political being has raised more questions than it has answered. The last demystification contributed to a new mystery of the political that cannot be pinned down and that is allegorically expressed in the elusive figure of the partisan. The reason for this is that political being is not, in the last instance, a statute, a norm, or a state apparatus, but the non-objectifiable, immanent,6 constitutive subjectivity that mirrors the ontological predicament of Heidegger’s Dasein (neither present-at-hand, nor ready-to-hand) and of Husserl’s “pure consciousness.” The existential-phenomenological query that suggests itself to us is, thus, not, “What is the structure of Schmitt’s political ontology?” but “Who is its subject?”
Before addressing or, rather, raising more explicitly this question, we need to acknowledge that, aside from his interest in political invisibility, Schmitt’s methodological conclusions and the sociocultural diagnosis of modernity converge with those of Husserl’s phenomenology. The formal analogy comprises various channels of inquiry concerned with the problem of modernity and with the possibilities of its resolution. Phenomenologically envisaged, the oppressive layers of bureaucratized and neutralized institutions, including the law and the state, are an extension of what in his book The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology Husserl terms “sedimentation” (Sedimentierung). Husserlian sedimentation involves a forgetting of the concrete foundations of abstract knowledge in lived human experience, along with the founding impulse itself, thanks to the preponderance of abstractions founded, instituted, or established on that which has been forgotten.7 Taking the logic of sedimentation to heart, the goal of the preceding chapter was to argue that the experience of the political at the founding level of Lebenswelt, the life-world, has been suppressed by the founded institutionalization of politics that, paradoxically, presupposes and extirpates this lived, embodied, existential basis. For Husserl, the crisis erupts, precisely, when founded abstractions tend toward an excessive separation from their phenomenological foundations and when what we know about the world assumes the character of familiarity or obviousness. On the political side of things, the crisis evinces a divergence between the institutional arrangement, such as the state, and its existential premises—collective decisions on the form of political existence, formations of the community of friends against enemy groupings, and so on—and it is these “groundless,” existentially self-legitimating political foundations that fall prey to neutralization. We witness, as a result, the objectivization of the political in modernity, its divestment of any subjective underpinnings uncritically dismissed as archaic despotism. The objective legal order comes unglued from the subjective orientation, thereby, shuttering the unity of nomos and ushering the age of political nihilism. A particularly pernicious aspect of institutionalization is extreme formalization, leading to the persistence of that which had taken root in the political life-world long after its existential raison d’être has become antiquated and irrelevant. The difficulty in dealing with formalization has to do with its inevitability and, therefore, the unfeasibility of its wholesale eradication. If there is a “solution” to the problem of modernity, it does not dictate a complete rejection of abstract thought, which as Adorno and Derrida have taught us, is the pharmakon (remedy and poison) of freedom, nor does it succumb to the anarchist temptation to abolish all formal
This. The statute stays behind as an empty shell. It is important to realize that. preserved and strengthened thanks to a re-valorization of its telos embedded in the political life-world. an early warning that the will. Schmitt confronts the loss of the political life-world and the abrogation of the animating impulse in the objectivized statutory structures that betray it. The stress Schmitt places on the exception should. In lieu of prescribing an easy way to overcome the problem of modernity. if not Sisyphean. from which the unity of the constitution stemmed. on the contrary. Schmitt writes. then. that this exhaustion neither invalidates nor renders irrelevant the political will. immediately adding. learning to see the enigmatic core of the familiar. absorbieren oder konsumieren] the constitution-making power” (CT 125). absorb. and formalization of human existence. Because this power is so vital for political life. is no longer expressed in its own objectification. mobilized against the crisis of modernity. who harnesses philosophy to the task of reactivating the forgotten origins of knowing. an abstraction no longer linked to concrete existence. which is not rescinded but. and “accomplishing for oneself that which has originally given rise to what one is now aware of as ‘ready-made. given Schmitt’s polemical and highly situational usage of political concepts. his accentuation of the elemental experience of the political is also contextually and historically ensconced in a reaction to the crisis of modernity threatening with a complete de-politicization. existentially vibrant meaning gives way to legalistic abstractions. theoretical and practical work of discarding layers of sedimentation that are bound to regrow. Husserlian reduction and Heideggerian de-formalization impose the exigency of a patient. alert us on the fact that it is an exception to the rule. Constitution-making power is worn out in that which is constituted by it. Like Husserl.Political Reduction to Constitutive Subjectivity 129 political structures. is the other dimension of the crisis: the survival of an empty organizational or legal form at the expense of the decision that gave rise to it. In a move that is patently phenomenological. then. however. One sign of the crisis of formalization is the dissolution of a unified constitution into a set of particular laws (CT 69). a sediment disengaged from political being. “the issuance of a constitution can exhaust. neutralization. given that their accumulation constitutes the weight of history. The resources of critical thinking are.’”8 Schmitt is committed to an archaeological reactivation of the “living sources” of politics buried deep beneath the ossified institutional structures. likewise. or consume [erschöpfen. Piercing through ready-made . in the double sense of expressing and exhibiting disloyalty to it. its absorption and exhaustion in the constitution only deepens the crisis and demands a new decision on the political form.
But what. what survives the operations of reduction is that which is purely immanent to consciousness. political reduction has in view the same goal as Husserl’s phenomenological reduction. While the irreducibility of the subjective element has been often associated with the old metaphysical notion of the will that seems to have percolated into Schmitt’s theory. namely. thinking of the thought). reviving politics as a lived experience and as a concrete. the reductive-phenomenological take on the issue makes recourse to metaphysical explanations less plausible. while it is a part of the world. conscious of something (perceiving of the perceived. The advantage of this phenomenological elaboration on Schmitt’s project is that it avoids imputing to his methodology a mishmash of heterogeneous “modes of unmasking. existential-ontological interpretation of constitutive political subjectivity in Schmitt’s political philosophy? The Ontology of Political Will The most conspicuous. ideational reconstruction and decontestation”9 and. in each instance. a reference to Husserl will prove useful. too. This is what steers us to the conclusion that the philosophical underpinnings of his method dovetail with the variations on Husserlian reduction in Heidegger’s destruction (Abbau. consciousness both bestows meaning on phenomena and is co-produced with whatever it is conscious of. in a double sense of the genitive. instantiation of constitutive subjectivity in politics is the sovereign will. “intentionality. According to Volume I of Ideas. Who or what remains after the political-phenomenological reduction has bracketed various abstractions and “obvious” descriptions of the political? Here.130 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE institutional reality. at any cost. thus. construes this world as meaningful. consciousness is. which. exactly. Reduction gives us access to a whole region of Being. allows us to make a case for a post-metaphysical.” or the directedness of consciousness toward something. historicization. Transposed from Husserl’s phenomenology onto Schmitt’s political philosophy. to avoid the trappings of modern positivism is . desiring of the desired. A political philosophy that seeks. constitutive subjectivity can equip the reader with a model for understanding the collective and the individual subjects of the political and the permutations of the irreducible pouvoir constituant from which constitutional forms first emanated. As intentional. deformalized phenomenon (in a qualified sense that excludes something like the pure self-evidence and the absolute visibility of the political). Destruktion) and Derrida’s deconstruction. endorses theoretical coherence without compromising on historical sensitivity. and perhaps the most controversial.
far from being transcendental intrusions. free from all political constraints (LST 56).Political Reduction to Constitutive Subjectivity 131 likely to appeal to this notion. its power or authority lies in its Being [seine Macht oder Autorität liegt in seinem Sein]” (CT 64). But already in 1928. the will should be discernable in the law. a discrimination that created the private sphere. or as Nietzsche’s will-to-power. in his book on Hobbes. which exists a priori. wherein power lies. he will criticize Hobbes’s proto-liberal discrimination between fides and confessio. Schmitt. betoken Schmitt’s secret inclination toward positivism. psychic entity. this destruction paved the way for a certain continuity between the will. the command. does not mean that a purely interior. “denotes an actually existing power as the origin of a command. merely. aimed to erase the artificial divide between psychic . despite running the risk of inheriting the old metaphysical quandaries associated with it. Upon close examination. which is not a withdrawn. The “word ‘will’.” he maintains. is careful enough to skirt the positivist Scylla and the metaphysical Charybdis by resorting to the will—the paradigm case of pure psychic inwardness—so as to ingeniously destroy the master distinction of traditional metaphysics between interiority and exteriority. is not positively demonstrable. where one can entertain the illusion of exercising one’s own judgment. Ten years after the publication of Constitutional Theory. The will is existentially present [vorhanden]. Although Heidegger. worked out early on in Constitutional Theory. nevertheless. power in its actuality. deformalizing or reducing the legal expression of the will forgetful of what it was to express in the first place.11 since the being of the will. The existential presence and actuality of the will does not. faith and confession. even when this person alone is responsible for deciding on the constitutional form of political life. and the law. This definition. an always already exteriorized expression of political existence. notwithstanding the extreme formalization that befuddles the intrinsic connection between the two. Succinctly put. There. Schmitt’s “will” is. Schmitt will reaffirm the destruction of the key distinction of traditional metaphysics. while power is an appellation for the effectivity of the will. facilitate this non-empirical discernability. And the instances of the sovereign decision on the exception. too. in point of fact. the command is an extension of the actually existing power (the will) from which it derives. Nor is political will coterminous with the psychic will of the immediate person. politically converted into the contrast between public and private reason at the threshold of liberalism. noumenal cause10 but an active intervention in a given state of affairs (actually existing power as the command’s origin). while the law is a formalized expression of the command. only subsequently actualizes itself either as Hegel’s Geist that passes through world-history.
and democratic regimes—as well as the three degenerate forms Aristotle matches them with in The Politics—offer a very superficial and incomplete explanation for political reality. The price paid for the political deconstruction of the pivotal metaphysical distinction is blatant disrespect for the basic theoretical move of Being and Time. with its mix of actuality. for instance). or reduces a long history of legitimizations that depended either on a direct theologico-metaphysical anchoring of authority (in the divine right of kings.132 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE interiority and the outside world using a completely different pretext of the ecstatic constitution of Dasein. vitiates the efforts to purify existential terms of all categorial overtones. he did so by foregrounding another opposition—between the analytics of existence and the analytics of nonexistential categories. we might say. parenthesizes. With the assertion that the power of the will resides in its Being (in seinem Sein). If the power of the will is grounded in its Being. where the existential problematic of Dasein is warily protected against the commonplace tendency to comprehend human beings in terms of the categories that befit things. or embodied. or on a more circuitous secularization of previous religious concepts (the sacred sovereignty of the people as a modified version of God’s supreme authority). and existence. the idea that Dasein is necessarily spatialized. Zuhandenheit (readiness-to-hand) and Vorhandenheit (presence-at-hand).” provided that it has a facticity of its own. Schmitt brackets. presence. But what if. Underneath mythological covers. known as monarchical. The political will must have an existential substratum—not to be confused with the modern sense of body politic—to which it is related not as something “misplaced” but as a matter of fact inseparable from its being: “only something existing in concrete terms can properly be sovereign. rather than disregard the existential primacy of possibility. Schmitt’s depiction of the will. the sovereign will is existentially self-justifying and self-validating. This onto-existential ambit of sovereignty impels further analysis and elaboration. aristocratic. that is. in other words. glossing over its ontological grounding in the decision on the form of political existence. then it is self-grounded in such a way that its ontic manifestations. the political philosopher described the sovereign will from its own phenomenological standpoint? What if the existential presence of the will actually accorded with Heidegger’s emphasis on Dasein’s facticity. A merely valid norm cannot be sovereign” (CT 63). and that it is not “a spiritual Thing which subsequently gets misplaced ‘into’ a space”?12 It is equally detrimental to consider the will as “a spiritual Thing. namely. “the word ‘will’ denotes the essentially existential character . a political facticity. to which he tirelessly attested throughout his life. or so a Heideggerian complaint would go.
Despite the binding of the will to concrete. more specifically. Before Schmitt. much less an identifiable regime with its statutory. The constitution-making power is political will. the Being of political beings. . can be initially abstract and that its historical display is a process of concretization. . As in the earlier citation from Constitutional Theory. Schmitt not only peers behind various forms of constitution. and power—each term interchangeable with the other two—hints at Schmitt’s ultimate innovation in political philosophy. a spiritual “thing” misplaced into political space. This dialectical expectation testifies to a perversion of the relation between the founding and the founded. will. that is. where universal reason gets actualized. Moreover. as opposed to a set of basic laws or state structures. so that the most inessential part of the political edifice passes itself off as the most fundamental. conceded that all sovereignty originated in the shape of subjectivity. . embodied existence. albeit conceiving of the will’s self-determination as an abstraction: Sovereignty . it is not something in being. political Being as such. The political sequence in dialectics that extends from the abstract to the concrete and reaches an apex in the universal subject-object synthesis. whether political or not. to paraphrase Heidegger. undergoes an inversion in . is attained only in a subject. however. It is. a well-grounded self-determination. also. Hegel. This gross error is further compounded by the all too metaphysical assumption that existence.13 Hegel’s naïvety lies in his hope that the groundless self-determination of the will could acquire an objective grounding in the bourgeois state. . The truth of subjectivity. but also reconstructs ontic political reality on the newly discovered ontological basis. institutional accoutrements and representatives. rather. his discovery of the field of onto-existential politics. The semantic equivalence of Being. the will is practically identical to the existential nature of political being.Political Reduction to Constitutive Subjectivity 133 of this ground of validity [wesentlich Existenzielle dieses Geltungsgrundes]. as the will’s abstract and to that extent ungrounded self-determination in which finality of decision is rooted . Having reduced (deconstituted) the liberal-democratic state and the Rechtsstaat constitution to the founding decision on the form of political life. constitution-making power is not restricted to its monarchic or autocratic variety given that every “systematic unity and order” arises out of “a preestablished unified will” (CT 65). comes into existence only as subjectivity sure of itself. concrete political being [konkretes politisches Sein]” (CT 125).
for Schmitt. arrested but completed by this personification” (LST 34) that makes a depoliticized life more dramatic.” Schmitt observes. In the preceding chapters I have grouped the personifications of the law. The credo that the laws. While in Hobbes’s appropriation of the myth of Leviathan. however. A “remarkable personification [Personifizierung] of the law” elevated “over every political power” (CT 63) does not describe the Hegelian Aufhebung of abstract universal reason in the tangible written statute. as the supposed seats of modern sovereignty. personification. having discarded its sovereign kernel. they will do so not in order to flesh them out in concrete existence but for the sake of tracing these uppermost crusts of the political and cognitive edifices back to their roots in the life-world.134 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE Husserl’s phenomenology and Schmitt’s political philosophy. superimposes a further neutralizing sediment onto the political life-world. both an accurate metaphysical picture of reality two centuries old (NE 149) and a false concretization of the will. “the state is not in its entirety a person” but a combination of the Cartesian body-machine and a sovereign soul. both of which berate the accelerating abstraction and forgetting of the concrete foundations of knowledge and political life. the liberal alteration of this image of the state retains solely the mechanized body. the political legacy of the baroque. and therefore more tolerable for those who find the spectacle of duels (wars) between the personified entities fascinating. is. in a word. methodologically. What Hegel celebrates as the subject-object synthesis of political history. amid the ever more sophisticated transposition of human categories onto the products of human activity. in that it silences the debate over pouvoir constituant with reference to “the will of the state. rule throws a ruse over existentially vigorous sovereignty. whose pinnacle is the nineteenth-century Prussian state. the constitution. now assigned to the mechanized state. or the incarnation of rational law in positive legality. if not more interesting. political and phenomenological reductions are to begin with abstractions. “The process of mechanization. and often extralegal. “is not. such an assignation results in a contrived concretization of the will and in the illusion of neutral sovereignty dissolved.14 but a polemical. The political machine has lost its organic overtones and gives the impression that it is a self-propelling automaton.”15 It resorts to a mixed strategy of filling the void of the modern “disincarnation . Personification. But the elements of personhood. are a poor consolation for its soullessness and impersonality. not the persons making or administering them. as though by osmosis. legitimation of the law that lends a formal voice to political will. in various state structures. Even if. rendering it apocryphal. and the state. under the heading of fetishism.
more specifically. in the concreteness of political life. The political-phenomenological project is motivated by a desire to aid the flourishing of concrete political incarnations that will be as changeable as political existence itself and that will derive from the dense texture of this existence. A well-functioning political embodiment of reason should have absorbed—negated and preserved: dialectically sublated—all remnants of contingent personalism. no longer subject to the exigencies of the spectacle and. As though mocking Hegel’s political philosophy. the spectacularization of authority. concretization. or can we imagine other modes of embodiment. therefore. The empty (and. phenomenological appearing on the political scene. however. Lefortian “disincarnation” shelters specific interests and political actors. retrospectively. thus. such as the principle of revenge in the administration of justice. or into the concrete order of things. especially.” in the words of Claude Lefort. The nihilistic void at the center of modern political ontology gapes only when this ontology is preconstituted from an abstract vantage point that reifies the field of political activity and. The link between personhood and authority has not disintegrated altogether. personification persists in the long-awaited synthesis of the rational and the actual in the modern liberal-democratic state.Political Reduction to Constitutive Subjectivity 135 of society. the nihilistic void at the core of modern politics. 145) stands . which is a relic of the “allegorical tendency of the Renaissance” (NE 144). interstate wars on the life-and-death struggle for recognition in the intersubjective sphere. postulating a new objective metaphysical structure as the final point of ascription. and recalling the political to its existential and phenomenological foundations without investing power in the person of the monarch. it is merely withdrawn from public sight and. its disembodiment that neither should nor can be resolved into the abstract figure of humanity. then. breathes the “spiritualism” of the law into the deformed corpse of the political. politicized as the greatest arcanum of modernity. But nothing corresponds to this dialectical expectation in political reality: the personification of states on the international arena. continues well into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. is not “society” but society’s disincarnation. if only in those rare moments when sovereignty is exercised? Schmitt certainly wishes to fill out the void of the political.16 The anthropomorphism of political thought that sees wars as duels between magni homines and that fantasizes about the state as “a legal subject and a sovereign ‘person’” (NE 142. Are we to learn to live with a vacuous political ontology. but he does not intend to do so once and for all. What it really personifies. contestable) place of sovereignty might as well stay unoccupied in general but. with Hegel himself modeling international relations and.
itself. the thing-in-itself. that is. or is unable to process something. The truth of the political mechanism does not reside “in its technological perfection” (LST 45) but in the breaking points where its limits are revealed. not yet secularized figure of sovereignty.136 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE halfway between the majestic sovereignty of the monarch’s absolute will and the routinized sovereignty of state machinery. and schools” (CPD 29). It remains to be explained what Schmitt means by “a preestablished unified will. tried and tested terrain of metaphysics? The “pre-establishment” of the will does not happen in a transcendental realm outside of history but is. of the personal thesis and the impersonal antithesis. which. present-at-hand thing—represent political being.”17 In citing this entity. a secularized . does he revivify metaphysical foundationalism that thrives on explaining concrete reality by means of a priori transcendental causation (the Idea. control of public opinion through the press.” when they break or when they lose the quality of inconspicuous familiarity. Distinct from such personification. in democracies. stepping in only when state machinery breaks. public education. when it becomes unworkable.” The metaphysical concept of the general will obfuscates a very practical question as to “who has control over the means with which the will of the people is to be constructed: military and political force. reduced to their “mereness. refer to these institutions as “Ideological State Apparatuses” responsible for the orderly production of docile subjects in the image of the master Subject of ideology. which shines through this break in the body-machine of legality and of the state. party organizations. All law might be situational but so are the sovereign decision and the will that—not unlike the worldhood (the Being) of the world that first becomes accessible through the gap in the totality of significations opened by the unworkable. Instead of wistfully looking back to the premodern. if there ever was one. trying to convey that the latter is a direct inheritor of the former. cannot come to pass without an extreme homogenization of citizenry. Schmitt’s idea of sovereignty as a decision on the exception is a veritable synthesis. including French philosopher Louis Althusser. assemblies. propaganda. when we no longer know what to do with them). the will—terms that orchestrate everything in the world from which they are absent)? Does the insistence on the unity of constitution-making power throw us back onto the old. in an auto-reduction that recalls the emergence of the category “presenceat-hand” in Heidegger (in Being and Time things become present-at-hand. a political fabrication. or what Noam Chomsky calls “a manufacturing of consent. Leftist political thinkers. the decision on the exception responds to political modernity.
into the metaphysical construct of volonté générale. thus. despite all appearances to the contrary. limits itself to calculative rationality. Rousseau. Yet. in its turn. is not a simple. The will of the parliament is.18) Second. (At the outset of The Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. if only temporarily. be it direct or representative. Both in the formation of the general will and in the exploitative dynamics of capitalism. rather we shall stumble upon the smoldering cinders of a conflict resolved through a successful imposition of the political will of the victorious party on the vanquished who interiorize it as their own. . but a oneness that overlays and suppresses difference and heterogeneity.Political Reduction to Constitutive Subjectivity 137 figure of God. Locke. Perhaps. the voting majority gets identified with the people in general and. instead of reducing the existing political arrangements to their constitutive underpinnings. hence. Rousseau devastatingly criticized the general methodology of the earlier “state of nature” theories. basic inequalities persist under the mask of absolute and total equality. the unity of the will in democracy. and a fragile civil peace descends upon past adversaries. which is forged through a series of fraudulent identifications. also. to the contrary. Through an intricate process of identification. First. Schmitt’s version of the cessation of hostilities paving the way to the formation of the people’s will has nothing in common with what social contract and state of nature theorists (Hobbes. it would have still been possible to rehabilitate these much-maligned—with the exception of Rawls—theories of the origin of the state that. translated into the will of the homogenized people (LL 24) and. despite their shortcomings. the struggle of particular wills is quelled. only to project a contrasting anthropological presupposition onto the human origins. although the will. Rawls) have to say on the subject. Political reduction exposes the vertical layering of identifications only to point out that at the bottom of the ideological construction we shall not detect a forgotten atomic unity of the will. the will of the “outvoted minority” is absorbed into that of the majority (CDP 25). recognized the irreducibility of the will. In the process of setting up the collective that is not reliant upon the organicity of Gemeinschaft or upon a purely political consolidation in the face of an enemy threat. That is to say. this will does not denote an “actually existing power” but. which announces itself in the nascent social contract. presumably neutral. For our purposes. it is enough to highlight the historicoideological construction of the will of the people. non-analyzable unity distinguishing all metaphysical concepts. were it not for three essential shortcomings. all theories of the state of nature are imaginary projections of anthropological assumptions onto a hypothetical historical period before the rise of the state. delegates political clout to a new.
authority of the state said to be at its behest. And, third, regardless of the fundamental differences among them, social contract theories postulate consensus and, consequently, utter de-politicization at the source of political institutions. Surely, the consensual drive in the formation of a constitution is conceivable, but solely under exceptional circumstances: When a constitution is at issue, a compromise will only be possible when the will to political unity and state consciousness strongly and decisively outweighs all religious and class-based oppositions, so that these religious and social differences are rendered relative. (CT 83) Whether a unified political will is forged under the aegis of compromise or, whether conflicts between various intensely antagonistic groups continue to brew, the political maintains its primacy over other spheres of human activity because, in both cases, it assumes the highest existential relevance. The deepest fault line passes not between unity and disunity but between affectively invested—Freud would say, cathected—modes of being with and against others and a nihilistic indifference to one’s group identity. If this is so, then “the will to political unity” cannot be motivated by a vague appeal to bipartisanship or by a yearning for an unchangeable and non-political common substance of the American nation, upon which the ideology of Barack Obama is heavily reliant. For the political to outweigh all other oppositions and induce a unity, the figure of the enemy must loom large on the horizon of national, infranational, or transnational collectivities. Originary consensus is especially pertinent to the formation of federations that come about as a consequence of an agreement, approximating most closely the social contract scheme. Still, the contractual model cannot hope for equality among those who have achieved such a compromise, because the assessment and interpretation of the adherence to and the violations of the terms of the contract are the prerogatives of sovereign decision-making. “Who decides whether there is a valid contract, whether the grounds to dispute it are persuasive, whether the right to withdraw is provided, etc.?” (CT 120). Thus formulated, the question of constitutive political subjectivity comes back to haunt that which has been constituted, demanding a constant reconstitution of political forms in every “application” of rules and in each act of overseeing and judging procedural “correctness.” However potent it may be, the criticism of “the will of the people” does not solve the problem of the sovereign will in other, non-democratic political regimes. The second rejoinder to the allegation that, in Schmitt, the will
Political Reduction to Constitutive Subjectivity
reeks of old metaphysics has to do with the notions of unity and indivisibility of sovereignty in general. The key consideration here is whether the will as such, irrespective of the political regime it institutes, is a ready-made “entity,” or whether, with phenomenological flair, it comes into being with that which is willed. According to Nietzsche’s daring assertion in On the Genealogy of Morality and, especially, in The Will to Power, there is no subjective doer behind the deed. The agent is a later, a posteriori, and, to a large extent, fictitious interpellation into the action.19 Schmitt and Husserl do not subscribe to this, for all intents and purposes, scandalous conclusion, yet it is my hypothesis that political will and the sovereign qua sovereign come about as a result of the decision on the exception; that is to say, they do not precede the moment of the decision but are decided into existence in this very moment. The production of the sovereign and of the will by the decision is a self-production, in that, in the absence of any transcendental supports, the sovereign is decided into existence by him- or herself, by the act of sovereignty, which, from the standpoint of the existing legalpolitical order, is null and groundless. The unity of the will is the upshot of the unity of action (that decides on the exception, that gives a particular constitutional form to political being, etc.) so that, in each case, the action constitutes the will not as an abstract and undetermined spiritual entity, but as a specific willing to . . . But since action is temporally finite, the will must also exhibit the same quality. Its existential finitude requires a constant reactivation, a rebinding of its ties to what is willed, if the process of sedimentation and the crisis whereby the willed separates from the willing is to be managed, if not outright overcome. To pursue further the analogy with Husserlian phenomenology, where all consciousness is a consciousness of something (the perceiving of that which is perceived, etc.), Schmitt’s political will is not an amorphous, abstract potentiality but a power, the constitution-making power to be exact, that “activates itself through the act of the fundamental political decision” (CT 140). The political decision, therefore, determines the will, and not vice versa. Its unity is, decidedly, not an expression of the “monistic metaphysics” distinctive of mainstream jurisprudence, where normative “[u]nity and purity are easily attained when the basic difficulty is emphatically ignored and when, for formal reasons, everything that contradicts the system is excluded as impure” (PT 21). In contrast to the sovereign will, the unity of normative and legal system, initially built upon it, is metaphysical both due to the ideal of purity it upholds and due to its totalizing impulse emphatically ignoring the heterogeneity of the exception. To the extent that “freedom of the will” still makes sense, it is not to be taken as a
simple lack of determinations in the aftermath of a stale metaphysical quarrel between the proponents of “free will” and “determinism” but is to be understood, at best, in the Kantian vein of freedom as self-determination, albeit without the reliance on the transcendental subject of reason. This explains the auto-production of the sovereign will, which appears to have originated miraculously, ex nihilo, but, which actually, “generates its own unity [Einheit]” (CT 70)—the unity that, as we shall see, subsists on difference—by temporarily gathering itself up in the instant of the decision. That the unity of the will, whose auto-production is at once a heteroproduction, is never simple or atomic is true even for non-democratic political regimes. In an important 1970 treatise, largely neglected in secondary scholarship, Schmitt articulated his views on unity in the context of his analysis of Trinitarian political theology. Bitterly disagreeing with Erik Peterson’s assessment of the contemporary prospects for political theology elaborated in Der Monotheismus als Politisches Problem (1935), Schmitt exposed the partiality of “one God—one King” formula that shackled the political problem of monotheism to monarchism. Given the Jewish monotheistic slogan “one God—one people” and the principle of the Roman Empire “one God—one World—one Empire,” the real conundrum for political theology is “political unity and its presence or representation” (PTII 72), not a simple, non-derived, unproduced oneness. The inference that the synthetic nature of any unity logically entails an anterior plurality promises a fresh approach to the institution of monarchy (literally, “a single arché or origin”), the very site where Christian political theology has been Aristotelianized. “The politico-theological question of monarchy becomes more complex,” Schmitt explains, through the fact that neither Origen and the Alexandrian theologians nor St. Athanasius use the word monarchy; they talk of divine monas instead. The word “mon-archy” implies the Aristotelian mia arche, the principle of the One, whereas the word monas relates to the Pythagorean-Platonic unity of the number. (PTII 72–73) While the principle of the One is the metaphysical axiom par excellence, the ideal unity of number does not bar the possibility of differentiation and division of what has been gathered up into it (i.e., Platonic dialectics). Were the Pythagorean-Platonic influence on Christianity to gain an upper hand, monarchy would have been habitually read as monas-archy consistent with Trinitarian plurality of the One in the constant process of consolidating its unity, but also falling apart, becoming divided against itself. It is by no
Political Reduction to Constitutive Subjectivity
means certain either that the unified (as opposed to the single) will is in accord with itself, or that the economy of the Trinity is governed by the ideal of perpetual peace, or, again, that, in the depths of my psychic economy, when I am alone with myself, I face no enemies. Just as the solitude of the prison cell may prompt me to put myself into question, to become my own enemy, so divine solitude is not without its frictions, especially in light of the doctrine of the Trinity as a “politico-theological stasiology,” where, as we know, stasis entails both the condition of quiescence and an uproar or tumult (Aufruhr) of civil strife (PTII 123). Indeed, the intriguing interpretation of stasis is given both in Ex Captivitate Salus and in Political Theology II, texts that extend the basic political opposition between friends and enemies to psychic economy and theological dogma, respectively. If God himself can be his own enemy, not to mention all the conscious and unconscious ways in which human beings consistently undermine themselves, then the sovereignty of the political will can act against itself, thereby precipitating the event of political self-expropriation.
P.S.: On Political Consciousness
The analysis of constitutive subjectivity in The Nomos of the Earth deserves a special treatment because it interjects “consciousness” in the place of “will.” While the doxa of Schmitt scholarship holds that, in the period after World War II, he abandoned decisionism and subscribed to an institutional analysis of politics, the recurrent references to the latter term in the most emblematic work of “later Schmitt” indicate that he did not forsake the methodology of reducing political structures to the subjectivity that constitutes them. At first glance, the desire to attribute the origination of nomos to the land and its earliest divisions is a leap back to an objectivist—some would say feudal or bucolic—political metaphysics. After all, what is “groundless,” literally and figuratively, about the suggestion that “[e]very ontonomous and ontological judgment [ontonome, seinsgerechte Urteil] derives from the land” and that, “[f]or this reason, we will begin with land-appropriation as the primeval act in founding law” (NE 45)? Schmitt’s neologism “ontonomy,” meaning the nomos of Being and semantically playing on “autonomy,” is anything but endorsing an autonomous subjectivity, since subjective judgment is doubly dependent on the order of Being and a derivation from the land. A conceptual divide thus stretches between the early deduction of the state and the law from an existential decision on political form that reflects the unity of the will, and the conditioning of nomos by land-appropriation. Thanks to this partitioning of
” The absence of a noematic object “earth” on the planetary scale reflected a deficiency of conceptual knowledge and an inability to grasp the earth as a whole. political Being. whether individual or collective. albeit not of the scientific kind. Being determines consciousness. for centuries. the impossibility of recovering the unity of nomos. therefore. “is governed by a schism between thought and being. which amounted to the exclusion of the sea from the first nomos. Schmitt would not object to the emblematic statement of Adorno and Horkheimer. that consciousness does not determine Being. concept and reality. that every new nomos of the earth developed from “a new stage of human spatial consciousness [Raumbewußtsein] and global order” (NE 48). In this sense. If law is first founded on the basis of land-appropriation. vice versa. subject and object” (PR 52). which. furthermore. (NE 50) This is not to say that the “mythical image of the earth” was not a species of knowledge. Even more. there was no global consciousness [globale Bewußtsein] and thus no political goal oriented to a common hope. mind and nature.142 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE his body of work. in Schmitt. as did the Europeans in the Age of Discoveries. It is a phenomenologico-political axiom that the earliest global order arose from the first global consciousness of the earth as a whole and. and enlightenment reverts to myth. “Myth is already enlightenment. a schism whose political vicissitudes would include a spectacular split between order and orientation and. in his words. An appropriator of the land. The first appropriations guided by myth and treating the earth as sacred did not have the same historical object “land” in sight. but. There was no concept of a planet. humanity had a mythical image of the earth. Whereas Marx argued. A circumscribed object of knowledge invited an equally limited orientation to (and ordering of) this object. is a coimbrication of the . against the adherents of German Idealism. for all appropriation is appropriation by someone. must operate with a historical consciousness (in Husserl’s vernacular. Schmitt is reintegrated into the pantheon of modern philosophy. then the subjectivity of the appropriator needs to be theoretically addressed. of human compass and orientation common to all peoples. but no scientific understanding of it as a whole. noesis) of the object (noema) to be appropriated. The bad news for the proponents of an epistemological break between the early and the late Schmitt is that there is ample evidence for the prominence of constitutive subjectivity in the postwar writings as well.
the crisis takes the shape of an empty intentionality. the cleavages between consciousness and that of which it is conscious as well as between orientation and the order in which one orients oneself. The disintegration of the old nomos redirects political energy from actuality to the historical possibility of “a new stage of human spatial consciousness”. an act of noesis that does not reach its noema or fails to achieve fulfillment in its object: this is how Husserl perceived the structure of mere signification. in and of itself. The promise of the crisis lies in what I have called the “auto-reduction” or the self-deconstruction of nomos calling for its subsequent reactivation in a different configuration of order and orientation. “was the leading power and the first state to become sovereign in terms of its juridical consciousness” (NE 127). nihilist indifference would be. all consciousness is a consciousness of something. following Nietzsche. The historical transmutations of political consciousness prevent its belonging with its object from rigidifying into an abstract metaphysical entity. The positive impact of the crisis that rends the unity of order and orientation and thrusts disoriented subjects into a nihilistic attitude is that it instigates the imagination of another order and the formulation of a new nomos. in turn. the noesis and its noema are entwined.Political Reduction to Constitutive Subjectivity 143 subjective conscious orientation and the objective order wherein it orients itself. a consciousness of the global spatiality. Since. that the will to give form to political being through the act of establishing a state is but a singular and somewhat peculiar moment in the history of political consciousness. The theoretical noematic objectivity of sovereignty is inconceivable without the . However.20 Political consciousness is not reducible either to a passive contemplation of its object or to an active “creation” of the world. shaped by that of which it is conscious: the nomological ensemble of order and orientation is Husserl’s noetic-noematic unity translated into the categories of political ontology. to resort to the terms of Constitutional Theory. with which it co-originated and which was inaccessible to the mythical imagistic awareness of the earth. Franz Brentano. a hiatus between different regimes of motivation. need not signal the dead-end of pure abstraction but a transition to a new object. a turning point in this redirection. “France. It shapes and is. which does not touch upon that which is signified and falls short of bringing what it targets to perceptual presence. or. One of the momentous messages of The Nomos of the Earth is that political consciousness is not always compatible with state consciousness. which is yet to be found. For the phenomenological consciousness.” Schmitt writes. so that the global political consciousness is. according to Husserl’s fundamental discovery already anticipated by his teacher.
Demonology. and especially Section H.144 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE noetic consciousness of sovereignty. pp.” But.” pp. 3. 7.” in The New Centennial Review 4 (3). 12. and Hermann Heller in Weimar (Oxford and London: Oxford University Press. 1970). “Phusis (nature) loves to hide. “Carl Schmitt’s Method: Between Ideology.” in Journal of Political Ideologies 4 (1). D. IL: Northwestern University Press. p. Being and Time. 48–53. is “Romantic” since it finds itself at home in such a negation. 12). 1997). and Myth. 6. 5. 11). 2004). in other words. The “positivism of my time oppressed me.” reminiscent of the ancient Greek. Carr (Evanston. The historicity of political consciousness and self-consciousness implies not only that the actuality of the will and its pouvoir constituant are formed from a limited range of historical possibilities available in a given timeframe but also that political ontology is essentially historical and that the meaning of political Being is time. Winter 2004. 63–64). to “the phenomenon of the partisan” (p. Hans Kelsen. since sovereignty is not an object but a subjective-existential stance. Crisis and Reflection: An Essay on Husserl’s Crisis of the European Sciences (Dordrecht: Kluwer. 81. “Today nothing is more modern than the onslaught against the political [Heute ist nichts moderner als der Kampf gegen das Politische]” (PT 65). 61–85. . 127. this consciousness had to be raised to self-consciousness (Selbstbewußtsein) first “attained in the thinking of two jurists: Bodin and Gentili” (NE 159). 11. Jan Müller. 134. pp. 2. 9. more generally. then the political will in Schmitt. 23–59. pp. Legality and Legitimacy: Carl Schmitt. Notes 1. Refer to Paragraph 9. or “the chameleon-like phenomenon of partisanship” (p. 8. Thus. too.” and Hannah Arendt’s thesis that “Real power begins where secrecy begins” (NE 336). 1999.” Schmitt admits in Ex Captivitate Salus (pp. 10. Schmitt deems Romantic occasionalism to be a negation of “the concept of causa. p. and thus also every binding norm” (PR 17). which Schmitt terms “juridical. Heidegger.” Schmitt cites approvingly Carl Joachim Friedrich’s statement “All power hides. p. David Dyzenhaus. 4. Translation modified. If this is the case. 10) and. Rodolph Gasché [“The Partisan and the Philosopher. 83. p. the force of a calculable causality. “Galileo’s Mathematization of Nature” in Husserl’s The Crisis. James Dodd. “The Life-World as a Forgotten Fundament of Science. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology. trans. In “Nomos—Nahme—Name. 9–34] is somewhat careless in referring to “partisan war” as a “phenomenon” (p. Edmund Husserl.
even constitutional law. Carl Schmitt: La Politique entre Speculation et Positivité (Paris: PUF. 208.” p. In Rousseau. which he readily identifies with the “‘majesty’ of the monarch” (p. they have an immediate answer for the further question regarding the origin of this constitution or the origin of the state. Every type of legal norm. the “constitution is valid by virtue of the existing political will of that which establishes it. which is parallel to the false concretization of the will in the personification of the state. “Sovereignty vis-à-vis Foreign States. Friedrich Nietzsche. 16. p. 14. Will to Power. esp. 181. Philosophy of Right. becomes a concrete idyll that takes place in forest and field. J. or independent Großräume in a common space. 34).Political Reduction to Constitutive Subjectivity 145 13. a ‘romantic fantasy’” (PR 57). which is conceived of as a person. which was treated as an intentional abstraction or a historical fact. 17. “They [jurists of positive law] find it meaningful to trace all legality back to the constitution or the will of the state. . 185). However. Schmitt reduces the rational to the positive. 15. stressing the ungrounded character of the subjective (“the will’s ultimate ungrounded self ”) and objective (“its similarly ungrounded objective existence”) aspects of sovereignty. “The Will to Power as Knowledge. in this respect. 262. Jean-François Kervégan [Hegel. lacked any ordering power. “The idea of a coexistence of true empires. trans. the reasons for this conclusion are drastically divergent in the two cases: while Hegel sees positive law as a concretion of the rational. Likewise. Hegel soon comes back to this idea. thereby acknowledging substantial continuity between the two systems of legality (p. Philosophy of Right. Cf. Hegel. presupposes that such a will already exists” (CT 76). that just as Hegel mounts a principled opposition to the idea that positive and rational law are essentially different. 19. 18. Of course. the “‘state of nature’ of earlier philosophy.” p. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage. 2005)] notes. Walter Kaufmann and R. because it lacked the idea of a common spatial order encompassing the whole earth” (NE 55). 1968). they say it is a mere fact” (NE 82). 20. Schmitt views rational law in terms of a rationalization of the existing positive law. Hegel.
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PART III ON THE GROUND .
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” begins with the postulation 149 . But this complexio oppositorum also holds sway over everything theological. and Complexio Oppositorum Disentangling Complexio Oppositorum Roman Catholicism and Political Form (1923) features a term. which ought to be rigorously distinguished from the temporary torsion of a contradiction awaiting a resolution. the accommodation of mutually exclusive entities does not synthesize them into a Hegelian unity but leaves enough space for them to retain the tension of oppositionality. the complexio does not name a vacuous form of forms and even less does it envisage a complete dialectical synthesis.7 Living Forms: Culture. since it encompasses every antithesis within itself and brings together “all forms” of political organization. This notion. there appears to be no antithesis it [Roman Catholicism] does not embrace. as Schmitt observes. describes Catholicism as “a complex of opposites. (RC 7) Having survived the metonymic reductions of modernity. titled “The Necessity of Politics. . the importance of which political philosophy is yet to fathom. Multiculturalism.” because. miraculous features of this form—knows no exceptions. that an alternative version of the book on Roman Catholicism. It has long and proudly claimed to have united within itself all forms of state and government . . So receptive is the complexio to the pressures of political antagonism. the complexio’s elastic form—and more needs to be said on the subject of the exceptional. Its inclusiveness notwithstanding. complexio oppositorum.
deadening subsumption of antagonisms in a conceptual unity preserves that of which they are but meager symptoms: within itself. particularly those pertaining to finitude and death. above all. where “all political forms and possibilities become nothing more than tools for the realization of an idea” (RC 5). or turning them into mere “tools.150 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE of its ghostly double.) The virtual actuality of life is a counterpoint to .” He “was removed from the world and reduced to a neutral instance vis-à-vis the struggles and antagonisms of real life [des wirklichen Lebens]” (CP 90).4 Be this as it may. Schmitt refrains from invoking a higher third that would mediate between the thesis and the antithesis. it permits them to clash and derives its political energy from this enduring standoff. not of polarities—occasions a breakdown of dialectics. the complex of opposites nurtures and accentuates them. (Let us remark. by implication. a conglomeration of disjunctions. must be compatible with its disjunctive other—the virtuality of inexhaustible existential and futural possibilities.2 Instead of neutralizing the antagonisms it houses. Upon rejecting the Hegelian method. that Schmitt himself is quite unambiguous with regard to the anti-Hegelian position of his early work.” Resistance to dialectics is woven into the. without extinguishing them. idealize the actuality of life. It is this defiance that bestows an existential character on the complex that grasps possibilities qua possibilities without subjugating them to the “categorial” ontology of the ready-to-hand (Heidegger). is nothing less than the promise of the political as such. God “became a concept and ceased to be an essence. “an anti-Roman ‘complex’”1 joining together unlikely allies—Protestants and orthodox Christians—against the dreaded elasticity of the Catholic political form. parenthetically. therefore. the promise of a form that embraces all antitheses. prompting an increasingly abstract epistemology to supplant practical ontology. instead of totalizing or inserting the particulars under the umbrella of a single concept. In his model of the complexio. anti-modern fabric of the complexio. But. he shows how the complex of opposites—in the vernacular of Political Theology. in order to remain alive. prima facie. which routinely brings to naught the contradiction that impels it and positivizes negativity. it defies the logic of the actualization of potentialities.3 in light of which the gloriously Hegelian language of his various commentators is all the more surprising. it maintains life’s actuality (Wirklichkeit) that. When in eighteenth-century metaphysics. Philosophy and its birthright (conceptualization). Only the complex’s rejection of the neutralizing and.
Indeed. Not only does it revitalize the political dunamis inherent in unalloyed. its inordinate depth. if books aspire to live up to their titles. Whereas the width of the complex is measured by its applicability to those who. in effect. The complex politicizes its contents not by singling them out and. receives everything without exception. and Complexio Oppositorum 151 the actualization of (the virtual) Spirit fallen into history and forming the world here-below. That complexio oppositorum envelops all oppositions without exception would have been a trite comment if its form were abstractly universal. according to which political concepts derive from theological origins. at the same time. like the Platonic khōra. but it also “holds sway over everything theological.5 complexio oppositorum is. the essence of the Roman Catholic complexio oppositorum lies in a specific. signaled in the very title of the 1923 text that combines a singular religious doctrine with the universality of political form.Culture. (RC 8. formal superiority over the matter of human life [in einer spezifisch formalen Überlegenheit über die Materie des menschlichen Lebens] such as no other imperium has ever known. itself. the reference to the becoming-conceptual of the God of the philosophers intimates the complex’s profundity. which.” Considered against the theoretical backdrop of Political Theology. decisively . oppose its theological source. emphasis added) For now. It is common knowledge in contemporary political philosophy that Schmitt’s sovereign is “he who decides on the exception” (PT 5). in that it announces the immediate conjunction of matter and form. the form of the institution that embodies it—Roman Catholicism—is itself exceptional: From the standpoint of the political idea of Catholicism. But the relation of complexio oppositorum to sovereignty complicates this definition. given that it is an exceptional arrangement that. the singular and the universal. in a sovereign manner. disjunctive oppositions. however. Schmitt’s Roman Catholicism and Political Form is a superb example of this aspiration. one of such concepts and a more general link in the transition from the theological to the political. the theological and the political. Multiculturalism. I would like to defer the discussion of this extraordinary form and will return to it after pointing out the consequences of the special status of the Catholic imperium. becomes possible within the framework of the religion it evokes and the form generated by this religion.
is its alchemical anchoring. overwhelming otherness and would not have fought the other as the enemy. One cannot help but experience a sense of wonder when faced with the unmediated way. the reenchantment of the world does not slide down into myth. Besides this recovery of immediacy. it would have surrendered itself wholeheartedly to unknowable. their political nature comes to the fore. has the potential of triggering a renaissance of the classical psychopolitics Plato formulates in The Republic. and Christian symbolism. however. in which it brings together mutually exclusive ideas and institutions.6 Schmitt’s polemical co-optation and revamping of a syntagma used by a Protestant thinker who shared the antagonistic “affect” diagnosed in the first line of the 1923 text is a methodological accomplishment consistent with his commitment to the polemical possibilities of all political concepts. thanks to the mere incorporation of all antagonisms into this imperium. no other candidate would stand out more than Carl Jung’s Mysterium Coniunctionis. of serving as a temporary shelter from the iron cage of modernity. psychological. which. who used it to explain. “an empty vessel filled with contents that change from case to case” (PR 30).” go back to alchemy.7 were it to do so. and this. another piece of evidence for the extraordinariness of the complexio is that the origins of this term. and complexio oppositorum is nothing short of miraculous. Having traversed the desert of modernity. as a supplement to Schmitt. Jung echoes Schmitt’s insights into the equal inclusion of masculine and feminine authority figures in Roman Catholicism that “is already a complexio . The theological correlate to the juridical concept of exception (Ausnahme) is a “miracle” (Wunder PT 5). if not justify. then.” bestowed upon it. the ‘anti-Roman affect’. even mention the esoteric alchemical roots of a somewhat neglected Schmittian concept that goes the greatest distance toward describing his political and theological ideal? If we could designate a companion book to Roman Catholicism. nor a sign of the pining for the irrational said to haunt Catholic thought. calls for a detour through the miraculous. but propagates “formality” from the content of life itself. At the cusp of alchemical. What interests me in the genealogy of the complexio. I believe. an anti-modern reenchantment of the world that does not conform to the empty mold of an ideal form. precisely. which.152 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE bestowing upon them the (formal) status of an exception but by drawing out a uniquely political form immanent to them. Why. In other words. which “in Schmitt’s lifetime was employed by the great Protestant historian Adolf von Harnack. Schmitt himself staunchly resists the romanticizing views of Roman Catholicism and the “dubious honor. is neither an idle curiosity.
and Complexio Oppositorum 153 oppositorum. the abstract and the concrete. the enemy. retains its concrete existence at once vital and yet rational to the nth degree [die trotz ihres formalen Charakters in der . arguably. finds embodiment in the figures of the sovereign. is neither a posteriori imposed onto dead contents in a sort of dialectical magic infusing inert matter with spirit. and the art of politics. rather. The living. Concertization of psychological forces is at the heart of Jungian “archetypes” (the complexio is explicitly mentioned in the politically germane chapter titled. In a vicarious relation of power.” “King and Queen”). the same and the other. has failed. in the secularized political realm. a way of thinking that fascinates Schmitt because it succeeds in the search for a living form (or else. which. while the political philosopher subjectivizes the categories of sovereignty. existential form that gifts Roman Catholicism with remarkable elasticity and that becomes transmuted into the political as such. entailing an ability to juggle the abstract and the concrete elements included in any representation without sacrificing one of them for the sake of the other. enmity. The writings of Schmitt and Jung are the sites of the convergence between the psyche populated with archetypal figures.” That is not to say that subjectivation is the same as personification. the jurist. nor does it mirror the disquietude of life from a contemplative standpoint external to it. “the philosopher’s stone”) in which the philosophical tradition. and. Multiculturalism. because his office is part of the unbroken chain linked with the personal mandate and concrete person of Christ. enter into a permanent standoff that generates the form of a concrete representation. are not mediately reconciled. theatrically allegorizing mental life. “[i]n contradistinction to the modern official. the friend. as I indicated in Chapter 5. much of the confusion surrounding Schmittian “decisionism” dissipates as soon as the two processes are sharply distinguished. and so on. Its emphatically non-modern “alchemy” bypasses all mediations and demonstrates that the Catholic complexio oppositorum. perhaps. “despite its formal character. This is truly the most astounding complexio oppositorum” (RC 14). his position is not impersonal. The idea that the “pope is not the Prophet but the Vicar of Christ” reveals that. they. “Rex and Regina.Culture. just as the felt need for a re-subjectivization of sovereignty prompts Schmitt’s rethinking of “representation.”8 The psychoanalyst further insists that the oppositions structuring the psychological sphere must be concretely personified.9 The Living Forms of Politics We are now ready to face the marked “alchemical” origin of complexio oppositorum.
substantiveness connotes something living. atemporal notion of substance. it is life itself and. as they are in Obama’s technocratic populism enamored of strict proceduralism and presiding over the most staggering redistribution of wealth. Or. is robbed of its substantive content. for.154 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE konkreten Existenz bleibt. Political life per se is both subject and substance. in human history. as a counterthrust of the full and thick “form in its substantive sense [der Form im substanziellen Sinne]” (PT 26) that defies its modern “emptying out” without nostalgically reclaiming the positive Aristotelian teleology of formal causality. as an emptied out—hence. The argument of Political Theology is sophisticated enough to construe the form’s living character negatively. while applying it to the political and modifying it to reflect the absence of a higher unity of Spirit that would reconcile these concepts converted from traditional metaphysics to existentialism. “pure. transcendental. but transcribed it into the existential decision on the political form. dead—form.” has presented itself as a necessity to Western thought (PT 26–28). calculable. its becoming procedural. the hollowing out of form. mimicking the plasticity of the complexio. when considered from the perspective of modern thought—is capable of rescinding the historical tendency toward an abstracting neutralization of all substantive concepts. through bailouts favoring the rich. along with technicity itself. these alternatives are combined with Machiavellian cunning.10 Like the coveted “elixir of life. dead formalism is the key to the organizational structure of democracy that. if we are willing to borrow a morsel of Hegel’s argument in Phenomenology of Spirit. More often than not. democratic political organization possesses only an instrumental value devoid of any inherent. Following the lead of modern science in focusing on pure means divorced from all substantive goals. then one had to ask oneself what value democracy itself had merely as a form” (CPD 24). In a direct union of the signifier and the signified.11 The answer to this question is that. “if one regarded it from the perspective of some political program that one hoped to achieve with the help of democracy. to turn this proposition around. it either lapses into extreme opportunism and populism. As we have discovered in the case of the Constitution. simultaneously. substantive ends. From Kant’s transcendental philosophy to Max Weber’s sociology of law. that the “state thus becomes a form in the sense of a living formation [Der Staat wird also zu einer Form im Sinne einer . a concrete representation of life in excess of what it represents.” the living form—an oxymoron. At its most refined. lebensvoll und doch im höchsten Maße rational ist]” (RC 8). or ruthlessly stamps this voided mold onto contents that would not have assumed it otherwise. its substantive definition did not resurrect a metaphysically fixed. namely.
they trafficked in those determinations of political life that held the potential to backfire and reshape those who gave them their original form. in which it is. forming) substances: “Substances must first of all have found their form. It is a field of forces—to resort to a Nietzschean term once again— where “shaping” proceeds as the determination of oppositions by pitting its various component parts against each other. But the inverse is also true: in art as much as in politics.Culture. of course. Multiculturalism. hinging on a form that is always on the brink of freezing into static formalism. is enlivened. the “living formation” (Lebensgestaltung) of the state is not the same as its form (Form). Nietzsche’s “terrible artists of existence” and Schmitt’s sovereign were familiar with the dangers and demands of figuration. formal superiority over the matter of human life” (RC 8). they must have been brought into a formation before they can actually encounter each other as contesting subjects in a conflict” (PTII 114). Subjects are formed (better yet. The complexio. but from its impurity. Harking back to the difference between the figure of the enemy as shaping the first-person plural of those who confront it and the forms of life this collectivity of friends wants to protect. One practical implication of its attachment to the possible is that Schmitt’s treatment of the national entity is neither nationalist nor essentialist. of political life. that is to say. after all. encrusted. when it is subjectivized and politicized. among other things. In the world of an artisan. is less personal than that. The significant distinction between the two forms of “form” signaled by the deliberately differentiated usage of the Latin-derived Form and the Germanic Gestalt almost vanishes from the English translation. Its potency does not derive from the form’s hollow and abstract capacity to contain anything whatsoever. the subjects themselves are molded by their materials. So potent is the form or the field of forces proper to the complexio oppositorum that it will precipitate and encompass. when it is organized in formations and counterformations of opposing groups. nonetheless. The existential significance of the living form is that it is beholden to the possibilities. the very life. and Complexio Oppositorum 155 Lebensgestaltung]” (PT 25). its affectation with the matter-form dualism that is responsible for the complexio’s “specific. precisely because its political . the process of forming or figuring is the act of shaping the materials on which one works without ignoring the peculiarity of their content. Substance becomes something living. not the actuality. the opposition between matter and form that will further invest it with substantiveness and liveliness. finite life. the static form is set in motion. Qua formation or figuration. such that this setting-in-motion itself becomes the definitive moment of a fragile.
anticipate various theoretical constructs in late twentieth-century social and political philosophy.” anterior to its empirical and historical instantiations. as sets of political-existential possibilities that cannot be entombed in the form of nationalism. which esteems itself as the exclusive constitutionally legitimate form of government. which abounds in antagonisms but also in countless possibilities for new forms and configurations of the polity. indeed of life itself. is “not a community of essence” but “a being-together of existence. the nation is an existentially palpable possibility.”13 These are. The deep source of this capability is the formless. Unlike those modernist thinkers who turned the nation into a form.” which. In his intriguing enunciation. post-nationalist approaches to politics that seem to be remote from that of Schmitt: the reader may be rightly suspicious of the word “nationalism” peppering the pages of Constitutional Theory. And it is formlessly formative in the sense that it engenders forms of collective existence. perhaps. to be sure. The living form of the nation (and one could easily substitute “the political community” for this term) is the formative capacity of a community of friends to determine itself as such vis-à-vis an oppositional grouping. and. a negatively charged word that substantially limits any sort of openness in the political constitution of the community as a “formless formative capacity. he recoded its nomenclature in sync with his existential-phenomenological program. shape in the world of nations without nationalism. . with which it will never fully coincide. thus. while Schmitt operated within the confines of the political vocabulary of the European modernity. as Stathis Gourgouris convincingly argues in Dream Nation. or. to give itself a determinate. . “can be the ‘formless formative [formlos Formende] capacity’” (CT 129). . Schmitt’s nations. in the words of Jean-Luc Nancy. to a conclusive formation” (CT 128). including Benedict Anderson’s “imagined communities” and Giorgio Agamben’s “coming community. without thereby turning into a totalizing “form of forms” or into a transcendental “mere form. As an ontological capacity. the nation “has the complete freedom of political self-determination” and. It may be accessed only by way of bracketing the actual forms of communal life. messy.” But. better yet. a figuration inexhaustible by any particular form it might assume.156 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE existence flourishes “without ever subordinating itself . which predominates in his political philosophy despite his forays into ancient Greek and Latin texts and etymologies. ugly content of political existence. from the aesthetic standpoint. by their imaginative variation— recommended by Husserl—that would extend the constitutional form to political regimes other than the bourgeois Rechtsstaat. though changeable.12 Schmitt reads the nation as a source of various political formations.
its condition of possibility. in a certain sense. tantamount to drawing these contents into the embrace of complexio oppositorum that provisionally determines their oppositionality. discursive manifestations. to formalize. At the point of intersection between the two trajectories. complexio oppositorum. the complexio is produced in speech or. they are the various and sundry elements molded into a complexio and thus give life to discourse. chided Schmitt for falling back on a traditional opposition of “man versus machine. its rhetorical. It moves in antitheses. which he also associates with the opposition of life versus death. as Schmitt put it. It would be inaccurate to ascribe this thought to Schmitt—as Weber has tried to do—who alerts the readers that the premodern. But these are not contradictions. (RC 23) . [T]he power of speech and discourse—rhetoric in its greatest sense—is a criterion of human life . all the while minimizing opportunities for the betrayal of their “messiness” and inexactitude. Helpful as this analysis might be. The book on Roman Catholicism as a whole learns from myth while taking precautions not to fall into its nets. to enliven is. the expression “living form” invites a meditation on the notion of life: What is life and how to conceive of its opposite? What is the meaning of coming to life. The pulsion of drawing out is. mythical concept of the machine was not at all at odds with the living organism (LST 37). the guarantor of the tense vitality proper to the (at least) bipolar political world of friends and enemies. in Weber’s view. or being “enlivened”? How does the process of “deadening” occur in the sphere of the political? Most recently. veritably exemplifying his subject matter. Multiculturalism.14 In the same book.Culture. nevertheless. where the living organism and the dead machine are perceived as opposites. it leaves undisturbed the meaning of life in Schmitt’s (early) writings. ultimately. . The mechanism that does the dual work of externalization and internalization is concrete representation and. The immediate and intuitive equation of the living with the inner and the dead with the outer is a trademark of the modern attitude. Samuel Weber has poignantly suggested in Targets of Opportunity that what appears to be the opposite of life—a “deathbearing enemy”—is. in effect. One could say that. he. its two main trajectories deal with the life of the form and the substantive formalism of living that radically departs from the relative immanence and immediacy of mythic life.”15 Schmitt’s treatment of the phenomenon “life” is. and Complexio Oppositorum 157 In addition to undercutting abstract formalism. . by the same token. in particular. to draw out the form that was already implicit in the “messy” and inexact content. simultaneously nuanced and crude.
hyperformalism. which traverses the complex of determinate oppositions and from which the life of discourse derives. aired by Weber. in which modernity and its other. in contrast to the first. which Schmitt denounced in The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy. are embroiled. as a consequence. on the other. A life which has only death as its . The formal potency of words lies not in the metaphysically obscure inception of language in Being and of Being in language. on the one hand.158 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE We must rigorously contrast this rhetorical production. and particularity at any cost produces the same effect because it dissolves political oppositions into mere difference. therefore. disfigures. the second kind of death is a storehouse of possibilities. Whereas the substantive form is both living and enlivening. transpires between life and death within the living life itself. a reversion into the absolute difference of atomized. regardless of the occasional Schmittian criticism of mechanization and its external relation to death. Concrete representation remains faithful to the polemical-political ground of discourse and to life itself. As always in Schmitt. Life is not an impersonal force of sheer immanence that sweeps every organic entity into its midst: that which is most living in it is complexio oppositorum. It follows that Schmitt’s conception of life is non-vitalist and nonorganicist.” to the deliberative empty talk of an infinite parliamentary discussion. formless content that cannot be mustered into an oppositional arrangement and.”16 “Universality at any price would necessarily have to mean total depoliticization” (CP 55). a catalyst of new oppositional formations that crystallize from unformed difference). It is enough to take a glance at “The Age of Neutralizations and Depoliticizations. also arrives in two ways: (1) the rigor mortis of abstract contradiction. the most potent. deforms. utilizing what Heidegger might refer to as the hidden power of “primal words. deformalization that disbands the complex of oppositions is doubly menacing: it promises. making them lose their determinate figuration (Gestalt).17 Death. and ultramodern standoff. or (2) decomposition into pure difference and complete indeterminacy (to be fair. such as “humanity. in that it depoliticizes. deformalization deadens.” to realize that what Schmitt calls “the pluralism of spiritual life [Pluralismus des geistigen Lebens]” is nothing other than the secularized complexio that accommodates both life and death: [I]t is wrong to solve a political problem with the antithesis of organic and mechanistic. but in the antithetical movement. too. and neutralizes all determinate oppositions. hyperdetermination.18 A living form worthy of the name holds in itself this constitutive finitude. life and death. a conversion of living forms into the absolute indifference of a purely abstract form or concept. which is to say that the most fateful.
falsely transcendent movements that get all the more entangled in the webs of antagonistic immanence. one that defines life’s very liveliness in setting off its inner antagonisms. the soullessness of the rationalistic-mechanistic world. has been equated with death. In the same way that the living form of the complexio internalizes the antinomy of form and content. here. as a living form. A Virtuous Circle: The Mutual Invigoration of Culture and Politics In keeping with the process of neutralization. evental “pluralism” that extends its welcome to all determinate oppositions. multiculturalism. harbors its opposites within itself. We might project these existential theses back onto Schmitt’s refusal to romanticize Roman Catholicism by allying it with the “soulful polarity” of the contrived “dichotomy between a rationalistic-mechanistic world of human labor and a romantic-virginal state of nature” (RC 10). and.” as Schmitt writes at the end of his essay on de-politicization). perhaps.Culture. taken to be emblematic of modern culture. life. and it will set the stage for a reconsideration of its contemporary avatar. which specifies this form. contains within itself the difference between life and death. sheds its identity as purely living. too. (CP 95)19 Life does not face death and mechanization as external possibilities but. is an offshoot of life. The infatuation with and the idealization of the premodern are reactive upshots of the very culture they wish to evade. But the cumulative . “life struggles with life. thus. they are culture’s unsuccessful attempts at self-forgetting. or economics. in which the opposites are finally reconciled and it should not be accorded the partial status of a polarity (the “soulful polarity”) relative to instrumental rationality. in terms of a mutation in the structure of complexio oppositorum. paves the way for the event of politics. the emptiness of abstract form is a historical by-product of every depoliticized domain.20 The alchemicalpolitical quest for this form cannot afford to disregard the mechanistic and the inorganic. This inner splitting of life will elucidate an alternate meaning of “culture. Multiculturalism.” which. throughout the history of Western philosophy. However monstrous or deadening it is. as one of the historical possibilities available for co-optation by pouvoir constituant today. metaphysics. das gegenüber sich selbst nichts mehr hat als den Tod] is no longer life but powerlessness and helplessness.21 Catholicism does not fit the position of the higher third. (Despite all appearances to the contrary. and Complexio Oppositorum 159 antithesis [Ein Leben. be it theology. much less exclude them from the non-conceptual. where political intensity ebbs away from the institutions that previously drew sustenance from it.
or to what. reinvigorate the cultural form that has gathered up in itself the previous spheres and that has been gradually eroded with every successive wave of de-politicization. he calls “the fear of cultural and social nothingness [die Furcht vor dem kulturellen und sozialen Nichts]” (CP 94). on an individual basis. and the sovereign decision on the exception. engrained in the history of Western thought. formerly politicized domains. rather. as such. everything appeared to have been abstracted above all from culture. even if its success depends not on appealing to any firm normative foundation but on plunging headlong into the second abyss of the decision made ex nihilo. Strauss’s astute analysis offers the best retort: Schmitt paints a historically specific image of impoverished culture that. for Schmitt. to flourish in the place claimed by the neutrality of death. “[w]hat remains is neither politics nor state. albeit unnamed. To this accusation. Given this choice. the proposed rehabilitation of a living form will be dubious. boring) human existence in a perpetual search for new sources of entertainment. the goal is to politicize culture in toto by allowing cultural life. in the sense of the antagonistic complexio oppositorum. stage of de-politicization: “Once everything had been abstracted from religion and technology. Absolute neutrality. on the next page of the 1929 text. but . can become entertainment. morality. is tantamount to nihilism. but culture. it should. culture is entertainment—something hopelessly inadequate to the task of breathing new life into the political. etc. A cogent response to this fear should not struggle to recuperate. Stated unsympathetically. then from metaphysics and the state.” (CP 53). ultimately.”22 The uncomplimentary depiction of cultural bankruptcy is . entertainment. . The open-ended list of the wreckages of liberal modernity is by no means haphazard. For those who concentrate on Schmitt’s dismissive attitude to culture in The Concept of the Political and on the traditional ties of culture to death. In other words. ending in the neutrality of cultural death [die Neutralität des kulturellen Todes]” (CP 93). does “not have to be entertainment. Schmitt tends to view his own political philosophy as a katechon (or the restrainer) against the first abyss. which emerges as the fifth. on the other. . since depoliticized culture translates seamlessly into a kind of civilization where the false dilemma of choosing between economic rationality and a legally codified morality is the only “serious” alternative to the danger-free and light (but. to say the least. civilization. on the one hand. economics.160 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE effects of this hollowing out ultimately threaten culture itself. art. After imagining the complete disappearance or leveling of enemy-friend distinctions. Only then will we be able to make an existential choice between two abysses of nothingness: the sociocultural neutrality of nihilism. law.
philosophy has insistently identified culture with death?23 Does the traditional philosophical treatment of the concept still allow us to consider it under the rubric of a “living form”? Already for Hegel. a ritualization of mourning and sacrifice . living life itself.26 The stakes of the close connection between culture and death are high. as Derrida submits. Entertainment gains an upper hand when the “pluralism of spiritual life” is trimmed down to a one-dimensional monoculture disseminated on a mass and. as if the expression “culture of death” were ultimately a pleonasm or a tautology. . in a word. the dying away of “real existence” in language is not the last word of subjects who get a new purchase on life in their discursively mediated intersubjective relations. We shape . de-politicization. prejudiced by an elitist valorization of high over low culture.Culture. that . and Complexio Oppositorum 161 not a definitional necessity. on a global scale. at least. . Multiculturalism. the two terms are nearly synonymous. . “nauseating” curiosity—to the latter.”24 In the medium of language. probably. culture as “self-alienated spirit” is instituted thanks to “the true sacrifice of being-for-self . Similarly. however. surrenders itself as completely as . my “real existence dies away”). so that all seriousness pertains to the former and an empty. . ”) on the altar of sociality erected by language and culture (in making sense. later on. if. but a possibility that comes to pass in its empty formalization throughout the recent stages of neutralization. a desire whose fulfillment indicates that my “real existence dies away. The position Strauss champions is. . too crude in its uncritical acceptance of the terms’ meaning. death is not a finality abstractly opposed to life but a part of the concrete. In and of itself. Jacques Derrida has maintained that there is no culture without a cult of ancestors. The “culture of death” that ritualizes mourning cares for the double survival—the excess of life over and above itself—of those whose memory is institutionally monumentalized and of those who cultivate this memory. . But what about the incontrovertible fact that. culture is not allergic to politics. . up to the present. . . then culture might connote pacification and a dissolution of all contradictions. this conclusion proves to be unwarranted or.”25 The death of individual consciousness is a miniature version of spirit’s sacrifice of its being-for-self (“ . surrenders itself as completely as in death. The very concept of culture may seem to be synonymous with the culture of death. In Hegel as well as in Derrida. Upon closer scrutiny. consciousness sacrifices itself to a desire to make sense to the other. . More recently and more explicitly.
Even the expression “culture of death” is ambiguously polyvocal thanks to the genitive form that could name one type of culture (the culture of death versus the culture of life). therefore. we live it on a different plane than a mere biological existence. “obeys the orders” of what it cultivates. in addition to nature. a thinker of the crisis of the political that rarifies this substantive dimension.”27 Culture. that culture develops the natural predisposition . noting that “‘culture’ always presupposes something that is cultivated: culture is always the culture of nature. the cultivation of human and nonhuman. technicity. incorporates the difference between nature and culture into itself. . comes into its own in the idea of cultivation that. it thus obeys the orders that nature itself gives.” as long as . it is always already politically loaded. . Multiculturalism: A New Complexio Oppositorum? The contemporary reality of multiculturalism fuses everything Schmitt found to be reprehensible about liberalism: it coincides with an ideal type of administrative politics that pretends to abandon enemy-friend distinctions in favor of a much more indeterminate “cultural difference. or the essence of culture as such. In an exegesis of Schmitt’s work. A form of forms victimized to the greatest extent in the age of neutralizations and depleted to the point of merging with entertainment. above all. . primarily. nature is the arche-political act of deciding the internal form of oppositions and setting them in motion as a living formation (Lebensgestaltung). in its substantive manifestations. while the creation of cults—be they of the dead or of nature itself—may be conducive to the consolidation of a static cultural form (Form) and an arbitrary imposition of foreign abstractions on the “cultivated” content. its being of one piece with death.28 The uncanny affinity of this definition of culture to the living. is the self-relation of nature. substantial formation of complexio oppositorum is not coincidental. as well as organic and inorganic. etc.) to resist this dominant trend and to give a new impetus to the political. in accord with the shaped content. This expression means. In the last instance. morality. becomes animated by virtue of its participation in the logic of living forms that sketches out the outlines of complexio oppositorum. Strauss experiments with a more decisive break with the philosophical equation culture = death. in his rendition. But Schmitt is. culture holds the highest potential among the other “shipwrecks” of de-politicization (economics. Culture. further. The shaping of determinate oppositions. an instantiation of the living form that is not imposed on its contents but grows out of them.162 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE cultural life in an intimate relation to death and.
given that his philosophy of history hypostatizes a particular culture. Schmitt’s radical historicism. In 1929. including the concept of spirit. Although a Schmittian reading of this historical instance is plausible.” the separatist movement was indirectly designated as the abstract enemy of “cultural diversity. . whose insistence on the province’s unique status was diluted with reference to the cultural specificity of other ethnic communities. therefore. often antithetical. hence. and. .” will lead us to a realization that it is the truth of culture that knows itself as such. more importantly. and Complexio Oppositorum 163 it poses no tangible threat to the regime. all concepts in the spiritual sphere. the reasons behind adopting multiculturalism as an official policy have been political in the distinctly Schmittian sense. however.” Within this framework. as a plurality. a term that has become something of a catchword in today’s politically correct discourse. raises it to the dignity of the concept in its concrete universality.” culture is not a totalizing synthesis of diverse. on the contrary.Culture. at most. are pluralistic in themselves [sind in sich pluralistisch] and can only be understood in terms of concrete political existence . entrusts it with the task of being a yardstick for its counterparts. it will be necessary to elaborate a more general way of politicizing and. Let me unpack this polemical definition with an eye to Schmitt’s text. he writes. of thwarting the aspirations of Quebec nationalists. In 1971. for one example among others of the miscellany of cultural backgrounds and traditions that Canada was composed of. “What is multiculturalism?. polemically co-opting. The difference of Quebec was no longer different enough. moments. operates in the field of non-synthesizable pluralism. Multiculturalism. that is. which inheres in every “spiritual concept” and generates a form based on the particular historical content of “concrete political existence. I cite the Canadian case in order to illustrate the political possibilities of multiculturalism well in excess of its objectives explicitly avowed by a liberal polity. Pierre Trudeau’s Canadian Liberal cabinet put together the precursor to the 1988 Multiculturalism Act in the hope of luring the votes of the increasing “New Canadian” immigrant population and. The unstated negative reference to Hegel in this passage is quite blatant.29 As a result of the “Policy of Multiculturalism within the Bilingual Framework. [E]very culture and cultural epoch has its own concept of culture. Asking a patently philosophical question. because it stood. to affirm that multiculturalism is the truth of culture is not to make a .” masking its status as the concrete adversary of the federal state. (CP 85) Like “all concepts in the spiritual sphere. Historically.
Multiculturalism’s popular and trivializing underside that has earned it such a bad reputation should not be dismissed. precisely.” while the other.164 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE transcendental-metaphysical claim. seemingly depoliticized in the capacity of “a nice name for the exoticism of the outsiders” and trimmed down to entertainment. at the apotheosis of the political. disembedded universal. is not an external foe or an internal adversary. She overtly identifies the enemy—“one culture’s claim to Reason as such. Spivak acknowledges the existence of two cultural modalities.30 This succinct formulation is political in the best of Schmittian traditions. In the epoch of multiculturalism. tangibly. albeit contextually specific. Eurocentric) usurpation of the cosmopolitan idea. that Spivak both continues and ceases to follow Schmitt. an institution that presents itself as the dispassionate arbiter of all conflicts—in a gesture that remains indispensable to any political practice. . “spiritual” dimension. it seeks to present and represent these concepts as such. the postcolonial theorist is careful not to turn the enemy into an abstraction but to bestow this appellation on those who promulgate an abstract. pursues politics by other means. non-empirical. but a unilateral (in this case. practicing yet another metonymic abuse of modernity. . This enemy. because its political-phenomenological vulgarity is a pale reflection of what I called “the truth of culture.31 against which insiders fight shoulder-to-shoulder with outsiders. Quite the opposite is the case: this affirmation implies that no one culture can legitimately posit itself as the gold standard of Culture. . in so doing. Still. Gayatri Spivak takes stock of its complexity and draws from it a lesson for postcolonial strategy: If the multiculturalists’ many cultures cannot be captured by some notebook definition. divesting them of their immaterial. and culture as a nice name for the exoticism of the outsiders. it is at this point.” in other words. Our task is to look at the two strategies: culture as a battle cry against one culture’s claim to Reason as such. since it must negotiate its living form with the internal resources and historically limited understanding at its disposal. by insider as well as outsider. one of which retains a certain substantive and political richness of the “battle cry.” Commenting on the Janus-faced structure of multiculturalism. but. cultural form in the guise of a decontextualized. Although she echoes Schmitt’s criticism of a totalized concept of culture (“captured by some notebook definition”) put forth in the name of Reason. the plurality of culture renders the pluralism of spiritual concepts phenomenally apparent. in flesh and blood. however. nor can Rorty’s Enlightenment culture .
nor does it project culturally specific attitudes and beliefs onto the contrived sphere of universality.” the proposed Schmittian multiculturalism does not predelineate the terrain for political engagements. the figure of the enemy needs to be sharply outlined.”32 It escapes the liberal politics of recognition and. under the cover of Reason. then. Multiculturalism. particularly. are those who practice a blown-up and standardized projection of particularity that. This correlation between the complexio and a revised multiculturalism. . endeavors to impress itself if not on the other cultural particulars. Jürgen Habermas’s minimalism that the only way to make multiculturalism politically relevant is to transform the cultural sphere into a playground for antagonism. The enemies.33 Unlike its liberal counterpart. It could be objected. and Complexio Oppositorum 165 The alliance of insiders and outsiders is a part of the multicultural predicament. that the ascription of these revolutionary features to an institution so steeped in the rhetoric of de-politicization and neutralization is a figment of theoretical imagination or a product of . where the living forms of various cultures must be co-negotiated. of course. and I hurry to reassure the liberal skeptics that its contours will not capture a particular demonized cultural subgroup. spirit with spirit.” analogous to Schmitt’s enunciation of the struggle of life with life. On the positive side of things. it embraces sometimes-contradictory cultural particularities in a non-totalizable fashion. and nontranscendentally expresses the truth of culture. political avatar of multiculturalism to achieve some measure of success in a confrontation with the cunning force of liberal “tolerance” (which masks an intransigent totalitarianism) it would need to debunk the myth of neutral and abstract rationality used stealthily by its practionars to pursue their political objectives.Culture. because cultural coexistence means incalculably more than “ensuring every citizen the opportunity to grow up within the world of a cultural heritage . In the course of this transformation. and so on. keeps open the space for political antagonism. The features of complexio oppositorum come through in this portrayal of multiculturalism. inscribes the two terms in the long list of theological concepts and their secularized political manifestations. it would retrace the inner split at the heart of the phenomenon “multiculturalism. The outcome of this process will not be an automatic consensus. . furnishes a radically pluralistic living form. as though in a photographic negative. which cleverly passes totalitarian rigidity for the tolerance of “otherness” and “diversity. For a different. then on the normative ground upon which antagonisms surface and get resolved. considering that they coexist within the same political space. In addition to welcoming oppositions in its midst. consequently. without suffering discrimination because of it.
According to Schmitt. accomplishes what Schmitt himself has done to the notion of complexio oppositorum. First. p. the gap between them is unbridgeable. roughly. “The Necessity of Politics. the latter wrests intense oppositions from the deadening grip of neutrality and delivers them to their political Being. the sheer contestation of the institution’s officially accepted version partially realizes the so-called utopia. even if the blueprint for a different kind of multiculturalism sketches out a hopelessly untenable utopian ideal. A reinvigorated conception of multiculturalism launches a critique of its liberal double from a perspective far removed from totalitarianism. It. Although the same verb—embracing. the demand for a total state “which potentially embraces every domain” is an ill-advised reaction to the great neutralizations and de-politicizations of the nineteenth century (CP 22). which he polemically inherited from an anti-Catholic thinker for the purpose of illuminating the innermost essence of Roman Catholicism. the neutral ground for the resolution of disputes. but it is. challenges a deadening. My second retort is not unrelated to the first: we should unlearn the principal ideological lesson of liberalism that presents the scarecrow of totalitarianism as the sole alternative to its own “tolerant” and “representative” approach.” in Vital Realities: Schmitt. Regardless of its empirical existence or nonexistence. Berdyaev. Neither the repoliticized multiculturalism.166 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE wishful thinking that bears little resemblance to multiculturalism’s liberal instantiation and risks deteriorating into the very totalitarianism it criticizes. the former actually intensifies de-politicization (CP 22). nor the complex of opposites it emulates is compatible with totalitarian politics. I offer two ripostes to this recrimination. which will never espouse a living form. also. desiccated form and induces a standoff irresolvable on the old procedural grounds. basing itself on the erroneous equation state = politics. 23. de la Bedoyère (New York: Macmillan. Notes 1. not the soulful polarity of soulless totalitarianism. as Spivak does. ergreifende—crops up here to encapsulate both the activity of the total state and that of complexio oppositorum. Putting forth an oppositional multicultural strategy. Whereas. multiculturalism is not a higher third. Compare the first sentence of this text: “There . a rigorously theorized multiculturalism indebted to Schmitt’s political concepts makes existentially vibrant and repoliticizes a stale keyword of liberal discourse. Unwittingly adhering to the logic of Roman Catholicism. institutionalized. 1932). Carl Schmitt.
a person could make the Catholic complexio into one of many syntheses and rashly conclude that he had thereby construed the essence of Catholicism” (RC 8–9). 2005). 2005. 3. the logos of muthos in works as diverse as his book on The Leviathan. 7. Mysterium Coniunctionis: An Inquiry into the Separation and Synthesis of Psychic Opposites in Alchemy. and terms have a polemical meaning” (CP 30). “The Church’s complexio oppositorum thus incorporated a boundless adaptability . This is the point that Sarah Pourciau [“Bodily Negation: Carl Schmitt and the Meaning of Meaning. as with so many other ideas and individuals. 1066–1090] misses when she writes that to propound an alternative theory of qualitative representation. Multiculturalism. the Church is the Mother of Believers and the Bride of Christ. he [Schmitt] draws on a Roman Catholic tradition of political theology which grounds the relation between a sovereign Church and a subject people in a Christian concept of mediation. 5. trans. since it was assured of an absolute unity at its apex” [Cristi. pp. 1082) .” MLN 120. It could allow the widest and most varied expression of ideas and forms. p.Culture. 2. The closest Schmitt gets to “sliding down into myth” is his indulgence in a kind of mytho-logy. R. Compare this to Schmitt’s statement: The pope is called the Father. Carl G. This is a marvelous union of the patriarchal and the matriarchal. a prudent and diagnostic thematization of. Jung. and freed for the indeterminacy of polemics. and essays such as the 1923 “Die politische Theorie des Mythus. Hull (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 28. (p. 1923–1939 (Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt. . we cannot help but witness a spectacular complexio oppositorum in Schmitt’s own understanding of the political both as enchained to a determinate theological content. After putting the two statements side-by-side. p.” in Positionen und Begriffe: im Kampf mit Weimar-Genf-Versaille. 1977). Targets of Opportunity: On the Militarization of Thinking (New York: Fordham University Press. the halt of dialectics is not equivalent to the Messianic cessation of all activity. 6. Samuel Weber. (RC 8) 9. p. One is tempted to note here that another famously “programmatic” statement of Schmitt is that “all political concepts. Carl Schmitt and Authoritarian Liberalism. The Church was a model of balance and moderation. earthly body and heavenly spirit—accomplished by Christ in the moment of the Word made flesh. however transformed it might become. 3). but to its political unfolding outside the confines of resolvable contradictions. images. able to direct both streams of the most elemental complexes and instincts—respect for the father and love for the mother—toward Rome. 4. One could express this breakdown with the help of Benjamin’s term “dialectics at a standstill. 8. what I term. 91]. the two volumes of Political Theology. 374. in Schmitt. and Complexio Oppositorum 167 is an anti-Roman ‘complex’” with its counterpart in Roman Catholicism and Political Form: “There is an anti-Roman temper” (p. 9–18.” except that. For example. 1940). The concept takes its energy from the paradigm of redemptive reconciliation—between human matter and divine form. “Out of a spiritual promiscuity which seeks a Romantic or Hegelian brotherhood with Catholicism. . pp.
absorbs. Ibid. nor is it an irrational elevation of content to an exalted level” (p. 85). and that depends on the principles of abstract representation. 1987)] has eloquently called this unreconcilable. a form that falls on the same side as the exception from the norm. Autumn 1998. . John McCormick [“Transcending Weber’s Categories of Modernity? The Early Lukács and Schmitt on the Rationalization Thesis. then. pp. Dream Nation: Enlightenment.” could be interpreted as a rejection of the formally empty view that opposes pure life to pure death in favor of a theory that situates the life-death opposition within the “struggling lives” themselves. 14. 2000). p. that synthesizes opposites.” in New German Critique 75. To account for this contradiction it would be necessary to examine the particular perspective from which life is created ex nihilo. Targets of Opportunity. 30. “Transcending Weber’s Categories of Modernity?” p. only in exceptio” (p. trans. 27). Jacques Derrida [The Postcard: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond. 40. also cannot be presented as dead and soulless any more than can the religion of technicity be confused with technology itself ” (93–94). 32. as McCormick does in the following sentence. The Coming Community. A few pages earlier. Agamben writes. p. a perspective that does not recognize the exception. His point. These non-indifference and non-elevation are the hallmarks of the living form. and transcends them” is to equate the operations of the complexio with the Hegelian Aufhebung. 21. or from the “sphere of law. It is a determined opposition. and the Institution of Modern Greece (Stanford: Stanford University Press. “The Church is neither the mechanically formalistic entity scorned by Protestants nor the haven of unconquered nature and irrational expression lauded by Romantics” (McCormick. such as discipline and in particular modern technology.168 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE 10. to say. 13. Schmitt wrote. “Life . 16. opposition itself ” (Politics of Friendship. Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 133–177] exhibits high theoretical sensitivity when he describes the formality of Schmitt’s approach to Roman Catholicism with a double negative: “Roman Catholicism is a form not indifferent to content. can in the last instance be implicated in the sphere of law only through the presupposition of its inclusive exclusion.” 11. 163). A more radical possibility would be that life itself is born of its exclusive inclusion in the complexio oppositorium. 259). trans. . 163). Colonization. M. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 35). is that culture and technology (as the contemporary incarnation of culture) do not stand on the side of pure death. that the Church “stands above such antinomies. According to Derrida’s reading of Schmitt. the ending of “The Age of Neutralizations and Depoliticizations. p. 19. In his early perceptive analysis of Schmitt in Homo Sacer. Thus. 18. Emphasis added. 12. “A result of human understanding and specialized knowledge. . 17. 1996). 20. The reliance of life’s vivacity on a “death-bearing enemy” stands in contradiction to Weber’s assertion that the “model of the creation of life out of nothing will assume a subtle but decisive importance” in Schmitt (p.” “life death” (p. 15. Yet. See the précis on the back cover of Giorgio Agamben.. Stathis Gourgouris. p. the discrimination between a friend and an enemy “cannot be reduced to mere difference. non-dialectizable tension “la vie la mort. maintains.
30. Multiculturalism and Racism in ‘90s Canada. for instance. In Roman Catholicism and the Political Form. but it is in sync with the Schmitt of Roman Catholicism who categorically states that the attitudes of mastery and domination are alien to the Catholic conceptions of nature (9). 1997). such as the Canadian Multiculturalism Act and its predecessors. J. trans. 104. “Struggles for Recognition in the Democratic Constitutional State. 309. “Multiculturalism at the Millennium. A notable exception from this general rule is Nietzsche. 32. Spring 2000. secular jurisprudence also manifests a certain complexio of competing interests and tendencies” (29). p. “The Sociology of EthnoNational Relations in Quebec. Spivak. In response to the counter-argument that European thought could not have usurped the idea of cosmopolitanism since it enunciated this idea in the first place. R. Ibid.” p. ed.. trans. 355. V. Aporias. I would say that the enunciation (that left an indelible trace on the subsequent history of the concept) happened in the context of colonial usurpation and exploitation—the constant background for the first “cultural” encounters. ed. for they effectively overlap if we are conscientious enough not to categorize nature as something purely living. 1994). 323–342. p. 1977). W. 1993). Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press. V. 24. The Concept of the Political.” in Journal of Canadian Studies 35 (1). 138–161. T. an extension of the argument to multiculturalism could benefit from theorizing the conjunction between this contemporary permutation of the complexio and the juridical domain. who foreshadows Schmitt in his accentuation of the living unity of content and form in any given culture: “a people to whom one attributes culture has to be in all reality a single living unity and not fall wretchedly apart into inner and outer. p. 116. Gayatri C. 1992). and Complexio Oppositorum 169 22. Strauss. Thus. Admittedly. F. A. pp. 25. 1990). 29. Strauss. .” in Deconstructing a Nation: Immigration. p. pp. 43. 26. as well as Danielle Juteau. That is not to say that Derrida’s and Strauss’s definitions of culture—“the very concept of culture may seem to be synonymous with the culture of death” and “culture is always the culture of nature”—are necessarily irreconcilable. Hollingdale (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. 80]. p. Phenomenology of Spirit. 28. this language may be excessively organicist. Hegel. The Concept of the Political. 308. G. Jürgen Habermas. Amy Gutmann (Princeton: Princeton University Press.” p. “Notes on Carl Schmitt. “Notes on Carl Schmitt. Multiculturalism. Cf. 27. Miller (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Satzewich (Halifax: Fernwood. content and form” [Friedrich Nietzsche. Jacques Derrida. trans. Enoch Padolsky. in the constituting documents of the doctrine. 31.Culture. 23. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press.” in Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition. Untimely Meditations. pp. 131–132. 33. the secular paradigm of the complexio is jurisprudence: “In the social world.
and especially its central claim that “it is possible to recognize that fissure in the work through which contemporary reality shines and which reveals the contemporary function of the work. on a singular occasion—which is. and irreconcilable antitheses of time and art. In a typical anti-Hegelian gesture of preventing the standoff ’s conciliatory resolution into a higher third term.” the events surrounding King James’s accession to the throne and the literary creation of Hamlet. such as the fascist aestheticization of politics or the communist politicization of art (favored by Walter Benjamin). itself. among other things. Hans-Georg Gadamer explicitly mentions and engages with Schmitt’s work only once. according to which the two antithetical elements to be reconciled are. situated at a great conceptual distance to one another.1 The object of Gadamer’s criticism in Appendix II to his masterpiece is Schmitt’s 1956 text.8 Political Hermeneutics: The Necessity of Interpretation Schmitt and Gadamer: Decision and Interpretation In Truth and Method. the political philosopher brings the dialectic of art and politics to a standstill. Hamlet or Hecuba: The Irruption of Time into the Play. to begin with.3 the “real” and the “imaginary. Nonetheless. for constructing a series of oversimplified.”2 Guided by his preoccupation with the truth of art. a meditation on the notion of “occasionality”—of a contentious reading of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Gadamer reproaches Schmitt. What his method misses is nothing less than “a new event of Being” predicated on the absolute proximity of the work of art to its presumed real referent: “A work of art belongs so closely to what 170 . lopsided. Gadamer is convinced that Schmitt shares a certain erroneous presupposition with the dialectical way of thinking.
it is not difficult to infer who might be labeled as the proponent of absolutism posing an unsurpassable obstacle in the path of legal interpretation: Thus it is an essential condition of the possibility of legal hermeneutics that law is binding on all members of the community in the same way. to abandon all too easily the patient work of hermeneutics by pointing out the existence of something exempt from the exigencies of interpretation—as though such a thing were possible—namely. Pure acts of sovereignty. the irruption of the real into the play is functionally parallel to the deus ex machina of the decisive intervention of the sovereign in the political milieu. On this view. The seduction of the irruption is consistent with the decisionist core of Schmitt’s legal and political theory. The claim that a given historical event is the real referent of the work of art into which it bursts is inherent to a naïve philosophy of history (prevented. that there is no standpoint transcendent to legality and that all .”4 The event is not to be understood in terms of a sudden rupturing of the symbolic order by an element foreign to it but. concern is that the focus on the “irruption” (der Einbruch) of the real into the play would give the reader of Shakespeare a license to bypass interpretation. by its blindness. with its accentuation of the figure of the sovereign who decides on the exception that cannot be subsumed under the existing legislation. in principle.Political Hermeneutics 171 it is related to that it enriches the being of that as if through a new event of Being. and asserts its unconditional primacy. a historical fact. Gadamer’s main. save for those rare moments when the non-identical real “irrupts” into a work of art. in an absolutist state. Although Gadamer does not refer to Schmitt by name in his discussion of legal hermeneutics.5 The dialectic of aesthetics and politics at least aimed to reinstate the unity of reality and art. like the real fissure in the symbolic order of art. while Schmitt maintains the two strictly separate. breaks through aesthetic sublimations. where the will of the absolute ruler is above the law—hermeneutics cannot exist. render all interpretive efforts futile. albeit unarticulated. rather. as the seamless supplementation of what is already in being with the work of art and with the subsequent history of its interpretation. Where this is not the case—for example. dispensing with the interpretive extension of existing laws to a previously unforeseen situation.6 The dissipation of sovereignty in the universal rule of law guarantees. from recognizing that every historical fact already forms a part of interpretation) and to an equally fallacious ontology of art.
so Schmitt would insist that a hermeneutical framework and its corollary.9 Before turning Schmitt into the absolute enemy of Gadamer.172 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE concrete cases are adjudicated through an indefinite extension of whatever is immanent to this system. under the rule of law.10 for instance. Hamlet or Hecuba is enframed by positive references to the labyrinthine “superabundance” of interpretations proliferating from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Where decisions without interpretation become the signposts of Schmittian political philosophy. so that “historical objectivization could not put an end to the series of new interpretations of Hamlet either” (HH 9). destroys the very conditions of possibility for hermeneutics and foreshadows a new transcendentalism along with the return of uncritical metaphysics. or. rule-bound logic thick with metaphysical assumptions8 only renders what it precludes more exceptional. The irruption of exteriority. not at all at odds with crass historical objectivism that releases “facts” from the necessity of interpretation. acts of sovereignty do not entirely disappear but retreat into a delegitimized obscurity and become “apocryphal” (CT 190). more precisely. dispenses with decision-making and becomes indecisive. That the “inexhaustible profusion of interpretations and possible interpretations. Just as Gadamer would contend that. in a decisionist political philosophy. or worse. provisional. nonantithetical relation between “reality” and “art” in Schmitt’s work. Is it possible to decide without interpreting what constitutes an exception. crucial for Schmitt. there is no room for interpretation. or to interpret without making a decision with regard to the meaning of the text. In an effort to dispense with the exception. In its preface and in the conclusion. the Romantic ideal of “infinite conversation”7 hijacked by liberal parliamentarism. between allusions (accessory references to historical reality . miraculous. wrapped is a testimony to an intricate. thus. however. conversely. however tentative. it is one of the verdicts of Political Romanticism that “the origin of romantic irony lies in this suspension of every decision” (56). Or. in a certain sense. or open-ended this decision might be? The very text Gadamer scrutinizes in Appendix II evinces the fact that Schmitt is not as allergic to interpretation as the master of hermeneutics is inclined to think. theoretical caricatures. we should ask whether or not these neatly differentiated ideal types are exaggerations. What Gadamer has overlooked in his criticism is a distinction. always new” (HH 43) is not adversely affected by the invocation of a definite historical context to which the play supposedly responded and in which it was. The sovereign’s subjective intervention in the political milieu is. in theological terms. interpretations devoid of the element of decision-making are proper to Gadamerian hermeneutics.
The sovereign decision-maker and the interpreter—the one as the other—reveal the limits of a purely objective legal and political apparatus. that the juristic form is radically different from the aesthetic one.” which escapes the mechanisms of subsumption into the existing legal order. dreams always exact complex acts of interpretation that. ideally. which would make every judgment a mere act of subsumption. that is to say. in lieu of discovering straightforward causes for the nocturnal images in “the real world.Political Hermeneutics 173 included in the play) and reflections (composites of historical and imaginary characters and situations). which. While Schmitt hardly aspires to supplement the legal system with the sovereign decision on the exception. he. so too. They represent the “new event of Being” that binds aesthetic creations to reality in a supplementary mode. then judicial interpretation will not be entirely passive.” descend to the overdetermined webs of causality comprising the dreamer’s psychic life. reflections are entirely congruous with Gadamer’s insistence on the co-belonging of the work of art with what is already in being. situations and events blend dream-like on the stage” (HH 23).”11 The contrast to Schmitt. as opposed to the realm of political activity. through the work of art. is untenable. argues not against law per se but against a perfect system of legal dogmatics. above all. “filling a kind of gap in the system of legal dogmatics. so that. applying it in each specific case. who wishes. In reflections. surprisingly. to explore and to deepen this gap and who insists.”12 Concomitant to the new event of Being effected through an aesthetic supplementation. could not be any starker. Gadamer reports that his goal is not to strengthen legal dogmatics through hermeneutics “[f]or the idea of a perfect legal dogmatics. thereby. nor will it fall on the side of pure theory. legal hermeneutics produces the new event of the law by means of a “creative supplement. replicating . as “in dreams people and realities run into one another [and]. More importantly still. And yet. the structural incapacity of the system of laws and rules to administer and to interpret itself in spite of Luther’s position that the “[s]cripture is sui ipsus interpres”13—a theological precept that has been secularized and translated into the modern illusion of a selfsustaining legalism. too. as anyone acquainted with psychoanalysis knows. would be capable of subsuming every singularity under a set of immutable generalities. pictures and figures. If a hermetically sealed system of legal dogmatics is impossible. reality could interpret itself. The same work of hermeneutical “creative” supplementation is expected of a jurist or a judge who faces the task of concretizing the law. But. “because the latter knows no decision” (PT 35). and. moreover.
among them “judicial independence. despite the liberal attribution of priority to the statute as “a guarantee of judicial independence” (LL 19). presumably modified the law instead of merely interpreting it. Schmitt foresaw this problem as early as 1912. include elements of a vigorous intervention in the system of legality. Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage.174 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE the old rift between the theoretical and the practical aspects of human existence. so that the mixed Kantian-Weberian criterion for the veracity of her “activist” decision-interpretation would be the certainty that other judges would have reached the same verdict in an identical case: “A judge’s decision can today be taken for correct when we can predict that another judge would have decided the matter in exactly the same way. which refuses to recognize the Schmittian-hermeneutical conclusion is still expressed in a demand for the clear-cut separation of judicial interpretations from active decision-making. which is unavoidable. a demand that was at the core of George W. In the United States. And the confirmation hearings of Sonya Sotomayor in 2009 were rife with allegations that she was a perfect specimen of an activist judge. It will. given that the judge is motivated by the spirit of the law. in the case of same-sex marriages.”15 Legality is only strengthened with every judicial intervention that holds fast to professional guidelines and achieves just the right balance between active decisions and passive interpretations. have begun redefining marriage by court order. in his first publication titled Law and Judgment (Gesetz und Urteil). On an issue of such great consequence. an outdated nineteenth-century legalism. . rather. where he hypothesized that the indeterminate gray areas of statutory law ought to be filled with the quasi-legislative discretion exercised by the judiciary. the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process. between legal transcendence and immanence. . As Bush said in his 2004 State of the Union Address: Activist judges . without regard for the will of the people and their elected representatives. the people’s voice must be heard. The absurdity of such accusations hinges on the failure of the proponents of classical liberalism to safeguard the theoretical separation of powers.” in concrete political life. This is. an arbitrary solution.14 Throughout the US election campaign of 2008. . the Republican candidates constantly insinuated that Obama and Clinton would appoint activist judges to the Supreme Court. Bush’s attack on the so-called activist judges who. by no means. If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people.
that they receive their specific content initially through concrete application. such as “public security and order. From the outset. . something pregiven18—wherein undetermined evaluative concepts receive their finite and pliable meaning anew each time it is . that their concrete application and execution are alone decisive in difficult and politically important times. with which the Englishspeaking readers are not yet familiar. for it is a privilege of those who hold power. which ineluctably undermines one of the cornerstones of parliamentary democracy. Politics as Interpretation Insofar as something like political interpretation (or politics qua interpretation) may be gleaned from Schmitt’s work. are distinctive in that they are bound directly to the momentary situation [jeweilige Situation]. as the expression of a purely subjective discharge of the will).e. prompting a widespread misreading of Schmittian sovereignty as voluntarism (i. and. .Political Hermeneutics 175 Aside from Schmitt’s early theory of jurisprudence. like power.” politische Prämie. which. without which no state type could survive. what are the broader parameters for the permeation of his “decisionism” by the hermeneutical spirit? My claim with regard to the importance of hermeneutics for Schmitt is threefold: (1) politics is unavoidably a practice of interpretation. ex nihilo.. Such concepts. the equal chance of everyone to be elected to a political office. (2) the interpretation of politics raises the question of the meaning of politics. most of all. etc. it will be a matter of life and death imbued with existential significance.16 The beneficiaries of this premium are entitled to make concrete interpretation [konkreten Auslegung] and use of undetermined evaluative concepts. (LL 32)17 The political premium gives the sovereign the right to interpret. and (3) political interpretations and the interpretation of politics may be ultimately traced back to the theological sphere. or what both in 1932 and in 1978 Schmitt called the “political premium.” “danger. In contrast to the sovereign decision on the exception that springs forth miraculously. this right pertains to the interpretive assessment of the momentary situation—hence.” “emergency.” “necessary measures” . not a mere scholarly exercise. in Political Theology. is not equally distributed across society. challenging all political foundationalisms and essentialisms. political interpretation does not fall under the rubric of the rule of law. where political concepts are born and where the co-imbrication of transcendence and immanence demands an extreme hermeneutical vigilance.
On the contrary.21 It is worth pointing out that the immediate situation. The competing claims of the infinitely open (of de-cision as the “open . in and of themselves. and metaphysical legitimizations along with mythical foundational narratives are polemical means in this struggle. yet their deprivation is not an immutable political given so long as this right remains contestable. and abstract concepts.” Marx’s “false consciousness.” that. for those who are denied access to the right to interpret. .20 This is the political core of hermeneutics. safeguards the survival of various “state types. and reappropriations. the world is inherently meaningless.22 The mediated concreteness of situational interpretation does not exhaust the indeterminacy of the evaluative terms. . handed over to polemical appropriations. instead. etc. Schmitt cannot endorse a clear correspondence between the “subjective” interpretation and the “objective” . conduct or thing. To paraphrase slightly Schmitt’s characterization of political concepts as essentially polemical: political history as a whole is a history of struggle for the right to interpretation.” and Heidegger’s “inauthenticity”—that their world is effectively construed through an interpretation which is not their own. abstractions such as “justice” or “beauty” do not ignite any controversy.23 does not rule out the idea that the art of the political consists in deciding on the undecidable without diminishing its undecidability. instead. objective meaning. Like a good hermeneutical philosopher.176 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE exercised. on the other. what initiates the disagreement is their mediation with concrete instances of the just. they are codetermined in the act of concrete interpretation. an ongoing existential contestation of meaning between various friend and enemy groupings. We find Schmitt to be in agreement with Hume’s conviction. once and for all. clearing for the still un-decided”24) and the finite are responsible for the paradox of politics and the predicament of interpretation. the beautiful. do not have an inherent. which is not conducive to their survival but which. This is not to say that. human beings are worldless. called upon to describe it. formulated in the influential essay “Of the Standard of Taste.19 The historical horizon of interpretation in the present is never homogeneous but fractured and split against itself. since the depletion of indeterminacy would spell out the end of politics understood as dissensus. but rather—in a hermeneutical take on Hegel’s “alienation.. The decisiveness of any given interpretation.” Deprived of the right to interpret. on the one hand. expropriations. which may mutate into an attempt to preserve the status quo with the state as the embodiment of this status guaranteed by acts of sovereignty that lie “in determining definitively what constitutes public order and security” (PT 9). it polemically broadens the hermeneutical horizon.
g. exempt from the historical-hermeneutical horizon and capable of giving rise to objective knowledge. But doesn’t Schmitt conjure up the specter of metaphysical foundations for interpretation when he writes in Constitutional Theory that the “substantive meaning of the constitution has completely receded because the constitution . In response to Marx’s eleventh thesis on Feuerbach. Mouffe. Žižek. hence. historical way. Robustly opposed to the untenable liberal thesis on the neutrality of interpretation.Political Hermeneutics 177 situation at hand.” whether human or non-human (e. universal reason. and propensity to take sides in a specific historical situation26 bear directly upon these concepts’ polemical concretization. not only during the recession of 2009. Derrida. but it is also an act of sovereignty conditioned by a declaration of the state of emergency. to interpret (or to reinterpret) the world and to change it may.” where Benjamin redetermines “the state of emergency” based on the act of seizing the right to interpret from below. in this respect. Culture as such). they live through every single day. the recognition of interpretation’s partisan character facilitates a constant revaluation of indeterminate political categories. their identification with and against certain friend-enemy groupings. The most famous example. from within “the tradition of the oppressed” who will now decide on the meaning of “the real state of emergency. An examination of political hermeneutics is one of the pillars for the project of enunciating a post-metaphysical view of politics and countering the reading of Schmitt as a metaphysician. The “afterlife” of Schmitt’s own political concepts abounds with polemical reappropriations practiced by the heterogeneous group of “left Schmittians” (Benjamin. is Thesis VIII in “Theses on the Philosophy of History. Interpretations are singular decisions sanctioning the undetermined concepts they interpret in such a way that the political belonging of the interpreters. There is no apolitical “higher third. Each interpretation is not “a truly objective mirror of how things really are”25 but a place where the otherwise abstract political terms first become meaningful in a political and. in the words of Derrida’s Politics of Friendship.” Claiming the right to interpret for the oppressed is not only the first step in the direction of restituting their world and making it meaningful based on their own historical experiences. refer to one and the same thing. after all.” the perpetual crisis.. to name a few).27 The reference to the tradition of the oppressed suggests that this hermeneutical act is not an arbitrary decision but an attempt to render politically relevant that meaning which derives from preexisting experiential and textual frameworks obscured by the hegemonic interpretation of emergency in terms of a threat to “national security. indeed as the “last great metaphysician” of the political.
or which prompts “existential. violating the event of Being. rule-bound imposition of political method. or “substantive meaning. which stems from its political being [aus politischem Sein hervorgegangenen]” (CT 125). and the decision on the form of collective existence. comprehensive decisions” on the form of political existence to “constitute the substance of the constitution” (CT 78). but is directly identified with the very being of the constitution. is a promising indication that Schmitt has chosen the hermeneutical path for his political philosophy.” In the Gadamerian vein. .178 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE was rendered relative by its transformation into constitutional law and by the formalization of constitutional law?” (73). Schmitt writes: “A constitution is not based on a norm. as Gadamer would say. But what is the substance of meaning. and displays the strength of his hermeneutical commitment. the word “event” should bespeak an intrinsic connection between the substantive meaning of the constitution. trivializing lived history as a series of superficial accidents. the method of political hermeneutics will issue from the matters themselves. that meaning is substantive which carries a decision within itself. It is based on a political decision concerning the type and form of its own being. it will be coordinated with the self-grounding (therefore. As in Heidegger and Gadamer. That is one of the reasons why he feels such antipathy to institutional approaches to politics and. Conversely. the groundlessness) of political life. with the text inseparable from the lived historicity of the decision that interprets itself as the place of “substantive meaning. We have been already sensitized to the meaning of “substance. especially. so that each of the three items on the list is not superadded to political ontology.” which Schmitt transfigured from one of the most entrenched metaphysical categories. evidently. whereby the reduction of Constitution to a set of legal statutes gives way to formalization in an effort to detach the text of the law from the concrete historical horizon of its meaning. to proceduralism with its normative.” as the object of political hermeneutics? It is. the stratum of significance that falls victim to the process of relativization. into an existential notion. an indicator of variable collective existence concentrated in a historical decision on the political form. whose justness would be the foundation of its validity. foregoing a reliance on a prefabricated normative basis and on sui generis metaphysical foundations. concrete existence. his willingness to equate political Being with the existential meaning of politics. the Constitution discloses itself as the event of political Being. where the political decision on the form of political Being stems from this very Being. Hermeneutically traced back to such decisions. in the legal domain. The conceptual circle.
often incompatible with one another. aborts the hermeneutical injunction and traps political theorists at the level of pre-understanding and “fore-meaning” of the political. Needless to say. In Political Theology II. is exquisitely polemical and. Schmitt cites this development with a measure of approbation. An uncritical dissolution of this concept in the institution of the state.Political Hermeneutics 179 Interpreting the Meaning of the Political While political activity is inherently interpretive. too. who. It is this situational. where the distinction between friends and enemies still manifests itself. translates into the historical end of the centuries-long process of secularization and. occasional nature of Schmitt’s political thought. the acknowledgement of the polemical nature of political thought. recently exemplified in the phenomena of piracy and terrorism. If we are to supersede this futile and unphilosophical pursuit. political. valorized over the Protestant rationalization of politics. Schmitt himself is an untiring interpreter of the political. recognizes that this second-level interpretation. The only political philosophy worthy of the name is a hermeneutical explication of the presupposed concept of the political it aims to bring to a historically sensitive and self-conscious understanding. replete with a history and tradition of its own. that has often been mistaken for the wildest opportunism. more . we must revisit our earlier conclusion that the decline of the state does not portend the eclipse of the political. in all sobriety. its acute awareness of the fissured horizon of its present.28 For instance. Anything less than that would be mere prejudice. the perceived exhaustion of political potential at the end of a long history of de-politicization. writing that “[t] he time of change came when the state lost its monopoly on the political” (PTII 44). the emphasis on the political tradition of Roman Catholicism. is an interpretation and a self-interpretation that interacts with the historical circumstances in which it finds itself. coexists in it. on the model of complexio oppositorum. the “historical specificity” of the state was bound up with the “secularization of European life as a whole” (NE 128). to the contrary. or. Far from being the pinnacle of de-politicization. This is not a case of opportunism but the occasionality of a political hermeneutics committed to those rare historical sites. after all. It is not by chance that he applauds the decline of the state in the course of defending the paradigm of political theology. the loss of state monopoly on politics. with the admiration for Lenin’s capacity to polarize friend-enemy groupings against the backdrop of parliamentary stupor and sublimation of enmity into discursive disagreement. therefore. in Schmitt’s case.
In interpreting this meaning. In other words. in the last instance. the meaning of the political is already inherent in human existence as a whole. the meaning of Being. There is no question of . is reachable from any other domain of human activity.” the “economic. the difference between friends and enemies is not at all separate from those meaningful distinctions that structure the economic. when the pull of oppositionality is so powerful that it lapses into sheer antagonism and prompts the transformation of the other into an enemy.” and so on. and other spheres. recoils into Schmitt’s question of the political and cannot but present itself in the form of the latter. goes hand-in-hand with the theoretical erasure of the concept of the political.29 while the forgetting of Being. certainly. perhaps. works as a catalyst in the surging up of questions concerning the meaning of the political no longer precomprehended as a vague synonym of the state. The state may. what does this question signify? Have we learnt to hear it yet? My hypothesis is that Heidegger’s question of Being. Schmitt does not impose abstract conceptual categories onto political practice. then. It is. As I have observed with reference to the event of politics. for Heidegger in Being and Time. or a painstaking interpretation of Dasein’s everydayness. rather. which boils down to the meaning of the being of Dasein for whom Being becomes an issue. whereas the meaning of aesthetic and other endeavors is. losing its specific delineation as the “aesthetic. Schmitt’s thesis is that the boiling point of the political. first of all. the question that inquires into the meaning of Being unfolds as an interrogation of the being of Dasein. To recap: It is no mystery that the “specific meaning” of the political resides in the friend-enemy distinction reached by means of an existential interpretation of the situation at hand.180 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE positively. in its specificity. harness and efficiently organize this distinction in an effort to single out public enemies. is to be sought in the interrogation of the hermeneutical-existential sense of politics. Now. is the meaning of the political? And. aesthetic. What. will be politicized. political. as a consequence. and the historical tendency toward de-politicization that culminates in Western liberalism. moral. the abandonment of and the inability to hear the question regarding its meaning. Seinsfrage. baffling that. but the specific meaning of the political thrives outside the sphere of state control. which. its identification with state institutions. Henceforth. which takes the form of the hermeneutic of facticity. he wants to draw upon concrete political experiences and to discover their inner logic.
Perspectivalism. there is. inherited by twentieth-century hermeneutics from Nietzsche and marking the meaning of Being as much as the meaning of the political. chases the political still further into concealment. The one for whom Being is meaningful is a mortal. though not the premises. is here existentially substantiated. In Division II of the text. what we might name. The . is political. the question of the meaning of Being. Considered in the context of the ontological problematic. from a particular interested perspective awaiting interpretation. the essential interestedness of any given interpretation. But. Dasein finds its being as a whole overshadowed by the possibility of death triggering. that is to say. potentially political. From the perspective of a “hopeless” partisan fight. in Hegel’s Science of Logic). The interest in the political fades when the potential for politicization immanent to everyday existence is stunted and when pervasive concerns with security that flare up when we are faced with our finitude and vulnerability prompt us to evade the orientation toward death. or at least. the meaning of Being as such. is an inescapable question for someone whose whole existence is defined and endangered by her or his political belonging or activity—someone like a political prisoner or a partisan epitomizing an engaged subject in the era of the state’s neutralization and de-politicization. The meaning of the political. with its current motivational deficit. from a different standpoint. finite Dasein who is strong enough not to evade the apodictic certainty that its time is bound to run out. in addition to the empirical de-politicization summed up here.Political Hermeneutics 181 objective Being in Heidegger (as there is. since Being is always meaningful for someone.” is potentially politicizable is indicative of the fact that the meaning of Dasein’s being. as Schmitt describes it in Theory of the Partisan. and hence the meaning of Being as such.” pertaining to the history of Being itself. the meditation on the meaning of Being imposes itself with an irrecusable weight. the assertion that every region of its everyday activity. every mode of concern (Besorge) later formalized as a “domain. “ontological de-politicization. It is intuitively clear that de-politicization is the side effect of nihilism (the apathy to and meaninglessness of human existence) and that liberalism. of Strauss’s exposé of The Concept of the Political: what is endangered in de-politicization is the very being of human beings. within the framework of Division I of Being and Time that details the worldly dispersion of Dasein. too. and from the standpoint of being-toward-death anticipating one’s possibility of no-longer-being. Ontically. for instance. depoliticization corroborates the conclusions.
to a certain necessity behind the retreat of Being and. It stands in the same relation to the political. and through the theological sources of the political vernacular. as a testimony to “the liberty of the children of God. partakes in the meaning of the political. mark a political event. consequently. directly and immediately. since he does not entertain the possibility that liberalism is a peripheral symptom for the closure of the epochal history of the political.”32 is an internal displacement in the theological sphere. moreover. while secularization. that “[t]he political must first be brought out of its concealment into which liberalism has cast it”31 is to neglect its ontological dimension that cannot be made to appear. a modification. hence. more precisely. which is not exempt from the logic governing the positive term and which. for Schmitt. the presupposition of politics without being demonstrable in an “objective” or even “phenomenal” way. as a deficient modality. are secularized theological categories. expresses the truth of what it modifies. at the same time. therefore. Another complication in this rough schema is that political concepts. behind “the retreat of the political” deftly diagnosed by French thinkers Jean-Luc Nancy and Philip LacoueLabarthe. Strauss underestimates the severity of this predicament when he speculates that the political could be easily brought out of its concealment as soon as liberalism withers away. Those who wish to arrive at the specific meaning of the political (but how specific can it be. the political is not immune to its own expropriatory power.182 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE advantage of the Heideggerian approach is that it calls our attention to this second tendency. As a principle of displacement affecting all other spheres of human life. which means that de-politicization is produced as an internal displacement in the political and that it. so that the political would be the condition of possibility or. indeed. in the ontic reality it subtends. . It is for this reason that the ontic hermeneutic of politicization stands in need of the ontological supplement that would conceptually convert ontico-ontological difference into the difference between politics and the political. given the disarticulations the political produces and.30 To propose. as the inauthentic relates to the authentic in Heidegger. that is to say. undergoes?) will have no choice but to make a triple detour through the interpretation of the transformations within other spheres of human activity that get organized along friend-enemy lines. The retreat of the political would. as Strauss does. regardless of liberalism’s involvement in the empirical history of its concealment. through de-politicization as the inalienable mode of the political.
perhaps. he is not in the world. which is responsible for the more or less enduring construction of political reality. of philosophical hermeneutics. he is not alone. nonideological. wherein the problems of psychic interiority. subjectivity. We may. drawn back to the traditional object of hermeneutical concern. its acts of interpretation discover that the referent is deferred. political hermeneutics is shored up by “an ethos of belief ” and. that is he is no longer even a man. therefore. the “prehistory. To the political belongs the idea because there is no politics without authority and no authority without an ethos of belief. Man is either alone or in the world. no political system can survive even a generation with only naked techniques of holding power. As Schmitt states in Roman Catholicism and Political Form. As in the philosophy of Gadamer. political and theological. to the insuperable horizon of sociality. .” except that this paleonym wrongly takes for granted the existence of an objective. (17) Despite the virulent anti-economism of this early treatise. therefore. Aside from the divine connotations of concepts such as sovereignty shimmering with the borrowed light of the supreme power of God.33 Much of the discussion of political-theological hermeneutics in Schmitt revolves around the notion of the world that connotes much more than its theological sense referring to the secular. and belief first take root. which humanizes the one who is in it not by virtue of its inherent . (RC 48) Being in the world is already being with others. by a thoroughly Christian theology. declare this construction to be “ideological. for whom language is the experience of the world. Nothing could be further from rationalism and idealism than an idea wholly reliant on the ethos of belief.Political Hermeneutics 183 Political Theology as a Hermeneutic Endeavor Political hermeneutics is. “scientific” truth comprised of facts that are absolved from the necessity of interpretation. Schmitt’s “world” is intimately tied to speech and. As long as he is truly alone. at once. whoever speaks is no longer alone in the world .” in Gadamer’s terms. non-transcendent realm. and as long as he is a man and in this world. in a linguistic community. the attribution of “the idea” to the political is not an attempt to idealize it in order to counteract raw economic materialism. so much so that. .
of existential spatiality. and it is the idea that “obtains its visibility in the Word. however. In disclosing the non-phenomenal conditions of possibility for phenomenality. the invisibility of the Church and of the political. for which the visible Church and the state are but the signs. in which it is caught up. and of phenomenality or visibility. with its visibility engendered by something invisible and unspeakable (divine solitude in the absence of friends or enemies) in the same way that the phenomenality of the political is based on the great non-phenomenal arcanum. it is the ethos of belief—and. encrypts itself. Schmitt recommends that we read the visible for the invisible. Yet. a structure of transcendence in immanence. just as a breath of air becomes sound when it is forced through a reed” (RC 57). not as the interpretation of the invisible qua invisible. if the same entity is not “of ” it. given that the latter puts up a pretense of autonomy from interpretation. if such a flight were successful. In spite of being emplaced. need not be imbricated with metaphysical transcendence that would confer upon earthly clericalism and statism the mantle of divine authority. that we interpret “facts” as façades hiding interpretive frameworks of belief whence they issue in the first place.34 At bottom. admittedly. the one who would accomplish it would no longer remain human in the absolute silence and solitude of gods and beasts that the evasion would bring with it. Interpretation must proceed as the interpretation of the invisible in the visible. to grasp the invisible or the non-phenomenal directly. Rather. It is unfeasible. “the Church can be in but not of this world” (RC 52). (How should we take Schmitt’s positive references to the invisibility of the partisan after . at the same time. And. the institution of the Church is irreducible to the visible word in which it is found. It is impossible to flee from the world. as Schmitt insists throughout his writings. it is the possibility of any experience of place. An entity located “in” it is assigned a particular place and. then the source of meaning is not exhausted by the semantic network. to insist on the pure interiority of belief without the practice in which it manifests and. because. therefore. one must rigorously “distinguish between true visibility and factual concreteness” (RC 53).184 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE universality but thanks to an association of friends sharing the finite horizon of a particular language. has been specified in terms of the linguistic being-withothers of a human being. without the patient passage through the visible. that is to say. subjective interiority as such—that is invisible. makes sense within the webs of signification from which it is woven but. therefore. whereas the former is the end result of rigorous hermeneutical activity. Does Schmitt’s claim with respect to the immanently transcendent status of the Church suggest that it participates in the meaningful paradigms of the worldly linguistic community but does not derive its meaning from them? The Church is. conversely. with it. The world.
. among others). Insofar as our fate is to be in the world. at the very least. would he. and where the idea recedes while the institutional structure that gave it phenomenal shape remains. it would have to disentangle the knot of the visible and the invisible. Significant as the intersections of the visible and the invisible in the Church and in nomos itself might be. the question of competence—of political existence as opposed to essence—cannot be definitively resolved. The precarious balance between these disparate elements is entirely upset in modernity with its positivist ideology. the idea of order offers its adherents a determinate spatial orientation. Constitutional Theory. in the form of a line that divides the pastures in the process of land-appropriation. despite himself. to read. as it were. the very link between “objective” order and “subjective” orientation that is a veritable guiding thread in The Nomos of the Earth is a conjunction of the visible and the invisible. one cannot afford to “circumvent the mixed nature of the spiritual-worldly [Geistlich-Weltlich] combination of any specifically historical event” (PTII 92). saves him from this.” as Schmitt writes with a measure of sarcasm: “Until the Day of Judgement. for the first time. on the verge of imputing a massive metaphysical program to hermeneutics and only the so-called question of competence haunting his writings on sovereignty (Political Theology. “in historico-political events the finger of God and his providence” (PTII 92). to which he was so hostile?35 For.Political Hermeneutics 185 the state’s political potential has been depleted? Doesn’t the political come into its own in the figure of the partisan and finally dwells in the invisible as invisible? And how does the reduction of the visible state affect the status of the Church? Were Schmitt to extend the theory of the partisan to the theological sphere. Concretized in a line. postponed “to the Day of Judgement. once again. in that the idea of nomos as “the political and social order of a people becomes spatially visible” (NE 70). find himself arguing for the key tenets of the Reformation. The final meta-interpretation and the meta-decision as to who should be able to interpret and to decide are infinitely delayed or. Here Schmitt is. where the visible survives its detachment from the invisible. For an interpretation to be effective. where the line outlasts the logic that drew it. the Augustinian teaching on the two kingdoms will have to face the twofold open question: Quis judicabit? Quis interpretabur? [Who will decide? Who will interpret?]” (PTII 115). to decipher the work of spirit in the world. aren’t Luther and Calvin the partisans of the theological?) The Church is not alone in its ambiguous standing between the visible and the invisible. not unlike the one forged in the institution of the Church. and to attribute sovereignty to this divine source of authority.36 The ambiguity of the “mixed nature” of historical events has nothing to do with the perfect mediations of Hegel’s world spirit.
this order would not be what it is (or. as Freud would have it. In a proto-Lacanian key. weak. both in the process of its composition and across the range of its performances. be it trauma or the real. ineffective. which it “temporalizes” in and as this delay. more precisely. interpretation is the virtual condition of possibility not only for history but also for time. can change that” (HH 18). interpretation “is” différance:38 the temporalization of the spatial . “A terrifying reality shed a faint light through the masks and costumes of a theatre play. in addition to unfolding as a history or as a tradition. Neither immanently included in nor transcendentally excluded from temporality. The powerlessness of interpretation is not a mere illusion of brute historical realism. No interpretation.” the hermeneutical act is powerless. the real and trauma are the limits of interpretation toward which all hermeneutical activity tends. which will befall those who dare to speculate on the circumstances surrounding James’s accession without engaging in aesthetic sublimation. to the Day of Judgement. in its absence. its truth is that. for instance. bound up with death. interminable. but such interminability is the very opening of time in the delay. finite interpretation becomes infinite. Faced with the equation “time = the real = trauma.186 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE The double question of competence stays unanswered because the two Augustinian kingdoms have been neither reconciled nor definitively set apart from one other. it is utterly weak in the order of the actual but. The historical impurity of the distinction between them is what Schmitt calls political theology ensuring the openness of interpretation in the indefinite but finite delay “until the Day of Judgment. In a word. philosophical or aesthetic. whether philological.” the idea that unsettled Gadamer to such an extent that he felt the need to devote a separate appendix to Truth and Method to its critique? Halfway through his 1956 essay on Shakespeare. I want to focus on the fine grain of Schmitt’s text. insulated from the temporal order it will exhibit only as an après-coup? What is time that it could break into a work of art. as though by burglary—one of the connotations of the German Einbruch—allowing reality to shed “a faint light” through the strangely spatial cleft it would create? Tending toward an unreachable limit. what is the status of “the irruption of time into the play. unable to produce a real change in what it interprets. Schmitt writes. in the postponement. But how does this stand with time? Is the play itself. it would not be at all).” wherein the history of the secular world unravels. Notwithstanding the reasonable rejoinder that historical reality is constituted solely through interpretation. however subtle.37 Keeping in mind the trenchancy of interpretation in Schmitt’s corpus. Time breaks into the play as reality and reality is terrifyingly traumatic.
in spatial terms. Suspended over what.” existence is lived temporality. as Schmitt assumes.” Gadamer. of spinning the web of time out of oneself—be it in the shape of futural possibilities. Schmitt considers occasio to be the core of Romanticism understood as “subjectified occasionalism” (PR 17). could be called “the abyss.Political Hermeneutics 187 opening in the work of art and the spatialization of the temporal flow of the tradition in the visibility of institutions. R. Truth and Method. Cf. 12. determinate response. Hans-Georg Gadamer. plunges headlong into groundless existence will be capable of overcoming the crises and metaphysical impasses of transcendentally legitimated regimes and institutions. Second Revised Edition (New York and London: Continuum Press. 497. 2004). institutionalization. it is the experience of groundlessness. I am using the Romanticist. Notes 1. p. Given that the meaning of political Being is time. p. 147. their “tendency to see in the most insignificant things an ‘occasion’ for the most far-reaching and universalist speculation” as a guideline for discussing the conceptual relation between decisions and interpretations based on Gadamer’s singular criticism of Schmitt’s book on Shakespeare. with any degree of certainty.” precisely because it is no longer tethered only to spatial models but hinges upon the finite temporality of historically situated collective and individual subjects. Ceaseless practical and theoretical interpretation of the assertion that “the meaning of political Being is time” is the prerogative of such politics. Truth and Method. their formalization. 2005). n. 428.” that is. and if interpretation is différantial. p. p. incapable of mastering its incipience and of grasping. Ankersmit. Finally. 498. F. Truth and Method. rather. such as the Church. 2. its terminus ad quem. Only a politics that does not recoil from the temporal sense of Being but. and the futurity of finite existence expressed in risk and in the question that lacks a final. then the meaning of political Being is time—the history of heterogeneous nomoi. 4. Gadamer. the fissured horizon of the present in the confrontation with the enemy. 3. Sublime Historical Experience (Stanford: Stanford University Press. present actions. or flashbacks to the past one cannot fully reclaim—in the absence of mooring points that would safely secure this dynamic mesh of experiences. Existence is always groundless. “For the play itself there is no antithesis of time and art. if all political activity is hermeneutical. hermeneutical (and deconstructive) insights into “occasionalism. political ontology is here delineated in terms of “groundless existence. and decline. .
or.” Ibid. ed. Beck. convictions” (PT 7). 169–211]. 13. “Self-interpreted. especially on philosophical-historical or metaphysical. 174. 8. and legitimacy. p. 175). 2008). Carl Schmitt.html> 15. Gadamer. Michael Hoeltzl and Graham Ward. 329. CA: University of California Press. 2004). because they concern hermeneutics. ed.. (Carl Schmitt might have said shamefaced modes. “Text of President Bush’s State of the Union Address. The event to be interpreted is present only in interpretation. “The Legal World Revolution”: “State legality concerns the unavoidable political premiums of the legal holding of state power” (Telos 72.” in Political Theology II: The Myth of the Closure of Any Political Theology (London and New York: Polity. authority. and the answers offered are responses to. Bruce Krajewski (Berkeley and Los Angeles. Schmitt expresses the same thought in Constitutional Theory: When parties with contradictory opinions and convictions achieve political influence. 17. p. p. recognize the significance of hermeneutics in Schmitt but immediately drown it in “metaphysical speculation”: The questions [Who will decide? Who will interpret?] arise from. p. p. these questions invite metaphysical speculation.)” (p. pp. as the interpreter and the consumer of the work of art belong to the play that the work itself is . 12. They are the key questions of Realpolitik. “Whether one has confidence and hope that it [the state of exception] can be eliminated depends on philosophical. (p. 146) 6. Truth and Method. emphasis added] 11. . they express their political power by giving concrete content to the concepts . <http://www. [“Editors’ Introduction.washingtonpost. 16. pp. Summer 1987.” 2004. Gadamer. 74). Ibid. For they are about judgement.. How to Fall Short of Philosophy. Gianni Vattimo [Art’s Claim to Truth. 2008)] lucidly elaborates on this point: The historian belongs as much to the tradition that makes up the document or event that he must interpretatively reconstruct. but that qualification need not distract us here.188 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE 5. 324. 329. Schmitt returns to this idea first introduced in Legality and Legitimacy in a 1978 text. 71. 10. where this divide is erased: “Both fundamental ontology (Heidegger) and philosophical hermeneutics (Gadamer) are—more or less tacit or encrypted—modes of decisionism. I am aware of but a miniscule parenthesis in an article by Geoff Waite [“Radio Nietzsche. the translators of Political Theology II. 9. Truth and Method. 330.” in Gadamer’s Repercussions: Reconsidering Philosophical Hermeneutics. “German romantics possess an odd trait: everlasting conversation” (PT 53). On the other hand.com/wp-srv/politics/transcripts/bushtext_012004. situations of immediate practical import. Zabala (New York: Columbia University Press. S. p. H. Gesetz und Urteil: Eine Untersuchung zum Problem der Rechtspraxis (Munich: C. 7. . 2. 1969). 14.
MA: MIT Press. 24). has been advanced against the Catholic policy understood as “nothing more or less than a boundless opportunism” (Schmitt. 306). 1969). and security. justice. 1983)] writes: “We will see that. Walter Benjamin. Contributions to Philosophy. 21. The reason for this parallel is that Schmitt is transposing the experience of the Catholic political form.Political Hermeneutics of state life. 257. rather. 61. 23. 81. “The Event of Order. Richard Bernstein [Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science. Vattimo. 19. “About an abstract concept there will be in general no argument. 20. including especially the concept ‘war’” (LL 35). 26.’ an ‘event. Schmitt’s immediate concern is with the Kellogg Pact of 1928 and the historical drama in which a “group of powers plays the higher third and itself interprets and sanctions the indeterminate concepts of the pact. 218). pathos-laden enactment of understanding in Gadamer. metaphysical concepts and problems are restricted to serving as the polemical means in his politically inflected—polemical—political philosophy. p. 22. As Gadamer observes. public order. least of all in the history of sovereignty. for Gadamer. given its unavoidable reference to the past—is a polemical process. 14–33. . The fissuring of the horizon in the present does not invalidate Gadamer’s thesis on the fusion of horizons. p. Art’s Claim to Truth. all of which are necessarily undefined. 18. 25. see Alexandre Franco de Sá’s. complexio oppositorum.” pp. Heidegger. and Praxis (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Hence. “the radical will to avoid symbolic violence [that] shapes historical as well as intercultural hermeneutics” contributes to “the complete methodological concealment of power relations behind the backs of the interpreter and the interpretandum” (p. The continual formation of the horizon of the present—which is not identical to itself. 1999)] does well to note that. more often than not. What is argued about is the concrete application. le salut public. Hans Herbet Kögler [The Power of Dialogue: Critical Hermeneutics after Gadamer and Foucault (Cambridge. Insofar as they survive in Schmitt’s own writings. “In fact the horizon of the present is continually in the process of being formed because we are continually having to test all our prejudices” (Truth and Method.’ a pathos” (p. and so on” (PT 6). p. according to Schmitt. onto the sphere of secularized political existence. such as freedom. Its complexity will not be fully subsumed in any resulting fusion. understanding is misconceived when it is thought of as an a activity of a subject. 89–90) 189 The “political premium” here turns into an expression of political power. Illuminations: Essays and Reflections (New York: Schocken Books.” p. public safety and order. 113). For an excellent critique of the reading of Schmitt as an opportunist. Emphasis added. p. The limits of voluntarism in Schmitt bleed into the “passive” or. 28. (pp. and that means who decides in a situation of conflict what constitutes the public interest or interest of the state. it is a ‘happening. I reiterate that metaphysics as such and as a whole is limited to the second stage in the history of de-politicization outlined in the 1929 text on “The Age of Neutralization and Depoliticization” and leading up to extreme economism. Hermeneutics. It is this concealment that political hermeneutics must overcome. “The Necessity of Politics. 24. The same criticism. 27.
in a quasi-Nietzschean fashion. consult Dialogue and Deconstruction: The Gadamer-Derrida Encounter. Gadamer: Hermeneutics. 1987). 38. Diane P. hermeneutics may be likened to a critique of ideology: Thus. 44. Michelfelder and Richard E. On the significance of the Christian conception of history as a “finite delay” for Schmitt. see Taubes. This. 1989). of exposing ideology is precisely its own. It might appear extravagant to end the chapter on Schmitt’s hermeneutics with a nod of approval in the direction of Derrida. 36. as “Macht ist Sein. hermeneutics is not only aware of hidden dimensions of meaning and not only itself capable of revealing them. emphasis added. already contains a kernel of différance. En Divergent Accord. p. becoming other to oneself (p. 84 32. 33. the task of revealing hidden dimensions of meaning and. and Reason (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Strauss. “The church of Christ is not of this world and its history. 119). but it is in this world. indeed. where he acknowledges that Selbstverständnis. Being is Power]” (G 242). as a non-enemy of Gadamer? Of course. 35. is the case according to The Enemy: An Intellectual Portrait. . self-understanding. Palmer (Albany: SUNY Press. 37. ed. Sparks (London: Routledge. Philip Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy. From this insight. [Georgia Warnke. this “solution” poses a new set of problems that carry over from the frictions between deconstruction and hermeneutics. En Divergent Accord. one needs to take but a small step to the final conclusion of the present chapter. That means: it is localized and opens up a space. included in this volume. and space here means impermeability. In turn. The Concept of the Political.190 GROUNDLESS EXISTENCE 29. p. 1997). 62). ed. Schmitt expresses this thought formulaically. visibility and the public sphere” (PTII 65). Especially noteworthy is Gadamer’s text “Hermeneutics and Logocentrism”. Sein ist Macht [Power is Being. But could it be the case that deconstruction is what allows Schmitt to be considered if not as a friend then. hence. p. Taubes. 115] 34. Retreating the Political. Translation modified. a biography of Schmitt written by Gopal Balakrishnan (p. “Notes on Carl Schmitt. S. 54. in that it requires a constant putting oneself in question. For a fecund summary of these.” p. in fact. Tradition. 30. at least. 31.
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