Operative determinations in Carl Schmitt’s concept of the enemy. by Gerardo Muñoz

If the modern state presupposes the concept of the political, then the notion of the political presupposes the concept of the enemy. And if in Political Theology (1922) Schmitt claimed that the modern ethos was predicated as a struggle against the political, a decade later The concept of the political makes the case as to why the political could have only emerged in the wake of the crisis of the modern liberal state aggravated by the rise of the total state and the politization of the economy. All things considered, what Schmitt claims about “politics as destiny” (quoting Walter Rathenau, although the original is handed to us by Hegel quoting the Napoleon- Goethe conversation) has been misunderstood: “It could be more exact to say that politics continues to remain the destiny, but what has occurred is that economics has become political and thereby destiny” [1]. The total politization of economic relations – social contract as structured in value transaction and production – does not imply that Schmitt thinks that politics is destiny. If the ‘concept of the political’ is suppressed and subsumed by economics and techno-administration, then this implies that every sphere of human activity becomes political including one’s destiny. But no destiny can be fully administered or it ceases to be one.


The suppression- expansion of the political allows for the destruction of the enemy, who turns a mere protuberance in a pacified world order. In other words, for Schmitt (unlike what is usually said on his behalf) proposes a concept of the political to achieve a separation from politics that doesn’t amount to ‘critique of politics’ (allegedly what Liberal epoch offers), in the same way that the figure of the enemy is not to be understood normatively as the telos of political activity, but rather an operation that indicates degrees of association and dissociation given that the modern theory of the state is inseparable from plural conflict. In fact, as Schmitt states, the concept of the political as operatively defined by the enemy does not turn its back to pluralism, but rather wants to produce (“yield other consequences” is the language used) pluralism without suppressing the political unit itself [2]. And to yield “space of recognition” for friend-enemy divide does not entail war is neither the end nor the continuation of politics, as it has been understood, but rather an optimal effect whenever there is the existence of political units [3]. In this sense, the notion of enemy as presupposed in the concept of the political is not a substantive and personalist notion, but a particular operation that tries to contain domination while providing breathing space for a non-suppressive practice of politics (a counterpoint to fleeing from catastrophic techno-politics, suggested by Erich Unger’s Politics and Metaphysics during the same time).

One could outline at least four operative determinations of the enemy, which support the thesis of Schmitt’s effort to amend the conditions of the liberal state not negating them: a) the enemy is always a public enemy (hostis) and not a private one (enemicus). Here Schmitt retains the modern juristic conception of positive law. As Schmitt recalls in Ex captitvate salus, for the theologians the enemy is something to destroy, but he thinks as a jurist and not a theologian [4]. b) the hostis is not reducible to a person, but rather to a political unit, although the political could amount to an existential condition. If the “enemy is one’s own question as figure (Gestalt)”, as Schmitt quotes from Däubler, this also means that enemy is a principle of differentiation and mediation rather than a substantive essence, ideological or otherwise [5]. This is why it could be a mistake to confuse the gestalt formation with the unity and relative homogeneity of society required for the modern state.

c) If any political thinking is a thinking oriented towards optimization of the extreme case (this presupposes a negative anthropology), then it follows that the enemy is also the “enemy” in a concrete conflict. And it is clear why Schmitt taught that the suppression of war in the wake of the Kellogg Pact 1928 meant, as least tendentially, that enemies cease to be taken as a unit of differentiation transforming politics into a world police as the dominant practice of managing partners that eradicate the hostis. d) Finally, the notion of the enemy allows the state to recognize concrete threats and dispose of capabilities to respond to a crisis (here the polarity between decision and discussion comes to light), but also without discarding the basic principles of the rule of law such as nulla poena sine lege. In this final determination, the concept of the political is directed at displacing the separation of state and civil society, which according to Schmitt was incapable to offering a concrete response to the rise of neutralization posed by totalization of the “society” superseding the authority of the state (this is a variant of the economic primacy). The notion of the enemy is thus understood best as an optimal operativity that seeks to relieve politics from this polarity (totalization and repression) laying bare at the origin of the modern state.

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Notes 

1. Carl Schmitt. The Concept of the Political (University of Chicago Press, 1996), 78.

2. Ibid., 45

3. Ibid., 34.

4. Carl Schmitt. Ex Captivate Salus (Polity, 2017), 135.

5. Ibid., 136.

6. Carl Schmitt. “Premessa all’edizione italiana”, Le categorie del politico (Il Mulino, 1972), 39.

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