A rebuttal against the notion of enemy frequently hinges on conflating the enemy with total enmity. It usually takes the form of a hypothetical: once an enemy is declared as such, is there anything that can deter the escalation into total enmity? The historical record provides analytical reassurance to the hypothetical, but it does not eliminate its generality, since its ultimate probe is conditioned by an ideal of conceptual purity. Not every hypothetical is idealistic, but every hypothetical exerted from purity is. This concerns any understanding of politics, given that the notion of the enemy presupposes an impure origin of conflict, threats, disorder, or unjustified propensity towards evil. If the enemy is best understood as an operative principle between repression and totalization of enmity, it also entails a rejection of purity as sacralization of the political.
The argument from purity has been deployed with equal force by both Liberalism and Marxism, although they are not the only two contenders. Whereas the first suppresses the enemy from civility and economic utility; for the second, there are no necessary enemies given that politics is a process that will culminate in moral emancipation. For both Liberalism and Marxism, the problem of separation is fixed in two opposite poles: for Liberalism the separation is originary and consubstantial to the genesis of modernity as the separation of Church and State; for Marxism, the separation comes to end in the future collapse of the alienation of ideal and manual labor, and state and civil society. The argument from purity liquidates the enemy as the operative function because it doesn’t consider conflict intra muros on its merits. It is always surpassed or to come.
From the argument of impurity, the notion of the enemy demands that the political be understood as here and now (more than temporal it is topological: externality). Let us consider Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It is a tragedy that stages the friction between the suppression of the political enemy in medieval society and the not-yet autonomy of the political of the moderns. In an old essay Leo Lowenstein noted that Hamlet is an existential limbo as to whether to judge and execute his father’s murderer, or to desist in his decision of revenge and become paranoid crossing the line into madness . The world of Hamlet’s indecision is no longer that of imperium theologiae where the enemy is an entity to be deposed of; but rather it vacillates because it knows the fracture between wrongdoing and action, legality and legitimacy. The malaise of Hamlet condition is the impossibility of enemy mediation: “Shakespeare’s theatre, in general, and his Hamlet, in particular, are no longer ecclesiastical, in the medieval sense. On the other hand, they are not yet a political state theatre, in the concrete sense state and politics acquired on the Continent as a result of the development of state sovereignty.” . The intrusion of historical time reminds us that original separation will not be enough in the face of a concrete conflict.
The tragic dimension in Hamlet is given negatively: the paralysis of not being able to establish the proper mediation to deal with political enmity. This paralysis – or the inconceivable regicide of naturalist theologians – can only amount to madness. Indeed, one becomes one’s enemy, because the enemy (the usurper King) lacks the mediation with its exteriority: “Hamlet is of the faction that is wronged / His madness is poor Hamlet’s enemy…That I have shot my arrow o’er the house / And hurt my brother” . What does it mean to be one’s own enemy, and who could decide here? The incapability of generating an external hostis will prompt bad consciousness and perpetual resentment.
From the side of impurity, the enemy as “one’s own form” means a depersonalization of the political and the neutralization of the stasiological force that places reasons, justifications, and actions as primary ends. But a civil war waged on internal reasons do not imply mediation. From the argument of purity the dismissal of the enemy is no longer Hamlet’s negativity; it turns itself into subjectivism and unfettered self-autonomy that will require not the judge but the priest, and not political form but the police.
1. Leo Lowenstein. “Terror’s Atomization of Man”, Commentary, 1946, 7.
2. Carl Schmitt. Hamlet or Hecuba: The Intrusion of the Time into the Play (Telos Press, 2009), 51.
3. William Shakespeare. The Tragedy of Hamlet (Signet Classics, 1987), 168.