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Fatal attraction: a critique of Carl Schmitt's international political and legal theory

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 June 2011

Benno Gerhard Teschke
Affiliation:
Department of International Relations, School of Global Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK
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Abstract

The ongoing Schmitt revival has extended Carl Schmitt's reach over the fields of international legal and political theory. Neo-Schmittians suggest that his international thought provides a new reading of the history of international law and order, which validates the explanatory power of his theoretical premises – the concept of the political, political decisionism, and concrete-order-thinking. Against this background, this article mounts a systematic reappraisal of Schmitt's international thought in a historical perspective. The argument is that his work requires re-contextualization as the intellectual product of an ultra-intense moment in Schmitt's friend/enemy distinction. It inscribed Hitler's ‘spatial revolution’ into a full-scale reinterpretation of Europe's geopolitical history, grounded in land appropriations, which legitimized Nazi Germany's wars of conquest. Consequently, Schmitt's elevation of the early modern nomos as the model for civilized warfare – the ‘golden age’ of international law – against which American legal universalism can be portrayed as degenerated, is conceptually and empirically flawed. Schmitt devised a politically motivated set of theoretical premises to provide a historical counter-narrative against liberal normativism, which generated defective history. The reconstruction of this history reveals the explanatory limits of his theoretical vocabulary – friend/enemy binary, sovereignty-as-exception, nomos/universalism – for past and present analytical purposes. Schmitt's defective analytics and problematic history compromise the standing of his work for purposes of international theory.

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Original Papers
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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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