Sunday, June 14, 2015

understanding the total enemy

libraryofsocialscience |  In his diary from the years 1947-51, Glossarium, Schmitt explains the difference between conventional and absolute enmity by the different behaviour of the German army on the Western and Eastern front during WW2. Against the West-European (state) enemies, Nazi-Germany fought a basically non-discriminatory war, where the rules of combat were by and large upheld and the enemy was considered an equal; and then a discriminatory against the East-European and Russian absolute enemies, where all rules of combat and morality were systematically violated and the enemy was considered inhuman (Schmitt 1991: 117). As always, Schmitt neglects to deal with the plight of the European Jewry, where Nazi-Germany fought an all-out discriminatory war. 

Schmitt failed to ever really engage with the concept of the ‘total enemy’, though the ideological radicalization in the absolute enemy directs our attention to the limitlessness of such an enmity. But in the post-war years Schmitt devoted his attention on enmities to the partisan or political struggle enmity forms while failing to really explore what it means when ideological radicalization merges with a state machinery. In his Clausewitz – Philosopher of War, Raymond Aron has a chapter on the partisan inspired by Schmitt. 

But he criticizes him, not least for the concept of the absolute enemy, which Aron wants to differentiate further between a biologically absolute enmity: ‘Ludendorff-Hitler’, that is, an enmity based on a biological or racist philosophy: “I would call this ‘absolute hostility’ as it alone deserves the term ‘absolute’, since it ends logically in massacre and genocide” (Aron 1983: 368); and ideologically absolute enmity: ‘Mao-Lenin-Stalin’ and In a letter to Schmitt on October 1, 1963 he also mentioned ‘politically absolute enmity (Carthago for Cato)’ (Müller 2003: 100). Aron is, of course, aware that Mao and Stalin murdered more people than Hitler, but that was no logical or necessary consequence of the ideological enmity:
Hostility based on the class struggle has taken on no less extreme or monstrous forms than that based on the incompatibility of races. But if we wish to ‘save the concepts’ there is a difference between a philosophy whose logic is monstrous and one which can be given a monstrous interpretation. (Aron 1983: 369)
In his book Democracy and Totalitarianism, Aron differentiates the “aim of the Nazi Party” which was “to remake the racial map if Europe and to eliminate certain peoples”, whereas the “aim of Soviet terror is to create a society which conforms completely to an ideal, while in the Nazi case, the aim was pure and simple extermination.” (Aron 1968: 203). With Aron we get not only a differentiation of the totalitarian state enemy but also – like Schmitt but applied to the totalitarian state – a differentiation in stages of enmification or as he calls it “three kinds of terror” (Aron 1968: 187). They seem to follow Hannah Arendt’s differentiation elaborated below and we can conclude this section by noting that Aron, while inspired by Schmitt, saw a clear and evident failure on Schmitt’s part to apply his enemy theory on the totalitarian state. Once a real totalitarian state came into being in Germany – a qualitatively total state as Schmitt would call it – he suspended his reflections on the enemy, only to return to it in the partisan setting.

In order to understand the peculiarities of the total enemy we have therefore to depart from the premier theorist of the enemy and to take from him only the reflection on the decisive difference between an interstate, codified and hedged ‘conventional enmity’ and then various forms of unhinged, uncontained enmities, of which Schmitt failed to grasp the most important one. What he basically didn’t understand was that the state too could be carrier of a completely limitless enmity. To him it was always state-subversive forces, of which the British Empire was one, that carried such a universalist enmity, never the territorial state. Unlike Schmitt – but with decisive common points of departure (Sluga 2008; Bates 2010) – Hannah Arendt made the total enemy a key concept in her explorations of both war and post-war ideological and geopolitical constellations.