Conservative Columnist: Degrees of Enmity and the "War on Terrorism"

Though the current terrorist threat is undoubtedly unprecedented, challenging the traditional paradigms of international relations, Carl Schmitt’s Theory of the Partisan helps define the enemy.

Last Tuesday, the Bush Administration released portions of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on The Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland. The first of the "key judgments" of the NIE comes as no surprise to anyone following current events:

We judge the U.S. Homeland will face a persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next three years. The main threat comes from Islamic groups and cells, especially al-Qa'ida, driven by their undiminished intent to attack the homeland and a continued effort by these terrorist groups to adapt and improve their capabilities.

Although the document goes on to note that "al-Qa'ida is and will remain the most serious threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities", it also listed a series of other groups which are responsible for putting the United States "in a heightened threat environment", including al-Qa'ida in Iraq, Lebanese Hizballah, the "growing number of radical, self-generating cells [among the Muslim population] in Western countries", and "other, non-Muslim terrorist groups" and "single-issue" groups. Thus the Director of National Intelligence and the heads of the sixteen intelligence community agencies who, sitting together as the National Intelligence Board (NIB), concluded:

We assess that globalization trends and recent technological advances will continue to enable even small numbers of alienated people to find and connect with one another, justify and intensify their anger, and mobilize resources to attack-all without requiring a centralized terrorist organization, training camp, or leader.

It is somewhat disconcerting-to say the least-that six years into America's "Global War on Terror" these platitudes are passed off as an NIE, by definition the intelligence community's "most authoritative written judgment on national security issues and designed to help U.S. civilian and military leaders develop policies to protect U.S. national security interests." Thus it is somewhat fortuitous that, at virtually the same time the NIB was reviewing and approving the NIE, Telos Press released a new English translation of Carl Schmitt's Theory of the Partisan: Intermediate Commentary on the Concept of the Political.1Theory of the Partisan originated in two lectures which the German jurist and political philosopher delivered in Spain in 1962 as his better known The Concept of the Political was being brought back into print. In fact, in the subsequent foreword to the 1963 German edition of The Concept of the Political, Schmitt acknowledged the lacuna in the work pointed out to him by a number of scholars, including the French sociologist and political philosopher Julien Freund and the American political scientist George Schwab: his failure to separate and distinguish three types of enmity-conventional, real and absolute-which correspond to the three political actors (state, traditional partisan and global revolutionary) on the modern world stage. Theory of the Partisan fills that gap in the Schmittian corpus, but is eminently relevant today in evaluating the threats posed by various "terrors."

Against the backdrop of the post-Westphalia ordering of international relations, Schmitt takes as normative the notion of the "conventional enemy" in which "war was waged between states, between regular state armies and between sovereign bearers of a jus belli, who also in war respected each other as enemies, and did not discriminate against each other as criminals, so that a peace treaty was possible and even constituted the normal, self-evident end of war."

In Schmitt's taxonomy, the "real enemy" is qualitatively different from the classical "conventional enemy" of interstate warfare: whereas the latter challenges a state from the outside, the former emerges from within either as a partisan resisting an invader or one seeking to overthrow an oppressor. The partisan is characterized by his "irregularity, increased mobility of active combat, and increased intensity of political engagement", but he is also bounded by the "telluric" aspect of his mission, the "basic defensive situation" whereby he is bound to a particular land which, in turn, imposes upon him "the limited nature of hostility, spatially evident", and guards him "against the absolute claim of an abstract justice." In fact, Schmitt argues that, given the right circumstances, "the partisan easily can transform himself into a good soldier in uniform."