Monday, March 13, 2006

Carl Schmitt again: this time on guerilla warfare and Abu Ghraib

There are many who would apply Schmitt's analysis of executive dictatorship to explain Bush's tenure, hoping to tar him by association. I won't mention who, because guilt by association is a pretty cruddy way to run academia, and because actions can frequently be justified by many theories, so that just stating that Bush's executive expansion and preemptive war can be understood partially in a Schmittian way doesn't mean he isn't in fact acting as a promoter of the much-milder "unitary executive" and neo-conservative export of democracy.

But Carl Schmitt (CS) also wrote on guerilla warfare. A recent paper (change the file suffix to .pdf) examines Abu Ghraib and detention of terrorists under Schmitt's theory in The Partisan. Schmitt attacked the universalist pretensions of the Enlightenment; he longed for the clean Westphalian territorially-based nation-state, even if he wanted one particular nation-state to have plenty of Lebensraum. He was thus pleased when guerillas sprung up to fight the partition of the world among the Americans and Soviets. They had no "illusions" like those fostered by the liberal and communist ideologies, but were rather ready to link their beliefs directly with death, showing that the legal is always force and never morality. (I personally doubt the applicability of this Thrasymachus argument: I suspect most guerillas would claim that they are using force in the name of [their] morality, not against it or outside of it. To that extent CS would also say they live under an illusion.) And these guerillas were particularistic, drawn from a single village or tribe, and they believed that the local justifed anything, disavowing the major powers' laws of war. Says Scheuerman, quoting CS:
In its purest form, the partisan is an “autochthonous” entity of agrarian provenance, whose mode of existence and style of warfare exploit his intimate and seemingly instinctive knowledge of his homeland and its geographical idiosyncrasies – its mountains, forests, jungles, or deserts. The partisan represents a “particularly terrestrial type” of active fighter, concerned chiefly with driving an overreaching imperialistic enemy from his home territory; “he is one of the last sentries of earth”.
CS has much to say about the wisdom, or lack thereof, of converting one's enemies from terrorists to guerillas by attacking a nation-state and creating Partizans.

But he also discusses the laws of war and the Geneva Conventions. He is not a fan. He notes the contradiction between the regular legal regulation of the irregular guerilla. CS's state-of-emergency jurisprudence shows up again. If we are to continue living in a Westphalian world, we cannot endorse non-state actors. This is Bush's dilemma. How do we maintain norms in a world of dynamic military situations designed by the enemy to destroy those norms? Bush has pushed for more discretion, including the application of irregular legal regulation (like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib) even to American citizens captured abroad. With these actions, rather than his mere invasion of Iraq and push for more executive power, Bush has started to put himself beyond the pale of other theories that could provide alternate support without relying on Carl Schmitt. Not to say that merely relying on a Nazi theoretician is bad; but it's important that if you rely on Schmitt you understand what other intellectual baggage you bring along. It may exceed Bush's carry-on limit.


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