Sunday, 27 January 2008

Schmitt on Universality and Particularity in International Law

Schmitt casts doubt on the idea of international law, and all corresponding theories about perpetual peace and global authority. While I am an enthusiast for what Schmitt criticises,l his criticisms are very well formulated and cannot be completely rejected. They must be taken up within theories of conflict, agonism, antagonism and paradox in the foundations of law and politics.

Schmitt makes some historical arguments. He suggests that notions of international law comes from notions of European centred order. This begins with Ancient Greek notions of relations between Greeks, then Roman notions of relations within the Empire, then Medieval notions of a Christian Commonwealth. All these cases rest on a distinction between rights and obligations within the order and relations with external enemies.

Looking at the history of concepts in International Law he argues that they come from concepts applied by Spanish Catholic thinkers to the conquest of the Americas. In particular, some of this thinking refers to the equal rights of Europeans and American Indians, however it would be an error to universalise this. The equality is clearly ab equality within the Christian order established by the conquest and has nothing to with the rights of heathens to resist conquest, or any restriction of the right of Catholic countires to spread the faith through conquest. International law in its origins in Grotius and Pufendorf does universalise these concepts. The possibility of universalisation goes back to Aquinas and before that Augustine. Nevertheless Scholastic thinking can only be grasped within the concrete situation of the Christian commonwealth and its basic concepts of struggle against Anti-Christ and against the enemie sof Christianity.

The idea of Christian commonwealth itself rests on a paradoxical unity of the Eurocentric spatial order of Christendom and the universalistic aspects of Christianity, though it is not this paradox that Schnitt emphaises but rather the paradoxes of secular thought in universalising Medieval concepts. Schmitt's blind spot here is that the paradoxes Schmitt attributes to secular thought are already there in Scholastic thought. Schmitt's thought itself is conditioned by the tension between his Catholic thinking which takes Medieval Christendom as a model and the univeralistic secular frame he adopts, evne if he coined the phrase 'political theology'.

The conquest of the Anericas itself disturbs the Scholastic unities. The reality of the western hemisphere disturbs the Eurocentric spatial order of Medieval Christendom. The appropriation of land in the Americas itself strong influences ideas in Hobbes and Locke or property rights and the origins of society. The New World becomes the place where what were Eurocentric concepts become more pure in application, and then a transformation of the original concepts is effected. The growth of United States power, particularly after the Unionist victory in the Civil War, strengthens notions of domestic sovereignty and or the international rights of the US. This power, including the domination of central America and the Caribbean where states follow the US foreign policy, destabilises noyions of Intetnational Order and Peace, even while the US emphaises such ideas. The ideas of intenrational law were developed with regard to relations betwen European states. The mergence of other powers including Japan as well as the US creates a conflict between Eurocentric spatial order and a global order divided between hemispheres and great powers appropriating Africa and Asia. International order both means Eurocentric order and an an order whoch can ignore or even over power Europe. The history of the League of Nations shows the inherent instability of such a contradictory order. The US both refused to join the League and had the power to influence the League, a clear contradiction exposing a contradictory structure.

The other structural contradiction is that projects for world peace rest on states identifying and annihilating enemies of world peace, which creates a necessary contradiction within peace between peace and the enforcement of peace. Projects for world peace create the potential for the most bloody wars against the supposed enemies of world peace, who must therefore be enemies of humanity.

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