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“Beyond the Line”: Reading Nietzsche with Schmitt

This paper was presented at the 2012 Telos Conference, “Space: Virtuality, Territoriality, Relationality,” held on January 14–15, in New York City.

Nietzsche-Schmitt Dialogue

Carl Schmitt’s TheNomos of the Earth and related work conduct a generally unacknowledged dialogue with Nietzsche; both Schmitt’s geophilosophy and Nietzsche’s politics of the earth are clarified by unearthing this dialogue. Schmitt rarely mentions Nietzsche in his published works (excepting Glossarium) and then to marginalize or distance him.

Nietzsche and Schmitt are both paradigmatic geophilosophical thinkers, in Deleuze and Guattari’s sense—they conceptualize territorialization, deterritorialization, and reterritorialization, and they raise questions about the future of the earth. Schmitt’s Nomos articulates problems of earthly order and orientation in the post-Columbian age. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra descends a mountain, calls on the urban multitude to think the direction of the earth (Sinn der Erde), even to sacrifice themselves for it. Later, he explicitly raises the question of hegemony—who will be the lords of the earth?

In “Nehmen/Teilen/Weiden” Schmitt attempts to “determine from Nomos the basic questions of every social and economic order.” There are parallels (also significant contrasts) between this triad of appropriation, distribution, and production and central aspects of Nietzsche’s thought. Nietzsche’s Herrschaft can be paired with Schmitt’s Landnahme. If originary appropriation and orientation, transcending the is/ought dichotomy of modern ethics, is the crux of Schmitt’s nomos, Nietzsche’s Sinn der Erde implicitly recognizes a given condition as value-oriented (in opposition to otherworldly norms). Zarathustra identifies desire to rule with something close to Schmitt’s distribution (teilen), naming the hitherto nameless gift-giving virtue (die schenkende Tugend). Paired with Schmitt’s productivity (weiden) is Nietzsche’s will to power, which exceeds mere survival, a point underlined in his critique of Darwinism (if this makes Nietzsche sound surprisingly pastoral, we shouldn’t neglect the language of gardening and cultivation that runs through his texts).

Nietzsche’s concept of earth is political as well as affective and phenomenological. Erde (sometimes Menschen-Erde) is opposed to the Hegelian Welt, conceived as an ordered hierarchy of states. The site of human habitation and mobility, “earth” is more comprehensive than “world.” This brings Nietzsche into conflict with Schmitt’s nostalgia for the jus publicum Europaeum of sovereign states, but not necessarily with his question “what will be the new nomos of the earth?”

Schmitt avoided explicit public association with Nietzsche but did not dissimulate his knowledge, as did Freud. Neither wanted his project of rigorous political philosophy or scientific psychology compromised by acknowledging a debt to a “wild” philosopher whose irrationality seemed confirmed by his descent into madness. Schmitt, the conservative Catholic, had additional reasons for shying away from the philosopher of the Antichrist. Nevertheless, in correspondence with Ernst Jünger, Nietzsche is a frequent touchstone. Of interest: it was not until the mid-1950s that the two become aware of how extensively the prewar Nietzsche image was distorted by sister Elizabeth and Nazi hacks.

In 1950 Schmitt writes in his notebook:

My Nomos der Erde is arriving at the right historical moment. The time is coming (said Nietzsche in 1881–82), when the battle for the domination of the earth will be waged; it will be waged in the name of fundamental philosophical doctrines; i.e., an ideological battle for unity. The Kellog Pact is creating a free path; war as means of rational politics is despised, condemned; war as means of global domination of the earth is the just war.

The cited date, 1881–82, is close to what Schmitt saw as early signs of the jus publicum Europaeum‘s collapse. In describing it as a war “waged in the name of fundamental philosophical doctrines,” Schmitt sharply distinguishes it from war between states. This war for ideas fits Schmitt’s conception of global civil war, a disaster he hoped could be kept at bay (post–World War II) by a metastable balance of a plurality of Grossräume.

The passage cited from Nietzsche—perhaps by way of Heidegger’s 1950 Holzwege essay—not only establishes the precedent Schmitt found there, but also opens somewhat oddly:

I wish Germany would conquer Mexico, in order to create an earthly atmosphere for a future humanity through an exemplary nursery (Forstkultur).—The time is coming when the battle for hegemony of the earth will be waged—it will be waged in the name of fundamental philosophical teachings (Grundlehren). Now the first power groups are forming, in line with the great principle of blood and racial relationship. “Nations” are much finer concepts than races, [it’s] basically a scientific discovery that feelings can be incorporated [Lamarck]: wars are and are becoming the great teachers of such concepts.—Then come civil wars—and again concepts will be incorporated! Until finally the concepts no longer merely provide placards, names, etc. for peoples’ movements, but must rather become the most powerful concepts.

The suggestion for Germany to conquer Mexico may sound whimsical; I’ll just say briefly that part of what underlies this fantasy is a north/south geophilosophical interruption of the east/west movements of Hegel’s history and Schmitt’s old/new world amity lines that first construct a nomos of the earth. Nietzsche’s proposal violates the Monroe doctrine, Schmitt’s precedent for his concept of the European Grossraum. The early 1880s was precisely the moment Germany was exploring ways to join the great European rush to colonize, especially in Africa.

“Great Events”

Nietzsche welcomes “new wars” as alternatives to the domination of the herdlike letzte Mensch, which might be understood (another convergence with Schmitt) as the hegemony of Anglo-American empire, utilitarianism, and the ethos of a nation of shopkeepers. Schmitt fears a future riven by the dichotomy of universal administration in the name of human rights or global civil war, a possibility opened by decline of European nation-states and the jus publicum Europaeum.

Nietzsche’s commentary on “Europe’s desire to become one,” in Beyond Good and Evil, apparently recognizes the possibility of a new European Grossraum. Yet fine-tuned reading reveals that Nietzsche saw the “desire to be one” as independent of any specific national European culture—it would be a Europe without a Reich. Neither homogeneous nor a patchwork of ethnicities, Europe would be geared to the emerging nomadism of its workforce, cultural hybridity, and the cosmopolitanism of its exemplars in “the century of the multitude!” The literature sadly ignores the sharp distinction Nietzsche makes between diverse multitudes and uniform masses.

Nietzsche’s 1881 note appears in the context of his aim to propagate the “most affirmative possible thought” of the eternal recurrence of all things. It is almost unremarked in the literature—that Nietzsche’s first notes on recurrence present it both as a challenge to the individual—can I will that all of my experiences, in the same order, will recur infinitely?—and as a teaching with a major political future. Those who have incorporated the thought should teach it, expecting its influence to grow over centuries, encouraging the stronger, enervating the weaker, and contributing to the new order and orientation of the earth.

Earlier, in 1876, Nietzsche, in the fourth Unmodern Observation, anticipates a great event to be ushered in by Wagner’s cultural revolution. The last great event was Alexander’s severing the Gordian knot dividing Asia and Europe. Wagner’s name is associated with a coming great event, the reassertion of integral Europe freed of cultural ties to the East, including Christianity (enabled by Oriental religions’ influx into Greco-Roman paganism). Soon disillusioned with Wagner, Nietzsche kept his silence about great events until, possessed by the Persian (!) spirit of Zarathustra, he spoke “of great events” in an eponymous chapter, recounting a fantastic journey to the earth’s heart. While the content of such emergent events is indeterminate, their site is emphatically earthly. With exaggerated, blustery heat and noise, states and churches are blind and deaf to incipient signs of events that approach unsuspected, as on doves’ feet. Beyond Good and Evil, the more “realistic” counterpart to Zarathustra, suggests that the earth experienced a great event about ten thousand years ago with the transition from a premoral age of custom to one of morality, with its emphasis on intention. This cataclysmic change is marked by the urban revolution and the origin of the state. Now, Nietzsche says, we may be verging on a similarly holistic shift to a postmoral era of the earth, one going hand in hand with the state’s decline.

“Beyond the Line”

In his Glossarium Schmitt says that Beyond Good and Evil is a “theologization” of “beyond the line” (in English):

It gives an emphasis to the fact of the amity line, which makes possible a rich epistemic reward (Beute), after which the mere fact has brought about a sufficiently factual reward. Ideas and convictions are destroyed in a double manner: first critically through dialectical negations, second uncritically through apologetic affirmations. The latter is the surest means of destruction.

This highly compressed argument invokes the demarcations that enable the jus publicum Europaeum. The argument proceeds somewhat as follows. The amity lines made possible a distinction between the space of intra-European law, governing war and other relations among the European states, and the space “beyond the line” open to colonization, colonial wars, piracy, privateering, and the like. The “good” of permitted actions within the European world could be neatly separated from the “evil” violations (e.g., of the laws of war) within that sphere. Beyond the line no such distinctions apply. When Schmitt says Nietzsche theologizes “beyond the line,” he means that for him no part of the earth is subject to the good/evil binary. The epistemic reward of Nietzsche’s investigations, in which he articulates and deconstructs the line, is rich because proportional to the investment of spirit and power that went into life (individual, social, political) lived in accordance with the line. Describing Nietzsche’s double destructive procedure, Schmitt anticipates Derrida’s classic formulations of deconstruction’s concerted double strategy. First, critical negation of claims made on behalf of the distinction; second, production of novel affirmations not indebted to the distinction. So Beyond Good and Evil‘s deconstruction of the nation-state, the chapter “Peoples and Fatherlands,” involves negations. Nietzsche questions the national identity of the Germans who only appear to be deep or profound; in fact they are in love with everything cloudy and indeterminate. Their boundaries are indistinct, while their attachment to territory is fetishistic Schollenkleberei. All European nationalisms are being undermined by adaptable, nomadic international workers, despite the chauvinism of leading statesmen and ideologists. Nietzsche also deconstructs Europe’s desire to “become one,” which sounds initially like a proto-Schmittian anticipation of a European Grossraum. Yet this imagined Europe lacks a central state or Reich, and so lacks the cultural and political definition Schmitt considers essential. Casting about for specimens of the new “good European” Nietzsche compiles a diverse list of figures—Stendhal, Heine, Wagner, Napoleon and others—but describes each as a complex hybrid of varied national characteristics. Even supposed arch-nationalist Wagner emerges as indebted to French art and thought. Perhaps the most affirmative statement of political analysis that Nietzsche makes in this chapter (call it “Beyond Peoples and Fatherlands”) is “this is the century of the multitude!” The multitude (Menge) is diverse and heterogeneous, so even if Europe wishes to become one, it actually fosters multiple mixtures and hybridities—not the imagined uniformity of a Volk. Since the multitude is conceived on the model of a diverse theatrical audience, we might see Nietzsche as anticipating both the Schmittian understanding of the epoch of the air, with its instantaneous communications, and the situationist concept of the society of the spectacle.

Hastening the Antichrist?

In Beyond Nietzsche announces two names that designate what Schmitt sees as the affirmative side of his deconstruction of earthly order and orientation: Dionysus and Antichrist. At the end of his posthumous Antichrist book, Nietzsche laments Christianity’s ruin of the Grossräume that were the Roman Empire and medieval Islam (including the jewel of Moorish Spain); his Antichrist is (at least) a political trope. The Antichrist is the name of that which Schmitt resists, the ultimate foe (not enemy) whose arrival can only be slowed, not precluded. Nietzsche willfully names, and so hastens, the arrival of the Antichrist.

Schmitt maintains the importance of the relation of nehmen and namen, taking and naming:

We are concerned with the legal historical meaning of the relation between Nahme and name, power and name-giving, and in particular, with the formative, even festive processes of many land-appropriations that are able to make Nahme a sacred act.

This activity of name-giving constitutes, Schmitt says, the tendency of power to “visibility, publicity, and ceremony.” He waxes elegiac about the decline of name-giving. Plaintively he asks “Where today are there still names? Nietzsche seems to speak nostalgically of the “Herrenrecht of giving names” when he recalls the Herrenmoralität of the early masters. Yet, contrary to some readers’ impressions, Nietzsche does not propose a return to the old names of peoples, classes, or virtues. Speaking of a new regime of the earth or a new god, Nietzsche offers two “old” names with revised senses (Derrida’s “paleonymy”): Dionysus and the Antichrist.

Both are mythical or metaphorical Herren der Erde, one from the pre-Christian earth, the other is Christianity’s imaginary antithesis. For Schmitt this name names totalized, homogeneous administration that eliminates all particularity. For Nietzsche too the Antichrist is a political name that, like Schmitt’s, presupposes overcoming European sovereign states with their explicit or implicit theological dimensions. For both the Antichrist is the foe, not the justis hostis, of Christianity (cf. Gesetz at end of AC). But far from suggesting homogeneity, Nietzsche’s naming of the Antichrist is a pluralizing gesture, involving the “pathos of distance” and the diversity of human experiments in living, putting the new nomad back in the nomos.

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