The Incongruities of Asymmetric War

Assessing asymmetric wars in the abstract is a problematic task, even though most are “small wars” fought by “big nations.” Armed conflicts with these characteristics brim with persistent, undeclared, and low-intensity violence. It rarely is extinguished, and the lingering injuries sustain even more violence on the same scale. Many of these small wars began in Asia, Africa, Latin America, or the Middle East during, or not long after, World War II. Armed resistance there never completely ended; instead it intensified with decolonization and/or postcolonial state failure. Now virtually institutionalized in many violent wild zones around the world, low-intensity wars also flare up as asymmetric conflicts between rich countries and poor peoples, Westernized nations and anti-Western movements, liberal democratic states and illiberal theocratic insurgents after 1989.

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Carl Schmitt and the Nineteenth-Century Catholic Reaction on Original Sin

Carl Schmitt is frequently assumed to have primarily been a Catholic intellectual, or Christian political theologian, at least until becoming alienated from the Church in the mid-1920’s. The jurist’s book Political Theology is quite logically a main source of evidence for this standard interpretation of Schmitt’s intellectual biography. However, an assumption of Schmitt’s Catholic, or even simply Christian, bona fides serves more as a distraction in understanding the origins and contours of his early thought. This mistaken narrative hides the degree to which Schmitt’s brand of secular and proto-Hobbesian decisionism is contrary to the thought of his claimed forebears among nineteenth-century counter-revolutionary Catholic theorists.

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Asymmetry and the Reimagining of Political Theology

If the phrase “asymmetrical warfare” is taken to connote scenarios where “one side is possessed of overwhelming power with respect to its adversary,” together with manifold embodiments “of asymmetry in media representations, ideology, religion, sub- and supra-national actors, the environment and even psychology,” then there would appear little doubt that today’s world is pervaded by such conflict. Necessarily, the unique historical conditions of the present, globalizing era—with its fragmenting as well as revanchist states, and its dizzying technological accelerations—are evoked by “new wars” that embroil a proliferation of non-state actors, along with states who believe that they should rightly monopolize (or be immune from, as the case may be) such asymmetrical modalities as nuclear arsenals, mercenary forces, drones, cyberattacks, and propaganda innovations.

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Essential Reading: Carl Schmitt’s Land and Sea

Writing at the Claremont Review of Books, Aaron Zack reviews the new English translation of Carl Schmitt’s Land and Sea, now available from Telos Press. Purchase your copy in our online store and save 20% by using the coupon code BOOKS20.

Telos Press’s new edition of Carl Schmitt’s Land und Meer: Eine weltgeschichtliche Betrachtung (Land and Sea: A World-Historical Meditation) provides an essential guide for understanding sea power. . . . Schmitt provides an intriguing analysis of the link between the sea and the modern project’s culmination in creative, free-thinking individuals moving and acting within a liberal, global order . . .

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Culture and Values in Schmitt’s Decisionism

David Pan’s “Carl Schmitt on Culture and Violence in the Political Decision” aims at challenging the widespread view that Carl Schmitt’s decisionism is motivated by violence and pure power. Pan presents his readers to “another Schmitt” that has escaped the attention of many commentators, including Müller, Žižek, McCormick, and Agamben. For Pan, Schmitt’s decision must not be separated from spiritual ideals and cultural values.

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The Perception of Space

“The human receives a particular historical consciousness from his ‘space,’ which is subjected to great historical transformations. The variegated forms of life correspond to equally differentiated spaces. Even within the same time period, the environment of individual humans for the practice of daily life is already defined differently by their different life occupations. An urbanite thinks the world otherwise than does a peasant farmer, a whale-fish hunter has another living space than an opera singer, and to a pilot the world and life appear otherwise not only in other lights but also in other quantities, depths, and horizons.”

—Carl Schmitt, Land and Sea: A World-Historical Meditation

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