Nomos and Land-Appropriation

“Every fundamental order is a spatial order. One speaks of the constitution of a country or a piece of earth as of its fundamental order, its Nomos. Now, the true, actual fundamental order touches in its essential core upon particular spatial boundaries and separations, upon particular quantities and a particular partition of the earth. At the beginning of every great epoch there stands a great land-appropriation. In particular, every significant alteration and every resituating of the image of the earth is bound up with world-political alterations and with a new division of the earth, with a new land-appropriation.”
—Carl Schmitt, Land and Sea: A World-Historical Meditation

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Carl Schmitt’s Theory of the Partisan and the Stability of the Nation-State

The following paper was presented at Telos in Europe: The L’Aquila Conference, held on September 7-9, 2012, in L’Aquila, Italy.

Since the Treaty of Westphalia, sovereignty in the West has been imagined in terms of the nation-state and its ability to provide a universal basis for political relations both within state boundaries and in relations with other similarly organized entities. On the one hand, the nation-state originates as a means of overcoming the religious civil wars, and its establishment coincides with the attempt to relegate theological disputes to a private sphere that does not threaten the structure of the state. In this way, the state as opposed to the church becomes the primary form for defining the political. On the other hand, the development and stability of the nation-state system seems to have been inextricably linked to the dynamic of colonialism. As Carl Schmitt lays out in The Nomos of the Earth, the establishment of a jus publicum europaeum that created guidelines for limiting war between European states was accompanied and indeed predicated upon a complementary establishment of the amity lines that distinguished Europe from the rest of the world as the place of such limited war as against the “freedom” of the spaces beyond the line in which restrictions on warfare did not apply. For Schmitt, the relationship between these two dynamics, the coalescence of nation-state relations in Europe on the basis of a limitation of war and the establishment of unlimited war in those areas outside of Europe without nation-state structures, has not been coincidental but in fact constitutive for both the rise of the West and the structure of international relations in the modern world.

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