Political Sociology: A Reader

By S. N. Eisenstadt | Go to book overview
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The Concept of "The Political"

Carl Schmitt

The definition of the concept of the "political" can be arrived at only through the discovery of the specifically political categories. Politics stands as an independent sphere of its own, apart from other, relatively independent, spheres of human thought and action, such as morals, esthetics, economics, the complete enumeration of which is not required here. Politics must, therefore, possess its own, ultimately independent, distinguishing characteristics, to which all specifically political action can be traced back. Let us assume that, in the province of morals, these distinctions are Good and Evil; in esthetics, Beautiful and Ugly; in economics, Useful and Harmful, or Profitable and Unprofitable. The question then remains whether a specific and self-evident distinguishing characteristic exists in the realm of politics, and what it is.

The specifically political distinction to which political acts and motivations may be traced back, is the distinction of friend and enemy. It corresponds, in politics, to the relatively independent distinctions in other fields: Good and Evil in morals; Beautiful and Ugly in esthetics, etc. This distinction is independent, i.e., it cannot be deduced from any of these other distinctions, singly or combined. Just as the contrast between Good and Evil is not identical with, nor reducible to, that of Beautiful and Ugly, or of Useful and Harmful, it must not be confused or mixed up with any of these other contrasts. The distinction between friend and enemy can subsist, in theory and practice, without applying, at the same time, moral, esthetic, economic, or other distinctions. The political enemy need not be morally evil nor esthetically ugly; he need not appear as an economic competitor, and it may, in fact, be advantageous to do business with him. He is the other, the stranger, and his nature is sufficiently defined if he is, in an

intense way, existentially different and strange; in case of conflict, he constitutes the negation of one's own kind of existence, and must therefore be repulsed or fought, in order to preserve one's own way of life. In psychological reality, the enemy is easily treated as evil and ugly, because politics, like any autonomous area of human life, gladly calls on the help which it can receive from the distinctions of other spheres. This does not change the independence of such specific distinctions. As a consequence, the opposite is valid, too: what is morally bad, esthetically ugly, or economically harmful, need not be the enemy; what is morally good, esthetically beautiful, and economically useful, does not become, necessarily, the friend in the specifically political meaning of the word. The basic autonomy and independence of politics is evident in the possibility of distinguishing such a specific contrast of friend and enemy from other contrasts, and to conceive of it as an independent category.

The concepts of friend and enemy are to be understood in their concrete meaning of existence, not as symbols or metaphors, nor fused with, or weakened by, economic, moral and other ideas, nor as the expression of private feelings and tendencies. They are not normative or "spiritual" contrasts. Liberalism has transformed the enemy, from the economic side, into a competitor, and from the ethical side, into a debating adversary. In the sphere of economics, it is true, there are no enemies, but only competitors, and in a world suffused with morals and ethics, there are only debating contestants. However, the enemy is something entirely different. It makes no difference whether one considers it a reprehensible and atavistic residue of barbarian ages or not, that men still separate each other as friends and enemies, or whether one entertains the hope that this distinction will disappear, one day, from the earth, or whether it is good and advisable to construe the fiction, for educational reasons, that there are no more enemies. What is at stake, are not fictions and prescriptions of what ought to be, but real existence and the real possibility of this distinction of friend and enemy.

From Carl Schmitt, "Politics: The Struggle with the Enemy," in William Ebenstein, ed., Man and the State (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Co., 1947), pp. 299-302. Reprinted by permission of the author and J. C. B. Mohr, Tübingen, copyright holders of the article which first appeared in Archiv für Socialwissenschaft und Socialpolitik, Vol. LVIII (September 1927).


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Political Sociology: A Reader
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