‘Hostis’ vs. ‘Inimicus’ – An Etymological Analysis

This post will be of a little different flavor than my usual posts because here, I won’t strictly be advocating anything, rather I will be tracing the history of two words and their Latin equivalents as used in Schmittian theory and misused in post-Schmittian theory.

The two words are “enemy” and “foe”, or “hostis” and “inimicus”.

To spare any of my blog’s casual readers, the etymological analysis will be after the jump.

In the works of German legal philosopher and scholar Carl Schmitt, two words are used which are of the utmost importance to our understanding of the State as well as the foundations for my next post in the [IDEOLOGY IN PROGRESS] series. In his book, The Concept of the Political (henceforth referred to as CP), Schmitt lays out what the State presuppose, the Political, and he defines the Political as the distinction between “between friend and enemy” (Schmitt 26). In his book, Schmitt makes it a point to draw a distinction between two vital words: foe and enemy. While these two words are often used interchangeably, they shouldn’t be. As early as page 28 of CP Schmitt says

The enemy is not merely any competitor or just any partner of a conflict in general. He is also not the private adversary whom one hates. An enemy exists only when, at least potentially, one fighting collectivity of people confronts a similar collectivity. The enemy is solely the public enemy, because everything that has a relationship to such a collectivity of men, particularly to a whole nation, becomes public by virtue of such a relationship. The enemy is hostis, not inimicus in the broader sense; πολέμιος, not ἐχϑρός (Schmitt 28).

Now while I am not Greek scholar, I can tell that there is a difference between “πολέμιος” and “ἐχϑρός”. Although there is a great essay by David van Dusen called Carl Schmitt on Hostis and Inimicus that relates his usage of the words to Jünger and Derrida, I want to focus this post on examining where the two words (πολέμιος and ἐχϑρός) come from.

On pages 28-29 of the cited edition of CP, Schmitt includes a footnote where he says “In his Republic (Bk. V, Ch. XVI, 470) Plato strongly emphasizes the contrast between the public enemy (πολέμιος) and the private one (ἐχϑρός)…” (Schmitt 28; original emphasis) and this is where our investigation shall begin.

On page 145 of the cited edition of Republic (Bk. V, Ch. XVI, 470), Plato says:

It seems to me that as we have two names, “war” and “civil war”, so there are two things and the names apply to two kinds of disagreements arising in them. The two things I’m referring to are what is one’s own and akin, on the one hand, and what’s foreign and strange, on the other. The name “civil war” applies to hostilities with one’s own, while “war” applies to hostilities with strangers (Grube).

With the original Greek being the following (unless my Greek skills failed me):

republic greek

While I can’t find the word “ἐχϑρός” in Plato’s work, it is clear that he is referring to two different types of enemies – one can tell as much from his usage of “πολέμιος” nine words in. The discussion that is occurring in the context of the dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon is one of barbarians attacking (most likely Hellenic) vs. Greeks rioting. Specifically, Socrates is contrasting a state (presumably Athens) waging war against another group (the enemy) and citizens of a state being mad at each other – their foes. For Socrates, the opponent in the first scenario would be ‘enemy’:’hostis:’ πολέμιος’ whereas the opponent in the second scenario would be ‘foe’:’inimicus’:’ ἐχϑρός’; two very different things and a distinction that is crucial for understanding Schmittian dichotomies between friend and enemy.

Keeping all that in mind, in CP when Schmitt says “[t]he enemy is hostis, not inimicus in the broader sense; πολέμιος, not ἐχϑρός” (Schmitt 28), he is making it clear that his concept of The Political is not between “friend and foe” – that would be a personal vendetta which would be prone to more violence – but rather between “friend and enemy” (Schmitt 26) – that would be a political enemy whom a state engages in armed conflict with according to rules of war.

It is therefore easy to see that when Schmitt defines The Political, he is in no way trying to set up a vendetta-esque system wherein individuals hate “the other”, rather he’s trying to explain the nature of warfare in the liberal society. Summa summarum, πολέμιος =/= ἐχϑρός.




Grube, G. M. A., and C. D. C. Reeve. “Book V.” Republic. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co., 1992. 122-156. Print.

Schmitt, Carl. The Concept of the Political . 2nd ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996. Print