Part 4: The Races of Humanity or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Socially Constructed Divisions – Part 2

In part 2 of my [IDEOLOGY IN PROGRESS] series, I argued that the concept of race is not a social construction like the left claims, but rather is a biological reality due to genotypical and phenotypical differences amongst populations.

Those who claim X as being a social construction assume the negativity of social constructionism. – Unknown

While I still think that is the case, I ended part 2 with the following statement: “Finally, stay tuned for part two of this post (it will come sometime in the “Ideology in Progress” series) where I ignore everything I wrote above and assume race is a social construct and then explain why division is good! *Basically an “even if it’s a social construct that creates division, that division is good and not discriminatory” argument*”.

And that brings us to this post. I am going to ignore everything I said in the previous post and jump on the liberal bandwagon yelling “race is a social construct!”. However, as the opening quotation points out, even if race (or anything) is a social construct, that doesn’t inherently mean that it’s a bad thing. Rather, just that it might create divisions amongst people. I shall argue after the jump that even if the concept of race is a purely social construction, it, and the divisions amongst people that it creates, are a good thing.

So, let’s begin.

Division, hierarchy, and “in groups” and “out groups” are some of the most common natural phenomena. When one looks at nature, one sees highly stratified and organized groups of creatures, be they lions or ants. When an external threat is introduced to a well organized group, the individuals band together to protect against the threat, and just like oil and water, different organisms (and even organisms within the same species) band together and fight against external assimilation. It is this characteristic that has created the conditions for the long term survival of a diverse group of organisms. Lions would hardly be the same absent the hierarchical structure of a pride, and ants would not fulfill their vital role absent their own clear divisions of “in” and “out” groups.

And it’s not just non-humans that this phenomena extends to, but ever since man stepped into the daylight and formed tribes, “in groups” and “out groups” have been defined. Not only have these divisions occurred in “primitive” times, but group based divisions have persisted to this day. Groups of people have been comprised of genetically related peoples, ethnically similar peoples, hell, even hair color has been a divider (eg. “gingers have no souls”).

Although an overly optimistic and liberal view is taken in the following, I want to point to the 15th episode of 3rd season of Star Trek, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”. For those who haven’t seen the episode, this is the IMDb blurb for it:

The Enterprise encounters two duo-chromatic and mutually belligerent aliens who put the ship in the middle of their old conflict (IMDb)

In that episode (relevant clip here), as the blurb states, the crew picks up two extraterrestrial beings with painted faces. Both of the creatures’ faces are black and white, but the sides are different. Specifically, one is black on the right side, whereas the other is black on the left side. One of the creatures, Bele, in reference to the other, Lokai, says “It is obvious to the most simpleminded that Lokai is of an inferior breed”. Spock, being the rationalist that he is, says “[t]he obvious visual evidence, Commissioner, is that he is of the same breed as yourself”, to which Bele replies “[a]re you blind, Commander Spock? Well, look at me. Look at me!” “I am black on the right side” “Lokai is white on the right side. All of his people are white on the right side”.

This admittedly fictional example, whether intended to or not, sheds light on the basic phenomena stated above: division, hierarchy, and “in groups” and “out groups” are natural, even amongst humans.

Still from Star Trek S03E15

Still from Star Trek S03E15

I. Definitions

Before continuing, I feel like it would be productive to provide some definitions:

Social Construction: “Social construction is something you might not be aware of. You are somewhat living in segregation depending on what gender, race and class you are. Race, class and gender don’t really mean anything. They only have a meaning because society gives them a meaning” (Flores; emphasis my own) *note: Flores does intersectionality a disservice in her definition*

“Other”:  Absent a complete reading of Levinas’ Totality and Infinity, here is a brief description of Levinas’ conception of “the other”.1)Granted, Levinas takes a different view than I do and he talks about the “other” more intimately than I do, but his analysis is still valid ““Other” (sometimes capitalized, sometimes not) usually translates the French word autrui, which means “the other person,” “someone else” (i.e., other than oneself). It is thus the personal other, the other person, whoever it is, that each of us encounters directly or experiences the traces of every day. Of course, we encounter a multiplicity of others, but Levinas more often uses the singular “other” to emphasize that we encounter others one at a time, face to face” (Young)

Enmity: “Conventional enmity (or just enmity)…describes a relation of enmity between states who recognize, fight and negotiate with each other. The conventional just enemy is recognized as an equal and the war is thus contained through international law and a codex of honour among combatants” (Thorup)

The Political: I’m going to provide a brief explanation of Schmitt’s concept of the political (pun intended) here and provide a longer quotation by Schmitt himself in the references section (Appendix A). For Schmitt, everything is a distinction2)In this way, Schmitt can be read as a structuralist. and politics are no different. For Schmitt, politics can be reducible to what he calls “the Political” and it is this reduction that should be understood. Just like morality can be reduced to “good” and “evil”, the base unit of politics, the Political, is the distinction “between friend and enemy”3)As discussed in my post Hostis vs. Inimicus, friend and enemy are terms of art in Schmitt’s world and enemy is not synonymous with “foe”; the former is public whereas the latter is private. (Schmitt)

The Political vs. Politics: I made a video on this subject a while back which I will embed in Appendix B and if you don’t want to hear my voice, you can read the partially followed script located there also, but a brief explanation would be ”politics is the supposed atomos of governance that is irreducible. The Political is the shattering of that view and the reduction of politics to something more base…something that requires extra justification”.

 

II. The Other as a Natural Relationship

I won’t do a huge amount of explaining here about why hierarchy and in-groups and out-groups are inevitable, as a bit was done already in “Part 3: The State of Nature”, but I would like to discuss what I believe is the inevitability of enmity and the definition of the other.

In international politics, nay, in politics in general, there is always an other. There is always an outside  group against which one’s own group is measured against, for you see, that is the foundation of state theory and geopolitics. In The Concept of the Political, Carl Schmitt addresses skeptics and modern liberals who try to deny innate enmity when he says

It is irrelevant here whether one rejects, accepts, or perhaps finds it an atavistic remnant of barbaric times that nations continue to group themselves according to friend and enemy, or hopes that the antithesis will one day vanish from the world, or whether it is perhaps sound pedagogic reasoning to imagine that enemies no long exist at all. The concern here is neither with abstractions nor with normative ideals, but with inherent reality and the real possibility of such a distinction. One may or may not share these hopes and pedagogic ideals. But, rationally speaking, it cannot be denied that nations continue to group themselves according to the friend and enemy antithesis, that the distinction still remains actual today, and that this an ever present possibility for every people existing in the political sphere (Schmitt, 28)

What’s more, multiple studies have been conducted on infants and the results have been polarizing, to say the least. Research coming out of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst found that babies have been known to develop “signs of racial bias” by 9 months old and before they come into contact with other races (DailyMail). Additionally, other studies indicate that racial and ethnic divides are how very young infants (3 months old) distinguish between people, namely their family members (Reisfeld). So while there are obviously societal elements at play, the truth is that when one gets right down to it, for better or for worse, people have an inherent bias towards those who look similarly. And while it can lead to regrettable outcomes, humans have a fundamental fear of the unknown and when that relates to people of different backgrounds, it manifests itself in the overused term “xenophobia” (Winters) (Bederman).

Hell, even liberal pundits and Avenue Q agrees with this, on some level (although they take it to the extreme).

So while the extreme of violence against the other, as Levinas would argue, is tragic and undesirable; deluding ourselves into thinking that there are no inherent prejudices will do nothing to stop the bloodshed from ethnic conflict. Following this conclusion, there are a few routes one can take in furthering the discussion. One can look at multiculturalism and violence in liberal societies simplistically (to read basic analyses all one has to do is Google “multiculturalism and violence”), or one can question what makes that violence occur and why different peoples tend to interact so differently with one another. The rest of this post will take a Schmitian stasis point and argue that the fact that humans divide themselves up naturally means that any attempts to break that are attempts to break nature; the implications will be explained in parts III and IV.

 

III. Segregation and Peace – Enmity and Conflict

Race is a social construct. Relations between the races are based on social constructions. And here is where the typical argument falls apart; social construct are bad. There are no warrants explaining what makes social constructs bad or why they necessarily taint relationships between people. I argue that because social constructs exist, they must have come about for some reason. The fact that humans divide themselves along specific lines, be those ethnic, racial, sexual, etc. means that these divisions have, at the very least, proven helpful at one point (they probably are still helpful) and ought not be abandoned so hastily. To understand fully the implications of social construction and defining the other in relation to oneself, it’s necessary to discuss the ontological as well as political implications of denying divisions.

Ontology and Racial Constructs: As examined in part II, humans have the tendency to distinguish between people very early on, namely family members, and that ability then translates into the tendency to distinguish between groups of people. These distinctions are then used as the basis for which a group of people identifies and congregates. In texts ranging from Plato to Marx, there are always distinctions and these distinctions are used as the basis for social identification. Specifically, in Republic, Plato makes the distinction between the “barbarians” and the Greeks by saying that the former are people that are “foreign and strange” whereas the latter are of one’s own flesh (Grube). As discussed in the essay I wrote, ‘Hostis’ vs. ‘Inimicus’, one can see that the Greeks used this distinction not only in warfare, but also to identify and define themselves. For Marx, similar distinctions are made between the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat and these distinctions are the foundation for the class war that he speaks of.

In addition to examples from antiquity, however, there are modern day examples of this phenomena as well. Identity politics as a whole, La Raza, Black Identity movements, and even post-Wildersonian works use the social distinctions that have been created to self-identify and create a personal ontology. And this is certainly not a post-modernist phenomena either, Schmitt, early in the century, recognized that otherness is an integral part of what it means to be and, more specifically, what it means to be within a nation (O’Connor). As James O’Connor explains in his paper, Exceptions, Distinctions, and Processes of Identification: The ‘Concrete Thought’ of Carl Schmitt and US Neoconservatism as seen through Readings of Kenneth Burke and Jacques Derrida:

“In a literal sense and in its historical appearance the state is a specific entity of a people.” – Schmitt

“‘The people’, a nationality armed, a mythical ‘person’ supreme and irresponsible, under the title of the sovereign State, occupied the centre of the political State at the end of the nineteenth century. A new Leviathan had been made.” – Ward

I will argue that Schmitt was an advocate of militant nationalism by discussing the importance he placed on identity and homogeneity…I believe it is indeed possible to consider Schmitt as an advocate of militant, ideological nationalism…Identity for Schmitt must be fought for and protected against both physical and symbolic attack – not only is it threatened from outside by competing peoples and states, but also from within by dissent and diversity.24 However, whereas Schmitt believed that struggle and competition between rival peoples and states strengthened the state’s internal unity and homogeneity by accentuating its distinctiveness through opposition, the real danger to a people’s identity came from the abstractions of liberalism and the normative legal order. In his view, these were destructive for national identity not only because they fragmented the authority of the state by leading to permissiveness and heterogeneity, but also by depriving a people of its distinguishing features, condemning it to a bland, anonymous existence:

The enemy is a negated otherness […] However great an injustice it would be not to respect the human worth of every individual, it would nevertheless be an irresponsible stupidity, leading to the worst chaos, and therefore to even worse injustice, if the specific characteristics of various spheres were not recognised. – Schmitt (O’Connor)

What’s more, as O’Connor later argues, this common identity is key to building “internal unity” and “homogeneity” which creates the conditions for collective engagement within the society and allows people with a common heritage to not be socially alienated (O’Connor). Further, for Schmitt, a destruction of binaries between peoples is tantamount to an assimilative force that destroys both cultures and creates a collective loss of identity. In other words, “[t]he way to define any group is to contrast it with an ‘other.’ However, Schmitt’s emphasis is on the extreme form of ‘othering’: clear definition comes only where the ‘self-other’ relation can potentially intensify into a ‘friend-enemy’ one” (Norman).

Finally, and on a slightly Levinasian turn, recognizing that there is an other and that the other is different from the self allows the self to establish a foothold in civil society via. a collective form of self actualization and that stemming from this, there can be ethical engagements with the other that help define them as X and the self as Y. Further, these engagements – once a collective consciousness or identity is achieved – allow for truly equal interaction and mutual respect built upon a form of “ontological equality” based on a recognition of otherness as the other side of the coin of sameness (Prozorov).4)For an interesting read on why ontology matters, I suggest George Kouros’ book Become What You Are. I, however, have only been able to find excerpts and never the full thing. The excerpt I have, three pages, will be quoted below in Appendix C.

The Political and Racial Constructs: Despite claims made by traditional fascists5)Let’s make no mistake, Schmitt was a fascist. that race is largely irrelevant in politics, that is not entirely true. While allegiance to a nation is obviously a large factor in concretizing national unity, the formations of that allegiance, namely the examination of how it comes about, is a prior question. As Schmitt and his contemporaries argue, some form of “other construction” is vital to the creation of the Political insofar as it entirely rests upon the existence of some distinction between the self and the other.

For Schmitt, structuralist oppositions are what give things their significance. In other words, without a concept of “hot”, “cold” would have no meaning; without a concept of “pain”, “pleasure” would have no meaning, etc. Schmitt extends the concept of binary oppositions to humans and human interaction and argues (as is argued by others cited above) that what gives a specific group significance, in any sense of the word, is its opposite; the other. Absent an other by which to compare the self – or in the case of the Political, a group and its other – there can be no significance amongst people because all difference is erased (Rasch) (Norman).

Paradoxically, and despite the claims of cosmopolitans, the erasure of otherness is an invitation for constant violence and unfettered use of state power. The reason for this is two-fold:

First, when one eschews differences in the name of a “common humanity”, the question gets raised of what do we do with those who fall outside this unified common standard? In other words, if something is considered a universally accepted human value, what do we as a universal, cosmopolitan culture, when we’re confronted with a group of people that do not view things the same way? As Schmitt argues, the result is that we view the non-conformist as a “criminal” who has “declared War against all Mankind, and therefore may be destroyed”; in other words, unending conflict occurs in the name of universal values (Rasch).

Second, however, is that wars do not simply stop because we have erased difference. Conflict is part of the human condition and we will constantly make justifications for violence; the question is only what limits we can place upon the violence. Schmitt argues that when the friend/enemy distinction is erased and all become one, political conflicts cease to exist as we know them. In a truly universal world, the French, say, don’t fight the Syrians because of political differences; those cannot occur in a truly post-racial world. Rather, wars are fought not for political purposes or the demarcation of land for ones people, but they are fought instead for moral reasons. Linking in with the first point, the constant war to maintain universality and the common human cause creates the conditions where wars are waged for moral reasons and to establish a common sense of humanity. And of course, when one is fighting for what is “right” or “just”, there are no limits on what tactics one can use to achieve one’s end…and thus the permanent state of unrestrained violence is unleashed (Rasch).

At the end of the day, not only are socially constructed divisions necessary for the maintenance of the Political and any significance diverse groups have, but absent arbitrary but cognizantly made human distinctions, subconscious justifications for conflict emerge which creates the conditions for unrestrained violence.

Haku Zynkyoku

 

IV. Not All Social Constructions

By this point, most readers would be asking, “how can you support social construction and ‘in and out groups’ when that’s led to ethnic cleansing and genocide in the past?” I argue, however, that instances of ethnic cleansing or genocide by in-groups onto out-groups are not products of enmity, rather they are the products of multiculturalism and radically different cultures living in such close proximity. When discussing tangible negatives of (as opposed to Rasch’s musings) multiculturalism, a “taboo” topic, one need look no further than Europe for empirical data points. As was prophesized by Barbara Spectre, Europe has become increasingly multicultural and less culturally monolithic and Sweden has become the focal point for ethnic violence. 30 some years ago, Sweden decided to be break the monolith and change border policies, the overall population has increased by about 16% whereas violent crime in a once peaceful country shot up over 300%! What’s more, Sweden has become the rape capital of Europe and within the top five countries with high rape statistics (Carlqvist). Defenders of Sweden’s policies try to say that looking at statistics objectively is not a fair standard and, assuming that’s true, let’s operate under the counter-methodology. To quote an analysis on the subject:

If we assume that the statistic actually reflects a real increase, we must ask why. Have Swedes in general become extremely more violent and criminal or have immigrants brought with them a violent and criminal culture?

The latest survey of crime among Swedes and immigrants (from 2005) shows a general overrepresentation of people born outside the country by 2.5. The number is even higher when one looks at serious crime: Concerning deadly violence, the overrepresentation was 4.2 and the same was true for attempted murder or manslaughter. For rape or attempted rape, it was as high as 5.0.

These figures don’t tell us much about immigrants’ share of criminals. But numbers from Statistics Denmark for 2011 indicate that two-thirds of those arraigned in court were of foreign extraction – and that the percentage had been going up for the previous five years.

For juvenile delinquents, 15-17 years, it was even worse. In this category three-quarters had a foreign background with a clear overrepresentation by second-generation immigrants from non-Western countries (Carlqvist).

These are no small figures, as evidenced by Sweden’s new ranking regarding rape, and they transcend the boundaries of Sweden, Norway (this is a more nuanced case) and Australia have both seen similar effects. These are, however, only the “big” level impacts – that is, none of the above is examining the psychological effect that multiculturalism has on cities. Ignoring all the aforementioned, one can make a compelling case against multiculturalism by studying the works of political scientist Robert Putnam.

Robert Putnam, after studying over 40 cases and 30,000 people in the United States and conceding some of the benefits of multiculturalism, found that, ceteris paribus, increased diversity in an area leads to decreased trust between and among members in the same area.

More specifically, in his article entitled E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture, Putnam outlined what he called “hunkering down” when he found a few common traits across most multicultural areas. He found that in said areas, there is less:

  • Lower confidence in local government, local leaders and the local news media.
  • Lower political efficacy – that is, confidence in their own influence.
  • Lower frequency of registering to vote, but more interest and knowledge about politics and more participation in protest marches and social reform groups.
  • Less expectation that others will cooperate to solve dilemmas of collective action (e.g., voluntary conservation to ease a water or energy shortage).
  • Less likelihood of working on a community project.
  • Lower likelihood of giving to charity or volunteering.
  • Fewer close friends and confidants.
  • Less happiness and lower perceived quality of life.
  • More time spent watching television and more agreement that ‘television is my most important form of entertainment’ (Putnam – 149).

Putnam also looked at context and reverse causality, among other potential variables, and found that the results were largely the same thereby suggesting that there is something innately connected between diversity and fear of the unknown (Putnam).

While there are arguments countering Putnam and ones that question the generalizing nature of essays such as this one, the issue of community trust vs. ethnic diversity is still a hotly debated topic.

UPDATE: The New Year’s Eve gang rape and violence that happened in Cologne, Germany is cited as proof of multiculturalism’s negative effects.

V. Sources and Appendices

Sources

Bederman, Diane. “Is Racism Actually a Fear of the Unknown?” The Huffington Post. 6 Nov. 2013. Web. 14 Sept. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/diane-bederman/is-racism-actually-a-fear_b_4167792.html>.

Carlqvist, Ingrid. “Multicultural Sweden Explodes in Violence.” Dispatch International. 8 Nov. 2013. Web. 2 Jan. 2015. <http://www.d-intl.com/2013/11/08/multicultural-sweden-explodes-in-violence/?lang=en>.

Daily Mail. “Babies Develop Racist Traits Aged Nine Months, before Coming into Contact with Other Races.” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 4 May 2012. Web. 14 Sept. 2014. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2139735/Babies-develop-racist-traits-aged-months-coming-contact-races.html>.

Flores, Laura. “What Is Social Construction?” Oakes College. Web. 23 Aug. 2014. <http://oakes.ucsc.edu/academics/Core Course/oakes-core-awards-2012/laura-flores.html>.

Grube, G. M. A., C. D. C. Reeve, and Plato. “Book V.” Republic. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992. 122-156. Print.

IMDb. “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.” IMDb. IMDb.com. Web. 23 Aug. 2014. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0708435/>.

Kouros, George. Become What You Are. 1997. 22-25.

Norman, Emma. “Applying Carl Schmitt to Global Puzzles: Identity, Conflict and the Friend/Enemy Antithesis.” SelectedWorks of Emma R. Norman. 1 Sept. 2009. Web. 7 Dec. 2014. <http://works.bepress.com/emma_norman/1/>.

O’Connor, James. “Exceptions, Distinctions and Processes of Identification : The ‘Concrete Thought’ of Carl Schmitt and US Neoconservatism as Seen through Readings of Kenneth Burke and Jacques Derrida.” HELDA at Helsinki, 8 Mar. 2006. Web. 7 Dec. 2014. <http://hdl.handle.net/10138/18256>.

Prozorov, Sergei. “Liberal Enmity: The Figure of the Foe in the Political Ontology of Liberalism.” Millennium – Journal of International Studies 35.1 (2006): 75-99. Sage Journals. Web. 7 Dec. 2014. <http://mil.sagepub.com/content/35/1/75.abstract>.

Putnam, Robert D. “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity And Community In The Twenty-first Century The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture.” Scandinavian Political Studies 30.2 (2007): 137-74. Wiley Online Library. Web. 3 Jan. 2015. <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/>.

Rasch, William. “Lines in the Sand: Enmity as a Structuring Principle.” South Atlantic Quarterly 104.2 (Spring: 2005): 253-62.

Reisfeld, Smadar. “Are We Born Racist? A New Israeli Study Has Some Surprising Answers – Magazine.” Haaretz.com. 8 June 2013. Web. 14 Sept. 2014. <http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/magazine/.premium-1.528187>.

Schmitt, Carl. “The Concept of The Political.” The Concept of the Political. 2nd ed. Chicago and London: U of Chicao, 1932. 26. Print.

Thorup, Mikkel. In Defence of Enmity: Critiques of Liberal Globalism : Ph.D.-dissertation. [1. Oplag] ed. Århus: Institute of Philosophy and the History of Ideas, U of Aarhus, 2006.

Winters, Jeffrey. “Why We Fear the Unknown.” Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness Find a Therapist. 1 May 2002. Web. 14 Sept. 2014. <http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200305/why-we-fear-the-unknown>.

Young, Bruce. “Emmanuel Levinas and “the Face of the Other”” Brigham Young University. Web. 23 Aug. 2014. <http://english.byu.edu/faculty/youngb/levinas/face.pdf>.

Appendices

Appendix A: The following is Schmitt’s definition of the Political as expressed in his 1932 book The Concept of the Political (or Der Begriff des Politischen)6)The 1932 version is actually the second edition of the book; the first edition was published in 1927. The second edition, while “controversial” is the version I have and am citing and very heavily footnoted. If you follow the link above you will see a PDF copy of the book.:

The political must therefore rest on its own ultimate distinctions, to which all action with a specifically political meaning can be traced. Let us assume that in the realm of morality the final distinctions are between good and evil, in aesthetes beautiful and ugly, in economics, profitable and unprofitable. The question then is whether there is also a special distinction which can serve as a simple criterion of the political and of what it consists. The nature of such a political distinction is surely different from that of those others. It is independent of them and as such can speak clearly for itself. The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy (Schmitt, 26).

Appendix B: Here is the video I made:

Here is the partially followed script for the video I made on The Political vs. Politics:

First let me begin by saying this video will be a building block. It will serve as a definition of one of Schmitt’s central ideas and this video in and of itself makes no argument, rather, it is explaining a crux of Schmitt’s theory.

So, central to Schmitt’s thinking is the concept of the political, hell he even wrote a book called that, vs. what is classically known as politics. To understand Schmittian conceptions of the state and sovereignty, one must understand the distinction between what he calls “the political”, and “politics”.

Politics, as it is defined according to Google (and keep in mind, there isn’t one definition of politics but this is a commonly accepted one) is quote “the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area” end quote. Schmitt deviates from this definition in that he questions the supposed apriori nature of politics.

Allow me to explain: According to traditional theories of politics, politics as a concept cannot be reduced further; rather, it has an apriori meaning. An analogy would be the following: classical logic would say that a letter is the irreducible form of words just like politics is the irreducible form of statehood. Basically, politics is the supposed atomos of governance.

Schmitt however argues that this view of politics is wrong and that politics is reducible to something more base, to the actual atomos of governance. According to Schmitt, politics is further reducible to something that he calls quote “the political” which is in turn. Now this brings up a few issues, first it raises is the issue of what the hell “the political” is in the first place (which I’ll address in a moment), and second, it cuts at the heart of modern theories of politics because there is a prior justification that must be looked at.

So, we have Schmitt arguing that “the political” is the reduction of politics, the base of politics, but that then begs the question of what the hell “the political” actually is. Conveniently for us, Schmitt wrote an essay called The Concept of the Political in which he outlines what “the political” actually is. It is at this point that I will just give you the definition verbatim and the page number and you can shut the video off if you wish OR you can continue watching and I will explain further what he means and some analogies he makes regarding it.

So for those of you who want to get back to your ball game or whatever you want to do, on page 26 of the 1996 version of the essay translated by George Schwab, Schmitt says quote “The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy”.

………… [5 second pause] …………

So for those who are still there, let me explain this further but before I do that and to address any concerns you may have here is this: one may say, “well peter, just a few minutes ago you said “the political” is the base of politics but above Schmitt says that “the political” can be reduced further, so aren’t you wrong?” The answer is no. Within the text Schmitt says that this quote “provides a definition” end quote, to understand the political. This means that his use of the word “reduced” in his original sentence is merely a word that links “friend and enemy” to the political. In a word, it isn’t reduced in the typical sense.

Now if that made no sense or you weren’t even thinking that criticism, ignore that and we can move on.

So allow me to elaborate more on what Schmitt means. Schmitt thinks that concepts that make up the foundation of Western Society are always defined by dichotomies. This and that. Examples: Schmitt says that the concept of morality is defined by the dichotomy between “good and evil”, aesthetics is defined by the dichotomy between “beautiful and ugly”, and economics is defined by the dichotomy between “profitable and unprofitable”. He too argues that just like these are foundations for Western society (and the political is too) and are made up of these dichotomies, so too must the political and hence he comes up with his famous “friend/enemy” dichotomy.

A massively important note here (that will come into play in later videos) is that there is a fundamental distinction between “enemy” and “foe”. In Schmitt’s work he differentiates between “hostis” and “inimicus” saying one belongs to public realm, the other, to the private. Both words are Latin and, according to Google’s flawed translation, translate to “enemy and enemy”. But that is not strictly the case. Rather, inimicus, as Sergei Prozorov argues, quote “…belongs to the realm of the private and concerns various forms of moral, aesthetic or economic resentment, revulsion or hate that are connoted by the archaic English word ‘foe’…” whereas hostis quote “…is limited to the public realm and concerns the existential threat posed to the form of life…”. Additionally, Schmitt says in his essay quote “[t]he political enemy need not be morally evil…” This is a fundamental distinction between the words “enemy” and “foe” in English that has led to the misappropriation of Schmitt’s work as well as a misunderstanding of what he means. But that, is for another video.

For now, if you have comments, questions, or concerns/if I got something wrong, leave it below!

 

Appendix C: Excerpt from Kouros’ book. If you have more information on the book itself entitled Become What You Are, I would greatly appreciate the information. The paragraph breaks I included are arbitrary, they simply aid with reading.

The thought that inhabits critique is not bent on achieving quick and efficient solutions. Nor is critique simply a means for some eventual action; for Foucault, the distinction between theory and practice is shallow, as thought is a practice, and practice is always informed by thought. Yet despite the close relationship between thought and action, the practice of critique operates according to a mode of thought quite different from the calculative thinking that drives technological practices. This other mode of thinking is what Heidegger would call “meditative thought.” Meditative thought is characterized by its disengagement from the technological imperative to react. 14 This is not to say that meditative thought does not result in action, but rather, thought is not reducible to action, as if its only function were to usher in a solution: “thinking does not become action only because some effect issues from it or because it is applied” (LH 217).

Thought has value in and of itself. It allows us to take stock of our ontological situation. As Foucault explains, Thought is not what inhabits a certain conduct and gives it its meaning; rather it is what allows one to step back away from this way of acting or reacting, to present it to oneself as an object of thought and question it as to its meaning, its conditions, its goals. Thought is freedom in relation to what one does, the motion by which one detaches oneself from it, and establishes it as an object, and reflects on it as a problem. (PPP 388)15

Heidegger echoes these sentiments when he writes, “Reflection is the courage to make the truth of our own presuppositions and the realm of our own goals into the things that most deserve to be called into question. ,16 The calculative mode of engaging the world is forever asking, “What should I do?”; it is bent on producing immediate and practical solutions. Problems take on an urgency that demand quick action, and calculative thought eschews the task of thinking as a luxury that cannot be afforded. But as Heidegger points out, “All attempts to reckon existing reality morphologically, psychologically, in terms of decline and loss, in terms of fate, catastrophe and destruction, are merely technological behavior. That behavior operates through the device of the enumerating of symptoms whose standing-reserve can be increased to infinity and always varied anew” (T 48).

The call for action already operates with the understanding that the world is an ordered whole that can be manipulated as necessary to avoid immanent danger. As long as reality is problematized as one crisis after the other, action will always beat out thought as the preferred mode of engagement. For Heidegger and Foucault both, this knee jerk sense of action is systemically destined to produce nothing but more of the same. By failing to engage problems at the level of thought, that is, the level at which the problem is understood as a problem for thought, the imperative to act merely operates on superficial features of reality, applying band-aids to wounds when the real injury is festering way beneath the surface. The first step in overcoming the calculative understanding of reality is to recognize that it is only one understanding among many. This is much more difficult than it might sound. First of all, the calculative mode of revealing the world, Enframing, is something that conceals itself in the process of revealing the world (QT 27).

The mode of revealing is so pervasive that it is invisible to us, unless we reflect on it. When we are mired in the concerns of the everyday, Enframing is not encountered, it is only lived. That is, as someone thinking technologically, reality reveals itself to me as a series of objects. I am attuned to that objectness when I am engaging with the world. Precisely because Enframing is not an object, but a mode of revealing, it itself will not show up within my observational field. In order for me to confront technological thought for what it is, a way of revealing, I have to be prepared to momentarily suspend my calculative mode of thinking and pursue ontological questions.Second, the continued successes of technological thought blinds us to the fact that it is only an interpretation of reality and not reality in itself. As Heidegger warns, “The approaching tide of technological revolution in the atomic age could so captivate, bewitch, dazzle, and beguile man that calculative thinking may someday come to be accepted and practiced as the only way of thinking “(DT 56).

For every time that a scientific theory pans out, or technological planning achieves desired ends, we are less capable of viewing technology as only one of many different ways to reveal the world. Heidegger is not arguing that science is false or useless. In fact, he recognizes that technological representations of reality often do allow us to make correct determinations about the world: “In a similar way the unconcealment in accordance with which nature presents itself as a ceculable complex of the effects of forces can indeed permit correct determinations; but precisely through these successes the danger can remain that in the midst of all that is correct the true will withdraw” (QT 26).

While it might be the case that a river that can yield a calculable amount of hydropower, this does not mean that the river is, in its essence, a source of energy. But for every power plant built on a river it becomes increasingly more difficult to appreciate that rivers are not primarily stockpiles of potential energy waiting to be unleashed (Kouros).

 

References   [ + ]

1. Granted, Levinas takes a different view than I do and he talks about the “other” more intimately than I do, but his analysis is still valid
2. In this way, Schmitt can be read as a structuralist.
3. As discussed in my post Hostis vs. Inimicus, friend and enemy are terms of art in Schmitt’s world and enemy is not synonymous with “foe”; the former is public whereas the latter is private.
4. For an interesting read on why ontology matters, I suggest George Kouros’ book Become What You Are. I, however, have only been able to find excerpts and never the full thing. The excerpt I have, three pages, will be quoted below in Appendix C.
5. Let’s make no mistake, Schmitt was a fascist.
6. The 1932 version is actually the second edition of the book; the first edition was published in 1927. The second edition, while “controversial” is the version I have and am citing and very heavily footnoted. If you follow the link above you will see a PDF copy of the book.