What follows are fragments, with some modification, pulled from notes for a longer study
on Lucretius, which explains the Latin turns and preoccupations – they
barely amount to a reading of Schmitt’s “The Theory of the Partisan”,
from which my attention kept veering.
Carl Schmitt is not, I think, the 20th century’s most persistent philosopher of the political but of the mos maiorum – which is to say, politics conceived as the inheritance, codification and preservation of a ‘way of life’. In Schmitt’s writings, as in Lucretius’s time, the mos maiorum ascends to conceptual reverence in the midst of and as a symptom of its crisis.
Schmitt’s analysis, while it purports to be a rigorous, literal observation of the conduct of politics, is, on the contrary, a romantic, sentimental devotion to borders and polemos.
Throughout his work, Schmitt’s jus bellum is assembled and reconstructed on the ground of an apparently indisputable and absolute right to self-preservation. And so, while the question of self goes begging, it seeks protection from politics in the existential, anti-heretical, and dualist lexicon of friendship and enmity.
The mos maiorum depoliticises and ahistoricises – that is, renders as if created ex nihilo – certain formalised, abstract parameters of selfhood, through existential assertions that a given ‘way of life’ corresponds to and exhausts every sense of life, the nation every sense of self, the communis sensus every sense of bodies and the range of possible experiences between them, including those of intimacy, neglect, delight, unconcern.
Tangere enim et tangi, nisi corpus, nulla potest res. – Lucretius, De Rerum Natura.
To be sure, there is an acknowledgement at times that there are other ways of being with others, but the essence of politics for Schmitt has to do with acquiring the “intensity” – the vīs and vir – that formal and abstract “unity” provides, for him.
The idea of representation rests upon the fact that a people existing as a political unity has a higher and more intense way of being than the natural being of a group of people who just happen to live together. - Carl Schmitt, Verfassungslehre, 1928.
The Christiana Respublica in extending as empire, encounters difference in the world and, increasingly, breaches in the civitas and religio.
In the Schmittian schema, modified after the end of World War II and in the wake of the ruin of the Tausendjähriges Reich, the figure of the partisan will emerge as the irreversible convulsions of the mos maiorum, and the anticipation of an interminable and global civil war.
For Schmitt, this serves as confirmation of the supremacy of ‘Western Europe’ and nostalgic lament for the ostensibly real, authentic and tractable enmity of a Westaphalian demarcation of the world into the territories of an everlasting war and the zone of a contracted peace.
Two kinds of war are particularly important and in a sense even related to partisanship: civil war and colonial war…. Classical European international law marginalised these two dangerous forms of war and enmity. - Schmitt, TTP, emphasis added.
The abstract, depoliticising injunction of the mos maiorum is to conserve the inheritance.
The theorist can do no more than preserve the concepts and call things by their names. - Schmitt, TTP, emphasis added.
Postscript: If I were to approach “The Theory of the Partisan” without vectoring it through a reading of Lucretius, I think it might more fruitfully be read as Schmitt’s response to Walter Benjamin’s insistence on bringing about a “real state of emergency”.