Carl Schmitt's Postcolonial Imagination

Presented by Andreas Kalyvas

Monday, 6 March, 2017 - 15:00

The paper proposes a postcolonial reading of Carl Schmitt’s history and theory of international law. It takes his claim that “The colony is the basic spatial fact of hitherto existing European international law,” its “foundation” and “basis,” as the point of departure to interpret his ambitious reconstruction of the rise and fall of the Eurocentric global order. The first part of the paper traces the primacy of the colony in Schmitt’s history of the origins of the modern nomos and exposes its formative role in the making of international law. For Schmitt, the colonial encounter and its colonialism are constitutive of political modernity, which cannot exist without them. This claim inaugurates a foundational critique of international law and political modernity. Correspondingly, in the following section, I discuss Schmitt’s interpretation of the movement of decolonization and the abolition of the colonial difference as one of the main factors that caused the demise of the Jus Publicum Europaeum. This destructive effect underlies his post-war attempt to theorize the anti-Eurocentric “spatial character of anticolonialism.” Finally, the third part of the paper looks at how Schmitt contemplated post-Eurocentric global futures following the end of European hegemony. With the formal independence of previously colonized territories international law ceased to find its center of gravity in Europe as world politics started drifting further West and South, carving new global divisions and opening up other geopolitical multipolar possibilities. One in particular he located in the former colonial spaces where the non-aligned countries and the underdeveloped states could initiate a passage to a new postcolonial nomos, a plural planetary balance of regional powers and blocks. Overall, by probing Schmitt’s views on the relationship between modernity and colonialism, state and colony, as co-original and co-constitutive, I find him, paradoxically, seating and conversing with the unlikely company of anticolonial and postcolonial thinkers.

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