NELSON INSTITUTE DIRECTOR’S COLUMN EXAMINES “DEGREES OF ENMITY” IN FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM

July 23, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his biweekly “Conservative Columnist” feature for National Interest online, the web edition of the foreign policy journal The National Interest, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, uses the coincidence of the release of a new National Intelligence Estimate on The Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland and the publication of a new English translation of Carl Schmitt’s Theory of the Partisan: Intermediate Commentary on the Concept of the Political by Gary L. Ulmen to discuss the German jurist’s distinction of three types of enmity—conventional, real, and absolute—which correspond to the three political actors (state, traditional partisan, and global revolutionary) on the modern world stage and how the former might be relevant today in evaluating the threats posed by various terrorist groups.

Dr. Pham writes:

Without excusing violence on U.S. personnel or interests in any way—much less giving justifying terrorists—among the factors which ought to be considered is the Schmittian distinction between defensive-oriented acts by “real enemies” and the global, revolutionary ambitions of “absolute enemies.” Even if “small numbers of alienated people” are finding each other and connecting to attack in ways proscribed by the laws of war, do they all necessarily threaten the American homeland or does the danger emanate primarily from certain ones, viz. those inspired by the radical ideology of global jihadism?…Rather than being lumped together in ambiguous generalizations about “terrorism,” each [terrorist group] needs to likewise be assessed for its enmity type—and thus the specific threat it potentially poses to America and her allies…

 While the current terrorist threat is undoubtedly unprecedented, challenging the traditional paradigms of international relations, and the contemporary Islamist suicide bomber is certainly imbued with a Weltanschauung that would have been alien to Schmitt’s, both are still nonetheless within the sphere of the political and thus can and ought to be examined strategically in the light of the national geopolitical and security interests of the United States.

The text of Dr. Pham’s essay, “Degrees of Enmity and the ‘War on Terrorism,’” can be accessed by clicking here.