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Cambridge Review of International Affairs, Volume 19, Number 3, September 2006

International Affairs, Volume 19, Number 3, September 2006 Carl Schmitt’s Five Arguments against the Idea of

Carl Schmitt’s Five Arguments against the Idea of Just War

Gabriella Slomp 1 University of St Andrews

Abstract Carl Schmitt famously alleged that a commitment to just war fosters the criminalisation and demonisation of the enemy. The aim of this paper is to trace, analyse and evaluate five arguments that can be found in Schmitt’s opus elucidating and supporting the above claims. The paper suggests that even though Schmitt’s critique of just war is typically extreme, it can nevertheless enrich the current debate on just war in so far as it challenges the common claim that the just war tradition occupies the middle ground between bellicism (that always justifies war) and pacifism (that never justifies war). Arguing against this widely held view, Schmitt claims that in the 20th century a belief in just war, far from representing a moderate position between extremes, is instead at the fore of an ideology that aims at dehumanising anyone who does not share its core values.


Recent times have witnessed the revival of the idea of just war and a renewed interest in the controversial thought of Carl Schmitt. Schmitt’s critique of just war engages with, and offers a bridge between, the two sides of the debate. Although Schmitt did not devote any specific part of his opus to a detailed discussion of just war, the rejection of the idea of just war is a recurring theme throughout his writings. Whereas on some other central issues Schmitt frequently offers contradictory views not only in different works, but sometimes in the very same piece, his critique of the idea of just war appears to be consistent and unchanged in pre- and post-war writings. Carl Schmitt famously alleged that a commitment to just war fosters the demonisation and dehumanisation of the enemy. The aim of this paper is to trace, analyse and evaluate five arguments that one can find in The Concept of the Political , Ex Captivitate Salus , Der Nomos der Erde and Theorie des Partisanen elucidating and supporting the above claim. The paper suggests that, even though Schmitt’s critique of just war is characteristically extreme and motivated by a highly questionable ideology, it can nevertheless enrich the current debate on just war in so far as it challenges the common claim that the just war tradition occupies the middle ground between bellicism (that always justifies war) and pacifism (that never justifies war). Arguing against this widely held view, Schmitt claims that in the 20th century a belief in just war, far from representing a moderate position

1 I wish to thank the Editor and three referees for their constructive criticism.

ISSN 0955-7571 print/ISSN 1474-449X online/06/030435–13 q 2006 Centre of International Studies DOI: 10.1080/09557570600869432

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between two extremes, is instead at the fore of an ideology aimed at dehumanising anyone who does not share its core values. The paper is organised into six sections. Section I introduces Schmitt’s claim that no moral ideal can ever justify killing; section II analyses Schmitt’s argument that one’s belief in having justa causa makes one exempt from adhering to jus in bello ; section III elucidates Schmitt’s contention that civil war is the archetype of just war; section IV engages with Schmitt’s view that jus in bello is only possible if justa causa is abandoned; section V examines Schmitt’s idea that just war ideology fosters a particular type of weapons technology; and section VI tries to draw some conclusions.

The First Argument

The first argument against the idea of just war can be found in The Concept of the Political , where Schmitt points out that killing can never be morally justifiable. He writes,

No program, no ideal, no norm, no expediency confers a right to dispose of the

physical life of other human beings

matter how true, no program no matter how exemplary, no social ideal no matter

how beautiful, no legitimacy nor legality which could justify men in killing each

other for this reason

The justification of war does not reside in its being fought for

There exists no rational purpose, no norm no

ideals or norms of justice, but in its being fought against a real enemy. (Schmitt 1996)

In these passages of The Concept of the Political , Schmitt puts forward a twofold claim, namely that (i) killing and war can never be morally justified, but (ii) they can nevertheless be justifiable on non-moral grounds. Schmitt’s endorsement of the latter claim on the one hand highlights the gap between Schmitt and pacifism and, on the other hand, suggests points of contact between Schmitt and, for example, some utilitarians who have justified defensive wars by resorting to non- moral arguments. 2 Moreover, Schmitt’s espousal of the view that it is impossible to justify war on moral grounds can be seen to distance him from various traditions of Christian writers. In spite of the influence of theology on Schmitt’s thought, 3 he does not endorse the Christian view that led Locke, among others, to say that we have the moral duty to protect our own lives even if we have to kill in self-defence, because life is a gift entrusted to us by God. Above all, claim (i) distances Schmitt from Christian supporters of the doctrine of just war that found its first powerful formulation in Augustine. In Contra Faustum Augustine states,

The real evils in war are love of violence, revengeful

cruelty, fierce and implacable enmity, wild resistance, and the lust of power, and

such like—and it is generally to punish these things some legal authority, good men undertake wars. 4

What is the evil in war?

that, in obedience to God or

2 Of course, utilitarianism can at times recommend surrender rather than war. On this, see Struckmeyer (1971, 48–55, especially 50–51).

As pointed out by various interpreters; see, for example, Meier (1998) and Marramao (2000). 4 Augustine, Contra Faustum , Book XXII, Chapter LXXIV.


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Schmitt’s aim is not, of course, to challenge Christianity. Indeed, as suggested by Herbert Butterfield, the question of the morality of any war is, from a Christian point of view, far from unambiguous (Butterfield 1962, 27–28). But Schmitt is, however, rejecting the validity of Augustine’s justification of war. Indeed, the first argument that one can find in Schmitt’s writings against the idea of just war is that no moral ideal can ever justify killing and war. Schmitt, of course, is no pacifist and provides his own justification for war (and killing): war is justified if waged in order to protect and preserve one’s ‘way of life’. This, Schmitt insists, is an ‘existential’ justification, with no moral foundations, since there is nothing particularly moral in safeguarding our existence and endangering someone else’s (Schmitt 1996, 49).

The Second Argument

The second argument deployed by Schmitt against just war is that (i) it fosters the notion that the enemy is evil and hence (ii) just war leads to complete disregard for all rules of conduct in war. Schmitt regards the view that the enemy is evil as misguided, but most natural; in 1932 he pointed out that, ‘emotionally, the enemy is easily treated as being evil’ (Schmitt 1996, 27) and in 1963 he argued it was a natural human tendency to consider the enemy as someone who acts against morality (Schmitt 1963, 11). In all of his works, Schmitt claims that such a characterisation of the enemy needs to be rejected if bounds are to be imposed on hostilities. Schmitt excoriates the just war doctrine for doing precisely the opposite. He claims that the notion of just war assumes that one party has morality on its side and that, consequently, the opposing party is morally defective. In a war between Good and Evil, Schmitt argues, the regulations of jus in bello are inevitably ignored, since nothing can be allowed to hinder the pursuit of Good and the elimination of Evil. In other words, Schmitt challenges the seemingly moral superiority of any just war by saying that any appeal to justa causa implies the abandonment of all conventions of war. For Schmitt, just wars are more cruel, more intense and more inhuman than other wars. In order to substantiate this claim, Schmitt appeals to historical evidence, provided by the just wars of the Middle Ages. Before evaluating Schmitt’s argument, a qualification is in order. In the Middle Ages, one’s conduct during war was supposed to derive from the cause of war: a just war, legitimately declared, was supposed to be waged by just means (Kotzsch 1956, 86). Medieval jus in bello was inspired by Augustine and Aquinas’s principle of proportionality which required the amount of force used to be proportional to the extent of the injury suffered and recommended proper treatment of both prisoners and combatants. Nevertheless, many historians support Schmitt’s alternative analysis of the period: that jus in bello was, in fact, not a priority in the Middle Ages and that it became so only later. Indeed, Schmitt’s interpretation of just war in the Middle Ages may remind us of similar reflections made by other writers on just wars, who have often mentioned ‘the righteous posture of the medieval warrior who may have made warfare more barbarous through his conviction that he alone fought for a just cause’ and who have pointed out that it is difficult to show ‘tolerance

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toward the enemy when one is convinced that the enemy is totally unjust’ (Miller 1964, 266). Schmitt argues that historical evidence shows that one’s belief in having justa causa induces one to consider the enemy as evil and exempts one from following jus in bello .

The Third Argument

The basis of Schmitt’s third argument against just war lies in the belief that there is no transcultural or transhistorical notion of justice that can be invoked to claim that a war has justa causa . Although Schmitt does, at times, admit the possibility that people and countries may occasionally be motivated by high ideals of justice, on the whole he suggests that any appeal to having justice on one’s side is nothing more than a political stratagem or a propaganda device. In The Concept of the Political we read, ‘concepts such as justice and freedom are used to legitimise one’s own political ambitions and to disqualify or demoralise the enemy’ (Schmitt 1996, 66). In Ex Captivitate Salus Schmitt points out that in the early modern age Christian theologians on both sides traditionally claimed that their mission to eliminate Evil provided them with justa causa . The result, Schmitt tells us, were ‘terrible civil wars’ (Schmitt 2002, 15). Schmitt’s claim that the establishment of justa causa in the medieval and early modern period created as many problems as it sought to solve is, of course, historically accurate. Indeed, at a purely analytical level, one can point to the long- standing debate in the writings of Francisco de Vitoria, Francisco Suarez, Hugo Grotius and Christian Wolff, among others, on whether a war can be just on both sides ( bellum justum ex utraque parte ) or whether only one side may claim to be motivated by the pursuit of good and justice. One theoretical attempt to solve the problem was the introduction of the distinction by Vitoria 5 and Grotius 6 between the ‘objective justice’ of war, that can be only on one side, and ‘subjective justice’, that may well be on both sides and is borne of each agent’s belief to have just cause. Schmitt’s opposition to universalism leads him to reject the concept of objective justice; his realism, on the other hand, makes him doubt the Grotian notion of ‘good faith’ and ‘subjective justice’. Rather, Schmitt’s stand is somewhat reminiscent of Alberico Gentili’s, whom Schmitt often mentions with admiration, and who contributed to the debate on just war in his typically iconoclastic way by noting that a war may be just on one side, but on the other is more just still. Up to this point, Schmitt’s third argument against just war does not seem to be particularly different from those offered by its other critics; it is no secret that the Achilles heel of just war theory is the problem of determining which party can claim to have justa causa . As Erasmus sharply put it, ‘who does not think his cause to be just?’ (Erasmus 1968, 249). 7 However, Schmitt’s extreme relativism on issues

5 See Pagden and Lawrence (1991). 6 See Grotius, De lure Belli ac Pacis, II:XXIII:XIII. 7 On Erasmus’s ambiguity regarding just wars, see for example Fernandez (1973).

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of justice leads him to go further and to make a claim that distances him from most other critics of just war. Namely, he goes so far as to argue that the archetype of just war is civil war. It is worth recalling Schmitt’s own words: ‘[civil war] cannot be but just [gerecht ] in the sense of being convinced of its own justness [ selbstgerecht ] and thus becomes the archetype of just war in general’ (Schmitt 2002, 57). 8 In Ex Captivitate Salus Schmitt does not explain his claim, but in Theorie des Partisanen he provides an argument in support of the view that (i) in every civil war each party claims to have justissima causa ; (ii) each side of a civil war typically regards the enemy as evil and always ignores any convention of war ( jus in bello ). Schmitt examines in some detail the principal actor of civil wars, namely, the partisan (understood as member of a group or a party). The partisan in a civil war sees the enemy as a criminal acting outside legality and legitimacy (Schmitt 1963, 33), to be fought by all available means, letting no rule, such as the distinction between combatant and non-combatant, hinder military necessity (Schmitt 1963, 41–42). The partisan, Schmitt insists, believes that they and they alone have justa causa and no justus hostis (Schmitt 1963, 36). Whereas peace with the enemy is the normal conclusion of inter-state wars, the partisan sees peace as a moment of respite in a struggle that cannot end until the enemy is annihilated (Schmitt 1963, 17). Schmitt’s claim that civil war is the archetype of just war is, as one would imagine, highly polemical. We may recall that for the Scholastic tradition the claim that civil war can be classified as a type, let alone the archetype, of just war is totally absurd. Thomas Aquinas laid down three conditions for just war and the first was that the legitimate authority should make the declaration. 9 Even 20th- century supporters of just war theory have listed among the conditions of a just war that it must be declared by the duly constituted authority. 10 It is worth noting, however, that during the 20th century the applicability of Aquinas’s conditions for just war to contemporary historical circumstances was put into question. Some critics of the just war tradition have pointed out that this criterion serves ‘no helpful purpose at all’ because of the ‘rise of nationalism’: ‘in the absence of any international judge who could determine the justice of the various national claims?’ (Wells 1969, 821). Even writers sympathetic to the notion of just war have pointed out that any theory of just war that disregards the fact that in the 20th century nation and state did not always coincide ‘removes itself from the historical reality of war’ (Luban 1980, 172). 11

8 ‘[Der Bu¨ rgerkrieg] kann nicht ansers als gerecht im Sinne von selbstgerecht sein und wird auf diese Weise zum Urtypus des gerechten und selbstgerechten Krieges u¨ berhaupt.’ 9 For Aquinas the other two conditions are that (i) there must be a just cause and (ii) the belligerent must possess a just intention ‘to do the good and avoid the evil’. Aquinas, Summa Theologica , II.II 40. 10 McKenna (1960) lists seven conditions for just war, all of which are discussed and rejected by Donald Wells (1969).

11 Luban (1980, 173) goes on to say that ‘war in our time seems most often to be revolutionary war, war of liberalisation, civil war, border war between newly established states, or even tribal war, which in fact is a war of nations provoked largely by the noncongruence of nation and state’.

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But regardless of whether or not Aquinas’s conditions for just war are applicable to the 20th century, Schmitt’s assertion that civil war is the archetype of just war is controversial for anyone who wants to avoid the plunge into the abyss of extreme relativism, because they must reject the view that any war is just for those who fight for it. Even Lenin, who saw revolutionary war and all class struggle leading to civil war as just, falls short of suggesting that any civil war is necessarily just. 12 And so the third argument against just war in Schmitt’s works is that God, reason and human agreement have historically been invoked by both sides of a conflict to support the justness of their cause. Civil war is the archetype of just war in so far as it exposes the traits of just war in its purest form: the demonisation of the enemy and the rejection of any rule of conduct in war.

The Fourth Argument

We may recall that the second argument deployed by Schmitt against just war is that when a side believes itself to have justa causa , jus in bello is disregarded. The fourth argument I am going to examine is a mirror image of the second in so far as it claims that jus in bello can be followed if and only if one abandons justa causa . Just as Schmitt appealed to historical evidence from the Middle Ages to substantiate his second claim, so he appeals to the modern period between the Westphalia Treaty and the First World War to support his fourth. This period was the golden age of jus publicum europaeum , the system of law born in the 16th and 17th centuries with the aim of regulating inter-state relations. Schmitt never fails to voice his admiration for this system of law that took the unusual step (den seltenen Schritt ) of replacing the medieval notion of enemy as evil or criminal with the notion of justus hostis or ‘legitimate enemy’ (Schmitt 1963, 11). Schmitt’s main contention is that, by acknowledging that the waging of war was not a crime but a legitimate state activity, jus publicum europaeum was able to regulate war by means of jus in bello . The regulation of war implied a ‘relativisation’ of hostility (Schmitt 1963, 11). Schmitt’s claim is best assessed by breaking it down into its three component parts:

(i) Jus publicum europaeum abandoned the attempt to decide the justice of

war ( justum bellum ) and instead acknowledged the right of states, acting as states, to wage war. As a result, jus ad bellum no longer had a moral foundation.

(ii) The development of the convention of war ( jus in bello ) historically followed

the abandonment of the notion that war was morally justified. (iii) There is a causal relationship (of the typical post hoc ergo propter hoc variety) between these two phenomena, that is, it was because the notion of justa causa of war had been abandoned by jus publicum europaeum that proper attention could be paid to combatants’ conduct during war and hence jus in bello developed.

12 For a comparison of Schmitt and Lenin, see for example Bolsinger (2001).

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On (i) and (ii), it is not difficult to find studies that concur with Schmitt’s analysis 13 and that accept the temporal sequence between the demise of justa causa and the rise of justus hostis (assumed by jus in bello ). Claim (iii), though, is much more debatable. One of the first to postulate a causal relationship between the two

phenomena was Vattel (1758/2002, 376): ‘The first rule

must be accounted just on both sides. This principle is absolutely necessary if any law or order is to be introduced into a method of redress as violent as that of war.’ Indeed, in the 20th century Schmitt was not alone in advocating the view that the relation between the abandonment of justa causa and the enforcement of just conduct of war is not coincidental but causal: ‘The importance attributed to the idea of the just war throughout the Middle Ages and well into the seventeenth century undoubtedly delayed the appearance of any body of rules restraining the more barbarous practices of warfare’ (Miller 1964, 255). 14 However, while the demise of justa causa might have been one of the multiple causes of the development of the convention of war during the modern age, it was certainly not the only one. In places Schmitt seems to accept this qualification and suggests that the development of jus in bello was the result of the happy union of European rationalism, the growth of the nation state, and a specific stage in the development of weapons technology. Consistent with his view that no agreement on justice and values can ever take place, Schmitt explains the states’ acceptance of jus in bello as being motivated not by moral considerations, but by utilitarian calculations performed by equally powerful political actors. More precisely, he singles out the legal concept of reciprocity as the foundation of the convention of war during the golden age of jus publicum europaeum. Although these concessions reveal his awareness of the potentially inextricable mesh of historical factors that promoted the development of jus in bello in the modern age, on the whole, Schmitt prefers to convey a more polemical and simplistic view, namely that the notion of justus hostis, along with all the rules of jus in bello , could only be developed once the idea of justa causa had been abandoned. It follows, Schmitt suggests, that if we want to avoid inhuman wars in the 20th century, the idea of justa causa needs to be dismissed and a juridical (not morally based) right to wage war ought to be acknowledged for every political entity. This

is that regular war

13 For example, von Elbe, writing in 1939, pointed to the gradual abandonment by a growing number of 16th-century scholars of the view that war needs a just cause; war became, von Elbe writes, ‘nothing more than a procedural device that may be resorted to even the redress of a probable wrong without exposing either party to the blame of injustice’ (von Elbe 1939, 674). Over the centuries this approach to war spread so that ‘the majority of writers’ during the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century considered ‘war as an act entirely within the uncontrolled sovereignty of the individual state’ (von Elbe 1939, 674). A similar assessment of the attitude to war from the 18th to the 19th century is given by Richard Falk: he, too, notices that at least until the close of the 19th century ‘a state was in a position to legitimate recourse to war by giving its own explanation’ and with no recourse to moral arguments (Falk 1962, 320). 14 Here Miller is quoting Gerald Draper. Miller believes that such a causal relation can never be proven: ‘It is probably futile to attempt to determine whether the doctrine of just war emerging from the Middle Ages fell into disrepute in the modern age because it failed to combine rules regarding the legitimate resort to war with those concerning its conduct or whether its decline was the result of an overemphasis upon meeting the conditions of jus ad bellum at the expense of restraint in the conduct of war’ (Miller 1964, 259).

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is the view that he supports in The Concept of the Political : ‘To the state as an essentially political entity belongs the jus belli , the real possibility of deciding in a concrete situation upon the enemy and the ability to fight him with the power emanating from the entity’ (Schmitt 1996, 45).

The Fifth Argument

Like many historians, Schmitt dates the crisis of classical jus publicum europaeum back to the Versailles Treaty 15 and remarks that this crisis coincided with the return of the idea of just war (Miller 1964, 254). 16 In many of his works Schmitt points to the revival in the 20th century of the English term ‘foe’, which, he claims, regained currency in political debates (Schmitt 1963, 18–19). ‘Foe’ is the negation of the concept of justus hostis postulated by jus publicum europaeum. Our ‘foe’ is the enemy we despise and want to destroy. Our ‘foe’ is the enemy against whom we fight a just war. We may recall that, in The Concept of the Political , Schmitt points to the return of the idea of just war in the shape of the ‘last war of humanity’—a notion coined after the Great War. Such a war, Schmitt explains, assumes that the enemy is not human:

the last war of humanity is necessarily unusually intense and inhuman because

degrades the enemy into moral and other categories and is forced to make of him a monster that must not only be defeated but also utterly destroyed. In other words, he is an enemy who no longer must be compelled to retreat into his borders only. (Schmitt 1996, 36)


As, for Schmitt, a war in the name of humanity denies that the enemy is a human being, so any war waged in the name of justice, progress or civilisation (Schmitt 1996, 54) ‘means to usurp a universal concept’ and to ‘misuse peace, justice, progress, and civilisation in order to claim these as one’s own and to deny the same to the enemy’. 17 In The Concept of the Political , Schmitt comments on Samuel von Pufendorf and Francis Bacon’s claim that certain people are ‘proscribed by nature itself’ (Schmitt 1996, 54) and that the American Indians deserved extermination because they allegedly ate human flesh. He comments that ‘as civilisation progresses and morality rises even less harmless things than devouring human flesh could perhaps qualify as deserving to be outlawed in such a manner. What’s next? Exterminating people because they do not pay their debts?’ (Schmitt 1996, 54).

15 Writing in 1938, Schmitt (1963, 102–111) comments that the conclusion of the Great War was a contravention of jus publicum europaeum. 16 Von Elbe, like Schmitt, sees in the Versailles Treaty ‘the starting point for a movement once more to distinguish between just and unjust wars’ (von Elbe 1939, 687). The view that ‘the Versailles Treaty represented a return to the concept of war of earlier times and a reversion of the concepts of jus publicum europaeum’ is widely accepted; see, for example, Kaplan and Katzenbach (1961, 209–210).

17 In his words: ‘To confiscate the word humanity, to invoke or monopolise such a term probably has certain incalculable effects, such as denying the enemy the quality of being human and declaring him to be an outlaw of humanity; and a war can thereby be driven to the most extreme inhumanity’ (Schmitt 1996, 54).

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In addition to the above justification for war, in 1932 Schmitt identified the ideas of Marx, as well as Lenin’s ‘annihilating sentences against bourgeois and western capitalism’, as being ideologies of just war (Schmitt 1996, 67). Writing thirty years later, Schmitt similarly condemned all ideologies of just war, be they motivated by liberal ideals of spreading justice and civilisation or by Marxist tenets. In Theorie des Partisanen he condemns the justification of war based on abstract values, regardless of the ideology on which those values are founded. Schmitt remarks that the attempt to impose ‘higher values’ on people with ‘lower values’, which he perceives to be a product of liberalism, results in wars for which no price is seen as too high (Schmitt 1963, 75). Schmitt also stresses the roles of Leninism and Maoism in the revival of the notion of just war after the Second World War and in fomenting civil and revolutionary wars throughout the globe. 18 Writing in the full heat of the Cold War, 19 Schmitt, in Theorie des Partisanen , explains the gradual return of the idea of just war as the result of the intricate interplay of historical forces, including the crisis of the nation state, changes in the economy, increased contacts with non-European cultures, and technological developments. This was a point of view shared by many of his contemporaries; but Schmitt in particular pays special attention to the relationship between the idea of just war and technology—not completely unsurprising, given that ‘Schmitt incorporated a theoretical engagement with technology into practical-political treatises’ (McCormick 1997, 2). 20 Already in The Concept of the Political , Schmitt had highlighted the dual effect of technology and remarked that ‘technology does not serve comforts only, but just as much the production of dangerous weapons and instruments’ (Schmitt 1996, 76). Whereas the wars declared by medieval Christian theologians against hostis generis humani were necessarily contained by the limited weaponry then available (Schmitt 2002, 73), a similarly based war waged with the weapons technology of the 20th century is terrifyingly boundless. Nuclear weapons in particular presume a notion of enemy that is different from that assumed by jus publicum europaeum:

not an enemy who simply needs to be pushed back within his borders, but an enemy who deserves annihilation. Nuclear weapons cannot distinguish between combatant and non-combatant and they cannot follow the rule of proportionality; the very possession of nuclear weapons blurs the classical distinction between war and peace. 21 Clearly inspired by Hegel, Schmitt postulates, in Der Nomos der Erde , a dialectics between just wars and weapons technology. On the one hand, a just war

18 Schmitt regards civil and revolutionary war as the hallmark of the 20th century and as a by-product of European colonisation and of Leninism. A similar view is put across by Hannah Arendt (1963, 11): ‘Wars and revolutions—as though events had only hurried up to fulfil Lenin’s early predictions—have thus far determined the

war and revolution still constitute its two

central political issues.’ 19 A similar diagnosis to that provided by Schmitt in 1963 can be found in other works of the same period; see, for example, Miller (1964, 254).

See also McCormick (1994, 619–652). 21 Schmitt’s view was far from obsolete in the 1960s; see, for example, Falk (1963, 53) and Miller (1964, 281): ‘[A]s a result of modern weapons developments it is no longer possible to distinguish between combatant and non combatant in modern war.’

physiognomy of the twentieth century


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calls for the deployment of the most effective way of allowing good to prevail over evil and therefore fosters the development of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) (Schmitt 1997, 298–299); on the other, the creation and possession of WMDs are morally defensible only if the enemy is assumed to be a monster and not fully human, thus reinforcing the ideology of just war. In conclusion, the fifth argument in Schmitt’s post-war writings is that just war ideology in the 20th century imposes no limits on ‘modern science and its technology’ in the production of increasingly lethal weapons that will annihilate present and future enemies; ‘ Tantum licet in bello justo! ’ (Schmitt 1997, 299).

Some Conclusions

In the literature one can see that a recurrent, though sometimes not explicit, way of classifying different approaches to jus ad bellum is that of an imaginary line with bellicism (that always justifies war) at one extreme and pacifism (that never justifies war) at the other, with different versions of just war theory (that justifies war in some cases) spanning the spectrum. 22 In this paper, I have tried to show that the metric implicit in the bellicism–pacifism line is unable to capture Schmitt’s stand on war. In so far as Schmitt insists that waging war is justified only when a people’s way of life is endangered, he is not a strictu senso bellicist. 23 But he is even less of a pacifist or a just war supporter. An image that captures some aspects of Schmitt’s position is given by morality and politics as running on parallel lines, the former never leading to war, the latter containing the possibility, and even the high probability, of hostility and armed conflict. 24 For Schmitt, war becomes particularly inhuman when the autonomy of the two lines is not observed. 25 Of course, the argument that the justification for killing and war is not moral has an illustrious forerunner in Hobbes, who saw self-preservation as summum bonum , but not in a moral sense. Schmitt’s condemnation of any attempt to give a moral justification to war highlights his conviction that the seeming justification provided by the concept of righteousness can produce wars that are both greater in intensity and more numerous in frequency than purely ‘existential’ considerations would require. While Hobbes (following Thucydides) never tires to point out that the sources of conflict are fear, pride and greed, 26 Schmitt adds ‘righteousness’ to the list as an equally powerful and dangerous source. To say that Schmitt rejects the possibility of any moral justification for hostility and conflict does not imply that Schmitt refrains from taking a moral position on the issue. On the contrary, his condemnation of wars fought for economic advantage or prestige, his sarcasm in denouncing wars fought to impose

22 See, for example, Struckmeyer (1971, 55) or Rengger (2002, 354).


On this, see Kennedy (1997, 35–47). 24 In several of his writings Schmitt reminds us of Alberico Gentili’s famous dictum ‘Silete, theologi, in munere alieno! ’ (2002, 70; 1997, chapter 3; 1963, 15), a dictum that symbolised the separation between politics and the legal aspects of war on the one hand and theology and ethics on the other.

25 On the debate on the autonomy of the political in Schmitt, see Bolsinger (2001, especially chapter two).


I have discussed this in Slomp (1990).

Carl Schmitt’s Five Arguments against Just War 445

supposedly ‘higher values’ such as human rights or democracy, his insistence that his own theory does not recommend bellicism (Schmitt 1996, 33), and his open disapproval for cruel and intense wars reveal Schmitt’s moral stand. But for Schmitt, moral views on war do not provide moral justifications for war. There is no doubt that Schmitt’s critique of just war contains many limitations. For instance, it can be challenged for a lack of historical accuracy. As convincingly argued by Chris Brown (2004), ‘Schmitt’s account of the nature of war and the principles of the European state-system from the mid-seventeenth century to the nineteenth century can be seriously challenged on historical grounds.’ But in addition to this, Schmitt’s position is also deeply ideological and polemical. For example, Schmitt repeatedly blames just war theory in its various incarnations for the demonisation of the enemy witnessed in the 20th century, while not once mentioning the dehumanisation of the Jews by the Nazi regime and the fact that the Holocaust was not carried out under the blessing of just war doctrine. Schmitt also makes the controversial claim that the abandonment of the idea of justa causa promotes ipso facto the observance of jus in bello . Again overlooking glaring counter-examples that were provided by Hitler’s regime, Schmitt does not discuss that fact that Nazi military forces in Poland did not appeal to any morally based notion of justa causa and yet they did not observe the most basic rule of jus in bello , that is, the distinction between civilians and military. In spite of these weaknesses, Schmitt puts across a number of claims that in my opinion are relevant for the current debate on just war. In addition to denouncing the dangers of righteousness, Schmitt makes the claim that, in the 20th century, the archetype of just war was civil war. To its merit, this claim draws attention to the rise of nationalism and in so doing highlights the inapplicability of Aquinas’s conditions for just war to contemporary historical circumstances; notably, Aquinas’s conditions are still endorsed by Catholic supporters of the doctrine. Also, Schmitt’s contention that one’s belief in being engaged in a battle against Evil excuses one from observing jus in bello is disquieting in so far as it finds uncomfortable echoes in recent events. For example, it has been claimed by Michael Ignatieff, among others, that whereas the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO’s) intervention in Kosovo was inspired by some notion of justa causa , military action failed to follow the spirit of classical jus in bello . Faced with the trade-off between low-flying, high-accuracy bombing (with the increased risk of NATO pilot casualties) on the one hand, and high-flying, lower-accuracy bombing (with increased risk of civilian collateral damage and no risk of NATO pilot casualties) on the other hand, decision-makers invariably opted for the latter. It is worth noticing that while a theory such as Michael Walzer’s (1977) can evaluate but not predict whether or not the proper conventions of war are observed in any particular conflict, Schmitt’s theory makes clear predictions and offers clear explanations of why and when conventions of war will be adhered to. This is so because whereas Walzer regards just means and just ends of war as being largely independent of each other (even if inspired by the respect of the same set of rights), Schmitt instead postulates a perverse relationship between means and ends of war: if the end of a war is moral, then the means by which it is conducted will be immoral, since nothing will be tolerated if it seems to hinder the

446 Gabriella Slomp

triumph of Good over Evil and no amount of human sacrifice will be regarded as too great to protect the life of the Noble Warrior. Finally, in Schmitt’s argument one can find an insight in the evolution of the doctrine of just war which is to a large extent original and thought provoking. Schmitt does not give credence to the claim made by a growing number of scholars that just wars in modern times are different from medieval just wars in that they are inspired by more abstract principles. Although there is scope for debate, it seems to me that for Schmitt the difference between medieval and modern just wars does not lie in a shift in the appeal to abstract principles nor is it founded on different notions of enmity: 27 all just wars are fought against an enemy seen as Evil (as opposed to Justus hostis or a legitimate enemy). Rather, while the enemy in many medieval wars was a bad Christian but nevertheless a child of Christ, in the 20th century the enemy of, for example, liberalism was never a bad liberal but someone who questioned the liberal belief- system. In other words, in the Middle Ages it was not uncommon for both parties engaged in a just war to appeal to the same belief-system, namely Christianity, whereas in the 20th century just wars were fought between parties appealing to incompatible belief-systems. It follows that while in the Middle Ages the identity of the enemy could change, and an enemy could become a friend and vice versa, in the 20th century the target of enmity was no longer temporary and changeable. On the contrary, the enemy was eternal, quintessentially the ‘Other’. For Schmitt, just wars inspired by mutually exclusive belief-systems are the hallmark of the future and a consequence of a world that has expanded well beyond European culture. In his view, technology will make just wars more frequent and inhuman not only because of developments in weaponry but also because of increased contacts between peoples holding incompatible Weltanschauungen . And thus international politics between such agencies is nothing but a fac¸ade that masks a never-ending state of hostility. Schmitt is at pains to show that liberalism as a belief-system is no more inclusive than Leninism, in spite of its rhetoric of fighting for all human beings. As the fight for the liberation of the universal proletariat excludes the liberation of anybody else, likewise the war for the victory of liberal principles aims at the destruction of non-liberal principles and of anyone holding them. While in domestic politics Schmitt accuses liberalism of hiding the political and forcing it underground, Schmitt argues that in the international arena, by adopting the idea of war in the name of humanity, liberalism engages in ‘pretence politics’ and demonises anyone who does not endorse its dogmas. As mentioned at the beginning of this section, the metric implicit in the bellicism–pacifism line suggests that an endorsement of just war is a moderate position between extremes. Against this perception, Schmitt claims that in the 20th century the just war doctrine in any of its incarnations is anything but moderate: it is an extreme position that construes anyone who does not share its core values (be they liberal, Marxist or fundamentalist) as a monster.

27 Slomp (2005).

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