London School of Economics and Political Science
Department of Government
MSc Political Theory
Michaelmas Term 2017
GV4F5: Advanced Study of Key Political Thinkers. Carl Schmitt and his critics
From Friend-Enemy to Agonistic Pluralism. Chantal Mouffe’s way of dealing with Schmitt
Carl Schmitt is not only known for his remarkable influence on 20th century legal and political theory, but also for his close allegiance with Nazism. Whereas some say that his Nazi experience can’t be separated from his ideas,1it is even more surprising that radical democrat Chantal Mouffe comes up with a way of using Schmitt’s ideas to rethink contemporary politics. Her reflection on and modification of Schmitt’s friend-enemy distinction led her to a friend-adversary distinction that underlies her notion of agonistic pluralism. The aim of this essay is to outline in what way Mouffe’s account of agonistic pluralism resembles Schmitt’s friend-enemy distinction. First, we have a look on Schmitt’s friend-enemy distinction. Then, we will focus on Chantal Mouffe’s modification of Schmitt’s distinction and mention besides widely discussed commonalities and differences between her and Schmitt’s conception a difference that until now hasn’t received much attention in the literature: the different accounts of the preferred location of the friend’s opponent. In the last part of this essay, a weakness that both conceptions share and that until now didn’t receive the attention it deserves, will be presented, namely their failure to recognize that friend-opponent distinctions are not necessarily tied to membership of a certain political entity. In the last paragraph, possible implications of this weakness on the relationship between Schmitt’s and Mouffe’s friend-opponent distinctions and cosmopolitanism will be outlined.
According to Schmitt, a phenomenon is (only) political if its nature contains or provokes a distinction of “the utmost degree of intensity of a union or separation”2like this between friend and enemy. This means, that a political entity presupposes for him the existence of an enemy. This political enemy is ahostis, a public enemy (and not a private adversary,inimicus) and embodies the other, the stranger, the alien with whom in the extreme case conflicts are possible.3Nevertheless, the political enemy is for Schmitt not necessarily morally evil or aesthetically ugly. This fact that the political can exist without having to draw upon other distinctions, argues Schmitt, makes the inherently objective and autonomous nature of the political evident.4Furthermore, anything (religious, moral, economic, ethical, or other antithesis) becomes political as soon as “it is sufficiently strong to group human beings effectively according to friend and enemy.”5
Whereas Schmitt uses the antagonistic distinction of friend-enemy, Chantal Mouffe uses the soft-antagonistic or “agonistic” dichotomy of friend-adversary as criterion for the political.6While an antagonistic conflict can end up in war and complete elimination of the enemy, an agonistic conflict is shaped by the adversaries’ mutual recognition of the other’s legitimacy and the legitimacy of the other’s goals, even if they are incompatible with one’s own goals.7Schmitt would probably not accept Mouffe’s this soft-antagonism, as Alexandre Lefebvre remarks.8The struggle between the two adversaries in Mouffe’s theory is not the search for a compromise or a consensus, but a struggle for power in which one wins through the procedure of voting, at least for a while, over the other.9Since the political is constituted by this struggle, the pressure for consensus between different parties in parliaments contributes to a problematic depolitisation of these institutions of democratic representation. The focus on mainstream attitudes and political correctness in parliaments endangers representative democracy, because it leads to dynamics around ignored issues outside democratic institutions which could explode into violence.10To save democracy from what Colin Crouch calls a post-democracy11(You can always vote, but you have no choice), Mouffe argues for an agonistic pluralism in parliaments.12When institutional channels exist for antagonisms to be expressed in an agonistic way conflicts are less likely to be violent (take an antagonistic form).13For a successful implementation of an agonistic model of liberal democracy a “conflictual consensus based on divergent interpretations of shared ethico-political principles”14is necessary.
In addition to the apparent difference of intensity in Schmitt’s and Mouffe’s dichotomy (enemy vs adversary), there are other differences that until now didn’t receive much attention in the literature. Schmitt and Mouffe have, for instance, different accounts of the preferred location of the friend’s opponent. Schmitt’s enemy seems to be preferably external and thereby contributing to the internal unity of the opposing political entity. He sees an internal enemy as a threat to the internal unity and even as a potential trigger of civil war.15This reveals Schmitt’s underlying tactic of undermining parliamentary democracy: Party politics is politics for him, only if the parties are in conflict with one another. And if the parties are in conflict with one another, they harm the unity. Therefore, he sees party politics never as a desirable solution, either it is no politics at all, or it is harmful for the political unit. For Mouffe, on the contrary, agonistic relationships between different parties in parliamentary are vital for a peaceful living-together, she favours internal pluralism whereas Schmitt argues for internal unity. Like Schmitt’s distinction, her friend-adversary distinction also focuses on the inter-state-level.16Whereas on a domestic level the adherence to a set of etho-political principles is necessary for conflictual consensus, agonisms instead of antagonisms, she rejects a global adherence to those principles as an undesirable cosmopolitanism that fuels Western hegemony. Instead, she sees -like Schmitt- the world as a pluri-verse and not a universe. Unlike Schmitt, for whom the relations between states are characterized by his friend-enemy-distinction, she doesn’t describe how she thinks the international relations are, but how they ought to be and demands a multipolar world shaped by a pluralization of hegemonies.17A pluralism of hegemonies that isn’t threatened by an all-dominating hegemony that doesn’t let room for variety of opposing interests, is key for her in order to have agonistic and not violent antagonistic inter-state-relationships.
Both Schmitt and Mouffe fail in recognizing that friend-opponent distinctions not necessarily are tied to membership of a certain political entity, but that personal preferences can be state-transcending. For instance, a Chinese gay-rights-activist might identify a lot more with a Brasilian gay-rights-activist (friend) than with a member of the Chinese party (enemy/adversary). This line of argument could make a world state possible, even without an alien attack that Schmitt sees as a necessary requirement for such an endeavor. As for Mouffe, the example of the Chinese-Brasilian friendship that opposes the Chinese government, also reveals a weakness in her argument: On the one hand, she underlines the need for an internal pluralism to avoid depolitisation, but then, on the other hand, she treats external political entities as if they were unitarian adversaries, even if they 1) are also, according to her logic, internally pluralistic and 2) can contain people which identify people from other political entities as “friends”.
In order to defend their nation-bound outlook regarding external friend-opponent relations, a Schmittian or Mouffian counter-argument could be, that a shared language, culture and history and a physical proximity connect an individual stronger to its nation than a personal preference can ever connect it to an individual of another state. In this case it would be justified to unify internally pluralistic political entities, when it comes to external friend-opponent relations. If this counter-argument turns out to be invalid, it will become harder for Schmitt and Mouffe to reject cosmopolitanism. Schmitt couldn’t reject any more a world state, even if there are no aliens.18And Mouffe couldn’t reject any more “rooted cosmopolitanism” with which she agrees principally but which she blames for not incorporating a polemic, agonistic element.19The agonistic pluralism and struggle would then happen on the level of individual preferences/interests/attitudes (i.e. South-African, Australian,… environmentalists versus people/entities from around the world that reject for whatever reasons the protection of the environment).
The aim of this essay was to outline in what way Mouffe’s account of agonistic pluralism resembles Schmitt’s friend-enemy distinction. After having presented Schmitt’s friend-enemy distinction, Chantal Mouffe’s modification of it and widely discussed commonalities and differences between the two conceptions (for example the apparent difference in intensity in the both friend-opponent relationships, enemy vs adversary), we focused on a difference that until now hasn’t received much attention in the literature: the different accounts of the preferred location of the friend’s opponent. While Schmitt’s enemy is preferably external, Mouffe’sagonis found both externally and within a political entity. In the last part of this essay, a weakness that both conceptions share and that until now didn’t receive the attention it deserves, was presented, namely their failure to recognize that friend-opponent distinctions are not necessarily tied to membership of a certain political entity. In the last paragraph it was outlined, that this weakness can bring cosmopolitanism and Schmitt’s and Mouffe’s conceptions of the political closer together. These considerations lead to the same conclusions that scholars who focused on other aspects came up with: “Schmitt, the enemy of liberal democracy, is […] reinvented [by Mouffe] as its friend,”20“Schmitt is intstrumental for Mouffe because he is aware of the illusion of an all-inclusive post-political group formation and stresses the ineradicable dimension of conflict”21and “Mouffe uses Schmitt as an ally to formulate a liberalism that constantly negotiates between the logic of identity and the logic of difference.”22
1,508 words(text only)
1For example, Bendersky, Joseph W.: Carl Schmitt. Theorist for the Reich, Princeton University Press: Princeton 1983.
2Schmitt, Carl: The Concept of the Political, The University of Chicago Press: Chicago, London 2007, p. 26.
3Schmitt, Carl (2007), p. 27f.
4Ibid., p. 27.
5Ibid., p. 37.
6Mouffe, Chantal: On the Political, Routledge: London, New York 2005, p. 16.
7Mouffe, Chantal: Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically, Verso: London, New York 2013, p. 8.
8Lefebvre, Alexandre: The Political Given. Decisionism in Schmitt’s Concept of the Political, in:telosvol. 2005 no. 132, p. 87.
9Mouffe, Chantal (2005), p. 22.
10Mouffe, Chantal (2013), p. 122.
11Crouch, Colin: Post-Democracy, Polity, Cambridge, 2004.
12Mouffe, Chantal (2013), p. 6.
13Ibid., p. XIII.
14Ibid., p. 23.
15Schmitt, Carl (2007), p. 32.
16Mouffe, Chantal (2013), p. 48.
17Mouffe, Chantal (2013), p. 22.
18Schmitt, Carl (2007), p. 53-57.
19Mouffe, Chantal (2013), p. 21
20Specter, Matthew G.: What’s „Left“ in Schmitt? From Aversion to Appropriation in Contemporary Political Theory, in Meierheinrich, Jens/Simons, Oliver [Eds.]: The Oxford Handbook of Carl Schmitt (2017), p. 14.
21Lefebvre, Alexandre (2005), p. 85
22Ibid., p. 86