Napoleon’s Cursed War

David A. Bell writes:

In March 1962, the German far-right intellectual Carl Schmitt visited Spain. It was a homecoming of sorts, for while Germany now shunned this brilliant jurist, who had given enthusiastic support to the Nazis, the land of Franco still revered him (he spoke fluent Spanish, and his daughter was married to a prominent Franquista). Schmitt was there to give lectures at Pamplona and Saragossa in connection with something apparently remote: the 150th anniversary of Spain’s 1808-14 War of Independence against Napoleon. But he insisted on the continuing relevance of this struggle by Spanish and British forces to expel French invaders from Spanish soil: the War of Independence, he declared, marked the beginning of a key form of modern warfare – ‘guerrilla’ or ‘partisan’ war, in which combatants refuse to recognise each other’s legitimacy, fight without restraint, and finally achieve a condition of pure conflict that Schmitt called ‘absolute enmity’. His Theory of the Partisan (the title under which the lectures appeared in print) formed a corollary to his ‘concept of the political’, in which politics itself ultimately reduces to the stark dichotomy of friend and foe. Schmitt traced a line from Spain to later guerrilla movements, including Mao’s peasant insurgency in China and the resistance of France’s right-wing OAS terrorists to Algerian independence.

(LRB 6 November 2008)

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