Political-Theological Approaches to the Enemy

Banksy – West Bank Guard

The Christian imperative to love one’s enemies supposes the existence of the figure of the enemy. Yet, throughout the history of Christian thought, the enemy often recedes from direct view. Political theology’s disciplinary coordinates were taken largely from the ambiguous figure of Carl Schmitt. Schmitt’s insistence that the political order is founded on the friend/enemy distinction, and that the figure of the sovereign polices the boundary between these two categories, has often been discussed in order to articulate forms of exceptionality through which the body politic is constituted and managed.[1] This project will approach the question from a different angle, posing the question of the shape of the enemy itself. 

Writing in the context of the beginnings of the War on Terror and the Iraq War, Gil Anidjar’s work The Jew, The Arab posits that the formation of the enemy is endemic to the formal coordinates of the political-theological distinction itself.[2] The hyphenation of the two discourses supposes two forms of enmity corresponding to two parallel jurisdictions: the political and the theological. Anidjar sees in the figure of the Jew the “theological” enemy, and in the figure of the Arab, the “political” enemy. This builds upon the work of Ernst Kantorowicz, who understands the two “bodies” of the monarch—natural and political—as determinative of the shape of sovereignty in western modernity.[3] Crucially this split in the monarch follows a split in the structure of the ecclesial body, as the office and its inhabitant are distinguished. These splits interpolate the enemy into a Christian theological-political structure. Further, as Anidjar and others show, investigations of several key moments in formative medieval political-theology we see the enemy recede from view. The essence of the human turns out to be the mode by which one can avoid confronting the particularities of antagonisms, as the love of the enemy qua enemy is disavowed.[4]Enemies themselves are split, so that one need not confront material antagonisms. Anidjar argues that as processes of secularisation take shape, the enemy recedes further from view, and enmity is lost in the formal coordinates of nation, state, and capital.[5]

Anidjar’s work might be supplemented with other genealogical investigations, however. In Freud and the Non-European, Edward Said reads Sigmund Freud’s Moses and Monotheism, particularly the claim that “Moses was an Egyptian” in order to rethink the essentialist foundations of the state of Israel and its relation to Palestinian peoples.[6] A shared history of exile offers the possibility, for Said, of a different kind of polity. This kind of challenge to the sovereign political-theological machinery of the west has also been taken up variously by Judith Butler and Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin as they consider the place of exile in Jewish thought. The political-theological reflections in this genealogy insist upon the importance of the parting of the ways between Judaism and Christianity for the production of forms of enmity. Enmity emerges here as a form of Christian disavowal of Judaism, and as an attempt to ground a new autonomous polity.This stream within the project takes its cue from this extant political-theological literature on the enemy in order to invite reflection on the structure of enmity itself, and to productively consider both the way in which the other is interpolated as enemy, and the ways in which enmity is obscured in and through political-theological structures. 

[1] Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, trans, George Schwab (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995). The discourse of exceptionality can be seen archetypically in the work of Giorgio Agamben, trans., Daniel Heller Roazen, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 15-29, 166-180.

[2] Gil Anidjar, The Jew, The Arab: A History of the Enemy (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003).

[3] Ernst Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016 [1957]).

[4] Anidjar, The Jew, The Arab, 24-39. Daniel Heller-Roazen, The Enemy of All: Piracy and the Law of Nations (New York: Zone Books, 2009), 181-191.

[5] Anidjar, Blood: A Critique of Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014). This “trinity” formulation is borrowed from Kojin Karatani, History and Repetition, ed., Seiji M. Lippit (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 1-26.

[6] Edward Said, Freud and the Non European (London: Verso, 2014); Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud vol XXIII (New York: Vintage, 2001); Butler, Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012); Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, “Exile Within Sovereignty: Critique of “the Negation of Exile” in Israeli Culture” in The Scaffolding of Sovereignty: Global an Aesthetic Perspectives on the History of a Concept ed., Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, Stefanos Geroulanos and Nicole Jerr (New York: Columbia University Press), 393-420.

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