Ika Willis – Apocalypse Then: Carl Schmitt and Civil War

Event date:1 March 2011 10.30 – 17.00
British Library
London Room MR4



The Humanities and Arts Research Centre (HARC) at
Royal Holloway University of London presents:

Civilizational Collapse: Dystopian Imaginings of the Past,
Present, and Future (1880 – Present)


Ika Willis: Apocalypse Then: Carl Schmitt and Civil War

The German political philosopher Carl Schmitt has recently enjoyed a surprising popularity, especially among philosophers of the left. This recuperation is particularly surprising given his historical position as philosopher and lawyer of Nazi Germany. The return to Schmitt is in part due to his rejection of liberal views of the state and his consideration of power in the formation of political bodies. Schmitt’s state was defined territorially as the region in which a particular zone of law applied: law defined territory. Belonging to a territory was a matter of defining who was an enemy. An enemy was a person whom was prepared to kill, and who was thus situated outside the protection of the law. But he also had a view of sovereignty as being vested in the body who or which was able to suspend law: sovereignty was thus the suspension of law, and this co-existed uneasily with the conception of territory. Civil war became the moment in which the law of the state was suspended in the rule of sovereignty. It was thus a calamitous moment (a civilizational suspension or collapse). Imaging that moment becomes possible in reading the first century CE poet Lucan. Lucan’s Civil War is apocalyptic in envisioning an end of the state and, indeed, an end of the universe in the civil war of 49 BCE. This resulted in the rule of the sovereign in which law was continuously and perpetually suspended. Notable in Lucan is the amalgamation of identities of the Caesars so that his Nero is also (Julius) Caesar. After the collapse is sovereign power.




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