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The return of realism? War and changing concepts of the political

posted on 2023-06-07, 17:36 authored by Patricia Owens
In the wake of the catastrophe of the Bush years, one of the most important tasks of international political theory should be to dismantle rather than valorise Schmitt's conception of politics, war and their philosophical presuppositions. The chapter is divided into two parts. The first section sets out what many have described as the 'decisionist' basis of the Bush administration's legal revisionism and its interpretation of the normative order more generally. The coincidence between the administration's neoconservative attack on the rule of law and Schmitt's similar assault on the possibility of legal regulation of unconventional combatants suggests that we either revise our assumptions regarding the validity of liberal constitutionalism or replace it with something that is more robust. It is argued that we need not accept that irregular combatants are forever outside the laws of armed conflict; neither should we take the correspondence between the political and legal strategies of the Bush administration and Schmitt's thought as the final evidence for abandoning the task of rethinking constitutional politics. The second section draws attention to German-American political theorist Hannah Arendt's rejection of both Schmitt's decisionism and liberal constitutional rationalism in favour of a different understanding of law. For Arendt, law was the element of stability in the always-unpredictable worlds of military and political affairs. While Schmitt's thought was motivated by an effort to rescue 'the political' from liberalism, her writing also points to his failure to adequately distinguish between politics and war. The recent turn to Schmitt has been ill judged. Nonetheless, it has been a useful and timely reminder of what happens when political and military theory is reduced to ideology in the service of state power.


Publication status

  • Published


Oxford University Press

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Book title

The Changing Character of War

Place of publication

New York



Department affiliated with

  • International Relations Publications

Full text available

  • No

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes


S Scheipers, H Strachan

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