Sunday, December 19, 2004

Under the mask of humanity

Yet another program about U.S. violation of human rights in the “war against terrorism” was aired by Swedish radio today. The details are of little importance although it should be noted that the violations were described as systematic, not isolated events, conducted not by individual grunts, but sanctioned and encouraged by president Bush and secretary of defense Rumsfeld.

The most fascinating thing is that each new information is greeted with a sense of surprise. Fascinating not because of the considerable amount of atrocities previously known, but because of the premises under which the “war against terrorism” is fought. Of course it is always interesting to see liberals cling on to their illusions. History has proved the so called “realist” school of international relations if not right, at least fairly correct over and over the last century.

When it comes to wars fought in the name of humanity, or to protect human rights, they tend to be more brutal then wars not fought under that kind of justification because it necessarily dehumanizes the enemy. Carl Schmitt realized this more then 70 years ago, the relevance of the passages below from
The concept of the political today is almost frightening. Of course all this should not be seen as some sort of defense of the liberal metaphysic conception of rights. The notion of rights are, as Schmitt rightly argues, despite liberal claims of the opposite, political to the extreme. Spöknippet disapproves all notions of transcendent “rights”.

At some later point there will hopefully be a text dedicated exclusively to establishing Spöknippets standpoint on rights. For now it is sufficient to establish that there has never been a crime to great to not be committed under the mask of humanity. Indeed many of the most gruesome atrocities has been committed under the mask of humanity. Let us now look upon what Schmitt has to say about war and humanity:
Humanity as such cannot wage war because it has no enemy, at least not on this planet. The concept of humanity excludes the concept of the enemy, because the enemy does not cease to be a human being – and hence there is no specific differentiation in that concept. That wars are waged in the name of humanity is not a contradiction of this simple truth; quite the contrary, it has an especially intensive political meaning. When a state fights its political enemy in the name of humanity, it is not a war for the sake of humanity, but a war wherein a particular state seeks to usurp a universal concept against its military opponent. At the expense of its opponent, it tries to identify itself with humanity in the same way one can misuse peace, justice, progress, and civilization in order to claim these as one’s own and to deny the same to the enemy.

The concept of humanity is especially useful ideological instrument of imperialist expansion, and in its ethical-humanitarian form it is a specific vehicle of economic imperialism. Here one is reminded of a somewhat modified expression of Proudhon’s: whoever invokes humanity wants to cheat. To confiscate the word humanity, to invoke and monopolize such a term probably has certain incalculable effects, such as denying the enemy the quality of being human and declaring him to be an outlaw of humanity; and a war can thereby be driven to the most extreme inhumanity.*
p 54
Schmitt adds in a note:
* Pufendorf quotes approvingly Bacon’s comment that specific peoples are “prescribed by nature itself,” e.g., the Indians, because they eat human flesh. And in fact the Indians of North America were then exterminated. As civilization progresses and morality rises, even less harmless things than devouring human flesh could perhaps qualify as deserving to be outlawed in such a manner. Maybe one day it will be enough if a people were unable to pay its debts.
It follows from the above that a war sanctioned by the United Nations has all the more potential to be exceedingly brutal then a bi-lateral conflict. What can possibly be a stronger argument to present a war as fought on behalf of humanity then one formally sanctioned by the “international community”? It is hard not to think on the sanctions imposed on Iraq, and also the annihilation of Iraqi troops retreating from Kuwait.

Schmitt finishes The concept of the political with some observations regarding terminology, perhaps even more corret today then when first written.
An imperialism based on pure economic power will naturally attempt to sustain a worldwide condition which enables it to apply and manage, unmolested, its economic means, e.g., terminating credit, embargoing raw materials, destroying the currencies of others, and so on. Every attempt of a people to withdraw itself from the effects of such “peaceful” methods is considered by this imperialism as extra economic power.
p 78

For the application of such means, a new and essentially pacifist vocabulary has been created. War is condemned but executions, sanctions, punitive expeditions, pacifications, protections of treaties, international police, and measures to assure peace remains. The adversary is thus no longer called an enemy but a disturber of
peace and is thereby designated to be an outlaw of humanity. A war waged to protect or expand economic power must, with the aid of propaganda, turn into a crusade and into the last war of humanity. This is implicit in the polarity of ethics and economics, a polarity astonishingly systematic and consistent. But this allegedly non-political and apparently even antipolitical system serves existing or newly emerging friend-and-enemy groupings and cannot escape the logic of the political.
p 79

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