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I've read through his 1993 essay again, and one thing about it struck me that I hadn't known the first time I read it:  It is very similar to the international theory proposed by German political theorist Carl Schmidt (who, like Heidegger, was an unrepentant Nazi whose works are being given a new life by the post-modernist left).  

Huntington's thesis for clash of civilizations is essentially the same as Schmidt's thesis of the Nomos of the earth, with the exception that Schmidt's explanation is much more generalizable and analytically functional instead of being tied to the idiosyncrasies of what might entail "civilizations" of the day. The fact that Schmidt identified different "civilizations" as the relevant Nomos than Huntington does indicate the fact that defining civilizations is highly dependent upon contextual or other factors that may change either quickly or slowly over time.  

Schmidt's Nomos theory allows for civilizations to be subsumed by others by introducing the concept of sovereign power into the definition of civilization, and this is where Huntington's framework becomes weak because of the fact that it is based on an a priori assumption of the relevance the nation state as singular "sovereign" agents, whereas Schmidt allows for other conceptions of such an agent to develop as long as they pertain to being truly "sovereign," as he defines it, which, I believe, makes Schmidt's Nomos approach even more appropriate to today's uni-polar world than it was 20 years ago when Huntington wrote his piece.

Schmidt, German that he was, defined as one of the relevant Nomos, akin to Huntington's civilization, the greater German Nomos, which is essentially today's Eurozone, while Huntington correctly puts this today into larger "West," largely because the US and Russia eliminated the German Nomos as an outcome of WWII, subsuming it within both areas.  By this logic, the US also subsumed, within the American Nomos, the Japanese Nomos along with all of what was the colonial empires of Europe and Japan in the Pacific Rim, Indian Rim, Middle East, and Africa. Schmidt's British Nomos disappeared into the American one, which Schmidt had already predicted would occur before the war.

What Schmidt's analysis does that Huntington's doesn't, however, is specify an analytical role for power in his international relations theory. Power -- what Schmidt refers to as "sovereignty" -- identifies the pole within each Nomos.  Sovereignty has a very specific meaning for Schmidt, unlike the slogan-like ambiguity the word carries today, even in international relations theory.  Sovereignty is what we now call "exceptionalism,"  and I think this is the key concept missing from Huntington that makes his theory analytically inferior.  Sovereignty is the ability to violate your own laws or customs that everyone else is beholden to within a given system without having to face the consequences for doing so. In small ways even, very local polities have this sort of sovereignty, but only a select few poles can do that on the world stage, and these poles define the Nomos. The US has long been such a pole and using Schmidt's reasoning has simply subsumed most of the rest of the world within its Nomos as a result of winning WWII (as opposed to merely surviving it, like Britain, France, and the rest of the allied and previously colonial imperial powers did). US exceptionalism means the US can violate international law regularly but can still hold others to that law.

Russia, would be another such pole and what would later be called "sphere of influence" during the cold war would be Russia's now much smaller Nomos, which would include Ukraine as a border region.  

China would be another one, but there are few other possibilities because of the uni-polar dominance of the US everywhere else, such as Western Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America, as well as the entire Pacific Rim. Only the US can violate international laws in these areas with little expectation of facing any significant consequences from the rest of the international system (as opposed to the constituents within its own polity). Because Huntington fails to try to incorporate an explicit theory of power in his demarcation of civilizations, his explanation is merely a descriptive one without being able to make very good predictions about where, specifically, conflicts might actually occur.  

Under Schmidt's Nomos approach, there are two kinds of conflicts that we should expect to see. 1) clashes on the frontiers of each Nomos as regions go back and forth between areas as power of the poles waxes and wanes.  And 2) Conflicts within each Nomos between the pole and the regions within it over institutional arrangements and political leadership of the Nomos.  The Ukraine would be an example of the first kind of conflict, while Venezuela, Cuba, and probably even Iran would be examples of the second kind of conflict, contesting power with the United States over US leadership of the Nomos, very much as a faction like the Tea Party contests power with the United States by taking control of Texas, but in way less inhibited by the constitutional framework for things like elections for contesting power that we find within nation states themselves.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on this.

by santiago on Tue Mar 4th, 2014 at 04:09:55 PM EST

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