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The Leviathan Counterattacks: Sovereignty’s Comeback in the Globalized World

The Leviathan Counterattacks: Sovereignty’s Comeback In The Globalized World

The sudden coming of the state of emergency all over the Western world was a tough blow to the postmodern sensibility. Banned from routine, locked at home, contemporary man has automatically compared this covid-19 pandemic to the violence and damage of a destructive war. To everyone grown under the comfort of our world of constant conveniences and eases of civilization, this quarantine appears as the drama that will fill the vacuum created by the lack of the tragic in the postmodern era.

It is more curious, still, to see that an invisible enemy – the virus – was capable of getting back the political problem, in its schmittian meaning, in times of (apparently) almost complete depoliticization. All over the globe, we have returned to the state of exception.[1] The political problem, in its modern sense, is the problem of civil order; or, we could say, of civil disorder – it attempts to build order from the “logic of chaos.” This takes us, forcibly, to the problem of the state and to the question of sovereignty, this last idea as that decisive will which determines the creation of order from chaos. The sovereign power would be that which created civil order.

Our times are the those of “post-sovereignty” in which it is commonly believed that the idea of sovereignty is atavistic; but with the return of the state of exception, a rough setback was felt in the Western world – we all witnessed how the state of emergency was applied throughout Europe and America, and the big discussion on the present state of emergency focuses on the way this emergency quickly restricted the democratic liberties and rights that are part of our liberal way of life. An important point, before turning to the consequences of the emergency, is to acknowledge that the state – that hobbesian Leviathan – has returned to the forefront of the political question. The paralysis of the European Union (EU) was clear in this respect when its member states took over the scene.

In this specific case, the paralysis was perfectly natural. The EU just reflects the way sovereignty has been progressively eroded, until the point of being considered a useless concept. James Rosenau’s theory of the “multi-centric world” and the ideas of “shared sovereignty” have been widely accepted. The crisis of the idea of sovereignty is looked at as an observable and factual phenomenon: to test its soundness we would only have to verify the quantity of nongovernmental organizations, international institutions, and other new actors on the international scene that have been rivalling with nation-states for decades. International relations transformed into a much more complex area of study, where there were introduced several new actors that the concept of power became quite confusing.[2]

This “network society”, as is often called the new globalized world, subdued states to its logic of interdependence. We are consciously interdependent, our borders are mostly open or, at least, quite loosely controlled; the world has transformed itself into a giant supply chain that must never be stopped; constant interactions between different people in different places promoted the creation of a global culture that makes the individual a being conscious of its cosmopolitanism – personal loyalties are not only national; to think in national terms is often considered a primitive thought in an ever closer and globalized world. Ulrich Beck’s process of “denationalization” appears as a logical consequence of the globalized world dynamic.[3]

This all looks so obvious and familiar – until the covid-19 pandemic arrived. This invisible threat closed borders, suspended civil and political liberties all across the Western world, and put a break on that global supply chain. It appeared as an exception always does, unpredictably and without knocking the door to warn us of its sudden arrival, waking us up roughly to its existential relevance. Because of this event, the issue of the exception and of sovereignty made a late comeback. Therefore, it is imperative to revisit the concept of the sovereign, both on its decisionist version – as it appears in the writings of Carl Schmitt, who wrote lengthily on the subject of sovereignty and who is still today a somewhat discarded thinker – and in the way it developed within the logic of modern state theory. It is needed to recover the modern political problem in the face of the present exception, in order to show that its relevance has not yet disappeared.

We will need to take a look to the unipolar world of the post-cold war period and to the advent of the liberal world order (in the post-World War II period, but certainly universalized after the implosion of the soviet world). This situation, which accompanied closely the dynamic of globalization, eroded the idea of national sovereignty. This erosion of the sovereign corresponded to a process of neutralization of the modern political problem. Liberalism has proven to be the most successful attempt to dominate the contingent, i.e. to eliminate the exception. That is how it could discard such a concept as sovereignty.

We do not intend to show here that national sovereignty reincarnated through this crisis; we believe that it was never eliminated and that only wishful thinking can believe that it is a useless concept. Our ambition is to illuminate the question on the “crisis of sovereignty”, by understanding the way its core concept has been (presumably) neutralized.

The End of History and Globalization: The Crisis of Sovereignty

The unlikely scenario of the spread of a new virus did happen and brought with it many characteristics common to a suspension of normal life. For quite a long time now, in the Western world, political elites had accustomed to the routinizing rhythm of normality. The narrative of the “End of History” – a term coined by Francis Fukuyama in his famous article – had contributed much to this present state of affairs.

When the Berlin Wall fell down and the Soviet Union imploded, the Western declarations of victory multiplied frenetically. Liberal democracies had won against their last existential enemy. Communism, an opposed and contrary reflexion of “our western way of life” was, after fascism, the second ideological project that succumbed to the victory of the free world; it was that last alternative to the liberal democratic regime in politics and to capitalism in economics. The post-Cold war world echoed much of a “world without alternative.” [4] By the victors, the End of History was dictated – ant it was not at all deprived of reason.

A credible alternative to liberal democracy ceased, effectively, to exist, and the world became totally open for its dissemination – the world was ready to become “safe for democracy;” the market economy had also defeated the last collectivist project and globalization had become an inexorable phenomenon. The “westernization” of non-Western countries – and, specially, of those liberated from the communist dictatorship – was an imperative. Just as Karl Marx had observed in the 19th century, time had come for the “barbarians” to turn bourgeois, to adopt their lifestyle and their means of production; liberal democracy could, at that post-Cold war moment, create a world of its own.[5]

During these years of justified triumphalism, this sense of victory had gotten everywhere. In order to spread democracy, the United States (US), the world only superpower, would see itself overstretched, with direct responsibilities all over the globe. The hysteria followed by the inevitability of worldwide liberalization would arrive at a state of apotheosis, only to be demoralized in its spirit by the progressively more frequent obstacles to the spread of liberal democracy in non-Western countries.

Close to the narrative, the reality of globalization and the transformations it fostered in international relations became a dominant matter in public and academic debates. As we said above, this new world was a globalized world, a giant supply chain, connecting points previously disconnected – we had arrived at the era of interdependence. Marx was one of the first observers of this new phenomenon caused by the capitalist dynamic: the unstoppable search for new markets, allowed by the European discovery of the American continent, radically transformed production and, through it, the logic and functioning of entire societies. The bourgeois had coined a “cosmopolitan character in production and consumption” in all places. In place of the “old autarky and old local and national isolation”, said Marx, there appeared exchanges in all directions, “a universal interdependence of nations.”[6]

Since that observation a lot has happened, but its essentials are still relevant for our perception of the globalized world. This universal interdependence of nations, a consequence of the internal logic of a capitalist economy, would be one of the main facts of the post-Cold war world. Thomas Friedman describes globalization as the “inevitable integration of markets, nation-states and technologies to a degree never witnessed before — in a way that is enabling individuals, corporations and nation-states to reach around the world farther, faster, deeper and cheaper than ever before.”[7] Globalization looks, in this sense, as an unavoidable fact of our times; no one can escape its effects and its consequences, and attempting to avoid them is only harmful to the perpetrator.

The reality of globalization would bring necessarily serious change to a world that was being dominated by the role of nation-states as actors par excellence of international politics. International relations – so we thought – happened in an environment lacking the security of a status civilis; they developed in the crude anarchy of the natural state of man, and they were interpreted mostly as inter-state relations. International politics, just like they were perceived by the kinds of Hans Morgenthau, seemed far from reality. Globalization could have started its way as an economic phenomenon, but its repercussions were directed much farther than mere economics: the global supply chain was accompanied, throughout its evolution, by the creation and arrival of new actors in the international scene that turned the inter-state vision of international politics a sort of a clear reductionism.

If globalization was a strictly economic phenomenon, we would need to substitute relations between states and the world’s anarchical structure for the pecuniary logic of a global market. But it surpasses this dimension. Rosenau, the theorist behind the idea of the «polycentric configuration of power», affirms confidently that the era that states monopolized international relations is over; states must share, many times against their own will, the international scene with nongovernmental organizations and global institutions, and even political and social movements that act transnationally; all of this seemed as a sufficient reason to declare the beginning of the “age of post international politics.”[8]

A monocentric configuration of power, focused on the nation-state, was replaced by the polycentric distribution of power – which implies reducing the relevance that power politics have on the international scene, as it was an idiosyncrasy of a state-centric world. International relations cannot be reduced today to the persecution of a strictly national interest; national interests are just one of the many types of different interests that are pursued by the various actors in a global world. Rosenau’s argument would, supposedly, be evident by a simple look at the way NGOs like Greenpeace and Amnisty International pursue a distinct international agenda, which frequently collides directly with national interests; multinationals like Google and McDonald’s have an interest extended in global terms and, acting according to it, they also become international actors; and, to tear down that old state-centric vision, the transnational nature of many problems – like global warming – turn an isolated response to be an impossible act; we now often hear, with an absolute certainty of a self-evident declaration, that “global problems need global solutions.”

This transformations that globalization powerfully fostered attacked the state in its foundations, i.e. in its autonomy, in its character of a sovereign actor. Globalization damaged national sovereignty. It is the main reason of the so-called “crisis of sovereignty.” The role of international treaties, of multilateralism in inter-state relations, of supranational organizations, and the interdependence in areas that were perfectly nationalized not a long time ago, like security, damage and restrict the sovereign power of the nation-state. The hobbesian “Mortal God”, the Leviathan, is divided in its external capacities.[9] Its jus belli is limited by international security organizations, its economic and industrial capacities delocalize and fluctuate according to the dictates of the global market; and, in the case of the EU, national sovereignty sees itself seriously limited in areas that were previously marks of sovereignty, that were transferred to supranational jurisdiction.

As we have seen, globalization – one of the facts of the post-Cold war world – denies, or at least progressively erodes, sovereignty. Rosenau’s polycentric world, where power politics no longer monopolizes international relations, and the global economy where everyone is interdependent and nobody is autonomous, have a much deeper meaning that it would appear to the superficial observer: both of this characteristics of the world brought about by globalization work to neutralize the core characteristic of the old configuration of things, which is the strictly political phenomenon – as Carl Schmitt proposed, in its existential and concrete meaning, as possibility of conflict. The dreamed end of power politics and the reduction of the role of nation-states and national interests serve as neutralizers of the political; the globalized world is, in its essence, a depoliticized world, a post-political realm. And it is post-political because it believes to have reduced to a minimum the first modern political figure, sovereignty.

Sovereignty and the Modern Project: from Emancipation to Neutralization

We have seen the present and dominant narrative on the “crisis of sovereignty.” We have now to recover the meaning of the sovereign. The story of sovereignty is the story of a modern phenomenon. It is intrinsically connected to the progressive autonomization of the political, to the emancipation of the political from the authority of religion – in particular, of the Catholic Church. Sovereignty is, thus, the perfectly political power. Hobbes’s modern state monopolized the power of determining the decision and, consequently, of identifying the possible enemies of political order – other totalities that could endanger the state’s existence. We can only understand this emancipation of the political acknowledging that it was the solution found to, on the one hand, concentrating authority in the modern state, and on the other to take it away from sub political groups, specially religious sects – whose subjective interpretation of the Scriptures brought often chaos and disorder to civil society; in sum, brought civil war. The sovereign turns out to be that hobbesian “Mortal God” that would put an end to civil disorder, monopolizing authority inside its sovereign power.

Jean Bodin, the father of modern sovereignty – described, by the French, as the “absolute and perpetual power of a Commonwealth” -, has a too important role in this process of the emancipation of the political.[10] His theory of sovereignty answered the problem of power in the state: the sovereign was, by itself, indivisible; this indivisibility implied the possession of those “true marks of sovereignty” that were its defining features, described throughout chapter X of his Republic. The main characteristic of the sovereign in Bodin is that it is legibus solutus. Only God is above it.

In Hobbes, the creator of the modern state, the autonomization of the political will make another definitive step towards the wished convergence between authoritas and potestas. An interesting interpretation of the work of Hobbes is that done through the lens of the theological-political problem; in this matter, Rousseau, before starting his critique of hobbesian sovereignty, praised the English philosopher for having united the “two heads of the eagle”, City and Church.[11] In this way, Eric Voegelin stated that the work of Hobbes could be explained as the search for the return of the theologia civilis – which culminated in his Leviathan, a civil and ecclesiastical power, which determined the authorized public religion of the state.[12]

The sovereign in Hobbes is a positively constructed power, edified by the individual will of the multitude of men who intend to surpass their natural state; the sovereign, a result of this will and its “personification” (or representation), would decide the beginning of normality, the arrival of civil society and the end of the state of nature. As Schmitt tells us, in his decisionist view of the theory of the state in Hobbes, Leviathan was that great myth that allowed the surpassing of the exception and the return to normality. Only with the state would life in civil society – in peace – be possible. The refusal of the state meant simultaneously the refusal of order, of a pacified life, in sum, it meant the refusal of industry, of commerce, and of the enjoyment of a safe private life.

It is necessary to comprehend the relevance of the hobbesian Leviathan looking into the theological-political problem. If we often consider Hobbes a protoliberal, it was not only because of his justification of absolutism using anthropological premises that were both individualistic and democratic, but also because he allowed the creation of a new political unity, liberated from the authority of the Church and from the ideas of classical natural law.[13] The modern state is the essential political unit in an anti-teleological world – in a world where unintelligibility and the “logic of chaos” rule, only sovereign power is capable of imposing civil order. It was in Hobbes that the machiavellian precept of the transformation of politics into a technical issue – as the management of power – was consumed, as Leo Strauss pertinently observed.[14] The power that is infused in individuals expands itself to the state.

Hobbes, through the natural condition of men, the status naturalis, and the consequently idea of a natural man – a non-domesticated man, as Pierre Manent states – conceives the creation of the artificial State.[15] The modern state is an artifice. Against religious and sub political sects, and against all of those who could endanger public order and destroy the state, its authority is recovered and reinvigorated in the image of the Leviathan. The state becomes sovereign – infused with the power of the multitude it is not subject to any superior power.

In Schmitt’s vision, which is for us relevant here, the hobbesian state monopolized for itself the capacity of determining that essentially political dichotomy of the friend/enemy.[16] The state is created in order to not allow sub political sects to subvert civil order and cause civil war. The great conquest of this modern state, we could say, was the concretization of the monopoly of coercion and violence in its hands. This idea of sovereignty has gone through a lot of mutations. We must see next how that modern concept relates to the new globalized world.

 Sovereignty in the Globalized World

Even though we are often told that globalization is an uncontrollable phenomenon, that it is a consequence of the natural course of things, this polycentric world contains in itself a normative element. When we declare the end of power politics, we are frequently making a value judgement that surpasses the mere observation of the phenomenon – this normative element appears concretely by the relevance that is given by political leaders of several nation-states to the worldwide opening up of markets, to multilateralism in diplomacy, and to the role of international organizations and other non-state actors. The threat that has been watching over the global liberal order, whether in the form of American isolationism, or in the danger caused by some specific pariah, shows that it is not as certain in its foundations as we would believe it should be if it was effectively the materialization in the international scene of the inexorable globalized world logic.

On the one hand, we are told that the “global world” is a natural result of economic and social development; on the other, it is required that the US do not abandon its position as guardian and main promoter of the liberal international order. In face of this apparent contradiction, it must follow that the idea of state-centric politics has not been eliminated – the post-national world can only be guaranteed by the active efforts of a hegemonic power, which, in the case of the liberal order, is the US.[17] Only by witnessing this need of assurance – that even the norms and rules of the liberal, globalized and polycentric world, need a great power that protects and promotes it –, can we understand the fear shown by the Western political establishment in face of any American setbacks in its international commitments. Abandoning its role as a decisive power in the liberal order, the US can also make its functioning vulnerable.

It is curious to see that the end of power and sovereignty depend on the power and sovereignty of a nation-state. Acknowledging this, we must recognize the arguments made by the critics of the liberal order, who accuse it of being the international order convenient to the US and its allies; the end of power politics would not be more than a mask covered in hypocrisy, a mask that would only hide American might behind the wishes for a powerless world. We must only answer with a normative evaluation: the liberal international order is still better than its alternatives.

It turns out to be counterproductive to declare the end of sovereignty when it still exists; it is not the attempt at its negation that makes it disappear. The paralysation of the globalized world, caused by the covid-19 pandemic, has showed us that, from a moment on, sovereignty is still a reality. Even in post-national Europe, where national sovereignty was most severally eroded, the closing up of borders and the decree of the state of emergency brought the nation-state back to the foreground. All that was need was for the moment of exception to arrive in order to discover where sovereign power still lives.

Who decides in this state of exception? The answer to this question gets us back to the essence of sovereignty. If disorder replaced order, we cannot expect that it should be resolved by the rules and norms that function on routinized normality. The problem of sovereignty can be resumed to the reply to the question of in whom does it rest the responsibility of deciding in an unpredictable situation; in this moment of exception, the unpredictable event that endangers civil order, must the sovereign appear – it is not more than that power which decides when order is recovered. The sovereign is, like Carl Schmitt explained, that who decides on the exception.[18]

“Sovereignty … resides in deciding this controversy, that is,” explains[19] the German thinker, «in determining definitely what constitutes public order and security, in determining when are they disturbed.”[20] If in the paradigmatic moment of exception we discover the sovereign, than it should be easy to conclude that European nation-states are still existentially sovereign. The reason that made us believe in the end of sovereignty was due, simply, to the complete disregard for the idea of the exception. This disregard is natural, since the modern liberal project has at its core a neutralizing impetus, pursued internally by liberal democracy and externally by the global liberal order.

The defining characteristic of the sovereign surpasses the Weberian definition of the state as the possessor of the monopoly of legitimate violence; following Schmitt, it is not the monopoly of coercion that distinguishes the sovereign, but the “monopoly of decision.”[21] Only in a world without the exception, where normality constitutes itself as the only reality, can sovereignty cease to exist. It has been, effectively, the goal of the modern liberal project: the political phenomenon, as the possibility of conflict, was neutralized by globalization – i.e. through the reduction of politics to economics, the relations between states transformed into predominantly pecuniary relations – and by international governance – which replaces diplomacy by rules. This is why we have said above that the globalized world is a post-political world; but it is only an attempt at depoliticization because it tries to make the exception disappear.

Modern Liberty and the Depoliticized City

The hobbesian state must be interpreted as that neutral political unit which seeks to constitute itself as an independent and autonomous actor, which monopolizes the political determination of the state of exception, and thus of public order and public disorder; his monopoly of violence makes it the only strictly political actor, i.e. the only actor that decides who is and who is not to be an enemy of civil order.

Just like the possibility of men enjoying their private lives peacefully was guaranteed by the state’s monopoly of security and defence, industry and commerce serve, in the same sense, as a pacifier method within civil society – with violence in the hands of the state, finally men could dedicate themselves to their private activities and enjoyments.[22] Benjamin Constant’s “liberty of the moderns” required in practice the existence of the state; that idea of liberty, focused on private life, became itself a neutralizing method against the possibility of conflict within society; the spirit of commerce functioned as a serious deterrent against organized violent behaviour. The aristocratic warrior of feudal times was replaced by the hedonist bourgeois.[23]

However, that guarantee of pacification was merely internal; it existed only with the sovereign power. The inter-state world was still a political world; that schmittian dichotomy was always a necessity in an international anarchical system without a planetary and global sovereign. Conflict between states could only be diminished through “balance of power” methods; international politics was always an arena for the balancing of power. They were, forcibly, always power politics. From this awareness of the reality of the anarchical state system, the search for another neutral unit, through which it could become possible to reduce the relevance of power internationally, became an ever more present task and still constitutes one of the most common idealisms of the modern and postmodern periods.[24]

The panacea of “perpetual peace”, of Wilsonian idealism, the sough for the creation a “world government”, and much of the logic of internationalist pacifism, have this goal of finding a neutral ground through which it could be possible to eradicate the possibility of conflict. This tasked means, of course, the depoliticization of the world. If the state accomplished successfully the internal pacification of society; in other words, if the natural condition of mankind – that war of all against all – was surpassed by the constitution of civil society, than it is perfectly rational to jump logically to the attempt to surpass the anarchical state in inter-state relations. World pacification requires a world government.

Every political practice is, since Machiavelli, an attempt at dominating the contingent. Order implies always the disappearing of the exception; the edification of civil society and of the state allows for the development of politics as technique: the political problem was met by a technical solution, and so forth that mechanistic logic would turn to be a generally taken view at social issues. Liberalism, which grew up side by side with this modern theory of the state – a state founded on individual natural rights –, has been the most successful effort in the task of pacifying society and, consequently, of depoliticizing it.

John Locke, one of the intellectual founders of liberal thought, took the hobbesian premises farther: to the justification of a state founded by and for individual rights, started the movement for limiting the sovereign’s capacity to act. It was also Locke who perfectly understood the neutralizing power of commerce; internal conflicts could be successfully reduced by the subjects’ absorption in commercial activities. Locke was navigating through the spirit of the age, when commercial societies began to flourish.[25]

A commercial society contains in itself, implicitly, the idea of a “immanent utopia of a powerless society, of a depoliticized city”, wrote Manent.[26] As said above, the liberty of the moderns – the freedom to enjoy the blessings of private life – is antagonistic to the aristocratic sentiment of the pre-modern world. The modern world meant the advent of the “democratic era”, which contrasted absolutely with its aristocratic rival that preceded it, as the great observations made by Tocqueville from bourgeois America explained.

In these new commercial societies, two panaceas had replaced politics: economics and technique. Classical liberalism has reduced political philosophy to a strand of political economy: the classical problem of the search for the best order for society is, for liberals like Friedrich Hayek, the result of the decisions produced by the “spontaneous order”, whose best reflection is the market. And libertarians like Murray Rothbard have sought to eliminate the modern political unit, the state, in order to liberate the individual. In both cases we verify a complete disregard and neglect for the idea of sovereignty.

For the liberals, the market functions as a depoliticizing unit. It is for that reason that globalization is, for the majority of liberals, a natural phenomenon – and a naturally good phenomenon; the political must be subjugated to the law of supply and demand transmuted to a global dimension. But for the most convict internationalists, global society cannot be reduced to market relations; it is certainly true that economic globalization produces the necessity of international institutions that dictate rules of good conduct, like the World Trade Organization, but it cannot face, in an effective manner, the injustices brought about by a different and unjust global distribution of wealth, for example.

Globalization thus acquires a political purpose and dimension. Either the national state sees itself in the midst of a complex interdependent network, which it cannot control, and because of that it requires his full participation in that network – not participating means certain ruin; or the global problems the world faces demand a response that surpasses the strictly national and state dimensions; or cosmopolitanism gained an identitarian strength that replaces atavistic national identities and sentiments.

Either way, the transformation of globalization, as a process, in a political phenomenon, a project, appears in the form of international governance, of the rule of technique, in Manent’s “governance.” That great example of the materialization of this project in international politics is the EU. It represents the technicization of politics, its neutralization by the dominion of bureaucracy; pacification erodes the political, and the reign of technique replaces democratic legitimacy.[27]

If economics and the commercial society neutralize the political, reducing its possibility of existence, liberal democracy functions as a complement to the division of the indivisibility of national sovereignty. Donoso Cortés, a Spanish philosopher known for his polemics against Proudhon, had understood the deep ambition underlying liberalism, when he spoke of the “great debate” that relativized ideas; theological problems and philosophical first questions transformed into “perspectives” that entered into an infinite discussion.[28]

By finding that neutral ground where to liberate politics from the destructive influence of sub political groups and sects, the modern state, being above society, transformed every idea demanding a moral decision into a private issue. Religion, specially, had become only a matter of “private conscience.” Economics and technique appeared as two panaceas because of their non-teleological character: apparently neutral, they could mean another successful step towards that ever more desired neutral stadium of humanity. Sovereignty, meaning state power, could always be a source of conflict; it too must, as a concept, become useless.

The Political Problem Today

We could say that liberal democracy was the most successful attempt at eroding the possibility of the exception. The civil war Hobbes was eager to avoid seems to us an extemporary and extremely difficult thing to happen in our postmodern societies. Liberal democracies were so successful in dominating the contingent, that the end of the exception became a generalized belief.

This vanishing of the exception is surely caused by the partial resolution of modern political problem, that is, of the question of order and disorder. Western democracies are normalized, civilized societies, where violence is not only condemned as it is despised; and when it exists, it is channelled to marginal phenomena – and quickly branded as anti-social behaviour. Most importantly, violence in liberal democracies does not convert itself into a phenomenon capable of becoming political in the schmittian sense, i.e. of interpreting the dichotomy between friend and enemy.

Order and the successful flourishment and maintenance of modern liberties – essentially liberty understood as negative liberty – seem to have taken us to considerably depoliticized societies; political problems are no longer political in its polemic-conflictual meaning: they are mostly technical problems which must always have a technical solution, echoing Daniel Bell’s “end of ideology.” What gets closer to that polemic sense of the political, like Schmitt had already seen, are the rivalries and trickery so common to party politics; this seems to be a good enough explanation for the association of politics directly and merely to political parties, to partisanship. This is, in itself, a clear depreciation of the political.

Having politics been replaced by technique, sovereignty becomes irrelevant a concept – even more so when violence between liberal democracies is despised and foreign policy dominated by trade relations and trade agreements. But this line of thought, dominant in postmodern democracies, is appropriate only for the regular situation. As the exception is unthinkable, sovereignty cannot be thought of as a foundational fact for the order in society.

It is likely probable that the idea of national sovereignty will return in this new multipolar world that is being formed – especially after this pandemic, the Le. Along with sovereignty, it is also natural that power politics return too, which is the same as saying that international relations as power relations between great powers will return – John Mearsheimer’s great power politics may certainly make a strong comeback. The American unipolar moment allowed for the US to have global ideological ambitions, but today we are convinced that the wished universalization of democracy is not as certain.[29]

The return of the exception allows us to see that the modern political problem is still a significant question. Even if cosmopolitan wishful thinking aspires to surpass it, such a vision collides violently with the stubbornness of the concept of sovereignty, a concept which goes hand in hand with modern democracy. Only the belief in the end of exception made us believe that sovereignty was an atavism of times past.



[1] It is important to make clear what we mean by that “schmittian sense” of politics, since it will be of great importance for the development of the argument. Carl Schmitt, in his book The Concept of the Political, proposed an “existential” view of politics based on a concrete dichotomy, that between “friend” and “enemy”; as I explain later in the article, this idea of the political can only be understood in the light of the theory of the modern state, as a positively edified political unit that monopolizes the means of violence and coercion. When we speak here of the “political” as a distinct concept, we mean this sense proposed by Schmitt. We used the Portuguese translation from the German: Carl Schmitt, O Conceito do Político, transl. Alexandre Franco de Sá (Lisboa: Edições 70, 2015).

[2] James N. Rosenau’s theory of the “multi-centric world”, in which power is not strictly a national-state’s propriety – so to speak –, is an important idea in order to comprehend the relevance of the attempt to surpass state-centric views due to globalization. James N. Rosenau, “Information Technologies and the Skills, Networks, and Structures that Sustain World Affairs”, in Information Technologies and Global Politics: The Changing Scope of Power and Governance, eds. by James N. Rosenau and J. P. Singh (New York: State University of New York Press, 2002) 275-285 and Rosenau, Study of World Politics: Volume II: Globalization and Governance (London: Routledge, 2006).

[3] Ulrich Beck, “Critique of the National Outlook”, in Power in the Global Age: A New Global Political Economy (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005) 35-50.

[4] Zygmunt Bauman, Intimations of Postmodernity (London: Routledge, 1992) 185.

[5] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (New York: The Washington Square Press, 1970) 64-65.

[6] Ibid, 63.

[7] Thomas L. Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree (New York: Anchor, 2000) 7.

[8] Rosenau dedicates a chapter of his work Turbulence in World Politics to the theme of “post-international politics.” Rosenau, Turbulence in World Politics: A Theory of Change and Continuity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990) 3-20.

[9] This famous hobbesian expression can be found on ch. XVII of Hobbes’ Leviathan. Thomas Hobbes, “Of the Causes, Generation, and Definition of a Commonwealth” in Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998) 114.

[10] Jean Bodin, On Sovereignty: Four Chapters from the Six Books on the Commonwealth, ed. Julian H. Franklin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) 1.

[11] The idea of the unifying of the political and theological in Hobbes appears in Rousseau, who praises the English philosopher for his attempt: “Of all Christian authors, the philosopher Hobbes is the only one who correctly saw the evil and the remedy, who dared to propose the reunification of the two heads of the eagle, and the complete return to political unity, without which no State or government will ever be constituted.” Jean Jacques Rousseau, On the Social Contract, eds. by Roger D. Masters (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1978) 127.

[12] Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics: an Introduction (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1952) 162-63.

[13] Leo Strauss, Direito Natural e História, transl. by Miguel Morgado (Lisboa: Edições 70, 2009) 155-60.

[14] Strauss, “The Three Waves of Modernity”, in An Introduction to Political Philosophy: Ten Essays (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1989) 84-88 and Strauss, Direito Natural e História, 154-55.

[15] Pierre Manent, História Intelectual do Liberalismo: Dez Lições, transl. by Jorge Costa (Lisboa: Edições 70, 2015) 72-75.

[16] That is, the modern state monopolized the political as an autonomous phenonemon. Schmitt, O Conceito do Político, 42-44.

[17] Robert Gilpin, in his 1987 work The Political Economy of International Relations, explaining the economic success of the liberal order built after World War II sustains that “American hegemony provided the favorable environment within which supply and demand forces created an era of unprecedented growth and an increasingly open international economy.” Only because the US guaranteed its allies’ security carrying the burden of collective defence, does the sudden and notable economic development in Western Europe and Japan become a reality. Gilpin, The Political Economy of International Relations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987) 344. This thesis is, of course, specially valid for today. Gilpin states that an international economic system requires leadership and “hegemonic responsibility”, see ibid, 364.

[18] Carl Schmitt exposes a “decisionist” vision of the concept of sovereignty (“The sovereign is he who decides on the exception”). For the German thinker, it is through the exception that the sovereign must be discovered; for Schmitt, the exception explained normality. Sovereignty is, thus, a “borderline concept”, not explained by routine. See Carl Schmitt, Political Theology, transl. by George Schwab (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1985) 5-6.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid, 9.

[21] Ibid, 13.

[22] Hannah Arendt stated that Hobbes was the first thinker of the bourgeois class, in the sense that the English philosopher was the first to justify the state on non-teleological grounds; Hobbes’ Leviathan existed to guarantee civil order and security, to diminish the possibility of violence between individuals. Hannah Arendt, As Origens do Totalitarismo, transl. by Roberto Raposo (Alfragide: Dom Quixote, 2016), 181-83.

[23] On this issue of the differences between the virtues of the feudal and modern worlds caused by the spirit of commerce, Irving Kristol gives a appropriate description of the bourgeois ethos in his essay “The Adversary Culture of Intellectuals”, being bourgeois society “the most prosaic of all possible societies.”  Irving Kristol, “The Adversary Culture of Intellectuals”, in Neoconservatism: the Autobiography of an Idea (New York: The Free Press, 1995) 107-8. For a brief introduction to bourgeois virtues, please see Deirdre McCloskey, “The Discreet Virtues of the Bourgeoisie”, History Today, Volume 56, Issue 9 (September 2006): 20-27.

[24] Schmitt, in his discussion on the concept of the political describes pacifism as an anti-political phenomenon; but, as Schmitt continues the discussion, in its mission of neutralizing the political, pacifism can also become a distinctly political phenomenon – the author speaks often about the “definitive last war of humanity” that would put an end to war itself; that, for Schmitt, is dangerously political. Also, in his famous essay on “The Age of Neutralizations and Depoliticizations” Schmitt explains his idea of the modern process of neutralization, which found its ending point in the “spirit of technicity.” Schmitt, O Conceito do Político, 67-69, 156-57.

[25] Strauss highlights the way Locke developed the idea of modern natural rights to justify limited government. Strauss, Direito Natural e História, 190-199. Manent, in his work on the intellectual history of liberalism, refers to the changes Locke operated in the meaning of “civil society” (as distinct from “political society”), that were reflected in the fact that by “civil society” it was meant specially the idea of the market. Manent, História Intelectual do Liberalismo, 87.

[26] Manent, The City of Man, transl. by Marc A. LePlain (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998) 102.

[27] Manent says that “government” has been replaced by the new term “governance” in the “current language of political men.” With the development of the European project, Manent finds a double loss: national states lose sovereignty and national democracies become less representative. Manent’s is a friendly critique of the European project and a defence of the nation-state as the quintessential political unit for the functioning of modern liberal democracies. Manent, A Razão das Nações: Reflexões Sobre a Democracia na Europa, transl. by Jorge Costa (Lisboa: Edições 70, 2008) 43, 47-49.

[28] Juan Donoso Cortés, “Ensayos sobre el Catolicismo, el Liberalismo y el Socialismo”, in Obras de Don Juan Donoso Cortés, vol. IV (Madrid: Imprenta de Tejado, 1854) 154-57.

[29] For a critical appraisal of the influence of liberal internationalism in recent American foreign policy, see John Mearsheimer, The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018).

Francisco Carmo GarciaFrancisco Carmo Garcia

Francisco Carmo Garcia

Francisco Carmo Garcia is a master’s student in Political Science at the Catholic University of Portugal in Lisbon. He writes for the Portuguese journal O Diabo.

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