Chairman Mao and the Cosmopirates

When I’ve gotten a little more Egypt out of my system, and handled some other matters, I want to think a little harder about philosophy of world history and what I take to be an emerging consensus about America’s evolving international role – in short, from global “hyperpower” to mere Great Power among others.

Such a course of development was already envisioned long ago. Carl Schmitt traced the trajectory, especially in terms of the history of international law, in his work on The Nomos of the Earth, which he began to write during World War II, in Germany. His Theory of the Partisan, a book-length lecture from 1962, follows up Nomos from a particular military-historical perspective that anticipates later writing on so-called 4th Generation Warfare and the War on Terror.

It is with some evident glee that, near the end of Theory of the Partisan, Schmitt locates support for his thinking from what might seem to be an unexpected quarter. He notes that Mao Tse-Tung, possibly as a result of a long experience as an actual practitioner of “telluric” (loosely, homeland-based) defensive warfare, exhibited much greater feeling than the more abstract Lenin, among others, for the limits of revolution and conquest. In the poem “Kunlun,” named for a mythical mountain that rises far above the Earth, Mao offers what Schmitt characterizes as a “pluralistic image”:

If I could stand above the heavens,
I would draw my sword
And cut you in three parts:
One piece for Europe,
One piece for America,
One piece left for China.
Then peace would rule the world.

Schmitt’s way of expressing a similar thought is to refer to a world divided into a “plurality of Grossräumen – [large spatial-political spheres]… rationally balanced internally and in relation to each other.”

We might question if three is the right number of “pieces,” or if Mao’s trio is the right trio. We might also wonder whether, lacking Mao’s sword, we can expect the actual setting of boundaries to develop peacefully or even successfully at all. For Orwell in 1984, a similar arrangement was a recipe for perpetual war, or so, at least, the propaganda movies seemed to say. We can perhaps imagine that at least until the Three or more are set, and on some level continuously, there will still be a role for the One, both a vision of One World or One Humanity, and some One willing to believe in and therefore defend it. Yet what I do not think we can deny is the relevance of Schmitt’s and the Chairman’s explorations to the current human predicament, and to shifts or possible shifts in the American self-conception in particular.

As Schmitt closes Theory, which I must emphasize is composed on a high scholarly level and written in apparent complete sobriety, he ventures into even broader speculation. He thinks his way into a future in which the famous astronauts and cosmonauts of his day have been replaced by “cosmopirates and cosmopartisans,” some of them equipped with weapons of mass destruction. 50 years later, it seems that that future, if it is to come at all, may still take a good while to develop. Instead, we have seen a somewhat unanticipated diversion of human energy into the so-called Third Environment or virtual reality rather than into outer space, conjuring an internetworked unity of humanity that has also meant new orders of re-organization and re-orientation, and modes of warfare (and re-disorganization and re-disorientation), for a new global nomos.


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