“A philosophy of merciless war” – Carl Schmitt on hostis and inimicus (Ratio Juris 2015)

A critical and philological analysis of hostis and inimicus – ‘public enemy’ and ‘private enemy’ – in Carl Schmitt’s Weimar-period essay, The Concept of the Political: David Lloyd Dusenbury, “Carl Schmitt on Hostis and Inimicus: A Veneer for Bloody-Mindedness,” Ratio Juris. An International Journal of Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law 28.3 (2015), 431–440. An excerpt from the author’s typescript is copied below:

Schmitt in later days


… To say that Derrida ‘assumes’ Schmitt’s philological rigour, far from being a slur, is charitable. For in his 1932 note on the hostis-inimicus distinction, Schmitt refers us to Forcellini’s Totius Latinitatis Lexicon as providing ‘the clearest definition’ of this distinction, ‘with supporting evidence’.[1] Yet if Derrida had consulted Schmitt’s source, and it seems that he did not,[2] he would have immediately noticed a discrepancy.

            As we have seen, Schmitt insists on a strict conceptual-linguistic alignment of hostis with polémios, in marked contradistinction to his similarly linked terms, inimicus and ekhthrós—which is to say, for Schmitt, that the Latin hostis should be lexically equidistant from the Latin word inimicus and from the Greek word ekhthrós. Schmitt takes ekhthrós, like inimicus, to be a technical term for the ‘private enemy’; while hostis, like polémios, serves as a technical term for the ‘political enemy’. Yet this is how Forcellini’s Lexicon entries on hostis open in the Patavium, 1771 and the London, 1828 editions respectively:

HOSTIS, nemico, πολέμιος, ἐχϑρὸς.[3]

HOSTIS, an enemy, πολέμιος, ἐχϑρὸς.[4]

            Now, per Schmitt, ekhthrós should not be in evidence here. Indeed, Schmitt’s ‘political enemy’ set of terms, hostis-polémios, is by no means supposed to display a pronounced lexical overlap with his ‘private enemy’ set, inimicus-ekhthrós. In effect, the first set’s lexical distance from ekhthrós should signal the precise lexical distance between the Greco-Latin ‘political enemy’ and ‘private enemy’ concepts. And yet immediately, Schmitt’s ‘political enemy’ set is shown to include a term from his ‘private enemy’ set: the lexical space of hostis-polémios, in Forcellini’s lexicography of hostis, includes the Greek term ekhthrós—as Schmitt would doubtless have seen.

            As a first finding, then: the Latin term hostis can (per Forcellini) render the Greek term ekhthrós, as well as polémios; Schmitt’s ‘political enemy’ terms, hostis-polémios, are not lexically opposed to his Greek ‘private enemy’ term, ekhthrós, in the way he indicates they should be.

            But this said, Schmitt cites the Lexicon apropos of his Latin terms specifically—hostis and inimicus—and Forcellini’s hostis entry does provide some lexical support for this Latin opposition.[5] For instance, Forcellini gives a phrase from Cicero’s Eleventh Philippic in which, to Cicero’s disgust, Marc Antony and Dolabella threaten to punish Roman republicans ‘not as opponents, but as enemies’: non inimicos, sed hostis.[6] So as Schmitt leads us to expect, Cicero could rely—as he does in this Philippic—on a recognisable, lexical-conceptual distinction between the Latin terms hostis and inimicus.

            But if this Ciceronian phrase is the most supportive ‘evidence’ that Forcellini provides Schmitt,[7] it is by no means the most suggestive, for in the hostis entry, Forcellini also quotes from Cicero’s De Officiis I 12,[8] while De Officiis I 11–13—which contain, to my awareness, the most sustained discussion of the word hostis in the extant Roman literature[9]—conflict with Schmitt’s logic and terminology in the B.d.P. nearly point-for-point, seriatim. Several points can be noted here.

(α) Whereas for Schmitt, neither the initiation, prosecution nor conclusion of ‘conflicts’ (Konflikte) with a hostis should ‘be decided by a previously determined general norm’ (eine im voraus getroffene generelle Normierung);[10] for Cicero, the ‘rights of war’ (iura belli)[11] and ‘duties connected with war’ (de bellicis … officiis)[12] should pre-decide (i) the initiation, (ii) the prosecution and (iii) the conclusion of all such conflicts.

(i) ‘The only excuse (causam) for going to war’, writes Cicero, ‘is that we may live in peace unharmed (sine iniuria in pace vivatur)’,[13] while ‘no war is just (nullum bellum esse iustum) unless … warning (denuntiatum) has been given and a formal declaration (indictum) made’.[14]

(ii) ‘The man who is not legally a soldier (qui miles non sit) has no right (negat … ius esse) to be fighting the foe (cum hoste pugnare)’,[15] and Cicero maintains that ‘justice toward an enemy’ (iustitiae in hostem)[16] should be ‘strictly observed’ (maxime conservanda).[17]

(iii) ‘When victory is won, we should spare those (conservandi ii) who have not been blood-thirsty … in their warfare (non crudeles in bello).’[18]

All of these Ciceronian strictures on bellum, from the paragraphs surrounding his reflection on the word hostis, invoke and advocate ‘previously determined general norms’.

(β) Whereas for Schmitt, the term inimicus—as we have discussed—should refer with some consistency and specificity to a ‘private enemy’, i.e. precisely not to ‘the enemy’ who introduces the possibility of war; for Cicero, the term inimicus can very clearly refer—within a single sentence—to a ‘personal enemy’ (si est inimicus) and to cities locked in bellum, ‘war’: ‘we conducted a war … with deadly enemies’ (bellum ut cum inimicis gerebatur).[19]

(γ) And whereas for Schmitt the ‘political enemy’ or hostis as ‘the other, the stranger’ (anderes und Fremdes) is evoked as a ‘specially intense’ (besonders intensiven) provocation to political enmity and war;[20] for Cicero, stress rather falls on the fact that the term hostis, as originally signifying a ‘stranger’ or ‘guest’, served to ‘pacify’ or ‘soften’ the semantics of Roman enmity (lenitate verbi rei tristitiam mitigatam), so that he finally asks: ‘What can exceed such clemency (mansuetudinem), when he with whom one is at war (quicum bellum geras) is called by so gentle a name (tam molli nomine appellare)?’[21]

Cicero’s question here apropos the term hostis directly follows the sentences of De Officiis I 12 that Forcellini quotes in his hostis entry. Yet if Schmitt had gone to Forcellini’s sources, a question like this would still have no possible place in the B.d.P., where the term hostis is introduced to aggravate, not mitigate, the semantics of inter-war enmity.

            For a second finding, then: just as there is no indication that Derrida looked past Schmitt’s reference to the Lexicon, so there is no indication that Schmitt looked past the Lexicon’s gloss on hostis—i.e. to his own ‘supporting evidence’; and if Schmitt did proceed to the relevant sources—the most pertinent being De Officiis I—then he suppressed a whole complex of problems these sources present to the hostis-inimicus distinction in, and the deeper logic of, the B.d.P.


[1] Schmitt, Begriff des Politischen [1932], 29 n. 5: ‘Die deutlichste Definition findet sich mit Belegen in Forcellinis Lexicon totius Latinitatis III, 320 und 511 …‘ Note that Schmitt provides no information regarding the Lexicon edition he consulted, though no doubt it could be identified—painstakingly—by way of the volume and page numbers he provides. Having consulted two editions of the Lexicon, however—between which there are only the most insignificant differences in typography, and so on—I feel confident that my remarks in this section do Schmitt no injustice.

[2] Derrida merely quotes Schmitt’s quotation of Forcellini. Cf. Derrida, Politics of Friendship, 109 n. 14: ‘As for the Latin, Schmitt’s reference is as follows …’

[3] Æ. Forcellini, Totius Latinitatis Lexicon, comp. J. Facciolati and Æ. Forcellini, Patavium: Typis Seminarii apud Joannem Manfrè, 1771, II 444 (omitting endings and gender identifications).

[4] Æ. Forcellini, Totius Latinitatis Lexicon, comp. J. Facciolati and Æ. Forcellini, rev. J. Bailey, London: Baldwin et Cradock … et Gulielmi Pickering, I 885 (omitting endings and gender identifications).

[5] Schmitt himself merely quotes Forcellini’s definition, in which bellum publicum is specific to the terms hostis and adversario, while odium privatum is specific to inimicus. In his quote, however, Schmitt elides Forcellini’s reference to adversario; see Schmitt, Begriff des Politischen [1932], 29 n. 5. This omission may not simply reflect Schmitt’s desire for concision: adversario, which Forcellini places here alongside hostis, also carries the sense of an ‘opponent in court’—for Schmitt, a civil and thus ‘apolitical’ enmity—and more generally, of a ‘rival’—while Schmitt is at pains, in the B.d.P., to exclude all economic (etc.) rivalries from his sphere of ‘the political’.

[6] Forcellini, Totius Latinitatis Lexicon [1771], II 444 = Totius Latinitatis Lexicon [1828], I 885.

[7] Or at least, the most compressed: Forcellini quotes several other Ciceronian sentences in which hostis and inimicus are clearly opposed.

[8] Forcellini, Totius Latinitatis Lexicon [1771], II 444 = Totius Latinitatis Lexicon [1828], I 885: ‘Cic. I Offic. c. 12. is dicebatur, quem nunc peregrinum dicimus. Indicant XII. Tabulæ : aut status dies cum hoste. Itemque : adversus hostem æterna auctoritas’ = ‘[For “enemy” (hostis)] meant [to our ancestors] what we now call “stranger” (peregrinus). This is proved by the usage of the Twelve Tables: “Or a day fixed for trial with a strange” (hostis). And again: “Right of ownership is inalienable for ever in dealings with a stranger” (hostis).’ Cicero, De Officiis, tr. W. Miller, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1913, 38–41.

[9] It is certainly more elaborate than Varro’s aside at De Lingua Latina V 3, which nevertheless may have inspired Cicero’s remarks in De Officiis I.

[10] Schmitt, Begriff des Politischen [1932], 27; Concept of the Political, 27.

[11] Cicero, De Officiis, 36–37.

[12] Cicero, De Officiis, 44–45.

[13] Cicero, De Officiis, 36–37.

[14] Cicero, De Officiis, 38–39.

[15] Cicero, De Officiis, 38–39.

[16] Cicero, De Officiis, 44–45.

[17] Cicero, De Officiis, 36–37.

[18] Cicero, De Officiis, 36–37.

[19] Cicero, De Officiis, 40–41 (tr. modified).

[20] Schmitt, Begriff des Politischen [1932], 27; Concept of the Political, 27.

[21] Cicero, De Officiis, 38–41 (tr. modified).


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