What do political scientists mean when they talk about ‘pyropolitics’? There are two sources to explore in order to understand what they mean; first, you’d need to investigate the entire realm of political theology, including Donoso Cortès’ thoughts on liberalism, socialism, and Catholicism (this last being perceived as Tradition as such), and of course you’d also need to thoroughly study the core ideas of Carl Schmitt, where he proved that all political ideas have a theological background. Second, you’d have to take into consideration Schmitt’s perception of world politics as a clash between raw elements such as Earth and Water. Real politics, which he called das Politische, is necessarily Earth-bound and continental. The true, efficient type of political man is a kind of Roman geometer1 who organises the territory falling under his jurisdiction simply by measuring it.
Since the German defeats of 1918 and 1945, Earth has no longer been the core element of world politics. It has been replaced by Water: it’s the new, subversive, and destructive dialectics of Land und Meer, or Land and Sea, whereby Water always wins the victory in the end. Schmitt’s posthumously edited diary, Glossarium, vehemently insists on the destructive effects of the victorious, all-encompassing American ‘hydropolitics’. Pyros means ‘fire’ in Greek and represents, according to Michael Marder,2 another raw element combining not only the idea of a devouring flame, but also the corollary ideas of ‘light’ and ‘warmth’. Even if Schmitt grouped the possible types of of politics into two main elements (Earth and Water), this does not mean that Fire and Air do not exist or that they don’t also play a role, even if it is less perceptible. ‘Fire’, therefore, refers to several phenomena: the burning force of destruction (such as you find in anti-traditional revolutions), the ‘light-without-warmth’ of the Enlightenment, or the warmth of silent revolt against those counter-traditional and abstract institutions which are derived from the ideological corpus of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.
As there are no virgin territories left to be conquered anymore (see Toynbee’s thoughts on this), and therefore nothing to be subsequently organised according to the very Earth-bound principles of Roman geometers, the Earth as the structuring element of true politics is gradually being replaced not only by Water, but also by Fire. Water, as the emblematic element of liberalism, Manchesterism, sea power, and plutocracy, knows neither clear borders nor the freedom to rest (those who rest at sea sink and drown, according to Schmitt in his Glossarium). No otium (fruitful rest, introspection, meditation) is possible anymore, only neg-otium (the febrile nervousness of restless, materialistic activities) survives and thrives. We therefore live in societies where only ceaseless acceleration (Beschleunigung) rules and cancels out all sensible attempts to decelerate things (Ernst Jünger’s brother Friedrich-Georg was the main theorist of ‘deceleration’, or Entschleunigung, which is a type of genuine ecological thinking representing an awkward attempt to return the raw element of Earth to the world political stage). The domination of hydropolitics (sea power) leads to the dissolution of borders, as we can clearly observe nowadays, and to a worldwide overemphasis on economics and anti-political, anti-telluric, and anti-traditional rules of moralistic law (e.g., Wilsonism).
Nevertheless, even as an element that is now dominated by others, Earth cannot simply be wiped out, and it currently remains silent, as if it were deeply wounded and hibernating. The hydropolitical forces will therefore try other means to definitely destroy the tacitly resisting element of Earth and will subsequently provoke explosions on the continent, such as by mobilizing Fire as an assistant; Fire, which they don’t control themselves but rather leave to mercenary forces, which are clandestinely hired in countries which have a large population of young, unemployed men, to do the dirty jobs. We witnessed the apex of sea and air power during the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 2003, which occurred without the complicity of allies and aliens (the Paris-Berlin-Moscow Axis). The war against Ba’athist Iraq didn’t result in a complete victory for the neocon aggressors, however. Sea powers, as they aren’t Earth-bound powers, are reluctant to organise occupied areas like the Roman geometers did. To keep the defeated and destroyed countries in a state of weakness, the hydropolitical powers mobilised the element Fire; in other words, terrorism (through its strategy of blowing up people and buildings and its ardent religious fanaticism, ‘ardent’ being derived from the Latin ardere, meaning ‘to burn’). The recurrent terrorist attacks against Baghdad’s Shi’ite marketplaces are among the most appalling actions in this return of violent pyropolitics. This same pattern of total destructive violence was later used in Libya as well.
When no geometer’s skills are available, and when there is no desire to create a new state to replace the broken one, we observe a transition to pyropolitics. The overthrown Earth-bound Ba’athist military elite of Iraq likewise turned to pyropolitics by partly creating ISIS. It spread across the region while being at the same time a revolt against the chaos generated by Bush’s neocon war. For the US, it was a manipulation of secret hydro/thalassopolitical forces in order to set undesirable countries ablaze, and to eventually spread the devouring Fire of terrorist fanaticism to all the main competitors’ territories (to Europe, through streams of refugees among whom terrorists hide, and to Russia, where Chechen and Daghestani terrorists are directly linked to the Wahhabist networks). This hydro/thalassopolitical strategy to undermine entire regions by stirring up revolts, religious hatred, and tribal enmities is surely nothing new, but of late has taken on new and more gigantic dimensions.
As a collateral effect, ISIS’ pyropolitics ridicules the ‘light-without-warmth’ ideologies of the Enlightenment held by the Eurocratic elites. Light alone blinds and doesn’t produce genuine solutions to those new problems which were brought about by the disguised foe’s hydro- and pyropolitics. A blinding political ideology that is dominated only by light, and which is also bereft of any ‘warmth-giving’ feelings of security, is obviously bound to fail. European states are gradually becoming failed states because they keep to ‘light-only’ ideologies, and are only being weakly challenged by so-called ‘warmth-demanding’ populist movements. Europe is now experiencing aggression on two fronts: one from the ‘light-without-warmth’ ideological systems, leading to what Ernst Jünger defined as ‘post-history’, and the other from the imported pyropolitics emanating from the Muslim world. The latter was set ablaze by several factors, among which was most crucial factor was the total destruction of Saddam’s Iraq. ISIS’s pyropolitics aims at setting those Western European countries ablaze which it erroneously holds responsible for the complete collapse of the Near and Middle Eastern countries. ISIS’ pyropolitics is nevertheless quite a complex problem: the religious element in it rebels savagely against the dominant ‘light-only’ Western and global ideology which determines everything in contemporary politics, and promotes a pyropolitical ‘warmth-based’ alternative in its place. It does this in a manner exactly like how a European counterpart would likewise aim at replacing the bleak, old-fashioned ‘light-only’ ideological nuisances with more open-hearted and warmer political systems. The neo-liberal avatar of ‘light-only’ ideology should therefore be replaced by a ‘warmth-giving’ solidarism; in other words, a socialism that has lost all of the ‘coldness’ that was attributed to Soviet and French Communism by Kostas Papaioannou, a crucial critical voice from within the Communist movement during the 1960s and ’70s in France.
But there is also a savage, destructive ‘flame-like’ aspect in pyropolitics: the fires of explosions and the rattle of automatic weapons, as in Paris and Brussels, and also in some of the public executions by fire that have taken place in ISIS-occupied Syria. These aimed to inspire fear in Europe through the impact these attacks have inevitably had through the media. The use of such dimensions of pyropolitics is a declaration of war against the rest of the world, which is viewed as a worldwide realm of absolute foes (Dar-el-Harb). This cannot be accepted, since you inevitably become the enemy of all those who declare you an enemy, as Carl Schmitt and Julien Freund used to stress very clearly in their works. No one can embrace such a radical and fierce rejection of his enemy without automatically negating himself and his very right to live.
This problem becomes even more acute when one considers that all those systems which emerge from the ‘light-without-warmth’ ideology (Habermas) don’t accept the polemical idea of an ‘enemy’. In the eyes of Habermas’ followers, there is never an enemy; there are only discussion partners. But if these partners refuse to have a discussion, what happens? Conflict is then inevitable. The dominant elite, being poor, silly followers of Habermas, don’t have any response to this challenge. They will have to be replaced. It will be the difficult task of those who have always remembered Schmitt’s and Freund’s lectures.
Forest-Flotzenberg, May 2016
- The word ‘geometer’ was used by Carl Schmitt to define a profession which is symbolic of Earth-bound telluric politics, or the Earth-bound politics he idealised above the thalassocratic domination of the world after 1945. Geometers, or Roman peasants-soldiers (of the ancient Roman Republic), were the models of a politics which aimed at performing the ‘nomos of the Earth’ (‘Nomos der Erde‘, i.e., the taking over of land), with the measurement of land being a symbolic act of organising conquered territories or virgin areas (which are open to new colonisation).
- Michael Marder, Pyropolitics: When the World is Ablaze (London: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2015).
Further readings (articles by Professor Michael Marder):
- ‘The Enlightenment, Pyropolitics, and the Problem of Evil’, Political Theology, 16(2), 2015, pp. 146–158.
- ‘La Política del Fuego: El Desplazamiento Contemporáneo del Paradigma Geopolítico’, Isegoría, 49, July–December 2013, pp. 599–613.
- ‘After the Fire: The Politics of Ashes’, Telos, 161, Winter 2012, pp. 163–180. (special issue on Politics after Metaphysics)
- ‘The Elemental Regimes of Carl Schmitt, or the ABC of Pyropolitics’, Revista de Ciencias Sociales/Journal of Social Sciences, 60, Summer 2012, pp. 253–277. (special issue on Carl Schmitt)
Pyropolitics: When the World is Ablaze
From the books and heretics burnt on the pyres of the Inquisition to self-immolations at protest rallies, from the massive burning of oil on the global scale to inflammatory speech, from the imagery of revolutionary sparks ready to ignite the spirits of the oppressed to car bombings in the Middle East, fire proves to be […]
Land and Sea: A World-Historical Meditation
Originally published in 1942, at the height of the Second World War, Land and Sea: A World-Historical Meditation recounts Carl Schmitt’s view of world history “as a history of the battles of sea powers against land powers and of land powers against sea powers.” Schmitt here unfolds his view of world history from the Peloponnesian […]