The New Nomos Of The Planet

A geo-civilizational order can’t survive without cooperation

In his 1950 book, “The Nomos of the Earth,” the German jurist Carl Schmitt sought to imagine the world order ahead after tracing the history of laws and customs (the meaning of nomos in ancient Greek) that ruled over the ever-expanding domains of past centuries.

His vision then of where governance of the planet might end up is so remarkably close to today’s trajectory that it is worth reviewing the insights into power of this thinker who was famous for his “decisionist” argument that authority establishes legitimacy and that politics is mainly about “friends versus enemies.” As is well known, he was also considered the most influential legal theorist of the Nazi era.

In each epoch, as Schmitt put it, the powerful devised rules over how land and sea — and later technology — were “appropriated, divided and cultivated,” each forming a “force field of human power and activity.” He labeled this force-field Grossraum, or “great space,” legitimated by the concrete reality of dominance within its realm.

According to Schmitt, in the first stage of fences, lines and Chinese walls, each civilization understood the land it occupied as its own empire. Like the historian of Eurasia, Wang Gungwu, Schmitt saw that period ending with the Age of Discovery as Europeans circumnavigated the globe across oceans, creating a Eurocentric world order that gave birth to colonialism and imperialism with a “dual balance of land and sea.” For him, that order began unraveling with World War I and was fully demolished in the wake of World War II. During the Cold War, the core contest that emerged was between the predominantly continental powers of the East (Russia and China) and maritime powers of the West (the Pacific-oriented United States and its trans-Atlantic allies).

Writing as the Cold War heated up, he saw that the historic separation of land and sea was being destroyed by technology — the “airspace” of jet travel, worldwide telecommunication, satellites, missiles and the like — which “robbed the sea of its elemental character.”

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