Category Archives: Sovereignty

Article: Carl Schmitt’s Critique of Kant, Sovereignty and International Law (2012)

by Seyla Benhabib


Carl Schmitt’s critique of liberalism has gained increasing influence in the last few decades. This article focuses on Schmitt’s analysis of international law in The Nomos of the Earth, in order to uncover the reasons for his appeal as a critic not only of liberalism but of American hegemonic aspirations as well. Schmitt saw the international legal order that developed after World War I, and particularly the “criminalization of aggressive war,” as a smokescreen to hide U.S. aspirations to world dominance. By focusing on Schmitt’s critique of Kant’s concept of the “unjust enemy,” the article shows the limits of Schmitt’s views and concludes that Schmitt, as well as left critics of U.S. hegemony, misconstrue the relation between international law and democratic sovereignty as a model of top–down domination. As conflictual as the relationship between international norms and democratic sovereignty can be at times, this needs to be interpreted as one of mediation and not domination.

Political Theory December 2012 vol. 40 no. 6 688-713