The United States promotes freedom of navigation in the South China Sea while China constructs artificial islands in the same area to bolster up its territorial claims. Both countries utilize their navies similarly but for opposed legal reasons. This reflects a geopolitical contest with the United States championing a sea open to global navigation and commerce while China builds a primarily land based ‘New Silk Road’ linking it to critical markets and natural resources. That struggle between land and sea, similarly as it were with piracy, encompasses both the law of the sea and international criminal law. Reading Carl Schmitt’s Land and Sea in light of Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s Faust in the context of the various South China Sea disputes provides the opportunity to evaluate whether it may clarify geo-strategic issues at stake that Schmitt himself did not have the opportunity to consider when elaborating his notion of Nomos.