Book review: Spatiality, Sovereignty and Carl Schmitt: Geographies of the Nomos, written by Stephen Legg

in Historical Materialism
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Spatiality, Sovereignty and Carl Schmitt: Geographies of the Nomos is an edited volume by Stephen Legg. The book was published in the midst of accruing attention to the issues of space and order in the writings of Carl Schmitt. The objective of the book must, therefore, be understood as a critical analysis of the different ways Schmitt’s concepts can inform and have informed the study of geopolitics. This review will provide a critical summary of the main themes in the book and analyse the arguments made for and against using Schmitt. I will additionally assess the ways in which Marxist Geography can benefit from critically engaging with Schmitt. It will be argued that a critical engagement with Schmitt should start from a contextualised position and a subsequent fertile negation of his thinking.

Historical Materialism

Research in Critical Marxist Theory



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AravamudanSrinivas ‘Carl Schmitt’s The Nomos of the Earth: Four Corollaries’ South Atlantic Quarterly 2005 104 2 227 236

AureliPierre Vittorio The Project of Autonomy: Politics and Architecture within and against Capitalism 2008 New York Princeton Architectural Press

BalakrishnanGopal The Enemy: An Intellectual Portrait of Carl Schmitt 2000 London Verso

BalakrishnanGopal ‘The Geopolitics of Separation: Response to Teschke’s “Decisions and Indecisions” ’ New Left Review 2011 II 68 57 72

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JamesonFredric ‘Notes on the Nomos South Atlantic Quarterly 2005 104 2 199 204

JayMartin ‘Reconciling the Irreconcilable? Rejoinder to Kennedy’ Telos 1987 71 67 80

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LefebvreHenri Nicholson-SmithDonald The Production of Space 1991 Oxford Basil Blackwell

LefebvreHenri MooreJohnElliotGregory Critique of Everyday Life 2008 three volumes London Verso

LeggStephen Spatiality, Sovereignty and Carl Schmitt: Geographies of the Nomos 2011 Abingdon Routledge

LeggStephenVasudevanAlexander Legg ‘Introduction: Geographies of the Nomos’ 2011 2011

MaioloFrancesco Medieval Sovereignty: Marsilius of Padua and Bartolous of Saxoferrato 2009 Chicago Chicago University Press

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MezzadraSadro ‘Beyond the State, Beyond the Desert’ South Atlantic Quarterly 2011 110 4 989 997

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SchmittCarl Land und Meer: Eine weltgeschichtliche Betrachtung 1981 [1942] Stuttgart Klett-Cotta

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SchmittCarl SchwabGeorge D. Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty 2005 [1922] Chicago University of Chicago Press

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SchmittCarl SchwabGeorge D.HilfsteinErna The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes: Meaning and Failure of a Political Symbol 2008 [1938] Chicago University of Chicago Press

SchmittCarl KolbRobert La question clé de la Société des Nations, in Deux textes de Carl Schmitt: La question clé de la Société des Nations; Le passage au concept de guerre discriminatoire [Two Texts by Carl Schmitt: The Core Question of the League of Nations; The Turn to a Discriminatory Concept of War] 2009 [1926] Paris Éditions A. Pedone

SchmittCarl NunanTimothy Writings on War 2011 Cambridge Polity Press

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RaschWilliam South Atlantic Quarterly Special Issue: ‘World Orders: Confronting Carl Schmitt’s The Nomos of the Earth South Atlantic Quarterly 2005 Volume 104 Issue 2

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TeschkeBenno Gerhard ‘Fatal Attraction: A Critique of Carl Schmitt’s International Political and Legal Theory’ International Theory 2011b 3 2 179 227

The New Centennial Review Special Issue: ‘Theory of the Partisan’ The New Centennial Review 2004 Volume 4 Issue 3

ToscanoAlberto ‘Carl Schmitt in Beijing: Partisanship, Geopolitics and the Demolition of the Eurocentric World’ Postcolonial Studies 2008 11 4 417 433

TrontiMario DusoGiuseppe ‘Marx e Schmitt: un problema storico-teorico [Marx and Schmitt: A Historical-Theoretical Problem]’ La politica oltre lo Stato: Carl Schmitt [The Political beyond the State: Carl Schmitt] 1981 Venice Arsenale cooperativa Editrice

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WalkerGavin ‘Primitive Accumulation and the Formation of Difference: On Marx and Schmitt’ Rethinking Marxism 2011 23 3 384 404

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ŽižekSlavoj Mouffe ‘Carl Schmitt in the Age of Post-Politics’ 1999 1999


E.g. Jameson 2005; Legg and Vasudevan 2011.


Schmitt 2004, 2005, 2006a, 2007, 2011.


Müller 2003, among others.


Mouffe 2005, p. 4.


Scheuerman 1999, p. 1.


Hooker 2009, p. 3.


Odysseos and Petito 2007, p. 2.


Balakrishnan 2000, 2011.


Schmitt 1981, p. 3.


Schmitt 2007.


Minca and Vaughan-Williams 2012, p. 756; original emphasis.


For example Schmitt 2005.


Aravamudan 2005, p. 227. Gross (as cited in Strong 2008, p. XIV) argues that for Schmitt ‘the “Jew” lies under one pole of the binary oppositions that Schmitt works with: The Jew is “enemy,” the anti-Christ.’ Strong (ibid.) continues and writes: ‘Lacking spatial and territorial definition they undermine all notions of “nomos”.’


See also Majer 1985; Teschke 2011a, p. 93.


Schmitt in Hell 2009, p. 294.


Schmitt 2006a, p. 80; original emphasis.


See, for instance, Bendersky 2007.


Schmitt 1981, 1997.


Schmitt 2006a, p. 345.


Schmitt 1974, p. 347; emphasis in original.


Schmitt 2006a, p. 335.


Teschke 2011a, p. 94, similarly separates Marx’s accumulation from Schmitt’s land appropriation by reminding us that ‘the former depicts a qualitative transformation of social property relations, antithetical to a quantitative, territorial notion of land grabs’.


Schmitt quoted in Stirk 1999, p. 297.


Hell 2009.


Schmitt 2006a, p. 47. The translated version of The Nomos of the Earth uses ‘land’, ‘space’, ‘territory’ and other such spatial connotations (in a sometimes confusing manner) interchangeably.


Müller 2003.


Sitze 2010, p. 32.


Müller 2003, pp. 178, 179. Tronti’s polemical attempt to synthesise Schmitt with Marx is, for example, discussed in Tronti 1998 and in his paper ‘Marx e Schmitt: un problema storico-teorico’ (Tronti 1981). Muller writes that ‘the Schmittian elements became part of a thoroughgoing “Marxist critique of Marxism”, which sought to take leave of economic and historical categories which had been central to post-war Italian left-wing thought, instead putting a practical theory of power squarely at the centre of revolutionary theorising’ (Muller 2013, p. 94). Schmitt was, according to Aureli’s similar reading, considered to be ‘essential in order to politicise Marx radically, beyond both the analysis of political economy and of the political consequences of political economy – namely the critique of ideology – in order to arrive at an autonomous critique of power.’ (Aureli 2008, p. 40.)


Müller 2003, p. 179. Mezzadra 2011, p. 991, reminds us ‘that the work of Giorgio Agamben since Homo Sacer is a late outcome of the Schmitt renaissance’ that Tronti had earlier initiated. This ‘post-renaissance’ of Schmittian thinking continues to function as an important reference point for other contemporary Italian thinkers such as Roberto Esposito and Paulo Virno, among others. Schmitt’s state-of-exception theory has similarly been adopted by political geographers (see e.g. Gregory 2004).


Walker 2011.


Teschke 2011a; Balakrishnan 2011.


Teschke 2011a, p. 93. Teschke shows (contra Balakrishnan) that ‘the ontological, epistemological and theoretical premises of Marxism are diametrically opposed to Schmitt’s’, that International Relations theorists should seriously consider the political implications of adopting Schmitt’s strongly politicised geographical imaginations and that we need to ‘rethink the history of geopolitics in genuinely Marxian terms’ (Teschke 2011a, p. 86).


Minca and Rowan 2013, p. 2.


For example, Lefebvre 1991 and 2008.


Delaney 2010.


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