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  • Beyond Rivalry?Rethinking Community in View of Apocalyptical Violence
  • Andreas Oberprantacher (bio)

But the republic of crime must also be the republic of the suicide of criminals, and down to the last among them—the sacrifice of the sacrificers unleashed in passion.

—Jean-Luc Nancy, The Inoperative Community

The Crisis and Apocalyptic Intensification of Rivalry

At first it seemed as if the "rivalry between two rates of speed"1 set at the center of Derrida's essay "No Apocalypse, Not Now," published more than twenty years ago in Diacritics, had finally come to an end, at least in the form of a general and unmistakable division of the world into two competing geopolitical units. Following the breakdown of the USSR, the former super-enemy of the industrialized Northwest, that part of the world that claimed and still claims to be the sole referent of the adjective free, the dynamics of ideological rivalry had, at first, lost considerable momentum. After half a century of mostly symmetrical even if undeclared wars, the period from 1989 to 1991 was truly significant, [End Page 175] for it marked a moment of epistemological crisis, a moment when political fractions that derived their identity from a binary tension were all of a sudden stunned: no visible enemy anymore to deter, no willing scapegoat to blame, just eschatological abandonment.

The aftershocks of this historical event can be traced in today's commentaries on and analyses of the political situation: It is certainly no coincidence that two of the most influential US-American political analysts, Samuel Huntington and Bruce Hoffman, both at the same time direct their attention toward questions about the conditions of social identity and cohesion, though from inverted perspectives. In his recent book, Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity (2004), Huntington bemoans the "deconstruction of the American identity,"2 as it challenges—along with certain political developments—"the substance, and the desirability of this concept of America."3 Huntington's fervent interest in US-American identity and his call for its renewal become readily comprehensible when read against the background of his concern that an existential threat might again be imminent, possibly in the form of jihadist terrorism. In Huntington's argument, however, the United States's potential confrontation with militant Islamist movements—the explicit subtext of his book—is not assessed only in terms of political risks and military expenditures; for Huntington, this confrontation also holds out a unique chance of rediscovering one's own (lost, forgotten) identity. Revealing himself as an attentive reader of Carl Schmitt's The Concept of the Political, Huntington argues that "the absence of an ideological threat produced an absence of purpose. . . . The ideal enemy for America would be ideologically hostile, racially and culturally different, and militarily strong enough to pose a credible threat to American security."4

While Huntington is concerned with reaffirming and securing a phantasmagoric vision of the United States's past glory, Hoffman, on the other hand, may be mentioned as a political analyst deeply worried about the inverse aspect of the epistemological crisis, i.e., worried by the fact that "the United States has utterly failed to fulfill the timeless admonition to 'know your enemy'"5 by declaring an all too abstract global war on terrorism. In his commentary, published in March 2007 under the title "Fighting Blind: We Can't Win if We Don't Know the Enemy" in the Washington Post, he argues that a long-term strategy is desperately needed to identify "our adversaries, who are much too elusive and complicated to be vanquished by mere decapitation."6

Taking Huntington's and Hoffman's positions seriously as paradigmatic examples of a wider and well-established discursive strategy that calls for a renewed need for binary-opposed collective identities—us/them; the coalition [End Page 176] of the willing/the axis of evil—in order to affirm a state of potentially ubiquitous and highly moralized rivalry, one may well argue with Schmitt that "a new nomos of the earth" is immanent.7 In Schmitt's understanding, such a new paradigm of warfare will no longer be characterized by relative understandings of enmity, but by enemies declared "totally criminal...


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pp. 175-187
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