There is a lesson to be learned here from Carl Schmitt.

The division friend/enemy is never just a recognition of factual difference. The enemy is by definition always (up to a point) invisible: it cannot be directly recognised because it looks like one of us, which is why the big problem and task of the political struggle is to provide/construct a recognisable image of the enemy. (Jews are the enemy par excellence not because they conceal their true image or contours but because there is ultimately nothing behind their deceiving appearances. Jews lack the ‘inner form’ that pertains to any proper national identity: they are a non-nation among nations, their national substance resides precisely in a lack of substance, in a formless, infinite plasticity.) In short, ‘enemy recognition’ is always a performative procedure which brings to light/constructs the enemy’s ‘true face’. Schmitt refers to the Kantian category Einbildungskraft, the transcendental power of imagination: in order to recognise the enemy, one has to ‘schematise’ the logical figure of the Enemy, providing it with the concrete features which will make it into an appropriate target of hatred and struggle.

After the collapse of the Communist states which provided the figure of the Cold War Enemy, the Western imagination entered a decade of confusion and inefficiency, looking for suitable schematisations of the Enemy, sliding from narco-cartel bosses to the succession of warlords of so-called ‘rogue states’ (Saddam, Noriega, Aidid, Milosevic) without stabilising itself in one central image; only with 11 September did this imagination regain its power by constructing the image of bin Laden, the Islamic fundamentalist, and al-Qaida, his ‘invisible’ network. What this means, furthermore, is that our pluralistic and tolerant liberal democracies remain deeply Schmittean: they continue to rely on political Einbildungskraft to provide them with the appropriate figure to render visible the invisible Enemy. Far from suspending the binary logic Friend/Enemy, the fact that the Enemy is defined as the fundamentalist opponent of pluralistic tolerance merely adds a reflexive twist to it. This ‘renormalisation’ has involved the figure of the Enemy undergoing a fundamental change: it is no longer the Evil Empire, i.e. another territorial entity, but an illegal, secret, almost virtual worldwide network in which lawlessness (criminality) coincides with ‘fundamentalist’ ethico-religious fanaticism – and since this entity has no positive legal status, the new configuration entails the end of international law which, at least from the onset of modernity, regulated relations between states.

When the Enemy serves as the ‘quilting point’ (the Lacanian point de capiton) of our ideological space, it is in order to unify the multitude of our actual political opponents. Thus Stalinism in the 1930s constructed the agency of Imperialist Monopoly Capital to prove that Fascists and Social Democrats (‘Social Fascists’) are ‘twin brothers’, the ‘left and right hand of monopoly capital’. Thus Nazism constructed the ‘plutocratic-Bolshevik plot’ as the common agent threatening the welfare of the German nation. Capitonnage is the operation by means of which we identify/construct a sole agency that ‘pulls the strings’ behind a multitude of opponents. Exactly the same holds for today’s ‘war on terror’, in which the figure of the terrorist Enemy is also a condensation of two opposed figures, the reactionary ‘fundamentalist’ and the Leftist resistant. The title of Bruce Barcott’s article in the New York Times Magazine on 7 April, ‘From Tree-Hugger to Terrorist’, says it all: the real danger isn’t from the Rightist fundamentalists who were responsible for the Oklahoma bombing and, in all probability, for the anthrax scare, but the Greens, who have never killed anyone. The ominous feature underlying all these phenomena is the metaphoric universalisation of the signifier ‘terror’. The message of the latest American TV campaign against drugs is: ‘When you buy drugs, you provide money for the terrorists!’ ‘Terror’ is thus elevated to become the hidden point of equivalence between all social evils. How, then, are we to break out of this predicament?

Slavoj Zizek, Are we in a war? Do we have an enemy?

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