Length: 1620 words (4.6 double-spaced pages)
Rating: Red (FREE)
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The Civil Rights Movement lead nonviolently by Martin Luther King in the 1960s is an important era to examine when analyzing the extent to which the ideology of Carl Schmitt remains relevant to domestic conflict outside of the interwar period. Schmitt’s theory assists in understanding the racial segregation in the United States as political. However, while King identified similar critiques of liberalism as Schmitt, he believed that nonviolent direct action was an effective, politically engaged method which sought to obtain equal civil rights for African Americans as opposed to usurping power from the state. While not inherently political, Schmitt argues that societal realms such as economic, religious, cultural, and for the purpose of this paper, ethnic can become politicized by becoming incorporated in a friend-enemy distinction. In the United States, racial segregation decided upon and enforced by the state created the potential for conflict which caused the African American demographic to become a politically charged group. Schmitt degrades nonviolence as depoliticizing interest groups by submitting to their enemy; however, King demonstrated that nonviolent direct action was not passive and remained political despite attempting to guide both ethnic groups towards mutual understanding. Finally, both Schmitt and King criticized liberal-democratic-capitalist states as projecting a sense of inferiority upon their enemies and maintaining the economic status quo with the interest of avoiding conflict. Nonviolent resistance was utilized by Martin Luther King in order to transcend Schmitt’s assertion that liberalism is hypocritical in order to eliminate the antagonism inherent in the friend-enemy divide while still remaining politically engaged.
Schmitt argues that a nonpolitical category that is separate from the state has the potential to become political so long as there exists a clear distinction between friend and enemy. With this distinction, the possibility of conflict is an ever present possibility which is necessary for the nonpolitical group to be engaged politically. Schmitt maintains that the enemy must be seen as something “existentially something different and alien so that seeks to existentially eliminate the opponent as opposed to competing with them economically, debating them intellectually, or contemplating ethnic symbolism.” The American state contributed towards the politicization of the African American ethnic group by decisively treating them as existentially inferior both leading up to and during the civil rights movement.
King argued that the state had decided that African Americans were internal enemies based on their being treated as an existentially nugatory “other.” Schmitt held that a state declares their enemies “whether the form is [...] explicit or implicit, whether ostracism, expulsion, proscription, or outlawry are provided for in special laws or in explicit or general descriptions.” (Schmitt 47) Therefore, it is clear that both the Northern and Southern United States created a friend-enemy dichotomy albeit in different forms. The North psychologically victimized the African Americans while the South was more physically brutal and repressive (King #1 28). In both cases, a sense of intense separation was fostered which indicated that this was a highly politicized issue.
Schmitt argued that the decisiveness of the state is required to establish the friend and enemy divide. King argued that, especially in the South, that blacks engaged in identical activities and belonging to the same socio-economic status as many whites were brutally targeted and prosecuted by the state’s police while the whites were not. It was the state’s decision to select the ethnic grouping as the enemy, as opposed to the economic group, which