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Christopher Fynsk

A Nomos without Truth


I will concentiate ny lew liiel notes on Cail
Schnitts notion ol a nomos ol the eaith. I
diead the thought that such a iegiessive concept
could nd cuiiency in the acadenic naiket. But
while I see little ieason to hope that ciitical
vigilance night delay its application, I cannot
avoid oeiing a lew woids ol advance piotest.
I nust also acknowledge that ny laniliaiity
with Schnitts oeuvie is linited, so I will addiess
nysell solely to the aigunentation ol The Nonos
of the Earth.
1
This is a signicant linitation,
since an inpoitant pait ol Schnitts call loi a
new nomos ienains vague and unstated. In the
pages ol the appendix in which Schnitt applauds
Pizywaias analysis ol powei in Humanitas, we
aie told, ist, and with enphasis, that powei
is the seciet sinistei end (6). It is dicult
not to piesune that a veil ol seciecy utteis
ovei nuch ol Schnitts piesentation since it is,
at once, so insistent in its declaiations and so
inconpletely developed (paiticulaily as iegaids
the political context ol the decade ol its conpo-
sition). One senses quickly that we nust iead
letween nany lines to seek the lineanents ol
a sinistei design. I conless that I have had
neithei the heait noi the tine to undeitake the
The South Atlantic Quarterly oq:z, Spiing zoo.
Copyiight _ zoo ly Duke Univeisity Piess.
314 Christopher Fynsk
lackgiound woik necessaiy loi this task. So I will addiess nysell solely to
the stated theses ol the volune.
What I glinpse appeais sinistei lecause the use ol the notion ol nomos
lelies its denition. Nomos is a concept ol oiigin that Schnitt seeks to
oppose to the alstiact nediations ol adninisteied authoiity. He aigues
explicitly that it cannot le nade to seive the noinative powei ol the given
(;). And yet Schnitt appeais to have done piecisely this ly desciiling the
Euiopean land appiopiiation in the age ol discoveiy in its teins. I ienain
unconvinced that his concept ol ontological loundations canle placed at the
oiigin ol the acconnodations that pioduced the jus publicum Europaeumin
a division letween Euiope and the NewWoild. Only when Schnitt sketches
the legal ustication ol land appiopiiation does one glinpse a possille us-
tication loi the appeal to nomos.
2
But at this point, Schnitt desciiles a
conguiation ol Westein iationality whose eneigence and unlolding quite
exceed the events ol the age ol discoveiy, howevei nuch it was naiked
ly then.
3
I do want to olseive that Schnitts thinking olliges the philosophei to
weigh the ontological loice ol the uiidical oidei (oi at least that ol the sovei-
eign act ol its loundation). But I do not see that he honois his own clainloi
the ontological piioiity ol a uiidical thought guided ly the notion ol nomos
as he develops the concept ol the justus hostis (the highest loin ol oidei
within the scope ol hunan powei [8;|). As loi the notion ol nomos itsell, I
would have to agiee with those ciitics (whon Schnitt disnisses) who sug-
gest that the enphasis on land distiilution in the oiiginal sense ol the
woid intioduces an aichaisn. Land distiilution is unthinkalle apait lion
a topology ol Being. When Heideggei aigues in a peihaps ielated nannei
that the Gieek notion ol ousia is deiived lionthe Gieek notion ol piopeity,
he does not uige that the Gieek essence deiives lionpiopeity, lut iathei
that the lattei deiives lionthe Gieek expeiience ol Being, whichinvolves an
undeistanding ol pioduction. Land distiilution is unthinkalle apait lion
a topology ol Being and cannot le thought as its giounding deteinination.
I cannot help lut piesune, also, that the notion ol land distiilution itsell
iequiies nuch noie developnent, since Schnitt gives so little attention to
the possille nomoi ol nonadic peoples.
But even il we sonehow giant Schnitt his insistence on land appiopiia-
tion (puisuing the thought, peihaps, that no topology ol Being is achieved
without a diawing ol loundaiies in Schnitts sense, even il the ielation ol
the lattei to the loinei cannot le desciiled as one ol deteinination), we
A Nonos without Truth 315
nust olseive that his denition ol this oiiginaiy act leaves the earth quite
out ol account except as a physical nediunloi conneice and wai. I do not
think that one can speak ol a conciete ontological oidei altei Heideggei
without enteitaining the question ol the eaith as Heideggei undeistands it.
Sone night pielei to tuin to othei souices, such as contenpoiaiy woik in
ecology. But I an inclined to naintain this ieleience to Heideggei to sug-
gest that Schnitts concept ol nomos lacks tiuth in the sense ol the teinthat
Heideggei sought to liing loith when he insciiled the ielation ol woild
and eaith in that ol the concealing and unconcealing ol tiuth (notions he
took lion the Gieek aletheia). Schnitt ieluses the nomos[physis opposition
supposedly lecause this iendeis nomos a loinal inposition, lut Schnitts
essential piollen heie is that he has no thought ol physis leyond that pio-
vided ly nodein iationality.
4
To suggest pait ol what is at stake in this last point, I iecall Reinei
Schuinanns discussion in Le principe danarchie ol the epochal piinciple,
undeistood as loth piincipiun (the loundation in ieason) and princips,
the authoiity that iendeis ustice.
5
Eveiy usticatoiy ieason ol an epoch
has its tine, its eneigence and passing, Schuinann says, and is sulect
to a genealogical account that piovides its arche, its leginning and con-
nandnent, and the ieign ol its piincipiun[princips. But genealogy today,
he adds, nust also take into account a thiid dinension uniecognized ly
Schnittnanely, an epochs Ursprung, the event in which Being cones to
piesence in this epochal oidei.
6
This dinension ol the tiuth ol any epochal
oidei cones to sight loi us now, at the end ol that seiies ol epochal detei-
ninations ol Being oi nomoi Heideggei teined netaphysics. Today, in
this postnetaphysical tine when we can think the destinal oi Geschick-
lich chaiactei ol nomos as assignnent,
7
we can legin to think the eaith as
iiieducilly pait ol a peoples woild (oi any loin ol lile, il one pieleis the
Wittgensteinian concept), and we can legin to think the woild nultiply.
We can peihaps even appioach a cosnopolitan undeistanding ol woild
in the sense Heideggei pointed to in taking this notion ovei lion Kant.
Schnitts desciiption ol the nomos ienains alstiact and easily appiopiiated
ly a netaphysically oideied (i.e., lollowing the Aiistotelian pros hen) loun-
dational thinking.
As I have suggested, to think the nomos without ieleience to the Ursprung
is to ienain solidly within the closuie ol netaphysics, that is, within an
epochal peispective that lails to iecognize the end ol netaphysics. Now,
one night say that Schnitts eoit to think the political without appeal to
316 Christopher Fynsk
univeisal loundations alieady nakes such a chaige tiivial. And peihaps we
should sinply look past his questionalle philosophical clains in seeking to
desciile the nomos in ontological teins. I nay le taking his title concept lai
too seiiously. But I lelieve it nust still le said that his concept loiecloses
ciucial dinensions ol what nust le thought in the coning conguiations
ol the eaith.
Today, theoiists aie incieasingly piepaied to acknowledge the inpeiative
ol the pluial and local thinking iequiied ly poststiuctuialist nodels. But
they also tend to hedge this acknowledgnent. We nust nevertheless, they
say, attenpt to think the glolal sociopolitical oidei in its systenic naniles-
tations. They then pioceed to loiget those poststiuctuialist exigencies and
ieveit to the oidei ol iepiesentation and the position ol a tianscendental
(theoietical) sulectivity. Theoiies ol enpiie, loi exanple, aie delated loi
theii neiit without a penetiating exanination ol the netaphysical position
taken in such theoiizing. I do not lelieve that signicant piogiess has leen
nade in noie than a lew isolated quaiteis in nding ways ol honoiing the
exigencies ol postnetaphysical thinking while puisuing a ciitique ol the
tiiply iational language ol econony, politics, and technique (to use Giaid
Gianels phiase).
8
I do not undeiestinate the innensity ol the task, lut I
woiiy that Schnitts pioect will induce us to loiget the exigencies to which
I have ieleiied.
Notes
Cail Schnitt, The Nonos of the Earth in the International Law of the ]us Pullicun Euio-
paeun, tians. G. L. Ulnen (New Yoik: Telos, zoo). Sulsequent ieleiences will appeai
in the lody ol the essay.
z Discoveiies weie nade without piioi peinission ol the discoveied. Thus, legal title to
discoveiies lay in a highei legitinacy. They could le nade only ly peoples intellectually
and histoiically advanced enough to appiehend the discoveied ly supeiioi knowledge
and consciousness. Euiopean discoveiy ol a newwoild in the lteenth and sixteenth cen-
tuiies thus did not occui ly chance and was not sinply one ol nany successlul canpaigns
ol conquest in woild histoiy. Neithei was it a ust wai in any noinative sense. Rathei, it
was an achievenent ol newly awakened Occidental iationalisn, the pioduct ol an intel-
lectual and scientic cultuie that aiose in the Euiopean Middle Ages, with the necessaiy
assistance ol systens ol thought that had ieconstituted classical Euiopean and Aialic
thinking in Chiistian teins, and had nolded it into a gieat histoiical powei. Continuing
to discuss the connon Euiopean legal title ol discoveiy, Schnitt notes that a scientic
caitogiaphical suivey was a tiue legal title to a terra incognita (z).
Might the incoheience at this point sinply deiive lion Schnitts philosophical clain
iegaiding the lasic chaiactei ol land division loi the nomos ol a people? Sone such philo-
sophical extiavagance nay le at woik, lut I an inclined to think, as I noted alove, that
A Nonos without Truth 317
othei designs ol appiopiiation have shaped the denition ol nomos itsell (the notion
eneiged inSchnitts woik, altei all, to ustily Nazi clains), and that he ultinately appeals
to this concept to ustily acts ol powei in the nannei he assigns to Callicles in Platos
dialogue (;).
q A lull consideiation ol this piollen would also have to addiess itsell to Schnitts clain
that a tiue nomos ol the eaiththat is, one that is tiuly glolaleneiges only in the age
ol discoveiy.
Reinei Schuinann, Le principe danarchie (Paiis: Galile, 8z). Tianslations lion this
edition aie ny own.
6 To illustiate the neaning ol the teins he uses to dene his genealogical pioect, Schui-
nanntakes the exanple ol the Inca Enpiie and the institutionol its nomos inthe aichitec-
tuial design ol Cuzco. I cannot cite all ol Schuinanns delighted account ol the visilility
ol this oidei, lut I will cite the paiagiaph that concludes his desciiption ol the enlodi-
nent ol the princips (heie, the authoiity ol the ieigning class, the Inca, synlolized ly
the guie ol the puna), and the piinciple ol intelligilility, the piincipiun, which was an
aiithnetical systen: The arche, as leginning ol this systen, was the giandiose pioect
loined ly the ist Inca, Pachacuti . . . , the arche, as connandnent, was autociacy. The
piinciple ol this civilization is also nanilest: as ist in the oidei ol authoiity, theie was
the political appaiatus, and, at its head, exeicising veitical contiol, the supiene cacique,
as ist in the oidei ol intelligilility oi iationality, it was the decinal systen. Eveiy detail
ol lile was sulnitted to aiithnetical laws in view ol pacication, expansion, agiicultuial
giowth, delense, and woiks. The Incan enpiie could le pan-Andean lecause it was a
systen, a pyianid with a decagonal lase. Thus, the oiigin ol this systen, undeistood as
arche and as piinciple, peinits us to undeistand this society and its exploits. At the sane
tine, we nust adnit that we do not undeistand anything alout it. And this is due not
only to the alsence ol an Incan wiiting. The arche and piinciple do not say eveiything
alout the oiigin, do not lully say the oiigin. They do not allow us to undeistand how
things weie piesent to eveiyday expeiience. The oiigin, as loth arche and piinciple, dis-
sinulates piesence. Howthings weie piesent leloie the aiiival ol the conquistadois will
escape us loievei (Le principe danarchie, qoq). Schuinann concludes this passage ly
noting that a thought ol the oiigin will iequiie a tuin in oui nannei ol thinking.
; I ielei heie to Heideggeis denition ol the tein in The Lettei on Hunanisn, in Basic
Writings, ed. David Faiiell Kiell (New Yoik: HaipeiCollins, ), z6z: In Gieek, to
assign is nemein. Nonos is not only law lut noie oiiginally the assignnent contained
in the dispensation ol Being. Only the assignnent is capalle ol dispatching nan into
Being. Only such dispatching is capalle ol suppoiting and olligating. Otheiwise all law
ienains neiely sonething laliicated ly hunan ieason. One night say that nomos is a
destiny loi us now that we can think the end ol the epochs ol nomoi. Following Deiiida,
we night say that the task is now to think nomos as destination. (On this topic, see Dei-
iidas essay Coups denvoi, in Du droit la philosophie [Paiis: Galile, o|, ;;68.)
Needless to say, Schnitts undeistanding ol nomos lalls lai shoit ol this posthunanist,
postnetaphysical undeistanding ol the lounding act.
8 I have discussed Gianels extiaoidinaiy eoit to answei loth denands in an active ciiti-
cal piactice in The Claim of Language: A Case for the Humanities (Minneapolis: Univeisity
ol Minnesota Piess, zooq).