Carl Schmitt’s distinction between friend and enemy in the Colombian armed conflict

Emergence of the conflict, radicalization of the enmity and prospects of reconciliation

Term Paper, 2020

21 Pages, Grade: 1,0


List of contents

1. Introduction

2. Carl Schmitt: War as extreme manifestation of hostility and partisanship as personification of the enemy
2.1 Differentiation between friend and enemy: explanation of the emergence of conflict
2.2 Partisanship as representation of the public enemy: transition into absolute enmity
2.3 Prospects of reconciliation: turn from absolute enmity into real enmity

3. Colombian internal armed conflict as result of the enmity between guerrilla groups and the State
3.1 Ideological emergence of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as enemy of the State
3.2 Evolution and development of the armed conflict in Colombia: radicalization of the enemy
3.3 Peace agreement of 2016 between FARC and the national government: challenges of reconciliation

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Colombian history has been heavily marked by a longstanding internal armed conflict of decades, accompanied by a remarkable political, and even moral discourse of the friend and the enemy. The distinct phases of the distinction between friend and enemy have reflected either a political tension between the involved actors, or a brutal confrontation that has led until the present time to a devastating outcome. However, the radicalization of the enmity, especially characteristic of the last decades, has attenuated with the enhanced desire of peacebuilding in the country. In this sense, the Peace Accords of 2016 can be considered as an important milestone towards peaceful coexistence and as a vital step in the reconsideration of the friend- enemy distinction. This paper attempts to analyze the distinction of friend and enemy in the Colombian armed conflict, exploring the causes of its emergence, examining the most intense phases of enmity during the conflict and evaluating the possibilities of reconciliation.

In order to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the Colombian armed conflict from this theoretical framework, some of the most important aspects of its emergence, development and resolution will be analyzed in accord with core arguments of the Concept of The Political and the Theory of the Partisan of Carl Schmitt. On one side it is attempted to determine if the typical friend-enemy distinction of the German political theorist can be applied to the Colombian case. On the other hand, it should be analyzed on what extent the FARC, seen as the public enemy, reflect the partisan nature and personify the absolute enemy characterized by Schmitt. Likewise, it should be evaluated if the different phases of the friend-enemy distinction, directly connected to a degree of political tension and enmity, can also be found in the development of Colombian armed conflict throughout its prolonged history.

A profound analysis of three different segments of the mentioned works of Carl Schmitt (Krieg als Erscheinungsform der Feindschaft; der wirkliche Feind and vom wirklichem zum absoluten Feind) serve as the theoretical scheme of the analysis. Additionally, other authors, whose main object of study has been the armed conflict, helped to proportionate a historical context of the emergence and development of the aforementioned chapter of the Colombian history.

As mentioned above, Schmitt constitutes the complete theoretical framework of the analysis. On one side, the Concept of the Political thematizes the distinction between friend and enemy and argues that this differentiation exists as a prerequisite for the political. In other words, without this dichotomy, politics would not be able to exist. Schmitt also characterizes the diverse types of enmity in relation to the intensity of warfare, concluding that the absolute enmity provokes a confrontation of absolute and brutal nature. His other main work, The Theory of the Partisan rather investigates the absolute enmity and describes the partisanship and its role in the transformation of classical warfare. Rae (2016) proportionates a broader analysis of Schmitt’s’ assumptions, without applying them to any specific context. On the contrary, Valencia (2015), basing his argumentation on Schmitt’s theory, characterizes the FARC as the absolute enemy and stresses the absolute character of the conflict especially during the first decade of the 21st century. Additionally, he also uses the concept of partisanship to describe the nature of the FARC in the Colombian context and argues their radicalization during the conflict. Melamed/Pérez (2017) for instance, simply provides a historical context of the armed conflict, driving special attention to the emergence of the FARC and to the radicalization of their actions, always highlighting the political dichotomy throughout Colombian history. Finally, Gomez/Newman (2013) rather focuses on the prospects of reconciliation and the analysis of the former attempts of peacebuilding in Colombian history, however, from a historic and political perspective.

The main premises of Schmitt’s core work help to analyze the armed conflict in Colombia, however, the state of research evidences a greater focus on the concept of partisan and in the friend-enemy distinction in the Colombian case rather than on the prospects of reconciliation and transition towards a non-violent coexistence. This paper attempts to deepen in this last- mentioned aspect by analyzing the conflict resolution process and its challenges based on Schmitt’s rejection of absolute enmity and in the reconsideration of the friend-enemy distinction.

2. Carl Schmitt: War as extreme manifestation of hostility and partisanship as personification of the enemy

2.1 Differentiation between friend and enemy: explanation of the emergence of conflict

The differentiation between friend and enemy lacks a normative connotation, as well as a subjective understanding. Any economic, moral and subjective significance of the concept that may emerge as the psychological expression of unsympathetic feelings and personal preference - resulting from individual experiences – should, therefore, be subtracted from both concepts. The perception of the enemy must also be external to any understanding originated from an economical or moral rivalry connected to resentment, since the enemy is not equal to an opponent (vgl. Schmitt 2015: 27). Schmitt highlights the fact that the differentiation between friend and enemy also derives in the arrangement of groups, which not necessarily unleashes discord, nonetheless, this needs to be weighed like a real possibility. In this vein, the enemy personifies just the eventual, but real possibility of confrontation, and therefore the antagonist of the public sphere, which converts him into the public enemy. Coming back to the aforementioned grouping, is the State as a whole, and as an organized political unit, the one that establishes the differentiation between friend and enemy.

While neither English nor German languages allow a semantic distinction between the public and the private enemy, Latin proportionates a differentiated terminology for both perceptions of enmity. Hostis represents the public enemy, also characterized in the military context as the opponent of war. Inimicus, on the other hand, suggests a personal attachment, thus it may be translated like the private enemy (vgl. Nippel 2003: 61-63). Considering the possibility of confrontation between the so-called enemy and the group which considers itself the friend, the concept of enemy acquires a political connotation and reveals the most extreme and intense dichotomy. The political connotation of certain concepts, ideas and words are, on one side, highly polemic, as these come into existence having a concrete opposition, which in the most extreme case may be manifested in form of war or revolution. On the other hand, it is absolutely inevitable, as their significance is directly linked to the group or segment that should be negated, refuted or combated. Accordingly, the political connotation would be omitted or unclear if the existence of an enemy would lack (vgl. Schmitt 2015: 28-29).

The political does not simply exist alongside other associations; it is the ‘foundational’ association from where other associations emanate and that to which they return if their individual associations intensify to the level of the political. In other words, each association is distinct, but exists on a continuum defined by differing degrees of intensity with the political antagonism being the most intense (Rae 2016: 261).

Schmitt also stresses the differentiation between political and party-political and addresses the possibility of equalling both concepts when the intrastate antagonism possesses a stronger intensity than the external one, expressed against a different State. In other words, when the party-political dichotomy has replaced completely the political one within a State, the most extreme level of the domestic sphere is attained, and the intrastate constellation of friend and enemy defines decisively the possibility of a military dispute, rather than the external. In this case, the real possibility of a confrontation concerns the civil war, instead of the war between nations. Following this line of thinking: “Krieg ist bewaffneter Kampf zwischen organisierten politischen Einheiten, Bürgerkrieg bewaffneter Kampf innerhalb einer (dadurch aber problematisch werdenden) organisierten Einheit“ (Schmitt 2015: 31).

Die Leistung eines normalen Staates besteht darin, die gegensätzlichen Gruppierungen innerhalb seiner selbst zu relativieren und ihre letzte Konsequenz, den Krieg zu verhindern. Ist ein Staat zu dieser Leistung nicht mehr imstande, so verlegt sich das Schwergewicht der Politik von außen nach innen Die innenpolitischen Gegensätze werden dann zu den maßgebenden Freund-Feindgruppierungen, und das bedeutet eben latenten oder akuten Bürgerkrieg (Nippel 2003: 68).

According to the author, both concepts, enemy and confrontation get only a fundamental and real sense due to their reference to the actual possibility of physical annihilation. Not being this the case, neither politics nor the understanding of enmity would be coherent. In this sense, war and confrontation result from enmity, which is simply the most extreme manifestation of hostility. Simplifying this idea, politics would not exist in a scenario that has already extinguished the possibility of confrontation and therefore does not make the authentic differentiation between friend and enemy. In this sense, Schmitt claims that the military confrontation is not simply the continuation of politics with different means, but a different phenomenon with specific rules and criteria that assumes without exception that the distinction of friend and enemy already exists (vgl. Schmitt 2015: 32).

As stated in The Concept of the Political, a declaration of war, motivated simply by pure religious, moral, legal or economic reasons disregards the political and objective selection of the enemy, would lack sense. War does not encompass moral good or economic rentability, nevertheless, such motives tend in some cases to be interpreted as political in order to legitimate the differentiation between friend and enemy from a subjective perspective. To that effect, only a dichotomy of political character would have enough strength to arrange individuals into friend or enemy (this differentiation is however not fixed and immutable). Accordingly, only in the real war, the political constellation of friend and enemy acquires meaning and provides a specific political tension to the individual´s life (vgl. Schmitt 2015: 33-34). “The possibility of being physically annihilated not only binds the members together but does so in a state of the highest tension, that is, an intense state of being” (Rae 2016: 262). According to this author, it is not simply the possibility of annihilation what brings forth the intensity of the political association, but also the perception and interpretation of the actions of the group characterized as the enemy. It is only if the other is perceived to be a threat that the members of the group will intensify its bonds to the political association and designate the other as the enemy.

Since war appears as a possibility of imperative character, the desperate willingness of preventing war, may also welcome confrontation as a means of hindering scalation. Nowadays, this tendency has appeared to become a form of justification for war and demonstrates a higher intensity and inhuman character, as it goes beyond the impartial and political motivation and rather intends to diminish the enemy in the moral and physical category until it is annihilated (vgl. Schmitt 2015: 35).

2.2 Partisanship as representation of the public enemy: Transition into absolute enmity

Having defined the concept of enmity and its role in the emergence of conflict, the enemy could be comprehended in two categories: the real and the absolute enemy. Exploring the nature of the partisan, including its difference from regular soldiers, pirates and thieves, will allow a deeper understanding of its political character and lead out to the differentiation between classical, real and absolute forms of war.

The differentiation of the diverse kinds of enmity underpins the theory of war, providing combat sense and a specific character, and allowing the distinction of different types of warfare.

Jeder Versuch einer Hegung oder Begrenzung des Krieges muß von dem Bewußtsein getragen sein, daß -im Verhältnis zum Begriff des Krieges- Feindschaft der primäre Begriff ist, und daß der Unterscheidung verschiedener Arten des Krieges eine Unterscheidung verschiedener Arten der Feindschaft vorangeht. (Schmitt 2006 :91).

In this sense, the unlashing of a war of irregular character - considering the military buildup of the civilian group - results from the identification of multiple kinds of enemies. While classical war is based in and trough clear lines of demarcation between combatants and non-combatants and is informed by specific codes of conduct, real war complements it by introducing a degree of irregularity to the field of combat, resulting from the involvement of partisan structures (vgl. Rae 2016: 259).

The concept of partisanship has acquired multiple meanings throughout history. Partisanship’s irregularity and revolutionary character at some extent appear to be the explanation for the variety of connotations that it has posed in both political and military contexts. Partisanship evolves as the personification of growing discontent with the legal system, hence it declines legality and conventional commitment to law and rather fights for his violated rights. In this sense, even irregularity must remain conceived in political terms, since the depoliticization of the enemy, meaning its understanding in moral terms, may lead to atrocious wars. In this case, real war based on the respect for the enemy is replaced by longstanding conflicts attempting to liquidate the supposedly absolute enemy, which is no longer conceived in the political, but in the private sphere (vgl. Schmitt 2006 :92). A war resulting from absolute enmity brings along the demoralization of the enemy and its characterization as a monster, which justifies its physical annihilation (vgl. Rae 2016: 259).

According to Schmitt (2006: 93) the so-called interested third party plays an enormous role since he provides the relation to regularity, which the partisan irregularity may lack in order to remain within the political spectrum. This party delivers weapons, munitions, money, material assistance, but especially, he offers the sort of political recognition that partisanship requires in order to be distinct from the criminal sphere.

The partisan has a real, but not absolute enemy, that, contrarily to him, is still bound by the strict rules of regularity. Therefore, the partisan does not aim to annihilate, but rather defeat its real enemy, while the regular actor tends to interpret partisanship and its irregularity as an immediate threat and consequently as absolute enmity. As explanation for the distinction between real and absolute enmity towards the partisan, Rae (2016: 270-271) highlights the difference between the autochthonous and the global partisan. The global one, as its denomination indicates, is globally oriented, expansive and focused on the abstract. Therefore, it is intimately connected to the absolute enemy. The tendency to confound both kinds of partisan may lead to an incorrect understanding of the grade of intensity in which the friend- enemy relationship should be comprehended. As a consequence, the risk of entering into highly brutal warfare, resulting from the interference of moral judgement, increases.

It should be noted that the partisan’s telluric character leads to an intense defense of a territory, to which he has an autochthonous connection. He is furthermore characterized by his defensive position as well as for the increased flexibility of his tactics. Besides, the partisan is highly mobile, helped by the fact that he operates in small groups and is autonomous and innovative (vgl. Ibid: 269).

2.3 Prospects of reconciliation: turn from absolute enmity into real enmity

Schmitt’s argumentation does not contemplate the possibility of the fully peaceful coexistence between individuals and nations. Nevertheless, some of his core assumptions allow us to imagine a neutralized situation of reconciliation between friend and enemy, where the chances of physical annihilation decrease, without eliminating this vital differentiation.

As stated by Rae (2016: 264) the self-perception of the political association is defined by its own values and behaviors, which at the same time give explanation of how they interpret the actions of another community. Being said that, the differentiation between friend and enemy roots in part in aspects that may change over time and may be influenced by other aspects directly connected to the political.

While we have seen that there are various associations which exist on a continuum distinguished by their degree of intensity with the political association designated as the most intense, each form of association, whether political, moral, religious or economic, is itself differentiated into various forms. In other words, while the political is distinguished from the religious, there are many forms of the political and religious that are distinguished from one another by virtue of the degree of intensity contained ‘therein’.


Excerpt out of 21 pages


Carl Schmitt’s distinction between friend and enemy in the Colombian armed conflict
Emergence of the conflict, radicalization of the enmity and prospects of reconciliation
University of Regensburg  (Lehrstuhl für Politische Philosophie und Ideengeschichte)
Grundkurs: Einführung in die Politische Philosophie
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Friend-Enemy, Carl Schmitt, Emergence of the conflict, radicalization of the enmity, Colombian armed conflict
Quote paper
Daniela Forero Nuñez (Author), 2020, Carl Schmitt’s distinction between friend and enemy in the Colombian armed conflict, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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