Helsingin yliopisto


Helsingin yliopiston verkkojulkaisut

University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006

Exceptions, Distinctions and Processes of Identification

The 'Concrete Thought' of Carl Schmitt and US Neoconservatism as Seen through Readings of Kenneth Burke and Jacques Derrida

James O´Connor

Master's thesis, March 2006.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political Science.

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 that were the catalyst for the US 'global war on terror' have given high visibility to neoconservatism. However, analysis of US foreign policy has not translated such exposure into sufficient understanding of neoconservatism and the broader issue of US nationalism. To emphasise that identity politics is a never-ending project of shaping not only collective perceptions of the 'self' but also of others as 'enemies', 'evil states', 'allies' and so on, I construct a model of multi-directional processes of identification. These are found to be fundamentally oppositional, contradictory and highly combative. Within such a framework I locate neoconservatism as only the latest in a long US exceptionalist lineage that has always been deeply 'antithetical' in nature.

To develop this oppositional model I examine the political theories of Carl Schmitt. Here many significant parallels with the US exceptionalist genealogy in both past and present forms are identified, chiefly in Schmitt's heavy dependence on perceptions of animosity and struggle. Based on this analysis I isolate two principal operations essential to Schmittian and US identification processes: the continual creation and maintenance of exceptions and distinctions. The two-part model of oppositional processes of identification thus developed is applied to a selection of neoconservative writings from a US prominent think tank on the 'war on terror' using theories and methods of rhetorical analysis adapted from Kenneth Burke and Jacques Derrida. In the subsequent critique particular attention is given to the problems that arise due to the conflict-driven nature of these identification processes.

I argue that one of the major consequences of identifications - projected identities of both the 'self' of one's own country, government and people, and of others - being mostly negatively defined is an increased tendency towards conflict at all levels, including war. The paper concludes that the oppositional and exceptionalist discourses that Schmitt and US neoconservatism exemplify advocate highly exclusionary, combative worldviews and practices that, if allowed, will not only expel more conciliatory voices but in seeking to monopolise all debate will also seriously damage future possibilities for sustainable and peaceful conduct of foreign policy.

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Last updated 23.08.2006

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