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Carl Schmitt’s “Nomos of the Earth”, or where the difficulties of contemporary liberals in governing countries come from

Published: 02.05.2024

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· “Nomos der Erde” (English: „The Nomos of the Earth„) by Carl Schmitt is a profound work of political philosophy published in 1950.

· In this book, Schmitt, a German lawyer and political theorist, explores the concept of “nomos”, a word that comes from Greek and has many meanings. The jurist defines it as the spatial order or “division of the earth” that governs human coexistence. He argues that the nomos is not merely a neutral legal or geographical concept, but rather a fundamental dimension of political order and power, relating to values.

· When modern European liberals rule, in the political sphere at the national level there is an attempt to completely eliminate the values related to the history and tradition of the nation, and at the European level we are dealing with a rejection and negation of European values.

· Since Donald Tusk became the Prime Minister of Poland, Schmitt’s prophetic words seem to have come true that liberals and pseudo-liberals are unfit to rule a country because they are unable to even make decisions, let alone take responsibility for them. There are constant disputes, endless discussions and ideological skirmishes in the Polish ruling coalition.

· Breaking away from values, but also from the generally accepted nomos that has served Europe and the world for years, will have tragic consequences – something Schmitt wrote about many years ago and which we are starting to observe today.



Schmitt traces the development of the nomos from ancient Greece to the early modern era, focusing on the rise of the jus publicum Europaeum, European public law, which emerged in the 17th century. He argues that this system of law, based on the principles of sovereignty and territoriality, created a relatively stable order in Europe for many centuries.


Schmitt warns, however, that the nomos is not a fixed and eternal order, but rather a dynamic and conditional one. He argues that it is constantly being challenged and transformed by new political, economic and technological developments. Carl Schmitt believes that in the modern era, the nomos of the Earth is in a state of crisis as the forces of globalization and deterritorialization threaten to undermine the traditional order of states and territories.


The nomos is understood as the spatial order of human coexistence. Schmitt argues that the nomos is not simply a legal concept, but rather a fundamental dimension of political order and power. It is a spatial order that determines how people relate to each other and to the land they inhabit. Schmitt argues that the Earth’s nomos is a fragile and unstable order that is currently in decline. He sees the development of globalization, international organizations and humanitarian interventions as threats to the nomos of the Earth. Schmitt believes that these trends are leading to a new global order that is less stable and more dangerous than the old order.




Oh, if only they were no nations on Earth,

How happily we would live here!

For the good of humanity, for humanity's happiness

Joined in the mighty embrace of love

Until the bones burst with a crash.”[1]


Why the meaning of the nomos is so important today is related to another concept, actually one of the most crucial in Schmitt’s achievements, namely das Politische. This phrase is difficult to translate into English and is probably best rendered as “the political”. In opposition to liberalism, but also highlighting what began after World War II with the Western world and continues to this day, Schmitt shows how the importance of the state for the citizen and the citizen for the state is slowly becoming separated. Instead of a goal and an idea, the state has become an instrument on which you can play various tunes (most often, of course, economic ones). It is only a means to an end. As a result, we stop talking about nations and start talking about societies. Carl Schmitt warns against this type of development not only because he is against liberalism, but also because he knows that politics cannot tolerate or even knows no vacuum.


This is not yet a global problem, and besides, one could say that there are people who are not connected in any way with their countries. However, even they should be on guard when they hear imperial trumpets and unified emblems under which banners fly – the same for all, of course. The crazed and predatory ruler of the world does not stop at deciding about ideas and values, but appropriates humanity, with its rights – yes, human rights, which from now on seem to be „rights of humanity”, and therefore, in their essence, lawlessness. Vague concepts are imposed on us, which not only distort the entire image of the legal system, but also blur its very essence and smuggle certain rhetoric between the lines. They give the debate about the state not so much a political but an ideological character. This means that those who proclaim the axiological neutrality of law are, in fact, not only some kind of commissars in the service of certain ideas, but also take over entire areas of definitions, expanding their influence in a seemingly innocent, often even unnoticeable, way.


Carl Schmitt emphasized that just as today the name of God is abused, the term humanity is similarly abused, and anyone who talks about humanity is lying[2]. Legislation cannot cover the entire world, not only because of cultural and national differences, but also because of the nomos, which is formed in a natural and organic way. There are countries with weaker identities that will not survive this test. What then, when nationality is systematically eradicated, destroyed, and the one who deals these blows claims to be defending humanity in this way, for example, of late, against the often erroneously exploited fascism? Carl Schmitt did not live to the 21st century to comment on this matter. One can only ask oneself whether he would feel satisfied seeing his prophetic words come true that the liberals’ lack of decision-making, their talkativeness unsupported by any action and their absolute separation from the national community will lead to disintegration. And if the state can be replaced by a shell adapted (although only potentially!) to economic and ideological purposes, what can be done with man? If we wish to bury the greatest ideas for which our ancestors gave their lives, what can await the individual? Schmitt shows us that this is worth considering.


Poland in 2024

We are currently in a political situation that we can, without too many intellectual obstacles, describe as a „Schmittian” situation. This term, created for the purposes of this commentary, will allow us to look at the mechanisms that bring about the effects that Schmitt often warned against. One of such features, which is not only an accusation against the current Polish government, but also against „Western” governments in general, is the problem of neutrality. For Carl Schmitt, one of the key reasons why political leaders with a liberal worldview are unsuitable to govern such a serious and structurally clear organization as the state is the fact that they proclaim (even when they say nothing) the so-called „worldview neutrality”. In fact, this is ultimately just an intellectual trick, because it is fundamentally impossible to be neutral. However, many politicians, including Polish ones, are engaging in such a masquerade.


Some contemporary Polish politicians who describe themselves as liberals actually come from completely different backgrounds, as is the case, for example, with Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who has his political roots in Christian democracy. Why is this so crucial? Well, the problem with neutrality, more or less pretended, is that it always results in cutting oneself off from one’s values in favor of being „neutral” in theory and politically liked in practice. This is especially problematic when a decision needs to be made, which, according to Schmitt, liberals are incapable of doing precisely because of this disconnection from ideas and values. This can be observed in many aspects of the current government’s activities. The ruling coalition itself, which consists of individuals with very different assumptions (and therefore cannot agree on, for example, the issue of abortion), is increasingly in conflict. As a result, no decisions are made in many cases, which is the worst solution for the state. The power, not only of the state, but also of man, lies in making decisions and taking responsibility for them.


Another example of how Carl Schmitt’s worst fears are realized in practice in Poland is the demonstration of how, paradoxically, liberalism is not conducive to democracy. Placing all hope in the individual, favoring groups that belong to minorities, populism that grows around promises related to this, and, above all, perhaps the lack of strong leadership that would be based on specific beliefs strengthened in the nation, leads to a situation in which not only is the state’s policy weakened, but also its very existence. What we currently see in the Polish Sejm, i.e. endless discussions that lead nowhere and remain without any conclusion, because they are probably only aimed at satisfying the oratorical ambitions of some MPs, is good neither for public order nor for the raison d’État, nor, above all, for the citizens. The nomos is being lost not only in the world, but also within the Polish nation.


Critics of Schmitt’s work argue that his emphasis on the nomos as a fundamental concept of political order can lead to the justification of authoritarian and even totalitarian forms of government. However, his observations about the nature of political order and power remain valid and are confirmed in our contemporary reality. “The Nomos of the Earth” is a challenging and thought-provoking read that offers valuable insight into the nature of political order and power in the world today. History shows that the international order is as in the Book of Revelation: “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth![3]” Values are necessary, not optional.


Julia Książek - analyst at the Ordo Iuris Center of International Law



[1] J. Kaczmarski “Limericks about nations” 3/10/1987/29-30/9/1992,

[2] Ibidem

[3]„Revelation Chapter 3, Verse 16, Saint John, New International Version, Letter to the Church in Laodicea, The Lukewarm Church:

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