Schmitt’s Telluric Partisan in American Entertainment Media: Fantasies of Resistance and Territorial Defence

DOI10.1177/0305829817715810
AuthorMarcus Schulzke
Publication Date01 September 2017
Date01 September 2017
SubjectArticles
https://doi.org/10.1177/0305829817715810
Millennium: Journal of
International Studies
2017, Vol. 46(1) 66 –86
© The Author(s) 2017
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DOI: 10.1177/0305829817715810
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Schmitt’s Telluric Partisan
in American Entertainment
Media: Fantasies of Resistance
and Territorial Defence
Marcus Schulzke
University of York, UK
Abstract
This article explores the political significance of the narratives of partisan warfare that appear in
American popular culture. I draw on Carl Schmitt’s concept of the ‘telluric partisan’ – a figure
that fights outside the normative boundaries of conventional war in defence of a homeland
and the traditional identities that are rooted in it. These fantasies provide a sense of moral
clarity, promote national unity, characterise enemy aggression, and glorify traditional values.
They establish a ready-made narrative that can be invoked to frame conflicts in terms of the
heroic defence of an innocent and victimised people protecting themselves against foreigners and
their dangerous ideologies. As I show, this call for popular engagement in war generally serves a
conservative project of directing potentially revolutionary expressions of populism and vigilante
justice into defence of family and the territorial status quo.
Keywords
security, popular media, Carl Schmitt
Résumé
Cet article se penche sur le sens politique des récits de guerre partisane qui font partie de la culture
populaire américaine. Je pars du concept de « partisan tellurique » créé par Carl Schmitt : un
personnage qui se bat en dehors des limites normatives de la guerre classique pour défendre une
patrie et les identités traditionnelles qui y sont enracinées. Ces fantaisies apportent un sens moral,
encouragent l’unité nationale, caractérisent l’agression ennemie et glorifient les valeurs traditionnelles.
Elles proposent un récit prêt à l’usage, qui peut être utilisé pour représenter les conflits en termes de
défense héroïque d’un peuple innocent et abusé qui se protège contre des étrangers aux idéologies
dangereuses. Je montre comment cet appel à l’engagement populaire dans une guerre est généralement
au service d’un projet conservateur, qui vise à orienter des expressions de populisme et d’autodéfense
potentiellement révolutionnaires au service de la famille et du statu quo territorial.
Corresponding author:
Marcus Schulzke, Department of Politics, University of York, Heslington, York, YO10 5DD, UK.
Email: marcus.schulzke@york.ac.uk
715810MIL0010.1177/0305829817715810Millennium: Journal of International StudiesSchulzke
research-article2017
Article
Schulzke 67
1. Richard Jackson, Writing the War on Terrorism: Language, Politics and Counter-terrorism
(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005); Cynthia Weber, Imagining America at War:
Morality, Politics and Film (New York: Routledge, 2006); Elspeth Van Veeren, ‘Interrogating
24: Making Sense of US Counter-terrorism in the Global War on Terrorism’, New Political
Science 31, no. 3 (2009): 361–84; Andrew Hoskins and Ben O’Loughlin, War and Media
(Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010); Jack Holland, ‘“When You Think of the Taleban, Think of
the Nazis”: Teaching Americans “9–11” in NBC’s “The West Wing”’, Millennium: Journal of
International Studies 42, no. 2 (2011): 85–106.
Mots-clés
sécurité, médias populaires, Carl Schmitt
Resumen
El presente artículo estudia la significancia política de los relatos de guerra partisana presentes en la
cultura popular estadounidense. Me baso en el concepto, acuñado por Carl Schmitt, del “partisano
telúrico”: un personaje que lucha fuera de los límites normativos de la guerra convencional en
defensa de una patria y de las identidades tradicionales que la misma lleva arraigadas. Estas fantasías
aportan un sentido de claridad moral, fomentan la unidad nacional, caracterizan la agresión enemiga
y ensalzan los valores tradicionales. Asimismo, establecen un relato preconfeccionado al que poderse
acoger con el fin de enmarcar los conflictos describiéndolos como la heroica defensa de un pueblo
inocente y victimizado que se protege a sí mismo de los extranjeros con ideologías peligrosas. Como
muestro, esta llamada al compromiso popular con la guerra se encuentra generalmente al servicio
de un proyecto conservador, que busca encauzar expresiones potencialmente revolucionarias de
populismo y justicia por cuenta propia hacia la defensa de la familia y del status quo territorial.
Palabras clave
seguridad, medios de comunicación populares, Carl Schmitt
It is a familiar theme in books, movies, television shows, and video games. The United
States is under attack, and only a small group of irregular fighters can save it. These citi-
zen-soldiers repel invaders or uncover terrorist plots. They defy enormous odds and win
because of their determination, intimate knowledge of their home terrain, and willingness
to do whatever it takes to win. From films like Red Dawn, The Patriot, and White House
Down, to television shows like Amerika and The Man in the High Castle, to video games
like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Battlefield, and Homefront, American popular media
is preoccupied with the theme of defending the country against foreign incursions by
resorting to the same kind of irregular warfare that is so often directed against American
military forces operating abroad. My goal is to analyse the political significance of this
narrative, both as it applies to the United States and as it reflects a more widespread inter-
est in partisan warfare, which I understand as warfare that is conducted by irregular com-
batants who operate outside the norms of conventional interstate conflict.
As recent research on popular culture and security has shown, fictional representations of
conflict help us conceptualise issues of security and give them a sense of concreteness.1
Popular culture is particularly important when it comes to identity formation, which is my

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