Schmitt’s essay ‘The Buribunks’ reflects some age-old problems, tensions and paradoxes of international legal theory, including Schmitt’s own treatment of the history of international law. Both Schmitt’s essay and international legal theory are unable to define their main subject in a fully coherent way. They oscillate between naturalism and positivism, facticity and normativity and between internal and external perspectives. However, the inability to define its main subject does not as such discredit international legal theory or Schmitt’s essay. On the contrary: it is the specific paradoxes and tensions that define what it is to engage in international legal reasoning, just as it is the endless going back and forth between opposite poles that makes the reader familiar with the strange character of the Buribunks.