Abstract 1/15: Anna-Bettina Kaiser (HU Berlin) – Suspension of the Legal Order in the State of Exception


The suspension of the legal order is often said to be the (natural) consequence of the declaration of the state of emergency. This paper examines the role of suspension from a theoretical and legal point of view.

The idea of the suspension of (certain) rules in times of crises is not at all new. On the contrary, the ancient Latin phrase necessitas non habet legem, coined by Seneca the Elder, already expresses a similar idea. In 20th century German legal thought, the idea of suspension was wildly received and became a seminal topos in the discourse on the state of exception. It was in particular Carl Schmitt in his Political Theology from 1922 who popularized the idea: “To decide about the state of exception means to decide on the suspension of the whole constitution” (translation by A.-B. K.).

From that point onward, the mechanism of suspension has always been associated with the state of exception. Numerous authors such as Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde, Giorgio Agamben, Otto Depenheuer and Matthias Lemke still conceive the figure of suspension as an integral part of the legal institute of the state of exception. Thus, suspension became the cipher for the exceptional state.

This paper calls the depicted narrative into question. It answers the following questions: Where and why did the idea of suspension come up after 1789? And why was it so important for Schmitt’s thinking?What was the influence of Søren Kierkegaard on the concept? Last but not least: Do we find legal evidence for the idea of suspension in the legal orders of Germany and France when it comes to the state of exception?

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