New Normality? – Abstract #1

Ewa Atanassow / Ira Katznelson: State of Exception in the Anglo-American Liberal Tradition

This essay identifies conceptual and institutional approaches within the Anglo-American liberal tradition for meeting security challenges without compromising constitutional and ethical principles. From its seventeenth century beginnings, political liberalism has confronted the problematic of the ‘state of exception,’ and has elaborated a repertoire of ideas and institutions for governing exigencies that remain instructive.  In the first half of the twentieth century, responding to Carl Schmitt’s critique of liberal insufficiency, liberal thinkers, especially in the United States, sought to show how liberal polities can govern emergency situations within the scope of law. Following historical and political developments since the mid-twentieth century, the solutions proposed by such figures as Carl Joachim Friedrich and Clinton Rossiter no longer seem adequate to present conditions of prolonged emergency.  Fresh institutional imagination is needed.  The article concludes by offering four broad guidelines for allaying today’s tensions between security and liberty.

Der Aufsatz identifiziert konzeptionelle und institutionelle Ansätze innerhalb der anglo-amerikanischen liberalen Theorie, die Sicherheitsbedürfnissen entsprechen ohne dabei verfassungsmäßige oder ethische Prinzipien zu korrumpieren. Seit seinen Anfängen im Siebzehnten Jahrhundert war der politische Liberalismus mit dem Problem des ‚Ausnahmezustandes’ konfrontiert und hat eine auch heute noch relevante Reihe von Ideen und Institutionen für entsprechende Anforderungen an die Regierung entwickelt. In der ersten Hälfte des Zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts haben insbesondere in den USA liberale Denker, in Reaktion auf Carls Schmitts Kritik an liberaler Insuffizienz, aufzuzeigen vermocht, wie liberale Institutionen Ausnahmezustände auf der Basis der bestehenden Rechtsordnung regeln können. Aufgrund der historischen und politischen Entwicklungen seit der Mitte des Zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts scheinen diese Lösungen, wie sie etwa von Carl Joachim Friedrich oder Clinton Rossiter vorgetragen worden sind, angesichts einer fortdauernden Ausnahmelage nicht mehr angemessen. Es bedarf neuer institutioneller Entwürfe. Der Artikel schließt, indem er vier weitgefasste Empfehlungen zur Einhegung der heutigen Spannungen zwischen Sicherheit und Freiheit vorstellt.

Keywords: Emergency, Political liberalism, national security, rule of law, constitutional democracy

This article is part of the forthcoming issue Matthias Lemke  / Ece Göztepe / Olivier Cahn (Ed.), New Normality? State of Emergency as Contemporary Government Technique.

Abstract 2/15: Ewa Atanassow (Bard College Berlin), Ira Katznelson (Columbia University) – Governing emergency? State of Exception in the Anglo-American Liberal Tradition


How should constitutional democracies navigate current problems of security? Presently, the globe’s established liberal democracies face almost no threat to their borders. Nevertheless, they have been confronted with pervasive insecurity and anxieties about appropriate responses, which has led to unprecedented delegation to and strengthening of executive power. This situation raises pressing questions about the conditions required to enlarge the zone of security without an undue sacrifice of liberal values and institutions, whose hallmarks include embedded constraints on the decisions and acts taken by political authorities in order to safeguard the liberties of citizens.

Probing the Anglo-American tradition of liberal political thought and practice, our contribution will seek to identify conceptual and practical approaches for meeting security challenges without compromising constitutional and ethical principles. Our inquiry will proceed in three parts. 1) The first aims to show that, from its founding moments, political liberalism confronted central puzzles associated with the state of exception, and elaborated a significant repertoire of ideas, impulses, and institutions that remain instructive. 2) Against the backdrop of this lineage, whose central figures include John Locke and Alexander Hamilton, in part two we examine the work of interwar and post-war twentieth century American political scientists Carl Friedrich, his Harvard doctoral student Frederick Watkins, and Clinton Rossiter who forged a liberal response to Carl Schmitt. Individually and as a coherent group, these scholars sought to place emergency responses within the ambit of the restraining qualities of law. They thus revisited and deepened a genuinely liberal approach to emergency. 3) Sketching the historical and political developments since the mid-twentieth century, we conclude by assessing the advantages and limitations of these liberal resources for dealing with contemporary security dilemmas.

The paper thus weaves together conceptual and historical vantages with policy considerations. Although manifestly of broader significance, it focuses primarily on the United States and Great Britain as the longest standing and most continuous examples of constitutional regimes struggling with these questions. As both countries have possessed disproportionate global power and have faced security issues with magnified intensity and scope, each has generated much experimentation in thought and institutional arrangements pertaining to the governance of emergency. These experiences and their lessons, we argue, have wide applicability.