New Normality? – Abstract #6

Thomas Blanck: A Revolutionary State of Exception – Munich, 1918/19

Der Artikel schlägt ein dreidimensionales Modell vor, das die Revolutionszeit in München in den Jahren 1918/1919 als verlängerten und sich selbst verstärkenden Ausnahmezustand während der Übergangsperiode nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg interpretiert: Auf einer ersten, rechtlichen Ebene, ist festzuhalten, dass die Revolution keineswegs das Ende des umfangreichen Systems von Dekreten, Verordnungen und Gesetzen bedeutete. Im Gegenteil, die Ad-hoc-Rechtsprechung wurde durch die Einrichtung von Volksgerichten und die spätere Einführung des Kriegsrechts noch verstärkt. Auf einer zweiten Ebene waren diese Maßnahmen eng verbunden mit einem breiteren zeittypischen Diskurs über die existentielle Kraft der Ausnahmesituation einer Revolution, der nicht nur auf konservative und reaktionäre Kräfte beschränkt war, sondern Befürworter in allen Teilen des politischen Spektrums fand. Drittens aber entstanden auf praktischer Ebene angesichts der Erfahrung zahlloser und doch ineffizienter Notverordnungen, angesichts einer subjektiven Wahrnehmung von Unordnung und angesichts eines Vertrauensverlustes der Staatsinstitutionen Möglichkeitsräume für spontane Selbstmobilisierungen und -ermächtigungen. Der Artikel argumentiert, dass die legale, diskursive und praktische Dimension des Ausnahmezustandes nicht losgelöst voneinander zu betrachten sind: Es war das spannungsreiche Wechselverhältnis zwischen diesen drei Dimensionen, die die spezifische Dynamik des Ausnahmezustands in München erzeugte.

The article examines the revolution in Munich in 1918/1919 and proposes a threefold model of interpreting it as a prolonged and self-reinforcing state of exception during the period of transition after World War I. At first, at the legal level, the revolutionary forces in Munich by no means abolished the extensive system of exceptional decrees, orders, and laws developed in the course of the war. Quite the contrary, the ad hoc jurisdiction was even intensified through the creation of People’s Courts and the later introduction of martial law. These measures, secondly, were connected to a broader discourse on the exceptionality of the revolutionary situation which was not limited to conservative and reactionary forces but found its advocates in all parts of the political spectrum. Thirdly, at a practical level, the experience of countless and yet inefficient emergency decrees, the impression of disorder, and the lack of trust in the institutions of the post-revolutionary state created the possibility of exceptional self-mobilizations. The article argues that the state of exception’s legal, discursive, and practical dimension cannot be understood separately. Instead, it is the interplay between these three dimensions that creates the specific dynamic of the state of exception.

Keywords: Munich, revolution, state of exception, Carl Schmitt, history of law

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

Workshop: Der Alltag der Ausnahme: Besatzungsregime im 20. Jahrhundert

In Köln findet vom 7. bis 8.12.2017 ein Workshop zum Thema „Der Alltag der Ausnahme: Besatzungsregime im 20. Jahrhundert“ statt, der von Thomas Blanck und Byron Schirbock organisiert wird. Um Anmeldung bis zum 1.12.2017 unter thomas.blanck@smail.uni-koeln.de wird gebeten. Nähere Informationen zum Programm gibt es hier.

Aus dem Ankündigungstext: „Anhand aktueller Projekte von NachwuchwissenschaftlerInnen möchte wir diskutierten, wie sich Alltag und Ausnahme im 20. Jahrhundert stärker analytisch greifen und in Relation bringen lassen. Ziel des Workshops ist es, den Begriff Ausnahmezustand, der aktuell überwiegend in politik- und rechtshistorischen Zusammenhängen diskutiert wird, stärker mit dem Fokus auf die AkteurInnen im Kontext von Besatzungen zu verknüpfen.“

Abstract 6/15: Thomas Blanck (University of Cologne) – A revolutionary state of exception: Munich, 1918/19

#StatEx2017
#StatEx2017

While both the idea and the practice of a contemporary suspension of constitutional rights can be traced back to antiquity, the term “state of exception” (Ausnahmezustand) was coined only in the first half of the 20th century, most famously by Carl Schmitt. At the same time, it is often overlooked that his well-known definition of sovereignty must be linked to a concrete historical situation, namely the socialist revolution in Munich in 1918/19. Schmitt experienced the revolutionary collapse of the German Empire firsthand: it was this experience, I will argue, that shaped his decisionistic state theory.

Taking the link between Schmitt’s biography and political theory as a point of departure, this paper has two closely intertwined aims: concentrating on the aftermath of the First World War in Munich, it investigates the relation between the development of the concept of “exceptional” political situations on the one hand and its application as a tool of (re)establishing public order on the other hand. In doing so, it connects the abstract level of Begriffsgeschichte with the history of the actual implementation of emergency measures. In other words, the central question is: how did exceptional thinking and exceptional acting influence each other in a period of violent and revolutionary transformation in an urban context?

The paper will focus on Munich in the years 1918 and 1919. After the end of World War I, the former capital of the Bavarian Kingdom became the arena for a revolution that in many ways was far more radical and had longer lasting effects than elsewhere in Germany. On November 7, 1918, socialist Kurt Eisner proclaimed the republic and all over Bavaria, worker’s and soldier’s councils were founded, king Ludwig III abdicated. Eisner’s assassination in February 1919 strengthened the radical forces of the revolutionary movement, eventually leading to a bloody conflict between Munich’s Red Army and troops sent by the German government in Berlin. Thus, Bavaria found itself in a twofold state of exception: on the one hand, the monarchical government’s authority had collapsed within hours, leaving the revolutionary leaders in front of a constitutional vacuum that had to be filled with decrees, orders, and rules. On the other hand, the proclaimed Bavarian Freistaat (free state) itself was an exception within the framework of post-war Germany, challenging the authority of the newly formed republican government in Berlin.

The question posed above will be answered in three steps. First, I will delineate the evolution of the state of exception in Bavaria on a juridical and normative level. Special attention will be paid to the question of how the transition from the pre-war to the post-war political system influenced the government’s possibility of applying emergency measures as guaranteed by the respective constitution: did the post-war authorities rely on methods established by the former system? On which juridical sources were the countless revolutionary emergency decrees based on – if they had a juridical base at all? Second, I will examine the discourse on the exceptionality of the situation, be it regarding the political actors in Munich who legitimized their actions by describing themselves as the exceptional forefront of political and societal renewal in Germany, be it regarding the external perception of the Bavarian revolution. How did the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary forces – both operating officially in the name of freedom and democracy – publicly justify and communicate their actions that clearly violated the existing legal order? In a third step, I will look at the state of exception as a factor of political mobilization. Following Alf Lüdtke and Michael Wild, the state of exception can be understood as an „arena of possibilities, and of self-empowerments”. The state, thus, is “a moment of governance that is not ordered by the constitution rather than being constantly created by manifold actors, neither ‘top-down’ nor ‘bottom-up’.” [1] Consequently, one must ask whether there exists a distinction between the abstract legal order and the actual political situation within a revolutionary context at all. Or should one rather argue that once exceptional measures have been applied, there is no such thing as a normalcy anymore?

[1] Alf Lüdtke and Michael Wildt, Einleitung, in: id. (eds.), Staats-Gewalt. Ausnahmezustand und Sicherheitsregimes. Historische Perspektiven (=Göttinger Gespräche zur Geschichtswissenschaft, vol. 27), Göttingen 2008, pp. 7-38, here p. 23 (translation TB).