New Normality? – Abstract #4

Tobias Schottdorf: Law, Democracy and the State of Emergency. A Theory Centered Analysis of the Democratic Legal State in Times of Exception

The renewed scientific discussion about the state of emergency led to many theoretical attempts which tried to find appropriate descriptions of the exceptional phenomenon. However, due to this enormous diversity their object-related connection threatens to become blurred. An essential reason for this lies in the interdisciplinary entanglement of the discourse. The aim of this article, therefore, is to formulate a metatheoretical regulatory proposal to compare these competing legal philosophical and political theoretical explanatory approaches and to prove its suitability on the basis of the dispute between Otto Kirchheimer and Carl Schmitt in the last days of the Weimar Republic. The two authors act as representatives of two mutually exclusive theoretical perspectives, leading to significant differences in the descriptive and evaluative assessment of the state of emergency.

As a result, it will become clear that the recognition of the threat to the rule of law and democracy in times of emergency depends heavily on the respective legal and democratic theory perspective, and that the normative conclusions can diverge massively despite similar diagnoses. Without fundamental conceptual clarifications and reflections on the underlying premises, it is therefore not possible to talk meaningful about the connection between law, democracy and the state of exception.

Die neu entbrannte wissenschaftliche Diskussion über den Ausnahmezustand führte zu vielfältigen theoretischen Bestimmungsversuchen, deren Zusammenhang mitunter zu verschwimmen droht. Ein wesentlicher Grund hierfür liegt in der interdisziplinären Verschränkung des Diskurses. Ziel dieses Aufsatzes ist es daher, einen metatheoretischen Ordnungsvorschlag zum Vergleich dieser konkurrierenden rechtsphilosophischen und politiktheoretischen Erklärungsansätze zu formulieren und dessen Tauglichkeit anhand der Auseinandersetzung zwischen Otto Kirchheimer und Carl Schmitt in den letzten Tagen der Weimarer Republik zu belegen. Die beiden Autoren fungieren dabei als Repräsentanten zweier sich wechselseitig ausschließender theoretischer Perspektiven, was zu gravierenden Unterschieden hinsichtlich der deskriptiven und evaluativen Einschätzung des Ausnahmezustandes führt.

Im Ergebnis wird sich zeigen, dass die Anerkennung einer Bedrohung des Rechtsstaates sowie der Demokratie in Notstandszeiten stark von der jeweiligen rechts- und demokratietheoretischen Perspektive abhängt und die normativen Schlussfolgerungen trotz ähnlicher Diagnosen massiv divergieren können. Ohne grundbegriffliche Klärungen und Reflexion der jeweiligen Prämissen ist es daher nicht möglich, sinnvoll über den Zusammenhang von Recht, Demokratie und Ausnahmezustand zu sprechen.

Keywords: State of Emergency, Legal System, Political Theory, Schmitt, Kirchheimer

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 4/15: Tobias Schottdorf (Leuphana University) – Law, Democracy and the State of Emergency. A Theory Centered Analysis of the Legal State in Time of Exception


In the conference, I will present some systematic reflections on the relationship of democracy and law in the context of emergency. More precisely, my contribution poses two questions and answers them from a decided theoretical point of view. These questions are, as I will show, connected and need to be examined together:

(1) How do democracy and law behave towards each other in times of crisis?
(2) Is the state of exception necessary for any democracy or is it dispensable?

The answers to these questions will structure my presentation as well. In detail, in the first two parts I will describe the relation of democracy and law in the light of different discourses in the history of ideas and argue why democracy as such, in opposition to our right based liberal model of democracy, does not need the state of emergency.

(1) The civil (“bürgerliche”) state composed as a liberal democracy is based upon rights. Therefore we call it a “legal state” or “Rechtsstaat” in the German tradition, as characterized by Habermas. Thus, it is the law which determines our contemporary form of democracy. In addition, the maintenance of the state (which is also represented in the idea of “Staatsräson”) in this shape can only be secured by maintaining the law. The suspension of democratic procedures is always designated in the way our system of rights works because this system has to cover a non-law based “gap” (see Luhmann, Frankenberg, Menke). The exception is incorporated into the system of rights because our body of law needs the exception to handle circumstances, which cannot be transformed into juridical language.

(2) In terms of democracy, the state of exception is dispensable, but it is not for this system of rights which is determining the present shape of democracy. Our law and our understanding of the state need the exception, and as long as democracy is based on this system of rights, as long as democracy is connected to the civil state, it will run the risk of being affected by limitations induced by the state of emergency. I will argue that there is a specific tension between law and democracy which materializes in the state of exception.

After this second step, I will illustrate my proposal through an example, which focuses on a specific constitutional discourse of the Weimar Republic:

(3) In this last part of my presentation I provide a clarification for these more or less abstract theoreti-cal findings. Based on the debate between the German theorists of law, Carl Schmitt and Otto Kirchheimer, which took part in the early 1930s and picked out real democracy and the constitution of Weimar as their central theme, I will show that democracy is not necessarily dependent on the state of emergency. Instead, and hereby I defend the position of Kirchheimer, the legal state relies on two normative principles which can collide and which can break the liberal democracy, based on the system of rights, apart: legitimacy and legality (see Preuß). The state of emergency is a danger to democracy because it deforms the relation of these two ideas. What could be observed in Weimar menaces all liberal democracies, because they are founded upon a system of rights which needs the exception as part of its own functioning. In order to manage systemic stress and crises injuries of democratic principles can be witnessed, as legality and legitimacy trump or even annul each other.

Ausnahmezustand: Theoriegeschichte – Anwendungen – Perspektiven (3)

Tobias Schottdorf, Vom Normalstaat zum Ausnahmestaat. Zur Staatstheorie des kriseninduzierten Regimewandels.

Ausnahmezustand. Theoriegeschichte - Anwendungen - Perspektiven.
Ausnahmezustand. Theoriegeschichte – Anwendungen – Perspektiven.

Dieser Beitrag analysiert die potenzielle Transformation eines Normalstaates als Rechtsstaat in Zeiten existenzieller Bedrohungen in eine Ausnahmeform. Hierzu wird zuerst eine Krisentypologie entworfen, von der ausgehend unter Rückgriff auf Überlegungen der kritischen Staatstheorie ein Interimstyp, ein neues Regime, der „Ausnahmestaat“, charakterisiert werden soll. Anhand der V. französischen Republik, die zu Zeiten des Algerienkrieges einen notstandsbasierten autoritären Umbau erfuhr, wird dieses Modell schließlich auf seinen Erklärungsgehalt hin überprüft.

This contribution analyses the potential transformation of a common legal state into an exceptional form of government in times of existential crises. Therefore it first drafts a typology of different crises based on which, and with recourse to critical state theory, it characterizes a new type of regime, the exceptional state. Eventually, this model is used to explain the authoritarian shift and the legal erosion of the fifth French republic due to the state of emergency during the Algerian War.

Dieser Beitrag erscheint im kommenden Frühjahr in Matthias Lemke (Hg.), Ausnahmezustand. Theoriegeschichte – Anwendungen – Perspektiven, Wiesbaden 2017.