May 14, 2023

CRITIQUE-PTRG Seminar Realism, Political Judgment and the Emergency Imaginary – 10 May 2023, 3 pm

CRITIQUE -PTRG Seminar (pre-read) with Matthew Festenstein (York).

Writing at the outset of the Cold War and summarising, as he saw it, an important tradition in constitutional thinking, the American political scientist Clinton Rossiter states in Constitutional Dictatorship that “no sacrifice is too great for our democracy, least of all the temporary sacrifice of democracy itself” (Rossiter 1948: 314). While the legality and constitutionality, as well as consequences for human rights, of emergency provisions, have been subject to considerable scrutiny, the democratic legitimation of emergency politics remains a thorny issue, dominated by the turbulent influence of Carl Schmitt.

Is emergency politics inherently undemocratic? The argument of this paper is “not quite”. If we view politics as subject to contingency, and still more so as enmeshed in overlapping systematic crises, emergency politics is unavoidable and important. At the same time, there are good grounds to be sceptical about emergency politics: it seems susceptible to executive abuse and instrumentalisation, providing support to de-democratisation in both its technocratic and populist forms. Furthermore, the principal constitutional models for the legitimation of emergency powers seem aligned at best with a minimal and plebiscitary conception of democracy and very uncomfortable in their treatment of transnational emergencies. The paper concludes by making a case for democratic judgment in relation to three types of claim: identification of emergencies, emergency powers, and emergency actors.

To access the paper please email

Location: CMB 3.15.