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First is the creator of the state of exception, the sovereign, the powerful political figure. In many cases this state of exception is affirmed by the judicial sphere, which Agamben notes is paradoxical, because the branch of government that watches and checks laws is approving a space that is outside the law, affirming a place they cannot go.

The courts then limit themselves and give further power of force outside the law to the sovereign. The sovereign then applies this force upon those categorically created as the state of exception. This can be Jewish people in Nazi Germany to habeas corpus in the U. Agamben shows, quite convincingly I think, that this state of exception is slowly becoming the rule rather than the exception.

It must be kept in mind that Agamben writes this in , which makes him a fascinating predictor of the future, as the rise of fascism around the Atlantic triangle is reaching towards high tide. Mar 12, Jacob Lines rated it really liked it Shelves: law.

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This book surprised me. When I found this book, I figured that I would have to slog through it but I would learn something worthwhile. I was right about learning something but wrong about slogging. The book was a very enjoyable read. Not that it was easy — I had to keep a piece of paper for writing down words to look up — but the reward of reading it was proportionate to the work of reading it. This book is supposed to be a continuation of the ideas he wrote about in Homo Sacer. In this book, Agamben explores the state of exception both historically and philosophically.

The state of exception is a concept similar to a state of emergency — a sovereign is able to transcend the rule of law in the name of the public good. Agamben makes two main points in this book. First, he traces the history of the state of exception. He follows it through European law starting with Roman law and continuing to present times. Based on this, he argues that the state of exception is no longer the exception but the rule for governance. Second, he discusses the philosophy of the state of exception.


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His major thesis here is that there is a strange relationship between law and anomie — that they must exist together. At some beginning point, there is just raw power that must be cabined into a legal form to be legitimized. But that raw power is always there, and we see it in the state of exception. We especially see that with terror detainees. We can argue the legality and morality and legitimacy of indefinite detention without charges or proceedings for years in fact, we already have , but the powers that be still keep that state of exception in being — it seems to be the most expedient thing to do.

Just as linguistic elements subsist in langue without any real denotation, which they acquire only in actual discourse, so in the state of exception the norm is in force without any referent to reality.

State of Exception - Catherine Young - Backstage Theatre March 15th

But just as concrete linguistic activity becomes intelligible precisely through the presupposition of something like a language, so is the norm able to refer to the normal situation through the suspension of its application in the state of exception. Just as grammar, in producing a speech without denotation, has isolated something like a language from discourse, and law, in suspending the concrete custom and usage of individuals, has been able to isolate something like a norm, so the patient work of civilization proceeds in every domain by separating human praxis from its concrete exercise and thereby creating that excess of signification over denotation that Levi-Strauss was the first to recognize.

In this sense, the floating signifier — this guiding concept in the human sciences of the twentieth century — corresponds to the state of exception, in which the norm is in force without being applied. Yeah, neither did I. We have ideas of justice and how things should be run, but until we express those ideas in law, they are just floating out there. Likewise, we have things we want to communicate, but until we put those things into words with language, those things are just floating unexpressed.

In many ways, law is a lot like language. How do we express ourselves so that we are all actually talking about the same thing?

States of Exception and how we conceptualize humans in code

Besides all the hifalutin parts like the ones I just quoted, there is some fascinating history here. His chapter about the Roman iustitium was very good. This was an institution whereby the senate could declare a suspension of law for the purpose of protecting the republic. During the time that the iustitium was declared, a person could even murder for the good of the republic without punishment. What a great paradox this is — declaring the law to be suspended for the purpose of protecting the legal order. This paradox goes a long way to explaining the state of exception.

As is so often the case, a little history explains more than volumes of philosophy. And this paragraph: "That is to say, everything happens as if both law and logos needed an anomic or alogical zone of suspension in order to ground their reference to the world of life.

Law seems able to subsist only by capturing anomie, just as language can subsist only by grasping the nonlinguistic. In both cases, the conflict seems to concern an empty space: on the one hand, anomie, juridical vacuum, and on, the other, pure being, devoid of any determination or any real predicate. For law, this empty space is the state of exception as its constitutive dimension.

The relation between norm and reality involves the suspension of the norm, just as in ontology the relation between language and world involves the suspension of denotation in the form of a langue.

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But just as essential for the juridical order is that this zone — wherein lies a human action without relation to the norm — coincides with an extreme and spectral figure of the law, in which law splits into a pure being-in-force [vigenza] without application the form of law and a pure application without being in force: the force-of- law. Jan 24, Jacob rated it it was amazing. Agamben skillfully shows the history of the State of Exception which he describes as "a no-man's land between public law and political fact" 1.

It exists in the space that contradicts or defies the law, sitting outside of its grasp. The State of Exception often comes about during war times, when the law is put to the side for the good of the people. The law breaks from the norm in order to save the norm. In terms of something like human rights of the citizen, these are, for the time being, put Agamben skillfully shows the history of the State of Exception which he describes as "a no-man's land between public law and political fact" 1.

In terms of something like human rights of the citizen, these are, for the time being, put to the side in order to save or perpetuate the human rights of the citizen. Thus, there is a paradoxical nature to the State of Exception. Going through its history, Agamben is able to show that today we live in a perpetual State of Exception Through what Virilio might call Pure War.

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Furthermore, he comes to suggest that, while this state is problematic, it provides an avenue to escape the typically given norms. Because we are typically in the State of Exception, there will be no return to the State and its norms, suggesting "For the real state of exception in which we live, it is not possible to return to the state of law, for at issue now are the very concepts of 'state' and 'law'" 87 Thus, something new could possibly develop.

Nov 20, Joeri Kooimans rated it really liked it Shelves: thesis. This short book of Agamben can help us become sensitive and critical for incurrences of states of exception: a state where the law is suspended by the soevereign in order to become a killing machine or to forcefully push through certain measurements, be they social, political or economic.

It reminds us that whenever a sovereign, i. The book gives a timely analysis of the state of exception, but the writing is not very accesible. Apr 20, Ricky rated it it was amazing Shelves: critical-theory , intellectual-history , agamben , thesis. Jan 23, Kevin Q rated it it was amazing. Seminal work.

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Very short. Good philosophy reading, but unfortunately a neoliberal screed that asks for us to keep allowing the worst humans on the planet to have positions of authority. Jul 11, Lars Lofgren rated it liked it. Giorgio Agamben provides a thorough historical and legal contextualization of the state of exception, defining its critical nature and development. Defined as the expansion of executive power in response to existential threats to the nation, the state of exception has become the norm of executive power throughout Western democracies.

Analyzing the legal and political theory that has given rise to the state of exception, Agamben delivers a highly detailed description of this legal concept. From i Giorgio Agamben provides a thorough historical and legal contextualization of the state of exception, defining its critical nature and development. From its origins in Roman law, Agamben traces the evolution of the state of exception through two political scholars, Walter Benjamin and Carl Schmitt.

Today, the state of exception has allowed the President of the United States to unilaterally expand executive power into legislative and judicial domains. Response: While the quality of Agamben's legal analysis and research cannot be questioned, he neglects to analyze the state of exception from a political science lens, specifically in terms of institutions and structural limitations. There are two primarily limitations to any utilization of the state of exception, the complexity of Western political systems and the electorate.

Given the highly bureaucratic nature of any Western political system, Presidential decrees will unavoidable reach resistance within the system. Obviously, fervent nationalism Nazi Germany or traumatic national events September 11 can consolidate a political regime and reduce structural resistance but this situation does not represent the norm. Additionally, the President and his political party ultimately must answer to the electorate. Unless the President is able to subvert this process as well with the state of exception, the electorate may abandon the President in favor of a completely different candidate.

The shift from a substantial support for the Bush Administration to the Democratic Congressional majority and the subsequent election of Barak Obama exemplify this. In short, further empirical evidence and analysis is required before one can emphatically claim that the state of exception has eroded the foundations of democracy and reduced Western democracies to police states. Bottom-line: For legal scholars or those interested in the expansion of executive power, this book provides a great deal of pertinent analysis. For the majority of readers, finding the book at a library and reading the first chapter as well as the last few pages will be more than enough.

Unless the topic of this book deeply resonates with you, there are more important books to spend your money on. For more reviews and a summary of Agamben's main paints, find us at Hand of Reason. Sep 02, Dr.

State of Exception

A rated it really liked it Shelves: the-history-of-philosophy-curated. As might be all to familiar to us in this historical moment, this is done in the name of protecting the public interest. This work in pol Read this and reviews of other classics in Western Philosophy on the History page of www. This is a timely work for readers interested in the concrete, philosophical, and critical analysis of the current political climate.

Oct 11, Mike rated it really liked it. Agamben, one of our age's most stunningly original philosophers of law, examines the expansion of executive powers under President George W. Agamben provides a nuanced musing over the ethical reasoning behind such a move in this short book, and argues that with the exceptions of coups, dictators, and other instances of government where there is a complete and unjust imbalance of power, states may have valid ethical and legal reasons to trunca Agamben, one of our age's most stunningly original philosophers of law, examines the expansion of executive powers under President George W.

Agamben provides a nuanced musing over the ethical reasoning behind such a move in this short book, and argues that with the exceptions of coups, dictators, and other instances of government where there is a complete and unjust imbalance of power, states may have valid ethical and legal reasons to truncate legal freedoms in order to ensure greater safety for their people.

However, he is also quick to note that such a concept is expectedly inviting for misuse and abuses of power. Agaben considers the thin margins between security and insecurity, freedom and totalitarianism, nation at peace and nation at war. He understands that in history, in very few cases has any form of government gone to war without making some changes in its expectations of its citizens at home, but also that no democratic government spurns the freedom of the republic for the integrity of total safety.


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War has changed, as has its mechanisms, and as so shall its laws: we need scholars like Agamben to consider these changes. My only real complaint with this book was that it wasn't longer and able to consider more examples and pretexts than it did. Nov 05, Will rated it liked it. Sometimes we wish books were longer so we could've kept reading. Rarely is a book simply too short for its own good. Brevity is the soul of wit, I get it. But Agamben covers an incredible breadth of historical, legal and philosophical material in just 88 pages.

Ridden with multilingual translations, obscure academic references and dense jargon, it's a tough read. Tracing back to Roman times, Agamben draws from eclectic historical and philosophical sources to show the tension in the idea that a state or legal system might contain the mechanism of its own negation-as-survival technique. A threshold of undecidability is produced when fact and law fade into each other His project centers on trying to dissolve the relation between law and violence, which Benjamin did from the standpoint of violence.

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