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HIS330H5 Chapter Notes -Giorgio Agamben, Weimar Constitution, Patriot Act

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Kevin P.Coleman

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The State of Exception as a Paradigm Government by Giorgio Agamben
discusses Carl Schmitt’s theory on the state of exception and the sovereign that
determine it. It continues into discussing the political law and juridical problems that
arise. From my understanding the state of exception is allowed in times of political crisis
but if we don’t define specifically when these times of political crisis are then there may
be issues of its use. Thus there is an importance to make such a definition in order to
prevent loose usage of the state of exception. And again based on my understanding,
since the state of exception suspends law it’s stuck in a “paradoxical” position of being
between “public law” and “political fact”. As stated earlier it would be important to
identify and be more specific with the definition involved and that is thus the goal of this
study and in its later chapters.
One of the reasons why the state of exception is so difficult to define is how
closely it is related to civil war, insurrection and resistance (essentially just opposing the
current rule). Agamben uses an example involving Hitler and how he declared the
Decree for the Protection of the People and State (this suspended personal liberties of
citizens listed under the articles of the Weimar Constitution). This example is used to
show that the state of exception pushes democracy to absolutism. Although an unlikely
a goal of this section, the example helped me understand in more lay terms what the
state of exception was.
The second example given was of the more modern US Patriot Act of 2001. It
falls under the state of exception because it throws out laws that are in place (such as
treating those detained either as Prisoners of War as defined by the Geneva
Convention, nor as prisoners of the United States, but rather as “detainees” where they
are unprotected by laws). This situation is compared to the situation of Jews in Nazi
I found this second example very interesting as the points brought up are clear
and make Guantanamo out almost as a concentration camp of World War II. The
stripping of one’s identity, as mentioned in the article, has a resonating effect to the
days of the concentration camps. Before this article I had never thought of it in that
sense (one again showing the importance of having several perspectives being
expressed throughout history).
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