Democratic Vistas

We observe this week the eagerly awaited translation of Giorgio Agemben’s State of Exception (Chicago, 2005). Among the most creative political theorists on the international scene, Agemben here takes stock of the fate of democracy in the post 9/11 era, placing the suspension of civil liberties in a long historical and philosophical context. Agemben describes the two-fold dimension of the argument in a recent interview in the German Law Journal as follows: “The first is a historical matter: the state  of exception or state of emergency has become a paradigm of government  today.  Originally understood as  something extraordinary,an exception, which should have validity only for a limited period of time, but a historical transformation has made it the normal form of governance.  I wanted to show the consequence of this  change for the state of the democracies in which we live.  The second is of a philosophical nature and  deals with the strange relationship of law and lawlessness, law and anomy.  The state of exception establishes a hidden  but fundamental relationship between law and the absence of law.  It is a void, a blank and this empty space  is constitutive of the legal system.”

Agemben received some attention stateside last year when he refused to take up a visiting position at NYU because traveling to the US would have required fingerprinting.