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State of Exception Paperback – 14 Jan 2005

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Product details

  • Paperback: 104 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (14 Jan. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226009254
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226009254
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.5 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 119,579 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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""State of Exception" is a timely and compelling inquiry into the capacity of state power to withdraw the guarantees of legal protection and entitlement, at once abandoning its subjects to the violent whims of law and intensifying state power. Not to be conceived as merely occasional and conditional, invocations of a state of exception have come to constitute the basis of modern state power. Agamben deftly considers the historical and philosophical implications of this power, offering a brilliant consideration of 'life' and its tense relation to normativity. This is an erudite and provocative book that calls for us to 'stop the machine' and break the violent hold that law lays upon life."--Judith Butler"Judith Butler, author of Precarious Life: Powers of Violence and Mourning" (08/06/2004) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Giorgio Agamben is professor of aesthetics at the University of Verona. He is the author of ten previous books, including the prequel to this one, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Kevin Attell is a writer and translator living in Berkeley, California. He is the translator of Agamben's The Open: Man and Animal.

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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Mark on 15 May 2008
Format: Paperback
On one level Giorgio Agamben's short book is a commentary on the theory of Roman law, yet its significance is far greater. While the reviews on the dust jacket point to its relevance to critical consideration of the war on terror, they have missed the way in which it provides the keys to an analysis of twentieth century European dictatorships of both right and left. Most disturbingly it questions fundamental notions of a basic distinction between dictatorship and democracy, seeing the difference as being manifested in a kind of "tipping" point, where a political system generalizes the "state of exception" and therefore its legitimacy becomes dependent on authority - a form of charismatic power able to give legitimacy.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Cornelis van Dijk on 9 Mar. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This amazing work reviews the historical development of the state of exception. The question is, if we can place this state of exception inside the sphere of the law and in what range it is applicable. The conclusion could be that all democracies in our time live partly in the state of exception by a predominantly system of safety and security in which rules and mechanisms become the status of lawful actions. This should provoke a very critical perspective on the state of our 'western' democracies.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
wonderful, erudite and philosophically informed introduction to what Agamben calls the "state/s of exception"...
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 18 reviews
40 of 45 people found the following review helpful
The Liberalism of Fear, Contintental Style 18 Sept. 2006
By Signs and Wonders - Published on
Format: Paperback
In Agamben's new book, State of Exception, a sequel to Homo Sacer, he draws explicitly upon lectures he has delivered in New York and elsewhere in the years since 9/11, repeating the central themes of his past work and transposing it to a different key. Here, rather than speaking of "the camp," he argues that "the state of exception" is a primal form of modern government. Agamben has long argued, in a formulation best distilled in his book Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (2000), that "the camp"- the concentration camp as much as the refugee camp-- is the paradigm of political modernity insofar as legal categories and the idea of sovereignty have served as a justification for abondoning `enemy bodies'to zones outside strict legality. While that book's conceptual apparatus is all too reminiscent of quirky Heideggerian readings of Greek politics, and he sometimes leans on tendentious readings of Foucault, Benjamin, Arendt, and Schmitt, Agamben's thesis, when examined closely, is no more "paranoid" than the more redemptive works of Primo Levi or Judith Shklar. Beneath his evasive ethics is yet another post-Holocaust "liberalism of fear." In my view, Agamben can be read as a philosopher of deep ethical concern and originality, but to read him charitably, one must start by getting used to his signature rhetorical devices of hyperbole, paradox, and "indistinctions"-- situations where conceptual opposites (security and insecurity, totalitarianism and civil war) are actually contained within each other. It is helpful to approach a number of these claims as "thought experiments." Moreover, perhaps more than any other concern of legal theory, the discussion of states of exception is an area of inquiry where these discursive vices can actually be seen as virtues: the language of indistinction and undecidibility is often descriptively appropriate.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Agamben's State of Exception offers a place for political action 9 Nov. 2006
By Jared Wall - Published on
Format: Paperback
Agamben begins this work with a critical and historical look at the state of exception as it has developed over the last few centuries. In short, as nation/states developed and citizens entered into contracts with these governments, laws and constitutions were the agreed to rules of conduct. With the advent of war and national security issues, the state of exception has arisen in which the laws of the nation must be--at least for a time--suspended so that the goverment may take whatever means necessary to secure the safety of its citizens. Of course this has little to do with the safety of citicizens and more to do with securing the power for the political entity in charge.

Agamben points out that we are now--with the advent of terrorism and the war on terror--entering into a time of perpetual exception. The laws are now in a perpetual state of suspension due to the pressing need of the state to protect us from the threats--both real and perceived--of the terrorists. This can be clearly seen from the acts of the United States in its treatment of detainees in Guantanamo Bay. There the law does not extend to those being held who are apparently being held indefinitely and without any legal recourse.

Agamben's point is that the state of exception identifies a place of anomy--no law--wherein one can sieze power and act politically. His argument is that the state is not the only actor who can seize this anomy. If we are willing to exert ourselves within this gap, we too can create change in our world. If you are looking for a book on the philosophy of law and its aporetic nature--this is not the book for you; however, if you would like to read about the beginnings of a theory for social change, this is a good place to start.
45 of 57 people found the following review helpful
Solid "State" 17 Nov. 2005
By Kevin Killian - Published on
Format: Paperback
The jaunty gray on yellow cover reminds us that, at his best, Giorgio Agamben is like a breath of spring air across the dreary landscape of geopolitical quagmire. When I got this book, I panicked because it advertised itself as the sequel to an earlier Agamben essay which I had not read! Nevertheless I sucked it up and dove on in, prepared to be baffled and bemused, but believe me, STATE OF EXCEPTION is a stand-alone as well, and you need no prior knowledge of what happened in the earlier book HOMO SACER to understand the concepts here. I'm no scholar, but it seems to me that even he or she who knows absolutely nothing about Latin will be able to understand the history he delves into (perhaps a refresher course in HBO's series "ROME" would be in order). Partly this is due to the exemplary translation, by UC Davis' Kevin Attell, whose work I have not run across before. He's great. He has re-translated or so it appears, not only Agamben's steely prose, but also each of Agamben citations from the original Latin, German, French, Greek, Italian or whatever. How does he do it? I have no idea, but his expertise is quite helpful especially when the reader needs to see where the emphasis falls in Agamben's particular use of his sources, it's now crystal clear.

Along the way Agamben and Attell demolish all our previous ideas about the so-called "state of exception." Even such obvious ones such as the ease with which we on the left have applied the term "dictator" to such figures as Mussolini and Hitler, even though, legally speaking, neither of them were dictators. It's easier for us to dismiss them this way. In general the book gains power, sweep and poetry the deeper you get into it.

I feel like I've already read HOMO SACER, it must be more about how under martial law (or say in the case of Hitler's death camps) humans were reduced to what Agamben called "mere life," with their citizenship stripped from them, so that they live in a state of nowhere, like that Beatles song. STATE OF EXCEPTION is to Agamben's body of work what STATE OF INDEPENDENCE was to Donna Summer's-a crisp, dry, declaration of moving on, wiping it up, and tearing the mind a new hole of opinion.
27 of 34 people found the following review helpful
State of Normalcy? 12 Oct. 2005
By Timothy B. Hurst - Published on
Format: Paperback
If Michel Foucault's work has created a new discursive space, then Giorgio Agamben's work has driven a chasm between the existing spaces of between public law and political fact. Agamben has attempted to define that ambiguous space, to fill it with a description that gives it a tenuous position in the lexicon of modern political theory. Whether it is a "point of imbalance" or "no man's land" (1), a "zone of undecidability", or a "paradoxical phenomenon" (2) a "threshold of indeterminacy" (3) or a "fictitious lacuna" (31) Agamben has embarked on describing the indescribable, even though the concept is "matched by terminological uncertainty" (4). Expanding on the ideas expounded by Schmitt and Benjamin, Agamben asserts that the state of exception he describes is no longer a temporary state in times of war or siege, but that it "tends to increasingly appear as the dominant paradigm of government in contemporary politics" (2). Whether it is now the dominant paradigm or, as Agamben argues, the state of exception "has by now become the rule" (9) may be of scholarly debate. Agamben does make a good argument that this state he describes is becoming more prevalent especially after the events of September 11, 2001 have brought the United States into this war on terrorism. This timely essay seems to fit well within this age of security and surveillance brought forth by the Patriot Act and the more recent state of exception from hurricanes Rita and Katrina.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
More great insight from Agamben but incomplete 13 May 2010
By Brian - Published on
Format: Paperback
The subject of this book is incredibly relevant and important for law and politics in the first decade of the 21st century and beyond. This book really got me thinking about constitutional theory two years ago and inspired me to write a paper on the issue as it relates to the U.S. Constitution, executive power, separation of powers, and individual rights during "states of exception" -- more commonly referred to as a state of emergency, during which law does not operate as it would otherwise. Agamben's analysis was/is incredibly relevant to the "war on terror"; indeed, he describes the U.S. war on terror as the most recent manifestation of the state of exception. However, the underlying philosophical and legal issues raised by Agamben are timeless in the modern political world, and the subject matter flows naturally from his earlier work in Homo Sacer.

How liberal democracies can and should respond in times of emergency has challenged legal and political scholars for centuries, and Agamben relies on two of the most notable scholars on the subject: Carl Schmitt and Walter Benjamin. Agamben does a good job at approaching the big picture and discussing the tension between the "norm" and the state of exception. His fundamental concern is that the state of exception is no long the exception; rather, it is the norm, as modern politics has increasingly used extraordinary political concerns (war, economic depression, civil unrest, and terrorism) to justify extraordinary responses (e.g., infringement of civil liberties, enhanced executive power, and military action). This naturally dovetails with his previous work in Homo Sacer because the "sovereign" (s/he who decides when the legal norm is no longer operative and a state of exception exists) has the power to reduce people to bare life -- life stripped of any political value -- as "security" becomes the paramount value during the state of exception.

Although Agamben raises some interesting and specific examples of the modern state of exception (e.g., Bush's war on terror, Nazi Germany, Roosevelt and the New Deal), he is short on details, somewhat obfuscatory in his terminology and discussion (this may be due in part to translation issues), citations are extremely limited, and as expected, he has little to offer in the way of "solutions" to the dilemma (though this is hardly surprising given his postmodern stance). Accordingly, Agamben's State of Exception is a good starting point, but it's not enough... If you're interested in going beyond Agamben, go back to Schmitt's works, Clinton Rossiter's Constitutional Dictatorship, and Henry Commager's fantastic 1968 article in the New Republic ("Can We Limit Presidential Power?").
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