Please click through and read this article in the Daily Mail about the proposed formation of a “Super-Congress.” This may seem like a wonky and obscure little action. After all, we have to preserve that credit rating by any means necessary, right? And before the opening of the Asian markets!
But any student of 20th-century history knows that this kind of thing has often signaled the beginning of the end of any semblance of democratic government. Many otherwise noble Constitutions have been circumvented or shredded because they included a built-in ‘state of exception’ clause that authorized special powers in ’emergency’ circumstances. (See the infamous Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, e.g.) When a state of exception clause includes a ‘streamlined’ decision-making process, democracy itself is in jeopardy.
Once special powers are in place, those who get to exercise them never volunteer to dismantle them. Our Constitution does NOT provide for a state of exception – ONLY habeas corpus can be suspended during “rebellion or invasion.” Allowing individuals to be held without charge, while quite serious, is not the same as establishing a mechanism for unaccountable lawmaking. When new laws can be made without public and judicial scrutiny, by people who aren’t worried about re-election, behind closed committee doors, expect the abrogation of fundamental rights.
Imagine – jut a short time ago, it would have caused an earth-shaking scandal to reveal that the President was ordering the extra-judicial assassination of American citizens. Or that lettered agencies were damning them to indefinite exile without due process of law. Our government, especially the executive branch, is already operating as though in a state of exception. It will get much worse, much faster, if this so-called “Super-Congress” is formed.
For more on the state of exception, here’s a brief historical overview: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/009254.html (Agamben is a little late to the party, but a good short read for the blog context. Anyone interested in the topic should read Carl Schmitt at length. He was talking about this in 1932. Agamben has the advantage of hindsight on the 20th century, but doesn’t really go far enough towards recognizing how unexceptional the state of exception has become.)