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Emergency Government:
The Political Theory of Decisionism

Instructor: Jason Adams Guests: Bruce de'Medici, Jasbir Puar, & Jerome Roos Credit: Module: 1 of 1 Date & Time: October 2014


DESCRIPTION: “My officers have the right to go home at night”: with this statement in August 2014, St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson both justified the summary execution of 25-year old Kajieme Powell and captured the essence of a political theory tradition of which he was most likely unaware: that of “decisionism”. Historically, decisionist political thought has sought to preserve the prerogative of the sovereign to remain unencumbered by the letter of the law in situations deemed to be emergencies, however an emergency might be defined. In recent years in particular, decisionism has not remained constrained to the domain of theory alone: indeed, Dotson’s justification emerged in media reports at the same time that another summary police execution (18-year old Michael Brown in Ferguson) had triggered mass protests that brought the National Guard into the streets. Such events, like the rise of City Council-displacing “Emergency Managers” in Detroit, Flint, Pontiac, and elsewhere, demonstrate the increasing ubiquity of a localized emergency governance that can no longer be separated from the globalized market economy that is its looming geopolitical frame. From postimperial theaters of worldwide war to local postindustrial and newly-industrialized municipalities, the rise of decisionist structures has been matched by an intensification of decisionist rhetoric: as Kevyn Orr, Emergency Manager of Detroit put it when questioned in May 2013, “I’m free, I’m not a politician”.

This seminar traces and reshapes the past and future of decisionism in political thought and state practice alike, providing an introduction to the thematic appropriate to the early 21st century, a time in which, as Deleuze & Guattari put it, “the totalitarian State is not a maximum state but rather… the minimum State of anarcho-capitalism”. We consider the 17th, 18th, and 19th century precursors to decisionism in the absolutist and monarchist reactions against the revolutions of England, Western Europe and the United States, including those of Thomas Hobbes, Hernando Donoso Cortes and Frances de Maistre. We also engage the 20th century decisionism of Carl Schmitt and Julius Evola, reading these in light of the radical political thought of Walter Benjamin and Giorgio Agamben. Overall, the seminar concerns arguments for and against the manner in which liberal governance structures retain monarchist / absolutist features, moving quickly to early 21st century thinkers for whom the need to think beyond neoreactionary and modern/postmodern liberalism alike are imperatives for our time, including Achille Mbembe, Jasbir Puar and Reza Negarestani. In tracing, rethinking and reshaping the decisionist form, we encounter the relationship between freedom and equality, the market and the state, grappling with the paradoxes that ensue from the fact that today’s decisionism renders freedom authoritarian and equality the privilege of a few.


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