A Project of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research in Cooperation with the Einstein Forum, Potsdam

Berliner Colloquien zur Zeitgeschichte

Berliner Colloquienzur Zeitgeschichte

Rereading Clinton Rossiter, Constitutional DictatorshipHosted by Bernd Greiner

30 November and 1 Dezember 2012

Now and again, long since forgotten books are well worth reading again. Clinton Rossiter’s 1948 study on Constitutional Dictatorship—Crisis Government in the Modern Democracies is undoubtedly such a book. As the American historian and political scientist writes in his foreword: »This book proposes to demonstrate how the institutions and methods of dictatorship have been used by the free men of the modern democracies during periods of severe national emergency.« In other words the book administers a kind of »stress test« to modern democracies. In case studies of the Weimar Republic as well as of the crisis management in France, the United Kingdom and the United States between 1919 and 1945, Rossiter examines their political and constitutional reaction to existential challenges such as chronic economic crises, social upheaval, military threats and war. What democratic processes and constitutional rights are suspended and when, and what are the consequences of this? And once the crisis has been overcome—is a successful return to the former status quo possible at all?  

In short, Rossiter discusses problems that have re¬-emerged with unexpected urgency at the start of the twenty-first century. Whether in the United States after 9/11 or in a Europe plagued by currency and fiscal crises, the questions we are once again concerned with are how far may an executive’s privilege of power extend, when must parliament insist on its right to co-decide matters, and what kind of vote is granted to the citizenship. As such, nearly 65 years after its first appearance, Constitutional Dictatorship is still remarkably topical, since it goes to the hidden heart of present-day politics, which must find answers to challenges with no quick solution or which are even insoluble.    

Conference language was German.



Interview with Bernd Greiner

William E. Scheuerman live at the Einstein Forum