Sociology Index

EXCEPTIONAL STATE

Exceptional state arises when a liberal democratic society adopts government policies that rely on the coercive power of the state, rather than trying to maintain compromises that balance conflicting interests.

Exceptional state is a departure from the usual role of democratic states and therefore exceptional. Stuart Hall used the term to describe what happened in Britain in the 1980's as economic failure led to mass unemployment, a government fiscal crisis and a loss of support among important groups; there was a legitimation crisis.

The British government fostered a sense of an enemy within the society and claimed that social instability was caused by rampant crime and militant unionists. This ‘threat’ Exceptional State and then justified giving the state coercive powers which it used to control the crisis.

The Nazi State: An Exceptional State? -Ian Kershaw
Any discussion of the character of an ‘exceptional’ state must presumably begin with a notion of what categorizes a state as ‘normal’.

My own starting assumption is to accept Max Weber’s concept of the state: ‘an administrative and legal order subject to change by legislation . . . (claiming) binding authority . . . over all action taking place in the area of its jurisdiction, . . . a compulsory organization with a territorial basis . . . (where) the use of force is regarded as legitimate only so far as it is either permitted by the state or prescribed by it’, and to see this as the basis for the ‘normal’ state, residing in ‘legal’ authority executed through a rational-bureaucratic framework. I accept, too, that the ability to sustain such a state would depend upon what Michael Mann has called its ‘infrastructural power’—‘the capacity of the state to penetrate civil society and implement logistically political decisions throughout the realm’. This is usually well developed in modern capitalist democracies, but where the capacity is weak, or fails, the consequence is the resort to ‘despotic power’, actions of the state elite undertaken ‘without routine institutionalized negotiation with civil society groups’. A state based upon despotic power, under modern capitalism, can therefore be regarded as an ‘exceptional state’. But, useful as Mann’s two-dimensional model is, it does not distinguish between types of ‘exceptional state’.

How Exceptional is the Exceptional State? Lessons form the American Case
Phil Wood, Department of Political Studies, Queen’s University
Introduction: The events of September 11, 2001 may not have changed everything, as the clich´┐Ż would have it, but the way the American state responded to those events did serve to revive interest in the politics of the exceptional state. One of the intellectual by-products of this conjuncture was increased interest in Giorgio Agamben’s work on ‘bare life’, the camp and the state of exception. This has since been used to shed light on a variety of questions, including the exceptional logic of the American ‘supermax’ prison1 and the re-engineering of social and geographical space in the Middle East2, as well as the general question of the balance between liberty and security in the context of the war-without-end on terror.

Social Control and the Rise of the 'Exceptional State' in Britain, the United States, and Canada 
Journal: Crime and Social Justice Issue:19 Dated:(Summer 1983) Pages:31-43
R S Ratner ; J L McMullan 
This paper examines the rise of the Right in Britain, the United States, and Canada, especially the ways in which crime, law and order, and punishment have been mobilized for ideological use in dealing with social crisis, and future alternatives are considered. 
Abstract: In Britain, the United States, and Canada, there has been a hegemonic response to deepening capitalist recession through the enactment of monetarist doctrine accompanied by an expansion of state powers through the elaboration of new social control ideologies.