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The laws of war and the state of the American exception


This article examines the US response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks using Carl Schmitt's concept of the exception. It argues that the Bush administration's response is consistent with Schmitt's view, which argued that US policy continued the historical practice of drawing lines that separated ‘civilisation’ from zones of exception where the normal laws governing warfare did not apply. This suggests that the state of exception declared after 9/11 is not contingent on the rise and fall of the terrorist threat, rather it is the latest manifestation of ‘global linear thinking’ and therefore a permanent feature of American hegemony. However, the article does not accept this pessimistic conclusion. US policy since 9/11 fits squarely with a Schmittian explanation only because conservative nationalists have used the war on terror to help reconstruct a sense of American ‘exceptionalism’. An alternative reading of how American liberalism should respond to terrorism can be found in the manner in which the Bush administration's policy was rejected by the US Supreme Court.

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Review of International Studies
  • ISSN: 0260-2105
  • EISSN: 1469-9044
  • URL: /core/journals/review-of-international-studies
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