American Exception: Hegemony and the Dissimulation of the State

Date01 January 2018
Published date01 January 2018
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-18LjcQm0txgIWw/input 581042AASXXX10.1177/0095399715581042Administration & SocietyGood
Administration & Society
2018, Vol. 50(1) 4 –29
American Exception:
© The Author(s) 2015
DOI: 10.1177/0095399715581042
Hegemony and the
Dissimulation of the
Aaron Good1
This article is a critical examination of the dissimulation and the disaggregation
of the state in the context of U.S. hegemony. The account builds on dual state
theory which posits that alongside the “democratic state,” there exists an
authoritarian “security state.” America’s post–World War II hegemony has
been accompanied by the rise of a security state operating in a de facto state
of emergency, ostensibly to combat global Communist/terrorist conspiracy.
The term developed here to describe this phenomenon is exceptionism.
Finally, this article examines the prospect of a supra-national deep state and
theorizes about the implications of a tripartite state.
exceptionism, deep state, tripartite state, disembedding
The theory of a “dual state” posits that alongside the “democratic state” gov-
erned by constitutional logics and processes, there exists a “security state”
that functions according to logics of hierarchy, secrecy, and security. This
1Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Aaron Good, Temple University, 1690 Newtown-Langhorne Rd., PMB 4385, Newtown,
PA 18940, USA.

article seeks to empirically substantiate a disaggregation of the state that is
more severe than the “dual state” theorized by Carl Schmitt, Hans Morgenthau,
Ola Tunander, Peter Dale Scott, and others. I argue that the weight of the
evidence provides sufficient support to justify a theory of the tripartite
—a radical revision to theories pertaining to the nature of liberal demo-
cratic states. If such a state has emerged, it is essential to critically examine
the historical record so that we may understand its genesis and the prospects
for its growth or diminishment.
These questions are increasingly relevant as the U.S. government asserts
more and more powers that would seem to violate liberal Western traditions,
the U.S. Constitution, and international law (such as it is). These controver-
sial practices include mass surveillance, indefinite detention, torture, and
assassination without due process. Although some of these are relatively
recent developments in the American political experience, they have anteced-
ents in various legally dubious practices that the United States has undertaken
in the name of security. The most obvious examples of apparently illegal
policies involve innumerable violations of other nations’ sovereignty, cir-
cumvention of laws regarding arms trading, alliances with organized crime,
and suppression of constitutionally legitimate dissent. It is important to rec-
ognize that these exercises of administrative discretion have violated interna-
tional law as well as constitutional and statutory limits on executive power.
Likewise, it is crucial to note that the scale and the scope of these actions
have been typically obscured and left unadjudicated. These and other phe-
nomena form the basis for theory which places at its center the “state of
exception” and the dissimulation of the state. Ideally, such a framework may
provide useful assumptions, heuristics, and epistemology for understanding,
explaining, and even predicting political phenomena. Borrowing from schol-
ars of international politics, this article seeks to situate the discussion in the
context of the U.S. pursuit of international hegemony.
Sovereignty, Criminality, and the State
Scholars from Machiavelli to Hobbes to Weber have long acknowledged that
the state seeks to monopolize violence and thereby attain sovereignty. The
ultimate legitimacy or illegitimacy of this violence has been the subject of
much inquiry and scholarship. More recently, Charles Tilly (1985) echoed
and refined the insight that criminality is a central element of the emergence
of the state, of statecraft, and of war making. Tilly argued that if protection
rackets are the most refined operation particular to the criminal underworld,
then warfare and statecraft qualify as the grandest examples of organized
crime. Tilly is primarily concerned with the emergent state, which he argues

Administration & Society 50(1)
is an analogue of the criminal underworld. The state, by Max Weber’s famous
definition, holds a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. However,
throughout history and up to the present, states have used various tactics
more commonly associated with organized crime and have called on the ser-
vices of criminal organizations. These phenomena are ubiquitous enough to
detect in the historical record, yet they remain somewhat neglected by politi-
cal scientists, perhaps owing to the difficulty of conceptualizing and analyz-
ing processes that are not carefully and transparently documented.
Liberals would likely classify modern examples of state-sanctioned econ-
omies of violence (the slave trade, the Opium Wars, overt imperialism, etc.)
as vestiges of premodern, absolutist political forms. Liberal democracy
establishes public sovereignty and the rule of law, as opposed to the arbitrary
rule of men. Thus, liberal democracies should be expected to abolish the law-
less aspects of the absolutist state as the legal regulation of society and poli-
tics is established and extended. Although this article argues that theory has
failed to adequately address the establishment of institutionalized illiberal
forms within U.S. democracy, democratic theorists have long addressed the
issue of administrative discretion and the abandonment of strict adherence to
legally prescribed actions.
In contrast to the absolutism of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke is recognized
as a liberal theorist who privileges liberty vis-à-vis the dictates of arbitrary
authority. Neocleous (2007) argues that this interpretation of Locke is an
oversight with serious theoretical ramifications. Locke is typically character-
ized as a thinker who places sovereignty in the people through their capacity
to select representatives and make a government. To this end, the legislature
appears supreme, protecting life and liberty while precluding the exercise of
arbitrary power. However, Locke (2002) contradicts this quintessential
Lockean premise by stating that “the Executive Power” bestows discretion to
act decisively to protect the public good (p. 74). Locke states that “many
accidents may happen wherein a strict and rigid observation of the laws may
do harm” (p. 74). Locke calls this discretionary power “prerogative.” He
states in passing that this is “arbitrary power” (Locke, 2002, p. 74), but
ignores the fact that arbitrary power is exactly what his prescribed constitu-
tion is designed to prevent (Neocleous, 2007, p. 135).
It is in the context of the “emergency” that Locke most clearly abandons
the liberal path that he is credited for blazing. In essence, he invokes raison
(Neocleous, 2007, p. 137). This concept has served to legitimate virtu-
ally all actions that have been carried out in the power games between mod-
ern states, as the doctrine evolved into “interest of state,” the “security of
state,” and its present form, “national security” (Neocleous, 2007, p. 137).
Therefore, Locke places security above all, just like his supposed antithesis,

Hobbes. About this matter, Locke (2002) poses the obvious question: “But
who shall be judge when this Power is made a right use of?” (p. 77). His
answer is that if an executive exercising prerogative cannot be checked by the
legislative, “[T]here can be no judge on earth” (Locke, 2002, p. 77). In such
a case, the rulers are exercising a power that was never put into their hands,
because people can never consent to be ruled by those who would harm them
(Locke, 2002, p. 77). When such a situation exists, the people must make an
“appeal to heaven” when the moment is right (Locke, 2002, p. 77); in other
words, Locke believes that the people have a right to revolution. Outside of
overt tyranny, however, on the issue of existential security, both Locke and
Hobbes had similar views on the rights of rulers vis-à-vis legal restraints. By
leaving unspecified the limits of prerogative power, Locke served to liberal-
ize and thereby legitimize what is, in essence, the kernel of a doctrine of
absolutism (Neocleous, 2007, pp. 139-140).
Whereas Locke deemphasized this irreconcilable strain of absolutism
within his liberal theorizing, centuries later, Carl Schmitt would echo Hobbes
by grappling specifically with the absolutist dictates of security. Schmitt
wrote famously, “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception” (1922/1985,
p. 5). The “state of exception” “is not codified in the existing legal order.” It
is “characterized as a case of extreme peril, a danger to the existence of the
state.” The gravity of the state of exception is such that “it cannot be circum-
scribed factually and made to conform to a preformed law” (Schmitt,
1922/1985, p. 6). Sovereignty for Schmitt is defined by the ability to decide
when the state of exception exists and how it may be eliminated. Any liberal
constitution can hope, at best, to mandate the party with which sovereignty
rests (Schmitt, 1922/1985, p. 7). Conversely, it is also the sovereign who
decides when a normal situation exists. Laws can only exist and...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT