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Constitutional Dictatorship: Crisis Government in the Modern Democracies Paperback – September 1, 2002

3.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Clinton Rossiter (1917-1970) Cornell, A.B. 1939, Princeton, Ph.D., 1942, held Cornell's John L. Senior Chair in Government and was the author of numerous books, including The Supreme Court and the Commander-in-Chief (1951); Conservatism in America (1955); The American Presidency (1956); Marxism: The View from America (1960); and The American Quest 1790-1860 (1971).


William J. Quirk is professor of law at the School of Law of the University of South Carolina. His earlier work on this subject appeared in Society.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 330 pages
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers; Revised edition (September 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765809753
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765809759
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #415,343 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Following the terror attacks of September 11, it seemed only a matter of time until Clinton Rossiter's classic comparative study of emergency powers, Constitutional Dictatorship (1948), would regain prominence in the United States. Rossiter's book a time the best historical resource on emergency powers and despite a flood of commentaries remains the best. Even in the months following the attacks, after a short season of citation by commentators across the American ideological spectrum, bandied about as a guide to crisis the book was soon reissued with a new introduction and a provocative new dust-jacket depicting the burning remnants of the World Trade Center set against an image of the U.S. Constitution, defacing the inscription "We the People." Rossiter's warning that "all uses of emergency powers and all readjustments in the organization of the government" should be "in pursuit of constitutional or legal requirements" resonates today in the open-ended "War on Terror." Indeed, considering the frequency of the exercise of emergency powers around the world, Rossiter's book has remained relevant in the half century since it was first published. Its pioneering methodology of comparative constitutionalism as a framework for studying emergency governance was actually well ahead of its time. The examples Rossiter drew upon have become the classic case studies: the Roman Republic and four modern democracies. Among other things, Rossiter's work is a classic defense of domestic formalism, drawing more often than not on the Republican tradition.

However, in other ways, Constitutional Dictatorship whose first edition put its cogent arguments to rest in 1948 reappears today as an intellectual Rip Van Winkle; the world it awakes in today would scarcely be recognizable to the author.
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Format: Paperback
As a fair warning, the edition I purchased was a reprint from the 1960s, so unfortunately I do not have do not have the introduction by William J. Quirk. Fortunately, the new introduction is freely available on the Google Books edition. In all other regards, it appears to be the same text as was originally published in 1948. At a little over three hundred pages, it is a relatively quick read and Rossiter avoids the curse of many political writers in delving too far into obscure terminology for the casual or new reader to understand.

In this book, Rossiter tries to solve an age old question: how do republics, rooted in the idea of limited, representative government, react to crises of the moment when a response is demanded sooner than free debate can produce one? Rossiter's answer is that we have always turned to one form or another of executive power which operates outside of the normal restrictions of law. It is important to note that within Rossiter's mind, these steps outside the law are not a violation of it, but rather an essential guardian thereof. To him, it was important that we accept unanticipated crises will occur, and that any government that seeks to retain its republican form in the long-term must provide constitutional legitimacy to emergency uses of power so that they become a normal, regulated part of government.

To support his view, he provides five historical examples (one ancient, four modern): ancient Rome, Weimar Germany, France, Great Britain, and the Civil War. He paints with broad brushstrokes the historical background of each state he covers, but is not so short as to be curt.
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What a piece of work. This guy uses some of the most tortured reasoning to attempt to justify Lincoln's totally unconstitutional war on our Federal Republic by marching a northern arm into the South and killing over one million persons in the process. But anyone who has an understanding of history (which he apparently is counting on the reader NOT having) recognizes his tactics and the unsoundness of his reasoning.

For example, he attempts to make a case basically for un-written rules or laws or practices that are justified to be used by leaders in times of crises. He tries to show how the Romans, when they were threatened, would select a person they thought capable of meeting the crises and giving him dictatorial powers to meet the crises.

The problem is that this "Proconsul" (or dictator) did NOT assume these powers himself. These powers were given him by the Roman Senate. No such thing happened with Lincoln. As a matter of fact, he did not call congress into session for the several months it took him to overthrow the Federal Republic and establish a Dictatorship. He had telegraphed how he would deal with any resistance to what he had done by having many newspapers that defended the south destroyed and having their editors arrested (again, unconstitutionally according to the Chief Justice of These United States at the time Roger B Taney - but Lincoln threatened to imprison the chief justice and posted a guard outside his home to make sure he did not hold any type of court) and thrown into prison. He also arrested and imprisoned ANYONE who spoke out against his actions.
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