Prof. Dr. Martin H. Geyer

States of Exception and States of Emergency in the 20th Century: The Case of India in an International Context

01 October 2022 to 31 March 2023

Research Description:

Recent decades have witnessed a multitude of declared and undeclared states of exception and states of emergency that have arisen in the context of terrorism, environmental catastrophes, economic crises, and pandemics. My project is entitled States of Exception and States of Emergency: What We Can Learn from German History, which is to culminate in the publication of a monograph for the English-language book market. I argue that Germany, in the first half of the 20th century, can be understood as a great testing ground for the quite different forms of states of exceptions that we know today, thanks to its historical experience during the Empire, the Weimar Republic, National Socialism, and the aftermath of Allied military occupation. Thus I am interested in the following points: a) the various forms and manifestations of the state of exceptions, not just in constitutional but also international and municipal law, particularly in the context of the—historically varying—nexus of these three fields; b) the intensive, theoretical arguments on this topic put forth by German scholars in the interwar period, ranging from Carl Schmitt and Ernst Fraenkel to Walter Benjamin and Emil Lederer, arguments which still define many of the parameters of our current debates; c) how liberal democracy, presidential rule, and forms of civil and military commissarial and sovereign dictatorship handle state of emergencies and at what cost; d) the formation of specific “states-of-exception mentalities,” not just in terms of bureaucratic and political practices of governments but also in terms of those who actively resisted the stifling of civil liberties. While my focus is on Germany, my approach is comparative and transnational. During my visit at the ICAS, I plan to study particularly the case pf India, focusing on the (much studied) period after World War I, the handling and repercussions of the state of emergency under Indira Gandhi from 1975 to 1977, and the more recent debates on the (post-)colonial legacies of India’s emergency rules. More specifically, I plan two essays. In one I want to frame Mahatma Gandhi’s and the Indian resistance against colonial rule into a broader picture of forms of active and passive resistance of the political left and other groups against the repercussions of the state of emergencies in the interwar period. The second essay is somewhat more difficult and ambitious (considering that I am not a specialist of the history of India) in that I will try to demonstrate by way of the case of India some broader aspects of the transformation of the political with respect to the handling of the state of emergency since World War I.


Martin H. Geyer has been Professor for Modern History at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München since 1997. His research interests and publications deal with history of social policies, political scandals, the history of capitalism and political and social theories in the 1970s and 1980s. Kapitalismus und politische Moral Oder: Wer war Julius Barmat?’ (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition 2018) is his most recent book. It deals with the political, economic and cultural history of a series of financial and political scandals in Germany, Belgium, France and the Netherlands. Forthcoming is the edited volume Sites of Modernity—Places of Risk. Risk and Security since the 1970s (New York / Oxford: Berghahn Books 2023). Currently he is working on a research project which is entitled States of Emergency – States of Exception in the 20th Century. What one may learn today from German History of the Interwar Period.

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