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Moritz Isenmann: “For the good and peaceful state of the city” - State of Emergency versus Rule of Law in Renaissance Florence

The state of emergency/exception is generally regarded as a phenomenon linked to the rise of the constitutional state since the 18th century. Before – the Vulgata goes – the sovereign rulers were “not bound by the laws” (legibus soluti) and therefore did not have to resort to exceptions in order to override existing norms. As I intend to show in my paper, these assumptions are erroneous: both the rule of law and the state of emergency/exception as we know it today can already be witnessed in the history of the medieval Italian city-republics. On the one hand, judges and city governments not only had to abide by statutory norms and natural law. A procedure called “syndication” was even in place with the purpose of enforcing such norms and sanctioning illegal acts committed by public officials. On the other hand, however, in times of political crisis and civic unrest, the procedure of syndication and the rule of law were suspended with reference to public expediency – “for the good and peaceful state of the city” – in order to control of public order and to crush opposition to the regimes in power. With the city of Florence as a case study, I will argue that the unresolved contradiction between the rule of law and the possibility to grant emergency powers played a decisive role in subverting the republican order and in turning the medieval city-republics into autocratic governmental systems.

About the Author

Moritz Isenmann studied in Rome and Freiburg i.Br. and completed his doctoral dissertation at the European University Institute (Florence). He is currently lecturer (Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter) of early modern history at the University of Cologne. He is author of "Die Verwaltung der päpstlichen Staatsschuld in der Frühen Neuzeit. Sekretariat, Computisterie und Depositerie der Monti vom 16. bis zum ausgehenden 18. Jahrhundert" (2005).

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