The Criteria of Constitutional Dictatorship

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Extract from: Clinton L. Rossiter: Constitutional Dictatorship – Crisis Government in the Modern Democracies, 1948)

The Criteria of Constitutional Dictatorship

THE facts of history demonstrate conclusively that constitutional dic-

tatorship has served repeatedly as an indispensable factor in the main-

tenance of constitutional democracy. For all the formidable dangers

they present, for all the knotty problems they pose, the accepted institu-

tions of constitutional dictatorship are weapons which the democracies

will henceforth renounce at their own peril. In the Atomic Age upon

which the world is now entering, the use of constitutional emergency

powers may well become the rule and not the exception. This may not be

a happy prospect, but it is a very possible one. This brings the free people

of this earth face to face with some perplexing problems. I Tow are they

to insure that emergency powers will preserve and not destroy their

liberties and free government? How are they to make their system of

government better prepared for the shock of future crises? In short,

how are they to maximize the efficiency and minimize the dangers of

constitutional dictatorship? These are questions which can be answered

only in the most general terms. There is no set formula for the success

of the basic principle or any one of the major or minor institutions of

constitutional dictatorship, any more than there is one for the regular

procedures of constitutional government. The present discussion will

nevertheless attempt to do two things : first, offer the American people

(or any other free people, for that matter) certain criteria with which

9 Cecil T. Carr: Concerning English Administrative Law (New York, 1941), p. 165.

to test the worth and propriety of any future resort to emergency pow-

ers in their behalf ; and second, put forward a few suggestions for the

more precise and candid institutional ization of American constitutional

In the first chapter of this book the ends of constitutional dictator-

ship were broadly defined as the preservation of the independence of

the state, the maintenance of the existing constitutional order, and the

defense of the political and social liberties of the people; and the precise

duty of constitutional dictatorship was summed up in the simple pre-

cept: end the crisis and restore normal times. With these ends in

mind, the essential criteria of constitutional dictatorship may be pre-

sented and analyzed. No institution of constitutional dictatorship will

ever conform perfectly to all of these prescriptions, but the complete

disregard of any one of them is also a disregard of the theory of con-

stitutional emergency powers and the fundamental principles of democ-

racy. A free people should certainly be educated and encouraged to de-

mand that the use of emergency powers in their defense conform to

these standards. In general, they may be separated into three categories :

those criteria by which the initial resort to constitutional dictatorship

is to be judged, those by which its continuance is to be judged, and

those to be employed at the termination of the crisis for which it was

instituted. In the first category may be considered the following :

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