Rule by decree

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search

Rule by decree is a style of governance allowing quick, unchallenged creation of law by a single person or group, and is used primarily by dictators and absolute monarchs.

The expression is also sometimes used as a pejorative and polemical hyperbole when describing actions of democratic governments that are perceived to unduly bypass parliamentarian or popular scrutiny.

Rule by decree allows the ruler to arbitrarily create law, without approval by a legislative assembly.

When states of emergency such as martial law are in place, rule by decree is common. While rule by decree is easily susceptible to the whims and corruption of the person in power, it is also highly efficient: a law can take weeks or months to pass in a legislature, but can be created with the stroke of a pen by a leader ruling by decree. This is what makes it valuable in emergency situations. Thus, it is allowed by many constitutions, among which is the French Constitution, Indian Constitution, etc. U.S. presidential executive orders share some similarities with rule by decree. In Romania Nicolae Ceausescu by 1974 was the Communist Party Leader as well as the Head of State (President). By this time he could dismiss and appoint High Court Judges, meaning that he essentially ruled by decree.[1]

The Lex Titia and Second Triumvirate

One of the first examples of rule by decree was in the ancient Roman Republic when, after the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC, his successor, Gaius Octavian (Augustus), general Mark Antony and succeeding pontifex maximus Aemilius Lepidus seized power in the Second Triumvirate, officially recognized by the senate by the Lex Titia decree. The resolution, which gave the three 'triumvirs' authoritarian powers for five years, was enacted and reinstated consecutive in 38 BC. It finally collapsed in 33/32 BC, after the downfall of Lepidus, leading to the Final war of the Roman Republic and the total collapse of republican government.

The Reichstag Fire Decree of 28 February 1933

The most prominent example in history is the Reichstag Fire Decree. German President Paul von Hindenburg was convinced by Adolf Hitler to issue a decree suspending basic civil rights indefinitely. As a result of this decree, Nazi authorities were able to constitutionally suppress or imprison their opposition, which in turn paved the way for the one-party rule of the Third Reich. The ensuing state of exception, which suspended the Constitution without repealing it, lasted until the end of the Third Reich.

Decrees in democratic regimes

Some democratic leaders, such as the presidents of Mexico, have the constitutional authority to issue emergency decrees. The President of France may rule by decree in national emergencies, subject to constitutional and other legal limitations, but this power has been used only once, by Charles de Gaulle in 1961 during the Algerian War.

Other modern political concepts, such as the French decrees, Orders in Council in the British Commonwealth and American executive orders are partially based on this notion of decrees, although they are far more limited in scope and generally subject to judicial review.

Ireland's Emergency Powers Act allows the government to rule by decree's called Emergency Powers Orders in any aspect of national life, if the parliament invokes the emergency clause in Article 28(3) of the constitution. The act however allows the lower house to void specific EPOs in a free vote or end the state of emergency at any time.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was granted executive power by the National Assembly to rule by decree for 18 months in early 2007. He intended to nationalize Venezuela's telecommunications and power industries and end foreign ownership of oil refineries as part of his Bolivarian Revolution.

During the Indian Emergency from 1975 to 1977, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had laws passed that allowed her to rule by decree.

From 23 September[2] (given actual effect from 4 October after the armed disbanding of the Supreme Soviet) to 12 December 1993, rule by decree (ukases) was imposed in Russia by President Boris Yeltsin, during transition from the Russian Constitution of 1978 (which was modelled after the obsolete Soviet Constitution of 1977) to the current 1993 Constitution

Giorgio Agamben's critique of the use of decrees-law

Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben has claimed that there has been an explosion in the use of various types of decrees (decree-law, presidential decrees, executive orders, etc.) since World War I. According to him, this is the sign of a "generalization of the state of exception".

See also


  1. Grosescu, R. (2004). The Political Regrouping of Romanian Nomenklatura during the 1989 Revolution. Romanian Journal of Society and Politics, 4(1), 97-123.
  2. Russian presidential decree №1400 (in Russian)