Lockdown Fatigue: Pandemic from the Perspective of Nudge Theory

Some governments have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by developing policies based on ideas from behavioural psychology, especially ‘nudge theory’. But the pandemic has highlighted two important failings of ‘nudging’ – its libertarian opposition to state intervention; and its lack of any theory of psychological interiority.

First popularised by Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein and University of Chicago behavioural economist Richard Thaler, nudge theory has been credited for many policies that are common-sensical – positioning hand sanitisers in prominent locations in receptions of buildings accompanied by colourful signage will increase usage; citizens should be advised to sing happy birthday while washing their hands as this will ensure their handwashing lasts for the recommended duration; tissues might be placed within easy reach of office workers to discourage unprotected face touching; etc. Continue reading

The Problems of Genocide

I am interested in the various problems of genocide: not only the terrible fact of mass death, but also how the relatively new idea and law of genocide organises and distorts our thinking about civilian destruction. Taking the normative perspective of civilian immunity from military attack that international law and norms ostensibly prioritize, my book argues that their implicit hierarchy, atop which sits genocide as the “crime of crimes,” blinds us to other types of humanly caused civilian death, like bombing cities and the “collateral damage” of missile and drone strikes, blockades, and sanctions. In other words, talk of genocide functions ideologically to detract from systematic violence against civilians perpetrated by governments, including Western ones. Continue reading

Proportionality, Exception, and Transformation in Times of Pandemics: Expanding the Spectrum of Constitutional Relevance

As the literature on authoritarian constitutionalism and democratic decay has repeatedly remarked, there are several factors that distinguish the wave of neo-authoritarianism that currently travels the world from earlier instantiations of the genre. One of them is the fact that contemporary neo-authoritarians do not outlaw the opposition, cancel elections, shut down the media, or violently repress social discontent, but rather use softer and often legally admissible ways of advancing their agenda – generating patterns of gradual but sustained and ever deeper democratic erosion, instead of sudden collapse. A second distinguishing factor is that the current authoritarian wave affects as much “new” democracies that have experienced rule-of-law and democratic-quality problems for long, as prestigious constitutional democracies we considered to be exceedingly consolidated. There is a sort of unexpected levelling-down, “equalization-in-the-bad” component to current developments. Continue reading

Corona and the Renaissance of National Borders

“Viruses do not have a passport”, declared French President Macron[1] on 12 March 2020 in a major television address to the French people. He was particularly interested in the measures taken by neighbouring Germany which had declared the French region of “Grand Est” a “risk area” the day before. Continue reading

Gegen obrigkeits­staatliche Tendenzen in der Krise. Massive Freiheitseingriffe und deren Grundrechtliche Rechtfertigung

I. Der massiv eingreifende Staat unter grundrechtlichem Rechtfertigungsdruck

Die Grundentscheidung vor über vier Wochen, der Corona-Pandemie mit einem weitgehenden Lockdown zu begegnen, war trotz der für die Nachkriegszeit präzedenzlosen Grundrechtseinschränkungen – bei aller berechtigter Kritik an Formalitäten (siehe hier und hier) und auch einiger Einzelmaßnahmen (siehe hier und hier) – grundsätzlich verfassungsrechtlich gerechtfertigt. Mehr noch, hätten die Bundes-und Landesregierungen einen Kurs verfolgt, der auf Grundrechtsbeschränkungen verzichtet hätte und der Pandemie freien Lauf gewährt hätte, um schnellstmöglich weitreichende Immunität und damit das relativ schnelle Ende der Pandemie bei möglichst geringem wirtschaftlichen Schaden zu erreichen, wäre eine solche Lösung auf der Basis der zum Entscheidungszeitpunkt vorliegenden Datenlage möglicherweise eine verfassungswidrige Verletzung der staatlichen Schutzplicht gegenüber dem Recht auf Leben und körperlicher Unversehrtheit potentieller Opfer der Krankheit. Continue reading

Hungary’s Orbánistan: A Complete Arsenal of Emergency Powers

On 23 March 1933, an act was adopted in Nazi Germany in response to the “crisis” of the Reichstag fire to enable Hitler to issue decrees independently of the Reichstag and the presidency. Article 48 of the constitution of the Weimar Republic made this act possible. Eighty-seven years later, on 23 March 2020, the so-called ‘Enabling Act’ was put before the Hungarian Parliament. This was drafted under emergency constitutional provisions in Articles 48-54.

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The New Haven School and Psychologies of Interwar Legal Science

The widespread contemporary understanding of the New Haven School runs as follows. In the 1940s American power rises. Shrugging the formalism of international law, Hans Morgenthau, George F. Kennan and great power politics announce a new paradigm. Myres McDougal senses the zeitgeist the realists have captured and leads a ‘legal’ response. Positivist social science is instrumentally refashioned as ‘policy-science’, the lawyer policy-scientist pitched as the anti-communist power behind the throne. The story tends to be completed by one of two alternative conclusions. For some critics this ends as a story of Cold Warrior lawyers hawking a method skewed to imperial American policy. A cautionary tale of lawyers losing sight of legality in a clash between ‘realism’ and ‘legalism’.  A moral of this critical story tends to be that policy-oriented lawyers were bought out of their vocation by hegemony and neoliberalism. Continue reading