Rule by decree
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 dictator
A dictator is a ruler who assumes sole and absolute power but without hereditary ascension such as an absolute monarch. When other states call the head of state of a particular state a dictator, that state is called a dictatorship...

s and absolute monarchs, although philosophers such as Giorgio Agamben
Giorgio Agamben
Giorgio Agamben is an Italian political philosopher best known for his work investigating the concepts of the state of exception and homo sacer....

 have argued that it has been generalized since World War I in all modern states, including representative democracies.

The expression is also sometimes used as a pejorative and polemical hyperbole
Hyperbole is the use of exaggeration as a rhetorical device or figure of speech. It may be used to evoke strong feelings or to create a strong impression, but is not meant to be taken literally....

 when describing actions of democratic governments that are perceived to unduly bypass parliamentarian or popular scrutiny.

Rule by decree
A decree is a rule of law issued by a head of state , according to certain procedures . It has the force of law...

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

When states of emergency such as martial law
Martial law
Martial law is the imposition of military rule by military authorities over designated regions on an emergency basis— only temporary—when the civilian government or civilian authorities fail to function effectively , when there are extensive riots and protests, or when the disobedience of the 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
Constitution of France
The current Constitution of France was adopted on 4 October 1958. It is typically called the Constitution of the Fifth Republic, and replaced that of the Fourth Republic dating from 1946. Charles de Gaulle was the main driving force in introducing the new constitution and inaugurating the Fifth...

. U.S. presidential executive orders share some similarities with rule by decree.

The Lex Titia and Second Triumvirate

One of the first examples of rule by decree was in the ancient Roman Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

 when, after the assassination of Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

 in 44 BC, his successor, Gaius Octavian, general Mark Antony
Mark Antony
Marcus Antonius , known in English as Mark Antony, was a Roman politician and general. As a military commander and administrator, he was an important supporter and loyal friend of his mother's cousin Julius Caesar...

 and succeeding pontifex maximus
Pontifex Maximus
The Pontifex Maximus was the high priest of the College of Pontiffs in ancient Rome. This was the most important position in the ancient Roman religion, open only to patricians until 254 BC, when a plebeian first occupied this post...

 Aemilius Lepidus seized power in the Second Triumvirate, officially recognized by the senate
Roman Senate
The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic, however, it was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic...

 by the Lex Titia
Lex Titia
The Lex Titia was a Roman law passed on November 27, 43 BC, that legalized the Second Triumvirate of Octavian, Mark Antony, and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus...

 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
Final war of the Roman Republic
The final war of the Roman Republic, also known as Antony's civil war or the war between Antony and Octavian, was the last of the Roman civil wars of the republic, fought between Cleopatra and Octavian...

 and the total collapse of republican government.

The Reichstag Fire Decree of February 28, 1933

The most prominent example in history is the Reichstag Fire Decree
Reichstag Fire Decree
The Reichstag Fire Decree is the common name of the Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State issued by German President Paul von Hindenburg in direct response to the Reichstag fire of 27 February 1933. The decree nullified many of the key civil liberties of German...

. German President Paul von Hindenburg
Paul von Hindenburg
Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg , known universally as Paul von Hindenburg was a Prussian-German field marshal, statesman, and politician, and served as the second President of Germany from 1925 to 1934....

 was convinced by Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 to issue a decree suspending basic civil rights indefinitely. As a result of this decree, Nazi
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 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
State of emergency
A state of emergency is a governmental declaration that may suspend some normal functions of the executive, legislative and judicial powers, alert citizens to change their normal behaviours, or order government agencies to implement emergency preparedness plans. It can also be used as a rationale...

, 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
President of Mexico
The President of the United Mexican States is the head of state and government of Mexico. Under the Constitution, the president is also the Supreme Commander of the Mexican armed forces...

 of Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

, have the constitutional authority to issue emergency decrees. The President of France may rule by decree in national emergencies, subject to constitutional
Constitution of France
The current Constitution of France was adopted on 4 October 1958. It is typically called the Constitution of the Fifth Republic, and replaced that of the Fourth Republic dating from 1946. Charles de Gaulle was the main driving force in introducing the new constitution and inaugurating the Fifth...

 and other legal limitations, but this power has been used only once, by Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle
Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle was a French general and statesman who led the Free French Forces during World War II. He later founded the French Fifth Republic in 1958 and served as its first President from 1959 to 1969....

 in 1961 during the Algerian War.

Other modern political concepts, such as the French decree
A decree is a rule of law issued by a head of state , according to certain procedures . It has the force of law...

s, 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
Judicial review
Judicial review is the doctrine under which legislative and executive actions are subject to review by the judiciary. Specific courts with judicial review power must annul the acts of the state when it finds them incompatible with a higher authority...


Venezuela , officially called the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela , is a tropical country on the northern coast of South America. It borders Colombia to the west, Guyana to the east, and Brazil to the south...

n President Hugo Chávez
Hugo Chávez
Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías is the 56th and current President of Venezuela, having held that position since 1999. He was formerly the leader of the Fifth Republic Movement political party from its foundation in 1997 until 2007, when he became the leader of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela...

 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
Bolivarian Revolution
The “Bolivarian Revolution” refers to a leftist social movement and political process in Venezuela led by Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, the founder of the Fifth Republic Movement...


During the Indian Emergency from 1975 to 1977, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi
Indira Gandhi
Indira Priyadarshini Gandhara was an Indian politician who served as the third Prime Minister of India for three consecutive terms and a fourth term . She was assassinated by Sikh extremists...

 had laws passed that allowed her to rule by decree.

From September 23 (given actual effect from October 4, after the armed disbanding of the Supreme Soviet
Supreme Soviet of Russia
The Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR , later Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation was the supreme government institution of the Russian SFSR in 1938–1990; in 1990–1993 it was a permanent parliament, elected by the Congress of People's Deputies of the Russian Federation.The Supreme Soviet of...

) to December 12, 1993, rule by decree (ukase
A ukase , in Imperial Russia, was a proclamation of the tsar, government, or a religious leader that had the force of law...

s) was imposed in Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 by President Boris Yeltsin
Boris Yeltsin
Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin was the first President of the Russian Federation, serving from 1991 to 1999.Originally a supporter of Mikhail Gorbachev, Yeltsin emerged under the perestroika reforms as one of Gorbachev's most powerful political opponents. On 29 May 1990 he was elected the chairman of...

, during transition from the Russian Constitution of 1978
Russian Constitution of 1978
The Constitution of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic of 12 April 1978 was formally its supreme law.- History :At its Extraordinary Session of 12 April 1978, the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR adopted a new republican Constitution, to replace the old Russian Constitution of 1937,...

 (which was modelled after the obsolete Soviet Constitution of 1977) to the current 1993 Constitution
Constitution of Russia
The current Constitution of the Russian Federation was adopted by national referendum on 12 December 1993. Russia's constitution came into force on 25 December 1993, at the moment of its official publication...

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

Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben
Giorgio Agamben
Giorgio Agamben is an Italian political philosopher best known for his work investigating the concepts of the state of exception and homo sacer....

 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
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. According to him, this is the sign of a "generalization of the state of exception".

See also

  • Enabling act
    Enabling act
    An enabling act is a piece of legislation by which a legislative body grants an entity which depends on it for authorization or legitimacy the power to take certain actions. For example, enabling acts often establish government agencies to carry out specific government policies in a modern nation...

  • Carlos Ibáñez del Campo
    Carlos Ibáñez del Campo
    General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo was a Chilean Army officer and political figure. He served as dictator between 1927 and 1931 and as constitutional President from 1952 to 1958.- The coups of 1924 and 1925 :...

    's rule in Chile during the Presidential Republic era
  • Executive order
    Executive order
    An executive order in the United States is an order issued by the President, the head of the executive branch of the federal government. In other countries, similar edicts may be known as decrees, or orders in council. Executive orders may also be issued at the state level by a state's governor or...

  • Decree
    A decree is a rule of law issued by a head of state , according to certain procedures . It has the force of law...

  • Dictatorship
    A dictatorship is defined as an autocratic form of government in which the government is ruled by an individual, the dictator. It has three possible meanings:...

  • Article 48
    Article 48 (Weimar Constitution)
    Article 48 of the constitution of the Weimar Republic of Germany allowed the President, under certain circumstances, to take emergency measures without the prior consent of the Reichstag...

     of the 1919 constitution of Germany
    Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

     (the Weimar Constitution
    Weimar constitution
    The Constitution of the German Reich , usually known as the Weimar Constitution was the constitution that governed Germany during the Weimar Republic...

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