The Review of Austrian Economics

, Volume 29, Issue 3, pp 315–326 | Cite as

Does belief in objective morality lead to coercion? An analysis of the arguments of Kelsen and Buchanan

  • Niclas Berggren


Two leading scholars of the 20th century – Hans Kelsen and James Buchanan – both suggested that belief in an objective morality entails a disparaging attitude towards political and individual freedom. The main point was similar: Why let people decide for themselves, whether in politics or ordinary life, if what is objectively right is known? This paper presents their arguments and evaluates them, both by specifying three conditions that need to be met for the arguments to hold (the objective morality must be believed to be known, a belief in a known morality must entail a motivation to see it followed and the content of the known morality must not block coercion) and by relating them to recent experimental research (which nevertheless provides some empirical support).


Knowledge Morality, Metaethics Freedom Coercion Democracy 

JEL Classification

D72 D83 Z10 



I wish to thank Christian Bjørnskov and Hartmut Kliemt for excellent comments, and Torsten Söderberg’s Foundation and the Swedish Research Council for financial support.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN)StockholmSweden
  2. 2.Department of Institutional, Environmental and Experimental Economics (KIE)University of Economics in PraguePragueCzech Republic

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