Carl Schmitt’s Critique of the Positivist Understanding of Law: The Reconstruction of the Relationship between Law and Political Power

  • Qi Zheng


Chapter 1 analyzed some important aspects of Schmitt’s theory, the critiques of Schmitt in China and how Schmitt can potentially be of benefit to Chinese liberalism. This chapter explores Schmitt’s critique of the positivist understanding of law in a detailed and systematic way.1 In this critique, Hans Kelsen’s legal theory is Schmitt’s main target. Schmitt’s critique is mainly conducted from two perspectives: the founding and protecting moments of a constitutional order. Schmitt’s critique of the positivist understanding of law, therefore, contributes to the understanding of the relationship between law and political power or political authority in the politics of transition. ‘Political power’ and ‘political authority’ are interchangeable in this context.


Political Power Political Decision Basic Norm Legal Order Political Authority 
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  1. 7.
    Hans Kelsen, Introduction to the Problems of Legal Theory, trans. Stanley L. Paulson and Bonnie Litschewski Paulson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), p. 2.Google Scholar
  2. 10.
    Joseph Raz, ‘The Purity of the Pure Theory,’ in Essays on Kelsen, ed. Richard Tur and William Twining (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), pp. 80–1.Google Scholar
  3. 14.
    For a similar view of the relationship between Kelsen’s and Schmitt’s legal theories, see Michael Stolleis, A History of Public Law in Germany, 1914–1915, trans. Thomas Dunlap (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 144, 157.Google Scholar
  4. 16.
    Hans Kelsen, General Theory of Law and State, trans. Anders Wedberg (New York: Russell and Russell, 1961), p. 111.Google Scholar
  5. 31.
    For a similar view, see Andreas Kalyvas, ‘Popular Sovereignty, Democracy, and the Constituent Power,’ Constellations 12, no. 2 (2005), p. 232.Google Scholar
  6. 33.
    Kelsen, General Theory of Law and State, p. 116; Kelsen, Pure Theory of Law, pp. 204–5.Google Scholar
  7. 35.
    Ibid., p. 232. A similar statement could be found in Andreas Kalyvas, ‘The Basic Norm and Democracy in Hans Kelsen’s Legal and Political Theory,’ Philosophy and Social Criticism 32, no. 5 (2006), p. 580.Google Scholar
  8. 40.
    Lindahl has conducted in-depth research into Carl Schmitt’s and Hans Kelsen’s different attitudes towards the relationship between law and the state. See Hans Lindahl, ‘Democracy and the Symbolic Constitution of Society,’ Ratio Juris 11, no. 1 (1998), pp. 12–37.Google Scholar
  9. 78.
    John Locke, Two Treatises of Government (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964), p. 393.Google Scholar
  10. 80.
    Carl Schmitt, Die Diktatur: Von den Anfängen des Modernen Souveränitätsgedankens bis zum Proletarischen Klassenkampf, 6th ed. (Berlin: Duncker and Humblot, 1994), p. 41. This is my translation (as are all further citations from this text).Google Scholar
  11. 83.
    Douglas Casson, ‘Emergency Judgment: Carl Schmitt, John Locke, and the Paradox of Prerogative,’ Politics and Policy 36, no. 6 (2008).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Qi Zheng 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Qi Zheng
    • 1
  1. 1.East China Normal UniversityPeople’s Republic of China

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