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Overview – Hans Kelsen’s Political Realism


Hans Kelsen’s Political Realism
By Robert Schuett
Edinburgh College Press, 2021

On 21st June 1940, the SS Washington arrived in New York, having left Lisbon on 1st June. Again then, Lisbon was one of many final ports from which individuals who the Nazi regime persecuted might depart Europe, providing common steamer companies to america till 1942 (Blum and Rei 2018). The voyage in June 1940 would virtually have been the final journey of the SS Washington, as on 11th June 1940 it was stopped by a German submarine off the coast of northern Portugal. Greater than 1,000 passengers and 500 crew members got ten minutes by the submarine captain to desert ship. Frantically signalling to the submarine that they have been about to torpedo an American ship, it could ultimately be clarified that the SS Washington was not a Greek ship. Captain Harry Manning and his crew have been capable of safely cross the Atlantic and convey the primarily Americans house.

Not the entire passengers have been People although. Certainly, if that they had not clarified the error, the lifetime of a minimum of one passenger, Hans Kelsen, and his household would have been in nice hazard. It’s secure to imagine that the then practically 60 yr previous authorized scholar wouldn’t have survived the Second World Warfare and the Shoah in Europe. Kelsen was not solely Jewish but additionally an outspoken promoter of democracy and demanding of any ideology. As we be taught from Robert Schuett’s splendid new ebook Hans Kelsen’s Political Realism, this made him a goal for Nazi persecution. Being compelled to retire from his chair on the College of Cologne as a result of Legislation for the Restoration of the Skilled Civil Service from 1933, Kelsen discovered first refuge in Geneva, earlier than taking a professorship on the College of Prague in 1936. Nonetheless, he quickly needed to depart once more, as he was harassed by pro-Nazi college students. A “grotesque image of educational freedom”, he needed to have police safety with “one police officer … within the entrance row [and] a second one in the back of the lecture corridor” (p.124). After his emigration to america, Kelsen by no means regained his former standing (Scheuerman 2014). In Europe, he had been one of the crucial essential Staatsrechtler (constitutional lawyer) of the 20th century, essentially the most well-known proponent of Viennese authorized positivism, and a type of who helped draft the post-First World Warfare structure for Austria. His gradual disappearance partly had one thing to do with the unfavourable views that have been held towards him even by fellow émigrés like Waldemar Gurian (pp.18-19).

With Hans Kelsen’s Political Realism, Schuett has finished Worldwide Relations an awesome service to assist resurrect Kelsen and his thought – a minimum of in our self-discipline – from oblivion. Whereas many different émigré students, most notably Hannah Arendt and Hans Morgenthau, have been on the centre of what Oliver Jütersonke (2010, 51) as soon as referred to as a “cottage business”, Kelsen against this has acquired little consideration in our debates. This can be a grave oversight, as Kelsen was excess of a authorized positivist. Moderately, as Schuett exhibits succinctly in his ebook, Kelsen was additionally a prolific political theorist and political practitioner, as he was working in several official positions all through his life-time. His contributions to key themes of political thought like state, battle, and peace, have been guided by sensible considerations. Kelsen was a “liberal etatist” (p.5), however he was no idealist like a few of his American coevals in that he would have believed in theories like democratic peace. To introduce us to this aspect of Kelsen’s thought, Schuett first maps the mental and private constellations by which his thought developed, earlier than specializing in Sigmund Freud’s relevance for Kelsen. These chapters serve the premise for his evaluation of Kelsen’s political thought and contribution to international coverage discourses within the last chapters of the ebook.

What impressed me most in Schuett’s rereading of Kelsen is that he uncovers his relevance for worldwide politics within the twenty-first century. Contemplating the current rise of populism that proves to be an existential risk for democracies, as seen in the UK and america, Kelsen’s work is a reminder of not taking democratic foundations without any consideration and it offers an mental stimulus to replicate upon the traits of democracy. As Sandrine Baume (2013) wrote for E-Worldwide Relations, “Kelsen’s understanding of democracy has rid itself of the fictions of the final will, of political oneness, and of the target curiosity of the state; the Kelsenian understanding takes conflicts of curiosity to be the central objects of enquiry, and resolutions of those conflicts happen solely by way of compromises.” Therefore, Kelsen’s concept of democracy encourages students and political practitioners to take an energetic stand towards populists as a result of, as Nadia Urbinati (2019, 112) warns, populism “can stretch constitutional democracy towards its excessive borders and open the door to authoritarian options and even dictatorship.”

Situating Kelsen inside the mental and private constellations of his life that span over two continents, Schuett does a formidable job in resurrecting Kelsen’s thought at giant (not solely his concept of democracy) and he has finished it in a prose that I can solely want for. Like with any good, thought-provoking ebook, nonetheless, this doesn’t imply that I’d agree with all of the factors that Schuett makes. First, I’m not satisfied that these mid-twentieth century students actually had such a tragic and pessimistic outlook on the world (Rösch 2014). Definitely, they have been conscious that the world round them was belligerent and that the nation-state had become a “monster”, as Morgenthau as soon as put it. And why would they not? Theirs was a world of two world wars, of compelled migration, and of a genocide the world has by no means seen earlier than or since. Nonetheless, this doesn’t imply they have been defeatist. When Morgenthau wrote to Arendt that “we’re mental streetfighters” (Reichwein 2016, 72), he meant it. Regardless of their epistemological and methodological variations, this group of émigré students have been additionally political activists (admittedly, not at all times profitable ones), however they knew out of their very own bitter experiences that democracies want energetic political engagement past the college boundaries. They’d not have finished that, if they didn’t imagine that change is feasible (Reichwein and Rösch 2021).

Second, and it is a extra basic level, over time I’ve turn out to be cautious in utilizing the time period “realism”. It has finished extra hurt than good. On the one hand, many within the self-discipline nonetheless have a really crude picture of what mid-twentieth century realist scholarship stood for. Alternatively, it conflates the considered these émigrés with the considered American neo-realist students like Kenneth Waltz and John Mearsheimer. The final chapter of Schuett’s ebook discusses Kelsen in relation to Morgenthau and Waltz and Mearsheimer to an extent that I can’t observe. If the considered Waltz and Mearsheimer is meant to be realist, then Kelsen, Morgenthau, or Arendt have been no realists and vice-versa. I don’t see a lot of a connection between these two theories. However then once more, I’m not even certain on the subject of their examine of (worldwide) politics that these émigré students wished to deliver ahead a “concept”. Their methodologies and epistemologies have been simply too numerous, however what united them was a (self-)reflexivity to supply a important corrective of the politics of their time and to guard democracies. In the long run, because of this whereas variations need to be acknowledged and they need to be given the chance to be voiced, these mid-twentieth century students additionally looked for a typical floor that may solely come to the fore in these expression of variations or “discussions” as Morgenthau (2012, 126) appreciated to name them.

Having mentioned that, Hans Kelsen’s Political Realism is a vital and well timed ebook that gives us with one other piece so as to add to the jigsaw that mid-twentieth century transatlantic thought nonetheless is and from which there’s nonetheless a lot to be taught.


Baume, S. (2013). Hans Kelsen and the Case for Democracy. E-Worldwide Relations.

Blum, B. and Rei, C. (2018). Escaping Europe: well being and human capital of Holocaust refugees. European Overview of Financial Historical past, 22(1), 1-27.

Jütersonke, O. (2010). Morgenthau, Legislation and Realism. Cambridge: Cambridge College Press.

Morgenthau, H.J. (2012). The idea of the political. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Reichwein, A. (2016). The duty of the intellectuals in instances of political disaster. Med Andre Ord, 9(3), 72-74.

Reichwein, A. and Rösch, F. (eds.) (2021). Realism. A Distinctively twentieth Century European Custom. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Rösch, F. (2014). Pouvoir, puissance, and politics: Hans Morgenthau’s dualistic idea of energy?. Overview of Worldwide Research 40(2), 349-365.

Scheuerman, W.E. (2014), “Professor Kelsen’s Wonderful Disappearing Act”, in: F. Rösch (ed.), Émigré Students and the Genesis of Worldwide Relations. A European Self-discipline in America?, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 81-102.

Schuett, R. (2021). Hans Kelsen’s Political Realism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh College Press.

Urbinati, N. (2019). Political concept of populism. Annual Overview of Political Science, 22, 111-127.

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