Home Today Overview – Hans Kelsen’s Political Realism

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 may go away Europe, providing common steamer providers to the USA 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 had been about to torpedo an American ship, it could finally be clarified that the SS Washington was not a Greek ship. Captain Harry Manning and his crew had been capable of safely cross the Atlantic and produce the primarily Americans house.

Not the entire passengers had been People although. Certainly, if they’d not clarified the error, the lifetime of at the least one passenger, Hans Kelsen, and his household would have been in nice hazard. It’s secure to imagine that the then almost 60 yr previous authorized scholar wouldn’t have survived the Second World Conflict and the Shoah in Europe. Kelsen was not solely Jewish but in addition an outspoken promoter of democracy and important of any ideology. As we be taught from Robert Schuett’s splendid new e book Hans Kelsen’s Political Realism, this made him a goal for Nazi persecution. Being pressured to retire from his chair on the College of Cologne because of the Regulation 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 go away 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 behind the lecture corridor” (p.124). After his emigration to the USA, 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, probably the most well-known proponent of Viennese authorized positivism, and a kind of who helped draft the post-First World Conflict structure for Austria. His gradual disappearance partly had one thing to do with the detrimental views that had been held in opposition to him even by fellow émigrés like Waldemar Gurian (pp.18-19).

With Hans Kelsen’s Political Realism, Schuett has accomplished Worldwide Relations a terrific service to assist resurrect Kelsen and his thought – at the least 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 obtained 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 e book, 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, conflict, and peace, had been guided by sensible issues. 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 facet of Kelsen’s thought, Schuett first maps the mental and private constellations through 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 e book.

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 the USA, 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 compromises.” Therefore, Kelsen’s concept of democracy encourages students and political practitioners to take an energetic stand in opposition to 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 throughout the mental and private constellations of his life that span over two continents, Schuett does a formidable job in resurrecting Kelsen’s thought at massive (not solely his concept of democracy) and he has accomplished it in a prose that I can solely want for. Like with any good, thought-provoking e book, nonetheless, this doesn’t imply that I might 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 had been conscious that the world round them was belligerent and that the nation-state had changed into a “monster”, as Morgenthau as soon as put it. And why would they not? Theirs was a world of two world wars, of pressured migration, and of a genocide the world has by no means seen earlier than or since. Nonetheless, this doesn’t imply they had 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 had 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 accomplished that, if they didn’t imagine that change is feasible (Reichwein and Rösch 2021).

Second, and this can be a extra basic level, over time I’ve grow to be cautious in utilizing the time period “realism”. It has accomplished 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. Then again, 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 e book discusses Kelsen in relation to Morgenthau and Waltz and Mearsheimer to an extent that I can not comply with. If the considered Waltz and Mearsheimer is meant to be realist, then Kelsen, Morgenthau, or Arendt had 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 positive in relation to their research of (worldwide) politics that these émigré students needed to carry ahead a “concept”. Their methodologies and epistemologies had been simply too numerous, however what united them was a (self-)reflexivity to supply a essential corrective of the politics of their time and to guard democracies. Ultimately, which means that whereas variations must be acknowledged and they must be given the chance to be voiced, these mid-twentieth century students additionally looked for a standard floor that may solely come to the fore in these expression of variations or “discussions” as Morgenthau (2012, 126) favored to name them.

Having mentioned that, Hans Kelsen’s Political Realism is a crucial and well timed e book 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, Regulation 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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