From Wolff to Kelsen: The Transformation of the Notion of Civitas Maxima


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A significant part of Kelsen’s work is devoted to the methodological separation of a theory of positive law from natural law. The predominant impression of this process is of a determination to entirely sunder the conceptual framework of positive law from any continuing reliance upon natural law. However, certain of Kelsen’s works involve the appropriation of the notion of civitas maxima from the Jus Gentium Methodo Scientifica Pertractatum (1749) of Christian Wolff. The presence of this notion immediately raises the question of the relationship between Kelsen’s theoretical framework and the specific conception of natural law developed by Christian Wolff. It is through an examination of the transformation of this notion of civitas maxima that an important aspect of Kelsen’s relationship to the natural law tradition becomes apparent. The appropriation will be traced through the initial discussion in Kelsen’s Das Problem der Souveränität und die Theorie des Völkerrechts. Beitrag Zu Einer Reinen Rechtslehre (1920/1928), and its further exposition and development in Kelsen’s 1926 Lecture Course (‘Les Rapports de Système entre le Droit Interne et le Droit International’) at the l’Académie de droit international, in the Hague. In this manner, the significant methodological divergences between a Kelsenian theory of positive law, as a theory of legal monism according primacy to international law, and the Wolffian theory of natural law, as a theory of the law of nations, will become evident. This methodological divergence, however, should not obscure a more than residual affinity between Kelsen and Wolff concerning the cosmopolitical orientation of their thought.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHans Kelsen and the Natural Law Tradition
EditorsPeter Langford, Ian Bryan, John McGarry
Place of PublicationLeiden
PublisherBrill Leiden, NL
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9789004390393
ISBN (Print)9789004390386
Publication statusPublished - 19 Mar 2019

Publication series

NameStudies in Moral Philosophy
ISSN (Print)2211-2014


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