The Role of Recognition in Kelsen’s Account of Legal Obligation and Political Duty

David Ingram


Kelsen’s critique of absolute sovereignty famously appeals to a basic norm of international recognition. However, in his discussion of legal obligation, generally speaking, he notoriously rejects mutual recognition as having any normative consequence. I argue that this apparent contradiction in Kelsen’s estimate regarding the normative force of recognition is resolved in his dynamic account of the democratic generation of law. Democracy is embedded within a modern political ethos that obligates legal subjects to recognize each other along four dimensions: as contractors whose mutually beneficial cooperation measures esteem by fair standards of contribution; as autonomous agents endowed with equal rights; as friends who altruistically care for each others’ welfare, and as fallible agents of diverse experiences and worldviews.


democracy, obligation, law, recognition, Kelsen, sovereignty


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