Kelsen in American Political Theory

Stephen P. Turner


Hans Kelsen’s lack of impact on political theory in the United States has been a puzzle. Kelsen arrived at a time in which several influential political ideas competed, none of which were congenial to Kelsen’s approach, and some actively opposed to it. The narrative that relativism led to Nazism; the pragmatist rejection of the fact-value distinction; the return of natural law thinking at the University of Chicago; and a very specific conflict of perspectives at Harvard, are identified as key obstacles to the acceptance of Kelsen’s view of democracy. The most important of these was associated with Carl J. Friedrich, who repeatedly attacked Kelsen, both on Kantian and Schmittian grounds.


Hans Kelsen, Carl Friedrich, John Dewey, Robert Hutchins, democratic theory, liberalism, neo-Kantianism


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