The Theory of the Legal State


In this article, which has not been published before, the late Prof. du Plessis lays bare the philosophical roots of the liberal-democratic state, or the legal state, as he preferred to call it. After a recapitulative version of the theory of the legal state, het indicates the origin of this form in Greek philosophy and in Medieval thought. The stress, however, is on the Modem Era, in which he distinuishes two main periods in the development of the theory of the legal state:

  • the jusnaturalistic period and the
  • positivistic or formal period.

He argues that positivism has destroyed the original ideal o f individual freedom in facts by regarding justice as a purely formal matter susceptible to any content. All guarantees for individual freedom which rested on a universal normative system fe ll away. The state defines its own competence and limits itself to legal forms in all its activities. The legal state thus merely becomes the state, any state as determined by fixed rules o f its own making to which it binds itselfin all its functioning. Law sinks to a mere form in which the juristic personality of the state manifests its supremacy, and from this there is only one step to the concept that the state is identical with law, so that any state necessarily is a legal state, and any state action which is formally correct, is legal. The article concludes with a brief representation o f the author’s own political and legal vision.
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