Kelsen, Quietism, and the Rule of Recognition
THE RULE OF RECOGNITION AND THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION, Matthew D. Adler, Kenneth E. Himma eds., Oxford University Press, Forthcoming
37 Pages Posted: 7 Oct 2008 Last revised: 22 Jan 2023
Date Written: October 7, 2008
Sometimes the fact that something is the law can be justified by the law. For example, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act is the law because it was enacted by Congress pursuant to the Commerce Clause. But eventually legal justification of law ends. The ultimate criteria of validity in a legal system cannot themselves be justified by law. According to H.L.A. Hart, justification of these ultimate criteria is still available, by reference to social facts concerning official acceptance - facts about what Hart calls the "rule of recognition" for the system.
Drawing upon criticisms of sociological accounts of the law that can be found in the writings of Hans Kelsen, I argue in this essay that Hart's approach cannot account for statements about the law that assert the independence of legal validity from rule of recognition facts. I offer as an alternative a legal quietist approach, which can account for such statements. For the quietist, legal justification exhausts the possible justification for law. If our judgments about the law are fundamental, in the sense that they cannot be justified by other judgments about the law, then they have no justification (which is not to say that they should be abandoned). I argue that legal quietism is exemplified - if somewhat imperfectly - in Kelsen's writings, and I end the essay by exploring some difficulties that the quietist approach must face.
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