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The Development of Herman Dooyeweerd's Concept of Rights

South African Law Journal, Vol. 110, p. 543-562, 1993

11 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2011  

John Witte Jr.

Emory University School of Law

Date Written: 1993


For all his renown as a general philosopher and Christian apologist, Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977) was first and foremost a jurist. He studied law for five years at the Free University of Amsterdam and in 1917 completed his dissertation on the role of the Cabinet in Dutch public law. For three years thereafter he worked in the Dutch Department of Labour as a clerk and legislative draftsman. From 1926 until 1965 he served on the Faculty of Law of the Free University of Amsterdam, where he taught legal philosophy, legal history, and legal science. He presided over the distinguished Society of Legal (Philosophy and numerous other legal organizations. He engaged in ample and able debate with such leading jurists of his day as Giorgio del Vecchio, Georg Jellinek and Hans Kelsen, and filled his library with a vast array of legal tomes. Well over half of his 200-odd professional publications are on legal subjects.

This article focuses on one small part of Dooyeweerd's jurisprudential legacy, his concept of rights. Dooyeweerd addressed the subject of rights several times in his career, each time seeking to develop a comprehensive Calvinist concept of rights. His initial efforts led him to a rather traditional Calvinist concept of political liberties, rooted in simple theological principles. His later efforts yielded an intricate modal concept of legal competences and subjective rights, rooted in a complex philosophical system. The analysis that follows will pay particular attention to the analytical stages through which Dooyeweerd passed to develop his concept.

Keywords: Herman, Dooyeweerd, Calvin, jurisprudence, rights

Suggested Citation

Witte, John, The Development of Herman Dooyeweerd's Concept of Rights (1993). South African Law Journal, Vol. 110, p. 543-562, 1993. Available at SSRN:

John Witte Jr. (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

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Atlanta, GA 30322
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