Autonomy and Instrumentality of Law in a Superstructural Perspective

Acta Juridica Hungarica, 40 (1999) 3-4, 213-235, 1999

23 Pages Posted: 31 Jan 2014 Last revised: 3 Feb 2014

See all articles by Csaba Varga

Csaba Varga

Hungarian Academy of Sciences Institute for Legal Studies; Pázmány Péter Catholic University Department of Legal Philosophy

Date Written: January 1, 1999


The concepts of "basis" and "superstructure" were formulated by Marx neither as categories of reality (i.e. as definition of existence) nor as categories of cognition (i.e. as definition transforming interconnections of reality into laws), but as economical expression of working hypotheses, metaphorically and didactically simplified for casual purposes. Their treatment as a pair of theoretical categories and their oversimplifying utilization started only with Engels. Eventually, the vulgarization sprung therefrom made even Engels mark off himself from it and, as contrasted to the final determination by the economic sphere as overemphasized by Marx, made Engels draw the attention to the dialectics of re-action as well. Stalin re-interpreted superstructure by catechizing that it "necessarily" "corresponds" to "its" base; its only "role" is to "serve" its "own" base; in consequence, it has a "class-character", reduced to the exclusive "service" of the "ruling class". In other words, with Stalin the categories of basis and superstructure turned out to be the basic categories of social sciences that have, beyond the economic sphere, negated all kinds of specificites by reducing superstructure to a mere reflex phenomenon. That dogmatism has simply negated the possibility of both inter-action between differing superstructures and the fact that superstructures could grow into one another whilst the change of the economic basis. All in all, Stalin's categorical standpoint has exerted a devastating effect on theoretical development by deservedly questioning both the theoretical message and interpretability of the Marxian idea itself.

As Lukács attempted at explaining it in his posthumous Towards the Ontology of Social Being, inspired by Marx's basic methodological idea (for a jurisprudential analysis of its philosophical background, see, from the author, "The Place of Law in Lukács' World Concept", Akadémiai Publ., Budapest 1985/1998, 2nd ed. Szent István Társulat, Budapest, 2012), the metaphorical expression of "basis" and "superstructure" can only be understood within the totality approach in a reasonable way, as a primitive formulation of the unbroken inter-action taking place among the complexes making up social totality, and of the over-riding role of the economic sphere within this inter-action. At the same time, however, inter-action can only take place on the basis of the ever growing specificity of each and every complex. In consequence, with the progress of social development, the individual complexes will react to the impetuses arrived at from the outside in a more and more specific way, i.e. in their own manner. In the field of law, where a series of formal means is expected to function according to pre-formalized requirements of substance and procedure, in most of the cases reaction is taking place, instead of the formal establishment or modification of the formal means, through the manipulated functioning of those means. Notwithstanding, in an ontological reconstruction, the continuous manipulation of the functioning of means presupposes and, at the same time, also results in the continuous shaping and re-formation of the actual characteristic (i.e. social meaning and significance) of the means in question.

Keywords: law, economic basis, superstructure, Marx, Engels, Lukács, dogmatism and its breakdown

JEL Classification: K10, B14, B24

Suggested Citation

Varga, Csaba, Autonomy and Instrumentality of Law in a Superstructural Perspective (January 1, 1999). Acta Juridica Hungarica, 40 (1999) 3-4, 213-235, 1999, Available at SSRN:

Csaba Varga (Contact Author)

Hungarian Academy of Sciences Institute for Legal Studies ( email )


Pázmány Péter Catholic University Department of Legal Philosophy ( email )

Szentkirályi u. 28
Budapest, 1088

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