Die Rechtspersönlichkeit des Staates

Ulrich Häfelin

Ulrich Häfelin, Die Rechtspersönlichkeit des Staates – Dogmengeschichtliche Darstellung (alles Erschienene), Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1959, pp. 355-404.

Introduction/Historical Situation and Systematic Context

In 1959 and 1961, Ulrich Häfelin received his doctorate and his venia legendi at the University of Zurich, being a scholar of Zaccaria Giacometti. On both occasions he had selected the subject in case, i.e. on the juridical personality of the state. This primary doctrine had not been developed in Switzerland, nor adapted to Swiss circumstances, even though it represented a major theme and problem in other European countries. The question, whether to attribute a specific personality to the State, has been vividly debated and controversialy discussed in France and Germany, in post Second World War times.

Ulrich Häfelin must have been a dedicated lecturer and benevolent conveyor of many young talented jurisprudents, studying at the University of Zurich. “Als Häfelin seine Lehrtätigkeit aufnahm, dominierten ‘Vorlesungen’ im wörtlichen Sinn, welche die Funktion der Studierenden weitgehend auf das Zuhören und Aufschreiben reduzierten. Häfelin wollte vom professoralen Monolog im Hörsaal wegkommen. Er rang sich, früher als viele seiner Kollegen, zu einer (heute beinahe selbstverständlich gewordenen) Unterrichtsform durch, die den Dialog mit dem Publikum sucht und es zur aktiven Teilnahme und zum kritischen Fragen motiviert. Das erfordert Lehrmittel, die eine seriöse Vorbereitung auf jede Unterrichtsstunde erlauben” (Walter Haller, in: Neue Zürcher Zeitung vom 11. Mai 2016).

Content, Abstracts/Conclusions, Insights, Evidence

The first planned, but only achieved volume about the subject of the juridical personality of the state, as it has been elaborated by Ulrich Häfelin, contains the history of the dogma, represented in a historical and compared perspective. The author proved an encyclopaedic overview of the history of ideas in modern times, as well as over the theory building in European countries, i.e. Germany, France and Italy. The concept of the juridical personality of the state has been rejected by many jurisprudents, in Switzerland especially by Albert Affolter, Walther Burckhardt, and Zaccaria Giacometti, as in France by Léon Duguit, Louis Le Fur, Georges Scelles, and Henri Berthélemy, in Italy, whereas in Germany it has been adopted by most eminent legal thinkers, favoured by Johann Caspar Bluntschli, Otto von Gierke, Hugo Preuss, Carl Friedrich von Gerber, Paul Laband, and Georg Jellinek (but rejected by Otto Mayer). A very specific function has been designed to the concerning dogma by Hans Kelsen, in the context of his Pure Theory of law. Häfelin was very sensitive about the particular context of theory building and clearly discerns the arguments for and against the adoption and acceptance of the dogmatic figure or fiction in case (according to the respective standpoint).

For further reading, we have selected the appendix, where Ulrich Häfelin deals with the rejection of the doctrine of the juridical personality of the state in the different European countries, including Switzerland. Faithful to his approach as a historian of the history of ideas, the author does not want to draw any thesis. In conclusion, the question is risen, whether the theory can be considered as a unique entity, or rather has to be devised and partitioned into a set of specified questions. Häfelin doubts, “in welchem Mass bei den Wandlungen, die der Begriff der Staatsperson in den verschiedenen Schulrichtungen durchgemacht hat, doch noch von einer Einheit des Dogmas die Rede sein kann”. This could be the conclusion of a sceptical thinker, comparing theories using the same notion without attributing the same meaning to them. However, the problem is more deeply rooted. “In der Entwicklung der Staatspersönlichkeitstheorien fällt zunächst auf, dass mit fortschreitender Zeit dem Begriff der Rechtspersönlichkeit des Staates eine immer grössere Bedeutung zugemessen wurde. [...] Die Zunahme der rechtssystematischen Bedeutung findet ihr Gegenstück im Anwachsen des Geltungsbereiches der Persönlichkeitskonstruktion im Verhältnis zum umfassenden Staatsbegriff. [...] Die Fortführung des Staatspersönlichkeitsdogmas durch die verschiedenen Epochen und Rechtsschulen hindurch bedeutet nicht nur eine Weiterentwicklung und intensivere Ausgestaltung dieser Staatskonstruktion. Vielfach lag darin ein innerer Strukturwandel der Auffassung von der juristischen Staatssubjektivität. [...] Von den einzelnen Schulrichtungen wurde der Begriff der Rechtspersönlichkeit des Staates auf diese Weise in völlig verschiedenartige Systemzusammenhänge gestellt”. The very problematic character of this doctrine lies in the various possibilities to establish a conception of the relationship between the state in the sense of rule of law and elements or moments that exist beyond the legal order. Or in other words it consists in the different conceptualisations of the relation between the legal state and the social community.

The conclusion, whereupon the doctrine does not represent a coherent historical development, but rather a change within the structure of scientific conceptualisation of the rule of law, or the state based on the legal order, expresses the degeneration of a dogma and its diversification into a set of axiomatic structures, or in one word a change in paradigms. This situation resembles the one diagnosed and analysed in the domain of sovereignty, a core term of the entire construction of public order, i.e. the connection between state power and legal order, as it has been elaborated and documented by Michael Walter Hebeisen (Souveränität in Frage gestellt – Die Souveränitätslehren von Hans Kelsen, Carl Schmitt and Hermann Heller im Vergleich (dissertation thesis at the University of Berne, 1994), Baden-Baden: Nomos, 1995). The very same way, the dogma of sovereignty disappeared as a founding concept, because it has been replaced by a set of axiomatic scientific structures by ongoing development of modern jurisprudence in the twentieth century, the theory of the legal personality of the state also has undergone fundamental changes and has eventually become undefinable to some extent.

Further Information About the Author

Ulrich Häfelin, born on 26 March 1923, died on 2 May 2016, after having prepared his promotion with Zaccaria Giacometti in 1959 handed in his habilitation thesis on the same subject in 1961 at the University of Zurich. In 1969 he was nominated as an extraordinary professor of public law, and from 1972 until his retirement in 1990 he was an academic teacher, inspiring and influencing many scholars in jurisprudence. Together with Dietrich Schindler (junior), he also was a founding director of the “Institut für Völkerrecht und ausländisches Verfassungsrecht“ at the University of Zurich.

Selected Works of the Same Author

Ulrich Häfelin/ Walter Haller: Schweizerisches Bundesstaatsrecht – Ein Grundriss, Zürich: Schulthess Polygraphischer Verlag, 4. ed. 1998 (with a supplement volume: Die neue Bundesverfassung, 2000).


You can find a scan (PDF) of the original text here: Häfelin Rechtspersönlichkeit0001