Die Verfassung als rechtliche Grundordnung des Staates – Untersuchungen über die Entwicklungstendenzen im modernen Verfas­sungsrecht

Werner Kägi

Werner Kägi, Die Verfassung als rechtliche Grundordnung des Staates – Untersuchungen über die Entwicklungstendenzen im modernen Verfas­sungsrecht (Habilitationsschrift Universität Zürich), Zürich: Polygraphi­scher Verlag, 1945.


In his youth, Werner Kägi was influenced by national-socialist ideology in his dissertation thesis from 1937, entitled “Zur Entstehung, Wandlung und Problematik des Gewaltenteilungsprinzipes”, as he belonged to the movement of so-called frontists, i.e. he was a leading member of the Swiss “national front”. “Mit dabei war Werner Kägi nicht etwa als einer von vielen Mitläufern, sondern als Angehöriger der Kerntruppe, das heisst: in weit stärkerem Mass engagiert, als bisher angenommen worden ist und als er selbst je zugegeben hat. / Der junge Kägi war mindestens in den Jahren 1932 bis 1935 Mitglied der ‘Neuen Front’ und dann der ‘Nationalen Front’ und gehörte zu den ideologischen Vordenkern dieser Organisationen. Er verharmloste die nationalsozialistische Gewaltpolitik, wollte mit einer ‘totalen Mobilmachung’ über eine ständestaatliche Verfassungsreform die Schweiz in ein neues Zeitalter überführen, und er sah im Antisemitismus seiner Organisation keinen Grund zu Distanzierung. [...] Frontist in Jugendjahren – Verteidiger der Menschenrechte in fortgeschrittenen Jahren: Wie passt das zusammen? Es passt nicht zusammen, kann in einem Leben aber durchaus vereinigt sein. [...] Der Positionswechsel zwischen Dissertation und Habilitationsschrift könnte auf einen radikalen Bruch mit der Vergangenheit hinweisen. Kägi hielt aber noch einige Zeit am Vokabular und damit am Gedankengut der ‘Vorzeit’ fest” (see Georg Kreis: Der Staatsrechtler Werner Kägi war in jungen Jahren ein Frontist, in: Neue Zürcher Zeitung vom 11th November 2013).

This issue does matter, indeed, because it sheds a bright light on the pessimistic inclination of the author, on the allegation of a crisis of the very idea of the constitution, on the decline of normativity in the legal order, both diagnosed by the author, as well as on the author’s assertion of the political character of constitutional law. It also explains the inadequacy of the used terminology to the discussed problems, even if it cannot excuse this lack of conceptual accuracy. Conceptual terminology is replaced by everyday language, as the problems addressed are mere common-place. This analysis, however, does not provide a sound foundation for the re-construction of a constitutional order in the post Second World War period.

Historical Situation and Systematic Context

Even if Werner Kägi intented to express a distance to what he calls literature of the legal crisis (as identified in Carl Hilty, Eduard His, William Rappard, Walther Burckhardt), he is deeply affected by his own pathology of the overall situation of constitutional order and legal order itself, and it is not to expect that such a faulty analysis and diagnosis could include reasons that would help to positively heal the patient. The possibility of a constitution as the founding document of a legal order is even doubted. The fact that the author uses the term of “Grundgesetz” must have contributed to the fact, that the habilitation thesis did have a great influence on the ideas of the founding fathers of the Constitution of the West German Republic of Bonn.

Consequently, however not in the deeper causes, the argumentation provided by Werner Kägi does resemble the attitudes of Hans Huber, who with his eclectic and changing opinions has contributed much to the post-war impression of uncertainty and insecurity regarding the constitutional order. Analysis and diagnosis itself can be part of the problem, as a self-fulfilling prophecy. For instance, Carl Schmitt and Friedrich Nietzsche are cited as authorities by the author, even in his habilitation thesis. In the domain of concepts, pluralism, self-differentiation of society and dynamic tendencies are understood as endangerment of legal order, in particular of constitutional order. However, this danger does only occur due to the inadequate instruments and conceptions of analysis; but instead to develop and establish a new conceptual context, the antique terminology has endeavoured to prove the corruption of existing order. Postulated by self-professed representative of ethical judgment, the menaces to constitutional order become enemies and demons that have to be fought and defeated. This is just an example of the militant, bellicose terminology adopted by the author. If a scientific author speaks of “Verfassungsdämmerung”, this must refer to “Götterdämmerung” as understood in the German mythical world of Richard Wagners musical dramas; only it does not contribute to enlighten the twilight of mythical shades by a rational scientific approach. Afflicted by these defects the discussed writing serves more as a symptomatic example of post-World War II low point of constitutional jurisprudence, in our view.

Content, Abstracts/Conclusions, Insights, Evidence

As an excerpt of this prominent and principal writing by Werner Kägi, we have selected the passage, where the author debates the relation between the constitution and democracy (later he should write a second contribution to this theme, see no. 6.6 of this Legal Anthology). That is to say, we skip the supposed reasons for the constitutional malaise and the praise of political jurisprudence to overcome the crisis (in allusion to the concept of politics as it has been established by Carl Schmitt, with its friend-enemy dichotomy). Although the question has much to do with the so-called decisionistic attitude of “the political” (in the sense attributed by Schmitt) in juxtaposition to the normative, rule-based legal order. The immanent tension between the rule of law and democracy is not bridged, but rather sharpened to become a radical discrepancy. Reading the opening period of the 7th chapter, it is mere cynicism to make allusion to the organic unity of both principles as stated as an ideal by Fritz Fleiner. Moreover, one has to take into consideration that Zaccaria Giacometti was the scholar of this eminent legal thinker, and still was in charge, when Werner Kägi applied for the venia legendi at the University of Zurich.

Werner Kägi identifies a backstroke of the normative principles, of the rule of law in confrontation with democratic decisions in the sense of decisionism. Apparently the decisionistic approach to a solution is favoured over the normative attitude, that is disqualified as autocratical. Such misleading sentences should not only be accepted anymore today, however, they should have been sanctioned even more in post Second World War time. Legal positivism is equalised with the “positivism of life”, i.e. objectively existing values, according to the author; this is just another example for a fully inadequate terminology dealing with question of great importance. “In Praxis und Theorie hat ziemlich allgemein die Lehre vom allmächtigen, durch keine Norm beschränkten und beschränkbaren pouvoir constituant Anerkennung gefunden”. One remains uncertain, whether the author favours or criticises this inclination, that cannot stand alone without being contradicted. In fact, this tendency is not approved and appears simply faulty, wrong. What should the pretended voluntaristic turn contribute to the solution of the proposed question, thus? To mention the theory of Jean-Jacques Rousseu in the context of decisionistic decline of the rule of law.

“So hat die Verfassung gerade auch in der Demokratie die grosse Aufgabe, das Abgleiten in den Absolutismus zu verhindern. [...] Aber dennoch kann und muss auch dieser neue Ausgleich von Autorität und Freiheit in den Grundlinien in der klaren, festen Form einer grundgesetzlichen Normordnung verankert werden”. Werner Kägi, after having accused the weakness of the constitutional order, is hoping for the efficacy of a strong “fundamental statute”, in the concluding passage. Unfounded the analysis and diagnosis, this hope remains unfounded, too, however.

In an essay from 1953, Werner Kägi repeatedly dealt with the matter, and tried to come to a synthesis of rule of law and democracy; however, on the basis of antinomies no logical synthesis could ever be validly concluded, rather the necessary conclusion will be provided by further historical development (compare no. 6.6 of this Legal Anthology).

Further Information About the Author

Werner Kägi, born on 26 August 1909 in Biel, died on 4 October 2005 in Zurich, completed his studies in jurisprudence and theology in Zurich, Berlin (with Dietrich Bonhoeffer), and London. In 1937 he handed in his promotion at the University of Zurich (with Zaccaria Giacometti). By the end of the Second World War he published a widely recognised habilitation thesis, entitled „Die Verfassung als rechtliche Grundordnung des Staates. From 1952 to 1979 he signed as an ordinary professor for public law, international law and church law at the University of Zurich. In 1973 he received a doctorate honoris causa from the University of Berne.

For more information, please consult:

Walter Haller: Werner Kägi, in: Staatsrechtslehrer des 20. Jahrhunderts, Deutschland, Österreich, Schweiz, Berlin: De Gruyter, 2015, pp. 779 ss.;

Felix Renner: Der Verfassungsbegriff im staatsrechtlichen Denken der Schweiz im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert (Dissertation Universität Zürich), Zürich: Schulthess & Co., 1968, pp. 479 ss.

Selected Works of the Same Author

Werner Kägi: Zur Entstehung, Wandlung und Problematik des Gewaltenteilungsprinzipes (Dissertation Universität Zürich, 1937); Idem: Persönliche Freiheit, Demokratie und Föderalismus, in: Die Freiheit des Bürgers im schweizerischen Recht, Festgabe zur Hundertjahrfeier der Bundesverfassung, Zürich: Polygraphischer Verlag, 1948, pp. 53 ss.; Idem: Zur Entwicklung des schweizerischen Rechtsstaates, in: Zeitschrift für Schweizerisches Recht – Centenarium 1852-1952, Basel: Helbing & Lichtenhahn, 1952, pp. 173 ss.; Idem: Rechtsstaat und Demokratie – Antinomie und Syn­these, in: Demokratie und Rechtsstaat, Festgabe zum 60. Geburtstag von Zaccaria Giacometti, Zürich: Polygraphischer Verlag, 1953, pp. 107-142; Idem: Von der klassischen Dreiteilung zur umfassenden Gewaltenteilung, in: Verfassungsrecht und Verfassungswirklichkeit – Festschrift für Hans Huber zum 60. Geburtstag am 24. Mai 1961, dargebracht von Freunden, Kollegen, Schülern und vom Verlag, Bern: Stämpfli & Cie, 1961, pp. 151 ss.; Idem: Die Grundordnung unseres Kleinstaates und ihre Herausforderung in der zweiten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts, in: Das schweizerische Recht – Besinnung und Ausblick, Festschrift zur Schweizerischen Landesausstellung 1964, Helbing & Lichtenhahn, Basel 1964; Idem: Legitimation, Ordnung und Begrenzung der Macht im Kleinstaat, in: Macht und ihre Begrenzung im Kleinstaat Schweiz, ed. Werber Kägi and Hansjörg Siegenthaler (Zürcher Hochschulforum, Band 1), Zürich: Artemis, 1981, pp. 21 ss.

For Further Reading

Richard Bäumlin: Die rechtsstaatliche Demokratie – Eine Untersuchung der gegenseitigen Beziehungen von Demokratie und Rechtsstaat, Zürich: Polygraphischer Verlag, 1954.


You can find a scan (PDF) of the original text here: Kägi Verfassung0001