La règle juridique de la société politique – Son fondement moral et social

Jean Darbellay

Jean Darbellay, La règle juridique de la société politique – Son fondement moral et social (Dissertation Universität Freiburg), St. Maurice: Imprimerie de l’Oeuvre St. Augustin, 1945. 


Jean Darbellay was educated by members of the Augustin congregation at the Abbey of Saint-Maurice in the Canton of Valais (Territorialis Abbatia Sancti Mauritii Agaunensis), under the auspices of the abbot and bishop Bernard Alexis Burquier (C.R.A.). The Catholic milieu of such a college was of great importance for the further development of thought and of the later academic representative of philosophy and jurisprudence at the same time. This is also the case with Hans Ryffel, however just the reversed way (see nos. 1.10 and 1.15 of this Legal Anthology). Insofar as the two eminent exponents of natural law theory in Switzerland of the early post-World War II period provide an interesting example of how the embedment into a specific sociocultural context can have very different influence on the outcome of legal philosophical thought.

Apparently the Caholic milieus in the French-speaking parts of Switzerland have primarily orientated their attention toward France and Belgium, especially the eminent representants of the Catholic University of Louvain. Jean Darbellay must have been driven by his convictions to seek a closer contact to Jacques Maritain – who after his conversion to Catholicism and his emigration to Canada and the United States of America was a professor at Toronto University, at Princeton University (New Jersey) and at Columbia University (New York City). This eminent scholar of Henri Bergson must have become a mentor of Darbellay from the very early years (and the devotion continued during the emigration, and remaind after the return to Toulouse (France), and until the death of Maritain in 1973): “J’aime beaucoup Jean Darbellay; enfin je crois que sa timidité a craqué, il m’a écrit quelques lettres où j’ai pu mieux connaître son intelligence (qui est grande) et son coeur, et depuis lors nous avons commencé à causer. Il a le sens de la poésie, et il est philosophe. Je voudrais bien l’aider” (letter from 2nd February 1936, addressed to Chanoine Paul Saudan, Abbaye de Saint-Maurice). This benevolent judgment dates ten years before Darbellay had presented his dissertation thesis to the University of Freiburg im Üechtland (Switzerland).

Historical Situation and Systematic Context

At that time, in 1945, Jean Darbellay indicated on the back of the title page, that he intended to prepare a continuation to his monography, entitled “Le droit natural et le droit positif de la société politique”; however, this text that has never been accomplished as an extended monography and has only been published as an article with the same title according to our information (in: Revue thomiste, Paris 1946, pp. 540-571). As pieces that can be considered as complementary contributions to the inaugurated highly ambitious project, the following articles have to be mentioned: there has appeared an article in the “Journal for Swiss Law” in 1957, entitled “La société politique et le droit” (vol. 76 (1957), pp. 351-366); followed by an essay on “L’objectivité du droit” (in: Mélanges Jean Dabin, Paris/ Bruxelles, 1963, vol. 1, pp. 59-77); and later the author published his “Réflexions sur la variabilité du droit naturel” (in: Festschrift für Oscar Adolf Germann, Bern: Stämpfli, 1969, pp. 10-26). All these contributions have to be taken into consideration in order to provide a true image of the natural law theory, held by Darbellay; and they are easy to consult, as they have partially reprinted in a collection volume, entitled “La réflexion des philosophes et des juristes sur le droit et le politique” (pp. 279 ss., 71 ss., respectively pp. 53 ss., with the exception of the first-mentioned title). So to say the programme of the author’s lifelong work can be recognised in the opening declaration by the editors of this collection, Marco Borghi and Augustin Macheret: “L’un des aspects les plus marquants de l’enseignement et de l’oeuvre de M. Darbellay tient dans l’affirmation de la nécessité d’une continuelle remise en question du droit positif. Ainsi s’affirme l’exigence d’une critique fondée non seulement sur des règles internes, immanentes au système, à l’ordre juridique, mais bein plus sur une donnée extérieure et transcendent ce système. Celle qui impose à l’observateur un regar indépendant, autonome, ‘révolutionnaire’ sur la régle de droit. / Le juste, naturel et fondant la validité de toute norme, constituera dès lors l’optique, le critère déterminant. L’ojectivation et la concrétisation de cette valeur primordiale seront le but et le produit d’une démarge intellectuelle tour à tour déductive et inductive” (preface, pp. VII s.).

Content, Abstracts/Conclusions, Insights, Evidence

In the very beginning of the preface of his thesis “La règle juridique – Son fondement moral et social”, Jean Darbellay formulates his dedication to the masterful philosophical thought of Jacques Maritain as follows: “Nous ne nous sommes point fait faute, pour notre part, de pénétrer cette matière éminemment humaine à l’aide de concepts et de notions philosophiques, faisant particulièrement appel à la ‘philosophia perennis’ dont notre maître, M. Jacques Maritain, nous avait appris à saisir les éléments et à utiliser les possibilités d’explication à tous les étages de l’être et de la vie”.

The ambitious aim of Jean Darbellay consists in analysing the juridical normativity or the obligatory character of the legal order – concepted as the positive order of sociopolitical community – in its relations to the ethical and moral order and to the social structure. The general conviction of the author is that there is no separation between the legal order and the moral order that is governed by natural law, and the conclusion of the considerations consist in the intrinsic moral character of the rule of law. The first chapter provides a merely empirical investigation of the social conditions and circumstances, to which the legal order has to be referred.

In the 2nd chapter, entitled “La règle juridique de la société politique et l’ordre moral”, that we have chosen as an extract for standalone reading, we encounter the core arguments, presented with a typically French understatement of eloquent discourse: the specific structure of the legal rules has the quality of an organic unity of the legal order, as stabilised by political community. The human character of the individual is directed toward society in the structure of an organised political community (with references to Jean Dabin, Joseph T. Delos and Georges Ripert). The author is following the institutional theory of the state and of legal order (see Joseph T. Delos: La théorie de l’institution, in: Archives de philosophie de droit, vol. 1931, Nos. 1 s.; and Idem: Le problème des rapports du droit et de la morale, in: Archives de philosophie de droit, vol. 1933, Nos. 1 s.). In conclusion, the legal norms contribute to the determination of the social and moral rules, what is defined as positivity of the legal order. This approach is grounded on the proposition that human community has been founded by God as the absolute authority. This principle is associated with nature, and therein stands the natural law theory as proposed by Jean Darbellay. This conception is primarily the same as in Thomism, as in social philosophy of Aquinas.

In the 3rd chapter, Jean Darbellay analyses ontologically the general principles of sociology and defends the pure sociological explanation of juridical normativity. For scholars interested in Catholic social and legal philosophy, the whole classical text is worth a read, even seventy years after its apparition.

Further Information About the Author

Jean Darbellay, born 1912, died 18 September 2008, promoted in 1944 at the University of Freiburg im Üechtland (Switzerland), and ten years later he was nominated extraordinary professor. In 1972 he changed to the chair for public law (i.e. constitutional and administrative law), general jurisprudence and legal philosophy at the very same university and was dean of the faculty for two years, in 1958 and 1967. He was an emeritus since 1982.

Selected Works of the Same Author

Jean Darbellay: L’action du pouvoir sur l’évolution du droit, in: Zeitschrift für schweizerisches Recht, N. S. vol. 74/ 1, pp. 117-148, Basel: Helbing & Lichtenhahn, 1955; Idem: Emmanuel Kant – Vers la paix perpétuelle (Essai philosophique), Traduction de l’ouvrage avec une intro­duction historique et critique, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1958; Idem: L’objectivité du droit, in: Mélan­ges en l’honneur de Jean Dabin, Paris: Sirey, 1963, vol. 1; Idem: Réflections sur la variabilité du droit naturel, in: Rechtsfindung – Beiträge zur juristischen Methodenlehre, Festschrift für Oscar Adolf Germann zum 80. Geburtstag, Bern: Stämpfli & Cie AG, 1969; Idem: La notion de nature chez Aristote et les origines du droit naturel, in: Festschfift für Eugen Isele, ed. Louis Carlen, Freiburg: Universitätsverlag, 1973; Idem: Le rapport de droit dans l’évocation des droits de l’homme et des libertés fonda­men­tales, in: Gedächtnisschrift für Peter Jäggi, Freiburg: Universitätsverlag, 1977; Idem: Droit et contrainte, in: Recht als Prozess und Gefüge, Fest­schrift für Hans Huber zum 80. Geburtstag, Bern: Stämpfli & Cie AG, 1981; Idem: La réflection des philosophes et des juristes sur le droit et le politique, Fribourg: Éditions Universitaires, 1987.

For Further Reading

Joseph T. Delos: La théorie de l’institution, in: Archives de philosophie de droit, vol. 1931, Nos. 1 s., Paris: Recueil Sirey, 1931; and Idem: Le problème des rapports du droit et de la morale, in: Archives de philosophie de droit, vol. 1933, Nos. 1 s., Paris: Recueil Sirey, 1933;

Jacques Maritain: La philosophie Bergsonienne – Études critiques (Bibliothèque de philosophie, vol. 10), Paris: Librairie Marcel Rivière, 2nd ed. 1930; Idem: Antimodern – Die Vernunft in der modernen Philosophie und Wissenschaft und in der aristotelisch-thomistischen Erkenntnisordnung, Augsburg 1930; Idem: Principes d’une politique humaniste, New York: Éditions de la Maison Française, 1944; Idem: Von Bergson zu Thomas von Aquin – Acht Abhandlungen über Metaphysik und Moral, Cambridge 1945; Idem: L’homme et l’État, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1953.


You can find a scan (PDF) of the original text here: Darbellay Règle juridique.