Wertordnung der Bundesverfassung

Hans Nef

Hans Nef, Die Wertordnung der schweizerischen Bundesverfassung, in: Verfassungsrecht und Verfassungswirklichkeit – Festschrift für Hans Huber zum 60. Geburtstag, Bern: Stämpfli & Cie., 1961, pp. 190-205.

Introduction/Historical Situation and Systematic Context

Where can the intrinsic relation of the law to values consist, if law is concepted as merely outer behaviour in concordance with ethical values? It could be a case of mental reservation or of blind obedience to the directives of a commander – but would it be a true obedience to law, then? Why do people obey the law (see Tom Tyler: Why People Obey the Law, New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1990)? And what does this reason matter when it comes to judge legal behaviour? It does matter because the law is rooted deeper in the basic structure of normativity and a will with a universal character, i.e. a will valid erga omnes as it unifies the subjective and the objective element or moment of will (in Hegelian terminology). Significant, yet decisive will not be the difference, but rather the bridge built between the various kinds of values, i.e. the consistent system of values.

If a material concept of law is adopted, such a foundation within a philosophical system would be indispensable. Without, one will not be able to decide neither the value in case, nor the priority between more than one concurring or conflicting values. In the domain of ethics, such questions are often discussed as collision between moral or legal duties. The turn to a material concept of the constitution in Switzerland, as it has taken place after the Second World War, may do without such a philosophy of normative values, but it will suffer from this omission.

Content, Abstracts/Conclusions, Insights, Evidence

In a short essay in honour of Hans Huber from 1961, Hans Nef treats the questions deriving from such valuations for the constitutional order of the Swiss Federal Constitution. The core of the problem consists in the experience that not conflicting values can get in conflict to each other in the way of application to a concrete situation: “Viel wichtiger ist es für das Recht, dass Werte, die an sich nicht widersprüchlich sind, in der konkreten Situation sich widerstreiten können. Es kann die konkrete Situation bewirken, dass Werte in Konflikt geraten. So kann es zwischen Werten, die an sich nicht gegensätzlich sind, gerade dann zu Kollisionen kommen, wenn es um ihre Verwirklichung geht. [...] Das Recht aber hat es mit der Realisation der Werte zu tun. Und daher ist es für das Recht unausgesetzt von Aktualität, dass Werte, die an sich vereinbar sind, in der konkreten Situation, in der es darum geht, sie zu verwirklichen, einander widersprechen können”. The contrary experience is that people often agree to abstract principles in general, whereas the dissent, when it comes to a deduction to concrete norms in a specific case. This phenomenon, however, is highly significant for the adoption of the constitution itself, as a unilateral consensus can more easily be obtained concerning abstract value, and relatively abstract principles. Moreover, this procedure occurs on many different stages, in the way of dynamic and increasing concretisation of values within the process of legislation.

We shall skip the whole casuistic and directly come to the conclusion. However, the author does not provide any conclusion at all, since the highest value of freedom, as guaranteed by the constitution is restricted in many ways, following the rule of exceptions of the underlying freedom. The inclusive, undercurrent conclusion is that constitutional jurisdiction as a holistic systematic approach establishes the positive system of values within a legal order. Thus, such decisions concerning the priority of certain values above others cannot be made without constant reference to arguments that do not make explicitly part of the positive constitutional order.

Despite the title, that indicates a general purpose, the addressed problem is not developed further by Hans Nef. This highly desirable, but undelivered theory of legal values and their system in the way of application is symptomatically obliterated, though it appears as fundamental for the current of material constitutional thought, as practised by Max Huber, Dietrich Schindler (senior), Werner Kägi, and as become a standard or state of the art until its re-conception by Jörg Paul Müller.

Further Information About the Author

Hans Nef, born on 3 November 1911 in Herisau, died on 6 January 2000, has been the son of a docent for philosophy and literature. During his studies he signed as a member of the so-called “Kampfgruppe gegen den geistigen Terror”. In 1936, he obtained his doctorate based on a dissertation thesis entitled “Recht und Moral in der deutschen Rechtsphilosophie seit Kant” from the University of Zurich. At the same University, he handed in his habilitation thesis in 1939 and got the venia legendi for legal philosophy and public law. In 1946, he was nominated ordinary professor and between 1967 and 1978 he signed as the president of the very same University.

Selected Works of the Same Author

Hans Nef: Recht und Moral in der deutschen Rechtsphilosophie seit Kant, Dissertation Universität Zürich, Fehr: St. Gallen, 1937; Idem: Demokratie und Richtigkeit des Rechts, in: Zentralblatt für Staats- und Gemeindeverwaltung, vol. 8 (1947), Nr. 17; Idem: Das Werturteil in der Rechtswissenschaft, in: Zeitschrift für Schweizerisches Recht, N. F. vol. 86, H. 2, Basel: Helbing & Lichtenhahn, 1967.

For Further Reading

Hans Nef: Recht und Moral in der deutschen Rechtsphilosophie seit Kant, Dissertation Universität Zürich, Fehr: St. Gallen, 1937.


You can find a scan (PDF) of the original text here: Nef, Wertordnung.