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Access_open Kelsen, Secular Religion, and the Problem of Transcendence

Journal Netherlands Journal of Legal Philosophy, Issue 2 2015
Keywords Kelsen, secular religion, Voegelin, Schmitt, transcendence
Authors professor Bert van Roermund
AbstractAuthor's information

    An alleged ‘return to religion’ in contemporary western politics (and science) prompted the Trustees of the Hans Kelsen Institut to posthumously publish Kelsen’s critique of the concept of ‘secular religion’ advanced by his early student Eric Voegelin. This paper identifies, firstly, what concept of transcendence is targeted by Kelsen, and argues that his analysis leaves scope for other conceptions. It does so in two steps: it summarizes the arguments against ‘secular religion’ (section 2) and it gives an account of the differences between Voegelin’s and Schmitt’s conception of transcendence – both under attack from Kelsen (section 3). It then submits an alternative account of the relationship between politics and religion in Modernity, building on the concept of a ‘civil religion’ as found in Rousseau’s Social Contract. Giving a Rousseauist slant to Claude Lefort’s analysis of political theology (section 4) it concludes that a thin concept of transcendence is part and parcel of every, in particular a democratic, account of politics. It should be a stronghold against any resurgence of religion that feeds on hypostatized transcendence. In closing (section 5), it is argued that two key concepts in Kelsen’s legal philosophy may well be understood as paradigms of thin transcendence, namely ‘the people’ and ‘the Grundnorm’.


professor Bert van Roermund
Bert van Roermund is professor (em.) of philosophy at Tilburg Law School and international correspondent of the Hans Kelsen Institute in Vienna.
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