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Is the Idea of a Sovereign Authority Based on Legal Rules and Human Rights Outdated?

NCJ Number
Punishment & Society Volume: 15 Issue: 4 Dated: October 2013 Pages: 382-396
Karl-Ludwig Kunz
Date Published
October 2013
15 pages

This article discusses the idea of the state based on legal rules and human rights, the German concept of 'Rechtsstaat.'


The desire to establish a sovereign authority governed by law, justice and the respect for individual dignity is fascinating. However, the history of the German version of the realization of this desire, the Rechtsstaat, proves that whether or not this works out depends on the conditions under which the concept is formed and implemented. Cultural, socio-economic and political conditions have always had a great influence on both the concrete interpretation of the idea and on the effectiveness of its realization. One is confronted with vast changes in the late modern era. Global society increasingly exercises risk control by means of international cooperation and transnational regulation. Human rights standards are neglected in order to prevent or avert danger. As the idea of a state based on legal rules and human rights continues to lose its grip, the question arises whether and how the basic values associated with this idea could be preserved in the globally intertwined risk society. Abstract published by arrangement with Sage Journals.