Hans Kelsen (1881–1973), a scholar of Jewish origin born in Austro-Hungary and expelled from Germany by the National Socialists in 1933, who found his new home in exile in the USA, is one of the most discussed legal theorists on a global scale, even more than 40 years after his death. He is one of the very few legal scholars who have gained worldwide recognition outside their native, namely German-speaking, circle and who have had a lasting and more than negligible influence on legal discourse in both Eastern and Southern Europe, in both East Asia and Latin America, and even in the Anglosphere.
His sceptical-consequent legal positivism, the ›Reine Rechtslehre‹, aims to give the most exact possible descriptive and structural analysis of modern legal systems, thus consistently separating the scholarly study of law from its production and further development. In this ›disenchantment‹ endeavour, he proves to be an avowed advocate of scientific modernity. His biography – Jewish descent, expulsion from Germany and exile in the USA (or the UK) – also places him in a line with other protagonists such as the physicist Albert Einstein (1879–1955) and the other Viennese, the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), the philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951) and (Sir) Karl R. Popper (1902–1994), and his classmate, the economist Ludwig von Mises (1881–1973).
It is no coincidence that the liberal legal positivist Kelsen, who was first constitutional advisor to the first Austrian state chancellor, the Social Democrat Karl Renner (1870–1950), during the construction of the First Republic, and then one of the leading figures of the new Constitutional Court, developed a pluralist theory of democracy that responds to heterogeneity and does not build on homogeneity, that opens up a legitimate space for the development of political parties and that proves the systemic compatibility of a constitutional jurisdiction equipped with powers to control norms in a liberal democracy.
Kelsen has published over more than six decades, in changing political systems, on different legal systems and in numerous languages. His immense oeuvre includes, in addition to some 18,000 printed pages of original publications, the scholarly estate preserved and maintained at the Hans Kelsen Institute (HKI), an Austrian federal foundation founded during Kelsen's lifetime and based in Vienna.
Despite his worldwide importance, there is no edition of his opera omnia, which was published scatteredly and in many languages. With the ›Hans Kelsen Werke(n)‹, Kelsen's complete oeuvre is made accessible in a historical-critical hybrid edition. In cooperation with the HKI, all of Kelsen's works are edited in chronological order and in the language of their (first) publication. In this way, Kelsen's writings in the fields of legal theory and legal philosophy, constitutional law and international law, state and constitutional theory, political theory and social anthropology are made accessible in their respective contexts of origin and, at the same time, their significance for his oeuvre as a whole becomes recognisable. With the historical-critical hybrid edition of Kelsen's works, legal scholarship is largely breaking new ground.