Jellinek, Georg

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Jellinek, Georg



Georg Jellinek (1851–1911), German jurist, was born in Leipzig, the son of a rabbi and scholar. In 1857 the family moved to Vienna. Jellinek studied philosophy, history, and law there and in Heidelberg and Leipzig. In 1872 he received a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Leipzig and in 1874 a doctorate in law from the University of Vienna. He worked for almost two years as an Austrian civil servant while he continued his studies and in 1879 received his venia legendi from the law faculty in Vienna. After appointments in Vienna, Berlin, and Basel, in 1890 Jellinek became professor of constitutional and international law and political science at the University of Heidelberg, where he remained until his death.

In 1883 Jellinek married Camilla Wertheim, the daughter of an Austrian professor of medicine. Their son Walter (1885–1955) was professor of constitutional and administrative law in Kiel and Heidelberg.

Jellinek’s friends included Wilhelm Windelband, Ernst Troeltsch, Max Weber, and Erwin Rohde, and together they helped shape the intellectual climate of Heidelberg at the turn of the century. Jellinek was a good teacher as well as a prolific and stimulating scholar who was praised for his erudition and his moral sensitivity.

Jellinek’s first writings dealt with philosophical problems. In Die sozialethische Bedeutung von Recht, Unrecht und Strafe (1878) he characterized the law in a famous phrase as embodying the “ethical minimum,” i.e., in an objective sense, a set of elementary moral norms that are indispensable for living in society, and, in a subjective sense, the minimum of “morality” embodied in legal precepts that the members of a society demand. He next published a series of monographs on constitutional law and the law of nations. These monographs are marked by a systematic and somewhat formalistic mode of interpretation. They culminate in Jellinek’s favorite book, System der subjektiven öffentlichen Rechte (1892), which was a significant contribution to the German theory of the constitutional state. In this book he developed his well-known classification of subjective rights in relation to particular “statuses” thus he distinguished status passivus (which entails general subjection to the state), status negativus (which assures rights of protection against the state), status positivus (which grants rights to positive actions by the state), and status activus (which guarantees rights of political participation, especially voting).

Jellinek also wrote on the history of political ideas. In his widely known book The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens (1895), for which Princeton University awarded him an honorary degree, he put forward the thesis that the French Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1789 was not written under the influence of Rousseau but rather under the influence of the American bill of rights, which had its origin in the struggle for the liberty of conscience and religion. This thesis of Jellinek’s still commands attention.

Jellinek’s work culminated in his monumental synthesis, Allgemeine Staatslehre (1900). The most significant feature of this book is its division into two distinct parts—a sociological and a “juristic” one. This division derives from Jellinek’s Neo-Kantian views. The “is” is separated from the “ought” and leads to a corresponding methodological dichotomy. Jellinek’s theory of the state is dualistic insofar as he saw no intrinsic correlation between the investigation of social reality and the elaboration of judicial concepts. However, there is a degree of methodological monism in his thinking insofar as he considered both the formation of the law and the validity of the law to be based on social-psychological facts. The link between the “is” and the “ought” is formed by the principle of the “normative force of the factual.” But Jellinek did not believe that law originates ex ipso facto bruto. For the factual to have normative force requires general acceptance that what is ought to be; for Jellinek it was self-evident that the law must agree with the ethical minimum.

The theory and the sociology of the state owe much to Jellinek, who greatly influenced German legal science. His work in the history of legal science contributed toward the weakening of the jurisprudence of concepts that (under the influence of C. F. von Gerber and P. Laband) had prevailed in German public law. But because he did not transcend the antimetaphysical relativism and voluntarism of his Neo-Kantian system, he was unable to provide clear guidelines for jurists trying to find their way between the one-sided positions of a pure normativism and a sociological positivism that minimizes the normative force of the law.

Alexander Hollerbach

[For the historical context of Jellinek’s work, seeJuris-prudence; Law, Political theory; Positivism; and the biographies ofBrecht; Kantorowicz; Kelsen; Weber, Max.]


(1872–1910) 1911 Ausgewählte Schriften und Reden. 2 vols. Edited by Walter Jellinek. Berlin: Häring.

(1878) 1908 Die sozialethische Bedeutung von Recht, Unrecht und Strafe. 2d ed., rev. Berlin: Häring.

1880 Die rechtliche Natur der Staatenverträge: Ein Beitrag zur juristischen Construction des Völkerrechts. Vienna: Hölder.

1882 Die Lehre von den Staatenverbindungen. Berlin: Häring.

(1887) 1964 Gesetz und Verordnung: Staatsrechtliche Untersuchungen auf rechtsgeschichtlicher und rechtsvergleichender Grundlage. Aalen (Germany): Scientia.

(1892) 1964 System der subjektiven öffentlichen Rechte. 2d ed. Darmstadt (Germany): Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

(1895) 1901 The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens: A Contribution to Modern Constitutional History. New York: Holt. → First published as Die Erklärung der Menschen- und Biirgerrechte.

(1900) 1960 Allgemeine Staatslehre. 3d ed., rev. & enl. Bad Homburg (Germany): Getner.

1906 Verfassungsänderung and Verfassungswandlung: Eine staatsrechtlich-politische Abhandlung. Berlin: Häring.


Brecht, Arnold 1959 Political Theory: The Foundation of Twentieth-century Political Thought. Princeton Univ. Press. → See especially pages 220–221.

Emerson, Rupert 1928 State and Sovereignty in Modern Germany. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press. → See especially pages 59–63, 71–73, 83–85, 107–111.

Hallis, Frederick 1930 Corporate Personality: A Study of Jurisprudence. Oxford Univ. Press. → See especially pages 189–216 on “The State as Presupposition of Law: Georg Jellinek [and] The Law as Presupposition of the State: H. Krabbe.”

Holubek, Reinhard 1961 Allgemeine Staatslehre als empirische Wissenschaft: Eine Untersuchung am Beispiel von Georg Jellinek. Bonn (Germany): Bouvier.

Jellinek, Camilla 1931 Georg Jellinek: Sein Leben. Volume 7, pages 136–146 in Neue österreichische Biographie: 1815–1918. Vienna: Amalthea.

Jellinek, Walter 1911 Georg Jellineks Werke. Archiv des öffentlichen Rechts 27:606–619.

Kelsen, Hans (1911) 1923 Hauptprobleme der Staats-rechtslehre entwickelt aus der Lehre vom Rechtssatze. Tübingen (Germany): Mohr. → See especially pages 482–491.

Lukas, Josef 1931 Georg Jellinek: Sein Werk. Volume 7, pages 147–152 in Neue österreichische Biographie: 1815–1918. Vienna: Amalthea.

Nelson, Leonard (1917)1949 Die Rechtswissenschaft ohne Recht: Kritische Betrachtungen übcr die Grundlagen des Staats- und Völkerrechts, insbesondere über die Lehre von der Souveränitdt. 2d ed. Gottingen (Germany): Verlag “öffentliches Leben.” → See especially pages 6–68.

Troeltsch, Ernst 1912 [Review of] Jellinek, Georg, Ausgewählte Schriften und Reden. Zeitschrift für das Privat- und öffentliche Recht der Gegenwart 39:273–278.

Weber, Max (1911) 1926 Zu G. Jellineks Gedächtnis. Pages 481–486 in Marianne Weber, Max Weber: Fin Lebensbild. Tübingen (Germany): Mohr.

Wlndelband, Wllhelm 1911 Zum Geleit. Volume 1, pages 5–12 in Georg Jellinek, Ausgewählte Schriften und Reden. Berlin: Häring.

Zweig, Egon 1914 Georg Jellinek. Volume 16, pages 147–154 inBiographisches Jahrbuch und Deutscher Nekrolog. Berlin: Reimer.