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Hart, Austin, and the Concept of Legal Sanctions

By Anthony Townsend Kronman


In 1961, H. L. A. Hart published The Concept of Law, his most extensive and systematic essay in general jurisprudence. Hart\u27s book immediately received widespread critical attention. Today, The Concept of Law is generally regarded as an original and important work. Indeed, this is too cautious a claim: The Concept of Law has become an established classic. The core of Hart\u27s argument is addressed to three related questions: What is a legal rule? What are the points of difference and similarity between law and morality? What is a legal system? This Note is concerned with Hart\u27s answer to the last of these three questions, with his attempt, in The Concept of Law, to build up a coherent and satisfying picture of what a municipal legal system is. In the opening chapter of The Concept of Law, Hart states that the purpose of his book is \u22to advance legal theory by providing an improved analysis of the distinctive structure of a municipal legal system and a better understanding of the resemblances and differences between law, coercion, and morality as types of social phenomena.\u22 Whether Hart\u27s \u22improved analysis\u22 yields anything as precise and unequivocal as a definition of what a legal system is—indeed, whether such a definition is possible at all—have been much-disputed questions. Hart himself appears to have been somewhat skeptical in this regard. At one point, he even offers several reasons for believing that \u22nothing concise enough to be recognized as a definition could provide a satisfactory answer\u22 to the question, \u22what is law?\u22 Nevertheless, despite his own methodological reservations, Hart does, in fact, attempt to isolate and specify a set of \u22central elements\u22 peculiar to legal systems, and in this way to distinguish law from those related social phenomena with which, in his view, it has been wrongly identified

Topics: Law
Publisher: Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository
Year: 1975
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