Ontology and law in the early Poulantzas

Martin, James. 2009. Ontology and law in the early Poulantzas. History of European Ideas, 35(4), pp. 465-474. ISSN 0191-6599 [Article]

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This article reviews the little examined early work of the Greek Marxist and state theorist, Nicos Poulantzas (1936–1979). In his first book, Nature du choses et droit of 1965, the young scholar developed a sociology of law culled from the insights of philosophical ontology. The article sets out the central claims of that book and reflects on its place in Poulantzas's intellectual development. Drawing on Heidegger, Sartre and Marx, Poulantzas proposed a species of Natural Law theory that unified ‘facts’ and ‘values’ by grounding legal concepts in a theory of social praxis centred on material labour. Legal categories were thus irreducible to ahistorical essences but were, rather, expressions of mankind's struggle to realize its intrinsic freedom. As we shall see, although flawed and in key respects radically at odds with his later anti-humanism, Poulantzas's legal ontology nevertheless anticipated his mature theory of the state by setting out a philosophical sociology of the political order rooted in an anti-essentialist mode of inquiry.

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Poulantzas; Existentialism; Law; Ontology; Structuralism; State

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Research Office > REF2014


December 2009Published

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Date Deposited:

13 Aug 2010 10:08

Last Modified:

30 Jun 2017 12:10

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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