No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Lorenz von Stein

Lorenz von Stein (1815-1890) was a professor of constitutional law, a sociologist and political economist. He was dismissed by Kiel University because of his advocacy for the independence of Schleswig, which was part of Denmark at the time. His sociological and political economical work focused on public administration, the economics of government, and sociological aspects of economics.

Lorenz von Stein analyzed the social question as a framework for three other big questions:

1. The question of the nature of society, of its opposition and movement;

2. The question of the form and historical progress of real society;

3. The question of the ultimate goal of the development of society.

The state, according to von Stein, primarily has to guarantee personal freedom, which is especially important for the working class. Von Stein saw state constitution and state administration as more important to the social movement than the socialist and communist systems that were emerging at the time. Von Stein outlined a model of social democracy, its principle being a constitution based on universal suffrage and the abolition of social dependence of the working class. In von Stein's social democracy, the constitution was the democratic element and the administration the social element. Von Stein called his alternative the Republic of Mutual Interest.

Von Stein did not believe that the people could be represented in a socially powerful way in the Prussian state, because the area of the two large parts of Prussia had no common or comparable economic history. The communality of national life and spirit was so small in Prussia, so that without the power of the government the state would have no right to exist. He foresaw the downfall of the Prussian state.

Where the constitution and the government come into serious conflict, according to Stein, the government will prevail over the constitution. Appealing to constitutional rights, or to truth and fidelity, would be pointless. 

Von Stein observed that the humanity of one social order is constantly striving to combat the deficiencies of the property of the other social order. Since each is a condition of the other's own development, history will proceed in the organic production of a form of social order which preserves the elements of the other and develops them into a nobler form.

Von Stein saw the emergence of the legal order from the orders of life not as a process stemming from the concept of law, but only the process by which the order which has arisen as the content of the collective will assumes a form that is beyond any individual arbitrariness.

In the handbook of administrative theory and administrative law, Von Stein states: “The further the attitude of our time progresses, the clearer becomes the sense that we have essentially overcome the era of state formation and that the center of gravity of further development lies with the administration. Not that the Constitution loses its meaning, but because it is through the Constitution that we come to administration.”

“Whether absolutism or republic, freedom or non-freedom of law: roads, railways, health care, credit system, mail, money, commerce and hundreds of other basic living conditions as a whole will always remain the same, always demand the same principles, generate always the same questions and tasks. So there is an administration that is and must be independent of the constitution, and there is also an administrative doctrine that is independent in itself besides the constitutional doctrine or actual constitutional law."

“The liberty of the constitution consists in the right of the members of the state to participate in its will; the freedom of the executive in its right to operate in self-government, united in the executive; but real freedom consists in having the conditions of individual independence. The internal administration takes care of that; it is the true life principle of the same. And thus the internal administration becomes the work of the state for the highest conditions of personal liberty."

In sum

Von Stein argued that the state is a complex social institution that plays a central role in shaping the lives of individuals and societies. He argued that the state performs a number of key functions, including the maintenance of order, the protection of citizens, and the regulation of economic and social life.

Stein also studied the relationships between the state and other social institutions, such as the economy, the family, and the legal system. He argued that these relationships are complex and dynamic and that they can have significant implications for the functioning and stability of societies.


Schliesky, U., Schlürmann, J. (2015), Lorenz von Stein - Leben und Werk zwischen Borby und Wien, Kiel: Wachholtz.