Your Cart

Discuss the relationship between 'sanction' and 'command' theories of law, with reference to the work of Austin and Kelsen.

In examining the relationship between the command and sanction theories of law as articulated by Austin and Kelsen respectively, it becomes evident that while both theories fall under the umbrella of sanction theories, they diverge significantly in their conceptualisation of the nature of law and its enforcement.


John Austin's command theory posits that law is fundamentally a command issued by a sovereign backed by the threat of sanction. In other words, according to Austin, a law is essentially a command that obliges obedience, and failure to comply with this command results in the imposition of sanctions by the sovereign authority. This perspective emphasises the coercive aspect of law and underscores the importance of enforcement mechanisms in maintaining social order.


On the other hand, Hans Kelsen's theory presents a more subtle understanding of law. Kelsen argues that a legal norm is not merely a command but rather a normative structure that authorises or empowers officials to apply sanctions in specific circumstances. In Kelsen's view, a legal system consists of a hierarchy of norms, with each norm deriving its validity from a higher norm, ultimately culminating in a basic norm or Grundnorm. This hierarchical structure emphasises the autonomy of legal norms and their inherent authority to regulate behaviour within a given legal system.


While both Austin and Kelsen advocate for sanction-based theories of law, their conceptualisations differ in significant ways. Austin focuses on the coercive nature of law, viewing it primarily as a command backed by the threat of sanction. In contrast, Kelsen emphasises the normative structure of law, wherein legal norms authorise the application of sanctions but are not reducible to mere commands.


However, it is important to note that both theories have faced criticism, particularly from HLA Hart who argues that sanction theories fail to capture the diverse ways in which the law guides behaviour. He highlights the importance of legal rules not only in deterring undesirable conduct through sanctions but also in providing guidance and coordination for individuals within a legal system.


In conclusion, while both Austin's command theory and Kelsen's normative theory fall under the category of sanction theories, they differ in their conceptualisations of the nature of law and its enforcement mechanisms. Despite criticisms, both theories contribute valuable insights into the complex relationship between law, authority, and social order.


Check out our exam-focused Jurisprudence and Legal Theory notes now.

Trusted by thousands of law students worldwide

Where are our students from?

Yale University

Council of Europe

Baker Mckenzie 

University of Chicago

Columbia University

New York University

University of Michigan 

INSEAD

University College London (UCL)

London School of Economics (LSE)

King’s College London (KCL)

University of London

University of Manchester

University of Zurich

University of York

Brandeis University

University of Exeter

University of Sheffield

Boston University

University of Washington

University of Leeds

University of Law

Royal Holloway, University of London 

Birkbeck, University of London

SOAS, University of London

University of Kent

University of Hull

Queen’s University Belfast

Toronto Metropolitan University

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

University of Buckingham

Your perfect companion for open-book and closed-book exams

Diagrams and Charts

Our carefully designed diagrams and charts will guide you through complex legal issues.

Clear and Succinct Definitions

Key concepts are concisely defined to help you understand legal topics quickly.

Statutory Provisions

Statutory provisions are provided side by side with legal concepts to help you swiftly locate the relevant legislation.

Case Summaries

We have summarised important cases for you so that you don't need to read long and boring cases.

Rules and Exceptions

Rules and exceptions are clearly listed so that you know when a rule applies and when it doesn't.

Terminology

Legal terms and key concepts are explained at the beginning of each chapter to help you learn efficiently.

Case Law

Case law is provided side by side with legal concepts so that you know how legal principles and precedents were established.

Law Essay Guide

You will learn essential law exam skills and essay writing techniques that are not taught in class.

Problem Question Guide

We will show you how to answer problem questions step by step to achieve first-class results.

Structured Explanations

Complex legal concepts are broken down into concise and digestible bullet point explanations.

Legal Research

You will learn legal research techniques with our study guide and become a proficient legal researcher.

Exam-focused

All essential concepts, principles, and case law are included so that you can answer exam questions quickly.