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Rechtsstaat (German: Rechtsstaat) is a concept in continental European legal thinking, originally borrowed from German jurisprudence, which literally means a "state of law" or a "state of rights". It is a "constitutional state" in which the exercise of governmental power is constrained by the law,[1] and is often tied to the Anglo-American concept of the rule of law.

In a Rechtsstaat, the power of the state is limited in order to protect citizens from the arbitrary exercise of authority. In a Rechtsstaat the citizens share legally based civil liberties and they can use the courts. A country cannot be a liberal democracy without first being a Rechtsstaat.

The concept of the Rechtsstaat first appeared in the German context in Robert von Mohl's book Die deutsche Polizeiwissenschaft nach den Grundsätzen des Rechtsstaates ("German police science according to the principles of the constitutional state", 1832–1834), and was contrasted with the aristocratic police state.

German writers usually place Immanuel Kant's theories at the beginning of their accounts of the movement toward the Rechtsstaat.[2]


  1. Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, ch. 7; Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy
  2. Friedrich Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty.


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also Rechtsstaat


Dutch Wikipedia has an article on:

Wikipedia nl


{genitive of recht} + staat


rechtsstaat m. (plural rechtsstaten)

  1. constitutional state: a state which has rule of law


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