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In this essay the author interprets liberalism through the concept of the Rechstaaat, or the law-based state. After outlining the ambivalent relationship between state and law – law as a means of state sovereignty and the state dominated by law – he stresses how it has been possible to speak of the law-based state since the end of the eighteenth century, when enlightened absolutism began to guarantee the person and his property. The fact that today we see democracy as the system most suitable to the law-based state provides an opportunity to better delimit the concept of democracy and demonstrate its incompatibility with the law-based state, unless it is a ‘democracy domesticated in a constitutional sense’. Setting out from the first theorisations of Immanuel Kant and Wilhelm von Humbold, the author then analyses the development of the idea of the law-based state. He goes on to use the words of legal scholars to address the practical development of three different conceptions of the law-based state – from the initial material one to the formal one of legal positivism to that, again material, of the law-based welfare state – and of constitutional jurisdiction, namely the control of the conformity of laws to Constitution. Nörr concludes the essay with a comparison between the idea of the law-based state and that of the rule of law, highlighting analogies and differences in the specific case of Britain.