12 julio, 2024

Kelsen’s pyramid: what it is, what it is for, levels, in Mexico

what is the Kelsen’s pyramid?

Kelsen’s pyramid is a graphical representation of the hierarchy of laws in any organized social system. It is usually used in the field of law to explain the structure in which the legal norms of a country are ordered.

This representation was created by Hans Kelsen (1881-1973), an Austrian lawyer, professor of philosophy and politician. He spent the first years of his career in Vienna. The atmosphere of conservatism in Austria during the first decades of the 20th century made him leave the country. At the outbreak of World War II he left Europe.

The pyramid created by this jurist tries to represent the way in which legal norms are related. The reason for choosing a pyramid was because the laws maintain a hierarchy, where those below cannot contradict those above.

Countries like Mexico, Spain, Colombia, Chile or Argentina agree that the top of the pyramid is occupied by their respective constitutions. In the lower echelons, each country has an organization with slight variations.

The first definition of the Kelsen pyramid was written precisely by its creator: he described it as the most appropriate way to represent the relationship between the different legal norms.

What is Kelsen’s pyramid used for?

Kelsen’s reason for choosing a pyramid as a graphical representation is that it allowed him to hierarchically order the different legal norms existing in a society. In this way, he could orderly place the different laws, starting with the most important and continuing with the others.

What is usual in today’s societies is that the constitution promulgated in the country is found at the top of the pyramid. From this derive all the other laws, which will be placed at the lower levels.

As you go down the pyramid, its width is greater and greater. This indicates that there are many more lower-ranking laws than higher-ranking ones. Logic, according to legal experts, indicates that there can only be one Constitution, but, instead, many more legal norms of a different type are promulgated.

Kelsen tried, ultimately, to reflect the idea of ​​validity of any law within the system. In addition, the pyramid graphically shows that no law can contradict the norms located above it.

Kelsen’s pyramid levels

It starts from the top down.

fundamental level

It is the tip of the pyramid, and where the Constitution or Magna Carta is located. All other laws will derive from it. Above it there is nothing. Human rights treaties can also enter here, because they are considered to be inalienable and have a similar rank.

In practical terms, both the country’s Constitution and human rights treaties should be respected at the same level.

legal level

It corresponds to the middle part. Here are all the laws enacted in the country, and it can be subdivided into several more levels to indicate the importance of one law over another.

For example, the Civil Code, the Penal Code, the laws regulating workers, customs, imports, etc. would enter at this level.

base level

In this last part, which is the widest, contains all the judgments, regulations, contracts, wills, etc., and for this reason it is the most abundant level of laws, although not in importance.

Example: Kelsen’s pyramid in Mexico

The Mexican legal system shows the structure of its Kelsen pyramid in article 133 of its Constitution:

“This Constitution, the laws of the Congress of the Union that emanate from it and all the Treaties that are in accordance with it, celebrated and that are celebrated by the President of the Republic, with the approval of the Senate, will be the Supreme Law of all the Union. The judges of each State will conform to said Constitution, laws and treaties, despite the provisions to the contrary that may exist in the Constitutions or laws of the States”.


The Political Constitution of the United Mexican States is at the top of the Kelsen pyramid in that country. It consists of three fundamental parts: a Preamble, the Dogmatic and the Organic part. Each of them deals with different regulatory fields.

As is the case in most countries, at the top of the pyramid are also the International Treaties on Human Rights that Mexico has signed.

Federal Laws

Being a Federal State, Mexico has a specific step in the pyramid to regulate the different territories. Thus, in this federal legal order are the so-called Formal Laws, such as State Constitutions, State Laws, Organic Laws or Official Norms.

Likewise, other International Treaties not related to Human Rights also appear on this step.

local laws

Within the Local Laws appears all the regulations related to the faculties of the Municipalities. These have a series of powers on which they can legislate, having the rank of formal law.

As reflected in the Kelsen pyramid, these regulations can never contravene any law found at higher levels, but must comply with what is established by them.

other levels

Apart from the levels described above, in Mexico the pyramid is completed with other types of lower level regulations.

As an example, we can point out the Regulations, which are provisions of a legislative nature. At this level are the Federal Education Law or the Labor Law.

Another of the regulations that appears at these lower levels is the Individualized Legal Standard. They are specific legal actions, such as wills or contracts.


Venemedia Communications. Definition of Kelsen’s Pyramid. Obtained from conceptodefinicion.de
Lopez Lopez, Isabela Guadalupe. The rule of law. Retrieved from sc.jalisco.gob.mx
Rosales Law Firm. The hierarchy of legal norms in Spain. Obtained from bufeterosas.es
Marmore, Andrey. The Pure Theory of Law. Recovered from plato.stanford.edu

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