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Collective memory in law and policy: the problem of the sovereign debt crisis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2018

Patrick O'Callaghan*
Affiliation:
Newcastle University, UK

Abstract

The idea of ‘collective memory’ features prominently in several disciplines but rarely in legal scholarship. Drawing on the work of Henri Bergson, Maurice Halbwachs and GWF Hegel, this paper seeks to present an account of collective memory that is relevant to discourse on law and policy. The paper uses the example of the policy response to the European sovereign debt crisis as a means of illustrating how collective memory of events in the distant past can shape individual behaviour and thinking. It argues that the current policy response can be explained, at least in part, by the influence on policy makers of the standard historical narrative of the Great Inflation of Weimar Germany. When, however, collective memory takes the form of Bergsonian ‘habit memory’, it can inhibit our efforts to resolve hard cases and the German government's opposition to the European Central Bank acting as a lender of last resort in the government bond markets neatly illustrates this point. If the debt crisis is to be managed effectively, policy makers must draw on Bergsonian ‘pure memory’ to explore the bounds of political and economic possibility.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Society of Legal Scholars 2012

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104. Ibid, pp 130 and 162.

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107. Ibid, pp 92–93.

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