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  • Pierre Legrand (a1)


It is apt to say that Europe, or at least the Europe of the European Union, is currently experiencing a comparative moment. To quote from Nietzsche, ours is the ‘age of comparisons’. For the first time, the two legal traditions represented in Western Europe – known to anglophones as the ‘civil law’ and the common law - find themselves interacting with one another within a general legal framework, that of the Treaty of Rome. Of course, there has long been mutual influences and interferences. For instance, one can convincingly argue that the ancient common law was but a by-product of an earlier form of the civil law. In the words of Raoul van Caenegem:



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This text offers the slightly modified version of an inaugural lecture delivered in Tilburg on 20 October 1995. I am indebted to Linda Rae Legault for her selfless assistance in the preparation of the argument. The usual disclaimer applies.



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1. Friedrich Nietzsche Human, All Too Human translated by Marion Faber and Stephen Lehmann (London, 1994) p 29 [originally published in 1878]. See generally Erik Jayme ‘Das Zeitalter der Vergleichung — Emerico Amari (1810–1870) und Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900)’ in Aldo Mazzacane and Reiner Schulze (eds) ‘Die deutsche und die italienische Rechtskultur im Zeitalter der Vergleichung’ (Berlin 1995) pp 21–29.

2. I regard the Scandinavian countries as forming part of the civil law world, if only as peripheral constituents. Eg: Jacob WF Sundberg ‘Civil Law, Common Law and the Scandinavians’ (1969) 13 Scandinavian Studies in Law 179.

3. RC van Caenegem, The Birth of the English Common Law 2nd edn (Cambridge, 1988), pp 96–97.

4. For rewarding discussions of the interaction between law and culture, see, eg, Robert W Gordon ‘Critical Legal Histories’ (1984) 36 Stanford L Rev 57; Martin Krygier ‘Law as Tradition’ (1986) 5 Law and Philosophy 237; Richard L Abel ‘Comparative Law and Social Theory’, (1978) 26 American J of Comparative L 219; Volkmar Gessner ‘Global Legal Interaction and Legal Cultures’ (1994) 7 Ratio Juris 132; Duncan Kennedy Sexy Dressing Etc (Cambridge, Mass. 1993); Clifford Geertz ‘Local Knowledge: Fact and Law in Comparative Perspective’ in Local Knowledge ([New York] 1983) pp 167–234; Mirjan R Damaska, The Faces of Justice and State Authority (New Haven, 1986); Léontin-Jean Constantinesco ‘Die Kulturkreise als Grundlage der Rechtskreise’ (1981) 22 Zeitschrift für Rechtsvergleichung 161; Bernhard Großfeld The Strength and Weakness of Comparative Law (Oxford 1990); Lawrence M Friedman ‘Some Thoughts on Comparative Legal Culture’ in David S Clark (ed) Comparative and Private International Law: Essays in Honor of John Henry Merryman on his Seventieth Birthday (Berlin, 1990) pp 49–57; Geoffrey Wilson, ‘English Legal Scholarship’ (1987) 50 Modem L Rev 818 pp 830–31. See also EP Thompson The Poverty of Theory (London, 1978) p 288, where the author notes that if law is culture it is also the case that culture is law in that culture is suffused with law. A similar point is made, for example, by René Marcic Rechtsphilosophie (Freiburg, 1969) p 43: ‘Any culture is thoroughly saturated with law’ [‘Alle Kultur vom Grund auf ist rechtlich durchtkränt’]. For stimulating applications of law as culture, see, eg, David Sugarman and Ronnie Warrington ‘Land Law, Citizenship, and the Invention of “Englishness” [:] The Strange World of the Equity of Redemption’ in John Brewer and Susan Staves (ed) Early Modem Conceptions of Property (London, 1995) pp 111–43; Esther Cohen The Crossroads of Justice [:] Law and Culture in Late Medieval France (Leiden, 1993).

5. Inevitably, however, there continues to appear studies written from the vantage point of one legal tradition in blissful ignorance of the other — even when their title would suggest a broader scope. For a characteristic example, see Mireille Delmas-Marty Pour un droit commun (Paris, 1995). In this book, the author feels able to argue in favour of a jus commune europaeum without any sustained consideration of the common law tradition.

6. S Myres McDougal The Comparative Study of Law for Policy Purposes: Value Clarification as an Instrument of Democratic World Order’ (1952) 1 American J of Comparative L 24, p 29.

7. Alan Watson Legal Transplants 2nd edn (Athens, Georgia 1993) p 10.

8. Martin Shapiro Courts (Chicago, 1981) p vii.

9. Jerome Hall Comparative Law and Social Theory ([Baton, Rouge] 1963) p 6.

10. François Rigaux ‘Le droit cornparé comme science appliquée’ [1978] Revue de droit international et de droit comparé 65 p 73.

11. Léontin-Jean Constantinesco Traité de droit comparé t.III: La science des droits comparés (Paris, 1983) p 21.

12. Rodolfo Sacco Introduzione a1 diritto comparato 5th edn (Turin, 1992) pp 40–41.

13. See Konrad Zweigert and Hein Kötz An Introduction to Comparative Law 2nd rev. edn, translated by Tony Weir (Oxford, 1992). Cf Martin Weston An English Reader's Guide to the French Legal System (Oxford 1991). where the author, though lacking a rich theoretical framework, reveals sensitivity to the cultural dimensions of legal translation.

14. Walter Benjamin Illuminations translated by Harry Zohn (London 1973) p 75.

15. I am grateful to Me Xavier Lewis, of the European Commission, for supplying me with a print.

16. See generally, with reference to French law, Robert Jacob Images de la justice (Paris, 1994); Jonathan P Ribner Broken Tablets [:] The Cult of the Law in French Art from David to Delacroix (Berkeley, 1993). For an inspiring review of Ribner's book, see Nicholas Kasirer ‘Larger than Life’ (1995) 10 Canadian Journal of Law and Society 185. See also Louis Marin Le portrait du roi (Paris, 1981).

17. John Law ‘Introduction: Monsters, Machines and Sociotechnical Relations’ in Id (ed) A Sociology of Monsters [:] Essays on Power, Technology and Domination (London, 1991) p 18.

18. Gyula Eörsi Comparative Civil (Private) Law (Budapest, 1979) p 54 [my emphasis].

19. James Boyd White ‘Law as Language: Reading Law and Reading Literature’ 60 Texas LRev 415 (1982) p 427.

20. Alan Ryan ‘The British, the Americans, and Rights’ in Michael J Lacey and Knud Haakonssen (eds) A Culture of Rights (Cambridge, 1991) p 391.

21. Roger Cotterrell ‘The Politics of Jurisprudence’ (London, 1989) p 22.

22. See Tony Weir ‘The Common Law System’ in International Encyclopedia of Comparative Law t. II: The Legal Systems of the World [:] Their Comparison and Unification c. 2: Structure and the Divisions of the Law, ed. by René David (Tübingen [nd]) nos 82–85 pp 77–80.

23. Eg Exparte King [1984] 3 All ER 897, CA p 903 (Griffiths LJ); Miliangos v George Frank (Textiles) Ltd [1975] 3 All ER 801, HL p 824 (Lord Simon).

24. In French law, On the contrary, it is regarded as perfectly reasonable to resort to this argument. For an illustration of the value of rule-based symmetry to a leading French jurist, see note Jacques Ghestin sub Ass plén 29 March 1991, JCP1991.11.21673 concl DH Dontenwille.

25. Eg: Peter Stein ‘The Tasks of Historical Jurisprudence’ in Neil MacCormick and Peter Birks (eds) The Legal Mind [:] Essays for Tony Honoré (Oxford, 1986) p 293; J Walter Jones Historical Introduction to the Theory of Law (Oxford, 1940) p I, not 1, where the author describes English law as ‘ein Recht ohne Rechtswissenschaft’ [‘a law without legal science’]. For an example of a typical misreading of the common law tradition where it is observed, without any supporting evidence, that, along with French, German, and Italian lawyers, common law lawyers perceive their work as ‘scientific’, see Paul Amselek ‘Props introductif’ in Id (ed) Théorie du droit et science (Paris, 1994) p 8.

26. I am not suggesting, of course, that the notion of mentalité is monolithic. A rewarding ground of investigation for the comparatist is, indeed, to bring to light para-mentalités within a given legal culture. See infra, at text accompanying note 37.

27. Eg: Pierre Legrand Comparative Legal Studies and Commitment to Theory’ (1995) 58 Modern LRev 262; John Bell ‘Comparative Law and Legal Theory’ in Werner Krawietz, Neil MacCormick, and Georg Henrik von Wright (eds) Prescriptive Formality and Normative Rationality in Modem Legal Systems [:] Festschrift for Robert S. Summers (Berlin 1994) pp 19–31.

28. Paul Bohannan Social Anthropology (New York, 1963) p 46.

29. For a general discussion of the scholastic perspective, see Pierre Bourdieu Raisons prariques (Paris, 1994) pp 219–36.

30. Only recently, a French academic reiterated the defining role of the text of law for civilian thought. See Christian Atias, ‘La défense à exécution provisoire de l'astreinte liquidée’ D. 1995. Chron.272 p 272: ‘The French legal tradition nourishes itself on the study of texts. The hope is to discover through textual analysis, through the interaction amongst texts, through a conversation amongst complementary, divergent, or apparently contradictory provisions, the least unsatisfactory, the least unjust solution’ [‘La tradition juridique française se nourrit du travail sur les textes. L'espoir est de découvrir, dans leur analyse, dans leur rapprochement, dans la conférence de dispositions complémentaires, divergentes ou apparemment contradictoires, la solution la moins insatisfaisante, la moins injuste.’].

31. For an insightful reflection on the common law's deep-rooted and enduring skepticism towards legislation which it apprehends as an ‘unwelcome interloper’, see Roderick Munday ‘The Common Lawyer's Philosophy of Legislation’ (1983) 14 Rechtstheorie 191 p 196 and passim..

32. I explore at greater length what 1 regard as the irreducible epistemological difference — the summa differentia—between the common law and civil law traditions in ‘European Legal Systems are not Converging’ (1996) 45 ICLQ 52; ‘Legal Systems in Western Europe: The Limits of Commonality’ in R Jagtenberg, E Örücü, and A de Roo (eds) Transfrontier Mobility of Law (Deventer, 1995) pp 63–84. See also Geoffrey Samuel The Foundations of Legal Reasoning ([Antwerp] 1995).

33. Quinn v Leathem [1901] AC 495, HL p 506 (Lord Halsbury LC).

34. I agree with Rodolfo Sacco who perceives the specialist of uniform law as the opposite of the comparatist: Pierre Legrand ‘Questions à Rodolfo Sacco’ [1995] Revue internationale de droit comparé 943 p 971.

35. For an elegant illustration, see Bernard Rudden ‘Torticles’ 6/7 Tulane Civil L Forum 105 (199192). I examine the foundational mythology of the civil law mentalité in ‘Antiqui Juris Civilis Fabulas’ (1995) 45 University of Toronto LJ 311.

36. Peter Goodrich Oedipus Lex (Berkeley, 1995) p 241.

37. I discuss the 1994 Quebec civil code's insidious marginalization of the Anglophone minority in Quebec as part of a broader political project seeking to achieve the effacement of the anglophone presence from the collective memory in ‘Civil Law Codification in Quebec: a Case of Decivilianization’ (1993) 1 Zeitschrift für Europaïches Privatrecht 574; ‘The Civil Code of Quebec: Semiotic Musings Around an accent aigu’ in Roberta Kevelson (ed) Conscience, Consensus, and Crossroads in Law [.] Eighth Round Table on Law and Semiotics (New York, 1995) pp 195–214; ‘Bureaucrats at Play: The New Quebec Civil Code’ (1995) 10 British J of Canadian Studies 52.For an argument in favour of a genealogy of alternative legal discourses, see Goodrich, supra, note 36 pp 146–51 and passim.

38. Hugues de Saint-Victor [Hugh of St. Victor] L'art de lire [:] Didascalicon translated by Michel Lemoine (Paris, 1991) pp 154–55 [‘C'est encore un voluptueux, celui pour qui la patrie est douce. C'est déjà un courageux, celui pour qui tout sol est une patrie. Mais il est parfait, celui pour qui le monde entier est un exil.’] (originally published in Latin in the years preceding 1130).

39. Pierre Legendre Jouir du pouvoir [:] Traité de la bureaucratie patriote (Paris, 1976) p 161.

40. Lawrence M Friedman and Gunther Teubner ‘Legal Education and Legal Integration: European Hopes and American Experience’ in Mauro Cappelletti, Monica Seccombe, and Joseph Weiler (eds) Integration Through Law t. I: Methods. Tools and Institutions bk 3: Forces and Potential for a European Identity (Berlin, 1986) p 377.

* This text offers the slightly modified version of an inaugural lecture delivered in Tilburg on 20 October 1995. I am indebted to Linda Rae Legault for her selfless assistance in the preparation of the argument. The usual disclaimer applies.

How to compare now

  • Pierre Legrand (a1)


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