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Law's Past and Europe's Future

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 March 2019


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As Europe forges its legal order, constitution, and self-understanding, many appear to believe that identifying and enacting laws and a legal framework that correspond to shared concepts of justice and human rights will solve the problem of legalized barbarism which once plagued Europe and which has been a recurrent feature throughout time and across the globe. The historical propensity of courts, even in democratic states, to legitimate and enable policies of persecution and discrimination provides compelling evidence that the current level of faith in law is misplaced.

Articles: Special Issue Confronting Memories – Epilogue
Copyright © 2005 by German Law Journal GbR 


1 du Bellay, Joachim, Les regrets XXVI 49 (1876) (1558). I have modernized the spelling from “Pour Charybde eviter tu tomberas en Scylle, / Si tu ne sçais nager d'une voile à tout vent.”Google Scholar

2 This is the principal thesis of Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust (1989).Google Scholar

3 See id.Google Scholar

4 Habermas, J., Die postnationale Konstellation und die Zukunft der Demokratie, in: Die postnationale Konstellation, Politische Essays 91 (1998), cited with approval and commentary in Christian Joerges, Europeanization as Process: Thoughts on the Europeanization of Private Law, 11 European Public Law 61 (2005) (manuscript on file with author).Google Scholar

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6 ERNST CASSIRER, THE MYTH OF THE STATE 91 (1946).Google Scholar

7 See, generally, Ingo Müller, Hitler's Justice: The Courts of the Third Reich (Deborah Lucas Schneider trans., 1991); Vivian Grosswald Curran, The Legalization of Racism in a Constitutional State: Democracy's Suicide in Vichy France, 50 Hastings L.J. 1 (1998) [hereinafter Legalization of Racism] (noting the recent academic trend that suggests the populace and judiciary supported the regime's behaviour).Google Scholar

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9 Ronald Dworkin, Law's Empire 225 (1986).Google Scholar

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11 Rene Cassin, La Pensee et l'action (1972).Google Scholar

12 But see Mary Ann Glendon, Diaries of a Forgotten Framer, 14 Harv. Hum. Rts. J. 277, 277 (2001) (book review) (noting that the drafter of the first draft of the Universal Declaration was John Humphrey).Google Scholar

13 For a powerful depiction of Cassin and his colleagues’ faith in law's power to eradicate human barbarism, see Mary Ann Glendon, Knowing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 73 Notre Dame L. Rev. 1153, 1153–82 (1998).Google Scholar

14 Kastler, Alfred, Préface to Rene Cassin, La Pensee et l'action 11 (1972) (“Ce sont les éducateurs de toutes les nations qui sont responsables de la jeunesse de demain. C'est eux qu'incombe la mission de semer dans l'âme des jeunes le grain qui en germant l'emportera sur les nationalismes et préparer la moisson de demain: la patrie humaine.“).Google Scholar

15 Indeed, they also are the factors that determine how judges interpret and understand the legal theory and methodology.Google Scholar

16 See Bauman (note 2).Google Scholar

17 See Curran, V. Grosswald, Politicizing the Crime Against Humanity: The French Example, 78 Notre Dame L. REV 677 (2003) (note 14), 708–09 (describing the effect of society's narrowing perspective on law's meaning in the context of crimes against humanity).Google Scholar

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20 Mack v. Canada (Attorney General), [2001] 55 O.R.3d 113 (Ont. Super. Ct.), aff'd [2002] 60 O.R.3d 765 (Ont. App. Ct.); leave to appeal refused by [2003] 217 D.L.R. (4th) 583.Google Scholar

21 The Chinese Immigration Act 1885, S.C. 1885, ch. 71, available at: http// (last visited Apr. 7, 2004).Google Scholar

22 Factum of the Appellants at 3, Mack v. Canada (Attorney General), [2002] 60 O.R.3d 765 (Ont. App. Ct.) (No. C36799).Google Scholar

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26 Factum of the Appellants (note 22), 4.Google Scholar

27 Id., 1.Google Scholar

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29 Id., 1.Google Scholar

30 Raz, Joseph, About Morality and the Nature of Law, 48 Am J. Juris. 1, 1 n.1 (2003).Google Scholar

31 It earlier had become a central focal point after the First World War. See Nathaniel Berman But the Alternative Is Despair”:European Nationalism and the Modernist Renewalof International Law 106 Harv. L. Rev. 1792 (1993) (note 14); Patrick Thornberry, Is There a Phoenix in the Ashes?—International Law and Minority Rights, 15 Tex. Int'l. L.J. 421 (1980) (describing the European political and legal climate after World War I) (cited by Mack appellants in Factum of the Appellants (note 22), 5).Google Scholar

32 See discussion infra Part VI. For a comparison of the legal communities in Germany and France, arguing that many of the contrasting aspects are attributable to fascism's shorter duration of four years in France, as contrasted with twelve years in Germany, see Legalization of Racism (note 7). For a comprehensive account and analysis of the law in Vichy France, see Richard H. Weisberg, Vichy Law and the Holocaust in France (1996).Google Scholar

33 Factum of the Appellants (note 22), 96–113.Google Scholar

34 This insistence on continuity was in sharp distinction to the Nazi presentation of the Nuremberg laws, as Nazi rhetoric proudly proclaimed its role as a rupture from the past. With the initial antisemitic statutes, promulgated in October, 1940, the Vichy French government also stated that Jews would remain entitled to basic property rights. With the French population's ready agreement to the legalization of antisemitism, the government dropped this pretense and proceeded to deprive Jews of all property and, eventually, of all civil rights. For the reassuring language in which the initial statute appeared when published, see Legalization of Racism (note 7), 9 n.21. The point that legal rhetoric provided a false sense of legality through continuity with the past is a central theme of Professor Weisberg. See Weisberg (note 32).Google Scholar

35 A Judge Under Apartheid: Conversation with Justice Richard Goldstone, at: (Apr. 14, 1997).Google Scholar

36 In France, civil plaintiffs, parties civiles, are permitted to bring charges in criminal trials. See Code de procédure pénal [C. Pr. Pén.] art. 85 (Fr.), translated in: The French Code of Criminal Procedure (Gerald L. Kock trans., 1973).Google Scholar

37 See Lawrence Douglas, The Memory of Judgment: Making Law and History in the Trials of the Holocaust (2001) (arguing in favour of the Holocaust trials as legitimate and effective). But see Vivian Grosswald Curran, Atoms of the Law, 53 U. Toronto L.J. 305, 309–20 (2003) (disagreeing with Douglas’ conclusions and arguing that the non-judicial purposes of the Holocaust trials ultimately undermine law's credibility).Google Scholar

38 For an innovative proposal favouring a kind of collective guilt that would lessen the damage to law to which I refer above, see George P. Fletcher, Liberals and Romantics at War: The Problem of Collective Guilt, 111 Yale L.J. 1499 (2002).Google Scholar

39 For a discussion of the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa, see David Dyzenhaus, Judging the Judges, Judging Ourselves: Truth, Reconciliation and the Apartheid Legal Order (1998) [hereinafter Judging the Judges].Google Scholar

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47 Professor Raz's example is the converse of Professor Alexy's, presented by Professor Dyzenhaus, of the state that declares its goal to be the pursuit of injustice. See David Dyzenhaus, The Juristic Force of Injustice, in: Calling Power to Account: Law's Response to Past Injustice (David Dyzenhaus & Mayo Moran eds., forthcoming) (manuscript at 14, on file with author) [hereinafter Juristic Force].Google Scholar

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51 4 20th Century Legal Philosophy Series: Legal Philosophies of Laski, Radbruch, and Dabin 44 (Kurt Wilk trans., 1950).Google Scholar

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59 Dyzenhaus (note 47), 15.Google Scholar

60 Free law theory, sometimes blamed for making a king of the judge (“Richterkönig“), in fact said that the judge's task was to form rules only when “the formal law has a gap.” Hermann Kantorowicz, Some Rationalism About Realism, 43 Yale L. J. 1240, 1244 (1934).Google Scholar

61 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan 84 (1960) (1651).Google Scholar

62 See Hart (note 49), 75.Google Scholar

63 Id., 75–78.Google Scholar

64 See Flavius (note 50).Google Scholar

65 Brecht, Arnold, The Myth of Is and Ought, 54 Harv. L. Rev. 811, 824 (1941). For the Free Law School's views on natural law, see Vivian Grosswald Curran, Rethinking Hermann Kantorowicz: Free Law, American Legal Realism and the Legacy of Anti-Formalism, in: Rethinking the Masters of Comparative Law 66, 79– 80 (Annelise Riles, ed., 2001) [hereinafter Rethinking Hermann Kantorowicz]. See, also, Vivian Grosswald Curran, Romantic Common Law, Enlightened Civil Law: Legal Uniformity and the Homogenization of the European Union, 7 Colum. J. Eur. L. 63, 110–11 (2001) [hereinafter Romantic Common Law].Google Scholar

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67 See unpublished letter from Hermann Kantorowicz to Gustav Radbruch (28 February 1906) (on file with the author) (as reprinted for author by Frank Carter, the son of Hermann Kantorowicz, and published here with his kind permission). “Im ersten Teil weist er die Existenz von nichtstaatlichem ‘freien’ Rechte nach und naehert sich insofern dem alten Naturrecht, trennt sich aber von diesem unter anderm dadurch, dass er die Moeglichkeit bestreitet, jeden Rechtsfall rechtlich zu entscheiden. Diesem, jeder Dogmatik abholden Standpunkt gemaess, zerpflueckt er im zweitem Teile die herrschenden juristischen Methoden, wobei er jedoch betont, sich mehr gegen die Theorie zu wenden als gegen die Praxis, die schon bisher meist instinktiv das Richtige getroffen habe.“Google Scholar

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70 Id., 74–75.Google Scholar

71 See id., 74 (quoting judges who admitted that they deferred to legislation rather than apply equitable principles).Google Scholar

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76 See Radbruch (note 74), 49 (1946); Gustav Radbruch, Anglo-American Jurisprudence Through Continental Eyes, 52 L. Q. Rev. 530 (1936) (extolling the common law).Google Scholar

77 Radbruch (note 74).Google Scholar

78 David Fraser, The Jews of the Channel Islands and the Rule of Law, 1940–1945: Quite contrary to the principles of British justice (2000).Google Scholar

79 Id., 1.Google Scholar

80 See id., 7–8.Google Scholar

81 Id., 37.Google Scholar

82 Jacques Ghestin & Gilles Goubeaux, Traite de droit civil: Introduction generale 338 (1977).Google Scholar

83 Id., 339.Google Scholar

84 Bernd Rüthers, Die unbegrenzte Auslegung: Zum Wandel der Privatrechtsordnung im Nationalsozialismus 70 (1968).Google Scholar

85 See Curran (note 58), 151–66 (examining positivism in Germany before World War II).Google Scholar

86 See Ingeborg Maus, “Gesetzesbindung” der Justiz und die Struktur der nationalsozialistischen Rechtsnormen, in: Recht und Justiz im “Dritten Reich“ 87 (Ralf Dreier & Wolfgang Sellert, eds., 1989).Google Scholar

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88 This statement should be read in light of (and as qualified by) the Methodendualismus of the Nazi period, in which the courts interpreted enacted law liberally or strictly, selecting the methodology most likely to further Nazi ideology. See Ernst Fraenkel, The Dual State: A Contribution to the Theory of Dictatorship (E.A. Shils et al. trans., 1941) (providing first-hand description of National-Socialist legal system in Germany); Rüthers (note 84), 177; Arthur Kaufmann, National Socialism and German Jurisprudence from 19331945, 9 Cardozo L. Rev. 1629 (1988) (recounting the law's transformation under Nazi rule).Google Scholar

89 See Paulson's comment in Radbruch (note 48), 315 (“the exoneration thesis [i.e., exoneration of German judges by blaming the theory of positivism for judicial injustice] has been substantially discredited”).Google Scholar

90 This argument is the principal theme of my article, Fear of Formalism (note 58).Google Scholar

91 See Romantic Common Law (note 65), 120–26 (exploring the implications of the common- and civil-law methodologies within the context of the European Union).Google Scholar

92 See John P. Dawson, The Oracles of the Law 321–22 (1968) (“None of the [judges'] decrees expressed any reasons.”).Google Scholar

93 See id., 351–54 (describing the origin and evolution of the sale of judicial offices in pre-Revolution France).Google Scholar

94 See David A. Bell, Lawyers and Citizens: The Making of a Political Elite in Old Regime France 15 (1994).Google Scholar

95 See Dawson (note 92) 375–79 (describing the methods the revolutionary assemblies employed to subjugate the judiciary).Google Scholar

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97 See Andre Dessans, Essai sur la notion d'equite 138–39 (1934) (describing “la réaction des hommes de la Révolution contre l'arbitraire des juges de l'ancien régime …. le juge est [dès lors] dans l'obligation de survie de la loi à la lettre … il y avait dans cette attitude une réaction contre une abusive jurisprudence d'Équité, qui avait [eu] pour effet de faire vivre au milieu de la société comme si elle était sans lois“).Google Scholar

98 Code civil [C. civ] art. 5 (Fr.) (“Il est défendu aux juges de prononcer par voie de disposition générale et réglementaire sur les causes qui leur sont soumises.“).Google Scholar

99 For a more detailed discussion, see Curran (58), 141–51 (examining the doctrine of principes généraux and the French judiciary's reluctance to resist specific enacted law).Google Scholar

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107 French courts began to use general principles with less hesitation after the Second World War in reaction to the Vichy judges who had applied inhumane law, but resistance to using the principles remains strong to this day and the issue is heavily debated in French legal scholarship.Google Scholar

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109 Id., 323–35.Google Scholar

110 See id., 323–29.Google Scholar