W&L Law Symposium Explores Legacy of German Free Law Movement

Lexington, VA • Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Smashing the Machine: The Troubled Legacy of Kantorozicz's kampf
September 9-10, 2012
Washington and Lee University School of Law will host a symposium next month exploring the legacy of Hermann Kantorowicz's 1906 essay "The Battle for Legal Science" and its impact on the emergence of legal-realism movements in Germany and abroad.

The symposium, titled "Smashing the Machine: The Troubled Legacy of Kantorozicz's kampf," will take place on Sept. 9-10 in Sydney Lewis Hall and the Elrod Commons on the grounds of Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. This event is free and open to the public.

Prof. Russell Miller of the W&L School of Law, who is co-organizing the symposium, explains that Kantorowicz's essay is one of the most important and incendiary works in Germany's rich history of legal scholarship. Kantorowicz, who at the time was a post-doctoral researcher, called on German jurists to break free of the country's tradition of suffocating formalism and blind positivism.

"Kantorozicz's proposal, what he called the 'free law movement,' aimed to set the German jurist free of the 'logic machine' of Germany's strictly formalist conceptual jurisprudence," says Miller.  "Instead, Kantorowicz wanted judges to resort to life's full spectrum of values, knowledge, and experience in making legal decisions."

At the time, the essay generated a great deal of critical commentary and judicial reaction, but it did not seem to redirect—to free—German jurisprudence in its day. Still, Miller argues that the text has a significant legacy, perhaps having stimulated America's legal-realism movement, playing an uncertain and unwitting role in Nazi-era jurisprudence, and as a foundation for post-war Germany's turn towards natural law.  Above all, explains Miller, Kantorowicz's work is an important mile-marker in the perpetual struggle between formalist and sociological approaches to the law.

Legal scholars will explore these and other issues during the two-days of the symposium proceedings. Keynote addresses will be delivered by James Whitman, the Ford Foundation Professor of Comparative and Foreign Law at Yale Law School, and Vivian Curran, Professor of Law at University of Pittsburg Law School.

A list of panelists and additional information is available online at http://law.wlu.edu/kampf. Kantorowicz's essay is available in its first-ever English translation (Cory Merrill) at the German Law Journal website.

The program is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the law school and the W&L German and Russian Languages Department.  Prof. Paul Youngman of that department is a co-convener. The symposium is sponsored by the German Law Journal, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the W&L Frances Lewis Law Center, and the W&L Transnational Law Institute.

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