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Narratives and Normativity: Totalitarianism and Narrative Change in the European Legal Tradition after World War II

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 April 2019


After WWII, a new form of Europeanism emerged in legal history that gained momentum from European unification. This article explores the emergence of this new narrative as part of the process of exile from totalitarianism and its connection with the reestablishment of the European intellectual and political order after the war. The purpose is to explore the parallel afterwar processes of narrative and normative change and the influences and connections between them. It focuses on a specific historical case, the turn toward Europe, its legal heritage and human rights in the post-war era writing of legal history, especially in the writings of Paul Koschaker, Franz Wieacker, and Helmut Coing, and its linkages to the simultaneous process of European integration. It explores a new argument about the interlinkage between narrativity and normativity as cognitive processes that rely on the creation and sustaining of belief, and the ideas of legitimacy and identity construction.

Original Article
Copyright © the American Society for Legal History, Inc. 2019 

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A source of funding has been added to the acknowledgments. An addendum detailing this change has also been published (doi:10.1017/S0738248019000555).

He thanks the members of the research project “Reinventing the Foundations of European Legal Culture 1934–1964”—Drs. Heta Björklund, Magdalena Kmak, Tommaso Beggio, Ville Erkkilä, and Jacob Giltai—for their advice and help. The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC grant agreement no. 313100. This research has also been supported by the Academy of Finland funded Centre of Excellence in Law, Identity and the European Narratives, funding decision number 312154.


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24. There is an immense amount of literature on the intellectual crisis; see, for example, Geyer, Martin H., Verkehrte Welt: Revolution, Inflation und Moderne, München 1914–1924 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1998)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, or Keedus, Liisi, Crisis of German Historicism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015)Google Scholar.

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76. On the difficulties and the hostility faced by returning exiles, see Krauss, Heimkehr in ein fremdes Land.

77. Bodleian Library, Oxford, Archives of the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning (hereafter SPSL), MS. 272.1, 233 on his schedule; 190, Pringsheim to Ursell (April 3, 1946), on his intent to go to Freiburg in need of a certificate of identity from the Home Office and a return visa; 272.1, 191 Skemp to Under Secretary of State (April 5, 1946), application for traveling papers for Pringsheim, who is willing to assist in the educational reconstruction of Germany, short-term, children remain in Britain. Letters 192–206 about the travel arrangements to Germany show how difficult movement was at the time.

78. Winkler, Der Kampf gegen die Rechtswissenschaft, 571.

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84. Wieacker, “Ursprünge und Elemente des europäischen Rechtbewusstseins”; and Wieacker, Franz, Vulgarismus und Klassizismus im Recht der Spätantike (Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitätäsverlag, 1955), 63Google Scholar, shows the same idea in a nutshell.

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86. Laughland, John, Tainted Source: The Undemocratic Origins of the European Idea (London: Little, Brown & Company, 1997)Google Scholar.

87. This narrative was present already in the influential Stinzing, Ruderich, Geschichte der Deutschen Rechtswissenschaft (Münich and Leipzig: Oldenbourg, 1880)Google Scholar. On linking legal tradition and rights discourse, see Coing, Helmut, Die obersten Grundsätze des Rechts (Heidelberg: Schneider, 1947)Google Scholar.

88. Letter by Koschaker to Dean Hero Moeller October 8, 1943, Universitätsarchiv Tübingen 601/42.

89. Duve, “European Legal History –– Global Perspectives.”

90. The central texts are Savigny, Friedrich von, Of the Vocation of Our Age for Legislation and Jurisprudence (London: Littlewood, 1984)Google Scholar; and Grimm, Jacob, Deutsche Rechts Alterthümer (Göttingen: Dieterich'sche Buchhandeln, 1828)Google Scholar.

91. Forner, German Intellectuals and the Challenge of Democratic Renewal, 119–20.

92. I recently inquired from a leading scholar of feminist historiography about whether her motivations were political or whether she was inspired by feminist theory. She responded that political or theoretical inspiration would have been logical, but in fact she maintained that it was simply something she felt that she should do at that time. The issues were in the air and she wanted to address them.

93. Arendt, Hannah, The Origins of Totalitarianism (London: Penguin 2017), 301Google Scholar.

94. Rüsen, Jörn, “Tradition: A Principle of Historical Sense–Generation and Its Logic and Effect in Historical Culture,” History and Theory 51 (2012): 4559CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 52–54.

95. Jan Assmann's term Mythomotorik (the dynamics of myth) has been used to describe the dynamic complex of narrative symbols and evocative stories that influence the understanding of the present and the future. See Assmann, Jan, “Frühe Formen politischer Mythomotorik. Fundierende, kontrapräsentische und revolutionäre Mythen,” in Revolution und Mythos, ed. Harth, Dietrich and Assmann, Jan (Frankfurt: Fischer, 1992), 3961Google Scholar; Assmann, Jan, “Memory, Narration, Identity: Exodus as a Political Myth,” in Literary Construction of Identity in the Ancient World, ed. Liss, Hanna and Oeming, Manfred (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2010), 318Google Scholar; and Assmann, Jan, “Communicative and Cultural Memory,” in Cultural Memory Studies: An International and Interdisciplinary Handbook, ed. Erll, Astrid and Nünning, Ansgar (Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 2008), 109–18Google Scholar.

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