Thursday, March 23, 2023

Schmidt on Legal Realism, Free Law, and Hermann Kantorowicz

Katharina Isabel Schmidt’s article How Hermann Kantorowicz Changed His Mind About America and Its Law, 1927–34, is now available open access from  Law and History Review.  Highly recommended!

Hermann Kantorowicz crossed the Atlantic twice: to take up a visiting professorship at Columbia Law School in the summer of 1927, and to find refuge at New York's University in Exile in 1933/1934. Between his first and second stay, the German-Jewish émigré changed his mind about America and its law fundamentally. While he had—patronizingly—praised his US colleagues for “catch[ing] up… intellectually” in 1927, he accused them of “destroy[ing] the Law itself” in 1934. Reconstructing Kantorowicz's change of heart, my article uncovers just how open the transatlantic 1930s still were in jurisprudential matters. As leader of the so-called “free law” movement, Kantorowicz had sparked a turn to “life” in German legal science in the years before World War I. Throughout the 1920s, he had then watched contentedly, as American “realist” scholars drew on free law ideas for their own critical projects. By 1934, however, Kantorowicz could not help but notice parallels between New Deal and Nazi law. To his mind, both Roosevelt's and Hitler's jurists had started turning his moderate free law ideas into a radical—and dangerous—legal nihilism: in designating law as life's only source, they shunned scientific legal methods. In light of these concerns, my article excavates life-law's delicate suspension between peril and potential. My sources reveal a striking, triangular relationship between German free law, American legal realism, and Nazi life-jurisprudence.
–Dan Ernst