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Reinventing the Foundations
of European Legal Culture 1934-1964

Final Report Summary - FOUNDLAW (Reinventing the Foundations of European Legal Culture 1934-1964)

This study is about a group of innovators, a handful of law professors, who are forced to reinvent themselves and their science abroad after being ousted from office and exiled by Nazi Germany. In response, these exiles and outcasts created a theory of a common European legal culture, founded on ideals such as the rule of law, law as science and law independent from political power. A reaction to the totalitarian regimes and their nationalistic ideologies, this reinterpretation of the past sought to show that there existed a great European legal tradition based on liberty and justice. What this study offers is a twist, in that the reinvention of the meaning of science and legal culture had a second, even more influential life after the war. Even the bystanders and the active participants to the Nazi regime in academia were deeply affected by the events 1933-1945 and were forced to reconsider the implications of totalitarianism in science. What the anti-totalitarian narrative formed by the exiles offered was an explanation and a new self-understanding of law and legal science as a bulwark against dictatorship. It was crucial for the success of the new interpretation that it enabled them to respond to the challenge of socialism and to criticize the suppression of the legal by the political sphere.

Combining archival research, bibliometrical studies and anthropological analysis, the project studied the intellectual history of five key figures, coming both from the ranks of the exiles and those who had collaborated with the Nazis or passively stood by. Studying correspondence, lecture notes, and published materials, the project followed how the idea of a common European legal past of rights was formulated, discussed and disseminated. Two distinct groups emerge, the exiles and outcasts, those who were driven from their posts, and the collaborators and bystanders, who either thrived in the new circumstances under the Nazis or managed to remain outside controversies. Of the first group, I have selected three most significant scholars, of which Fritz Schulz (1879-1957) and Fritz Pringsheim (1882-1967) were exiled in Britain, while Paul Koschaker (1878-1951) was ousted from office. The second group consists of two younger scholars, Franz Wieacker (1908-1994), a pupil of Pringsheim, and Helmut Coing (1912-2000).

The implementation of the project has been a success. The team members have uncovered a wealth of new information from the archives. As much of the material dates from the Nazi era, it has been hidden, destroyed and redacted to hide the culpability of the authors in the crimes of the totalitarian regimes. As a result, what the team members have had to do was to carefully and precisely search for clues in the existing material, patching together a collection of correspondence from innumerable private collections and archives. This new data has been subjected to a novel analysis, leading to a reinterpretation of the historical narrative regarding Europe and its legal heritage. The project results have been published in a series of peer-reviewed articles and books in major scientific publishers. The project has actively sought to disseminate information, its members participating in conferences and workshops to talk about the project and its aims. The organization of workshops and conferences in both in Helsinki and as collaborative ventures around the world have been equally successful in advertising the project and making it more known among scholars.