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Otto von Gierke: The Social Role of Private Law

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1017-1116
JournalGerman Law Journal
Issue number4
Published1 Jul 2018

King's Authors


Otto von Gierke wrote The Social Role of Private Law (Die soziale Aufgabe des Privatrechts) in an age of extraordinary belief in progress and pride. In 1889, the Eiffel Tower was inaugurated, Britain's Royal Navy was required by law to outdo its next two rivals combined, and Germany was forging a massive new Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch). Within a year, Kaiser Wilhelm II had dismissed Otto von Bismarck: The old Iron Chancellor, who had unified a ‘Second’ Reich but no longer moved fast enough to secure a “place in the sun.” Ages of great confidence often see codes of law: Justinian's Corpus Juris Civilis in a reunited West and Eastern Rome; the Code Civil of the Napoleonic Empire; the Penal, Contract or Trust Acts from 1860 to 1882 across the British Empire; and the US Code of 1926. A desire for legal certainty sometimes drives reform, but rarely as much a desire to display superiority. The flicker of history must be made to seem timeless, like laws seem in printed word.

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