Northern Lights: From Swedish Realism to Sociology of Law
(2013) 40 Journal of Law and Society 657-669
14 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2014 Last revised: 30 Apr 2016
Date Written: 2013
This paper is one of a series of partly autobiographical articles dealing with major books that influenced the commissioned writers. The book chosen is Karl Olivecrona’s once famous and very influential book Law as fact (1939), the work that probably did most to establish international interest in Scandinavian realist legal theory. The book should be seen not only as a contribution to legal theory but as a striking, pioneer work of speculative sociology of law. The paper explores Law as Fact’s powerful socio-legal insights, but then goes on to sketch aspects of its broader historical context, especially its author’s active and very public wartime campaigning in support of Nazi Germany. The relevance of this history in relation to Law as Fact’s view of law as a technology of power and as a psychological instrument is assessed. The book is still important today for its originality and clarity of argument. However, it presents a legal perspective that discounts morality as an independent agency of social influence, interacting with state law. Not only should such a limited view of morality be rejected, but contemporary socio-legal research should emphasise law’s complex relations with morality and find new ways to study these sociologically. The article develops these arguments as it records the author's ongoing (somewhat accidental) effort to contextualise Olivecrona's work historically.
Keywords: Karl Olivecrona; Sweden; Scandinavian legal realism; law and morality; socio-legal studies; sociology of morals; Per Stjernquist; Torgny Segerstedt; Nazi Germany
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