The Law Before its Law: Franz Kafka on the (Im)Possibility of Law's Self-Reflection

Ancilla Juris 2012, 176-203

German Law Journal 14, 2013, 405-422

17 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2014

See all articles by Gunther Teubner

Gunther Teubner

Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität

Date Written: April 1, 2014


The article offers a novel interpretation of Franz Kafka’s celebrated parable "Before the law". It is inspired by recent developments in European legal theory, particularly by the work of Jacques Derrida, Niklas Luhmann and Giorgio Agamben. It suggests a dual role change in the confrontation of the parable’s protagonists -- the "man from the country" and the "law". According to this interpretation it is not a specific individual that stands "before the law" but it is the legal discourse itself that is in a desparate search of its law, and the parable’s "law" for its part is not a generalized and distant authority (power, morality, religion etc), but the valid and positive law of our times. The article asks the question: What happens within the mysterious relationship between "Law AND law" which has always preoccupied legal theory when that relationship is subjected to the nightmarish logic in Kafka’s universe?

Keywords: Kafka, Luhmann, Derrida, Agamben, law and literature, paradox

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

Teubner, Gunther, The Law Before its Law: Franz Kafka on the (Im)Possibility of Law's Self-Reflection (April 1, 2014). Ancilla Juris 2012, 176-203. Available at SSRN: or

Gunther Teubner (Contact Author)

Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität ( email )

Grüneburgplatz 1
Frankfurt am Main, D-60323
0049 69 71034781 (Phone)
0049 69 798-34405 (Fax)


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