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Neo-Mediaeval Permutations of Personhood in the European Union

28 Pages Posted: 11 Apr 2016 Last revised: 2 Dec 2016

Dimitry Kochenov

University of Groningen - Faculty of Law

Date Written: April 8, 2016


The legal understanding of personhood is dynamic and evolves through the ages. This paper shows how a contemporary shift, under the influence of, inter alia, the law of the European Union, provides an unexpected excursion into the past, reminiscent as it is of some pre-modern approaches, thus showing deep-rooted conflicts between how the Union operates and the classical ideology of demos, democracy and citizenship. The fact that this is undoubtedly inadvertent does not alter the outcomes of this process. The new individualism, which the EU tacitly promotes with all its accidental cosmopolitanism is presented here as neo-mediaevalism. The core distinction at the heart of such legal paradigm of personhood is between the free and unfree; the core moral value is the precise apportionment of liberty among the persons in accordance with their legally recognisable chance and circumstance. This paradigm of personhood, which is essentially private, not public in nature, almost became extinct in contemporary world with the advent of democracy, equality, and the status of citizenship based on the citizen/foreigner distinction. This is what the EU now happens to be reviving. As a result, equality is not treated as a value — not even as a starting presumption; — community does not build on the idea of sovereignty and submission; and liberty is detached from the political realm and does not imply collective self-determination.

Keywords: Calvin, Rule of Law, Equality, EU Law, Personhood, Medieval law, discrimination, EU citizenship, nationality

Suggested Citation

Kochenov, Dimitry, Neo-Mediaeval Permutations of Personhood in the European Union (April 8, 2016). University of Groningen Faculty of Law Research Paper 2016-19; EUI Working Papers LAW No. 2016/13. Available at SSRN: or

Dimitry Kochenov (Contact Author)

University of Groningen - Faculty of Law ( email )

Oude Kijk in 't Jatstraat 26
Groningen, 9712 EK

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