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The Social Role of Private Law (Otto von Gierke, 1889)

German Law Journal, Forthcoming

King's College London Law School Research Paper

55 Pages Posted: 1 Nov 2016 Last revised: 17 Nov 2017

Ewan McGaughey

King's College London - School of Law

Date Written: October 31, 2016


'The Social Role of Private Law' was a public lecture given by Otto von Gierke in 1889 as a leading critique of the codification of private law in the German Civil Code. Although highly influential in German legal theory and history, this is the first English translation of Gierke's work. The English translation is given in parallel to the original German, and is preceded by an introductory essay, 'A Social Law beyond Public v Private'.

Over 120 years after Gierke's original lecture, the concept of 'social law' is developing a rival taxonomy to overtake the increasingly problematic public-private divide, including the subcategories of obligations, property and persons. With Gierke's contemporaries, Maitland and Holmes, and the framers of 20th century political constitutions such as Sinzheimer, the Webbs or Berle, the basis of a social law has been embraced in all but name.

Notes: Downloadable document is available in German and English.

Keywords: Social law, private law, public law, obligations, property, person, corporations, nation-state, international law

JEL Classification: K00, K10, K11, K12, K13, K14, K20, K22, K31, K33, K36

Suggested Citation

McGaughey, Ewan, The Social Role of Private Law (Otto von Gierke, 1889) (October 31, 2016). German Law Journal, Forthcoming; King's College London Law School Research Paper. Available at SSRN: or

Ewan McGaughey (Contact Author)

King's College London - School of Law ( email )

Somerset House East Wing
London, WC2R 2LS
United Kingdom

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