The Outcome of Influence: Hitler’s American Model and Transnational Legal History

17 Pages Posted: 13 May 2019

Date Written: April 29, 2019


James Q. Whitman’s powerful book, Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Race Law, offers a chilling example of the way the United States can negatively influence the world. This review essay sets the book within the context of foreign relations history and transnational legal history. I first trace Whitman’s careful examination of Nazi uses of American law. His evidence of direct and substantial Nazi discussion of U.S. law when writing the Nuremburg Laws makes his core claim indisputable that American law was a model for the Nazis. Whitman shows that Nazi law sometimes did not go as far as American law due to foreign relations concerns. I argue that attention to Nazi foreign policy history would deepen this history, helping to explain how and when foreign criticism led Germany to modify its approach to race law. Hitler’s ultimate goal was the expansion of German power, not the maintenance of a positive German image, so any moderation in the Nuremberg Laws due to foreign criticism was likely tied to specific goals, like the importance of particular trade relations to Hitler’s goal to expand Germany. Finally, the essay sets Hitler’s American Model within the broader history of the international impact of domestic law. The foreign relations impact of U.S. race discrimination provides an illuminating comparison because foreign criticism played a different role than the German experience. Negative international reaction to American racism during the early Cold War years led American leaders to believe that civil rights reform was essential to protecting the U.S. global image, which mattered to maintaining American Cold War leadership. In comparison, Nazi concerns may have been tied to efforts to build up their arms industry as a means of enabling German power. Comparing the two examples can illuminate the varied relationships between domestic law and international affairs. The international role of domestic law is not limited to the borrowing of legal texts, and the transnational promotion of legal norms. Domestic law can also be an aspect of a nation’s diplomacy. The essay suggests questions for future scholars to pursue, and includes in the footnotes concrete ideas and resources for researching the transnational history of domestic law.

Keywords: legal history, comparative law, transnational, international, Germany, German, Nazi, anti-semitism, race, civil rights

Suggested Citation

Dudziak, Mary L., The Outcome of Influence: Hitler’s American Model and Transnational Legal History (April 29, 2019). 117 Michigan Law Review 1179 (2019)., Available at SSRN:

Mary L. Dudziak (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States

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