Centralism, Civil Rights, and Witchcraft

33 Pages Posted: 19 Jan 2021

Date Written: November 15, 2020

Abstract

The largest witch-hunt in human history occurred in early modern Europe, where grisly estimates place the numbers at about 90,000 witchcraft prosecutions, and an overall execution rate of 50%, resulting in roughly 45,000 deaths. However, the execution rates of witches throughout Europe were not consistent. England was on one side of the spectrum with some court circuits having execution rates as low as 19%, while the Holy Roman Empire (Germany) was in stark contrast, accounting for almost half of the total prosecutions in Europe. Some locations in Germany, like Kiel, had execution rates of at least 67%, but the figure could possibly as high as 81%. One of the primary reasons for this large distinction may be the more centralized court system of early modern England, and the lack of a centralized court system in early modern Germany. This note will dive into a comparative legal study between the relative systems of early modern Germany and England and attempt to extrapolate the effects of judicial centralization on witch-hunting intensity.

Furthermore, if judicial centralization was acting as a safeguard to the rights of the innocent despite the policies of local and state governments, is it possible that this force is still at play in the modern federal system of the United States? Perhaps the parallel can be drawn from the witch-hunts in early modern Europe to the civil rights movement in the United States during the 20th century to help illustrate the sliding scale of judicial centralism’s effect on mitigating injustice. The United States’ federal courts tried to take on a more influential role on the issue of racial segregation in state and local governments during the civil rights movement. This move toward centralization by the federal judiciary in a federal system additionally helps to illustrate the relationship between centralism and federalism.

Keywords: Centralism, civil rights, witchcraft, history, law, legal, witches, Europe, critical race theory

Suggested Citation

Stevens, Matthew, Centralism, Civil Rights, and Witchcraft (November 15, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3731094 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3731094

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