Comparative History and the Internal View of French, German, and English Private Law
Posted: 26 Jun 2007
This Article explores the different intellectual and socio-political contexts that attended the emergence of the French, German, and English legal systems with a view to understanding French, German, and English private law from the perspective of the participants in these systems. The French legal system is a child of the Cartesian dualism that marked the Age of Reason, according to which the material world can and ought to be fully dominated by the human intellect. This conception of the relation of facts to ideas arguably is reflected in the structure and design of the French civil code, in such institutional features as the French conception of the role of the judge, as well as in the tendency of French jurists to view contractual consent subjectively. In contrast, the German legal system congealed at a time when Cartesian dualism was losing ground to German idealism. The dialectic conception of facts and ideas favoured by the German idealists arguably made its way into several institutional features of the German legal system, including the content of the BGB, the codification process, the conception of the role of the judge, the style of judicial decisions, and the greater inter-penetration of public and private law. It may also partly explain why German jurists have tended to view contractual consent as simultaneously objective and subjective. Finally, whereas both the French and the German legal systems emerged from highly intellectual contexts, the English legal system grew from a maize of pragmatic political and administrative considerations that left little room for explicit ideas. The emphasis on hard facts still is palpable in many aspects of contemporary English law, in particular, the doctrine of stare decisis, the conception of the judicial function, and the mode of reasoning by analogy. It arguably also is reflected in the tendency of English judges to privilege the objective conception of contractual consent.
Keywords: contract, comparative law, French private law, German private law
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