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Friedrich Carl von Savigny and the Politics of Legal Pluralism in Germany, ca. 1810-1847



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Johann, Charlotte 


This dissertation investigates the relationship between law and the state in early nineteenth-century Germany, traced through the lens of one jurist’s engagement with legal reform: the scholar and Prussian statesman Friedrich Carl von Savigny (1779-1861). Savigny is known primarily as an innovator in the field of academic jurisprudence. He was a leading figure in the historical school of law, a movement within nineteenth-century legal scholarship that promoted historical sources of law over new legislation and codification as the textual basis of the legal system. Yet parallel to his academic career, he was also involved in the legal reform projects of the Prussian government. By integrating these two fields of legal debate into a single framework, the dissertation uncovers the larger struggles over defining the legal order in early nineteenth-century Germany, triggered by the political turbulences of the Napoleonic era. It shows that the repeated reordering of Germany’s political landscape during and after Napoleon’s conquests prompted jurists to question the extent to which the legal system depended on, and was shaped by, the state. Savigny’s academic jurisprudence emerged in this context as a vision for legal reform that aimed to ensure the autonomy and continuity of coexisting legal sources and traditions amid shifting political surroundings, thus contesting the state’s hegemony over the legal system. His practical involvement in Prussian politics, moreover, illuminates a similar preoccupation within government concerning the state’s ability to shape the legal system. In tracing Savigny’s movements between public, academic and government spheres, the dissertation reveals law as a site of contestation and negotiation that prompts us to reconsider received narratives about the legal system as a sideshow of the rise of the administrative state in nineteenth-century Europe.





Clark, Christopher


Law, Jurisprudence, Historical School, Legal Pluralism, Prussia


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
AHRC (1795406)