Helsinki Legal History Series: Alain Wijffels 28.3.2023

We warmly welcome you to join us in the Helsinki Legal History Series Lecture with Alain Wijffels on 28.3.2023.

When: Tuesday, 28 March 2023, 3:00pm-4:30pm (UTC+3).

Where: Porthania Building, Room P545, University of Helsinki. You can also join us online via Zoom.

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Meeting ID: 643 7387 3181
Passcode: 554364

Title: From the university-based ius commune to a potentially universal law. A lecture in honour of Mireille Delmas-Marty (1941-2022).


In recent years, the emphasis on the origins of Western legal science as a science of public governance has become the speaker’s central theme. When universities and law schools first developed, the purpose of law studies was to provide a theoretical foundation and a practical instrument for justifying and working out the concept of good government. Today, it appears that other sciences (not least the social sciences) have largely taken over that role, while legal studies and legal practice tend – some important exceptions notwithstanding – to be marginalised in the upstream stages of the political decision-making process, and have been largely relegated to what is being perceived as technical and formal features of governance.

The French legal scholar Mireille Delmas-Marty (1941-2022), to whom this seminar is intended as a posthumous tribute, illustrates, through her published work and commitment in public life, that even in our age, the jurist’s primary vocation to support the theory and practice of the ideal of good government can still be successfully pursued.

The speaker’s own itinerancy as a legal historian whose research has focused on the civil law tradition for the past half century reflects to some degree the flow and ebb (in that order) of « ius commune » as a topic of legal-historical studies over the same period. However, among various factors, Delmas-Marty own itinerance could act as a beacon for retaining a course which showed how the history of civil law remained relevant for legal-historical research, and eventually converged with the speaker’s attempts to rehabilitate and re-think legal science as the historical backbone of the political ideal of good governance.

The seminar will therefore propose an outline of the changing historiography of civil law/ius commune studies since the 1970s in parallel with some milestone’s of Delmas-Marty’s work, such as Pour un droit commun (1994), Vers un droit commun de l’humanité (1996), Trois défis pour un droit mondial (1998), Aux quatre vents du monde [Petit guide de navigation sur l’océan de la mondialisation] (2016), Une boussole des possibles [Gouvernance mondiale et humanismes juridiques] (2020), and, finally, Sur les chemins d’un jus commune universalisable (2021).

The seminar hopes to enhance young legal historian’ awareness of how even highly traditional and apparently conventional topics and concepts in legal history are subject to the winds of change ; and of how it is necessary to keep aloof of fashionable but ephemeral trends in legal studies, while retaining a critical detachment from what mainstream lawyers and political actors regard as the law’s essence and purpose.