"Hermann Kantorowicz (1877-1940): the battle for legal science" conference

"Hermann Kantorowicz (1877-1940): the battle for legal science" conference, October 25th-26th 2018, University of Helsinki, Unioninkatu 37, 00170 Helsinki

Legal historian, Mediaevalist, legal theorist, legal philosopher, comparative-international lawyer, criminal law expert, philologist, social scientist, political theorist, political activist – all labels that could be attached to Hermann Kantorowicz. Born in 1877, his first major work was published in 1906 under the pseudonym Gnaeus Flavius, the legendary plebeian who demystified Roman law and brought it to the common people in the early Roman Republic, under the title Der Kampf um die Rechtswissenschaft, the ʻBattle for legal scienceʼ.

Law is not good law simply by virtue of it being enacted by a legislator, judges and (legal) scientists have to function as interpreters between law and societal fact to help create proper legal rules – this is how the content of the pamphlet can be summarized. The impact of the ʻBattleʼ was large and immediate, as a basic document for the influential Free law movement throughout continental Europe, but also for sociological jurisprudence and Legal realism in the United States.

Yet, the ʻBattleʼ is but one of Kantorowicz´s many works. A polymath, a ʻRenaissance manʼ, his scholarship is as broad as it is deep. This conference examines the multifaceted thought as an extension to as well as a break with the long 19th century, in connection to Kantorowicz´s widespread influence in a number of scientific fields.

In this spirit, the conference wholeheartedly welcomes attendants and participants from all of the social sciences and humanities, and even beyond. As the original multidisciplinarian who nevertheless always came back to the problem of what it means to be a ʻlegal scientistʼ, Hermann Kantorowicz is a jurist for the 21st century.


Room 1055, Unioninkatu 37, 00170 Helsinki


Jacob Giltaij (Helsinki): Hermann Kantorowicz (1877-1940): a biographical introduction

Heikki Pihlajamäki (Helsinki):  Kantorowicz and International Law


Hans-Peter Haferkamp (Cologne): Kantorowicz and the Historical School

Kaius Tuori (Helsinki): Kantorowicz´s in exile: approaching scholarly change and intellectual challenge of emigration through Hermann and Ernst Kantorowicz


Room 1055, Unioninkatu 37, 00170 Helsinki


Ino Augsberg (Kiel): Hermann Kantorowicz’ Concept of a (Legal) Concept

Adolfo Giuliani (Helsinki): Hermann Kantorowicz as a philosopher of language


Laurens Winkel (Rotterdam): TBA

Katharina Schmidt (Yale): German Free Lawyers, American Legal Realists, and the Transatlantic Turn to “Life”



Jacob Giltaij: Hermann Kantorowicz (1877-1940): a biographical introduction

The purpose of this presentation is to provide a brief overview of the life and works of Kantorowicz. On the basis of this overview, some possible points for further discussion will be formulated.

Heikki Pihlajamäki: Kantorowicz and International Law

The contributions in the fields for which Kantorowicz is mainly known were all connected with each other. The First World War spiked Kantorowicz’s interest for international law. Kantorowicz’s main contribution in the field was an expert opinion on the question of war guilt (1927; published as Gutachten zur Kriegsschuldfrage: Aus dem Nachlaβ herausgegeben mit einem Vorwort von Imanuel Geiss, 1967). Kantorowicz used his archival skills in the first part of the work and organized most it according to the model of German criminal law. In addition, it will be argued that the expert opinion was closely linked to Kantorowicz’s theory of free law. Kantorowicz published some other writings in the field of international law as well, all of them linked to contemporary international and German national politics, and these works will also be discussed in the presentation. Kantorowicz rarely reveals his sources and needs to be read in the context of not only the political controversies of his time but also in the context of contemporary international legal doctrine – both its dominant and less dominant strands.

Hans-Peter Haferkamp: Kantorowicz and the Historical School

Savigny’s legal thinking had come “several millennia too late for Europe” and may “have been suitable for Australia’s outback”: In 1911, at the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Savigny’s passing, Kantorowicz delivered a remarkable reckoning with the Historical School of Jurisprudence, under the headline “What is Savigny to us?”. His answer was blunt: “Nothing!” His controversial essay earned him a plethora of arguments, from personal altercations to heated academic debates with other experts on the Historical School. This presentation will examine the background of Kantorowicz’ text and shed some light on its impact, offering new interpretations.

Kaius Tuori: Kantorowicz's in exile: approaching scholarly change and intellectual challenge of emigration through Hermann and Ernst Kantorowicz

Among the scholarly exodus leaving Germany during the Nazi years were a number of professors named Kantorowicz. The purpose of this paper is to compare the experience in exile between Hermann Kantorowicz (1877-1940) and Ernst Kantorowicz (1895-1963) as an example of how the responses to the experience produced multifarious scientific and political reactions. Looking at the two relatives from Posen is interesting and fruitful because the Kantorowiczs were not only both some of the most well-known historians of their time, but also intensely political in their life and works, reflecting on the changes through the Nazi years and their experience in exile. 

Ino Augsberg: Hermann Kantorowicz’ Concept of a (Legal) Concept

The paper endeavors to find a linking bracket for Kantorowicz’ so rich and complex work. Analyzing the early book on the poetry of Stefan George as well as his writings on “literary history” and, most importantly, Kantorowicz’ last, posthumously published book on “The Definition of Law”, I argue that such a linking bracket can be found in his specific interest in language.

Adolfo Giuliani: Hermann Kantorowicz as a philosopher of language

Hermann Kantorowicz wrote his last work The definition of law (1939) as a linguist philosopher. He believed that legal science can only advance by clarifying its thinking procedures and all errors that cluttered this path came from an inappropriate understanding of language. In this spirit he tackled the primary question addressed by this work—What is law. But he also believed that his enterprise was but one sector of the broader commitment to language analysis furthered by a generation of scholars who spread from Mitteleuropa to the UK and US, from the Wiener Kreis to Ludwig Wittgenstein, who set out the premises for the linguistic turn that reshaped most social sciences in the following generation. This paper highlights three roles played by philosophy of language in Kantorowicz' Definition of law. First, linguistic analysis supported his uncompromising anti-metaphysical attack launched against the Pandektist Begriffshimmel. Second, it challenged the confusion between facts and norms advocated by Carl Schmitt. Third, it prepared the ground for the subsequent analysis of law in terms of language furthered by H. L. A. Hart.

Katharina Schmidt: German Free Lawyers, American Legal Realists, and the Transatlantic Turn to “Life”

From his office at the New School’s University in Exile, Hermann Kantorowicz wrote to Lydia Radbruch in 1934, complaining: “American legal science (…) is terribly backwards.” On a more sanguine note, however, he added: “The many Germans here will hopefully exert a fruitful influence.” His expectations for the growing number of émigrés trickling into American academia at the time were great. Can we say, then, that Kantorowicz himself left a “fruitful influence” on American legal science? His “Some Rationalism about Realism,” also written in 1934, certainly evinced proselytizing aspirations. In it, Kantorowicz forcefully accused the then dominant legal realists of having strayed too far from law’s nature as norm science. Ever since the 1910s, Kantorowicz and his dauntless free law allies had called for a closer connection between law and “life.” Critical jurists like Roscoe Pound and Karl Llewellyn subsequently attempted to reroute American legal scholarship from a concern with “law in the books” to a concern with “law in action.” I propose to examine Kantorowicz’s article from the perspective of comparative and transnational history. Can German free law be considered a legitimate precursor of American legal realism? What role did Kantorowicz play as part of the transatlantic turn to “life”?