The subproject Law and the Uses of the Past will study the emergence of the idea of a shared legal past in Europe as a key to future integration. In recent years, scholars like Zimmermann have argued for law as a product of a shared European culture extending to ancient Greece and Rome. But how does this narrative relate to the long tradition of nationalistic ideals of the ethnic and cultural basis of law as exclusive to a nation, utilized by Nazism and xenophobic critics of migration?
The idea of a shared European legal past first emerged as a reaction to totalitarianism in the 1930s partly in the works by exiled Jewish scholars in the US and UK and gained traction during the Cold war as a liberal anticommunist narrative. The narrative of human rights was equally propelled by the internationalist reaction against the horrors of the Second World War and transatlantic influences, but traced its lineage to the Enlightenment, and even further back. In this regard, we can think of Hannah Arendt’s “right to have rights” and the relation between human rights, international law, and “crimes against humanity” in the works of Hersch Lauterpacht, both of which are to a large degree conceptualized within real or invented historical frameworks.