Mark S. Weiner

The Beauty of the Code

In Aesthetics, narrative, form, Books and libraries, Conversations, Europe, Law and literature, Video on November 18, 2012 at 5:03 pm

This is the first in a series of videos I’ll be posting during my travels in Europe: a five-minute conversation about a small, beautiful law book. An earlier posting of the video was removed to correct an error. To see a larger version, click on the title above. The video is with compliments to my former student Delilah and her husband Carlos.

  1. Nice vid Mark. I hope you will show us more of these! Interesting to realize that codes were also printed for lay people, to have it stand next to the bible probably, on your bookshelf. No wonder most people do not know anything about the law these days, when laws are only printed (if at all) for those who have to apply them.
    One of the laws in the Netherlands says ‘Everyone is supposed to know the law’. Hmm …
    Enjoy your stay in Europe!


    • Thanks, Wibo! There’s a similar tradition of legal thinking in England around the time of the civil war you might enjoy introducing to your students. Do you know about a fellow named Gerrard Winstanley? Or about the Diggers? Here is Winstanley’s tract “Law of Freedom in a Platform”: Relatedly, one of the important reforms to come out of the civil war period was a piece of legislation requiring all court documents to be written in English (as opposed to Latin or law French) and in a legible hand–an ideal of popular legal transparency that was influenced by the principles of the Protestant reformation as much as the code civil was by the principles of the Enlightenment.

      I’ve been thinking a lot about both your comments on my talk and about the issue of multi-culturalism in the Netherlands we discussed in relation to your own work as an adviser to the courts. In my second book, _Americans without Law_, I describe a long tradition of speaking about citizenship in the United States, present especially from the mid-19th to the early twentieth century, in which racial minorities were often described in terms of their capacity or incapacity for certain types of legal behavior; for instance, Native Americans were sometimes described as incapable of holding title of real property. I called that tradition “juridical racialism” (in earlier work I called it “ethno-juridical discourse”). Do you think there is a similar or related type of rhetoric present today in public discourse the Netherlands?


      • Mark, no I know nothing about Winstanley and the diggers (sounds like a pop band). I will follow your link to them ..
        As for ppl without law, your examples remind me of what is usually called (legal) paternalism: some ppl are legally not allowed to think and decide for themselves, so others (the state; legal guardians) did/do that for them. Like women in the past not allowed to vote, women until 1956 not legally allowed in NL to buy large household stuff, mentally ill etc. Was the argumentation concerning American Indians in the same vein?
        As for todays ethnic minorities in Nl, there is a mixture of several gut-feeling-related argumentation. One example is the proposed legislation to ban cousin-niece marriages. Many ethnic minorities marry someone close and from their home country. The overt argumentation is that banning those marriages helps fight immigration of new waves of people who do not know the Dutch language and culture, so integration is hindered. A hidden argumentation is that marrying a close relative is contrary to modern morals (interestingly, the ban was lifted in NL in the 1970s) and also to biology (according to popular belief, even if scientifically unfounded). The hidden argumentation goes some way toward paternalism, saying that ‘backward customs’ do not belong in a modern culture ‘and we will force you to believe that’.
        ‘Juridical racialism’ is maybe too strong a concept for this modern practice?
        Hope you enjoy your stay and your teaching!


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