Comparative Law Before and After 1900

When it comes to comparative law, the year 1900 marks a turning point. In the Summer of 1900, the Congress of Comparative Law took place in Paris, as an addendum to the World Exhibition. It is the starting point of a continuous stream of scholarly work on the functions and methods of comparative law.

Before the 1900 conference, comparative legal science* consisted of a patchwork of various bouts of research with comparative law elements to varying degrees. Thus, the ancient Greeks – Plato and Aristotle in particular – used comparative law for their philosophical elaborations on the ideal constitution. By contrast, the Romans did not deign foreign laws worthy of consideration for they were convinced of the absolute superiority of their own law. Subsequently, there were sporadic epochs of comparative law research, mostly in England, Germany, and France. Unfortunately, they lacked long-term academic impact and failed to establish comparative law teaching and research at universities.

The Paris Congress of 1900 set out to change this deplorable state of comparative legal science by first and foremost establishing it as a scientific discipline worthy of representation within universities. While the congress had its shortcomings (and I will discuss them in a later post), it still managed to create a momentum for comparative law up until this day. In particular, it prevented comparative law from falling behind in legal academia. Today, some comparative law is part of most university curricula – though comparative legal science is still not accorded the role that its relevance for law in general would warrant.

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* Comparative law as a practical harmonization tool has been used more continuously since the mid 19th century.

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Bibliography

Konrad Zweigert & Hein Kötz, An Introduction to Comparative Law (1998), pp. 48-62.

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