The spirits that he cited

Volume 331 of the Studien zur europäischen Rechtsgeschichte is now available

June 08, 2022

Jacob Grimm (1785-1863) was a prolific author who covered a wide range of areas. One idea in particular pervades his oeuvre: that of the Volksgeist, creative forces that reside in the people as a whole, no matter their status or education, a common spirit or ‘Geist’ that forms the basis for devising a people’s language and laws. In the early 19th century, many of Grimm‘s contemporaries – such as his Marburg law professor Friedrich Carl von Savigny – were influenced by the Volksgeist idea, albeit perhaps to a lesser extent. Karin Raude bases her study of this profoundly impactful concept on a close scrutiny of Grimm’s letters and writings as well as numerous contemporary sources. She offers a vivid picture of how close-ly interwoven Grimm’s political ideas, his concept of history and his understanding of Ger-man law were with his conviction that there was such a thing as a creative German Volks-geist.

Grimm soon lost interest in his law studies, but he devised many new categories of sources for legal history. He found fairy tales, mythology and folk songs to offer plenty of insight into the legal customs of the olden days, as did the Weisthümer: wisdom generated by the people, expressing what they considered to be ‘right’ and thus forming the basis of legal rules. Although Savigny’s methodology continued to influence his thinking, Grimm none-theless developed his own concept of the Volksgeist, distinct also from the notions of con-temporaries such as Hegel, Schelling, Hugo or Puchta, as Karin Raude shows in this volume. The approach of combining linguistics and law (or legal history) proved to outlive Grimm’s concept of the Volksgeist as such, which diminished in importance for the studies of ‘Ger-manic Law’ in the early 20th century.

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