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Legal Theory and the Media of Law

Thomas Vesting

As many disciplines in the humanities have experienced a focus on culture’s impact in recent decades, questions surrounding the significance of media such as writing, print and computer networks have become increasingly relevant. This book seeks to demonstrate that a media and cultural theory perspective can also be highly productive for legal theory.
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Chapter 19: Statehood and democracy

Thomas Vesting

Extract

is thus not simply about searching for a uniform spirit, a uniform will, or even any other relatively homogeneous phenomenon that could describe, for example, the ethnocultural qualities of peoples and nations as prerequisites of the unity of the modern state.14 The aim is rather to understand how it became possible, despite the explosive growth of store memory under print culture, to fix within the function memory authoritative points of reference by which individuals liberated from the bonds of tradition could orient their lives and conduct. For as soon as society is set in motion and its relationship and communication networks extended beyond the house itself into ever larger spaces, individuals must be able to relate to each other also as strangers, finding common ground together and building mutual trust. Only then can they leave behind the unquestioned assumptions and routines of the traditional estates-based system and learn to cope with (ever greater) differences.

The monarchic state was already dependent on communication networks that extended across space as well as on unconscious shifts in patterns of cultural significance, all ushered in by the technology of printing. It was the printing press which first made possible the deliberate development of a common official language across provinces, for example. The monarchic state was in other words unable to control, let alone transcend the dispersion and potential self-modification of print culture’s symbolic forms. Indeed, already the cultural framework of the monarchic state could no longer be reduced to contexts of political...

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