Edited by Jan M. Smits
German emigré author Sebastian Haffner relates a conversation with Wickham Steed that took place in 1941. Steed, by then the doyen of English political journalism, had previously been The Times’s Germany correspondent for many years. How was it possible, the two men wondered, that Germany had descended so quickly and without any considerable resistance into a state of base collective criminality? To Haffner’s surprise, the elderly gentleman pointed to the German Civil Code, the famous ‘Bürgerliche Gesetzbuch’ (BGB). Haffner, who was a lawyer by training and had passed the two German ‘State Examinations’ before his flight to England, had learned to respectfully approach the Civil Code as the consummation of legal thought – its very cathedral. Yet Steed insisted: to him, the BGB was the most eloquent expression of the blasphemous attempt to confine justice to a golden cage of perfectly crafted mechanical rules. Over time, these rules – positive law, as such – began to be mistaken for justice, and any real sense of equity and justice had been suffocated.
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