Nazism, Legal Positivism and Radbruch's Thesis on Statutory Injustice

Law and Critique 14 (3):277-295 (2003)
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Abstract

The small article “Statutory Injustice and Suprastatutory Law” published in 1946 by Gustav Radbruch is one of the most important texts in 20th century legal philosophy. Until recently, its importance was said to stem from its renewal of ‘natural law’ and from its ‘formula’, according to which the value of justice should override that of legal certainty in extreme cases. In this contribution, a close examination will show that Radbruch's text is less univocal than often suggested. I argue that Radbruch deals here with the acute problems of apparent criminal legality during the Nazi-era rather than with problems of validity. In order to make this clear, I first briefly sketch Radbruch's personal history and the context into which the article fits. Secondly, I analyze the text itself and focus on how to understand the well-known grudge informer case. Finally, I pay some attention to the renewed topical interest of Radbruch's formula, owing to the fact that it was used in the trials against former-GDR soldiers who shot fugitives at the Berlin Wall,and their superiors.

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Thomas Mertens
Radboud University Nijmegen

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