Ghosts of Law and Humanities (Past, Present, Future)

By Leiboff, Marett | The Australian Feminist Law Journal, June 2012 | Go to article overview

Ghosts of Law and Humanities (Past, Present, Future)

Leiboff, Marett, The Australian Feminist Law Journal

Abstract .This introductory essay teases out the ghosts of a Law and Humanities Past to find an unlikely candidate as an advocate for a relationship between law and the humanities: Sir William Blackstone. In contemplating what constitutes Law and Humanities Futures, it is apparent that law has forgotten about this past, and has created an imagined present for law, absent the humanities. In introducing the special issue on Law and Humanities Futures, the essay weaves the story of Otto Kahn-Freund and the concept of Bildung or 'formation' with Kahn-Freund's advocacy-using Blackstone-for its importance in the training of lawyers. In drawing upon Goethe, Yes Minister, and the Oxford of the 1950s and 1960s and Nazi Germany, this account humanises the humanities through Kahn-Freund, a refugee German Jewish labour lawyer, in order to make the claim that the humanities are fundamentally aligned with the civil and civilising. However, to dissociate the human from humanities can lead to the uncivil and inhumane. Drawing upon history and various modes of culture, the essay asserts that Bildung lights a path for law through the intersections and interdisciplines that constitute and shape the humanities in their broadest conception, of the human, of the civil, and the civilising-those concepts and ideas that we can see in and of the past and present-and to reveal what might be missing from law and humanities futures.


The early humanists were lawyers, they wrote the book, and they read the law. The contemporary humanist is a nonlawyer.1

On 11 May 1965, Otto Kahn-Freund, the German Jewish refugee labour lawyer and Professor of Comparative Law at the University of Oxford,3 gave a Special University Lecture at the London School of Economics and Political Science (the LSE). At the age of 65, his topic, 'Reflections on Legal Education', was delivered smack in the middle of the Swinging Sixties, only four years after the publication of HLA Hart's path-breaking positivist tract, The Concept of Law, and shortly after he - Kahn-Freund - had moved to Oxford, where Hart was Professor of Jurisprudence, a post he had held from 1952.

Let me push the pause button, for I am sure you are thinking that this is a very odd way to begin a special issue of the Australian Feminist Law Journal on Law and Humanities Futures by turning back nearly 50 years to a country - England - whose legal significance for Australia has faded like so many sun-drenched home movies, leaving behind spectral, sepiaed remnants of once solid images and representations. The very brief opening paragraph is a mere fragment, but its words will have already left an impression, a series of pictures may have come to mind: times and places remembered, times and places imagined, or blankness, nothing. What has come to mind, of course, depends on your autobiography. So please be patient and bear with me as this essay introduces by way of intio-duction, for it won't pretend to introduce by synopsis. Instead, a tad of this, and a bit of that, like fractured remnants drawn upon to construct memory and meaning. Now, are you sitting comfortably?

You may never have heard of Otto Kahn-Freund, but we may take it as a given that his life and career was remarkable. Born in Frankfurt-am-Main in 1900, he was educated in history and law at the Universities of Heidelberg, Leip2ig and Frankfurt-am-Main. With a doctorate on labour law, he was appointed a labour court judge in 1929 in Weimar Germany. Dismissed by the Na2is in 1933 for deciding a case against them, he had to escape soon after. Settling in England, he spent nearly half his life associated with the Law Department of the LSE, firstly as a refugee student and then as a lecturer. When he arrived in 1933, though a published scholar and bearer of high academic qualifications, he commenced an LL M (or MA) and was then appointed to a position of assistant lecturer in 1935.8

Despite or perhaps because of this background, Kahn-Freund knew his audience, their foibles and conceits, their sensibilities and prejudices. …

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