The § is Dead, Long Live the §! A History of “the Paragraph” in the Third Reich

In 1933, Prussian Minister of Justice Hanns Kerl founded a training camp for German law students. In the middle of the camp, he set up a miniature wooden gallows from which a paragraph-sign was hung. Kerrl’s symbolic assassination of law epitomized Nazi boorishness and anti-intellectualism. But unease about the paragraph, I show in my paper, long preceded the Hitler years. Following the Civil Code’s coming into force, free lawyers and other legal modernists had cast doubt on whether its narrowly circumscribed provisions could capture Wilhelmine realities. Among these critics was Justus Wilhelm Hedemann who went on to pursue a curious project in the Third Reich. As part of a private law modernization committee affiliated with the Academy for German Law, a Nazi legal think tank, he was in charge of drafting a new People’s Code that was to be both literally and figuratively paragraph-less. My paper tells the story of this project.