Focus: International Legal Histories – A Look Back to the Twentieth Century

Between Systematization and Expertise for Foreign Policy: The Practice-Oriented Approach in Germany’s International Legal Scholarship (1920–1980)

Abstract

German international legal scholarship has been known for its practice-oriented, doctrinal approach to international law. On the basis of archival material, this article tracks how this methodological take on international law developed in Germany between the 1920s and the 1980s. In 1924, as a reaction to the establishment of judicial institutions in the Treaty of Versailles, the German Reich founded the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law. Director Viktor Bruns institutionalized the practice-oriented method to advance the idea of international law as a legal order as well as to safeguard the interests of the Weimar government before the various courts. Under National Socialism, members of the Institute provided legal justifications for Hitler’s increasingly radical foreign policy. At the same time, some of them did not engage with -racist theories, but systematized the existing . After 1945, Hermann Mosler, as director of the renamed Max Planck Institute, took the view that the practice-oriented approach was not as discredited as the more theoretical approach of international law. Furthermore, he regarded the method as a promising vehicle to support the policy of of Konrad Adenauer. Also, he tried to promote the idea of ‘international society as a legal community’ by analysing international practice.