Events - 04.03.2013 - 00:00 

The links between law and literature

The Swiss author Peter von Matt spoke about law and literature at the HSG. The germanist, who had been awarded the Swiss Book Prize in 2012, gave his lecture at the 4th Colloquy of the Peter Häberle Foundation.
Source: HSG Newsroom


5 March 2013. The Swiss author started his lecture with a quotation from Schiller, according to which one of the functions of the theatre was to compensate for the deficits of the judicial system. In terms of Peter von Matt’s representation, Schiller considered literature to be a second instance besides the conventional judiciary of the state. This judiciary instance adjudged moral behaviour and thus assumed the role of the Last Judgement, which had been lost through secularisation.

A sense of justice on reading
Von Matt referred to various works to illustrate the literary resources of jurisdiction: both Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Heinrich von Kleist’s Michael Kohlhaas demonstrated how the readers’ liking for the different parties is skilfully controlled. The description of the perpetrator and his inner life evoked a liking for certain characters in the reader.

This is where a sense of justice and justice itself come into play. “Both being textual sciences, jurisprudence and literature have many things in common,” said the author. He noted that the jurisdiction of literature was much more prone to corruption owing to the easy influence of like and dislike and that it dealt much less with the complexity of a deed than the judiciary system.

Precision in literary texts
In the subsequent discussion with the audience, reference was made to common features, differences, learning processes and links between law and literature. Law professors and federal judges from Switzerland enriched the discussion with expert contributions. The guests concurred that Schiller’s proposition that literature acted as a second judiciary instance had to be rejected. After all, the demands made on literature were not the same as those made on the law.

In courts of law, likes and dislikes were also deliberately controlled on occasion, the professors added – a small sideswipe at the federal judges, who replied that good judges were immune to personal likes and dislikes. Rather, a nexus between law and literature was to be found in terms of textual quality: judiciary texts could do with a good deal more literary precision. The participants in the colloquy agreed that law and literature were closely related. “For exactly this reason,” said a professor, “I have learnt the lesson from this lecture that lawyers should read more novels in the evenings.”

Häberle Colloquies in St.Gallen
The Häberle Colloquies were started by the Foundation of one of Germany’s most important experts in constitutional law, who was a Visiting Professor of the Philosophy of Law at the University of St.Gallen for many years, Professor Peter Häberle. The Foundation regularly organises colloquies in the field of constitutional law in St.Gallen.

Photo: Photocase / Sepphuberbauer