Formalizing the Rule of Law in Prussia: The Supreme Administrative Law Court, 1876-1914


This essay does not propose to explore once again the comprehensive high intellectual history of the Prussian Rechtsstaat so exhaustively traced by Krieger. Instead, by scrutinizing the structure and practice of the Prussian Supreme Administrative Law Court from 1876 to 1914, its aim is to test both his very critical account and the diametrically-opposed adulation heaped upon the Rechtsstaat by many legal historians. It seeks to trace more precisely the contours of the rule of law in Prussia by weaving together two separate strands of scholarship that have hitherto had little influence upon each other, to describe briefly the intellectual currents that led to the creation of an administrative law court system in Prussia and the structure that emerged, and to explore a few examples of the jurisprudence of the Supreme Administrative Law Court. It will argue that the Supreme Administrative Law Court formalized a meaningful rule of law in Prussia that provided greater protection for individual rights than Krieger’s cramped and stunted assessment imagined. This rule of law combined the concerns for the rights of property and for the procedural conception of justice that bind together legal thought and the ideology of the liberal middleclass with the judicial/legal conception of how to control arbitrary administrative actions. Therefore, while the Prussian rule of law was real and meaningful, like that elsewhere in Europe, in Britain, and in the United States, it also embodied the fundamental limitations of bourgeois rule of law ideology.



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Central European History

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37 Central European History 203 (2004)

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COinS Kenneth F. Ledford Faculty Bio