Research Unit Law

Democratic Thought in the Early Federal Republic

The Constitutional and Public Law Expert Walter Jellinek

This dissertation project examines the process of reestablishing the democratic rule of law in Germany in the immediate aftermath of World War II and the early years of the Federal Republic. Its central focus is on Walter Jellinek (1885–1955), a Heidelberg-based constitutional and public law expert and today a largely forgotten figure who committed himself wholeheartedly to democracy and the rule of law. In contrast to many legal experts who were forced into exile, where they came into contact with other legal concepts, expanded on ideas from the Weimar period, developed new networks, and observed Germany from a distance, Jellinek survived the entire Nazi era in Germany as a Christian of Jewish heritage in a so-called »privileged mixed marriage«. He thus had a rare insider perspective on the Nazi dictatorship and developed specific views on the democratic reconstruction after 1945.

The project focuses particularly on the question of how and why Jellinek’s life story – his ambivalent integration into German society and his experiences of both the Weimar Republic and the Nazi regime – influenced his democratic thought as well as his position in Germany and the field of jurisprudence. In order to assess the relationship between his life and work, the project combines approaches from biographical research and methods from contemporary legal history.