Rechtsgeschichte - Legal History (2017-01-01)

Beyond Dispassion: Emotions and Judicial Decision-Making in Modern Europe

  • Pavel Vasilyev

Journal volume & issue
no. Rg 25
pp. 277 – 285


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The conventional image of a judge as a dispassionate person continues to prevail in both popular culture and academic scholarship, despite influential recent research that has clearly demonstrated the inevitable impact of emotions on judicial decision-making. This article provides a historical perspective on what Terry Maroney has called »the persistent cultural script of judicial dispassion« and extends the discussion to modern continental legal systems. By looking at the legal debates that took place on the pages of professional periodicals and academic monographs across Europe, I show that the role of emotions was in fact an important topic in these discussions, with many participants advancing a very positive view of emotions as something that can help the judge arrive at correct decisions. I further argue that there was a specifichistorical period around the turn of the 20th century when the discussions about the importance of emotions for legal judgment intensified greatly. I associate this trend with the emergence of the German free law movement and examine the influence of their radical ideas on legal scholars across Europe. In particular, I consider the experimental legal model of »revolutionary justice« that was introduced in Soviet Russia following the Russian Revolution of 1917 as an attempt to put the ideas of the free law movement into practice by placing a particularly strong emphasis on emotions in legal judgment. By bringing in the wider social and cultural context, the article provides new explanations for the rise and demise of the »emotional judge« between ca. 1880 and 1930 and the persistence of the »dispassionate« stereotype in the modern era.