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nationalism, internationalism, Code Napoléon, universalism, France


French academics reacted to announcements about a possible future European civil code ten years ago in the way in which Americans reacted to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 1940: first with shock, then with rearmament, finally with attempted counterattacks. Military metaphors abound. Yet the defense of the French Code Civil against a European civil code is tricky: they must defend one Code against another. The images drawn of codes are therefore of particular interest for our understanding both of civil codes and of legal nationalism. Often, two mutually exclusive images are presented at the same time. In cultural terms, the code civil is both traditional and revolutionary, both linguistically determined and independent of its language, both an expression of values and merely formal and neutral. Politically, the code civil is legitimated both in democracy and technocracy, it expresses both self-determination and imperialism, it is about both pluralism and universalism. Necessarily, in such juxtapositions, the same characteristics must be assigned to a European Code, making the arguments ultimately self-refuting. Nonetheless, the point is not to dismiss these defenses. Rather, they should be understood as expressions of faith—and the discussion over a European Code resembles, in part, a religious war.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Nationalism, Internationalism, France, Universalism