Washington Law Review


Ernst Levy


The reception of legal ideas of one people by another is a universal phenomenon in world history Wherever the civilization of a tribe or nation reaches a stage enabling it to build up a legal system, the conditions of a reception are at hand. The march of ideas, legal as well as cultural, often follows in the path of material goods. Already the Code of Hammurabi of about 1750 B.C., which long was held to be the oldest code of mankind, displays strong Sumerian influences along with the native Semitic elements. Receptions permeate the following thousands of years; they have been at work to the present day The tendency toward and urge for reception are even growing. As the world has become smaller and every civilized country is more sensitive to political, economc, and cultural happenings in foreign lands, so, in the province of law, do institutions and devices spread far beyond the boundaries of neighboring nations. Moreover, modern processes of constitutional legislation are apt to make intentional receptions more easily accomplished. In the nineteenth century there was almost no codification of the private law that did not show a decisive influence of the Code Napoleon. And in the twentieth century a leading, though not quite comparable role fell to the German and Swiss Civil Codes. Japan and Brazil, Turkey and Mexico, China and Greece, and even the Soviet Union furnish the evidence. Today a comparison of legal institutions and techniques is indispensable to any project of codification, and comparison, in turn, opens the door toward reception. This article was presented as a paper by the author to the Conference on Law and the Humanities convened by the American Council of Learned Societies at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D. C., on April 12 and 13, 1950.

First Page