A Farewell to (Private) Law: Musings on the Belgian Law of Obligations

Author:Patrick Praet
Position:Attorney-at-law, Wetteren, Belgium Doctoral Student, University of Tartu
Patrick Praet
Attorney-at-law, Wetteren, Belgium
Doctoral Student, University of Tartu
A Farewell to (Private) Law:
Musings on the Belgian
Law of Obligations*
According to Hegel’s Philosophy of Law, ‘[l]aw (right) considered as the realisation of liberty in externals,
breaks up into a multiplicity of relations to this external sphere and to other persons’ (§496). This and other
statements are symptomatic of a received understanding of nineteenth-century (private) law as the legal
expression of economic liberty, or personal freedom—in short, of the individual’s subjectivity, written with a
capital ‘S’, as it were. Although this received understanding may be overstated if not mythologised in toto*1, it
is nonetheless the common self-understanding of the legal profession (as discussed in Section 1 of this paper).
Any move away from this golden age of contractual freedom and spontaneous order, through, for exam-
ple, the advent of the welfare state, the juridi cation of social relations*2, or the birth of the European
Union, automatically threatens to diminish the Subjectivity of the individual as epitomised by the sacro-
sanct freedom of contract
Indeed, the Subjectivity in private-law settings is increasingly limited by scores of national statutes or
European initiatives limiting contractual freedom, usually motivated by an argument referring to market fail-
ure (e.g., for consumer protection) or an expansion of fundamental rights (e.g., anti-discrimination clauses).
As comprehensive coverage of this vast topic is inconceivable within the con nes of a short paper we
will highlight some features of the transformation process by referring to the Belgian example in the eld
of obligations and brie y sketch some recent developments in legislation, jurisprudence, and doctrine*3, in
Section 2.*4
* This article was published with support from grant project ETF9209.
1 S. Hofer. Freiheit ohne Grenzen? Privatrechtstheoretische Diskussionen im 19. Jahrhundert. Tübingen: Mohr (Siebeck)
2001; J. Rückert. Zur Legitimation der Vertragsfreiheit im 19. Jahrhundert. – D. Klippel (ed.). Naturrecht im 19. Jahrundert.
Goldbach: Keip Verlag 1997, pp. 135–183.
2 M.E. Storme. De juridisering van sociale verhoudingen van de negentiende eeuw tot vandaag. Leuven 2002, pp. 78–121;
L. Blichner, A. Molander: What is juridi cation? Arena Working Paper 14.3.2005. Available via http://www.arena.uio.no/.
3 For a more comprehensive overview of recent developments, see S. Stijns, V. Sagaert, I. Samoy, A. De Boeck (eds). Themis 75 –
Verbintenissenrecht. Brugge: Die Keure 2012; M.E. Storme. Recente ontwikkelingen verbintenissenrecht 2000–2011.
Brussels: Syllabus Vormingsinstituut Advocaten 2012; I. Samoy, T. Dang Vu. Belgium. – J. Herbots (ed.). International
Encyclopaedia of Laws: Contracts. Alphen aan den Rijn: Kluwer Law International 2011; P. Van Ommeslaghe. Droit des
Obligations. Brussels: Bruylant 2010; P. Wéry. Droit des Obligations I, Théorie Générale du Contrat. Brussels: Larcier 2010.
4 At the conference titled ‘Kümme aastat võlaõigusseadust Eestis ja võlaõiguse areng Euroopas’ [‘Ten years of the Law of
Obligations in Estonia and developments of the law of obligation in Europe’] held in Tartu on 29–30 November 2012, I had
to cut short my paper and presented only the Belgium-focused portion.

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