16 JURIDICA INTERNATIONAL 26/2017
University of Tübingen
in the German Dictatorships
As is well known, two dictatorships arose and held sway in Germany in the years between 1933 and 1990.
The ﬁ rst was the National Socialist (hereinafter ‘NS’) ‘Third Reich’, which ended in 1945. The second was the
German Democratic Republic (GDR) of 1945 or 1949*1 to 1990: With the end of World War II, Germany was
divided into two states. While a parliamentary democracy (the Federal Republic of Germany) developed in
the western one, the GDR arose in the eastern portion as a satellite state of the Soviet Union. In the end, in
1990, the two German states were reunited (more precisely, the socialist GDR was integrated into the demo-
cratic Federal Republic). In this lecture*2 – which refers to my book Rechtswissenschaft in Diktaturen*3,
published in June 2016 as a follow-up to my 2012 work on the history of legal methodology*4 – I would like
to compare the legal methodology of the NS state and the GDR. Therefore, this discussion, as my German
book does, contains a twofold comparison, looking backwards to the empire and the Weimar Republic and
‘sideways’ from one dictatorship to the other. Especially in the ﬁ eld of politics and history, comparisons of
dictatorships are nothing new. To give an example, I would like to mention Hannah Arendt’s magniﬁ cent
book The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). Speciﬁ c comparison of legal methods across diﬀ erent dictator-
ships nevertheless did not yet exist.
However, several objections might be raised against a comparison of the NS and GDR states. One might
discuss whether both systems really were dictatorships. In the NS case, there are no doubts about that. The
entire state was a single person, the ‘leader’ Adolf Hitler, who combined the supreme legislative, executive,
and judicial powers in a single body. Things are more complicated with regard to the GDR. There did not
exist a certain person acting as a dictator, only a particular outstanding party, the United Socialist Party
(‘Sozialistische Einheitspartei’) of the GDR. However, there are no reasons not to classify it as a dictator.
Firstly, it dominated the state by dint of holding all the power. That stemmed from the fact that government
o cials held crucial positions in the system while being party leaders at the same time. Furthermore, there
was a constantly guaranteed parliamentary majority for that party as well. Secondly, in line with Marxist-
Leninist theory, the party was the ‘head’ of the ruling ‘working class’, as the arrangement was expressed in
was the year of the ﬁ rst GDR Constitution (‘Verfassung der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik vom . Oktober
This article is based on a presentation made at the Autonomy of Law: Dictatorships Compared workshop in Tartu on Octo-
ber and edited by Marju Luts-Sootak, with support from the Estonian Research Council (grant IUT-).
Jan Schröder. Rechtswissenschaft in Diktaturen. Die juristische Methodenlehre im NS-Staat und in der DDR. Munich .
Jan Schröder. Recht als Wissenschaft. Geschichte der juristischen Methodenlehre in der Neuzeit. nd edition. Munich .