Prof. Dr. Helge Dedek

Faculty of Law, McGill University, Montreal, Canada

Helge DedekHelge DedekHelge Dedek

Curriculum Vitae

Helge Dedek erlangte im Jahr 2004 als Langdon H. Gammon Fellow den Titel des LL.M. an der Harvard Law School. An der Universität Bonn erwarb Dedek 2006 den Doktortitel mit einer Arbeit über die gedankliche Entwicklung der Vertragsrechtstheorie in historischer und vergleichender Perspektive, für die er mit dem jährlich verliehenen Preis der Universitätsgesellschaft Bonn für die besten Doktorarbeiten aller Fakultäten ausgezeichnet wurde. Anschließend forschte er als Post-Doktorand und Boulton Fellow an der rechtswissenschaftlichen Fakultät der McGill University, bevor er dort im Juli 2007 eine Assistenzprofessur (Tenure-Track) antrat. Seit 2012 hat er dort eine ordentliche Professur inne und unterrichtet in den Fächern Zivilrecht, Rechtsgeschichte und Rechtsvergleichung.

Dedek, der beide Staatsexamen mit Auszeichnung bestanden hat, erhielt im Zuge seiner rechtswissenschaftlichen Forschung verschiedene Stipendien, u.a. von der Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes und der „Zeit“-Stiftung.

Dedeks Forschungsinteressen liegen im Bereich der Rechtsvergleichung, der Rechtsgeschichte, des Römischen Rechts und der Theorie des Privatrechts.

Von September 2011 bis August 2012 war Helge Dedek Fellow am Käte Hamburger Kolleg „Recht als Kultur“.


Rights as Culture

We define our relation to the State, but also our relation to other individuals, through the concept of „rights“. Rights, in this context, describe individual entitlements. Thus understood as „subjective rights“ rights demarcate a sphere that is exclusively ours: a sphere of privacy and property upon which neither the state nor any other entity must encroach. This concept of individual rights is a concept that is deeply ingrained in Western culture. Recent legal scholarship has explored the idea of law as culture; the goal of this project is to explore the idea of rights as culture. The concept of rights is inextricably intertwined with a specific vision of individualism that, just as the concept of rights, was shaped in a long historical development. The aim of the project is to investigate this co-evolution by contrasting the contemporary rights-culture with its own past.

Surprisingly, there are significant gaps in the literature on the legal history of individual rights. While rights still attract a great deal of interest from legal theorists and legal philosophers, in recent times, legal historians have only rarely inquired into the history of subjective rights and have left the playing field to the historians of political philosophy. This restraint is all the more surprising considering that the concept of rights is a juridical concept that has its historical roots in private law. The method in which authors such as Grotius, Hobbes, Kant, and Hegel – to name just a few examples – developed their theories from the building blocks of contract, property and right, illustrates how political philosophy took its cues from private law. I want to use this insight as a starting point of my research and add the perspective of a historian of private law to the works that have recently explored the history of rights from other perspectives.

Focusing on the private law roots of rights is a delicate task since the expression of „subjective right“ does not have the same meaning in the Civil and the Common law tradition. The Continental Civil law, based on Roman law and traditionally taught as a university discipline, has focused much more intensely on the abstract analysis of the concept of „subjective right“, making it the very foundation of its ideology. The Common law, less academically inclined, has concentrated on the administration of remedies rather than on the underlying rights, leading to a larger divide between law and political theory. These cultural differences call for an approach that is informed by modern, culturally sensitive comparative law scholarship.

Such cultural biases have not only led to misunderstandings but also created gaps in the substantive coverage of the history of rights. Aspiring to close one of these remaining gaps, in the coming year, the project will predominantly focus on the contribution of Continental Natural Law thought in the seventeenth and eighteenth century to the development of the concept of „subjective right“. Recent scholarship has covered the development of the concept of individual rights from the Middle Ages to the works of Grotius, Pufendorf and Hobbes. The Natural Law literature between Pufendorf and Kant, however, remains to a large extent undocumented. A closer analysis of the authors of the late ‚enlightened‘ Natural Law literature, in particular, will prove to be helpful to better understand the creative fluctuations of a period in which the language of modernity came into its own and old words – such as „state“, „freedom“, and also „right“ – acquired new semantic contexts and generated new sets of expectations.


Publikationen (Auswahl)


  • Negative Haftung aus Vertrag (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007)

Aufsätze und Zeitschriftenartikel

  • From Norms to Facts: The Realization of Rights in Common and Civil Private Law (in: McGill Law Journal 56:1, 2010, S. 77ff.)
  • The Relationship between Rights and Remedies in Private Law: A Comparison between the Common and the Civil Law Tradition (in: Robert Sharpe (Hrsg.), Taking Remedies Seriously, Montreal: Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice, 2010)
  • Die Schönheit der Vernunft: (Ir-)Rationalität von Rechtswissenschaft in Mittelalter und Moderne (in: Zeitschrift für Rechtswissenschaft 1, 2010, S. 58ff.)
  • Border Control: Some Comparative Remarks on the Cartography of Obligations (in: R. Bronaugh, J. Neyers, S. Pitel (Hrsg.): Exploring Contract Law, Oxford: Hart Publishers, 2009)