Prof. Dr. Helge Dedek

Faculty of Law, McGill University, Montreal, Canada

Helge DedekHelge DedekHelge Dedek

Curriculum Vitae

In 2004, Helge Dedek was awarded an LL.M. degree by Harvard Law School, as Langdon H. Gammon Fellow. At the University of Bonn, he was conferred his doctorate degree in 2006, with a thesis on the development of thought on contract law theory from a historical and comparative perspective, for which he was awarded the University Society Bonn’ annual prize for best doctoral thesis in all faculties.  He then conducted research as a post-doctorate and Boulton Fellow Mc Gill University’s Faculty of Law, before assuming a position as assistant professor (tenure track) there in 2007.
Dedek, who passed both state examinations with great distinction, was awarded several scholarships in the course of his legal research, inter aliaby the German National Academic Foundation and the “Zeit”-Stiftung. Next to his academic work, he practiced in the field of corporate law and real estate transactions as a member of the Rhenish Notary chamber in Cologne.
Dedek’s research interests lie in comparative law, legal history, Roman law and theory of private law.

Prof. Dr. Helge Dedek was Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities “Law as Culture” from September 2011 to August 2012.

Research project:

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.

Publikations (selected)

  • Negative Haftung aus Vertrag (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007)
  • 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 (Ed.), 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, pp. 58et seq.)
  • Border Control: Some Comparative Remarks on the Cartography of Obligations (in: R. Bronaugh, J. Neyers, S. Pitel (Eds.): Exploring Contract Law, Oxford: Hart Publishers, 2009)