Gustav Radbruch

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Gustav Radbruch (recording from the Reichstag handbook 1920, 1st electoral period, Verlag der Reichsdruckerei, Berlin 1920)

Gustav Radbruch (born November 21, 1878 in Lübeck , † November 23, 1949 in Heidelberg ) was a German politician and legal scholar. Radbruch was Reich Minister of Justice during the Weimar Republic . He is considered one of the most influential legal philosophers of the 20th century. He also enjoyed great international renown as a criminal lawyer , criminal politician , legal historian , biographer and essayist. His main works have been translated into numerous languages. For Radbruch, the law is a value- related reality to be aligned with the idea of justice , which belongs to the field of culture and thus stands between nature and the ideal.


Origin and education

As a trainee lawyer in Lübeck (1902)

Gustav Lambert Radbruch was the son of Heinrich Georg Bernhard Radbruch (1841–1922), a businessman in Lübeck, and his wife Emma Radbruch, née. Prahl (1842–1916), the daughter of a goldsmith and confectioner in Lübeck. Gustav Radbruch grew up with his two older siblings in wealthy circumstances.

As the “baby boy”, he spent a “somewhat infantile childhood”, as he himself wrote in retrospect. This included "a certain distance from nature and a certain intellectualism". Gustav Radbruch attended the grammar school of Otto Bussenius and Katharineum where he Easter 1898 as Primus omnium passed his Abitur. Radbruch met his classmate at the time, the later anarchist poet Erich Mühsam , again and again. Personally, they were on friendly terms, although Radbruch rejected Mühsam's political views. Rather fond of the fine arts, studied Radbruch from 1898 at the request of his father law . As his first place of study he chose Munich , where theater and visual arts lured him and he was drawn to the bohemian. He then continued his studies in Leipzig and finally in Berlin , where the criminal law reformer Franz von Liszt taught. After successfully passing the first state examination , Radbruch returned to his home town of Lübeck to begin his legal clerkship. In 1902 Radbruch received his doctoral supervisor Liszt at the Berlin University with a dissertation on the theory of causality magna cum laude as a Dr. iuris is doing his doctorate. The liberal teaching of his doctoral supervisor had a lasting impact on Radbruch's thinking.

With the assistance of Liszt moved Radbruch 1903 to the University of Heidelberg to sign in Karl von Lilienthal to a year later habilitation .

The young professor

In 1906 Radbruch became a lecturer at the commercial college in Mannheim. The first marriage to Lina Götz in 1907 was divorced in 1913. At the University of Heidelberg in 1910 Radbruch became an associate professor for criminal law , procedural law and legal philosophy . He found access to the circle around Max Weber and was there sustainably influenced by the ideas of Neo-Kantianism , which he got to know through Arthur Kronfeld and Otto Meyerhof also in the variant of Leonard Nelson . Through her, on the other hand, he came into contact with the young poet and law student Ernst Blass , for whose magazine Argonauten he made several contributions. Kronfeld's colleague Karl Jaspers as well as Emil Lask and Hermann Kantorowicz also belonged to his circle of friends in Baden .

Times of war

In 1914 he accepted a call to an extraordinary professorship at the Albertus University in Königsberg . When the First World War broke out , he reported to the Red Cross and spent many weeks inactive at the Dirschau train station . In 1915 he married his second wife Lydia, née Schenk (1888–1974). Shortly afterwards, Radbruch volunteered for the  111th Landwehr Regiment in Heidelberg. In his book The Inner Path, Outline of My Life , he explained:

"I was looking for probation, I tried to make up for lost youth, I had to voluntarily, but by virtue of internal compulsion, do every patrol first because I had stolen too few apples in my youth - make up for the missed youth risk through so many patrols."

- Gustav Radbruch

When in 1920 the nationalist politician Wolfgang Kapp, with the support of Generals Walther von Lüttwitz and Erich Ludendorff, put on a coup in Berlin and proclaimed himself Reich Chancellor, right-wing troops in Kiel also tried to get the city under their power. There they met a front of shipyard workers who offered resistance. Radbruch mediated between the parties to prevent a bloody confrontation. The putschists did not trust him and took him into custody. A court martial was supposed to sentence him to death. But the Kapp Putsch failed, and Radbruch regained freedom after six days. He then stood up for the insurgent soldiers and led them back to their barracks to save them from being lynched.

Social democrat

Radbruch's party-political sympathy was early on for the Social Democratic Party of Germany . In 1913 he attended August Bebel's funeral in Zurich . He anonymously wrote the article August Bebel's death celebration , which appeared in the Heidelberger Neuesten Nachrichten . Since membership at that time would have meant the immediate end of his career, he did not join the SPD until 1918.

Against the bitter resistance of the teachers, he was appointed associate professor at the Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel in 1919, where he remained until 1926. After just under a year, however, he became a full professor at the request of his colleagues .

Because of his worker-friendly attitude, which was demonstrated in the Kapp Putsch, Radbruch was placed in second place on the Social Democrats' electoral list in the upcoming Reichstag election in 1920 . Radbruch became a member of the Reichstag and was the only lawyer in the SPD parliamentary group .

Politics and responsibility

Reichstag building before the fire

Radbruch was a member of the Reichstag for the SPD from 1920 to 1924 . A motion brought by Radbruch and 54 other members of the SPD parliamentary group to the Reichstag on July 31, 1920 provided for the impunity of abortion “if it was administered by the pregnant woman or a state-recognized (licensed) doctor within the first three months of pregnancy has been made ". The application, which was largely initiated by Radbruch, was ultimately unsuccessful. On July 2, 1920, 81 members of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD) had already submitted a motion to the Reichstag to repeal Sections 218, 219 and 220 of the Criminal Code. Radbruch lagged well behind. Radbruch distinguished himself as a legal politician. He was appointed Reich Minister of Justice in the Wirth II cabinet (October 26, 1921 to November 14, 1922) ; from August 13 to November 1923 he was Minister of Justice in the Stresemann I and Stresemann II cabinets .

During his tenure, several important laws were drawn up, such as the admission of women to the office of judges and, after the murder of Rathenau , the Republic Protection Act . In order to protect the republic from its worst enemies, Radbruch found himself under government responsibility to resort to the death penalty, which he refused throughout his life. The draft of a General German Criminal Code from 1922 and the Youth Courts Act of 1923 were also groundbreaking . Radbruch wanted to abolish the retaliatory penalty and replace it with a corrective sentence. He was against the death penalty and the penitentiary and thus for the single prison sentence . The rehabilitation was declared in addition to securing the main objective of the punishment. During the Weimar Republic, the draft was only implemented to a limited extent; it later became important for the development of criminal law in the young Federal Republic. From 1931 to 1933 Radbruch was a member of the Senate of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society .

Full professor and teaching ban

University College Oxford

Radbruch refused a third appointment as Reich Minister of Justice and devoted himself more to his academic work. In 1926 he followed a call to Heidelberg. One of his students was Anne-Eva Brauneck , who later became the first German professor of criminal law. After the National Socialist seizure of power , he was dismissed from civil service on May 8, 1933 as the first German professor. The basis for this was the law for the restoration of the civil service . During the Nazi dictatorship , he mainly devoted himself to the seemingly innocuous legal history. This is how, for example, his biography about Paul Johann Anselm von Feuerbach came about , which appeared in Vienna in 1934 and became groundbreaking for the legal biography. He was not allowed to teach abroad. But from 1935 to 1936 he was allowed to go to study at University College in Oxford . The work The Spirit of English Law , which could not appear until 1946, emerged as the scientific fruit of this stay in England . Radbruch's daughter Renate was killed in a skiing accident in 1939, and his son Anselm was killed three years later in the Battle of Stalingrad .

Reconstruction and death

Radbruch's family grave in the Heidelberg mountain cemetery in forest section B

Immediately after the end of the Second World War in 1945, Gustav Radbruch resumed teaching in Heidelberg. As dean he led the reconstruction of the law faculty . His health was already severely weakened. Through numerous articles he still had a lasting influence on the development of German law. In 1948 the Soviet Zone considered asking Gustav Radbruch for a commission to work out a draft constitution for the GDR .

Radbruch was also politically active again, hoping for a socialism with a Christian character. As early as 1945, together with Emil Vierneisel and Hans Stakelbeck, he presented a party program they had drawn up under the name “Christian Social Union” to the Heidelberg public. Formally, it was based strongly on the founding appeal of the Berlin CDU on June 26, 1945, but there were considerable differences in terms of content. As a fundamental value decision, the Heidelberg Program acknowledged Christianity as the core and basis of Western culture. It was seen as the only way to get out of the chaos of war to an order of democratic freedom. The “United Christian People's Party” or “Christian-Social Union”, which Radbruch helped initiate, later merged into the Christian Democratic Union of Germany . On July 14, 1948, Radbruch rejoined the SPD, despite initial hesitation. The day before, on July 13, 1948, Radbruch retired and held his farewell lecture.

“Perhaps the best answer to your question is that I have reintegrated into the SPD, which I had stayed away from since 1945, on the one hand because I was wrongly afraid of SED-style politics at the time and I expected the CDU to commit to Christian socialism - two prerequisites that have proven to be completely wrong - on the other hand, because I believed I could have a stronger impact on the student body, regardless of party. In my farewell lecture, about which I am enclosing a report, I explained that in this time of decision-making with that nihilism, which at the same time rejects all occupying powers and all parties, an end must be made, that one must show where one stands, and that I am now stepping back into the SPD for this reason. "

- Gustav Radbruch

A year later, Gustav Radbruch died of a heart attack at the age of 71 . His grave is in the Heidelberg Bergfriedhof in the forest department. The block-like tomb, made of red-gray quartz, shows an Attic consecration relief in the relief panel depicting Pallas Athene . He is supported by his wife Lydia and his daughter Renate. A memorial cross commemorates son Anselm.


The legal thinker

The "Philosophy of Law" from 1932

Radbruch's Introduction to Law appeared as early as 1910 . This book has already been translated into many languages. His main work was first published in 1914 under the title Basic Principles of Legal Philosophy . It was then fundamentally revised in 1932 and published as a legal philosophy . Radbruch's legal philosophy stems from neo-Kantianism, which assumes that there is a categorical gap between being and ought : an ought can never be derived from a being. As a result, values ​​cannot be recognized, one can only acknowledge them:

"Consideration of value and consideration of being lie next to one another as independent, closed circles."

- Gustav Radbruch, Philosophy of Law

In addition, Radbruch represented a method-centricism : the value-related cultural sciences stood between the explanatory sciences and the philosophical value theory. This three-way division appears in law as legal sociology , legal philosophy and legal dogmatics . Legal dogmatics occupy an intermediate position. Objectively, it is directed towards positive law as it is presented in social reality, and methodologically towards the objectively intended meaning of law, which is revealed through value-related interpretation.

Central to Radbruch are his teachings on the legal concept , the legal idea and the legal validity . In his classic textbook Philosophy of Law from 1932 he defines law as the “epitome of general arrangements for human coexistence” and at the same time as “the reality that has the purpose of serving justice.” According to Radbruch, this defines the categorical gap between being and should also the right as a cultural product. The idea of ​​law is justice . This includes equality , expediency and legal certainty . The so-called Radbruch formula , which has been adopted by the highest German courts in numerous judgments, is based on this idea : The legal injustice must give way to the supra-legal law . Shame laws are not binding for the judge. The contribution Statutory Injustice and Supra-Statutory Law from 1946 is considered the most influential legal philosophical essay of the 20th century.

The question of whether Radbruch was a right-wing positivist before 1933 and whether his thinking took a turn for the worse under the impact of National Socialism, or whether he was merely under the influence of National Socialist crimes, is the question of whether he further developed the relativistic value theory he advocated before 1933. The difference between positive law and just law has returned to the public consciousness in Germany due to the problem of the need for orders in the wall rifle trials. In this context, Radbruch's theories were brought up against the right-positivist pure legal theory represented by Hans Kelsen and partly also by Georg Jellinek .

The esthete

In addition to his legal work, Radbruch has written a number of aesthetic essays, for example in the volume Gestalten und Zeiten , which appeared in Leipzig in 1945. The work deals with, among other things, Michelangelo's Medici Chapel , Shakespeare's Measure for Measure and Goethe . In the same year Theodor Fontane or Skepticism and Faith was also published. These works are characterized by masterful prose and "aphoristic art of formulation".

Honors and memberships

Gustav-Radbruch-Platz in Lübeck


  • Philosophy of Law , study edition, edited by Ralf Dreier and Stanley L. Paulson, CF Müller, 2nd edition, Heidelberg 2003, ISBN 978-3-8114-5349-4 .
  • with Heinrich Gwinner: History of crime: attempt at a historical criminology. Eichborn, Frankfurt am Main 1990, ISBN 978-3-8218-4062-8 , series Die Other Bibliothek
  • Complete edition in 20 volumes . Edited by Arthur Kaufmann, Vol. 1: Philosophy of Law I, edit. by A. Kaufmann, Heidelberg 1987.
  • Introduction to Law . Leipzig 1910; 11th edition, obtained from Konrad Zweigert , Stuttgart 1964.
  • Statutory injustice and supra-statutory law , in: SJZ 1946, pp. 105–108.
  • Paul Johann Anselm Feuerbach. A legal life . Vienna 1934.
  • Votes against § 218. In: The socialist doctor . Vol. 7, 1931, issue 4 (April), p. 104 (digitized version) .


Lexicon entries

To live

  • Robert Alexy : Gustav Radbruch (1878-1949). In: Christiana Albertina. Vol. 58, 2004, pp. 47-51.
  • Stefan Grote : Gustav Radbruch and Gustav Friedrich Hartlaub. A scholarly friendship in dark times. In: New legal weekly . No. 11/2016, pp. 755-759.
  • Arthur Kaufmann : Gustav Radbruch. Legal thinker, philosopher, social democrat. Piper, Munich 1987, ISBN 3-492-15247-3 .
  • Hans-Peter Schneider : Gustav Radbruch (1878–1949): Legal philosopher between science and politics. in: Kritische Justiz (ed.): Controversial jurists: Another tradition. Baden-Baden 1988, ISBN 3-7890-1580-6 , p. 295 ff.
  • Günter Spendel : Gustav Radbruch. Life picture of a lawyer. Monthly for German Law, Hamburg 1967.

To the work

  • Martin Borowski , Stanley L. Paulsen (ed.): The nature of the law with Gustav Radbruch. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2015, ISBN 978-3-16-153451-5 .
  • Steffen Forschner : The Radbruch formula in the supreme court “wall rifle judgments”. Dissertation, University of Tübingen, 2003 (online version, PDF, 333 kB).
  • Martin D. Klein : Democratic thinking in Gustav Radbruch. Berlin 2007.
  • Joachim Perels : Socialist legal policy in the face of the counter-revolution: Reich Justice Minister Gustav Radbruch. In: Critical Justice . 2005, p. 407 ff.
  • Philipp Glahé: The Heidelberg Circle of Jurists and Its Struggle against Allied Jurisdiction: Amnesty-Lobbyism and Impunity-Demands for National Socialist War Criminals (1949–1955), in: Journal of the History of International Law (2019), Volume 21, p 1-44, publisher Brill / Nijhoff, Leiden, ISSN: 15718050-12340125.
  • Phillipp Horst Schlueter : Gustav Radbruch's legal philosophy and Hans Kelsen's pure legal theory. A comparison. Dissertation, University of Tübingen 2009 (online version).
  • Heinrich Scholler : The comparative law with Gustav Radbruch and his doctrine of over-positive law (= writings on legal theory. Vol. 210). Berlin 2002.
  • Erik Wolf : Great legal thinkers in German intellectual history. 4th edition. Mohr Siebeck, 1963, ISBN 3-16-627812-5 , pp. 712-765.

Web links

Commons : Gustav Radbruch  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Life data according to ADB / NDB added.
  2. Gustav Radbruch: The Inner Path. Outline of my life , in: Biographische Schriften , Gesamtausgabe, Volume 16, Heidelberg 1988, p. 173
  3. ^ Hermann Genzken: The high school graduates of the Katharineum zu Lübeck (grammar school and secondary school) from Easter 1807 to 1907. Borchers, Lübeck 1907 ( digitized ), no. 1065. Fellow high school graduates were Hermann Link , Gustav Brecht , Friedrich Brutzer and Fritz Behn
  4. Treatises of the criminology seminar at the University of Berlin. Edited by Franz von Liszt, NF, 1st vol. 3rd issue: Gustav Radbruch: The doctrine of adequate causation. Berlin 1902. Reprinted in: Criminal Law I. Complete Edition, Volume 7, Heidelberg 1995, pp. 7 ff.
  5. Gustav Radbruch: The concept of action in its meaning for the criminal justice system. At the same time, a contribution to the teaching of legal systematics. (1903), Verlag J. Guttentag, 1904. Reprints WBG, Darmstadt 1967, and in: Strafrecht I. Gesamtausgabe, Volume 7, Heidelberg 1995, pp. 74 ff.
  6. See page about Lydia Radbruch in the Kiel list of scholars
  7. Gustav Radbruch: The Inner Path. Outline of my life , in: Biographische Schriften , Gesamtausgabe, Volume 16, Heidelberg 1988, p. 231
  8. Gustav Radbruch: Kapp – Putsch in Kiel , in: Biographische Schriften , Gesamtausgabe, Volume 16, Heidelberg 1988, p. 298 ff.
  9. August Bebel's Totenfeier , in: Heidelberger Latest Nachrichten , August 21, 1913. Reprinted in: Supplement and Complete Register , Complete Edition, Volume 20, Heidelberg 2003, pp. 45 ff.
  10. Cf. Grotjahn-Radbruch: The abortion of the body fruit. 1921
  11. Negotiations of the Reichstag, 1st electoral period 1920, Volume 363, Annexes to the shorthand reports, No. 1 to 452, pp. 81–82.
  12. Friedrich Ebert Foundation Gustav Radbruch as Minister of Justice (2004, PDF, 84 p .; 901 kB)
  13. See Gustav Radbruch's draft of a General German Criminal Code (1922) , Tübingen 1952
  14. Michael Stolleis (Ed.): Jurists. A biographical lexicon , 1995, p. 510
  15. Birgit Vézina: The synchronization of the University of Heidelberg in the course of the National Socialist seizure of power. 1982, p. 51.
  16. Heike Amos, The Origin of the Constitution in the Soviet Occupation Zone / GDR 1946–1949. Presentation and documentation, Münster 2006, p. 158.
  17. Martin D. Klein: Democratic thinking in Gustav Radbruch , 2007, p. 42 with further references
  18. Friederike Reutter: Heidelberg 1945–1949. On the political history of a city in the post-war period , 1994, p. 205
  19. ^ Armin Schlechter: Gustav Radbruch 1878–1949, contemporary witness of the 20th century between law and politics , Ubstadt-Weiher 2002, ISBN 3-89735-199-4 , pages 9, 16
  20. ^ Gustav Radbruch, letter of August 24, 1948 to Hugo Marx, in: Briefe II. (1919–1949) , Complete Edition, Volume 18, Heidelberg 1995, pp. 285 f.
  21. Bergfriedhof Heidelberg, Forest Department B, 1st row, 526
  22. ^ L. Ruuskanen: The Heidelberg Bergfriedhof in the course of time , Verlag Regionalkultur, 2008, p. 225f.
  23. At that time, the philosophers Hermann Cohen (1842–1918), Paul Natorp (1854–1924) and the legal philosopher and civil lawyer Rudolf Stammler (1856–1938) were important representatives of a sharp distinction between what is and what should be in the tradition of Immanuel Kant . The derivation of an ought from a being, disputed by the Neo-Kantians, amounts to what is known as the naturalistic fallacy .
  24. ^ Gustav Radbruch: Philosophy of Law. Study edition, ed. by Ralf Dreier and Stanley L. Paulson, Heidelberg 2003, p. 13
  25. ^ Gustav Radbruch: Philosophy of Law. Study edition, ed. by Ralf Dreier and Stanley L. Paulson, Heidelberg 2003, p. 38
  26. ^ Gustav Radbruch: Philosophy of Law. Study edition, ed. by Ralf Dreier and Stanley L. Paulson, Heidelberg 2003, p. 34
  27. See Ralf Dreier and Stanley L. Paulson: Introduction to Radbruch's Legal Philosophy. In: Gustav Radbruch: Legal Philosophy. Study edition, CF Müller, 2nd edition, Heidelberg 2003, p. 247 ff.
  28. ^ Günter Spendel : Radbruch, Gustav. In: Walther Killy (Ed.): Literaturlexikon. Volume 9, Munich 1991, p. 273 f.
  29. Arthur Kaufmann: Gustav Radbruch , Munich 1987, p. 163