Il codice disincantato

Pio Caroni

Pio Caroni, Il codice disincantato in: Saggi sulla storia della codificazione (Facoltà di Giurisprudenza dell’Università di Firenze, vol. 51), Milano: A. Giuffrè, 1998, pp. 99-134 (Das entzauberte Gesetzbuch, in: Zeitschrift für Geschichte, vol. 41 (1991), pp. 249-273).


The codification of Swiss Civil Law, as elaborated by Eugen Huber, and as leading to the adoption of the “Schweizerisches Zivilgesetzbuch” in December 1907, was based on extended historical work, namely the collection of the private laws of the Swiss Cantons, as documented by the “Sammlung schweizerischer Rechtsquellen” edited by Andreas Heusler, among others. After the unified and codified law was practised for a period of two generations, the question arises: which history is adequate to tell the stories of ongoing alterations within this codification? What have been the effects on social community? How can the relation between the codified law and changing legal experience be understood? One of Pio Caroni’s claims is the following: “Das Gesetzbuch hat seine eigene, eigenständige Vergangenheit und ist als ‘einheitsstiftender Wurf’ zu historisieren, nicht aber durch neo-humanistische oder neo-pandektistische Bemühungen. [...] Nur eine Kontinuität durchzieht das Geschehen, dass nämlich der Kontext des Rechts stets antagonistisch und Recht Ergebnis einer gesellschaftlichen Dialektik ist”. The question “Quale storia per il diritto ingabbiato dal codice”, which expresses the problem clearly, the author has treated in a comprehensive essay that is recommended for further reading (in: Norm und Tradition – Welche Geschichtlichkeit für die Rechtsgeschichte? Ed. Pio Caroni and Gerhard Dilcher, Köln/ Weimar/ Wien: Böhlau, 1998, pp. 77-108).

Historical Situation and Systematic Context

Pio Caroni appears as the very prototype of an Europolitan legal historian, multi-lingual and with wide-spread interests for legal culture in its historical dimension, having published numerous contributions and collections mainly on the history of the process of codification in European private law. And yet, towards the end of his life, dedicated to science, he expresses a certain solitude of the legal historian (as the title of a newer collection suggests), this is not only due to the recent decline in the importance of historical, social and philosophical foundations within legal education. “Und doch – oder gerade deshalb? – ist er einsam geblieben, ein Germanist italienischer Kultur im Grenzland zwischen Deutsch und Welsch, der sich der Vereinnahmung der Rechtsgeschichte durch die erdrückende Mehrheit ihrer Vertreter aus Deutschland und Österreich sowie der Unterwerfung unter deren jeweilige Modethemen widersetzte, der die Besonderheit der Schweiz betonte und innerhalb der Schweiz den Blick auf das Kleinräumige und das Eigenständige, die Täler namentlich Graubündens und des Tessins richtete. Vor allem aber leistete er Widerstand gegen die, welche der Rechtsgeschichte ein bestimmtes Pflichtenheft vorschreiben und ihre Daseinsberechtigung in besonderer Weise begründen wollten. Was dazu führte, dass er zunehmend in grundlegenden Widerspruch auch mit den Romanisten geriet, nicht nur denen an seiner Universität. Er verteidigte seine Positionen stets leise, aber bestimmt, führteden Kampf ohne jedeAusfälligkeit und mit großer Beharrlichkeit. Für ihn ist das Forschungs- und Lehrfach Rechtsgeschichte unabhängig vom geltenden Recht und seiner Dogmatik. Konsequenterweise findet man in seinem Schriftenverzeichnis Beiträge zum geltenden Recht so gut wie keine” (Matthias Schwaibold: Caronisierung, in: Rechtsgeschichte, Zeitschrift des Max-Planck-Instituts für Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main, vol. 8 (2006), p. 58). This characterisation is felicitous and describes the general attitudes of Caroni as a legal historian in its own right to the point. His contributions are not overall argumentations, do not treat with development in general, condensed in ponderous monographies, but rather chirurgical sections across specific microscopic phenomenon in a historian’s laboratory. Whereas his later writing significantly all are collections of essays, his first significant writing, entitled “Einflüsse des deutschen Rechts Graubündens südlich der Alpen” (Forschungen zur Neueren Privatrechtsgeschichte, vol. 14, Köln-Wien 1970), remained the only monography. With his very sympathetic authority not only in academic education, but also as a natural person, the eminent figure of Caroni occurred eminently critical in an encyclopaedic sense and decidedly social in his attitude, socialistic, yet communist in his engagement. He is considered as the veritable founder of a modern tradition of social history in the domain of legal history in Switzerland.

Content, Abstracts/Conclusions, Insights, Evidence

Pio Caroni has published more than one contribution to the codification of Swiss Civil law, in 1971 and 1987, before he returned to this leading motive in 1991 with an article entitled “Das entzauberte Gesetzbuch”, or “Il codice disincantato”, reading somewhat like “The code, that has lost its magic”. The author addresses the relationship between the lasting dispositions of the codified legal order in the domain of private law, and the autonomy of the private subjects that ordinate their legal relations based on their legal experience. The codification appears as an elaboration of scientific jurisprudence at one point within historical development, but in the following is exposed to various attempts of enhancement and complement by legal politics, that withdraw the original magical appeal of the code. In particular the socio-economic context has to be taken seriously. Consequently, the material and the form of the original code erode, and eventually become merely extrinsic and abstract. In legal reality, the codification appears as something all too different from the intentions of the historical author, may he be considered as a single person, for instance Eugen Huber, or the political community as a whole.

According to Pio Caroni, the reverse process of de-codification signifies an ultimate transformation process from an authentic to an autonomous interpretation, following an explicit historical logic. Thereby, the relative abstraction and timeless character of the original codification is reduced and replaced by the specific needs of a particular time, exposed to change in function to social progress. “Anche il concetto di codificazione al quale abbiamo implicitamente aderito, e che orienta la ricerca in direzioni determinate, non è già per questo fatto quello giusto, ma piuttosto solo il nostro concetto, che le generazioni future relativizzeranno o persino abbandoneranno, con le stesso diritto con il quale noi abbiamo criticato antiche scelte”. This relativity of his own standpoint guides the author to two main conclusions: “In primo luogo, la convizione che una descrizione credibile del ruolo rivendicato dal diritto codificato in una determinata società storica non è concepibile senzy considerare il retroterra politico e sociale di un condice, o senza risalire al modello sociale ad esso sotteso. [...] / Secondariamente, la convizione che nuessuna codificazione potè limitarsi a postulare o confermare la realtà, anche perché nessuna riuscì ad esser esclusivamente il riflesso fedele dell’ordinamento giuridico vigente“.

Further Information About the Author

Pio Caroni, born in 1938 in Ticino (Switzerland), concluded his studies in jurisprudence at the University of Berne, after having been abroad in Germany and Italy. In 1971, he was called on the chair for legal history at the same University, where he remained for more than thirty years, and where he signed as a rector later in his academical career. After having published a monography on Swiss constitutionalism (“Il dualismo costituzionale svizzero”, Milano 1964), he remained faithful to his Italian-speaking origin and frequented the institutes of the Universities of Milano and Firenze, and he also participated in the well-known “Centro di studi per la storia del pensiero giuridico moderno”.

For further information about the author and his writings, please consult:

Matthias Schwaibold: Caronisierung, in: Rechtsgeschichte, Zeitschrift des Max-Planck-Instituts für Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main, vol. 8 (2006), pp. 58–162.

Selected Works of the Same Author

Pio Caroni: Saggi sulla storia della codificazione (Facoltà di Giurisprudenza dell’Università di Firenze, vol. 51), Milano: A. Giuffrè, 1998; Idem: “Privatrecht” – Eine sozialhistorische Einführung, Basel: Helbing & Lichtenhahn, 1988; Idem: Quale storia per il diritto ingabbiato dal codice, in: Norm und Tradition – Welche Geschichtlichkeit für die Rechtsgeschichte? Ed. Pio Caroni and Gerhard Dilcher, Köln/ Weimar/ Wien: Böhlau, 1998, pp. 77-108; Idem: Rechtseinheit – Drei historische Studien zu Art. 64 BV, Basel: Helbing & Lichtenhahn, 1986; Idem: Ungleiches Recht für alle – Vom Werden des ungleichen und nicht systemwidrigen Privatrechts, in: Zentrum und Peripherie – Zusammenhänge, Fragmentierungen, Neuansätze, Festschrift für Richard Bäumlin zum 65. Geburtstag, ed. Roland Herzog, Chur/ Zürich: Rüegger, 1992.

For Further Reading

Pio Caroni: “Privatrecht” – Eine sozialhistorische Einführung, Basel: Helbing & Lichtenhahn, 1988; Idem: Gesetz und Gesetzbuch – Beiträge zu einer Kodifikationsgeschichte, Basel/ Genf/ München: Helbing & Lichtenhahn, 2003.


You can find a scan (PDF) of the original text here: Caroni Codice disincantato0001