15 October 2019

BOOK: Rande W. KOSTAL, Laying Down the Law : The American Legal Revolutions in Occupied Germany and Japan (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2019). ISBN 9780674052413, €49.50

(Source: HUP)

Harvard University Press has published a new book on the legal transformation of Occupied Japan and Germany.


A legal historian opens a window on the monumental postwar effort to remake fascist Germany and Japan into liberal rule-of-law nations, shedding new light on the limits of America’s ability to impose democracy on defeated countries.

Following victory in World War II, American leaders devised an extraordinarily bold policy for the occupations of Nazi Germany and imperial Japan: to achieve their permanent demilitarization by compelled democratization. A quintessentially American feature of this policy was the replacement of fascist legal orders with liberal rule-of-law regimes.

In his comparative investigation of these epic reform projects, noted legal historian R. W. Kostal shows that Americans found it easier to initiate the reconstruction of foreign legal orders than to complete the process. While American agencies made significant inroads in the elimination of fascist public law in Germany and Japan, they were markedly less successful in generating allegiance to liberal legal ideas and institutions.

Drawing on rich archival sources, Kostal probes how legal-reconstructive successes were impeded by German and Japanese resistance on one side, and by the glaring deficiencies of American theory, planning, and administration on the other. Kostal argues that the manifest failings of America’s own rule-of-law democracy weakened U.S. credibility and resolve in bringing liberal democracy to occupied Germany and Japan.

In Laying Down the Law, Kostal tells a dramatic story of the United States as an ambiguous force for moral authority in the Cold War international system, making a major contribution to American and global history of the rule of law.


R. W. Kostal is Professor in the Faculty of Law at Western University, Ontario, and author of Law and English Railway Capitalism, 1825–1875, and A Jurisprudence of Power: Victorian Empire and the Rule of Law.


Introduction: Laying Down the Law in Occupied Germany and Japan
1. The “Destruction of Philosophies”: Planning the Legal Reconstruction of Germany and Japan
2. Occupying the Legal Other: The Subjugation of the German and Japanese Legal Systems
3. Captive Constitutions: Remaking Constitutional Law in Occupied Germany and Japan
4. Crafting Liberal Courts: Reconstituting the German and Japanese Judiciaries
5. Clearing the Spiritual Rubble: Reforming Criminal Justice in Occupied Germany and Japan
6. Twilight of the Gods: The Rise and Fall of Civil Liberties in Occupied Germany and Japan
Conclusion: Laying Down the Law: Americans as Legal Revolutionaries

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