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Power, Principle, and Progress

Kant and the Republican Philosophy of Nordic Criminal Law

Jørn Jacobsen


Nordic criminal law is often thought of as a specific kind of criminal law, one emphasising humanity and rationality as guidelines for a modest use of criminal law in society. However, when we are talking about ‘Nordic criminal law’ what we are talking about, more specifically, is not obvious. It is not easy to pin down which ideas ‘Nordic criminal law’ more precisely refers to, and for various reasons, its deeper justification is not much discussed. This book aims to address the justification challenge facing contemporary Nordic criminal law scholarship.

To do so, the book turns to a perhaps somewhat surprising ally of Nordic criminal law. Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) is often considered a leading proponent of exactly the kind of harsh metaphysical retributivism that Nordic criminal law has rejected. But the account of Kant usually found in Nordic criminal law scholarship is seldom grounded in a thorough analysis of his political philosophical writings and, to an even lesser degree, in an understanding of Kant’s broader philosophical framework.

This book will argue that Kant offers important starting points for a philosophical basis for criminal law, Nordic criminal law, and Nordic criminal law scholarship in particular: Criminal law is an essential part of the political arrangements that we are obliged to put in place and maintain in order to promote external freedom, and we should constantly strive to bring it closer to what Kant termed ‘the true republic’.

Jørn Jacobsen is a professor of law at the University of Bergen, Norway. His main research interests are criminal law and legal theory.

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