Date: 05 Mar 2009

Symbolism of the Spirit of the Laws: A Genealogical Excursus to Legal and Political Semiotics

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Abstract

The spirit of the laws is a symbol reflecting the ontological status and transcendental ideals of the system of positive law. The article analyses historical links between the romantic philosophy of the spirit of the nation (Volksgeist), which subsumed Montesquieu’s general spirit of the laws under the concept of ethnic culture, and recent politics of cultural and ethnic identity. Although criticising attempts at legalising ethnic collective identities, the article does not simply highlight the virtues of demos and the superiority of civic culture against the vices of ethnos and the regressive nature of ethnic politics of identity. Instead, the author argues that the civil democratic concept of political identity is part of the more general process of social differentiation: unlike the pre-political ethnic concept of identity, it can be converted to generalised democratic procedures and thus dismantle the totalitarian claims of cultural identity politics.