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Towards a Modest Legal Moralism: Concept, Open Questions, and Potential Extension


The article introduces and critiques Antony Duff’s Modest Legal Moralism from a strictly analytical angle. It seeks to illuminate its core tenets and modestly addresses a number of aspects that deserve further elaboration from the author’s point of view. Notwithstanding these points of contention the main thrust of the article is the exploration of the constructive potential of Duff’s concept. It will be shown that its core elements are well-equipped to come to grips with the lacuna of theorization of supranational criminal justice systems and their criminalization processes.

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  1. 1.

    For the opposite view see Moore 1997: 33 et seq., 68 et seq.: “all and only moral wrongs should be criminally prohibited”; profound criticisms of this idea can be found in Husak 2008: 196 et seq.; Simester et al. 2010: 649–650; Ashworth 2006: 35.

  2. 2.

    As a consequence instrumentalist cost-effectiveness analysis would be inappropriate and incapable of capturing its proprium; for a similar conclusion see Meyer 2012, 781–785; Seher 2006: 70, 78–79.

  3. 3.

    This basically means that an adequate public response in the case at hand cannot forgo the intrinsic proprium of punishment even after balancing with other goals and values.

  4. 4.

    The German Constitutional Court has espoused a similar view: see the decisions of the German Bundesverfassungsgericht (BVerfGE) Vol. 123, 267, 408 et seq. For an elaboration of this concept see Meyer 2012, 697 et seq.

  5. 5.

    Decisions of the German Bundesverfassungsgericht (BVerfGE) Vol. 123, 267, 344.

  6. 6.

    Decisions of the German Bundesverfassungsgericht (BVerfGE) Vol. 120, 224 et seq. holding that the Rechtsgutstheorie, which is the traditional criminalization theory widely shared among criminal lawyers, finds no basis in the German constitution and, thus, does not constrain the German parliament’s power to enact criminal prohibitions. In the court’s view criminal legislation is primarily a crucial choice of democratic self-determination of a people executed by its elected representatives.


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Correspondence to F. Meyer.

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Meyer, F. Towards a Modest Legal Moralism: Concept, Open Questions, and Potential Extension. Criminal Law, Philosophy 8, 237–244 (2014).

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  • Modest legal moralism
  • Criminalization processes
  • Theories of criminalization
  • Public wrong
  • Supranational polity