Venus in czernowitz: Sacher-masoch, Ehrlich and the fin de siecle crisis of legal reason

This paper explores the relationship between Eugen Ehrlich's work and other fin de siecle thinkers in order to gain a better understanding of the intellectual and cultural context from which Ehrlich's thought emerged. The starting point of the paper is Venus in Furs, a novella published by Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch in 1870. Masoch's use of law in Venus in Furs was briefly analyzed by Gilles Deleuze, but Deleuze's analysis ignored the relationship of Masoch's work to general trends in late 19th century legal thought, trends that ultimately also produced Ehrlich's sociology of law. The paper argues that one can read both Venus in Furs and Ehrlich's major work, Fundamental Principles of the Sociology of Law, as expressions of a general 'crisis of reason', evident in many areas of fin de siecle European culture, and specifically as part of the crisis of liberal legal thought. The paper examines several themes present in both Masoch's and Ehrlich's work, such as the critique of the concept of free will and state sovereignty, the contrast between state sanctions and private honor, the use of the exotic as a source of knowledge and the problems associated with the textual representation of reality. It concludes by pointing to similar themes found in other literary and artistic products of fin de siecle culture.
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