Conservatism among merchants? Codification and customary mercantile law traditions in the Netherlands (19th-20th century)

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After the French Revolution, the codification movement led to the introduction of the Dutch Civil Code and the Commercial Code of 1838. These codifications were generally regarded as the bedrock of a dogmatic system in which little space was left for customs and customary law. Mercantile jurists, such as Holtius and Levy, were opponents of the legalistic approach of the new codifications. They tried to separate mercantile law from civil law in order to protect mercantile law from excessive legalistic influences. According to them, mercantile law was characterised by internationality, custom as its main source of law, continuity through an extended mercantile legal history and by good faith and mutual trust between the merchants. Out of these, the historicity and homogeneity of a strong community of merchants are particularly in line with a traditional and conservative view on society. Holtius and Levy, however, had little in common with their Christian-conservative contemporaries. On the one hand, they rather seemed to foreshadow the kind of liberal-conservatism as expressed by Hayek during the 20th century. On the other hand, their ideas have much in common with different lex mercatoria –traditions developed by authors as Goldman and Schmitthoff. On the aspects of historicity and internationality Holtius and Levy seem to have much in common with Hayek whereas concerning communality and the legal nature of customary law there are more similarities with the lex mercatoria-traditions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-241
Number of pages25
JournalNoesis - Revue Philosophique
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Coutume
  • Legal History
  • Commercial Law
  • Lex Mercatoria
  • Codification
  • The Netherlands


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