Sociology Index

Eugen Ehrlich

Eugen Ehrlich was an Austrian legal scholar and sociologist of law. Eugen Ehrlich is widely regarded as one of the founders of the modern field of sociology of law. Ehrlich's experience of the Bukovina's legal culture, where Austrian law and sharply contrasting local custom seemed to co-exist, caused him to question the hierarchical notions of law propounded by such theorists as Hans Kelsen. Ehrlich noted that legal theories that recognized law only as a sum of statutes and court decisions gave an inadequate view of the legal reality of a community.

Eugen Ehrlich drew a distinction between norms for decision and social norms or norms of conduct. The latter actually govern the life of a society and, under certain conditions, can justifiably be regarded in popular consciousness, if not necessarily by lawyers, as law. Eugen Ehrlich figures among eminent sociologists of the world.

Commercial usage and custom may develop and be recognized and respected by courts of law and other agencies as having normative force and legal significance. The "living law" that regulates social life may be very different from the norms for decision applied by courts, and may sometimes attract far greater cultural authority which lawyers cannot safely ignore. Norms for decision regulate only those disputes that are brought before a judicial or other tribunal.

The "living law" is a framework for the routine structuring of social relationships. Its source is in the many different kinds of social associations in which people co-exist. Its essence is not dispute and litigation, but peace and co-operation. What counts as law depends on what kind of authority exists to give it legal significance among those it is supposed to regulate.

Law's authority are plural and insofar as some of those sources are political and others cultural they may conflict. But not all the norms of social associations should be thought of as 'law', in Ehrlich's view. Legal norms, understood sociologically are typically distinguished from merely moral or customary ones by powerful feelings of revulsion which typically attach to breach of them. They are regarded as socially fundamental. Legal norms concern certain kinds of relationships, transactions and circumstances which he described as 'facts of the law'—specially important topics or considerations for social regulation.