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Advanced Introduction to Private Law

Jan M. Smits

In this Advanced Introduction, one of the world's leading private law scholars takes the reader on an intellectual journey through the different facets and dimensions of the field, from the family home to Kuta Beach and from Thomas Piketty to Nina Hagen.
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Jan M. Smits


Albert Camus famously wrote that ‘life is the sum of all your choices’. Private lawyers could not agree more. The preceding pages abundantly showed that private law allows individuals to know better than the state or anyone else what suits their needs and interests and to act accordingly. People may decide for themselves to contract, to dispose of their property before or after death, to start a family or to claim compensation for other people’s unlawful conduct. No one needs to validate my choice to spend all of my time cycling or reading, to work as a lawyer or as a hairdresser or to remain single or get married.1 However, human flourishing and the well-lived life of one individual are interconnected to and dependent upon other individuals who want to pursue the same.2 Only Robinson Crusoe did not have to reckon with others. The role of private law, therefore, is not only to empower individuals to pursue their own vision of a distinctively human life – if need be by holding others accountable to them – but also to limit autonomy for the sake of other individuals or the community. The chapters in this book shed light on how the law balances individual autonomy with these countervailing considerations.

The starting point of the law is that individual autonomy can only be a source of obligations when exercised in a meaningful way. The law does not assume that all people are free and equal, but only attaches legal consequences to self-determination...

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