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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


The aim of this small book is to make private law accessible and engaging to people who are not experts in the field. My goal is not to elucidate the many technical and detailed rules that private law consists of in each individual national jurisdiction, but rather to present the field as being about perennial normative questions on the legal aspect of relations among individuals. In doing so, private law is considered to be a unified field, of which the main branches – on contract, tort, property, family and succession – are governed by conflicts between private autonomy and countervailing principles.

Writing a non-parochial book such as this requires many choices that hopefully could be made without sacrificing accuracy. Unnecessary jargon is avoided and the law is placed as much as possible in the broader economic and social context. The main point this book tries to make is that, although similar societies may face similar problems, these problems can be solved in fundamentally different ways. What unites private lawyers is the reasoning that they deploy in facing these problems, not the uniformity of the outcomes they reach. It is this approach that allows me to ‘disconnect’ the many national variations of private law from what I see as the core questions in the field. Although most examples come from English, American, German and French law, the issues they illustrate apply to any jurisdiction. My mission is accomplished if the reader is convinced that private law is not about keeping lawyers...

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