«Jan-Olof Sundell Vilhelm Lundstedt (1882-1955) was one of the leading legal thinkers that belonged to the Uppsala school of Jurisprudence.1 He had a ...»
Vilhelm Lundstedt – a Biographical
Vilhelm Lundstedt (1882-1955) was one of the leading legal thinkers that
belonged to the Uppsala school of Jurisprudence.1 He had a middle-class
background and was raised in Gothenburg where he took his student examen.
After working for a short period in a pharmacy he then at an early age both
started and finished his law studies at the University of Lund. As he then was
under 25, which was the minimum age for serving in the law courts, he was persuaded, more or less willingly, to turn to legal science. He became doctor of law there on a very traditional thesis in 1908.2 After serving as an associate professor in Lund for a couple of years he then in the spring of 1914 became professor of Private Law at the University of Uppsala, a post he kept until being formally retired in 1948. Early on in Uppsala he got in touch with the professor of Practical Philosophy Axel Hägerström, that became a dominant influence on him. It led to a basic change in his views on law and to a highly critical perspective on the traditional legal thinking of scholars both within Swedish law and on an international level. He has himself stated that he now – as a professor actually started afresh with his legal studies, in order to acquire a correct perspective on law. He regarded it as a lucky coincidence that he by this time already was a professor, because he felt that he would never have got a professorship on scholarly works of the sort that he started to publish after 1920;
he claimed, he would never have been paid a penny for this type of scholarship, but the beggar’s staff would have been his lot.3 When Lundstedt met Hägerström, he underwent a spiritual experience similar to the one that Saul had 1 For a short description of Lundstedt’s life and activities see Karl Molin’s article in Svenskt Biografiskt Lexikon Vol. 24 p. 376 ff.
2 For a description and an analysis of Lundstedt’s doctoral dissertation cf. Sundell, Jan-Olof, Tysk påverkan på svensk civilrättsdoktrin 1870-1914 (Lund 1987) p. 253 ff. A short version of this dissertation is available in English in Scandinavian Studies in Law vol. 35 (1991) p.
235 ff., with the section on Lundstedt on p. 251 ff.
3 For Lundstedt’s dependence on Hägerström, which he often mentioned, see his partially autobiographical work Det Hägerström-Lundstedtska misstaget (Uppsala 1942).
© Stockholm Institute for Scandianvian Law 1957-2010 466 Jan-Olof Sundell: Vilhelm Lundstedt – a Biographical Sketch as he travelled to Damascus and then was transformed to one of Jesus’ disciples under the name of S:t Paul.
Both Hägerström and Lundstedt felt that all type of scholarly work should deal with society as it is and as it actually functions. Many traditional legal concepts had according to them no basis in fact, and they should consequently be regarded as a kind of legal metaphysics. In 1920 Lundstedt started a never ending kind of legal crusade against traditional legal thinking through a criticism against his own former teacher at Lund Johan Thyrén, who was a highly regarded specialist in criminal law.4 As he later stated, he held that traditional jurisprudence was “…unworthy of being called a science” and his purpose was precisely “…to make of jurisprudence a science.”5 The basis of the legal order according to Lundstedt was the concept of what he called “samhällsnyttan”, which we can verbally translate into English as what is useful to society or as “the social utility”, although he seems himself to have had some trouble in translating his “samhällsnytta” into proper English.
Both the Uppsala School in general and Lundstedt’s legal thinking in particular have been widely studied by legal scholars both in and outside Sweden. What is less publicly known is the role Lundstedt had as a politician and as a highly conscious and committed citizen in Sweden and the relationship between his three public roles.6 The purpose of this paper is to give a short biographical sketch of Lundstedt as a politician and a citizen. He very often based his political points of view on his views on law, and it is my intention to try to show something of the connection between them.The paper is actually a preparatory study for a biography on Lundstedt that I hope to be able to write in the coming years. He was a prolific writer and in the two personal bibliographies covering his public activity there are mentioned no less than 541 items.7 Among these are books, scholarly articles, but also political articles and pamphlets and interview statements to the press, speeches in parliament, private bills et. cet.
Although Lundstedt obviously early on had his political sympathies to the left,8 he concentrated on his scholarly tasks according to his natural leanings and it took some time for him to really take an active part in politics. However, his interest in politics increased with his active role in the “treason case” in 1916 4 Lundstedt, Föreläsningar över valda delar av obligationsrätten. I. Principinledning. Kritik av straffrättens grundåskådningar (Uppsala 1920). Lundstedt dedicated this work to his friend Karl Schlyter, who also happened to be Thyrén’s cousin!
5 Lundstedt, Legal thinking revised, My views on law (Stockholm 1956) p. 5 f.
6 Staffan Källström touches however on some of the aspects treated here in Den gode nihilisten, Axel Hägerström och striderna kring uppsalafilosofin (Kristianstad 1986) and En filosof i politiken – Vilhelm Lundstedt och äganderätten. Idéhistoriska uppsatser 23 (Uppsala 1991).
7 Vilhelm Lundstedts bibliografi. Förteckning över Professor Vilhelm Lundstedts intill den 11 september 1942 utgivna skrifter av O. Holm (Stockholm 1942) and Bokelund, Curt, Vilhelm Lundstedts Bibliografi 12.9.1942 – 11.9.1952 Sv JT 1952 p. 775 ff.
8 In 1905 he held a speech in Lund against a then current governmental bill on limiting the rights of the workers to strike. In this he was inspired by his friend Karl Schlyter, Libertas nr 1 1941 p. 10. The text of the speech is in an article in Arbetet 22.4.1905 (Klasslagarne inför juristerna).
© Stockholm Institute for Scandianvian Law 1957-2010 Jan-Olof Sundell: Vilhelm Lundstedt – a Biographical Sketch 467 (more about this further on in this paper).9 Lundstedt was politically active for the social democrats; he was first a councilman in Uppsala (1919-1929) and then a member of the Second Chamber of the Swedish Parliament, between 1929 and
1948. He was persuaded to stand as a candidate for parliament, although he originally was quite unwilling and seriously ill at the time.10 He later used to say that he represented the workers in parliament.11 For a long time (1928-1945) Lundstedt also was a member of the board of the radical student federation Laboremus in Uppsala.12 In many ways he was an odd person as a politician and never really fit into the usual party fold. I will here only give a few striking examples of his various fields of interest and of his independent positions in controversial questions. He very often based his political positions on his legal thinking.
Lundstedt took several unconventional initiatives in different directions, as the following examples will show. For instance, he critized the traditional legal concepts enshrined in International Law and also the use of these at the League of Nations and published a book in English on this theme in 1925 under the title “Superstition or rationality in action for peace?: arguments against founding a world peace on the common sense of justice: a criticism of jurisprudence”.
During the festivities in commemoration of the 300 year jubilee of the first doctorate in law at the University of Uppsala in December 1929 he publicly praised the former Prime Minister Hjalmar Hammarsköld (1914-1917).
Hammarskjöld, an earlier professor at the faculty of law, had been heavily critized during the First World War for his policy of neutrality between the warmaking powers, that according to many led to hardships for the Swedish Common Man. As a consequence he got the nickname “Hungerskjöld” and the criticism was particularly hard from the left. Now Lundstedt very positively judged Hammarskjöld’s steersmanship during the World War. Many social democrats must have raised their eyes in surprise over his praise of Hammarskjöld’s feat as the leader of the government during hard times, although the party leader Per Albin Hansson in an article in the daily Ny Tid commented favourably on Lundstedt’s statement.13 In 1933 Lundstedt submitted a private bill in parliament on legalising homosexual acts between consenting adults. His bill, that was also published as a small book of about 100 pages,14 had the heading “Fornication against nature”, that was a quote from the relevant paragraph of the Swedish Penal Code from 9 Lundstedt, Hågkomster från förräderimålet in Festskrift för Zeth Höglund (Stockholm 1944) p. 101.
10 Landquist, John, Vilhelm Lundstedt 70 år in Stockholms-Tidningen 10.9.1952.
11 Hilding Eek about Vilhelm Lundstedt in Stockholms-Tidningen 21.8.1955, reprinted in Höglund, Vilhelm Lundstedt – tänkare och kämpe.
12 Skoglund, Crister, Vita mösssor under röda fanor. Vänsterstudenter, kulturradikalism och bildningsideal i Sverige 1880-1940 (Stockholm 1991) p. 174 n. 3.
13 Uppsala Nya Tidning 2.12.1929 and Isaksson, Anders Per Albin IV. Landsfadern (Stockholm
2000) p. 122 f. Per Albin Hansson later became the highly popular leader of the social democratic party and prime minister 1932-1946. He led the four party Coalition Government during World War II.
14 Lundstedt, Otukt mot naturen. Bör den vara straffbar? (Stockholm 1933).
© Stockholm Institute for Scandianvian Law 1957-2010 468 Jan-Olof Sundell: Vilhelm Lundstedt – a Biographical Sketch 1864, Chapter 18, Paragraph 10. Lundstedt’s parliamentary initiative in this field was a bold step for his times and came long before the Penal Code was duly changed in a more liberal direction, that took place in 1944.
In 1948 Lundstedt was one of the two social democratic members of parliament who proposed that Sweden should join the military cooperation between the states of Western Europe and the United States,15 that the following year led to the formation of NATO. (The other one was another odd politician, the writer Ture Nerman, who once had been a communist but later as a social democrat became the most outspoken opponent of the Swedish government’s policy of cooperation with Nazi Germany during World War II.) This proposal went totally against the then social democratic Government’s policy of sticking to the traditional Swedish policy of neutrality, a policy that actually went back far into the Nineteenth Century.
A few years later Lundstedt wrote a letter to the editor of a big Swedish daily, in which he critized a governmental appointment of a professor of theology at the University of Lund, with the headline “Governmental dictatorship”.16 This was admittedly done after Lundstedt had left political life, but he still critized the government of his own party in this very harsh und uncompromising way, very typical for his extreme independence of mind.
Although Lundstedt was very much a typical theorist, he at least once made an earnest effort to change course and thereby to leave his professorship in Uppsala. In October 1933 he wrote a letter to his old friend Karl Schlyter, who was now minister of justice in a recently formed social democratic government.
Lundstedt now wanted to be nominated as a judge to the Swedish Supreme Court (Högsta Domstolen). He stated that he understood that such a nomination would only be possible under a social democratic government but that he would regard it as an unmotivated slight to him, if the government would not nominate him to the Supreme Court. From an other letter that Schlyter wrote a few years to a common friend of them both it is clear that Lundstedt deeply resented being bypassed, that the minister of justice had not wanted him as a member of the Supreme Court.17 Schlyter, who had served as a president of a court of appeals, obviously felt that Lundstedt would not fit in well in a collective team of judges in the Swedish Supreme Court.
Let me now give an early example of how Lundstedt combined his legal analysis with his political standpoints. When prohibition became an important political issue in Sweden around 1920 he fought this idea, because he felt that it would be detrimental for the cohesion in society to prohibit the consumption of alcohol. The basis for criminal law according to Lundstedt was his concept of social utility, that he always applied to all legal matters as a basis for the legal order. Although he up to this time only most unwillingly wanted to take part in a political debate, he now felt it to be imperative to put forward his opinion with an article in his party’s magazine Tiden.18 In a later pamphlet against prohibition 15 Lundstedt, Europas demokratier – förenen eder! (Stockholm 1948).
16 Regeringsdiktatur in Stockholms-Tidningen 15.5.1951.
17 Vilhelm Lundstedt to Karl Schlyter 22.10.1933 and Karl Schlyter to Karl Olivecrona 15.4.1937 in Sundell, Jan-Olof, Karl Schlyter – en biografi p. 168 f.