Kafka's Indictment of Modern Law

Douglas E. Litowitz

The legal system is often denounced as “Kafkaesque”—but what does this really mean? This is the question Douglas E. Litowitz tackles in his critical reading of Franz Kafka’s writings about the law.

Going far beyond Kafka’s most familiar works—such as The Trial—Litowitz assembles a broad array of works that he refers to as “Kafka’s legal fiction”—consisting of published and unpublished works that deal squarely with the law, as well as those that touch upon it indirectly, as in political, administrative, and quasi-judicial procedures. Cataloguing, explaining, and critiquing this body of work, Litowitz brings to bear all those aspects of Kafka’s life that were connected to law—his legal education, his career as a lawyer, his drawings, and his personal interactions with the legal system. A close study of Kafka’s legal writings reveals that Kafka held a consistent position about modern legal systems, characterized by a crippling nihilism. Modern legal systems, in Kafka’s view, consistently fail to make good on their stated pretensions—in fact often accomplish the opposite of what they promise. This indictment, as Litowitz demonstrates, is not confined to the legal system of Kafka’s day, but applies just as surely to our own.

“In this fine work of scholarship—original, thoughtful, and very readable—Douglas Litowitz does what no Kafka scholar has done before: he has assembled into an intelligible corpus every one of Kafka’s stories bearing on the theory and practice of the law and then formulated its distinct argument. Kafka’s law consists, from the standpoint of the litigant, of a series of insurmountable obstacles to a just decision. Litowitz, himself a lawyer, does not hold with Kafka’s view of the law and explains why. Kafka’s Indictment of Modern Law is admirable for its clarity and ethical drive.”

—Stanley Corngold, author of Franz Kafka: The Ghosts in the Machine

“This book provides a comprehensive take on Kafka’s dark understanding of modern law, considering all of the relevant texts. It is an accessible, and in some ways personal, interpretation by an American lawyer as immersed in our system, as Kafka was in his.”

—Robert P. Burns, author of Kafka’s Law: The Trial and American Criminal Justice

A short, clear, comprehensive introduction to Kafka’s legal writings and thought, Kafka’s Indictment of Modern Law is not uncritical. Even as he clarifies Kafka’s experience of and ideas about the law, Litowitz offers an informed perspective on the limitations of these views. His book affords rare insight into a key aspect of Kafka’s work, and into the connection between the writing, the writer, and the legal world.

About the Author

Douglas E. Litowitz is a veteran finance lawyer and law professor whose works include Postmodern Philosophy and Law (Kansas) and The Destruction of Young Lawyers.