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Scholars have long recognized American jurists’ idiosyncratic commitment to a prudent, pragmatic, and political style of legal reasoning. The origins of this style have been linked to the legacy of the most American legal movement of all: the realists. Conversely, German jurists’ doctrinal, idealistic, and apolitical approach can be tied to the relative failure of Germany’s equivalent movement: the free lawyers. How to account for the seemingly inverse fate of realistic jurisprudential reform projects on both sides of the Atlantic? In this paper I employ transnational history to shed light on this particular instance of German-American divergence.