Emilio Betti (Camerino 1890 – Camorciano di Camerino 1968), brother of Ugo – who was a famous playwright but also a judge -, is undoubtedly one of the most eminent Italian lawyers of the twentieth century.
Strongly attracted by the study of history and philosophy, he nevertheless graduated in Law (Roman Law) in Parma in 1912 (in 1913 he also took a degree in Literature, in Bologna). Without interrupting his studies, he began working as a librarian. The first publications concern the history of Roman law (“La crisi della Repubblica e la genesi del Principato” is still considered a fundamental text for the constitutional history of Rome), the theory of obligations, the trial. These topics recur throughout his vast production.
In 1917 he was appointed the chair of Roman Law at the University of Camerino, where he remained until 1922. In 1923-24 he taught in Messina. His pupil G. La Pira followed him in Florence, where Betti arrived in 1927. His famous prolusion “La creazione del diritto nella iurisdictio del pretore romano”, is dated 1925, while in 1927 the important volume “Diritto e processo nella teoria delle obbligazioni”, written with F. Carnelutti, was published. In that same year he was called to teach in Milan where he wrote the manuals “Istituzioni di diritto romano” (1929), “Diritto processuale civile italiano” (1933) and “Diritto romano. Parte generale” (1935). In 1939 he was asked by the Minister of Justice Grandi to write the 4th book (on obligations) of the new Italian Civil Code. In 1942 the famous monograph “Teoria generale del negozio giuridico” (in which B. rejected the dominant “dogma of the will”) was published.
Betti was a convinced supporter of fascism. However, he joined the Fascist National Party only in 1932. He also joined the Italian Social Republic (or Republic of Salò). He was arrested in 1944 and suspended from teaching in 1945, but in 1946 he was acquitted of all charges. Despite the opposition of Calamandrei, in November of that year he was called to teach Civil Law at the Faculty of Law of the University La Sapienza in Rome, where he remained until his retirement, in 1960. These were very intense and productive years. In addition to the teaching of Civil Law and then of Roman law, he devoted himself intensely to the study and teaching of hermeneutics. In 1956 he also wrote a dense monograph entitled “Problematica del diritto internazionale”.
After publishing his most successful volume, “Teoria generale dell’interpretazione”, in 1955 he founded in Rome the Istituto di Teoria dell’interpretazione. At the same time, a course on the theory of interpretation was introduced at the Law Faculty of the University La Sapienza. He begun a fascinating debate with the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer: Betti and Gadamer still represent the two cornerstones of modern hermeneutic philosophy.
Bibliography: S. Tondo, entry “Emilio Betti”, in “Dizionario biografico dei giuristi italiani”, Il Mulino, Bologna 2013.