Post-communist Central and Eastern European legal cultures in general, and judicial style in particular, are often characterized as formalistic. This article reconstructs two ideological narratives about the formalist heritage of CEE judiciary, variants of which have dominated academic and policy debates about rule of law, judicial reforms and European integration in the last three decades. As the debate becomes linked to deeply rooted and long-term, sometimes traumatic issues of national and political identity, patterns of ideological thinking resurface easily. While it is symptomatic of CEE political cultures that the debate on judicial method has become a battleground for fierce controversies about collective (political) identity, arguably this exemplifies a broader phenomenon. Other weak or peripheral national cultures also face and struggle with issues of collective identity and inferiority complexes which may resurface in professional discourses and seemingly unpolitical domains.