Ancient Athens was a remarkably peaceful and well-ordered society by both ancient and contemporary standards. Scholars typically attribute Athens' success to internalized norms and purely informal enforcement mechanisms. This article argues that the formal Athenian court system played a vital role in maintaining order by enforcing informal norms. This peculiar approach to norm enforcement compensated for apparent weaknesses in the state system of coercion. It mitigated the effects of under-enforcement in a private prosecution system by encouraging litigants to uncover and punish their opponents' past violations. Court enforcement of extra-statutory norms also permitted the Athenians to enforce a variety of social norms while maintaining the fictions of voluntary devotion to military and public service and of limited state interference in private conduct.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Lanni on Social Norms in the Courts of Ancient Athens
Posted by Dan Ernst
Adriaan Lanni, Harvard Law School has posted the paper, Social Norms in the Courts of Ancient Athens, which is forthcoming in the peer-reviewed, open access Journal of Legal Analysis. It may profitably be read alongside Emily Kadens's "Order Within Law, Variety Within Custom: The Character of the Medieval Merchant Law," 5 Chicago Journal of International Law 39 (2004). Here is the abstract for Lanni's paper: