Monday, May 9, 2016

Kadens on Medieval Custom and the Medieval Law Merchant

Former LHB Guest Blogger Emily Kadens, Northwestern University School of Law, has recently posted two essays.  The first is Custom's Past, which is to appear in Custom’s Future: International Law in a Changing World, ed. Curtis A. Bradley (Cambridge 2016), 11-33:
This chapter argues that the modern publicists’ problems with custom grow out of the efforts of the medieval jurists to fit custom into the hierarchy of law. Trained in formal law, lawyers and judges expect all legally binding rules to have the characteristics of rules found in statute books and judicial opinions. This sort of lawyerly bias has its origin in the twelfth century, when the European tradition of formal legal study began. But custom had a prelegal existence, and in this “natural” state it did not fit the mold of enacted law. Natural custom was fluid, uncertain, equitable, and communitarian–features of a system of social regulation that lawyers no longer equate with law. Instead, for nearly 900 years, jurists and judges have been trying to force custom to look like what they have been trained to believe law is, and for nearly 900 years they have failed. Natural custom might, in certain circumstances, have functioned as law, but it did not function like law.
The second is The Medieval Law Merchant: The Tyranny of a Construct, which appeared in the Journal of Legal Analysis 7 (Winter 2015): 251-89:
The story of a medieval law merchant has a strong hold on scholars interested in private ordering. Despite numerous historical works demonstrating the falsity of the myth, it continues to be discussed regularly in scholarship as if it were an accurate portrayal of the past. This article tests the law merchant story against evidence about the mechanisms of medieval trade. It suggests that medieval commerce had little space for a specialized law, and that merchants had little need for it because of both the well-developed trading infrastructure and the actions of local governments to ensure the protection of legal rights.

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