Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Pirie's "Rule of Laws"

Fernanda Pirie, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, Oxford, has published The Rule of Laws: A 4000-Year Quest to Order the World (Basic Books):

Almost without exception, the laws enforced throughout the world today are modelled on systems developed in Western Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For two hundred years, European colonisers exported their laws everywhere they could. But in many places they weren't filling a void: again and again, they displaced local traditions that were already ancient when Vasco Da Gama first made landfall in India. Even the Romans, first framers of the European tradition, were inspired by earlier precedents.  

Where, then, did it all begin? And what sophisticated approaches to justice have been lost in the drive for uniformity? In The Rule of Laws, anthropologist Fernanda Pirie traces the development of the world's great legal systems - Chinese, Indian, Roman, and Islamic. But she also shows how common people-tribal assemblies, merchants, farmers-have called on laws to define their communities, regulate trade, and resist outsiders. The variety of the world's laws, Pirie reveals, has long been almost as great as the variety of its societies. Although legal principles originating in Western Europe now seem to dominate the globe, a more complicated legal reality persists on the ground, one that is evident everywhere from the influence of Islamic law across the Middle East, to the persistence of traditional codes among nomadic Tibetan yak herders, to the unwritten rules of gangs worldwide.

At the heart of this story is a persistent paradox. Rulers throughout history have used laws to impose order. But they have also offered ordinary people a way to resist authority and to express their diverse visions for a better world. 
--Dan Ernst