Saturday, March 12, 2022

The Rule of Laws: A 4,000-Year Quest to Order the World (Fernanda Pirie)

Rulers, whether they be emperors or elected officials, have used laws to impose order since early civilization. Laws have served many purposes: as political or theological social control, as visions for a better world, and as guidelines for how to manage incidents and civil matters. Laws have evolved on several tracks over the millenia, and author Fernanda Pirie showcases that evolution in The Rule of Laws: A 4,000-Year Quest to Order the World.

Pirie’s book covers legal history from the perspective of China, India, Europe, and the Middle East, showing laws rooted in good governance and religion, evolving over centuries and adapting from each other and other geographic regions to improve upon their legal codes. In some parts of the world, such as Islamic-controlled areas, religious influence dominated the legal code and the secular government would work in improvements and secular laws as appropriate, while keeping an eye on the law’s implications to the legal code. In Christian parts of Europe, while the secular government controlled the law-making, religion and faith had influence in helping frame the build out of law. Pirie shows how English Common Law set the basis for much of the legal framework of the 19th and 20th Centuries and how the English exported their law-making system as part of their colonization of India, America, and Africa. 

Missing from this book, however, is insight into rule systems in the Americas and sub-Saharan Africa before European colonization. Coverage into extralegal pursuits - such as the mob - is given a chapter. It would have been nice to see more written about rule systems in these parts of the world. The exploitation of native-born peoples at the hands of the Common Law system is properly pointed out as part of this story. That aside, The Rule of Laws is a relatively concise history of how law-making evolved over time throughout the world and is worth reading if you want insight into the evolution of rule.