Colella on A Look Back at the Global History of Law Across the Centuries (Book Review of Fernanda Pirie, The Rule of Laws: A 4,000 Year Quest to Order the World) @rundangerously @NewYorkLJ

Frank G. Colella, Pace University, has published A Look Back at the Global History of Law across the Centuries at 267 New York Law Journal 6 (April 5, 2022). Here is the abstract.

If Fernanda Pirie’s far-ranging global history of the development of law, “The Rule of Laws: A 4,000 Year Quest to Order the World,” teaches one overarching lesson, it is society’s rulers (if not its very citizens) will create, adopt, or modify some form of legal system to govern its day-to-day world, its relationship with other societies (nations or regions), and its very role in the cosmos – in other words, forge a civilization. The stories related in this expansive treatment span from the earliest chiseled tablets that announced “laws” in Mesopotamia to our modern international rules of nations. In fact, Mesopotamia is but one of the trio of regions, together with India and China, which begat our modern legal systems, as the title suggests, four millennia ago.

Ms. Pirie is a Professor of the Anthropology of Law at Oxford. Prior to her move to academia, Professor Pirie practiced law as a barrister for ten years. The result is a comprehensive look at the history of law that is not merely academic, but also benefits from her having practiced law. The relationship between the early use of “ordeals” to establish credibility and how those practices would eventually develop into modern rules of evidence, is but one example. Notably, however, the book does not unfold chronologically. Instead, the subject matter is grouped around particular milestones in the historical development of laws.

Part one, “Visions of Order,” is the “historical” deep dive into the earliest days of what we would recognize as law. It begins with Ur-Namma, a pre-Hammurabi Mesopotamian military leader, who ousted a ruthless warlord to seize power in the city of Ur. The new king “introduced measures to relieve peasants, labourers, and artisans who had fallen into poverty, and he promised to redress social inequalities.” He, like many of his predecessors, “ordered scribes to write out his grand claims about justice on clay tablets.” In addition to broad assertions of justice, they also contained “rules,” or more realistically, “pragmatic instructions.”

However captioned, these clay fragments are the earliest “laws” that have been discovered by archeologists. Thirty-seven fragments of Ur-Namma’s laws have been unearthed. They cover, for example, punishments or compensation for murder, injury, false imprisonment. Also included are rules for divorce and marriage, as well as agricultural disputes. Ur-Namma is credited for having developed the casuistic, “if-then,” model. Pirie gives as an example, “‘if a man (wrongfully) detains another he shall be imprisoned and he shall weigh and deliver fifteen shekels of silver.'” This modality was focused on the regulation of future conduct instead of the dispensation of justice to those who came before a judge with petitions for relief.

Download the book review from SSRN at the link.