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The Feudal Origins of the Western Legal Tradition

  • Cameron Harwick EMAIL logo and Hilton Root
From the journal ORDO


This paper draws a distinction between ‘communitarian’ and ‘rationalist’ legal orders on the basis of the implied political strategy. We argue that the West’s solution to the paradox of governance – that a government strong enough to protect rights cannot itself be restrained from violating those rights – originates in certain aspects of the feudal contract, a confluence of aspects of communitarian Germanic law, which enshrined a contractual notion of political authority, and rationalistic Roman law, which supported large-scale political organization. We trace the tradition of strong but limited government to the conflict between factions with an interest in these legal traditions – nobles and the crown, respectively – and draw limited conclusions for legal development in non-Western contexts.


Dieser Beitrag unterscheidet zwischen „kommunitaristischen“ und „rationalistischen“ Rechtsordnungen auf der Grundlage der implizierten politischen Strategie. Wir argumentieren, dass die Lösung des Westens für das „Governance-Paradoxon“ – dass eine Regierung, die stark genug ist, um Rechte zu schützen, nicht selbst daran gehindert werden kann, diese Rechte zu verletzen – ihren Ursprung in bestimmten Aspekten des Feudalvertrages hat. Dieser verschmilzt Aspekte des kommunitaristischen germanischen Rechts, das einen vertraglichen Begriff von politischer Herrschaft verankerte, und des rationalistischen römischen Rechts, das eine umfangreiche politische Organisation förderte. Wir führen die Tradition einer starken, aber begrenzten Regierung auf den Konflikt zwischen Gruppierungen mit einem Interesse an diesen Rechtstraditionen – dem Adel und der Krone – zurück und formulieren vorsichtige Schlussfolgerungen für die Rechtsentwicklung in nicht-westlichen Kontexten.

JEL-Code: K1; N90; P51


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Published Online: 2019-03-19
Published in Print: 2019-03-16

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