The Feudal Origins of the Western Legal Tradition

Cameron Harwick 1  and Hilton Root 2
  • 1 Department of Accounting, Economics & Finance, State University of New York, College at Brockport, Brockport, NY, United States of America
  • 2 Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University, Arlington, VA, United States of America
Cameron Harwick
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Accounting, Economics & Finance, State University of New York, College at Brockport, Brockport, NY, United States of America
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and Hilton Root
  • Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University, Arlington, VA, United States of America
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  • Search for other articles:
  • degruyter.comGoogle Scholar


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.

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ORDO is a forum for the discussion of fundamental concepts in institutional and regulatory economics and their application to real-life national and international problems. ORDO is the only academic journal in the German-speaking world that explicitly specializes in the interplay between economic, legal, political, and social organizational systems.