Book Review: Don’t Judge ‘The Rule of Law’ by Heavy Title | Books
“The Rule of Law: A 4000-Year Quest to Order the World”. Fernanda Pirie. 576 pages. $ 35. Basic books.
We are civilized. We live by the law. Some of us make our own “laws” to fit a specific situation, but most of us recognize the need for rules, which allow us to live together in relative peace. People have spent 4,000 years developing codes of conduct, and Fernanda Pirie has traced the rise and fall of Mesopotamia’s civic order and from the Bible lands to abandonment of the state in favor of the international law.
In 2112 BCE, Ur-Namma seized power in the Mesopotamian city of Ur and issued a set of rules to eliminate “enmity, violence and calls for justice.” These are the first laws discovered by archaeologists. Thirty-seven of them survived.
Several changes of leadership followed the victory of Ur-Namma, and in 1793 BC. AD, a new prince came to power and began to consolidate the towns and villages of Mesopotamia; his name was Hammurabi. It is Hammurabi whom we remember as a founding creator of civil laws, along with Justinian, Cyrus, Darius, Draco (as in Draconian) and Moses. The latter’s legal system, which the Bible says it received from God, was a body of laws to deal with civil and criminal matters, and focused on the union of the 12 tribes of Israel.
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Not all codes of conduct were developed by and for the inhabitants of the Levant, Greece or Rome, and not all were created by people whose history remembers. Marginal societies such as Ireland, Iceland and the Nordic and Germanic cultures also developed them.
Pirie explores the many types of laws, their origins and applications, and the people who made and applied them. His collection of stories offers a comprehensive overview of how civilizations were founded and governed, how societies “… put their faith in the power of law to produce just social order”.
Readers have the opportunity to compare the motives and effects on societies of the laws set in stone (literally) by the kings of Babylon and Persia, England and the mainland, Indian Brahmins, Tibetan tribes and emperors. Chinese as they explore the roots of our modern laws. contemplating the words of the author:
“The rule of law has a long history… It has emerged time and time again to confront and challenge those in power, but it is neither inevitable nor invulnerable. It is also up to us to lose.
While the title of the book may lead some potential readers to assume that it is a heavy work filled with jargon used by lawyers, it is not. This collection on the origins and evolutions of laws is easy and comfortable to read. In addition, it strengthens our appreciation of the laws of the fundamental structure of our civilization.
– Michael L. Ramsey is President Emeritus of the Roanoke Public Library Foundation.