Harold Berman, RIP


The legal historian Harold Berman, best known for the mammoth Law and Revolution (1983), has passed away. Donald Boudreaux explains the idea at the heart of that book:

The main lesson of Law and Revolution is that law can—and certainly did in western Europe—emerge unplanned from competition among different wannabe sovereign powers. During the middle-ages and early modern era the Roman Catholic church sought absolute sovereignty. So too, did various princes. And these seekers of unalloyed sovereignty each had to compete for authority not only with each other, but also with the law-making processes that emerged in cities, on feudal manors, and—importantly—among merchants.

Sovereignty in the west, fortunately, was fractured. The competition for absolute power—the quests of the princes and of the church, of "caesar" and of "christ," each to wield absolute power prevented either of them from becoming absolute. Competition is a grand thing. And law is not so much the product of a sovereign, or of a law-giving genius, as it is the emergent outcome of countless instances of human interactions and struggles of each of us and of those who would rule us to carve out elbow room for ourselves and domains of authority.

More tributes: from Jacob Levy, from Robert Higgs, and from Todd Zywicki.