Law and Revolution

The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition

Harold J. Berman

Harold Berman’s masterwork narrates the role of revolution in the development of Western law. Berman challenges conventional nationalist approaches to legal history, which have neglected the common foundations of all Western legal systems. He also questions conventional social theory, which has paid insufficient attention to the origin of modem Western legal systems and has therefore misjudged the nature of the crisis of the legal tradition in the twentieth century. He traces the slow construction of modern Western legal institutions over the centuries since the Papal Revolution at the dawn of the second millennium, when the Western church established its political and legal unity and its independence from emperors, kings, and feudal lords.

Berman shows how the coexistence of competing systems of law (canon law, royal law, feudal law, and the urban and mercantile law emerging in Europe’s newly founded cities) are the source of the Western belief in the supremacy of law. Written simply and dramatically, offering both a wealth of detail for the scholar and a fascinating story for the layman, his book grapples with the meaning of our heritage and its consequences for our future.