• Robert Spicer

Societies Without Lawyers

Harold Barclay, People Without Government (An Anthropology of Anarchism)

A shock for lawyers – law is not universal – there are societies which have managed very well without wigs, gowns, advocates, courts, prisons and gallows.

Barclay sets out an anthropological analysis of societies which have functioned without government, which do not accept the idea of authority as natural.

His key points include:

  • Legal sanctions involve expressions of disapproval of the behaviour of an individual where:

  • Such expressions of disapproval are delegated to persons holding defined roles.

  • These persons have authority to threaten the use of violence and use it to carry out their job.

  • Punishments are imposed in relation to the infraction and are defined within certain limits and in relation to the crime.

  • Examples of persons holding these defined roles include police, judges, jailers, executioners and lawmakers.

  • The state declares that it has a monopoly on the use of violence.

  • Legal sanctions are not universal, but are characteristic of only some types of human society.

  • Law and government are invariably associated with rule by an elite class.

  • The employment of violence to enforce the law is fundamental to both government and to the state. The government may use a variety of words to describe this violence: lawful arrest, reasonable force, detention, etc., but it all involves, in the end, physical violence.

  • Barclay’s views must be subject to the argument that societies without laws have functioned at a primitive stage of sophistication, and that more developed societies need legal systems. This is subject to the counter-argument that current society has reached a stage of development and sophistication where justice is for sale, where children and the mentally ill are put to death in the United States and other countries, and where war criminals avoid prosecution.

0 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


England’s coronavirus ban on evictions came to an end on May 32, 2021. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has reported that 400,000 private renters have been served with eviction notices or told to expect

Redundancy: significant cases

MISCELLANEOUS CASES Written notice Haywood v Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust [2018] UKSC 22, Supreme Court The Trust identified H’s post as redundant. If her employment terminated b

Redundancy: time off to look for work

TIME OFF TO LOOK FOR WORK Employees with at least two years continuous employment are entitled to reasonable time off during a redundancy dismissal notice period. Reasonableness involves a balance bet