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Book Review: Law and the Rise of Capitalism

by Michael E. Tigar & Madeleine R. Levy, New (2000) Edition by Michael E. Tigar, Monthly Review Press, 348 pages, $18.00

Review by Peter Wagner

Famed litigator and scholar Michael Tigar has reissued his 1977 classic Law and the Rise of Capitalism with a new introduction and afterword that contains further amplification of his "jurisprudence of insurgency" thesis. The law both reflects society's social structure and is a mechanism for its evolution. Law and the Rise of Capitalism traces the twin development of the law and economic relations to the present. Starting in the twelfth century with the rise of a merchant class and their need for an enforceable contract law, Tigar explains how the merchant class came into opposition with the existing feudal political and legal establishment.

The afterword extends the thesis to a discussion of the dialectical nature of international law: useful to powerful states that wish to exert their will on smaller states such as Yugoslavia, but also useful in bringing human rights violators to justice. To Tigar, law is neither the product of society nor its creator; and it is neither the defender nor the Achille's heel of the status quo. Rather, law is both, and by understanding this history and role, Tigar aids those struggling for justice in seeing the positive role that the law can play.

This unique book is hindered only by its overly dense writing and the decision to not use footnotes, making following up on specific points somewhat difficult. The book does contain an extensive bibliography, however.

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