Classic Revisited: Berman’s “Law and Revolution”

“This book tells the following story: that once there was a civilization called ‘Western’; that it developed distinctive ‘legal’ institutions, values, and concepts; that these Western institutions, values, and concepts were consciously transmitted from generation to generation over centuries, and thus came to constitute a ‘tradition’; that the Western legal tradition was born of a ‘revolution’ and thereafter, during the course of many centuries, has been periodically interrupted and transformed by revolutions; and that in the twentieth century the Western legal tradition is in a crisis greater than any other in its history, one that some believe has brought it virtually to an end.”

So begins the late Harold Berman’s Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition (HUP 1983), as important and learned a book in law and religion as has ever been written.  Berman traces the development of contemporary Western legal institutions from the medieval period to the present, emphasizing especially the importance of the Papal Revolution of Pope Gregory VII, which, he writes, “gave birth to the modern Western state — the first example of which, paradoxically, was the church itself.”  (113)  Berman’s monumental contribution is as powerful as it is fascinating; if anything deserves the rank of canonical in law and religion literature, it is this book.  — MOD

3 responses

  1. Amen! re: Berman, that book, all his writings!

    John Lofton, Editor, Archive.TheAmericanView.com
    Communications Director, Institute On The Constitution
    Blog: JohnLofton.com
    Recovering Republican
    JLof@aol.com

  2. Thanks for highlighting this great work — and any morning that starts with a Gregory VII reference is a good morning.

  3. Marc — Here is another book I should have mentioned the other day — excellent. Tim

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