chapter  9
14 Pages

The Wider Implications of the Rule of Law

As we suggested in Chapter 3, the purpose of the ethnographic material was to highlight the role and method of law in Western society. Even so, there is a danger that the conclusion might be reached that what is primarily illustrated is that different societies have different ways of maintaining order and resolving disputes, which in turn simply reflects different ways of understanding the world. This might, perhaps, be qualified by the knowledge that the way in which ‘justice’ is dispensed and indeed the ‘justice’ itself which is dispensed will almost certainly reflect the interests of those with power within any society, rather than the interests of the powerless. In a limited sense, this is correct but it also has to be realised that, in contradiction of the quotation from Dickens, the position is not simply that ‘we do as we do’ while they ‘must do as they do’. When we considered ethnographic examples, we did not of course presume to make value judgments about the way in which other societies organised their dispute resolution or rule making because the intention was to illustrate that, for us, law is only an aspect and mechanism in the creation and maintenance of order, and also that not every society feels the need for law, which we often assume to be a universal need. The implicit, and sometimes explicit, argument was that a ‘Rule of Law society’ will be a society in which the basic unit is the individual and in which, in disputes which become legal, the antagonists will relate to each other in a way which makes estrangement upon resolution almost inevitable.