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Over a long period, simple societies achieved social stability as social stasis through normative inertia. Conversely, high-complexity societies achieve social stability as constant functional adaptation and axiological responsiveness through small quotidian and large occasional normative changes. To understand this is to begin to understand the question of law in time.

This article outlines a theory of the nature and evolution of law that accounts for the way law operates over time to produce sociological stability out of a normative order. The theory is then presented as an extended argument about why legal history, especially of the grand narrative type, should reflectively adopt a general theory of this kind as part of its methodological commitments. A secondary argument presented here is that legal history itself— whether apologetic or critical, record-setting or sage, specific or sweeping—plays facilitative roles in the stabilization of high-complexity societies.


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7 Sep 2022
718 kB



  • Subject
    • Jurisprudence

    • Legal History

  • Journal title
    • Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities

  • Volume
    • 31

  • Issue
    • 2

  • Pagination
    • 316-361

  • Date submitted

    7 September 2022