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date: 03 June 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter surveys some of the claims that scholars have made about the supposed world-historical significance of European legal history. Many authors, beginning with Montesquieu, have maintained that the rule of law is somehow a Western invention. Others, including Weber and many prominent contemporary economists, among them the Nobel Prize winner Douglass North, have insisted that peculiarly forms of law fostered the rise of modern capitalism. There is even a tradition of praise for the special value of Western law among biologists, dating back to Linnaeus. The chapter calls on professional legal historians to address these various grand claims about European legal history seriously, and offers some tentative responses to them.

Keywords: rise of the West, legal origins, common law, civil law, great divergence, Max Weber, Montesquieu

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