The division between civil and common law countries discussed in Chapter 3 is a major building block for mapping the world's legal systems. In addition, a number of further categories have been suggested. Section A of this chapter discusses why scholars attempt to classify the world's legal systems at all. Section B provides examples of how precisely this has been done in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The critical analysis of Section C challenges the usefulness of these classifications for comparative law, and Section D concludes. It is a characteristic feature of the discussion about these taxonomies that it occurs at a relatively high level of generality; however, in the course of this chapter, it will also be discussed whether classifications may differ across areas of law, for example, referring to criminal, constitutional, administrative and commercial law.
A Setting the Scene
Background of Classifications
Classifications are common in many academic disciplines. In the natural sciences, the most prominent example is the Linnaean taxonomy of animals, plants and minerals, originally developed in 1735 by Carl Linnaeus. This taxonomy is also said to have inspired ‘the comparative lawyer as a zoologist’ to classify legal systems. Yet, in substance, the various taxonomies of the social sciences are closer to comparative law, since some of those categories mirror the legal families explained in the next section.
For example, in linguistics, one can distinguish between language families, such as Indo-European, Afro-Asiatic and Sino-Tibetan, each having various offspring. Classifications of religions may start with the main categories of Abrahamic, Indian and East Asian religions, or list them by the number of adherents to, say, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc. With respect to cultures, various classifications are possible. A prominent example is by Samuel Huntington, who identified eight civilisations: Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and African.
There are also frequent classifications of political and economic systems. With respect to politics, an initial distinction can be drawn between presidential and parliamentary republics, and constitutional and absolute monarchies, and there are also more sophisticated classifications of the electoral systems of the world. Until the end of the Cold War, it was also common to distinguish between ‘three worlds’ of capitalist, communist and non-aligned countries; today, one suggestion is that countries can be classified into eight worlds, considering economic policies as well as wealth.