I A Person as a Scholar
I have always thought that Patrick Glenn’s personal features – his modest and unassuming way of communicating and his persistent open-mindedness to new and others’ arguments – also lie at the core of his scholarly work. In the following pages, I will try to show this connection by putting in context and in perspective his legacy as a scholar.
Notwithstanding his impressive production, there is no doubt that Patrick Glenn will be long remembered for his opus magnum and for the debates it triggered. In my view, Legal Traditions of the WorldFootnote 1 is grounded upon three key notions: Law, Tradition, and Conciliation. I will address these notions critically and sequentially, as if they were strands of a thread through which Patrick Glenn’s personality and scholarship are woven.
II What Law?
Glenn does not introduce a ‘concept of law’ or explicitly criticize the concepts of others. Yet, he relies on the findings of a long line of legal anthropologists (and a shorter one of comparative law scholars) showing that, in non-Western traditions, there is no distinct line between legal and non-legal forms of normativity.Footnote 2 Glenn’s recognition of legal traditions that do not sharply divide legal from non-legal norms, or that do not gain legality from their relation to state authority, reminds all of us that there is no transcendent reason for which law has to be positive (ie, established by the state and its organs) or flow from the exercise of state coercion.Footnote 3 From this perspective, Glenn breaks away from the almost exclusive emphasis that mainstream scholarship puts on state law as the lodestar of any given legal system or effort to understand law.Footnote 4 This is an issue that deserves to be looked into at some length. I will do so now by recalling some data on others’ experiences, and then by focusing on the Western landscape.
Glenn is right in pointing out that positive law (as we mean it) is not necessarily the core of legal systems outside the West. Out there, positive law is constantly challenged by the relevance that each society assigns to other legal layers. These layers may come from what Glenn calls the chthonic legal tradition of the given society. But they may also be of religious origin (Christianity, Islam, etc.), or they may come from the European colonial or postcolonial legacy – both the latter sources may have been added alongside, or superimposed on, local traditional law. Some of the religious and colonial layers are still effective producers of legal order, and some are not. But the point is, traditional layers have never disappeared. On the contrary, they have always impinged upon and affected the enforcement of ‘transplanted’ legal rules.Footnote 5 From the Western positivistic viewpoint, these phenomena are not clearly visible because although history has bequeathed the Western part of the world a multifarious background,Footnote 6 mainstream legal discourse of the last two centuries has always seen law as the creation of the state. Consequently, the popular view – which has also shaped the way we look outside the Western koiné – is that rules cannot be law as we generally understand it when they come from sources other than the state. It should be further noted, according to Patrick Glenn,Footnote 7 that this view is nothing but the fruit of European ethnocentrism and that it is mainly due to the way European legal thought has systematized the reality with which it was faced. To the European rulers (and lawyers) of the past few centuries, it has been only too convenient to imagine that the law and the state coincide because both have long appeared to be their own.Footnote 8
Yet, even if different societies rely on different sources, or combine state and non-state law, all societies live by law and manage to make their rules effective. Actually, it is easy to acknowledge that whatever its source, the law of any society has basic functional and structural features in common with the state law that we know: it preserves a social order through obedience to rules. It is still law because it is society’s response to the need for social order.Footnote 9 This is why, for the study of any legal system to be accurate, it is necessary to distinguish and analyse the roles played by the official and the unofficial sources of law, the traditional layers and the layers of different origin, as well as the ways in which they interact and affect each other. This is a cognitive pathway that can be kept open only (it is worth emphasizing again) if one gets rid of the positivistic posture that does not allow one to consider a rule that does not stem from the state’s authority as properly ‘legal’.
III … POSITED BY WHOM?
To be sure, these caveats – thanks also to Patrick Glenn’s scholarship – are today well known and usually taken into consideration in the most advanced comparative law debates, as well as by legal historians, legal pluralists, legal anthropologists, and sociologists, when they deal with non-Western realities.Footnote 10 What still remains under-noticed or peripheral in comparative law debates, however, is that these caveats apply to Western settings as well. I will try to show why these caveats should be taken seriously by juxtaposing the positivist attitude of accepting as legal only that which comes from the state with two phenomena, which are of a different mould and origin but converge to shape a legal landscape that is very different from the one mainstream scholarship usually refers to. These are (1) the erosion of the West(phalian) state and (2) the thriving of unofficial sites of production of legal order in wide areas of Western social and economic relations.
Notwithstanding that the developmental paths of these two phenomena overlap in some areas, I will address them separately.
1 The State as a Habit
As to the dynamics affecting the role of the state, the data to be considered is well known. Fields such as commerce, maritime and aerial navigation, fishing, agriculture, food, telecommunications, intellectual property, the value of currencies and mortgages, the environment, the exploitation of sea resources, and the use of space and energy resources, on top of, obviously, finance, have long been the objects of a discipline that is largely denationalized – that is, they are not determined or exclusively dependent on the state but on centres of rule production that are based in regional and global arenas. The so-called global orders have been and are ever more shaping (especially as far as the economic turf is concerned) the choices of state actors and disaggregating the latter’s traditional functions on a spectrum of different agendas and interestsFootnote 11 – sometimes deeply puzzling local grassroots and ruling classes unable to make sense out of these developments.Footnote 12
To be sure, the weakening of an autonomous capacity of economic government is not bound to make the state disappear in the short term.Footnote 13 Rather, that process assigns to the state a new role: that of an agency, public and local, to transcend the legal, economic (and financial) order. Thanks to its domestic monopoly of the normative sanctioning power, the state is called on to monitor the implementation of values and principles coming from regional, international, global, and public and private centres of production of a legal order. It is a model of organization that reminds us of the indirect rule through which the British Empire administered its colonies, relying on indigenous governors or intermediaries. But the point remains that the internal dynamics of the state government are destined to increasingly suffer the stiletto of legal, economic, and financial globalizations, to wear less the clothes of the rule-maker and ever more those of the rule-taker.Footnote 14
The specific modalities of development (and the geographical distribution) of this phenomenon obviously deserve extensive discussion.Footnote 15 For the limited purposes of this chapter, however, let me only note how the aforementioned phenomenon makes clear that studying legal systems cannot be any longer (if it could ever be) an exegetic exercise of worship of state law. The tradition of positivism has, among many other things, relied on and forged the classical distinctions between comparative law, foreign law, and international law. These are distinctions that nowadays account for only a piece of the legal reality – their relevance is particularly emphasized in those debates where domestic and international law specialists aim to construct a disciplinary wall to protect self-determined interests. From a comparative law point of view, the remaining (large) part of legal reality should instead push scholars to compare an array of law-producing entities – either among themselves or with the structures of domestic state law. These entities often defy being squeezed, or cannot be squeezed at all, into the mainstream positivistic account of the sources of law (national and international), both because they are supra- and transnational in nature, and because they produce thriving legality at levels different from those controlled by the state and international law instruments.Footnote 16
Yet, establishing distance from the most transient elements and/or from the elements that can change with just the stroke of a legislator’s pen does not always prove to be an easy task. It did to Patrick Glenn but not to just anyone. The cultural sway of mainstream legal positivism may often drive the comparative law scholar off track, in search of what is most glimmering, most practically useful, or more understandable to the audience that she targets as her own.Footnote 17 In the latter perspective, the core study of comparing legal data introducing change, or expressing permanence or resistance, unavoidably ends up being conducted as if these were phenomena stemming only from national authoritative sources. What underpins this working method is the idea that all legal actors operate via a one-to-one correspondence with the values and legal culture of the whole, or the vast majority, of the members of the societies concerned. Consequently, the arrangement of similarities and differences across legal systems, and even the classification of these systems, may be safely shaped according to what is said and done by the ‘official’ legal actors. Needless to say, the aforementioned method and its results may be seen as useful to spread and enhance comparative legal knowledge in many Western scholarly and public debates. But these debates are not the only ones, not even in the West, and they do not cover the whole spectrum of legal reality that comparative law is called upon to understand.
2 A Challenge from Within
The failure of legal positivism can also be appreciated from a different and, as I said, interconnected perspective – which, once again, goes under-debated in mainstream discourses. The presence of a stratified multilevel legal system is discernible, not only outside the West but also within our own societies. I refer to the survival (or sometimes the rebirth) of different legal ‘layers’ in which rules flourish indifferent to, or even in contrast with, the official law of the state, and disputes are settled outside the official circuits of adjudication.Footnote 18
Even though incidentally, I have to stress that in speaking of these layers, I am not taking into account the pan-Western debate (and its positivistic inspiration) that concerns the role performed by so-called social norms as something different from what is strictly understood to be law. At the basis of the current analysis there is, as previously stated, the assumption that the law is the whole of the rules that a given community (regardless of its size and social or economic sophistication) adopts to govern itself. Once this definition of the legal phenomenon is taken, any distinction between legal and social rules disappears as long as the rules at issue correspond to the above-mentioned requisites.Footnote 19
For the purposes of this chapter, the existing legal stratification in the West can be roughly introduced by taking into consideration four layers of rules. One, and only one, of our legal horizons is contained in what can be named as the ‘ordinary official layer’, to which Western legal discourse and legal education usually refer. It is the stratum where we encounter positive, or would-be positive (as is the case for most soft law initiatives) legal rules – that is, the rules enacted, or intended to be acknowledged, by an officially recognized authority and usually carved into national and local regulations, treaties, or other international law instruments, and worked out in judicial decisions derived from the same texts. It is only here that behaviours, entitlements, and disputes are controlled by official law and official circuits of adjudication. The other levels of legal experience are grounded in different rules. Under the legal skies where the lodestar is not state law, a layer that regulates common situations is the one relying on rules and tools of dispute settlement that have a customary origin and that are inspired by the principle of ‘personal authority’. This is the layer to which most Western family and kinship relationships belong.Footnote 20 Another layer is also given order by the ‘unofficial’ rules and ‘unofficial’ adjudication devices, but these rules and devices have, at least in part, a different nature and origin. They are rooted in communitarian customs and their enforcement is guaranteed by extra-kinship factors.Footnote 21 This is something that in the West can be observed largely in the exercise of property rights (especially outside urban contexts),Footnote 22 in the settlement of small disputes arising in everyday life,Footnote 23 and in the management of small businessesFootnote 24 – even though the ‘small value’ cap seems irrelevant to many.Footnote 25 The last layer that deserves mention here is the one occupied by transnational business and financial law fields – where the rules applied are mostly provided by private or semi-private international bodies, or are the result of customs developed over time by commercial and financial practices. This is a layer where business actors may not only operate by their own rules but also adopt ‘home-made’ regimes for settling disputes, establishing their own courts and nominating their own judges.Footnote 26
While this is not the place to discuss either the internal fabric of all these layersFootnote 27 or the (variable) degree of consistency between unofficial rules and state law, one has to note that unofficial legal layers have always existed in the West.Footnote 28 It is only the long-standing positivistic attitude of legal education and scholarship that has largely obscured the phenomenon in its treatises and books, as well as in its teaching methods and programmes, and consequently, in judicial culture and decisions.Footnote 29 These layers exist and persist for many reasons. The most popular of these reasons centres on the notions of functionalism and rationalism, although there is no real contrast between the two. The former is grounded in the idea that people respect unofficial rules because of reciprocity and the expectation of social gain.Footnote 30 The latter is embraced by those who wish to highlight how compliance with unofficial rules is in direct relation to their utility, rationality, and efficiency.Footnote 31
IV An Unassuming Lesson
What is certain is that taking into account the stratification of the law proves to be extremely fruitful for acquiring the necessary awareness about the legal relationships to be understood and dealt with, whatever the perspective – domestic, international, or comparative. Thus, from the specific comparative law viewpoint, the final question becomes the following: Given that a legal system is not a monolithic institution but a dynamic entity, and that each of its layers stands in a different relation to the pressure (due to prestige or other driving factors) coming from the other layers – domestic, foreign, or internationalFootnote 32 – what cognitive dimension is left if we overlook the relevant phenomena, which, in addition to ‘official’ law, deeply affect the living law of different societies? The answer lies in the need for a multilayered, pluralistic, and comparative perspective.Footnote 33 Such a perspective would help call into question traditional understandings of the legal dimension(s), connect mainstream visions with the broader social contexts producing them, and unveil the cultural assumptions that underlie and support the operations of law mechanisms. To delve beyond conventional wisdom into the cultural and operational frameworks in which all law operates and is embedded would be both promising and challenging for this perspective. But carrying on this perspective requires legal scholars to be equipped with far-sighted views, cultural tolerance, and a modest sense of self-worth, precisely the qualities for which Glenn’s personality and scholarship are remarkable.
V Legal Tradition: A Lesson of Open-Mindedness
Potentially less controversial, but definitely crucial in Patrick Glenn’s Weltanschauung, is the notion of tradition. He sees it as a ‘bran-tub’ of information,Footnote 34 available to individuals, communities, and societies as they make choices for themselves. In Glenn’s view, historically the legal traditions have always exchanged information, to the point that sometimes it can be difficult to identify a given piece of information with just one tradition,Footnote 35 even though it is easy for a person who identifies with any given tradition to retrieve and use information from another traditionFootnote 36 – and scholarly findings show how often people live astride traditions and identities, and retrieve, enjoy, and exploit information coming from their multifarious backgrounds.Footnote 37
If one takes seriously the idea of tradition as a relentless flow of information, and that the way this flow arranges itself in a given society forges the latter through the dynamics of individuals’ mindsets and preferences, then three important consequences follow.
First, in any society, the strength of identitarian forces of all groupings, such as those based on language, religion, and family ties, should be seen as contingent and dependent upon the kind of information available in the given tradition and to the different groupings. Second, one should acknowledge that every time the flow of a tradition comes into contact with another, they both exchange information and grow to challenge and/or incorporate one another. Glenn goes as far as to underline that ‘[t]he conclusion that tradition is the controlling element in determining social identity means that there are no fundamentally different, totally irreconcilable social identities in the world.’Footnote 38 This is an issue which I will come back to later, but a broad notion of tradition is crucial to Glenn’s way of understanding law, because it captures elements that tend to be missed by legal theorists who analyse law in abstract terms (such as command, norms, rules, and principles). What they particularly miss, in Glenn’s view,Footnote 39 is the sway of the past and its relentless dynamics.Footnote 40 The third consequence is that isolation of a legal tradition is wholly exceptional. Most diffusion has been informal rather than formal; most influence involves exchange or reciprocity rather than movement in one direction only; the main agents of change are not always governments but can equally well be individuals and groups such as merchants, jurists, and emigrants (including colonizers). From this perspective – it should go without saying, mais cela va peut-être mieux en le disant – one can smoothly appreciate how common law and civil law traditions are only one part of the story in the context of world history, but also acknowledge that these are traditions that have been as much importers as exporters of each otherFootnote 41 and of other traditions.Footnote 42
Further, Glenn points out that no tradition can exercise full control over what information is preserved and captured in the future, therefore implicitly but straightforwardly rejecting the post-Enlightenment tendency to treat tradition and change as antinomies.Footnote 43 This is a valuable lesson in assessing the mainstream representation of legal globalization phenomena, that is, the view according to which legal globalization[s] should be seen as a progressive march towards the uniformity of legal institutions and rules, thereby discarding history and geography, because the past is given and the future is (common, and) given too.Footnote 44 Patrick Glenn’s open-mindedness, the capacity of including and composing apparent antinomies in a breathing vision of the reality to come, is a(nother) fundamental lesson to be learned by everyone.
VI Legal Conciliation
As I have mentioned, according to Glenn, there are ‘no fundamentally different, totally irreconcilable social identities in the world’.Footnote 45 At the same time, he is well aware that the imposition of rules and institutions from above or outside the given legal system often reveals itself to be a lose–lose game.Footnote 46 This is why he prefers discussing the problem from the perspective of a possible reconciliation of laws, a process Glenn sees as grounded in ‘accepting (not tolerating) the major, complex legal traditions of the world (all of them)’, and in ‘seeing all traditions as one’s own, in some measure, since each is dependent on the others’.Footnote 47 As to this sort of cultural (messianic?) revolution, I am both more sceptical and pessimistic than Patrick Glenn. Beyond being unavoidably selective and asymmetrical (we cannot pretend these ‘reconciling’ attitudes could develop with the same modalities, at the same time, across all ‘major’ legal traditions), I think legal reconciliation’s value and desirability depend, among many other things, on the way it is carried out and on the potential scores (and qualities) of the winners and losers.
Three remarks are in order here. First, anthropologists teach us that the majority of societies develop their own expansive ethnocentrism, to be understood as the tendency to consider one’s form of civilization better than others, and therefore to try to spread it as much as possible and expand and strengthen one’s own interests.Footnote 48 The West was, is, and will be no exception. Second, lessons from the past and the present show us how often initiatives targeting from outside the transformation of others’ laws lack the support of adequate comparative law means, required to meet the basic needs of contextualization for the solutions to be applied in the new, or newly shaped settings. Third, in assessing these endeavours, one should differentiate the various possible levels of analysis. The evaluation of the cultural aspects is one thing, the evaluation of the applicative aspects is, or may be, another.
On a cultural level, those who, like Glenn,Footnote 49 pay due attention to the teachings of history know how colonization, one of the most evident phenomena of the compression of legal diversity, first determined a process of propagation of the European model within the colonies, albeit with limited effectiveness and ultimately a critical reaction to that forced diffusion (although not necessarily to the whole of its contents). Moreover, in the language of the students of traditional models, the superimposition of foreign models – irrespective of the wishes of the local elites, who often have been and still are educated in the West – is mostly seen as a tool of de-culturalization, of trampling on the weaker identity, and of destruction of possible meanings.Footnote 50
On the operative level, other evaluations are needed. Here, it is critical to recognize – in the wake of Glenn and many othersFootnote 51 – that not all differences from the Western paradigms are to be celebrated, (1) because many of them could be the result of customary rules that a large part of the involved society would well do without (one can think of the developments taking place in relation to female genital mutilation or polygamy in (some of) the concerned societiesFootnote 52); and/or (2) because keeping in place those differences can be very costly in terms of Western-style economic development (assuming the latter is the model to be pursued): It suffices to think of patterns of distributing land and other entitlements according to religious, clannish, gendered, or political criteria.Footnote 53 Further, one has to acknowledge that legal uniformity processes can be carried out through the spontaneous acceptance of the same body of rules by different groups of law users, producing effective and widespread transnational compliance without imposition from above or outsideFootnote 54 – the ‘lex mercatoria’,Footnote 55 the rules regulating international diamond traffic,Footnote 56 or the international water policy agreements,Footnote 57 are good examples in this respect.
VII The Lesson of Optimism
What the foregoing observations allow one to better understand is the reason for which the circulation of Western legal models has so often been ineffective and inefficient outside the Western world. On the one hand, one should be aware that the needs to be met and the tools to be used when transplanting or ‘importing’ any rule are factors that vary considerably, depending on the area of the law in question, and on the area of the world one targets – finance is not welfare, healthcare is not commerce, and what is necessary to make any reform in the matter of procedural law effective is quite different if one considers the case of, for example, France as compared to Burundi.Footnote 58 On the other hand, the lack of a common cultural background shared by law-makers and law-takers,Footnote 59 and the neglect of the essential involvement of the local law-users – what Patrick Glenn would call the lack of a critical mass of information exchange – may make any transplantation process an exercise in mere wishful thinking, or may have its implementation on the ground costing (economically, politically, and socially) an excessive price in terms of time, money, and energy.Footnote 60
Patrick Glenn would subscribe to the abovementioned remarks, perhaps. Yet, his attitude is more ‘optimistic’. He is not overly concerned with expansive ethnocentrism;Footnote 61 in his view, conflictual, oppressive, and violent encounters between legal traditions appear to be nothing but an unavoidable moment of legal traditions’ everlasting cohabitation and interchange. Seen this way, dominance efforts are a perennial ‘form of corruption’ affecting all major legal traditions in their relentless survival dynamics – dynamics in which the winner of today might well be the loser of tomorrow. This is why Glenn invites the readers to see ‘the major, complex legal traditions of the world . . . as mutually interdependent, such that the loss of any of them would be a loss to all the others, which would then lose a major source of support, or at least of self-interrogation’.Footnote 62 This would be the first step for ‘acting positively to sustain diversity in law’:Footnote 63 a process that could ‘improve communication between lawyers of the world . . . enhance the prospect for peaceful settlement of disputes’ but also ‘enhance the legal mission.’Footnote 64
It may be that Glenn’s optimism stems once more from his ‘human-friendly’ and bright personality, or from growing up within a culture (the Canadian one) that has maintained over time the values of diversity and coherence, holding together diverse viewpoints while striving for a common identity. It may also be that this kind of culture – what Glenn would right away call ‘tradition’Footnote 65 – have something to teach everyone about how to cope with the legal challenges of an increasingly transnational world. Certainly, Patrick Glenn taught us a lot about how to try to understand all of this. Merci, Patrick!