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The Laws of Lawlessness

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  • Peter T. Leeson

Abstract

According to conventional wisdom, self-governance cannot facilitate order between the members of different social groups. This is considered particularly true for the members of social groups who are avowed enemies of one another. This paper argues that self-governance can do this. To investigate my hypothesis, I examine the Anglo-Scottish borderlands in the sixteenth century. The border people belonged to two social groups at constant war with one another. These people pillaged and plundered one another as a way of life they called "reiving." To regulate this system of intergroup banditry and prevent it from degenerating into chaos, border inhabitants developed a decentralized system of cross-border criminal law called the Leges Marchiarum. These laws of lawlessness governed all aspects of cross-border interaction and spawned novel institutions of their enforcement. The Leges Marchiarum and its institutions of enforcement created a decentralized legal order that governed intergroup relations between hostiles along the border. (c) 2009 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

Suggested Citation

  • Peter T. Leeson, 2009. "The Laws of Lawlessness," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 38(2), pages 471-503, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlstud:v:38:y:2009:i:2:p:471-503
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