Legal Families in a Cultural-Traditional Context

As discussed in an earlier post, comparative lawyers like to group legal systems in order to facilitate the comparative task. Traditionally, comparative law used the concept of legal families in order to cluster the legal systems of the world, mostly into simplified groups like common law countries and civil law countries. This method of classification has long been criticized as too simplistic and too Western. In particular, critics have pointed out that aspects of legal culture or tradition are not adequately represented in the conventional legal families.

Patrick Glenn therefore introduces a new system of classification based on his concept of legal tradition. Looking at the way legal knowledge is transferred from the past to the present, he distinguishes seven legal traditions of the world: (1) Chthonic legal tradition; (2) Talmudic legal tradition; (3) Civil law tradition; (4) Islamic law tradition; (5) Common law tradition; (6) Hindu legal tradition; (7) Asian legal tradition.

Csaba Varga, for his part, stresses legal variability. In other terms, comparative law and cultures is interested in the question of how legal systems can arrive at different solutions for the same legal problem. Accordingly, on the one hand, the clustering of legal systems into legal families (or traditions) based on their historical roots does not do justice to the diversity of laws. On the other hand, however, different laws can be part of the same legal culture. Consequently, some kind of clustering does also take place under Varga’s approach – only that the classification seems to be sociological/anthropological (based on common – present – social behavior) rather than historical (based on a common past).

Bibliography

  • PATRICK GLENN, LEGAL TRADITIONS OF THE WORLD (2004).
  • Csaba Varga, COMPARATIVE LEGAL CULTURES: ON TRADITIONS CLASSIFIED, THEIR RAPPROCHEMENT AND TRANSFER, AND THE ANARCHY OF HYPER-RATIONALISM 2012.
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