Rivers, Rifles, Rice, and Religion
Elgar Studies in Legal Theory
Chapter 1: Defining law’s political foundations
We begin in this chapter with a set of basic propositions defining for our purposes here what is meant by law, its elements, processes, aims, and development. They are essential to an understanding of the political foundations of law and underpin the argument and analysis in the chapters that follow on the formation of structures of government and law in Imperial China, Japan, and Western Europe. The critical factors were, as argued here, the capacity of early rulers during these formative periods to control material wealth and human resources, and their ability to allocate both for purposes of governance in light of more urgent demands for territorial acquisition and defense. This capacity was in turn significantly influenced by the manner and means of producing such wealth, as well as prevailing institutional and ideological systems of belief and values. All of these factors in combination—in short, the role and importance of rivers, rifles, rice, and religion—were, we argue, determinative in the formation of the two historically greatest legal traditions—the public law order of Imperial China and the private law order of Western Europe. This book is first and foremost about law. Hence, what I mean here by “law” and more particularly “private” and “public” law orders should be clarified at the outset. We need first to keep in mind that law is no more or no less than a matter of words. Law does not exist except in words.