Society and Legal Change
Second Edition

Alan Watson, foreword by Paul Finkelman
Book Cover

PB: $27.95
EAN: 978-1-56639-920-3
Publication: Aug 01

HC: $76.50
EAN: 978-1-56639-919-7
Publication: Aug 01

Ebook: $27.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-0591-3
Publication: Aug 01

168 pages
5.5 x 8.25


In this first U.S. edition of a classic work of comparative legal scholarship, Alan Watson argues that law fails to keep step with social change, even when that change is massive. To illustrate the ways in which law is dysfunctional, he draws on the two most innovative western systems, of Rome and England, to show that harmful rules continue for centuries. To make his case, he uses examples where, in the main, "the law benefits no recognizable group or class within the society (except possibly lawyers who benefit from confusion) and is generally inconvenient or positively harmful to society as a whole or to large or powerful groups within the society."

Widely respected for his "fearless challenge of the accepted or dominant view and his own encyclopedic knowledge of Roman law" ( The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing), Watson considers the development of law in global terms and across the centuries. His arguments centering on how societies borrow from other legal systems and the continuity of legal systems are particularly instructive for those interested in legal development and the development of a common law for the European Union.


"(Watson) has a mastery of his sources, primary and secondary, and his work is of great importance for ancient and legal historians."
Library Journal

"Alan Watson is a Roman legal historian of outstanding status, and anything he writes, particularly when it is as thoroughly researched, as well-argued and as comprehensively footnoted as (his) work is commands detailed attention from all Romanists, lawyers and historians irrespective of their instinctive feelings."
The Irish Jurist

"Watson enjoys a well-founded reputation for scrupulous inquiry and authoritative publication on various aspects of the law in Rome of the late republic."
Archeological News

"This book is fascinating and fun to read! Watson discusses the farcical nature of English criminal law until the late 19th century, and the puny attempts at law reform in general. His scholarship is impeccable, and his conclusions flow naturally from it. Watson has been recognized for his pathbreaking comparative law scholarship, and his books have come to be regarded as classics."
Gary L. Francione, Professor of Law and Nicholas de B. Katzenbach Distinguished Scholar of Law and Philosophy at Rutgers University Law School, Newark and author of Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog (Temple)

Table of Contents

Foreword – Paul Finkelman
Preface to the Second Edition
1. Introduction
2. Roman Law: The System of Contracts
3. Roman Law: Patria Potestas
4. Roman Law: Further Points
5. English Law: Real Property; Tenure and Registration
6. English Law: Libel and Slander
7. Wider Perspectives
8. Legal Scaffolding
9. Legal Transplants
10. Causes of Divergence
11. Some Conclusions
12. Study of Legal Development

About the Author(s)

Alan Watson is Ernest P. Rogers Professor of Law and Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Georgia School of Law; he is the author or editor of some forty books, including The Evolution of Western Private Law and Legal Transplants (now in its second edition). Two collection of essays honoring Professor Watson's work have recently been published.