Friday, October 28, 2011

Celtic Wanderings?

My current writing project is a book on legal systems very different from ours, based on a seminar I have taught for some years at SCU; my current chapter drafts are webbed for a workshop I am doing at George Mason this fall.

The legal systems I have done chapters on so far include ancient Irish law (c. 6th century) and traditional Somali law. Surprisingly enough, they have several features in common. In both, one consequence of injuring someone is the legal obligation to provide your victim with sick-maintainance—hospitality and medical services until he recovers. 

In the Irish system the kin-group called the fine, consisting of all descendants in the paternal line of a common great-grandfather,  is responsible for seeing that its members pay any fines or damage payments they owe or, if they don't, paying for them. In the Somali system the kin-group called the juffo, consisting of all descendants in the paternal line of a common great-grandfather,  is responsible for some but not all fines owed by its members, the rest being the responsibility of the jilib, a group of several related juffos.

All very suspicious. The Celts wandered pretty far but, so far as I know, they never made it to the horn of Africa. Looking at it from the other side there are people referred to as "black Irish," but I don't believe ...   .


Towering Barbarian said...

Perhaps it simply may be that similar tech levels tend to come up with similar solutions? o_O

David Friedman said...

Barbarian has the boring explanation.

I agree that parallel evolution looks more likely than either influence or common source in this case. On the other hand, the Somali are mostly nomadic pastoralists and I think the Irish were more nearly sedentary agriculturalists, so not all that similar. And the Irish had kings with some sort of territorial sovereignty and the Somali don't seem to have, although the part of the structure based on kinship looks similar between the two.

What I really need to know, and don't, is how many other places replicate these patterns.

TJIC said...

I was surfing Wikipedia yesterday and reading about Bedouin law (a tangent after reading The Art of Not Being Governed, and coming across a passing reference to the fact that upland anarchist minorities usually have different religions than their lowland statist neighbors...and that even when they DO have the same religion, they usually pick heretical variants).

Anway, while reading about the Bedouin legal code, I thought of you and your project and wondered if the Bedouin legal code would be touched upon.

Anonymous said...

Completely off-topic, but I would really love to read your opinion on this:

Would it really be a bad thing for a country to be completely debt-free? The idea that (a small amount of) government debt is a good thing because it's such a nice investment vehicle, doesn't make much intuitive sense to me, but I don't have enough knowledge to really reason about it..

Anonymous said...

There was a Pseudo-Society paper at Kalamazoo a few years ago suggesting that Beowulf was a sub-Saharan African. The paper is probably in the volume of collected Pseudo-Society papers; if not, it's probably on the Web.

Anonymous said...

There was a Pseudo-Society paper at Kalamazoo a few years ago suggesting that Beowulf was a sub-Saharan African. The paper is probably in the volume of collected Pseudo-Society papers; if not, it's probably on the Web.

David Friedman said...

Anonymous asks about whether it would be a bad thing for a country to be debt free.

If we imagine a country run by a benevolent and competent government, there would be no particular advantage to being debt free. If it could borrow money at a rate lower than its internal rate of return it should borrow, if it could loan at a rate higher than its internal cost of capital it should lend, just like anyone else.

With a more realistic picture of government, however, being free to fund expenditures with borrowed money provides the opportunity to do things that are politically profitable but undesirable, by passing costs on to future rulers. It's more or less the same problem as pensions for government employees—there too, the politicians currently in office can buy current benefits with promises to be redeemed by future politicians, making them too willing to do so.

So it might be a good thing if governments reduced their debt to zero, and then undertook to keep it there.

So far as the argument you link to, I find it unconvincing. If there were no U.S. bonds out there, people could find other vehicles to invest in, other benchmark interest rates to use in their contracts.

If anything, the present situation is a potential time bomb, because it means that if something does go wrong with U.S. bonds, if it begins to look as though there is a real risk of default, the consequences for the rest of the world economy will be much more substantial than if other people were using a larger range of reserve assets and benchmarks.

The risks of a financial monoculture.

David Friedman said...

I haven't researched the Bedouin legal code, and agree that it would be interesting. I do cover jinayat, the part of Shari'a that appears to be based on pre-existing Arabic law.

Tim Worstall said...

"Looking at it from the other side there are people referred to as "black Irish," but I don't believe ... ."

Well, there could be Protestant Somalis I suppose. Black, as in black Irish, in Ireland, more normally refers to Protestant Irish than anything else. Sometimes Church of Ireland but more often the Presbyterians from the North.

Or, in the American sense, the Scots Irish who populated the South and the Appalachians.

Tim Worstall said...

"and I think the Irish were more nearly sedentary agriculturalists,"

Early Irish were more nearly pastoralists exporting cattle, dogs and horses mostly. Settled though, not so nomadic.

GregS said...

I knew your new book had to contain a chapter about the Somali system of law. I'm guessing you probably used "The Law of the Somalis" as a source.
The book immediately reminded me of your description of a privatized system of law. There are even examples of the legal system standing up to a surrounding sovereign nation (Ethiopia, I believe) and winning. That made me all warm an fuzzy inside; the question of what happens when a network of private enforcement agencies encounters a large sovereign nation is no longer theoretical.
Assuming you HAVE read it, did you detect any contradictions? Such as the author claiming in one instance that an intentional murder had to be punished with death, and in another that the murder could be paid for with a certain number of camels? I'm curious what the book would have looked like if the author had survived to oversee the editing process. It definitely had some inconsistencies, although I believe the overall picture it paints.

GregS said...

Okay, I swear I hadn't read your webbed chapter on Somalia before my comment. Obviously I should have. It would have answered most of my questions.

David Friedman said...

GregS asks about The Law of the Somalis.

The obvious problem is that the author clearly shares my political views, and so may be giving a biased picture of the society. On the other hand, he did live there for twelve years, and he was a lawyer.

It's a pity that Van Notten isn't around to question. I have corresponded with his editor, but of course he doesn't know as much.

My guess is that the picture is reasonably accurate, and that at least some of the apparent inconsistency reflects the fact that it's a traditional system which contains a substantial amount of variation. There are older books that discuss the system, and I'm planning to stop by the GMU library this week to take a look at some of them and see how consistent they are with Van Notten's account.

Anonymous said...

Seeing as you state this is your current writing project, I'm hopeful that implies the final quarter of Salamander 2 has been completed rather than abandoned.

Best wishes on this and all future projects.

Nightrunner said...

Yeah, very suspicious. You know, there is a (Fields medal-level) mathematician in Russia (academician Fomenko) who as a recreation pursues a conspiracy theory of short history. That theory (originally by Newton) states that our current ancient and medieval chronology is all wrong and most of ancient Greek and Roman writings were fabricated in XIII-XV centuries in Italy. Its a strange sect and when their views are carried to an extreme, they come as really goofy (as in, Christ lived in X century). Anyways, with your theory about Celts and Somalis you might just fit right in.

David Friedman said...

I've now read several things by I.M. Lewis, a British anthropologist who has been writing about Somalia since the fifties and seems to be the leading expert in the field, at least in English. His picture is consistent with Van Notten's. Van Notten is focussing on the one clan he lived with, and gives a more detailed picture as a result, but I don't think it is contradicted by anything in Lewis.

Lewis, like Van Notten, regards the Republic of Somalia (northern Somalia minus the NE corner) as a success, a reasonably peaceful polity established by Somalis without U.N. involvement--which the U.N. refuses to recognize. And Lewis' comments on the U.N. are barely printable--he clearly regards them as responsible for making the situation in southern Somalia worse than it would otherwise have been.

The most substantial difference I see between the two accounts is that Lewis makes it sound as though the normal level of violence in Somalia, now and in the past, is higher than Van Notten's account suggests--which might just mean that Van Notten was living in a relatively peaceful time and place. Lewis comments that every male in the horn of Africa has a Kalashnikov (AK47 assault rifle).

He thinks that conflicts within the clan almost always end up settled peacefully--which is to say that after one killing, the result is payment of blood money rather than a feud with more killing. Inter-clan conflicts may be settled peacefully, may not.

David Friedman said...

I came across one more similarity between Somali and early Irish. In both cultures, stealing other people's cattle (in the Somali case camels) seems to be a major form of recreation.