Law and Social Norms
What is the role of law in a society in which order is maintained mostly through social norms, trust, and nonlegal sanctions? Eric Posner argues that social norms are sometimes desirable yet sometimes odious, and that the law is critical to enhancing good social norms and undermining bad ones. But he also argues that the proper regulation of social norms is a delicate and complex task, and that current understanding of social norms is inadequate for guiding judges and lawmakers. What is needed, and what this book offers, is a model of the relationship between law and social norms. The model shows that people's concern with establishing cooperative relationships leads them to engage in certain kinds of imitative behavior. The resulting behavioral patterns are called social norms.
Posner applies the model to several areas of law that involve the regulation of social norms, including laws governing gift-giving and nonprofit organizations; family law; criminal law; laws governing speech, voting, and discrimination; and contract law. Among the engaging questions posed are: Would the legalization of gay marriage harm traditional married couples? Is it beneficial to shame criminals? Why should the law reward those who make charitable contributions? Would people vote more if non-voters were penalized? The author approaches these questions using the tools of game theory, but his arguments are simply stated and make no technical demands on the reader.
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Law and social normsUser Review - Book Verdict
In this excellent book, Posner (law, Univ. of Chicago) raises such fundamental questions as why people conform to social norms and why they generally refrain from antisocial behavior even when the law is absent. He then proposes a methodology for the systematic analysis of social norms. Posner uses models of nonlegal collective action to show the possibilities underlying cooperative behavior. He demonstrates how varied dimensions of nonformal, i.e., nongovernmental, strategies can resolve many types of social conflicts. Posner considers numerous theoretical and practical problems in the current study of relationships between social norms and law, offering new avenues toward understanding these relationships. His book uses a game-theory approach to revise lawyers' and scholars' views about the relationships between social norms and the law. This interesting and novel analysis is highly recommended for academic libraries.DSteven Puro, St. Louis Univ. ...