The Law of Primitive Man: A Study in Comparative Legal Dynamics

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ISBN-13: 978-0674023628
ISBN-10: 0674023625
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Paperback, October 30, 2006
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Editorial Reviews


It will undoubtedly take its place as the indispensable account-rendered of work to date on primitive legal culture...The work is indispensable to all serious students of law in society, but it is to be hoped that even those lawyers whose interests are of a more practical cast may find in it the means of lengthened perspective on the daily job and of the beginning or heightening of that wisdom in matters human which is offered by the science of man. (Charles L. Black, Jr. Columbia Law Review 1955-05-01)

A wealth of stimulating ideas is offered in the book...This work is bound to become the textbook of primitive law for future generations of students of both social anthropology and jurisprudence. (Leonhard Adams Yale Law Journal 1955-07-01)

Hoebel not only engages in an exhaustive and lucid analysis of the legal system of each of his sample societies, but in addition does a magnificent job of distilling from each system a set of 'jural postulates' on which it appears to be based...Hoebel has done a great number of things well and has raised an impressive number of new and fascinating questions, as well as renewing some questions which have been neglected in anthropology since the nineteenth century. He has not solved all the problems of comparative jurisprudence, but he has probably done something much more valuable in writing one of the most genuinely stimulating anthropological books of the past ten years. (C. W. M. Hart American Anthropologist 1956-06-01)

The present volume is the first really satisfactory book on the law-ways of non-literate peoples in any language...The analysis of the law-ways of the seven different peoples is both fascinating and instructive, and the final chapters on law and society, the interrelations between religion, magic and law, the functions of the law, and the trend of the law, will be of interest to layman and student alike. (Ashley Montagu Isis 1955-12-01)

To most lawyers legal ethnology has remained an obscure and, therefore, useless subject. This was attributable to the lack of a treatise on legal ethnology, more particularly, a treatise understandable by the law-trained man...The gap has now been filled. Only one man in America was qualified to do the job properly: E. Adamson Hoebel...The book presents a wealth of findings concerning the emergence and purpose of particular legal rules...He has attacked a most difficult problem, and he has conquered it well. The book will be regarded as a pioneer work of ethnological jurisprudence, and it will be remembered as one of the best pieces of American legal realism. (Gerhard O. W. Mueller Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science 1955-09-01)

Professor Hoebel's volume is the most thorough study of primitive law that we now possess. His attitude is rigorously behavioristic and empirical, and he thus rejects the traditional natural law approach as well as Austinianism and Kelsenism. He accepts the idea of the superorganic, but his main point of departure is in terms of the recognized values of a culture...In the selection of the five cultures he has chosen for analysis Professor Hoebel begins with the rudimentary law of the anarchic Eskimo, passes to the private law of the Ifugao, studies next the law of the plains Indians, rebuts Malinowski's theory of the law of the Trobriand Islanders, and concludes with an account of Ashanti law, a people on the threshold of civilization, i.e., their culture was advanced but they had not yet invented writing...His book is an admirable study of a difficult subject. (Huntington Cairns Journal of Politics 1956-08-01)

This is the best general discussion we have of primitive law... Anthropologists and lawyers alike have raised clouds of dust in their handling of the relations of religion, magic, and law. Hoebel's excellent treatment of the variable nature of these relations should lay the dust...Hoebel is very conscious of law as sometimes 'making society' rather than merely reflecting it. (Irving Kaplan American Journal of Sociology 1956-01-01)

The Law of Primitive Man is a first-rate comparative study of the law and its development--the best thing of its kind...The book will undoubtedly become a classic in the field of sociology of law. (Everett C. Hughes Stanford Law Review 1955-05-01)

About the Author

E. Adamson Hoebel (1925–1983) was Professor and Head of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, and author of The Cheyenne Way: Conflict and Case Law in Primitive Jurisprudence.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (September 30, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674023625
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674023628
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,355,883 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By J. Murray VINE VOICE on October 22, 2010
Format: Paperback
I have a long-standing passion for early man. He is my ancestor. He laid the foundation for what we as Modern Man accomplishes. How did he survive in a feral world where his skin was too thin (unlike the rhino) and his teeth too dull (unlike the sabertooth)? What was his magic tool? To answer these questions, I read the entire Aliso Viejo CA library on prehistoric man. I have a good idea how we made it through the Plio-Pleistocene, evolved from Homo habilis to become the workhorse of the human species--Homo erectus.

Erectus was a man's man with his thick skull (from being beaten about the head too often, paleoanthropologists speculate) and his advanced tools (Acheulian by then). As I studied his world (he survived longer than any other human species to date), I hoped to find the beginnings of religion, culture, music, why we decorate our bodies with jewelry and paint.

And where did our acceptance of laws come from?

Much has been written about the seeds of religion, music, jewelry, but not the beginnings of jurisprudence. Why do we voluntarily submit ourselves to the subjective rule of another? We allow ourselves to be ostracized jailed. We change our behavior to suit laws that are grounded only in the geography in which we live. I read everything I could find about modern primitive people, but there aren't many left. Man has civilized most of our globe and few isolated cultural groups remain. In the days of Margaret Meade, anthropologists studied many groups of primitive men--the Bunyoro, the Yanomamo, the Dinka--but within a hundred years, most of the tribes had disappeared.

Possibly the last comprehensive study (to my knowledge, though I am not a trained anthropologist) was done by E.
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The Law of Primitive Man: A Study in Comparative Legal Dynamics
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