Source: (2000) Hastings Law Journal. 52: 123.
As Paul Berman notes, and many before him have observed, law and legal procedure are woven deeply into American self-identity and culture. Recently, some commentators have criticized what might be called Americaâ€™s abiding legal faith. In this view, the regular resort to law degrades community, consensus, and problem-solving. Berman in this paper addresses concerns about the legalistic nature of American culture. He considers the possibility that law, instead of being a necessary evil, can actually help to heal rifts in the social fabric by creating a forum for useful discussion and debate. Moreover, he suggests that this can be done without simply imposing a hierarchical social order. In other words, Berman holds up a vision for the transformative potential of law. To explore all of this, he recounts a true story from France in 1522 when villagers sought to try rats in legal proceedings for allegedly eating the villagersâ€™ barley crops. He uses this and other similar trials to reflect upon the possible social functions that trials and legal discourse may fulfill for a community.
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