This article was published in the Autumn 1994 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
Whatever Happened to Justice?
by Richard J. Maybury
Bluestocking Press, 1993
reviewed by Chris Spruyt
(to table of contents of FNF archives) Rick Maybury dedicates his book "To my parents. They taught me that right and wrong are not matters of opinion." In it he argues that the basic principles of old common law can be summarized in 17 words: "Do all you have agreed to do. Do not encroach on other persons or their property." He discusses two kinds of law which he refers to as scientific law and political law.

Scientific law is based on principle and is assumed to exist whether or not it has been recorded. It is the law of right and wrong. It is discovered rather than being created. Scientific law includes old common law.

Political law is the more arbitrary law that is created at the whim of those who have the power to impose laws on others. He lists some political laws that amuse him: "A Texas law says that when two trains meet at a railroad crossing, each shall come to a full stop and neither shall proceed until the other has gone." His favorite one is: "The Arkansas legislature once enacted a law forbidding the Arkansas River to rise higher than the Main Street bridge in Little Rock."

Maybury describes the gradual shift in this country from common law (scientific law) to political law, citing the depression as the time when the biggest shift occurred. Part of the reason, according to Maybury, is that common law was not perfect. What is right and what is wrong was still being discovered.

While common law is largely ignored by our government today, it is still of interest to people who want to live in a just society. In nine of the last ten chapters of the book, the author discusses some areas in which common law has not been well developed. Some examples are: capital punishment, the environment, drugs, war, and consumer protection.

After the summary chapter there are several useful appendices including: a table comparing scientific and political law, a chart showing systems of law, and written agreements between parent and child and between teacher and student that are based on the principles of common law and may be used by readers of the book. There are also lists of movies, videotapes and books that may be of interest to the reader.

The book is written in such a way that it will appeal to a wide audience, including teenagers, parents, and readers of Formulations. I found it useful for the knowledge I gained and also for showing me a way of clearly explaining its concepts.  D

Chris Spruyt, a software engineering consultant, lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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