NOTE: LAW AND LEGITIMACY IN ENGLAND, 1800-1832: BRINGING PROFESSORS HAY AND THOMPSON TO THE BARGAINING TABLE. Skip over navigation
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Copyright Trustees of Boston University 1988.

Boston University Law Review

NOTE: LAW AND LEGITIMACY IN ENGLAND, 1800-1832: BRINGING PROFESSORS HAY AND THOMPSON TO THE BARGAINING TABLE.

MAY, 1988

68 B.U.L. Rev. 621

Author

MITCHELL C. STEIN

Excerpt

Perhaps the most intriguing puzzle in the law is that people, by and large, actually obey it. Though the power to legislate, interpret, and execute the law may lie in the hands of a few, the vast majority of a population usually follows these mandates willingly. In nontyrannical societies, popular acquiescence to the law often derives from the perception that the law is fair because it exists independently of its makers. 1 Scholars call this phenomenon "the rule of law." 2 Without the rule of law, violence and oppression would be the only effective means of law enforcement. 3 But can the lawmakers control the law, or does the law control its makers? This question continues to challenge historians 4 and legal scholars. 5

Professor Douglas Hay argues that the law is a tool used solely to preserve ruling class hegemony. 6 In his essay, Property, Authority, and the Criminal Law, 7 Hay discusses how the state in eighteenth-century England used the criminal justice system to coerce the working classes into respecting a legal system that served only to foster the interests of the ruling class. 8 According to Hay, the English criminal courts terrorized the population with the widespread application of the death penalty. 9 The state then legitimized the use of terror by adopting a formalistic procedural system to mysticize the law, using spectacle to dramatize the law's importance, and issuing pardons liberally to create an illusion of fairness and benevolent paternalism. 10
 
 
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