The American Road to World Peace

By Alfred Zimmern | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 16: The Two Meanings of Law

FROM what has already been said it will be realized how deep is the gulf which divides law in the sense in which it is defined by Justice Holmes--the American and British sense--from what has become known under the misleading title of Roman law. For Americans, Englishmen, Swiss, and Scandinavians, law is a social rule based on the willing consent of the citizens; it is their rule, which they have a share in framing, in interpreting (through judges in close touch with the mind of the community), and in enforcing. In Roman-law countries men do not look upon law in this way: for them it is a command imposed from above, from a tribunal or other seat of authority removed from the citizens and their way of life. By its perpetuation of the concept of law as a command the Roman Empire still maintains a stiffening (not to say deadening) influence over a large part of the political and social life of Europe, an influence which persisted even after the French Revolution and the adoption of democratic forms in France, Italy, and elsewhere in the nineteenth century.


CHAPTER 17: The Ghost of the Roman Empire

FORMALLY speaking, the Roman Empire came to an end in the West when in A.D. 476 the Senate voted that the Eastern Emperor in Constantinople should reign over the whole empire. Under this arrangement the government of Italy was entrusted to the chief of the German mercenaries previously in the service of the Western Empire. But the prestige of the Imperial City was too great to be thus summarily effaced. Rome lived on, not as a government, but as a repository of tradition, a model for imitation by later rulers. Some three centuries later one of these, Charles the Great, King of the Franks, crossed the Alps to receive the imperial crown and title at the hands of the Pope, becoming the founder of the Holy Roman Empire which was still surviving, though in shadowy form, in 1776.

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