The Fall of the Priests and the Rise of the Lawyers

By Alexiadis, Peter | Business Law International, September 2016 | Go to article overview

The Fall of the Priests and the Rise of the Lawyers


Alexiadis, Peter, Business Law International


The Fall of the Priests and the Rise of the Lawyers Philip R Wood Hart Publishing (2016); 288pp (hardback); ?25 ISBN 9781509905546

This is an exceptional work written by an author of exceptional legal pedigree as a practitioner and academic. It also has the rather enviable quality of being a thumping good 273-page read, laced with philosophical reflection, fascinating empirical evidence and deft touches of humour. This renders it accessible and enjoyable to lawyers and non-lawyers alike, but its key message is likely to resonate most with aspiring lawyers keen to understand that the career path they have chosen is the correct one, and senior lawyers at a stage of their careers when attention to detail gives way to more humanistic reflections about whether their career path has had true meaning.

The primary thesis of Philip R Wood's book is simple enough: the moral regime established by religion has, over time, been usurped by a system of secular law whose intricate web has established a comprehensive moral code that now governs our daily lives in ways many of us cannot imagine. In a world besotted with the 'dumbing down' of everything, Wood would argue that our very survival is at issue if we do not get smarter and smarter over time in using the law to do what our complex societies require.

At one level, some might think that this central theme of the book is simply a case of 'preaching to the converted', given that lawyers disagreeing with Wood's thesis will no doubt be in the small minority. Where Wood excels, however, is in building his narrative around a series of fascinating insights into the role played by law in many facets of our lives, its links to the industrial revolution, its links to our material progress, its in-built moral code of fairness and equity, its preservation of democratic principles, and so on. Exploring how these themes work their way through the taxation system and through our bankruptcy regimes, to mention only two examples, lies at the heart of the book. It is only after one has been through this journey with the author that one understands the true significance of the second limb of the author's thesis, namely: that the need for a legal system has a higher spiritual meaning insofar as it is the cornerstone of maintaining the very survival of our species. In getting us to this point, the author sets out his stall as follows:

* Chapter one plays the role of an executive summary in a legal memo, setting out the questions that the author intends to tackle. In doing so, he considers the role that the law played during the industrial revolution in the 19th century, and examines whether the simultaneous decline in religious belief left a space that could be inhabited by the law in order to provide people with moral and philosophical meaning. The author concludes that:

* 'The rule of law does not offer the consolations of religion. But the rule of law empowers and liberates us and makes it possible for us to do things in peace which otherwise we would not be able to do. It enables us to pursue happiness. It gives us the order and freedom to pursue a greater goal. We control it. The law is our servant not our master. The law at its best is the most important ideology we have.'

* The author then explores the need to maintain civil order with the growth of populations in sprawling urban centres. For modern clusters of the population to coexist harmoniously, there must be codes underpinning the social structure. The advancement of science and technology and the increase in economic power since roughly the year 1800 have been supported by a legal system capable of adjusting to these changes. Religions, on the other hand, have refused to adapt with the times and clung to a series of basic, inflexible principles (the ten bullet points, in other words).

* He then focuses on the year 1830 as a key date (when the world's population reached 1 billion) because of the significant advances in technology, increases in gross domestic product (GDP) and the growth of law. …

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