Law: A Very Short Introduction, by Raymond Wacks
This book sadly lives up to the last name of its author, because it was pretty whack, to use that old slang expression. The main issue with this book is not that it is short, because inevitably a book that is very short contains oversimplification, which is something to be expected, but rather that the book is extremely biased and fails to account for a great deal of what makes law worthwhile and legitimate. On the one hand, the author recognizes that the politicized nature of law and the rise of administrative law have gravely threatened freedom in many countries, but the author has quite a few worldview commitments that prevent him from writing a worthwhile account of the law and why it is that we should respect it. It is one thing to say that the law is required for any sort of social order to exist, but it is quite another to discuss the grounds on which the legitimacy of law operates and how it is that corrupt legal orders can be changed. The author is even biased on what legal orders are to be considered hopelessly corrupt and evil, including some evils while not including others.
This short book consists of just over 150 pocket-sized pages of material, but it is a sad waste of even its small amount of paper. After a preface and list of illustrations, the author divides most of his material into six parts. The first part of the book discusses the roots of law, looking at law in history (although, strangely, not the canon law of the Middle Ages or the corpus of biblical law), mostly focuses on civil and common law and its development. After that the author discusses the branches of law, namely into criminal and civil law. Then the author discusses the relationship of law and morality, clubbing apartheid and antebellum proslavery law but not being open-handed about other immoral legal orders. The author then moves on to a discussion of courts and how they differ in various areas based on the presence or absence of juries as well as the specific nature of the legal system. After this, the author unsuccessfully attempts to justify lawyers and their importance in legal systems before closing with a chapter on the future of the law where the author speculates on matters of technology and privacy. There are also references, legal sources, cases discussed, and suggestions for future reading as well as an index.
There are really two essential areas where this book miserably fails. For one, the author appears to have a secular mindset that blinds him to the importance of religious law and the reality that the legitimacy of legal systems within humanity depend on the recognition of duties of obedience of mankind to God’s laws. The author nowhere appears to recognize this spiritual aspect of reality. Likewise, the author’s biases are painfully obvious. Over and over again the author condemns apartheid in South Africa and proslavery laws in the Antebellum South (and in the Jim Crow system afterward) and Nazi Germany, but nowhere is there a condemnation of the illegitimacy of socialist law as seen in the gulag and laogai archipelagos, or the illegitimacy of land seizure in postcolonial Africa and other places. Likewise, the author condemns the Dred Scott and Plessy vs. Furgeson decisions but appears to view Roe vs. Wade as merely controversial and not evil. The biases of this author make it impossible to view his position of law as legitimate or take what he has to say about rights and legitimacy seriously. If you want an introduction to law and its importance, it would be difficult to pick a worse book to learn from than this one.