Contracts, from Vince Fulco

August 15, 2013 |

 Not having a legal background, I was under the impression that contract law was a phenomena of say the last couple of hundred years. And naively I have always been a big believer in a gentlemen's agreement under many circumstances.

In a entertaining book called Men of Salt by Michael Benanav on the dying camel transported salt trade between the Sahara region of Taoudenni and Bamako, Mali, a reference to the ancient use of contracts surfaced. As the nomadic saying goes, "whatever leaves the head, does not leave the paper". Looking back in life, all things considered, how often would it have been in every parties' benefit to have terms clearly laid out in writing?

Only 1/2 way through, I highly recommend the book for those who enjoy the subject of adventuring through Africa in all its forms.

Stefan Jovanovich writes:

Contract law, in a form we would recognize, goes back to Justinian's Code. But, as with so much of modern life and practically all of Continental European law, Justinian's Code was regulatory; it specified which contract would be enforced by the state and which ones would not. The notion that the parties themselves could make an agreement about what they would do in the future comes almost entirely from the English common law. That was the legal experience of the people who signed the American Declaration of Independence and the Constitution; it was so thoroughly the basis for their understanding of what "the law" should be that you can find no direct reference to "the common law" in either document.

As for not having a "legal background", Vince, have no fear, we are back to Justinian's Code; the idea that parties can actually make an agreement between themselves without reference to the state is as obsolete as Morgan's belief that "the character of the borrower" is all that matters in commerce. Now, in this age of progress, we all get to sign the same printed forms.


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