Guilt and the origins of modern law

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Tracing the history of legal concepts from the decline of European feudalism to the Reformation, this paper examines ways in which the concept of guilt shaped the first evolution of modern law, and it claims that the early revolutionary junctures in the construction of the law were centred around specific and distinctive conceptions of guilt. It argues that, through the history of medieval and early-modern European society, the law learned positively to abstract and account for itself through internally formative exchanges over the subject of guilt, and changes in law's observation of guilt reflected a growing refinement in law's societal sensibility, in its inclusivity, in its patterns of imputation and in its positive powers of self-legitimation. Guilt formed the term around which the law enacted the necessary stages of its social adaptation and produced constructs to underwrite the requirement for general, abstracted and positively inclusive law that constitutes modern society. The ultimate result of guilt's evolution as a legal figure became visible in the fact that the law progressively intensified its positivity and inclusivity, and it amplified the legal and normative resources that it permitted modern societies to store, utilize and reproduce. © 2014 Copyright © 2014 Taylor & Francis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-135
Number of pages32
JournalEconomy and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • abstraction
  • feudalism
  • guilt
  • inclusivity
  • positive law
  • reformation


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