Law in Brief Encounters

Even in our most casual encounters with strangers-when we are looking at each other, talking, or standing in line-legal systems with elaborate codes, authorized exceptions, and procedures for sanctioning deviance operate with a remarkable degree of success. In this pathbreaking book, Michael Reisman describes how law is an integral and indispensable part of every social interaction. The private sphere or civic order that the liberal state is committed to preserving and in which it tries to refrain from legislating, says Reisman, is not a legal vacuum but the zone of microlaw-some of it just, some unsatisfactory, and some tyrannical. Interweaving numerous real-life examples with a detailed review of the scientific literature of many disciplines, Reisman shows the extent to which microlegal systems function in our own lives. More important, he draws on the criteria of ethics and legal philosophy to demonstrate that, paradoxically, efforts to improve microlaw may threaten the very autonomy of the private sphere that is central to the liberal state.