Posted: June 9th, 2022
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The Chthonic is one of the first legal traditions in society. It is very broad and general, considerably it is at the most basic level. H. Patrick Glenn discusses the chthonic legal tradition in chapter three of his book Legal Traditions of the World. Glenn states that “The chthonic way is thus an informal one, which literally seeks to blend into the surrounding landscape.” It comes from the tribes and indigenous peoples.
There are two models of chthonic legal traditions. Model one is “Africa and Asia.” This model considers the tribes and Islamic influence. This model has no “uniform pattern.” “In central Asia, there is a revival of community-clan institutions (old forms of courts, steppe law, oral tradition) at the expense of the state. In Africa, even at the height of colonial power, there was no effort to eliminate chthonic legal traditions.”
Model two is the “Americas and Australia.” This model considers the settlement of the Europeans. “Here the variations have much to do with the European legal traditions which European settlers carried with them, on their ‘discovery’ of these lands. The common law was the least explicit about indigenous peoples, and even where English common law was received by the effect of statute, common law judges were still called upon to decide the extent of its displacement, if any, of chthonic law for indigenous people.”
“There are no pure chthonic traditions in the world today.” One comparable idea within western law and chthonic legal tradition is the reservation of land. Current day law protects the reservation of land in 18 U.S. Code § 1151. Chthonic tradition and that statute protect the rights of native people and their rights to keep their land. But western law and chthonic legal tradition also have disagreeing factors. For example, criminal law. “There is to all intents and purposes no law of theft or burglary; no law of drugs; no organized crime; no money laundering; no white-collar crime; no fraud.” Chthonic legal tradition did not confront this issue. Living in the current day time, we need strict/ dominant laws to penalize those individual people (not the community) who commit harmful and dishonest acts.
Lastly, I do not think Christian tradition and chthonic tradition are similar. Christian tradition and chthonic tradition are both older traditions, but the two ideas stray apart from each other. The chthonic legal tradition was never formally documented, but Christian tradition was (for example the Bible.) Because of this, the Chthonic legal tradition is not used anymore. Christian tradition is still used. Chthonic legal tradition is so broad that no prominent principles were made, unlike Christian traditions. For example, Christian traditions have the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20 (NIV).
At times during the first three chapters the author, Glenn, can be enigmatic in his way of describing complex topics; luckily, this is not the case when he divides Chthonic identity. In his words, Glenn says this:
Two basic models are evident. On the one hand there is the state constructed by western powers in colonized territories, which persists following withdrawal of western authority. On the other hand there is the state constructed by western powers in the process of permanent settlement in colonized territories, which persists as an ongoing instrument of western authority.
H. Patrick Glenn, Legal Traditions of the World 85 (5th ed. 2014).
Since there are no purely Chthonic traditions in today’s world, Glenn is saying that it is inevitable western tradition will interact with Chthonic tradition. Id. at 83. The two main models essentially come from if westerners permanently settled the area such as the case with the Americas and Australasia or if that had an interest and influence in the area for a limited time but did not widely settle, such as with Africa and Asia.
Currently, it is easy to see the mixing of western and Chthonic legal information (or tradition, as the terms are used almost interchangeable throughout) in respect to crime and imprisonment. Id. at 90. With Chthonic tradition being described as largely “informal”, dispute resolution and punishment are too. Id. at 82. This stands in contrast to western views of individual guilt and imprisonment as punishment for trespasses against society. Norval Morris & David J. Rothman, The Oxford Story of the Prison: The Practice of Punishment in Western Society vii (1998). Early Europeans had to adapt or at least account for the differences in thoughts of crime and this is again important to keep in mind today as all Chthonic peoples reside within a state. Expanding on the idea that all Chthonic peoples reside within a state, it is notable that they are also granted rights that non-Chthonic citizens of the state would have. Individual rights are not always built into Chthonic tradition so this exchange of legal tradition could be seen as beneficial to Chthonic peoples in state.
When considering our Christian tradition of oral history and the Chthonic tradition, the question that comes to mind – how many Christians read their Bibles every day? In looking into this question, LifeWay Research found a mere thirty-two percent of churchgoing protestants read their Bibles daily. Lifeway Research, https://research.lifeway.com/2019/07/02/few-protestant-churchgoers-read-the-bible-daily/ (last visited May 11, 2022). Looking at related surveys, this seems to be a reliable number. If western tradition is mainly held in reading in writing, why would churchgoers not be in their Bibles every day? It might be difficult to quantify but I believe it is because a lot of our interactions regarding our faith are oral. The abovementioned thirty-two percent are believers who attend church regularly, meaning they are likely hearing at least one sermon per week. Further, how many believers listen to worship music during their commutes or stream Christian podcasts while doing chores? I would venture to say this number is much higher than the thirty-two percent who are in the Word every day. I’m not claiming it is an alternative to reading the Bible, but I am saying we, as Christians, might be more of an oral tradition than we think ourselves to be.
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