How to Stop a Feud

Have you ever been in a feud? How did it end? Sometimes feuds can go on for a long time, going back and forth seemingly forever. But David Friedman said that historically, feuds were dealt with fairly quickly, because of the development of feud law.

“There is an alternative model of decentralized and privately enforced law,” said David Friedman, “I usually refer to it as Feud Law.” David gave his presentation at the 2015 World Conference on Market Liberalization in Bali, hosted by the International Society for Individual Liberty.

David noted that “Feud Law” has nothing to do with “Feudal Law” — the two terms just sound similar, but are completely different.

“The logic of Feud Law is very simple. It is that if you wrong me, I threaten to harm you unless you compensate me,” said David.

David noted that Feud Law only works under certain conditions:

  1. The threat to harm you is only believable if you have wronged me.
  2. You must be able to follow through with your threats, and adequate commitment mechanisms must be in place.
  3. The rights of weak people must be protected.
  4. There needs to be a way to terminate a feud from going back and forth forever.

David Friedman then went through each condition in detail, and demonstrated historical examples of each point. In Iceland, historically, when the court of public opinion ruled in your favor, you also gained community support, which allowed for your protection and redemption. This concept also occurred with Roman Gypsies, and in Somaliland.

Dr. Friedman moved on to the second point, adequate commitment mechanisms.  “Contrary to what many people say, property is not only not a creation of the state, it pre-dates the human species.”  Dr. Friedman explained that there are a number of territorial species of animals, notably birds and fishes. If an invader comes into the territory of these animals, the animals act more aggressive towards the invader.

“That is a very primitive form of property. It’s not transferable property — there are no title deeds — but nonetheless it has the fundamental characteristic of something claimed and defended by an individual.”

For the third condition, David noted that historically, coalitions would follow through for the weak person in the group.  If someone harmed you, your coalition would help defend you or reclaim your property. If you harmed them, your coalition would help to right the wrong (but only if you didn’t do this too much). “All of this is set up by explicit — sometimes written in contract . . . which is one of the things I thought was really neat,” said Dr. Friedman.

Finally, David moved on to show examples of termination of a feud. “In Iceland what basically happens is that if there have been several rounds of people who are unhappy about it, then neutral parties with good reputation come in as middle men, and offer to arbitrate it. You get somebody who both sides agree is an arbitrated decision, and they will abide by it.”

After explaining more details about each concept, David Friedman went on to show that Feud Law is actually the basis for modern legal systems.

Watch the full video here: