A SOCIAL HISTORY OF ENGLISH LAW
I read this book nearly 40 years ago when deciding whether to take the undergraduate option in History of English Law, and it helped me to decide to do so. Since legal history has turned out to be my research field that makes it pretty important to me!
It is now, of course, badly obsolete, given the volume of work that has been done since it was written; but it is still a readable single-volume introduction to the subject, chronologically structured, which attempts to locate the law as an aspect of social, political and economic history. Sir John Baker’s Introduction to English Legal History has evolved into an encyclopaedic textbook or ‘Handbuch’, while S.F.C. Milsom’s Historical Foundations of the Common Law is severely technical and very much a ‘point of view’ book, so Harding’s book, long out of print, hasn’t really been replaced.
It should be apparent from this nomination thatI don’t share the common view that the fall of the ‘Soviet bloc’ makes Marxism irrelevant.
The Anti-Dühring has been subject to a sort of damnatio memoriae by academics coming from the post-1956 ‘New Left’ on the theory that it is a ‘vulgarisation’ of Karl Marx, scientistic, and anticipates the (allegedly) ‘mechanical’ or ‘evolutionist’ Marxism of Karl Kautsky and even, indirectly, Stalinism. In reality, though it certainly contains some nonsense, it is not at all clear that either the weaknesses or the strengths are not shared by Marx, who read the whole book before publication and contributed (at least) a chapter to it.
I read it at some point in the 1970s - I can’t remember exactly when - and found it a great relief after the tortuous and antihistorical arguments of Althusser and Balibar’s Reading Capital. Though the form of Engels’ polemic with the anti-semitic and statist ‘Kathedersozialist’ Eugen Dühring is at points painful, and the answers the book offers to the problems it poses are not always defensible, it nonetheless poses fundamental problems in attempting to understand history, economics, law, and the state in an interesting and in places entertaining way.