An Insight into Legal Consciousness
Recent research suggests that people are becoming alienated from the law and may even disengage with it altogether.
Marc Herthog, in his recent book ‘Nobody’s law: Legal Consciousness and Legal Alienation in Everyday Life’, presents us with empirical research that cautions us against taking for granted that our Western/European legal orders enjoy strong popular support. He presents us with the possibility that, following certain developments, there will be merely ‘sullen toleration’ for such justice systems.
One such development is the proliferation of legal norms. While this has been taken to suggest an ever-increasing hegemony of the law, Herthog points out that it in fact makes “it harder for people to know and subsequently identify with, the law”, leading to a sense of “legal alienation”. Similarly, his research indicates that it is misleading to think that people will continue to turn to the law despite strong criticisms of their legal system. Rather, such criticisms may lead them to turn away from the law altogether, opening up the need to study the ‘absence of law’ and the notion of ‘law versus society’. This kind of response has also been recorded in Jess Mant’s recent report on litigants in person and the family court.
Herthog’s analysis is focussed on the Netherlands and cannot present us with direct conclusions about the state of the legal consciousness in our own legal order. However, his analysis still serves as a warning: it is crucial that a society’s positive attitude towards the law is not taken for granted, but is carefully fostered and preserved.