glyph 139: book . Michael van Notten, Spencer Heath MacCallum (editor) . Somalia, Africa, Horn of Africa . tribal law ... limits of democracy, politial science . government . central state vs. distributed state . custom, common law, judge found law vs. legislated, statute, law ... Tom Bell: privately produced law ... kritarchy ... Alan Bock . Tom Bell . James C. Bennett: Anglosphere, polycentric law ... Bruno Leoni . Roman law


The Law of the Somalis, by Michael Van Notten

tribal law enhanced for world market participation

Michael van Notten's, The Law of the Somalis: A Stable Foundation for Economic Development in the Horn of Africa, was published by the Red Sea Press, Inc. in 2005.

The book is available from Amazon:

The following description of van Notten's book is taken from the Editorial Preface, by Spencer Heath MacCallum.

The entire Preface is available here:
Chapter 1 of the book is here:

Somali law is based on custom. Hence Somalis have no need of a legislator, and as a result, their law is free of political influences. That freedom makes for laws of better quality than in most other countries. Somali society comes rather close to what is sometimes called 'the natural order of human society.' When they wrote the United Nations Charter in 1945, the founding fathers of the United Nations may have envisioned such a natural order among nations rather than a democracy. If that was their intention, however, their political principles were forgotten four years later when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. That document signaled the United Nation's commitment to "politics as usual."

Somalis had had enough of that kind of politics. In 1991, they returned to their traditional form of government which, in broad outline, is remarkably similar to that set out in the United Nations Charter."

Among the controversial topics touched upon in this book are these:

 1. The concepts of property right, freedom of contract, and justice
     were discovered and first developed not by the technologically
     advanced societies but by tribal societies.
 2. Crime can be defined in terms of property rights.
 3. Government can neither add to nor subtract from the concept just
     stated, since property rights only oblige criminals to compensate
     their victims; they do not demand punishment.
 4. Property rights are better protected by private agencies such as
     insurance companies than by central governments.
 5. Every person should be insured for his liabilities under the law.
 6. Law consists solely of principles and rules relating to property rights.
 7. Custom provides a better basis for law than legislation.
 8. Customary law generally shows a high regard for property rights.
 9. Somalis generally prefer their customary law over Korannic law.
10. Democracy is not compatible with property rights; the political
     system that is compatible with property rights is called "kritarchy."
11. Somalis prefer kritarchy to democracy.
12. Democracy cannot function in a close-knit clan society.

Spencer MacCallum, the editor, writes:

I'm interested in finding readers for The Law of the Somalis. If you've any suggestions please contact me at "sm *at* look *dot* net", or phone me in Mexico at 915-261-0502. On the question of someone going to Somalia to study the economy, I understand that some of Dan Klein's economics students at the University of Santa Clara will be making the trip shortly. —Spencer MacCallum, posted November 29, 2004, edited by Leif Smith, March 12, 2007, to accord with the publication of the book in 2005.


The law system described in this book may well be unique in today's world. Perhaps its most striking feature is that it does not provide for the punishment of criminals. Law breakers are not imprisoned but are required, instead, to compensate their victims. Fines, if any, are seldom higher than the amount of compensation due and are paid to the victim rather than to the government.

Another surprising feature is that all Somalis are insured for their liabilities under the law. A consequence of this is that victims always receive compensation, even if their rights were violated by children or by adults who are penniless, mentally ill, or have fled abroad.


The author has lived among the Somalis for ten years. He maintains that there is now less crime under their customary law than there would have been under any system of democratic law. Even so, he offers several suggestions for improving Somali law. In particular, he proposes ending restrictions on the sale of land and increasing the protection of women. He then proposes establishing freeports to promote economic development.

This book shows that the present system of customary law is fully capable of maintaining a peaceful society and guiding the Somali nation to prosperity. Only minor changes are needed to enable it to function in the global market economy. The same holds true for the Somali political system. Not only is there no need to establish a federal democracy; the author maintains that any attempt to do so must inevitably lead to chaos.

The Law of the Somalis on Amazon:

See also glyph 392: Somalia - Clan Owned Freeports as Multi-Tenant Income Properties:

Suggested Readings

"From Nation-State to Stateless Nation: The Somali Experience", by van Notten

"Is Somalia a Model?", by Alan Bock

Privately Produced Law, the work of Tom Bell

Polycentric law, James C. Bennett


Spencer's work with the great artist and potter, Juan Quezada, Mata Ortiz, Chihuahua, Mexico
entered before July 9, 2006; edited/updated November 26, 2015

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