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KOL129 | Speech to Montessori Students: “The Story of Law: What Is Law, and Where Does it Come From?”


Hammurabi's CodeKinsella on Liberty Podcast, Episode 129.

This is a lesson/lecture I presented to a group of “Upper Elementary” Montessori students today at my son’s school, The Post Oak School (Upper El includes 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students, and there were also a few third graders visiting from lower el, who are moving up next year). The students (25 or 30 or so) sat in a group at my feet, and were polite and interested the whole time. They asked many very intelligent and fun questions. I tried not to get too complicated, but did speak in fairly frank and sophisticated terms, tried not to talk down to them or dumb the talk down too much, and almost all of them hung in there till the end. The original plan was to speak for 40 or so minutes then take questions for another 15 or so, but we ended up going about an hour and 7 minutes, and then during lunch I had throng of students throwing more questions at me for another half hour. What amazing students; what an amazing school and educational approach. (This is one reason I love the Montessori approach; see my Montessori, Peace, and Libertarianism.) I included here only the main talk and Q&A, not the lunch banter. (An article prepared by 6th graders in the class, describing the lecture, appears in the first couple of pages of this issue of the class newsletter.)

I think this talk is suitable for kids from ages 9 to 16 or so.

The notes I used and handed out are reproduced below, with a few links added.

For more background on these topics, see the links below, as well as my short article Legislation and Law in a Free Society, adapted from my 1995 JLS article Legislation and the Discovery of Law in a Free Society, which contains detailed references; and my more detailed speech The (State’s) Corruption of (Private) Law, from the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Property and Freedom Society.

Update: Some people have asked me for further recommended readings, in legal history, etc. Unfortunately my library is packed away in boxes now for a renovation so I cannot peruse my legal theory/history titles, but from memory and some other notes I have, here are some suggested readings related to the talk. Some of my own personal favorites first:

For some others:

Update 2:

I have no doubt I mangled a few historical and other details in my somewhat extemporaneous exposition. For example, here is one constructive criticism I received:

I am a satisfied subscriber to your KOL podcast, which I enjoy very much.  I just listened to episode 129 wherein you address a group of elementary-school students.  It really made me realize how intellectually void was the time I served in my local government school.

Anyway, around the 46 minute mark you got your definitions of robbery and burglary reversed.  Hopefully the kids weren’t taking notes.

Yep. He’s right. I got robbery and burglary backwards. Mea culpa!

The Story of Law:
What Is Law, and Where Does it Come From?

Stephan Kinsella
Post Oak School, []’s Upper El class
May 22, 2014

Discussion Notes/Outline


  • Descriptive:
    • Physics/causal (gravity)
    • Economics (supply and demand)
  • Prescriptive/Normative:
    • Moral/ethical (honesty)
    • Legal rules (theft, murder)
      • Must versus should
      • Enforceable
        • Lady Justice (Themis)
          • Blindfold (impartiality)
          • Sword (enforcement)
          • Scales of justice (balance of the parties’ interests)


  • Written law (legislation)
  • Custom, practice, common sense
  • Ancient law:
  • Major modern legal systems
    • English common law
      • UK/England, commonwealth (US, Canada, Australia)
    • European civil law
      • Based on Roman law
      • European countries, South American countries, others
    • Justinian codified Roman law (529-534 AD)
    • Napoleon codified French roman/civil law (Code Napoleon)
    • Exceptions to common law: Louisiana and Quebec have civil codes based on Code Napoleon
      • Scotland in the UK
    • Modern codifications: Uniform Commercial Code
  • Other legal systems
    • Law Merchant (medieval; 11th century)
    • Canon law (Catholic church)
    • Islamic law (Sharia)
    • Jewish law
    • International law
  • Decentralized/customary/court-based law versus legislated law
    • Roman law and common law, versus modern statute or legislation based law
    • Civil law a mixture
    • Common law today becoming a mixture


{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Sebastian Lundh November 22, 2014, 2:14 am


    I’m interested in reading Bruno Leoni’s book Freedom and the Law, but according to a review over at amazon.com you need a bit of knowledge about the history of law to read that book, and I don’t have that knowledge. Would you agree with that sentiment, and if so, could you please give me suggestions about what I should read?

    Thanks from a big fan from Sweden!

  • Conza January 8, 2015, 10:40 pm
  • Matt Wallace November 29, 2021, 5:08 pm

    Awesome, thanks for sharing! Nice presentation. And their questions were great. I definitely learned a few things!

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