Anthropologists, historians, and political economists suggest that private violence—feuding—provides order and enforces agreements in the absence of a state. In their new paper, Benjamin Broman and NOUS member Georg Vanberg ground these accounts in a series of formal models that shows the relationship between feuding, informal arbitration, and formal judicial resolution. Feuding enables cooperation by deterring exploitative behavior, but its ability to do so is conditioned by two credible commitment problems that affect both militarily weak and strong actors. These commitment problems can be partially ameliorated through arbitration, even in the absence of coercive authority, by providing information that makes the wronged party’s threat to feud more credible. Transitioning to a formal, coercive justice system, however, represents a qualitative change to the nature of disputing — a change that can be universally beneficial. They therefore provide a new explanation for the creation of independent courts rooted in the logic of dispute resolution and illustrate this explanation with reference to the creation of the Imperial Chamber Court of the Holy Roman Empire.

The full paper is available here.