A story of revenge and blood

In societies that have not developed a sense of state, it is difficult to find another way of administering justice than by simply avenging the injustices one believes one has been subject to. The vendetta system is naturally primitive compared to modern legal proceedings. But it was the only system available before the rise of the state, and it was also held to be the people’s sense of justice.

The system has been found in many – perhaps all – cultures. In Japan, there was a law in effect until 1873 that gave the relatives of a murdered person the right to seek out and personally kill the perpetrator. On this general pattern, a clan has the right to avenge injustices. But it is also a right that borders on social duty, because the consequence of not taking revenge is that social esteem (honour) falls for anyone who does not assert his right in this violent way. Social esteem is a flexible correlate of the actual ability to take revenge in society. The anth...

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