I was talking with my friend Noah Nelson last night about world affairs, and it occurred to me that the current state of international law is not unlike that of medieval Iceland. That is, there is law, with very precise and complicated provisions, but no enforcement. The only punishment that could be imposed on those Icelanders who refused to submit to the law was outlawry (which basically means that it’s not illegal to kill you).
There’s an incident in Njal’s Saga, however, when a particularly rich, powerful, and popular Icelander decides not to go into exile as he was ordered, and becomes an outlaw. However, he’s so powerful no one dares to harm him, though his outlawry effectively excludes him from civil society.
It’s a very perplexing culture — sneaky lawyer tricks go hand in hand with men throwing axes into the backs of their enemies’ heads — but I begin to think it sheds valuable light on the state of international affairs.