15 Legal Stud. F. 407 (1991)
Why People Obey the Law

handle is hein.journals/lstf15 and id is 417 raw text is: BOOK REVIEWS

Why People Obey the Law
by Tom R. Tyler
Yale University Press 1990, 273 and vii pp.
In a heterogeneous and legalistic society such as ours, compliance with
law is the glue that sticks us together. No matter how clearly drafted a legal
standard might be, and no matter how intellectually sound or logical its tenets,
if the people do not see fit to obey it, then it may not be law at all, but
merely empty pronouncement. It perhaps goes without saying that most of us
in this culture obey most laws. But why? Is it because we fear punishment?
Is it because we believe that the police and the courts are usually fair? And is
our conception of fairness based more on outcome - whether we win or lose
- or on our perception of having been treated with dignity?
These questions and others are raised at the outset in Tom R. Tyler's
new book, Why People Obey the Law, and the answers that unfold in the next
170 pages are sometimes surprising. Tyler, a psychology professor at North-
western University and a research fellow of the American Bar Foundation (and
a remarkably prolific scholar), has with this book made an important contribu-
tion to the growing interdisciplinary literature exploring the reality of the
law's interaction with society. Tyler's book deserves wide readership among
those who care not just about what the law says but how and why it works.
The foundation for Tyler's work is an empirical study undertaken in
1984 and 1985 in which a randomly-selected sample of Chicagoans were asked
a series of questions about their experiences, attitudes and behavior concerning
the legal system. Tyler's questions focused on the natural range of citizens'
contacts with legal authorities (8) rather than merely upon trials, thus broaden-
ing the inquiry beyond citizen reaction to the courtroom process. Seven
tersely-written pages of the book are devoted to explaining his specific meth-
odology, and he helpfully provides, as a 40-page appendix, the questionnaire he
used in the first wave of his study.
On the very last page of his text, Tyler concludes that people do not
obey the law primarily because they believe that they will be punished for
disobedience; instead, they obey because they believe it is proper to do so.

Legal Studies Forum, Volume XV, Number 4 (1991)

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